Diversity in Writing

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Diversity of characters, in my opinion, is one of the most important aspects of a story. I don’t just mean making your characters have distinct personalities. I’m talking race, gender, religion, sexuality, and much more.

Regardless of whether or not most stories are about straight white people (they are, at least the ones that get super popular), it is still important to have diversity.

The way I see it, good, well-researched diversity has two effects: it shows those people who identify with the character that they are not alone, and it educates those of us who have not experienced life the way the character and other people like the character have.

Now, there is something to say for not having diverse writing. I’ve seen people complain about how they always imagined their characters one way and then get upset when people suggest they make their stories more diverse. The response is always “well, of course you don’t have to do what other people want. It’s your story. Don’t try to force it. Yadda yadda yadda.” Yeah, sure, it’s your story and you should never force anything. Believe me, forced diversity usually just comes out at tired stereotypes. But maybe you should take some time to reflect on why you can’t add diversity to your story. What is making it so hard? Why don’t you want to include other types of people? 

One reason I predict is “but I don’t know anything about x people.” Of course not. No one can know everything about everyone else’s experience (and let’s be real here, if you’re so resistant to adding diversity then you are probably pretty privileged which will make it hard for you to see the need for diversity). 

Another reason could be fear. I know that I, as a white, cisgender, straight passing female, I have a lot of fear about writing other races and genders wrong. I fear writing something that will hurt others, stereotypes that perpetuate stereotypes.

To both and any other possible reasons for not writing diverse characters, the answer is research. That is a large part of the writing process anyway. Research. Research. Research.

Read accounts by people of other races, religions, genders, etc than you. Talk to then. Get their story about what life has been like for them. And actually listen. Go even further and discuss with them what kind of things they would like to see in stories about them, how they would like to be portrayed. Read books (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, everything) about minorites and by minorities. 

Be less egocentric and more compassionate and considerate in your writing.

What are some of your favorite (for lack of a better term) minority authors?

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Honesty Time

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‚ÄčI am really struggling with this blog. I said I would do a weekly post (ha), and that was really just to get me writing. I haven’t written really anything since graduating, and I feel like I’m wasting my degree.

I want to write. Honest. I have lots of story ideas.

But I’m not passionate about writing. 

Here are some things I am passionate about: Sondheim’s Into the Woods. Ghosts/ghost stories/spooky stories. Stories in general. Editing.

I am very passionate about editing. I love fixing stories and sentences and scenes and structure. I love talking about grammar and structure and all the rest. But I feel like this blogs has been me talking about writing as a writer, not an editor. But since I don’t have professional editing experience (just when I tutored and workshopped in college and a little volunteer work recently), I don’t feel qualified to talk about editing, since I don’t actually know the business. :/

I think, going forward, maybe I will talk about the things I read in craft books and ways I would have edited something differently in novels/poems I read.

What is a story?

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For Christmas, my friend got me john Yorke’s “Into the Woods, a five-act journey into story.” The book mainly focuses on film, but I think a lot of what is said (at least what I’ve read so far) can be applied to novels as well. (He also provides lots of sources and notes, which is nice.)

Chapter one delves into what a story is. For most of us, when asked what makes a story a story, we would probably say something like “something happens to someone.” That someone being the protagonist and the something being conflict. According to Yorke (and I think most of us can agree with this), “the ‘something’ is almost always a problem, sometimes a problem disguised as an opportunity.”

So we have our protagonist living out their day to day lives and something happens that changes that. 

One thing that I’m sort of confused about is that he talks about the characters needing to have a desire (of course) and then later he talks about the inciting incident being the catalyst for the desire. So does the protagonist have this desire in her day to day life, or does the desire only occur after something happens to start the action? And if the desire was not previously there, what did the character want beforehand, because our characters must have pasts before this inciting incident. 

Now that I think about it, when Yorke talks about protagonists, he mentions that the protag’s desire shouldn’t be abstract (instead of wanting love, the protag wants the quarterback to ask her to the prom, for example), but I think that before the story starts, an abstract desire is ok, and then the inciting incident happens that makes the protag’s desire manifest as something more concrete. Maybe. I don’t know.

One thing I kind of struggled with was the concept of character flaws. As a baby writer, I thought flaws were simply meant to make the character more likeable and less of a Mary Sue. Yorke states that flaws are basically the same thing as needs for characters and “what they want stands in direct opposition to what they need.” This of course is all the set up for the internal change or growth of the character when (if?) they don’t get what they want. 

Again, this book is great stuff. You should check it out. I’ll probably revisit it again when I get farther along in it.

Has anyone else read it? What did you think?

Writing Resolution

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This year I resolve to write more. (Shouldn’t be too hard, sadly.)

