When Your Characters Lead Your Story

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Character-driven stories are always the best kind of stories.

I don’t talk to my characters (I swear!), but they do control my story more than I might let on. Characters, though fictional, are fully fleshed out people living in your universe of fiction writing if writing is what you live and breathe every day. If you’re serious about your craft, I think that you should be strongly connected with all of your characters. I might take this a step further.

I confess that often, it really is my characters that decide the direction that they will go in a story. I have heard of a few writers admit to this as well. Some writers whose blogs I have read think that this level of thinking is weird/wrong and that they as writers are always fully in control of their stories. The latter type of thinking seems too mechanical for me. I prefer to think of writing as a way to tell the stories of the people who exist in one realm of my fantasy universe.

Of course I am the one writing my story, but as a writer, I am not living this life fully on my own. These characters exist in my rich inner world and they have influence over how I write them. Writing totally is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. Maybe this weirds you out. Perhaps you disagree. That’s okay, too. There are many different types of writers. This is how I work.

My characters do have minds of their own and I have changed the direction of nearly every story I have written because they disagreed with the direction that I was taking them in. Sometimes, I stress out about this disagreement and I hesitate to write their fate in a way that I originally planned not to.

Writing is supposed to be fun. Write what makes you want wake up in the wee hours of the morning just to finish that next chapter. Write what causes you to lay in bed at night thinking about your characters. Write something you’re passionate about.

If that means that you talk to your characters or if that means that you let your characters choose certain paths for themselves, then let it be.

Writers, do you ever feel a character pulling you in the opposite direction of where you want them to go? Do you feel them have a mind of their own? Do you think all of this is simply weirdness? 

(Photo Source: http://www.everystockphoto.com by Shandi-lee)

Write, Little Girl, For Ye Know Not When

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Waiting for me with a steaming tea. Warm eyes, shy smile, dark hair, strong character. Or so he said.

Holding my hand with reassuring words. Numbness melted away to hope. I submitted to trust.

We laughed, we shared, we planned. I awoke to his warmth. He borrowed my story.

He left.

He reappeared in the form of pictures, memories, nightmares. I cannot escape, but I write.

Once I saw him and his eyes flickered blue as he stared at me. I wondered if I would awaken one day to him killing me.

I write. Poison is not always physical.

Write little girl, for ye know not when death’s final grip shall drag you to her cold, final den.

The Dreamer’s Dreamworld

Most very young children are quite imaginative, but dreamers never give up their strong desire to imagine. When I was around three years old, I would swing on the swings and imagine that I was somewhere else, talking with people who did not exist. To this day, I still gravitate to a swing set so that I can pass half an hour or so immersed in my dreamworld while my body soars.

A dreamer’s inner world is very intense; it is such a key part of who we are. In the same way that many people crave conversation with their friends, family, and coworkers, a dreamer craves the freedom and the solitude to escape into the most creative depths of their mind.

In elementary school, I found it very difficult to pay attention in class, not because I had a bad attitude or because I was bored, but because of my highly imaginative mind that was difficult to control. I was often caught by my teachers daydreaming; my grades suffered due to my inability to focus and pay attention. They all assumed that it was an auditory problem and then they actually took measures to help “correct” it.

Traditional education can be a nightmare for dreamers, but somehow, most of us survive it and can end up doing well in the later years of school. In high school, we can begin to have some control over the courses that we learn about. We can improve our grades with a little bit more maturity and then focus on subjects that we actually care about.

I do not tell very many people about the fact that I have worlds that I escape to, even now. Especially now. I could never think of my fantasy prone personality as a curse or as some sort of defect. Sure, I may have a short attention span and I may not be aware of everything that goes on around me, but who would ever trade in their gift of an extraordinary imagination for the sake of being closer to normal?

Some say that there is no such thing as normal, but dreamers make the general population seem normal in comparison. I can call customers repeatedly at my day job while being somewhere else entirely. I can go for a walk, listen to music, and swing on the sings to escape from the physical world. I can think up an entire story in my head before I even have to write it down, and I can keep it stored there.

