Friday, January 10, 2014

Trends, Tropes, and A Bit of Bravery

I had something else planned today. I was going to talk about drama and excuses. I blogged about it not too long ago, but it's always worth another go. But there's been something bugging me for a bit. It fills my brain all the time actually.

The market.
The trends.
The tropes.

And then there's what I actually write.

And this week, it popped up in four places. First, Megan Whitmer vlogged about how to make your story stand out, even if it's a familiar trope. Then #NALitChat was talking trends and tropes people were tired of and what they want to see more of. Then Jessa Russo was tweeting about how not every female MC doesn't have to be a carbon cutout. Then to top it off, Kelsey Macke vlogged a pep talk that might of been for all her followers, but I know she was sending extra love my way. Basically she said, believe in yourself.

So, where does that leave us?

As a writer, it's very tempting to see an agent you covet tweet something on Twitter and think, "I could totally write that story!" and then write a story for the market or for that one agent. While that might hook in representation, you're left with a problem. The story you wrote was Contemporary and you really write Historical. Then what happens? You have one success and then you have to start over. You wrote for the market, you wrote a book, but you didn't write for the longevity of your career.

I write Adult and New Adult and I'll admit, I've been tempted to write to trends and the market. I did it with one story and it felt so fake to me that by the end I hated it. Ironically, it probably would get published if I sent it out to people, but it's nothing like what I love to write. Someday I might let it see the light of day again, but for now, it has to go away.

In this business, you have to remember all the things I've heard this week, and all the things before that.
Your story DOES need to stand out, even if it's a familiar trope.
Readers DO want something different, even though that's a scary place to put yourself.
Not every character HAS to be the same, that's what makes books so great.
You MUST believe in yourself and keep going.

I was going to talk about what trends are popular and what people want to see, but really, there are a hundred blog posts on that. Instead, I'm going to talk about some things I'm going to try out in my books. Some may call it stupid to try and buck the trends, but I like to think I'm a little brave. And maybe someone out there has a story they want to tell and they'll feel brave, too.

Here's a few things you'll see coming in my words. They don't really fit in, and honestly, I don't really care. Someone will want to read my stories. I know they will.

1. Not all my MC's know what they want. And what they do on the outside is rarely what they feel on the inside. They say they're fine and agree to things, then in the next chapter they have inner turmoil. I've gotten varied feedback on this, but I don't know anyone who doesn't do exactly this. Sure, we read to escape, but we read to connect as well. And I want characters that act like people I know, or even myself.

2. My females aren't always strong. Sometimes they need saving. On the flip, not all my males are golden gods who are capable of doing the saving. My characters make bad choices and no, they don't do what you'd do. They do what they'd do. Everyone says they want something different, but in editing, those different choices are usually the first thing to go because people say, "No one does that."

Right. How refreshing would it be for a character to do something you didn't expect? Like a cool drink of water.If I write a female character that isn't freaking Katniss, the feminists will jump on me. If I write a male who's a jackass, people will expect me to redeem him. If the best friend is too perfect, then I'll be criticized for giving my MC some kind of inferiority complex for attention.

But what if the female MC was raised in an environment where it's normal for her to want a relationship and rely on a man? That doesn't make her a villain. It probably makes her pretty normal. I'm a strong woman, I can take care of myself, but damnit, I like my husband to open doors for me. I like help opening jars. I feel complete with him in my life. Am I weak? No. I'm in love and I have a partner. So sue me. But I write MC's like this, too.

What if the male MC is brainy? Fit but not a beefcake. What if he's the one not sexually experienced and is a bit shy about doing it with the lights on? Does that make him not a man? Maybe he likes to clean his house. He has OCD so he's a bit neurotic. So now, I'm supposed to make him meet a girl and be a big, burly lumberjack who can Hulksmash the guy who is treating her wrong? I'm rolling my eyes right now.

The number one complaint is that the women in fiction change as soon as they find a guy and an equally big complaint if the guy doesn't change as soon as he finds a girl. What??? How is this a thing???

What if the best friend seems perfect because the MC is telling the story and that's how they SEE their friend. It has nothing to do with comparison to the MC her or himself, just that they have one person they can count on. I think my best friend is the bee's knees. And she might have faults, but you can bet, when I describe her, no one else can compare.