Writing tip idea: start by setting out to write the shittiest version of the story you want to write. This should help relieve the pressure to write a Great story. Also, sometimes it can be fun to write really bad stories. My theory for why writing bad is fun is a. The reduced stress to be perfect brings you back to a time when you wrote just to write, allowing you to just live in the story and not worry about nitpicking the grammar and structure and other things like that (which also allows you to build stronger relationships with your characters so you as an author can get to know them better), and b. sometimes it is just fun to deal in cliches. 

Then, after you’ve allowed yourself to write a really shitty story, your next goal is to revise it into a better story.

I have not tested this idea and cannot speak for it, but I will try it and get back to you guys.

Has anyone else tried this before? Did it work? What starting strategies have you guys used before?

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Happy New Year! I hope you all had a great holiday season.

I’d like to start off 2017 with the most important writing advice. I’m sure I’ve said it before, and I know you’ve all heard it before:

Write.

Write, write, write, write, write.

Sit your butt in the chair and just write.

You are not going to get anything written if you don’t actually write.

Of course, that advice isn’t always the easiest to follow. We come up with excuses-but I dont have time, I dont like anything I write, I have depression (these are all of my excuses). 

If writing is really important to you, make time. You dont have to write every day. Even if you just find some time on the weekends to write. 

Writing is a skill; by practicing, you will get better.

Depression is a whole different conversation, and I honestly don’t have much advice on this one. First take care of yourself, then worry about writing.

I guess what all this boils down to is making writing a priority in your life. (Yes, even the part about putting writing second to your own mental health. Taking care of yourself will make it easier to get into a writing mindset. At least, thats how it works for me.) 

If writing is important to you, then treat it like it is important to you.

Recommendations

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Here are some books I like:

The Corn Maiden and other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates. A collection of deliciously spine tingling stories.

Anything by Patricia Briggs. Fantasy and urban fantasy with female protags.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. A thrilling story about a missing wife. Great characterization.

In Writing by Stephen King: an insightful memoir of the craft.

The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernen. A modern gothic ghost story with a lesbian protag. It took a bit to get into it (it is sort of like…found footage, but as a book….which I am not fond of), but it was worth it.

A Whisper in the Wind by Joan Smitg. A leisure gothic novel. No ghosts, unfortunately, but there is murder and mistaken identity. A naive young girl marries a charming gentleman after like a week or two, and when he takes her home, everyone seems to already know her. Very easy read.

Am reading:

Wolfsbane by Patricia Briggs and the Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Want to Read:

Octavia Butler, more ghost stories, something similar to Gone Girl without saying it’s like GG and then disappointing me when it is absolutely nothing like GG, House of Leaves by Danielewski, more diverse authors

As you can see, I like fantasy and ghost stories. Ghost stories are my passion, but fantasy is home. It is familiar and comfortable.

What books do you recommend?

False Advertising

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I listen to the Writing Excuses podcast (if you haven’t checked it out yet, you really should), and one of the things they (and many others) talk about a lot is keeping the promises you make to you readers. This can mean a lot of things in regards to your writing, but today I want to talk about literal false advertising.

I will use two books as examples. Both are debut novels. The first one was marketed as “The next (book that I like).” So, of course, I bought it. I went in excited to read a new story with the same writing quality as the other book I liked. 

The second was a re-release of a New York Times bestselling author and was marketed as such, just edited a little bit for issues she now knew how to fix after she got several novels under her belt. I went in excited to read the first novel of one of my favorite authors, expecting it to not really be that great, but to still be enjoyable.

I read the first one and absolutely hated it. Because it was marketed as being simular to this other book, I was able to predict the ending immediately. The writing quality was subpar. The character development was nonexistent. Ultimately, I was disappointed because the author did not keep her promise to me.

The second book, I have not finished yet, and there are obvious problems with it-certain cliches that are common among new writers-but I am impressed. The characters aren’t exactly new-female mercenary protag, her shapeshiftimg wolf-mage sidekick, a promising young king, a sadistic mage who wants to rule the world essentially. But I kind of expected that going in.

One of the episodes of Writing Excuses deals with the pet peeves of agents, and one of the things mentioned was that agents hate it when writers day in their query letters that their book is “the next Harry Potter” or whatever other book is big at the time. I think it does largely come down to originality and writing your own thing and not trying to ride on someone else’s coattails, but I think it also has to do with not setting yourself up for failure. And honestly, if you have to name drop Harry Potter to get people interested then maybe your story has bigger issues.

Writing prompt: I want you to take 5 common story ideas and use those as jumping off points for 5 new story ideas. Summarize each in one sentence that mentions character and conflict.

You are a writer.

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Someone on Tumblr once asked a famous comic book artist (who shall remain nameless) how to get over their writer’s block, which had lasted something like two years. 

The artist, rather than actually addressing the question, told this person that they were not a writer. After all, writers write, right?