Perhaps our brain chemistry is stormy, and maybe our introverted nature gives others the impression that we have less “personality”, but if someone gets to know us, they will discover a true character hiding beneath those layers. And so this is why those who are our friends are so very special to us, because they are the ones who patiently took the time to get to know us, who could see something special there beyond our aloof, quiet exterior.

And then there are the dreamer’s imaginary friends. I have friends in other worlds. I am not going to lie and say this is solely for the purpose of my books. These friends are not characters in my stories; they are people who exist for the purpose of being with me in these alternate worlds. I realize that there is probably a type of therapy to “heal” this sort of behaviour, but I see no harm in this.

How is escaping to another reality created by your mind any worse than someone who sits in front of their TV while eating popcorn for three hours out of every evening? At least I am exercising while I live out some of my dreams in my dream world.

A dreamer living in this world can sometimes feel broken and alien when speaking with those who think on completely different paths. Even other creative writers sometimes fail to relate to a dreamer-writer. A dreamer’s writing style strives to dig into the darkest and most beautiful depths of the human condition; they hope to tell tales of redemption and healing after exposing brutal reality in their writing. We write for the people, not for the plot or for the shock value.

To dream is to live. Dream on, day dreamer.

“Diamond”

Unearthly battle cries sound in the distance.

“Them Yankees be comin’!” one of the men in our clan shouts.

Fleeing slaves run in the direction of the river. Instead of following them, I run in the direction of the plantation house.

“Whatchu doin’ girl?” Hezekiah, who is a head taller than I and easily twice my weight, grabs me by the arm.

“I have to go back for Missy,” I tell him.

I flinch at his ferocious scowl. “You leave that witch to burn along with her pretty things. She and Massa can both go hell.”

We both know that burning would be the least of her worries, being at the mercy of looting soldiers.

“In some ways, she was just as much his slave as we were!”

He spits at me; the ball of his saliva nearly hits my muddy boot. He walks away, shaking his head. I understand his sentiment, but I cannot leave her behind.

The Yankees’ cries remind me that there is no time to lose. I sprint, quickly covering the distance to the mansion. I nearly trip up the patio stairs and then stumble into the dark bowels of the once imposing home. I race up the long staircase to her room.

Even from the hallway, I can smell her familiar perfumes and bath oils. It clashes with the aroma of my earthy, mud-covered clothes. Hushed voices cause my muscles to tense. He is in there. Master Greene. Unsheathing my dagger, I am confident that he cannot harm me now. I step inside. Missy is lying on the floor like a rag doll. Her face is gaunt; her eyes are hollow as she stares up at me in confusion.

“You came back?”

The master steps out of her closet. I try to regulate my breathing as rage strengths me.

“Stupid, stupid slave girl.”

“You don’t seem so sinister now hiding away from the Yankees in your wife’s closet!”

“Diamond, don’t,” pleads Missy.

I stare into her hazel eyes.

“If you want to spare yourself from them, run. I will catch up to you.”

Greene breaks into laughter before he lunges at me. I slash the blade of my dagger across his pale throat. I watch him choke and sputter and I wonder if I will go to hell for relishing in his death. Then again, he relished in my beatings and rape.

A cold, dainty hand pulls on mine. Missy’s innocent gaze asks me so many questions.

“We have to run and we cannot stop. Do you understand me, Missy?”

We retreat toward the ravine. For a fragile girl, she runs quite fast. The pulse in my ears is so loud that it nearly drowns out the approaching enemy’s yells. I stop at the riverbank and glare at her.

“We will have to wade across. Once we are on the other side, I ask that you only refer to me by my given name.”

She nods, averting her gaze. Her power wilts away faster than the roses of her prized gardens upon winter’s approach. I do not know how long she will last, but I have spared her from becoming a spoil of war or worse. As we submerge our bodies into the cold water, I feel a strange sense of freedom. With the invasion of the North, we are both homeless and without family. The current pushes us farther away from my hell.