3. I write NA and most of my stories don't take place in college. Or if they are in college, it's doubtful it will be party or frat house heavy. I have an NA story where the characters are married and getting ready to have a baby. Another character is single and has a career. She owns her own business. Not every 20-something goes from home to college to meeting a guy. Then marriage, house, babies, etc. That is one formula and it works. But it's not the universal experience. As a matter of fact, I think it's not even half. Some people travel, some go to vocational school or community college. Others go right into the workplace because they are married and have a baby on the way. Or maybe aging parents, or younger siblings that they have to help raise because their dad's a drunk. There are a million stories out there of how people do it and though one kind of NA is selling big right now, my books won't be like that.

4. My characters have relationships with their parents. NA or Adult, the parents come into play. Some love them and some hate them or love them but can't be in the same room together. That means that sometimes I have grandparents in my books. My Grandma was everything to me. We shared everything right up until the day she died. I can't be the only one in this world that was close to their grandparents and parents while I was in my twenties. Just because you go to college, doesn't mean you outgrow your parents. Some people even live at home if they go to a local school. My point is, there isn't one formula to a NA book. Most of thm just haven't made it to the shelves yet.

5. My characters might love more than one person. There might be cheating. There might just be friendship, no romance. There might be a single mom or dad. People will die. The ending won't always be happy.  Sometimes it will work out because the character makes the right decision, not the Disney approved Hollywood ending. And I know I'll get haters. But it's my story I want to tell. I don't want to put out another homogenized book for the bookstore, I want to make a work of art, something that will stick with people.

I'm sure there's more to add here, but you get the point. 

I write flawed, quirky characters who follow their own drum and have relationships with their parents that may or may not go to college and are probably not great at relationships or always using their words. And I'm not going to change. Not for tropes that are popular or trends that are....trending, (Hi..I write good.) or to catch the eye of someone or a publishing house I might not be able to maintain because I can only write one story like that.

I want a career of writing but that's not why I write. I write for the words and the characters and the chance to create something new in the world. And like I said, maybe it's foolish, but I'm going to buckle on my gold star for bravery and call it good.

Do you have something unique in your work that scares you to put out there in the world? Share it with me in comments.

See you next time. And write bravely!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thankful Thursday: Dance Party (Jan)

So I was going to do a dance party today, but I'm barely able to get off the couch because I'm so sick.

But I refuse to not be thankful.

So instead, here's some fun dance gifs. Here's your mission.

1. Play your favorite song.

2. Turn up the volume.

3. Dance like a fool and spend three minutes being that goofy little kid we all once were. I promise you'll feel much better after you do.

See? That's simple, right? Dance, smile, be thankful you have another day to breathe in the frigid air of the Polar Vortex! Unless you live in Florida, and then, really, just don't talk to me until I get warmer.

Happy Thursday!!!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Writing Under The Influence: The Vampire Diaries (reboot)

One of my favorite shows. Here's the second WUTI post.

Writing Under the Influence: The Vampire Diaries

I'm sure you knew this post was coming when I announced I'd be writing about things that influence me.

                                                  If you can see this:
                                And not be influenced - you're a bigger person than me.

But aside from the The Vampire Diaries having one of the most beautiful casts in the history of ever and casting director at The CW having my dream job, TVD has been really helpful to my writing process.

If you don't watch TVD, you're probably make bad choices, but just in case you've been living in a cave here's what it's about:
TVD is the story of two vampire brothers, Damon and Stefan Salvatore and Elena Gilbert, the girl they both love. It takes place in Mystic Falls, a town rich with history and tradition, oh, and werewolves and witches.   There's a great supporting cast, smart dialogue, and Elijah.

So here are the six most important things I've learned from watching the Salvatores and friends in all their shirtless glory.(Also - mild spoilers!)

1. Commit to your characters and their personalities.

This is something Julie Plec really has a grasp on. Once your character is established, they shouldn't be quick to change. And sometimes that means they make really bad decisions. And you know what, it's okay. The Salvatores are prime examples of this. Damon, the bad boy, has spent 150 years being selfish, drinking and eating his way through his non-dead existence. And then he meets Elena. He wants to be good, or at least good enough for her, but a flip isn't something his character would do. So he does dumb shit. And he hurts people and feelings and mostly his progress with the girl of his dreams.

But in holding to this character trait, something magical happens. We root for him to do the right thing because we see his intention. We see that he is trying. And then, when it comes to crunch time and he saves the day or sacrifices something for the greater good, we cheer all the more! I wish I could write a character like this. I truly do.

With Stefan, it's the opposite. He's the good guy, the brooder, the Angel without leather pants. He is so good that sometimes I want to ring his neck and yell at the TV, get over your self-righteous self! We know he's going to make the right choice. We know he's willing to be the martyr. We know he's going to be the one who needs saving.

