Monday, 27 August 2012

The Importance of a Thrilling Plot

I have been reading extensively during the past few weeks - wonderfully great and truly horrible books, I'm disappointed to say.

So what is it that makes a novel great?
How important are the twists and turns of the plot?

Of course, the answer isn't simple.

I'll take a few examples.

I have recently read the paranormal romance novel Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick.
The first thing that struck me about it was simply that while there were no obvious grammar errors, it suffered from other major problems that had me wondering if I should laugh or cry (so most of the time I chose to just roll my eyes and swear a lot). One of these problems was character development, where we see teachers behaving as if they're middle-grade bullies, a best friend who's so stupid and simply evil towards her supposed best friend that we wonder why the MC sticks with her, and the always-so-lovable damsel-in-distress, I-should-go-into-a-dark-alley-by-myself MC, who makes the reader want to rip one's hair out of one's scalp.

Yeah. I'm not being nice. I'm trying to make a point.

So why did I read it in one day and craved for the sequel?
For the simple reason that it had a very hooking plot. I just had to know what happened next.

I have also recently read Fallen (in the same category) by Lauren Kate.
The idea was one I worked with for a while last year, without my knowing that it already existed in some form, so the idea had every opportunity to deliver - but it never did.
It had all the same problems as Hush, Hush, with the addition of never feeling like you 'lived' it at all - you were a spectator watching it happen from above. No characters intruiged me; not even the boy she's supposed to love, and that seldom happens. And we got all these mysterious clues, which were the only ones that kept me reading, and then - for some reason - the author decided that no, we were not going to learn about these things until in later novels. Major downer. The plot wasn't even exciting.
So no. I refused to read any of those sequels. Her novel gave me a headache.

The only clear difference between the two is the plot.
Which leads me to the conclusion that plot is more important than anything - even more so than character development (sometimes). Hmm. I'm not sure I agree with myself here.
Ah, well.
Plot is important, let's leave it at that (but we all knew that already, so what was the point...)

Now I'm off to write a plot twist!
(No, I'm actually not kidding!)

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Let the characters speak

I'm writing the ninth chapter of my novel as we speak (or whatever you call it - you know what I mean) and I came across a problem: I needed to write that my characters are travelling through the forest, but that it's too quiet to be natural - something is wrong.

Okay. No problem, right?

So I wrote that days passed and it was quiet (too quiet...). I wrote that no birds were chirping and a lot of other things that should be there, but weren't.

Doesn't sound too bad.

But as I re-read it, I couldn't help but grimace, as if I'd eaten a half-rotten citrus. I felt nothing. No emotion. No depth. And I couldn't hear my characters - the ones that carry the story forward.

So I deleted it (don't worry, it was only three paragraphs, I'll live) and re-wrote it - letting my characters speak instead of me.

This is the outcome:

“Is it just me, or is it too quiet?” Suki asked the following afternoon as they trekked deeper into the Forest.
They were struggling up a hillside scattered with pines; Nahui nearly fell as he stepped on a pinecone that gave way under his weight. Aquene grabbed hold of his arm just in time.
“I’m serious,” Suki continued when no one answered him. Being the tallest gave him the advantage of his long legs easily carrying him up the hillside; Nahui and Aquene struggled behind him, panting from exhaustion. Sweat pressed Nahui’s shirt against his back. “We should’ve heard something by now. Where are the birds?”
“It is a bit spooky,” Aquene agreed with him, eyeing the trees around her as if she waited for someone to jump from behind a trunk, bow in hand. “I mean, it’s the Forest. It should be livelier.”
“Everything was normal when I hunted the boar,” Nahui said. “Maybe this part of the Forest is deserted for some reason?”
“Wildlife doesn’t desert a perfectly healthy habitat,” Aquene said, her face grimacing with confusion. Her thick braid swayed from side to side as she forced her legs up the hill, her face flushed with exhaustion. “Something is wrong.”

Better than my first try, I hope?

Letting the characters speak is important - the author is the tool that carries their voices onto the page, not the almighty storyteller. Am I right?

It does make a difference.

Finally, my Creative Writing course has taught me something! (I think... Or did I know this before, and only not acted on it? Hmm. Yeah. That's it. I was just too lazy to do it. Ah, well!)

So let the characters speak!
It's their story, not yours.

That is all.

Short update

It was a while since I visited my blog - and I'm sorry for that.

I've been back to Sweden for the summer, and since I returned, many things have happened. Excuses, I know, but I'm only human, right?

I'm currently writing two novels simultaneously.
It allows me to write what I feel like writing, instead of forcing myself to write when I just don't feel like it. I change between the two when I'm tired of the one I've been writing for a few days, when my motivation or ideas drain, and when I again change back, the ideas come more easily. I know, it sounds weird, but it's true!
I thought writing two novels at the same time would make me confused, but it's actually helped me develop a writing routine, for which I'm grateful.

But there's also a website that's helped me with some motivation problems -

If you're a writer, and you struggle with motivation or just want feedback on your writing, then I can highly recommend the site! It's helped me a lot, and the fact that they pick the five best novels each month for a reading from an editorial board definitely helps the motivation. At least for me.

