Compelling Characters

Compelling characters are a must, everyone knows that from readers to writers. If your main character isn’t compelling, then who is going to want to read your book? Pretty much no one. A while back, on tumblr, I watched a debate unfold between those who were pro-Bella Swan and those who were anti-Bella Swan.

Those against her thought Mrs. Meyers shouldn’t have written a girl that centers her whole world around her boyfriend and who would date a stalker. They thought she was teaching teens about bad habits, after all, one would hope that girls wouldn’t find it attractive if a guy watched her as she slept before they even really got to know each other. In the real world, that’s some scary shit.

Those for her said that Mrs. Meyers has the right to write a girl that bases everything upon her relationship and is kind of spineless (or they liked her character). One person in particular said, “everyone has the right to write a pathetic character if they want to. Mrs. Meyer’s doesn’t have to write a story that will teach teens about proper morals.”

I’m not going to get into the Twilight debate, it’s pointless and just goes around and around. The fact is, Twilight sold like crazy which means Mrs. Meyers must have wrote a compelling character. A character that people could invest themselves in.

I believe you don’t need to write a moral righteous book — after all, if you are blatantly trying to teach teens a lesson they’ll hate it. I hate it, too. It’s also true you can write an utterly pathetic, scum-of-the-earth, character if you so desire. But if you want the book to sell, your character still needs to be compelling for some reason. I think the greatest example I can use is the British novel High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.

I read it in high school, mostly because a guy I had a crush on lent his book to me. I had no idea what it was about and I don’t think I would have ever picked up otherwise. The main character is Rob Fleming and he is probably one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever spent an entire book with. He cheats on his girlfriend, pretty much acts like a pathetic asshole the entire book, and yet I enjoyed it. And no, it’s not just because my crush recommended it.

Hornby managed to make an otherwise unlikable character likeable. Fleming was someone almost everyone can find a connection to. Most of us have that relationship that ended when we wound rather it not have, and if that certain someone came crawling back we might even fantasize about making them suffer a bit more. We all love something that we know will fade with time (for Fleming, it was records). Those are just the first ones that come time mind. It’s been years since I’ve read it, but I still remember how I felt reading it. That’s a sign of a good book.

Any type of character, even the unlikable, can become compelling. You just have to figure out how to do it.

Writing the Breakout YA Novel

When I first started to write my manuscript, I didn’t think about what genre it would fall into. I didn’t really care, I just wanted to tell my story and knew I could figure out the rest later. I don’t think it does anyone any good to write a story with a specific genre in mind, or a lesson they want to teach someone, or to follow a current trend.

Trends change, it’s pretty much impossible to guess what the next trend will be and the current one will probably be dead before you can publish the novel you are working on right now. No one likes to be taught a lesson by a novel, particularly teens, but we all learn something anyway. If it’s a good story then we enjoy it and when we think about it later we realize we learned something. But have you ever read a story that was blatantly trying to teach you a lesson? Like “Don’t do drugs, kiddos!” those aren’t fun. I think a perfect example of this is the movie Charlie Bartlett. It was funny, entertaining, and interesting… until the end became a blatant moral lesson about how kids shouldn’t do drugs.

Yeah, I agree, doing prescription drugs when you don’t have a prescription is a bad idea. Duh. I figured that out from the rest of the movie, being blatantly reminded that at the end just made a five star movie fade to a three star one. I’d rather read/watch a great story that has a moral lesson to be learned subtly on the side.

Plus, if you write your story without any of those things in mind, you open up the possibility to surprise yourself with what your finish product turns out to be.

I’ll admit, I got into researching the market place and the publishing business later than I would have liked. I wish I had started it years before I did. When I first started to test the water and see what was going on I invested a lot of time in Writer’s Digest. Reading their blog, their magazine, their writing books, and all that fun stuff. I’ve bought a tutorial or two (which used to be WD webinars) but they always came with a package deal, so I didn’t intentionally buy just one of them.