Fantasy Prone Personality & Creativity

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One very large section of my personality is fantasy prone. This means that I am subject to vivid day dreams and imaginings several times throughout each day. It is not an occasional occurrence. Of course, most writers and artists possess this characteristic in varying degrees. There is actually a test you can take to confirm if you have a fantasy prone personality. The thing is, some psychologists consider this to be a “disorder.”

Fantasy prone people can certainly operate under logic when necessary, but when one is on the extreme end of the spectrum of imaginative thinking, logic takes the back seat most of the time. It is wonderful for creating, but perhaps challenging in many day to day life situations. It’s a balancing act for a creative writer or artist to be able to function in the real world, while being able to embrace their highly imaginative side. They often need to be left alone with their thoughts, and distractions that tear them away from their musings can frustrate them or stress them out.

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I have been thinking about something that my therapist from last year told me. It is regarding my tendency to escape to other worlds created by my own mind. I have a couple of different worlds that I am a part of. To clarify that I am not totally crazy, I am in full control of what I think and do in these worlds. I can snap out of them at any time. I can go to Narnia through the wardrobe, yet I can vanish and reappear on Earth at will.😉

My therapist said that she finds it interesting how most people who day dream to the extent that I do often do so to escape from their current circumstances. She probed for bad childhood memories, since I told her I have been day dreaming since I’ve been around three years old – and I remember doing so to this day!

I have no bad memories as a small child that made me want to leave to another reality. In fact, my upbringing was peaceful and loving. My parents allowed me to create stories, pictures, and play with toys without ever interfering with it. I did the day dreaming just for fun, because, well, it’s another form of creation. I write stories, draw and sketch characters or animals. I have also written a musical piece. So, creating a setting that I can escape to is yet another realm that I can make use of – for future stories, for self discovery.

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Now, I am not going to lie and say that I haven’t run away to my other worlds when things have gone wrong. I would often paint over embarrassing or sad situations by re-imagining them or by going to a different place with different people to make myself feel better. I still do that. But the thing is, no matter what I am going through at the time, I day dream regardless.

When I was a teenager, I often used my day dreams as a way of escapism. I imagined myself to be a braver, more exciting person than I was to the people that I went to school with. I was always physically strong in these made up world as well, with super hero qualities.

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I wrote relatively little as a teen, but I drew a lot.

In my young adult years, the day dreams become a little more “realistic”. That probably sounds a little crazy.

But I no longer have “super powers” and I stick to just two worlds. I exercise a lot of my intellect rather than resorting to a sword duel or a Matrix-style fight with the antagonists. I don’t know if this can be thought of as self-inflicted therapy or not, but I am happy with how I’ve handled my fantasising.

Oh, to be fantasy prone. It is not something people of this personality type can “turn off” when they are working, walking, running, swinging on the swings, dancing, or even in a room full of people. It’s a part of who we are. Perhaps we can appear aloof or “out of it” to certain people, or even unintelligent to the uninformed observer.

The bottom line is, we are born with being fantasy prone in the same way that we are born as an introvert or extrovert, or as a boy or girl.

My therapist did not confirm that it is healthy or normal for me to be doing this, but she interestingly just nodded when I explained to her that it’s something that I do for inspiration, whether my current life situation is good or bad. She seemed sort of fascinated, actually.

I look at it as yet another tool used by the writer mind.

**Readers: Have you taken the fantasy prone personality test? What are your thoughts on this highly imaginative personality type? Did you always notice that there was something very different about the way that you saw the world, compared to less creative people?

Feeling Inspired During Unexpected Moments

Do you ever think it’s weird how the most unexpected things can inspire you to write? Like, the most amazing idea of a character can strike you when you’re washing the dishes. Or, this epic new storyline forms in your head when you’re listening to a song or watching a movie whose genre is unrelated to anything that you would want to write about. I love how the writer’s mind works, and how inspiration can strike sometimes when we’re not even looking for it. It’s especially welcome when one has gone through a long spell of writer’s block or hasn’t had the mental energy to write for a few weeks.