But this good guy has a problem - blood. What a unique thing. A vamp who can't handle drinking blood. And wow, does he go bad! And completely unpredictable. The dynamic of these two characters, or maybe I'm just a sucker for a brother story, is what drives the show. Honestly, I think it work without Elena at this point.

And then there's Katherine, the first woman the brothers fought over. She turned them into vamps for their trouble. She's what I like to refer to as 'fun Elena'. She has no inhibitions, no shame and no regrets. I know I shouldn't root for her, but I can't help but love her. 

Lesson: Pick character traits and stick to them. Change is slow. So when it comes, the impact is tenfold.

2. Everyone loves a bro-mance.
In my last post I talked about much I love the friendship between Nick and Monroe. It's one of my favorite things about GRIMM. Here, there's the same kind of relationship. Damon and Alaric. It was hate at first sight, but they had a repartee. Thrown into a situation where they had to work together or be killed, they started an odd couple kind of riffing. The hate turned to dislike but with respect. And eventually, they became best friends. Even after they made the horrible decision to kill off Alaric, he comes back as a ghost to check on Damon. And I admit, I've shed more tears watching Damon miss Ric than I probably should have.

Lesson: Friendships are important in your stories. Never under estimate them.

3. If a story line doesn't work, don't be stubborn. End it and move on.

As in every show, sometimes the story goes in a direction and you're left with this face:

If you watch True Blood, you know what I mean. But a lot of times a show, or an author, is so set on a story line they drag it out and try to make it work, cut it to fit a square peg in a round hole. Guess what? It may go inside the hole, but that doesn't make it fit. TVD has had a few missteps along the way, but I've noticed something. While many shows are dragging out crappy plot lines, TVD doesn't. It wraps it up and starts something else. And as a writer, so should you. Even better - delete it and replot.

Lesson: The only one married to your crappy plot is you. You can fix it, change it, and make it delicious.

4. Bad boys can be heroes, too.

Raise your hand if you want Caroline to be with Klaus? That girl needs to get in her car, drive to NOLA and let Klaus show her, town.

But wait!

He's the big bad on the show. How can I be rooting for the bad boy to get the girl? How can I feel anything for him? He does mean things, he makes selfish choices, and oh look, he's an artist. And he knows Caroline isn't ready and he's willing to wait. And he's lonely and god, don't you just want to hug him?

And who doesn't melt every time he calls Caro 'love'? 

This is an important thing. Tom Hiddleston said, "Every villain is a hero in their own mind." I think that's a very important truth to remember when writing. And it works so well on this show. Every week I wait for Caroline and Klaus to finally get together and Damon and Elena to get it on.

Lesson: If your villain has a reason behind his madness and does the right thing, even if it's selfish, once in a while, people will love him. Also - emotional baggage helps his cause.

5. Pacing is everything.

The number one reason this show works is that it moves at break neck speed. I've never seen a show with such a fast clip. You don't have time to waste when you're watching this show. Sure, it has slow-burn will they, won't they moments as well as a season long arc. But when you get down to it, there are new plots, characters, and deaths around every corner. And somehow, in the middle of all that you still have time to get attached to the characters. (See lesson one) And when one of them dies or hurts, you hurt with them, the clock slows to a maddening tick, matching your broken heartbeat.

How do they achieve such a fast pace? Two things. They don't dwell. One character might be stuck in denial or in anger or ache, but the show moves on, just like life. Even in the supernatural world of Mystic Falls, that makes it relatable.
Secondly, they give you details along the way and sneak in backstory that makes sense with the current moment. They don't give you long explanations. It's your responsibility to pick up the clues along the way. And you know what, the show trusts the viewer enough to do just that. They give just the points of the past which are relative to the now. Stephen King says, “The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.”God, that's the truth.

Lesson: Trust your readers. They can keep up without you bashing them over the head. If you do that, you can write a story to keep their attention.

6. Personal growth is key, but be selective.

Evey character on the show has grown to a point. But two characters started out as please-die-in-a-fire and have morphed into oh-my-god-I-love-you. Tyler and Caroline. More Caroline than Tyler, but still. In season one I was ready for them to go. Caroline was whiny and shallow and just generally awful. And Tyler was a douchebag extraordinaire. But something happened, they were allowed to grow up. This doesn't happen often in stories, let alone a 'teen' TV show, but it did and it's a beautiful thing.

It works because they both retain their personalities, but grew in strength. Their positive traits are dominant now even though they still retain those annoying quirks to let us know who they are. It's an amazing thing Julie Plec has pulled off, but it works and it's a case study in how to grow a development arc.

But IT DOESN'T NEED TO BE EVERY CHARACTER. This is important, people. Take note!