Now I'm off to write the ninth chapter of my fantasy children's/YA novel - Rebirth.
With my boyfriend playing videogames in the same room - so much for concentration, hah!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Weather's impact on Writing

Have you ever felt "Today is the perfect day to write, I just feel it in my bones"?
If you have, what has the weather been like? Summer sunshine? Snowy winter? Cloudy? Stormy? Rainy?
The weather has actually already been proven to have an impact on people's moods. So I would say it does also affect our mood to write.

In Scandinavia, where I grew up, we have three summer months and between five and six winter months. These winter months are dark and extremely cold; we have about four hours of sunlight every day and about 20 degrees minus, mostly with heeps of snow that doesn't disappear until late April.

Sounds fun?
Not really.

My point is, it has been proven that these dark months greatly affect our mood. During these months, we are one of the most depressed people on Earth. We have even given it a name: "winter depression". So imagine how happy the Swedish people are during our few summer months.

Pretty darn happy.

Nothing can depress us during the summer - not even rain - because in the summers the sun hardly ever disappears.

That's right people - we have midnight sun.

Where I come from, the sun disappears maybe at 10pm, but if you stay up, you'll see it rise again at about 2am. Up in the northern part of Sweden, it doesn't even set. Ever. For three whole months.

So what has this to do with writing?

Well, first of all, I just wanted to make you aware of the seasons in Sweden. But second, I wanted to point out that seasons affect our mood. Even our mood to write.
Today I woke up at 5am by the howling wind outside the window and the rain that threw itself against it, and I just knew, right then, that I would face a writing-day. When the weather is bad and you have no intention of going out whatsoever, it becomes a writing day. I mean, when the sun is out, you want to go out and enjoy it while it lasts. Maybe that's just me, being from Sweden.

Anyway. I'm going to write as much as I can today. It's storm outside (where did the summer weather disappear to?!), and I admit that I haven't been writing that much lately. Nanowrimo had me write 50.000 words in one month, but since then I've only managed about 40.000 - in 4 months. At least I'm finished soon! 10.000 to go!

*typing away*

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The importance of reading

I must admit that when it comes to reading, I'm very picky. If something doesn't already have good reviews, I'm not probable to pick it up. As a writer, I know, this is NOT good. I wish I wasn't so picky. I know that reading is very important when it comes to honing one's writing skills. You read something good to learn how to apply successful techniques, and you read something bad to learn what techniques you should avoid.


And with that in mind, I have recently forced myself to read whatever I can get my hands on. With my limited student budget, I refrain from buying anything unless I know I will love the novel, but I'm using the university library as well as borrow from friends, and this has turned out to be a good thing. Not only have I read things that significantly differ from my own writing preferences, but I have come to realise that I am a hell of a fast reader! I've never really thought about it before, but after I finished the trilogy of the Hunger Games in less than three days, my friend pointed out, and I quote: "How fast do you read?!"

Right now, I'm in the middle of the ten-novels-long series A Princess' Diaries (which seriously annoys me, I might add, although I've always loved the film adaptation), and I have borrowed Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice from the library, seeing as I have yet to read that classic.

Do you have any recommendations? 
Whatever you recommend, I will read it! (I might even write reviews of them here on the blog!)

So keep writing and reading, folks!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Write for YOU

It may seem obvious, but I don't think people realise it - you can write whatever you like, however you like, and no one can stop you from putting whatever it is YOU want in your story. 

Yes, I write so that I can someday become published, but I also write what I would want to read. If others don't have the same preferences, that's fine. 

My fiction teacher recently said that J.K. Rowling - my absolute favourite author of all time - is not a good writer; she said that she was just lucky to have published her book at the perfect time. 
My blood boiled when I heard her say that. 
Who decides what makes a good writer anyway? If Rowling can't be said to be a genius writer, then who can?

Ok, so this is just random ranting on my part, but some people just make me so angry...

Your story matters, people!
And don't ever forget that.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Follow-up on characterisation - My WIP characters

Today, I just want to share the notes I have on my own characters. Enjoy!

My protagonist (Faith)
She is lonely and weak, broken since the day her father died to save her. She keeps it all to herself, however, and never shows herself weak in public. She doesn't believe in fairytales and she doesn't understand love. She doesn't trust people. She constantly feels abandoned and lonely, but her fear of trusting people - of coming close to them only to have them taken away - keeps her from people's company. She avoids close contact with anyone because she fears to again experience someone she loves disappear. ("Someday the ones you love will come to disappear, so isn't it better not to love at all? To spare you that grief and hurt?")
She is somewhat of a hypocryte: she keeps secrets, but feels betrayed if others do. She wants people to trust her, but can't trust others. She hates feeling lonely, but doesn't allow people to become her friends. She admires courage, strength, and confidence, but can't exercise these things herself. She wants people to love her, but doesn't know what love is. She thinks she's all alone, when she in reality has friends and family who care about her - she just doesn't see it in her isolated grief.