I myself felt a relapse of intense inspiration while listening to some sadcore songs by Lana Del Rey. I normally listen to her music to unwind or to combat stress/anxiety. Then, one day, I played a few of her songs while cleaning my room and the sun was shining through my window. (For those of you that don’t know me as well… it’s rain that normally feeds my writing energy, not sunshine. I’ve often said that I loath too many sunny days in a row). I don’t know how this moment gave me the motivation to think of new characters and further the plot of my novel – which is bleak and dark in most scenes, but it somehow did. I’m not sure what this says about my psyche right now, but whatever. I’ll embrace the artistic-driven euphoria while it lasts.I am about half-way through that outline I said I would work on a couple of weeks ago, but it’s progress! There’s just a lot of details to work out, so I am not going to rush it right now.

I guess I’m just always fascinated by the workings of a human’s mind, especially a creative writer’s mind. It can go from orderly to chaotic to melancholic to joyous all within the span of a couple of days. I guess it’s what needed to create spell-binding tales…

How about you? Have you ever felt strongly inspired to write during an unexpected or strange moment?

2014 Writing Projects

Hello writers and readers! Today I am going to talk about my writing projects and then share an excerpt from my most recent novel in progress.

The Novel

Well, I’m happy to say that my newest novel has reached the 46,000 word mark today. Part One flowed amazingly well, but things get quite complicated in Part Two after one country invades another and I want to introduce some more characters — The Kings and Queens, the anarchists working undercover, etc.

Considering that the story is inspired by my four grandparents, WWII, violence in the world today, and just my usually weird mind… I have a feeling that I am going to need to give in & start an outline for Part Two. Sometimes, I can get away with writing as I go, or at least I think I can. Maybe it’s all just a figment of my imagination that being a “pantster” works for me. Maybe the whole writing process would be much easier if I always just created an outline first.

I would realistically like to have the first draft complete by this summer. Let’s say by June. I’m just so excited about it because it will be the very first full length book that I have ever written! And I want it to be the best that it can be. If it takes five years to polish up, edit, re-edit, and re-write before publishing, then so be it! Also, I really need to think of a working title.

An excerpt from this story is at the end. Based on my Grandma Maylard’s character. Comments – whether they are criticisms or praises – are always welcome.

The Short Story

I completed a short story back in the spring that is very close to my heart. I thought it was in that “ready to go” stage, but my amazing beta reader showed me otherwise. Honestly, the most important people in your writing career are going to be your beta readers. He picked up that my supporting character seemed a little weak (A prop) and he also noticed a lot of plot holes in the story.

You see, with short stories you really can’t skimp on the complexity of the characters and all the details that make it worth being a short story. In my mind, all of the details are there, but sometimes I think I can be a little light with description and too heavy on the adverbs.

It’s funny how writing mistakes seem so blatant when someone else points them out, but before that you could have read over it another 25 times and you still wouldn’t see it. Alas, I am excited to get into the nitty gritty of that story in due time.

So, there will be a lot of editing and adding to it over the next few months as well. My goal is to have it polished, beta read, and edited by this summer.🙂

The Autobiography

Yes, I’m actually going to write a story about… *Awkward moment alert*… me! Of course, I’m not going to make it blatant that this book is an actual autobiography. Me and the characters will have slightly distorted names and the setting is going to be quite whimsical and fantastical, but it will indeed be based on my life. Half of my living moments are spent in fantasy worlds anyway, so I thought it would be fitting to write the story of my life set in a different realm. People that know me will likely be able to piece certain things together and figure most of it out.

I’ll be working at it here and there, whenever the inspiration strikes.

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Excerpt

Helena climbed onto the fence that lined the road to watch the marching soldiers. The time had come for them to leave the safety of their training camp and sail for Nesi. Many were not much older than she was, yet they were in such a hurry to fight as though death could never touch them. She knew all too well that no one was safe from mortality’s kiss of betrayal.
Remembering a document of her father’s that she had read over a year ago about the superior weaponry and fighting tactics used by the Nesins, she felt guilty for pitying herself earlier. If she were a boy, she might have become a soldier in a couple of years rather than continue to work as a miner. She shuddered at the idea of running through a volley of arrows or trying to escape from an enemy much bigger and more skilled than she. Perhaps the mines were not so terrible, after all.
The line of fighters came to an end. She watched as the last of them disappeared into the forest. Perhaps never to be seen in their own country again.