For the opposite: See Bonnie. Ugh. Bonnie runs around being judgey and bitchy then comes in and reluctantly does a spell. And this is what she's been doing since day one. Flat characters? Not good.

Lesson: Character arcs are as important, if not more so, than the plot.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I just bought season four on DVD and must have a know, to write better.

What? It's research. I mean, when research looks like this, it's easy.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Thankful Thursday - Happy New Year

On Thursdays, I'll be doing a Thankful post or something I think is fun to share with you. Megan Whitmer had this idea to share something you're thankful for each week and we'll link them all together, and I just love that!

Here are five things I'm thankful for in the new year.

1. I'm thankful for the friends I have in my life. When you're a kid, you want lots of friends, to be popular, to never lose your BFF. As you grow, friend takes on a different meaning. You realize that the times you do nothing with someone are just as important as the times you are laughing your heads off or crying your eyes out. And also that quantity is so much less than quality. I'm in a fortunate place in my life. I have a group of true friends who support me, love me, and get me. Even when, no, especially when i might not deserve it. They love me anyway. And I'm so thankful.

2. I'm thankful for my kids. They are the dreams I never knew I wanted. and I can't imagine a greater joy in my life.

3. My husband. What can I say? This has been one tough year for us, but we're better than ever. Being in love is the greatest.

4. I'm thankful to be able to write. Not the ability. Well, that too. But I mean that I'm able to live a life in which I can be a writer. Not everyone is so lucky.

5. And lastly, I'm thankful for pie.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Writing Under the Influence: Grimm (reboot)

Here's the the blog that started the Influence posts. Enjoy!

Writing Under the Influence: TV Edition: Grimm

Today is the first day of Writing Under the Influence.

I'm going to cover TV, books, movies, music, authors and writers I know that influence me and my writing.

Every Monday I'll post about what influences me and what inspires me. So let's get started.

Today we're talking about GRIMM. It's one of my favorite shows on TV. And I watch more TV than I should no doubt, but I really don't at the same time. I watch a lot of the SAME TV over and over again. I do it with movies, too.

It's like comfort food on the best diet plan ever!

So if you don't know what GRIMM is, I'll tell you.. GRIMM is a show about a detective that finds out his lineage is that of a Grimm, a monster hunter and all the fairy tales we were told growing up are real and not Disney-fied. As a matter of fact, some of them can be pretty...well, grim.

Not all the Wesen(pronounced vessen), the creatures in disguise, are bad or evil. But a lot do turn out on the wrong side of the law. And as humans we can't see their true nature. But the Grimms can. The Wesen can spot a Grimm, too, but we've yet to see how the Grimms look to them.

Oh, and this guy plays Det. Nick Burkhart.

                                    Oh, hello there David Giuntoli. How are you today, good sir?

Now here's why and how it influences my writing.

1. The plotting and pacing are top-notch.

Each week there's a wrapped-in-an-hour plot but interwoven in that is the full season/series narrative. Each week I know I'm going to have resolution and yet want to come back for more.

I try to apply this to my writing because I write in series or at least in companions. And I know nothing drives me more crazy than feeling like I read a book just for set-up for the next one. I want to feel a complete story, even if there are threads that pull me in for another part of the tale.

Grimm does an excellent job of this with their resolution vs. cliffhanger ratio.

2. Every character matters.

The GRIMM world is filled with recurring characters. And although it is Nick's story, I'm just as invested in Juliet, Hank and even the Captain's stories. It has become almost an ensemble piece in my eyes.

In writing translation, make every person count. On screen you need extras, but think of your book characters as actors with speaking parts. If you take the time to mention them, they better have a purpose. Make every single person count or they don't need to be there.

3. A secondary character steals the show. 

Now I love Nick. He's the reason I started and kept watching to begin with. But within just a few episodes, a Wesen Nick befriended stole my heart and now, every week I wait for him to show up and be awesome. The character is Monroe. He's a BlutBad,(Bloot-bod) which is kind of like a werewolf but hails from The Big Bad Wolf mythology. I love him and his girlfriend Rosalee. The dialogue and sharp wit plus loads of heart he brings to the show not only showcase his quirkiness and make him memorable, but it makes Nick more likable because of the bromance. It gives him a chance for normalcy and levity and that's essential in a story.

As far as writing, your sidekick, best friend, or second in MC-land has to be strong and memorable. It will make your hero or heroine more real to the reader.

4. The world.

GRIMM is set in the current year in a major city and that is all very relatable. But underneath that is a layer and hierarchy of Wesen royalty, the long lineage of the Grimm, and the Wesen everywhere humans look but can't see. It gives a spin to something that could just be normal and everyday. For example, Nick is a cop, but so much more.