Faith's lover (Seth)
The son of a human and the Devil, he has always been able to question his father's actions. He hates his father for having killed off his mother, as if she meant nothing to him. Seth is cool, laid-back, and calm. Before he met Faith, he wasn't sure of his place in the world, but she gave him the love he had always sought, and it made him realise that there was actually something worth living for. When she was reborn as a human, he swore he would find her again. He is determined and faithful, and as long as Faith exist, he will make sure she is protected from the world he grew up in.

Faith's best friend (Em)
She is the social, ambitious girl who seeks love, happiness, and security. Her late brother was her source of security and comfort because her parents were constantly arguing with each other. When he passed away, she got lost. Faith helped her back on her feet and they've been best friends ever since. Faith never asks for much, so when she does, Em will do anything to protect her smile.

Faith's enemy and Em's lover (Damon)
He is the self-confident, tough guy - sarcastic and critical, but calm, collected, and patient. As a son of the Devil, he likes to play with people's emotions. He's manipulative and doesn't understand human emotions. He doesn't believe in love, but in lust.

Faith's friend, who secretly loves her (Raphael)
Although he is an angel, he's bold and always completely honest, even when he probably shouldn't be. He dares disobey God and so he isn't always the best angel, but his heart is in the right place. He is the self-confident, teasing, athletic (soccer) type.

Faith's mother (Susan)
She wants nothing more but for Faith to be happy. She hasn't yet stopped grieving her husband, but she doesn't show her sadness to Faith. At home, she puts on a brave face and is always smiling. At work, she works so hard that she doesn't have time to think about that which saddens her.

Faith's late father (John)
He was a very ambitious lawyer who firmly believed in hard work. As a result, he didn't have much time for family life, but he accepted every opportunity to be with his family. He believed in justice and thought that lawyers would bring it. He had a strong sense of moral.

The novel is up on 70.000 words right now! (For those of you who don't know, an average-sized novel has about 80.000 words.) I've estimated that it will be finished at about 100.000, so I'm slowly getting there! If not for NaNoWriMo, I would probably still have just about one chapter, or something... ^^ I'll have to rewrite it again, of course, but at least I have the basic storyline. Yay!

Monday, 30 January 2012

Defining a character

There are the books that depend on characters and there are the books that depend on plot - some accomplishes both, like the ever fantastic Harry Potter series. But for the beginner, succeeding with even one of those is difficult.

So today, I have decided to talk about characterisation. 

How do we, as readers, define a character? Is it the physical attributes, or is it the personality?

You would probably say both, and sure, that's fine, but I have found that physical attributes doesn't really matter. Why? Because we never really see what a character looks like - we usually define a character by personality, because that is something we see in action.

Take any novel written in first-person viewpoint and you see what I mean. With first-person viewpoint, the ways of finding out what the main character looks like are limited. We can see this person in a mirror, or we can hear the protagonist being described by someone else (although that would sound ridiculous in dialogue). The point is, we may never find out what the main character looks like, but that hardly matters - we know the personality of that character inside and out, and that's all we need.

So how do we create these characters? How do we make them stand out from the crowd? How do we make them so that we don't confuse them with any other character?
Okay, the first thing is to give everyone a distinct name (I know - too basic) - it sounds easy enough, but you would be surprised as to how close some names may sound or look, and giving your characters names that are too similar to each other (like having them all start with the same letter) is often very confusing for the reader! (In other words, don't have an Edmund and an Edward, or a Harvey and a Harry, in the same novel!)

Now, the most difficult thing is to create these characters' distinct personalities.
Just a few hours ago, I played through one of my favourite DS games - Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright - where every character always has very distinct character traits. The game is, as is implied by the title, about the defence attorney Phoenix Wright. And naturally, handling murder cases implies handling a lot of different people: victims, suspects, witnesses, attorneys, and prosecutors. The point is, these people need to be easy to remember, and to relate to.
I'll take a few examples:

We have Phoenix Wright, who strongly believes in justice, and who is constantly made fun of by others because of his good-willed nature.

We have his rival, Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, who is very proud and self-confident and who, since he decided to become a prosecutor, has been named 'genius'. He is not very good with people, but his heart is in the right place. He is also afraid of earthquakes.

Phoenix's partner, Maya Fey, is a Spirit Channeling Technique apprentice (can talk to the dead) who is always positive, but a bit naive.

To give examples from a more famous source (Harry Potter):

We have Hagrid the good-willed giant; Dumbledore the old, weird genius; Hermione the clever Muggle-born; Snape the wicked guy-you-never-know-which-side-he-is-on, and so on, and so forth.

The point is, you always strive to have approximately 3 distinct character traits for every person in the novel. The less traits, the easier to remember - but the harder to find realistic (so you got to find the balance!). Rowling managed to balance this perfectly, but she also managed to give every character a memorable face. This is tricky, but it's all in the details. Not the usual things, like eye and haircolour, but things like 'dimples' or 'filthy nails' or 'a crooked nose'. It's all in the details!

So now I wonder - how do you establish the traits of your characters? Do you make a list of traits and just choose a few, or are these things decided already when you first come up with the character? 
How much time do you spend on 'getting to know them' before you start writing? 
And how do you decide on their looks? How important are the physical attributes to you?