Why I Write Scary Stories – It’s Not What You Think

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“You are an optimistic, nice girl. Where does all this dark stuff come from?” said a co-worker of mine four years ago, after I told him about the sort of things I write about.

Some of my stories wouldn’t be described as pure horror, but all of them contain significant elements of it within them. So, what does make people want to write books that contain graphic and horrific content? It’s probably not what you think.

I am speaking for myself. Maybe other writers will disagree, but this is how I feel about writing horror.

Horror’s sole purpose is not, or should not, be to simply scare the hell out of people. Good horror writing’s intent should be to send a message, to make people think. To use the negative events to set ideas to flight.

There will always be the torture porn and the mindless “Scare them. Kill them. The End!” stuff, but obviously there is not a lot of craft in that. Imagination? Yes. Skill? Not really.

Like any other book genre, a well-written horror story should contain fleshed-out, complex characters (That you will actually care about when they, um, die, or when they suffer from some other terrible outcome) and a well thought out plot (Or, at least a sensible one!). It also needs a unique idea to set it apart from all of the other horror books that have been written in times past.

I’m not going to say that writers who partake in the art of horror writing don’t have messed up, even twisted imaginations (Because we actually do). Perhaps a concept formed in a writer’s mind as a result of some tragic experience, or from reading or hearing about one. Other times, a writer will look inside of themselves and write out some of their worst fears. All of us are afraid of something, and sometimes what we think are irrational or strange fears, turn out to be more widely regarded as scary than we thought.

Writers, if you want to pen a truly terrifying tale, you’re going to have to dig deep into your own psyche to explore your own anxieties and those nightmares that you’ve tried to forget. Writing always needs to be honest, from the heart. Otherwise, the story will seem forced. Forced is boring. And peoples’ attention spans are short enough as it is.

A lot of my stories contain horror elements in them in large part because the antidote to horror is, essentially, hope. I just love the satisfaction of a character overcoming obstacles of a more dramatic scale. I don’t receive much enjoyment from writing romance, because it’s just too simple and linear for me. I want the character to experience a lot of hardships, go on a journey or two, and then develop as an individual. If there is a hint of romance in my books, it will be destroyed at some point.

Sometimes, characters will need to die in order for a point to come across or for the message to really settle into the reader’s heart. While many things do work out for the better in life, sometimes things do not get better. They get worse. Why do they get worse? Because of “evil” in the world – the diseases, the corrupted world leaders, the warfare, the natural disasters, the rape culture, etc.

Horror asks the gripping question: Who will win – the evil forces or the main characters? Hope or fear? Violence or peace? And, why did they win?

Most of my more recent works have an anti-war or anti-violence theme. Ironically, one needs to show the terrible effects of pain, brutality, and lost lives in a story in order for the message to have a full impact. Show people what life in a third world country entails for a young girl. Emphasize the atrocities and their effects on those people who are subject to war crimes, human trafficking, starvation, cruelty… whatever it is!

Suzanne Collins did not write The Hunger Games, a dystopian novel, with the intent of glorifying violence. She showed the tragedy of teenagers forced to kill one another in a sick game of survival as a symbolism for today’s violence-accepting world.

Many genres have horror components in them. Fantasy, thrillers, dramas, etc. can contain their fair share of the nitty gritty reality in the world.

My opinion is that writing containing horror is an excellent way to tell a lesson or a truth. Often when I have something very bold to say, my writing inevitably channels into the realm of horror.

My Current Book in Progress

My Current Book in Progress

(Credit: Journey’s End By Jay Epperson)

Well, it’s the last day of October. I won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo, but what I will do is focus on my current work in progress. It is a fantasy tale centered around four characters that are based on my grandparents. Each one of them had at least one amazing story to tell about their childhood, teen years, and young adult life. It’s a coming-of-age story, with a lot of journeys, wars, adventures, and, of course, hardships. I plan to break the book down into three parts. With it already being 55 pages long and I’m still writing Part One, I have a feeling that it might be novel length upon completion.