But last week I signed up for a live webinar event and it finally happened today. It was an hour and a half webinar called Writing the Breakout YA Novel and it was hosted by literary agent Holly Root. By the way, that’s a name you should know. She’s an extremely active, high up, literary agent. You’ll probably want to query her if you write adult or young adult fiction. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get out of the webinar (other than a query critique by Holly Root — which I’m so excited about!) since I had done a lot of research in this area already.

I’m glad I attended it, though. It was nice to hear how the YA market is growing and there are still a lot of opportunities in it now. Even though the traditional publishing business is in the midst of change because of technology advances and such (and no one is for sure what will happen to it). Most of the fellow writers I talk to on a regular basis are indie self-published authors and they aren’t that reassuring when it comes to the traditional publishing place. I love all you indie writers, of course, but usually you went indie because you have little or no faith in the traditional publishing market (or you are disenchanted by it). To each their own, as I always say, but going indie isn’t what I want. I’m not ruling it out, but I’ve always wanted to go the traditional route.

A third of the webinar was new and interesting to hear about, another third I already knew but it was still nice to hear Mrs. Root’s take on it, and then the last third of it… I may or may not have gotten distracted by interior design ideas. Of course when I got distracted I was still listening and taking in what was said (I’m brilliant at multitasking at least that’s what I tell myself). I don’t know what it is, but if I’m not multitasking I feel like I’m wasting time. Except, of course, when I’m writing. Though, I’m always listening to music/watching a movie/tv show at the same time… In less I’m revising, then I’m usually just listening to music (if anything).

I digress, my point is this: the YA market is a live, thriving, and to hear that makes me happy.

E-books, paperbacks, or hardcovers?

Which do you prefer? E-books, paperbacks, or hardcovers? Personally, I have no idea. On the one hand, I never want real books to go away. When I say real books I don’t mean good books, well-written books, or anything like that — I mean books you can physically hold with new pages that smell so wonderful. On the other, it’s so easy to just buy an e-book online and carry them all within my Nook anywhere I go. Doing that saves me a lot of space in luggage when I’m traveling.

Financially, e-books are nicer. Some are free, a lot are less than five dollars, and most are well below fifteen dollars. Hardcovers range from around twenty dollars upward. Paperbacks are usually less than twenty dollars. I’ve bought a couple hardcovers (when I’m into a series and can’t wait for the paperback to come out) but I’d always prefer to buy a paperback because it’s cheaper.

If I become well off one day, I’ll buy nothing but hardcovers because I really want a room like this:

Wouldn’t that be amazing? You can’t do that with a bunch of e-books.

Also you should check out

Donna of Suits & No Original Ideas?

Donna is awesome

Have you ever watched the show Suits on USA? I fell in love with it during the first season. I thought it was the dumbest concept. How could it be possible for someone not to go to law school but become a lawyer at some big league law firm in NYC? It became believable after the first episode. Mike & Harvey, the main characters, are pretty awesome. Mike is funny and cute. Harvey is bold, clever, and handsome. They’re the perfect mix.

Then there’s Donna, Harvey’s assistant. She’s technically a “minor” character but she’s my favorite. A bold, clever, redhead that can get anything she wants done. Even though she’s a fictional character, she’s a great role model. Plus, she’s pretty funny. I’m glad it’s finally back for a second season.

The first episode to this season was just… wow. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was dying to find out, commercial breaks were cruel. The writing for this show is pretty damn clever.

In this episode, there was this girl who was mad because her boss (a literary agent) stole an idea that she pitched to her. Because she was opposing Mike Ross, I didn’t like her but I understood her difficult position. But if someone gave me 30,000 dollars for an idea I would have been like “hell yeah” and just got on with my life. It wasn’t like she actually wrote the book. If she had done that, then I would have been completely on her side.

Besides, her excuse for not taking the money (she wanted more) was because it might be her only idea ever. That’s utter horse shit. If you are a real writer, you don’t just have one idea. As Octavia Butler said:

“Forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit in persistence in practice.”