There is a lot that can be said about the block not actually being real and that the most important thing about writing is actually sitting down and writing and that you can’t wait for inspiration. We have all heard it before.

But you are a writer the moment you decide you want to be a writer. That’s all there is to it. Yes, you probably should get writing now, but no one can take that title away from you. 

Haven’t been paid for writing? Still a writer, just not an author. Crippling depression that makes it so you can’t find the energy to write for years? Still a writer. New mom with no time to write but still has ideas churning in her brain while changing dirty diapers? Still a writer, just with different priorities now.

This does not necessarily mean you are a good writer. Good writing takes practice, and if your depression (to use myself as an example) stops you from writing for a couple years, then you may need to retrain your brain to be in the writing mode. I certainly am nowhere near as strong a writer as I was in college. But I am still a writer, and I always will be. The same goes for you.

You are a writer.

Children’s Fiction and Young Adult Fiction is Important

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I’m sure I’ve blogged about this before, but I’m going to do it again. Children’s Fiction and YA fiction is super duper important and no one can tell me otherwise. (I mean, you can try if you’d like, but you’re going to need a really strong argument, and if you can change my mind, then hats off to you.)

Now, I’m not necessarily a huge fan of kids fic. In fact, a lot of the tropes we see in YA fiction drive mr absolutely batty. (Hello, unnecessary love triangles.) But once upon a time, I too had plans to write an awesome werewolf love story. Of course, I had planned on it being adult paranormal romance, but when I told my idea to the guy I was sort of seeing, he made fun of me for wanting to write YA. 

After my initial anger at the fact that he 1. Made fun of me and 2. Thought I was writing YA, I realized that even if I were writing YA, I would have nothing to be ashamed of. 

You see, fiction for kids is what is teaching the younger generations to love reading. It is shaping who they are as people (which of course means we need to really think about the things we write for kids, but we shouldn’t be ashamed of it.)

We also shouldn’t feel guilty for reading YA. I recently read an article that was all about shaming adults for reading YA because they can’t hold a candle to real, “adult” literature. But really, not only should people be allowed to enjoy whatever the hell they want, but there is also always something to be learned from whatever we read, even if it just amounts to “you know, I really don’t like young adult novels.”

There is always something to be taught in our writing, and there is always something to be learned from our reading.

Criticism and Ego

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that writers need thick skins. Or really anyone who creates something for the consumption of others. 

All art, once it becomes public, is fair game for criticism and critique. There will always be people who like what you create, and there will also always be people who don’t like it. Learning to accept criticism and critique, or at the very least ignore it, can be one of the hardest things for a writer, especially considering our enormous egos.

Criticism, constructive or not, can hurt. But those are just growing pains. We all want to get better as writers, and our own judgement can only take us so far. At some point, we need to give our writing to others and find out what works and what doesn’t. Sure, you can take it or leave it when it comes to criticism. You have the final say in any and all changes (at least until you start throwing contracts and publishers and editors and agents in the mix.) However, if most of your alpha and beta readers and the people in your writing group or whoever are saying the same thing about your writing, it might be good to consider working on whatever it is they are talking about. 

In fact, even if only one person is suggesting a certain change, it might be a good idea to briefly consider their suggestion. Everyone comes into things with different perspectives, all of which are legit. You just need to think about your ultimate vision for your piece and how that perspective might affect it.

It is also important to have a good attitude when it comes to criticism. I have been an angry person my whole life (yay, depression!), and unfortunately that came out a lot when I was taking college writing classes. Here are some things that I did that I want you to learn from:

  • I challenged certain critiques. This is not inherently bad, because you obviously have a right to question their critiques, but usually in writing workshops you want to be silent and just listen. If you don’t understand a comment, then by all means ask for clarification, but don’t get angry.
  • I tried to explain myself. If you have to explain yourself, you didn’t write it well enough.
  • I very obviously hated certain people in class. One guy in my class cheated on multiple of his girlfriends, people I knew, so I had no respect for him as a person or a writer. Yes, you are going to hate people, especially in a college course. But keep it to yourself. If you plan on making this a career or really if you want to work with others at all, you don’t want to be known as someone who is difficult to work with.
  • I had a superiority complex. I liked what I wrote and I didn’t like what most others wrote, so I obviously felt I was the best writer. Writers do need a little bit of ego to keep them going, but ultimately we want to be a community that builds each other up and fosters a welcoming environment where beginners will want to continue and get better. Not everyone is going to be at the same level. Everyone starts somewhere. Don’t be a jerk about it.

So basically what we have learned is that I was a huge asshole in college. I 100% would have learned more if I had a better attitude. 

Learn from me. Be better.

(Side note, sorry for missing last week’s post. I actually wrote it on time but got lazy and didn’t post it.)