In a way of celebrating Halloween, I am going to challenge myself to write something sinister or scary in the next scene. It is a dark story to begin with, but I am excited to see where this is going to go, and how many pages I can write.

To give you an idea of my newest story’s feel, here is a sample of the book’s opening, based on the story of my Grandpa Kjeldsen. He would have starved to death had the Danish army not taken him in. He was only fourteen years old at the time, and he soon became part of the force who helped the Jews escape to safety.

In a twist of fate, he survived, and I am now here blogging about a story written in his honour. Kind of awesome.

The Excerpt:

Three squawking vultures landed on the dirt street near a shivering boy. He was barely aware of their presence as he stared at the last morsel of bread encased in his dirty grip. Food that was only two days old was worth savoring.
The elderly farmer that the boy referred to as “apple man” pushed his cart up the road’s incline. Its squeaky tires seemed to bother the scavenger birds so much that they took flight.
“Best get inside, lad!” called apple man.
The boy shrugged and took a small bite out of his bread, too proud to admit that he had nowhere else to go. People that passed by him on a daily basis assumed that he was like the rest of the street urchins sent by their mothers to go beg, but he had no mother. He had no one but himself.
Apple man paused for a moment.
“The army will be passing through at any moment, boy.”
“Let their horses trample me, then.”
“What was that?”
The boy did not repeat his dire statement.
The elderly man shrugged and was back on his way home.
A low rumble vibrated the ground so much that the stones at the boy’s feet shook. He glared at the yellow-eyed birds sitting on the roof of the tavern across the road, as he chewed the last piece of his supper.
“Not today, ugly scavengers!” he called.

And now, it’s time to write something scary.🙂

What are all of you working on right now? Are you taking part in NaNo?

Genre Jumping

Genre Jumping

There seems to be some pressure out there from literary agents, publishers, readers, and even other authors to stick with one genre. The reason is that it could possibly confuse or frustrate your book following if you publish a young adult fantasy book one year, and then a modern drama the next year.

No doubt, some people will expect certain things from their favourite writers. But I don’t think that staying with one genre is as important as some writers may think.

Do you know why?

Voice matters more than genre.

Most people enjoy books because they can identify with the characters and their struggles. An interesting plot is important, of course, but voice is the most essential component to any story.

A writer’s brand is their voice. Every one has their own unique writing style and message that they want to convey in their pieces. New writers may still need to find out what that is, and your voice becomes stronger the more you practice your craft. Your readership is going to follow you mostly because they can relate to your voice. This transcends genre. What they will care more about is the fact that you keep writing books for them to read.

Personally, I am a genre jumper. I have written young adult fantasy, dark fantasy, historical fiction, thrillers/horror, and drama works. But what a lot of people tell me is that every book I write has this certain feel to it, a certain otherworldly sense that they feel with nearly everything that I write. My mind is a little on the chaotic side, and it would drive me crazy (Well, more crazy) to limit myself to just one genre. Even one book can be classified under more than one category. But this world is obsessed with labels, and hence, this can lead to some insecurity for writers. Focusing on genre could be a detriment to the writing process. Anything that is an art should not be put inside of a box. It will become stale. It will seem forced, or simply boring.

As a writer, what you need to do is find what it is you want to write about. What is the purpose of your book? What is it that you want to show to your readers?

Write the story that has been burning inside of you, and worry about the genre later. If your second and third books are totally different genres from your first, then so be it. Don’t worry about what people will say.

There is another reason why genre jumping can help your success as a writer more than hurt you. You will grow as an author if you push new boundaries and allow yourself to write without borders. Writing is your passion. It is supposed to be fun!

Do not waste time reading up on the trends or sifting through article after article about what this agent and that agent is looking for. When you write from the heart, without any inhibitions, your voice will come through. Good readers will weed out the books that have been written with soul and direction.

Most of your readers will understand if your books do not follow a certain code, and you will gain a new audience if you transcend into another genre, expanding your readership.

Simply put, write what you want to write. When you enjoy what you have written, then more people are going to enjoy reading what you have written.