If she was really a writer, she wouldn’t be worried that she’d never come up with another idea. She would come up with another idea.

A while back, I wanted to come up with new YA story ideas in case my current YA manuscript doesn’t work out. I sat around thinking about it and by the end of the weekend I had two new, unrelated, books outlined. It just took persistence and determination. I didn’t wait for inspiration to fall from the sky to strike me like lightening. I made it happen.

There is no such thing as an original idea anymore. Most stories can be boiled down to a common story (boy meets girl, girl doesn’t like boy, boy loves girl then moves on… and girl falls for boy). It’s the way you approach your idea that makes it original. The writing, your special flare you give it. Without that, it’s just an idea. An idea that can be boiled down to a common story line.

ETA:  After I posted this I had a friend point out a story that is similar to my own and what Donna says below pretty much hits home. Luckily, it’s only a couple superficial factors that are similar (both MC could be considered “without” emotions — though in different ways — and have violet eyes). They aren’t the same story, even if you boil down to the common story line. But, still, it’s sort of weird to come across such things.

Snow White and the Huntsman

I’ve been wanting to see Snow White & the Huntsman since I saw the first preview for it. I like dark twists on fairy tales (because usually they were dark before Disney got a hold of them). Charlize Theron is always good and I’ve liked Chris Hemsworth since I saw him in Thor. The only thing that I didn’t like was Kristen Stewart as Snow White. I’ve seen her in Adventureland, Panic Room, and Twilight (only the first one, I never bothered with the rest). I wasn’t really impressed by any of her roles even though I liked Panic Room and Adventureland.

Plus, the idea that KStew could be fairer than Charlize Theron…? I couldn’t help but think ‘in what reality?’ because, come on, Charlize Theron is an amazingly beautiful woman. In the commercials she was clearly a knock out. And then there was KStew. Plain looking KStew in a role of the ‘fairest of them all’.

I couldn’t get with that, but I still wanted to see the movie. Tonight I finally got the chance and I was pleasantly surprised. Charlize Theron was amazing, no shocker there, and Chris Hemsworth was amusing and somehow sexy even though he looked highly unwashed. The little girl that played young Snow White was cute and had really beautiful eyes. I could totally believe she would grow up to be the fairest of them all. And KStew?

She was actually pretty good. At times, she even looked as lovely as Charlize Theron. She only has a couple facial expressions, but otherwise she did well. I remember her biting her bottom lip like a hundred times in Twilight, thankfully she didn’t do it once in this movie. I read a couple reviews slamming her acting but I don’t think that’s fair. She actually did a good job. I was very impressed by her in this movie.

Before you say it, I know the whole point was inner beauty, that she was kind and fair on the inside in ways the evil Queen could never be. But even if it wasn’t, if it was just about outer beauty, this movie made me believe that KStew could rival Charlize Theron’s beauty on a really good day.

It even inspired me. I’ve been having issues with my current WIP even though I’ve been able to write parts of it every day. I was stuck. I didn’t know where to take the story but the beauty of this movie helped me. I came home and wrote a scene.

The movie kept me entertained from start to finish, the acting was good, the plot entertaining, and that’s all I look for in a movie. I don’t need it to be picture of the year, just something that was worth my money. Snow White & the Huntsman is just that. I would recommend anyone seeing it, even you aren’t a KStew fan.

Update: Due to the news that KStew had an affair with the married director of this movie, I feel the need to retract the compliments I gave for her. Truth is, she should be given very few things to say (as she was in this movie) and just thrown in the midst of action, if the movie hopes to be good. Because, well, let’s face it. KStew doesn’t have a lot of facial expressions, and apparently no morals. Really? A married man? Really…? Ugh. Then she goes and apologizes to her boyfriend in a public weepy thing (probably more for her fans than him, because if it was for him she’d have done it in private). Yeah, great for you KStew, now what do you have to say the the wife?

Writers Shouldn’t Blog About Writing…?