I really try to remember this one. Because there's always another way to look at something and make it new.

5. The twist.

This builds off the last one. I love how it takes a trope we've all heard a million times, fairy tales and the hero to save the day, and flips it right on its head. This is such a big reason I love this show. I want to see what they come up with next.

And this is the biggest thing I get from this show, the courage to tell it my way. If I think an idea is too out there or crazy I think, yeah, but look at how it CAN be done. It's taking one grain of 'truth' from a legend and building your own universe. While there might not be any new ideas out there, this show proves there is always a new way to tell your story.

So there you go. If you haven't seen GRIMM, I highly recommend it. Watch it once for fun and then again for a little Writing Under the Influence.

See you Wednesday!

2014! Woo! (Now, throw your confetti!)

Hey friends. Long time, no blog. But most of the high hopes I had for 2013 kinda fell flat. Here were my resolutions for last year and how I fared on each.

1. Get out of this funk. That has to come first.

Well, I'm working on this one. In October, I had a cataclysm in my life. It made me angry enough with how things were that I burned a huge, searing hole in my depression. And in that moment, I could see the blue sky on the other side. I could see a glimpse of the old me. And I am slowly crawling out. This mostly involves lots of crying. Crying when I'm sad, when I'm happy, when the Zillow commercial comes on TV. Basically, when I'm awake. But I'm getting there.

2. Get my weight down and under control.

Yeah. About this. I did lost fifteen pounds this year, which I kept off. And I still have a ways to go, but with the depression lifting, this one is getting so much easier. So much. Check out my fitness blog on Mondays. My journey will continue there.

3. Revise, rewrite, polish and polish again all the words I have done. Query them.(To many agents) Find an agent. Get published. I will do this. Hell or high water.

 Okay, so I revised some but I wrote a bunch of new words. I got a pen name, put out a book, had a not-so-great experience but learned some valuable lessons, pulled the book and now I'm revising it for re-release under my own name. This is scary and liberating. I'm on an exclusive R&R with a superagent right now too, so I'm hopefully one step from realizing the last part of that one, as well!!

4. Meet more writers. This is only because I love my Twitter mates and it was super fun last year!

I did this! I got an internship, went to RT Convention, RWA Convention and met SO MANY PEOPLE! I also made my yearly journey to Kentucky to Megan's house and spent a week with her and Kelsey. it was one of the greatest weeks of the year, without a doubt.

5. Get my finances under control and in an upswing. I can't make it through another 2012, 2013 has got to be better.

2013 was a challenge on this front, to be as kind as I can be. Okay, 2013 was a bitch. No way around it. Except in the last few months...
And things did take an upswing. And that led to one thing and another and another and IT ALL LEADS UP TO SOMETHING BIG BUT I'M SORRY I CAN'T TELL YOU UNTIL MARCH!!!!! What I can tell you is that 2014 has big things in store and in June, the biggest of all.

This year, I'm following the lead of my dear friend Megan, and instead of making resolutions, I'm picking one word to remember through the year. My word is LIVE.

I have spent the last five years waiting until...
I get to the next place in my career.
I lose the weight.
I get the house.
I get this done.

But no more. I'm going to LIVE now. LIVE each day. In doing this, I hope to not miss things. Why keep waiting for my life to begin? It's happening now. Right now. And if I don't LIVE, I'm going to miss it.

So what's up in 2014?
I started my own editing service, Wise Owl Words, and you should check it and my website out. I built it myself and I'm a bit proud.  (There's also a sale at WOW until Jan 15th.)
I start revisions today. Hardcore revisions. And the blog is going to be in full swing in 2014. You'll be able to follow me all the way through my year of LIVING! I don't know if I'm that exciting, but you can be my fly on the wall and get back to me on that one.

Mondays: Fitness blog (link above)
Tuesdays: Something new - Releases, blog tours, interviews, reviews, cover reveals. Have something coming out in 2014? Let me know. I'll feature it here.*
*My friends get top billing here, because well, my blog!
Wednesdays: Writing Under the Influence. Books, music and movies that inspire me. This has been my most missed series on my hiatus. I'm bringing it back.
Thursday: Thankful Thursday. Megan Whitmer is doing a Thankful day and each Thursday I'll post something to make you smile and be a bit thankful for. :)
Friday: Tall Thoughts. The reason this blog started. Writerly type advice and experiences and the like. Find it here.

I also contribute at All The Write Notes, The Writer Diaries, and Indie Ignites.

Have an amazing 2014! Let the LIVING commence!!!