I’ve come across the “writers shouldn’t blog about writing” thing in a couple different places this weekend. It’s not a new debate by any means. Author Roni Loren talked about it back in 2011, as did Anne R. Allen. Even though they are dated, the points they make are still valued. I’d recommend their posts for anyone to read.

This weekend, Writer’s Digest opened all their tutorials to customers for free for four days. I checked them out and some are intriguing, but I don’t think any of it was eye-opening for me. The tutorials made by Jane Friedman were some of my favorites. It was interesting learning about her point of view on internet networking. She’s one of those that advocates against writer’s blogging about the process of writing.

Hearing that just makes me think “wtf?”. On the one hand I get her point of view. She’s talking about published writers and it makes sense to have a reader friendly website and blog instead of just one oriented towards writers. After all, there are a lot of readers out there that don’t write. That being said, writers write — I know, I’m stating the obvious but it’s true.

Trust me, if someone is really dedicated to writing — so much so that they even get published — then writing is a major part of their life. How can you ask them not to talk about it? It’s always said you should blog about something you love and have a good amount of knowledge on. If you’re a writer… then that’s writing. I’m not saying that all writers should just blog about writing but they shouldn’t be told that it’s a “no-no”.

I think that Roni Loren has a good mix on her site. There’s a massive amount of helpful tips about writing on her site, for her fellow writers, and still posts that are non-writer friendly.

I’m not saying that they’re wrong and I’m right. Jane Friedman has extensive knowledge in this area, for all I know she could be very right. Still, I don’t think I could not post about the writing process, even if I were a successful published author. It’s an important part of my life, a major part that I enjoy talking about.

Does Miss Popularity Really Exist?

Have you ever heard that song Miss Popularity by Jordan Pruitt? Does it make you think back when you were in high school (or just about it, if you’re still in it)? Do you think about that perfect girl? The one that was pretty, popular, probably head cheerleader, that had any boy she wanted and was the guide of school gossip? The epically popular girl that was all that and an utter nightmare? Who made your life, or the life someone you knew, a living hell?

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about, since it’s a theme of a lot of YA stories that take place in high school or an environment akin to school. The MC is usually the normal Jane, or nerdy Nancy, because most of us can sympathize with them. Then there’s also that character, sometimes a major player in the story, or just a minor one — the perfect girl. The one that has the perfect body, gorgeous face, probably head cheerleader, and is an absolute bitch towards the MC.

Most of the time I’m just like ‘whatever’ and move along with the story. But it always makes me wonder, is that really as big of a problem as the media makes it out to be? In all the teen TV shows that are based around a normal girl (not Gossip Girls or Pretty Little Liars or something like that) there’s always that amazingly popular mega bitch. Same goes for movies.

But does miss popularity really exist? Was there a girl like that at your school? I’m really interested to find out how many people actually had a problem with Miss Popularity.

There wasn’t one at mine. My high school wasn’t anything like the ones on TV or in books, but I guess it wouldn’t make for a good story either. At my high school there were cliques, sure, but they weren’t definite. You could be in the artistic clique, math geek one, Hispanic one, and athletic one.

Granted, I was really pretty much not invested in anything that happened in my high school. I had less than no school spirit. I was pretty oblivious to the “important” things like home coming and prom. I didn’t have a hard time finding friends because I already had my group from middle school. I didn’t just stay with them, I expanded my circle. I met my best friend to this day in my sophomore World History class.

I was a pretty shy kid back then and also going through my demi-goth phase. Yeah, I did that. I tried on personalities like I did clothes through my teen years. I was a preppy little girl that wore bright colors in middle school, a goth-wanna-be my first few years in high school, then I phased into me. I’ve grown as a person since high school, matured in college, learned a lot through my times spent abroad, but I haven’t changed into a completely different person. I’m pretty much the same as I was when I graduated from high school, just more responsible, not as quick as to share my opinion when I don’t know what I’m talking about (oh, I loved doing that in my teen years) and I don’t hold grudges anymore (I was really great at that, too).

Still, I never had any real problems. Sure, when I was in high school I thought I did but it really just boils down to a bunch of pointless, stupid, tiffs I had with my friends over silly things like boys. When it came to the popular kids, at my high school, they were only popular because they were nice to everyone!

Come on, the definition of being popular means lots of people like you. How the hell can you be popular by being a bitch to the little people? The little, normal, people that consist of most of the school. And believe me, they popular kids at my school were the stereotypical beauty queens and kings with really rich parents. I grew up in a very nice county and decided to go to Northwest high school (where all my friends went and my older brother) which is the richest of all schools in my hometown — even though my house was in the East district, which is average.

My little brother, on the other hand, when to North, the poorest school in the district. Trust me, “poor” in that county isn’t really poor — it’s average. I was lucky to grow up in a place that put a lot of money and effort into public schools. Anyway, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who was more nerdy than my kid brother, Nick. When he started high school, he had acne, a huge head, big glasses, and braces. He is also the smartest person I know, so he got easy As in everything. Also, he was awkward — really, really, awkward — in his early years. But did he ever get picked on by the popular kids? No. He had a great time in high school.

Back to my high school: My main clique was the 21st century program clique. I was studying computer animation at the time, so those were my people. Though, I don’t know why I was doing that. It probably had everything to do with the fact that that’s what my older brother picked to do (I even picked Japanese as the language I studied, which he was). You know how that is, older brothers (and his hot friends) are pretty awesome. Especially when you’re at the phase when your big brother want nothing to do with you, that just makes him more fun to be around.

Anyway, my point in saying that is those 21st century folks, including myself, were pretty nerdy. When I took Intro to Fashion (as I was giving up on my demi-goth stuff), I was in the middle of all the popular girls. Everyone but me and my friend Sherrie were in that popular clique in that class, most cheerleaders or on the dance squad. If they were like the ones on TV or in books, then wouldn’t they have been mean to me and my friend? Isolate us out of conversation, tease us when the teacher wasn’t looking, and being general mega bitches?

Guess what? They didn’t do any of that stuff. They never teased us, I doubt they even talked about us behind our backs. I wasn’t cool or into their music (I was staunchly against pop/rap music back then, alternative rock was all I’d listen to) and I was pretty much anti-anything popular just because. Thus, I didn’t watch any of the “cool” shows or movies. Still the most popular girl in my grade (perhaps the whole school) was even in that class with us. And she was the sweetest girl ever, sure she was beautiful, sure she was rich, sure she was dating the best looking guy in the whole school, but she was a very nice girl. Hence why she was so popular.

I’m not saying my school was some fantasy world, where everything was perfect. Teens still did the same shit they always did, but it was just little drama (that seemed big back then). Girls played their mind games with other girls, but it was usually within their group of friends. Bullying did happen, but it was mostly between boys and almost all centered on one boy at my school, Jared.

And before you feel sorry for Jared, keep in mind the only reason he was made fun of was because he was an asshole. A racist, bigot, asshole that thought all Muslims were evil, who thought all Hispanic kids were illegal immigrates, and was ignorant to the fact that most of the Indian population in our area were Hindus and not Muslim. In short, he was a redneck prick that was very annoying to be around. I tried to get along with him, we had a math class together senior year, but I couldn’t. One of my best friends was gay and another was Chinese, and believe me, Jared had a very narrow minded opinion on both things.

I’m sure that there was some other bad stuff going on in my high school. There was this time when this really geeky girl got elected home queen but apparently it was a joke. I completely missed this happening (shows how much I pay attention) but I don’t see how that’s mean. She got to say she was home queen, and I’m sure that there were a lot of nerds that voted for her in good faith. Still, there was never that mega bitch. There were bitches at my school, but they were far from perfect — and probably that’s why they were the way they were.

So, does Miss Popularity really exist? Or is it just one of those things that are made up and help make a story more interesting? (Though, I’m sick of that in YA books. It’s just not original).