Friday, July 31, 2015

July Recap

Ah . . . July. Thou hast been an intriguing month. I'm not really sure what I have actually done during these last thirty-one days. Hmm . . . let's take a look at that, shall we?

Blog Happenings
All this month's blog posts were scheduled ahead of time and it was lovely. Because of that I managed to give you all four full weeks' worth of posts (minus my Sunday book reviews) so you may all thank the scheduling feature of Blogger very much.

(All links to Goodreads)
This month I finished three novels. Not as many as usual because of Camp NaNoWriMo . . . even though, considering how that went, I really don't have much of an excuse. *sigh* More on that later.

I didn't post reviews of anything this month but they're coming, I promise!

My bookshelf stock has increased quite a lot for some reason this month as well, and now I have about twenty books all piled up to read in August.
My favorite book of the month was probably Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde just because of its depth. I didn't really have a least favorite, though I expected more from Half Blood.

Camp NaNoWriMo!!!!! Errr . . . failed. I think I mentioned already that I doubled my word goal to 100,000 words. I swear I was doing excellently for the first week. Then something drained my motivation reserves and I just . . . stopped. *headdesk* There were a few valiant efforts to start again but none of them stuck. Still, I did achieve over 29,000 words (the vast majority in that first week) so it wasn't a complete waste. I just can't really consider it a success either because I didn't meet my goals.
A few character quotes popped out this month from Ace, so I'll share those. They're in chronological order. Click to enlarge.
Ace is my new baby and I love him so much. *cuddles him* This month's Beautiful People was done on him (again, I know) and you can read that here. I'll try to do next month's on someone else, I promise.

Other Internet Happenings
  • Krissy Aleman @ Words in My Soul had a wonderful idea to use a song lyric to describe each MBTI type. It's the beginning of a series of posts done in such a way and I love the idea. Check it out!
  • So I found out that my online Christian writing group has a Facebook chat group. And I got myself added to it and . . . it's awesome. The group is amazingly supportive and encouraging, I became a dragon, we're plotted world domination, and I got married to a fictional character. So that happened.
  • Popular Science published a short blurb on the future of warfare. Here's a jumpstarter for people writing war in the future. 

    Favorite Pins of the Month

    What Is to Come
    • As of right now the only post I'm certain I will be doing this month is Beautiful People and a couple linkups I was tagged in. So those are coming.
    • I want to do another post or two on cliches - but I don't have topics. Give me every cliche you can think of in the comments!
    • Also, I think it is time for another character interview. I'm thinking Mara. Look for that soon!

    Questions I Now Want You to Answer:
    1. At least in the comments, the cliche posts went over very well. What was your favorite thing about each one?
    2. As stated above: which cliches would you like to see me write a post on in August? 
    Is anyone else gearing up to head to college? Or prepping for the start of school? Any of those books look familiar to you? Tell me about them. And for you Camp NaNoWriMo goers - how did it go? Congrats if you did well and my sympathy if it didn't go as well as you hoped. I feel you.

    Tuesday, July 28, 2015

    The Chosen One Cliche - When SHOULD It Be Used?

    Harry Potter, Harry Potter. Anakin Skywalker, Star Wars. Tris Prior, Divergent. Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games. Eragon, The Inheritance Cycle. The Pevensies, The Chronicles of Narnia. Every Protagonist Ever, Warrior Cats. All these main characters share something: each is somehow the only one in the entire world who can solve the war/galaxy/society/government, despite being a pretty average Joe. Oftentimes they are special because of a prophecy, but there are occasionally other reasons. But the underlying concept is always the same: this (sometimes only seemingly) average protagonist is the only one who can fix the overarching plot problem. Commonly, this gets called "the chosen one" cliche, and it can either go over really well or really, really badly.

    Hahahaaaaa . . . not in Star Wars. But more on that later.

    Many people get annoyed with this particular cliche. After all, why is that girl/boy, out of millions, the one who is special? Why couldn't anyone else just step in and beat up the big baddies, whoever they may be? Sometimes, these people are voicing valid questions - why couldn't someone else have been the "chosen one"? But other times, when the story is well done, there is a legitimate reason for the "chosen one" cliche. It all depends on the individual story.
    Take Harry Potter (SPOILERS for The Order of the Phoenix and onwards ahead). In this series' case, the cliche was well used. Harry was "the chosen one" because of a prophecy which clearly was talking about him - but there was actually more to it that that. Harry really was the only one who could have finished off Voldemort, because: (1) he was the only parselmouth apart from Voldemort, thereby allowing him to stop Voldemort's return in book 2 and claim the sword of Gryffindor, (2) he was the only one able to sense the horcruxes and therefore find them, (3) he had the sword of Gryffindor because of point 1, which allowed him to actually destroy the horcruxes once he found them, (4) he had to die in order for Voldemort to be kill-able (although, why Voldemort had to do it himself I've never understood), and (5) he was the only one Voldemort couldn't kill in one shot. So, in the Harry Potter series's case, there were reasons apart from "because this prophecy said so" that Harry was "the chosen one." (SPOILER END.) Because of that, the use of the cliche worked and no one complained.
    Basically Harry Potter.
    Now, let's look at Star Wars (minor SPOILERS for Episodes I-III ahead). Anakin Skywalker is "the chosen one" in this case, as we are told in Episode I (a real disappointment of a movie, actually). We are told via the Jedi that the Chosen One is prophesied to bring balance to the force. Yes, another one of those pesky prophecies (maybe that's another cliche to talk about later?) - they always seem to be messing up people's lives, don't they? Any-hoo, while I adore Anakin and the ability of his character arc to make me cry, the whole "chosen one" thing was really quite unnecessary in my opinion, and therefore is just an annoying cliche instead of an actual plot device. Why? Well, in Episode I (bleagh) Qui-Gon Jin discovers Anakin's super-high midichlorian count, which makes him think Anakin is the Chosen One, thereby getting Qui-Gon to break a whole load of Jedi tradition to make Anakin a part of the Jedi Order. Because of Anakin's midichlorian count, we'd expect him to be really powerful in the force - like, maybe moving starships, or something. However, as far as powers go, Anakin seems to be just like every other Jedi.
    So much for special.
    Here is where the problems start. If we'd seen evidence that the prophecy meant something, and that Anakin truly was special because he was super-powerful, then we would have had evidence that Anakin was worthy of being "the chosen one," subject of a prophecy. As it is, the prophecy is expected to create its own importance . . . which in my opinion, wasn't very successfully done.  Next comes problem two: because Anakin doesn't appear to be special, the prophecy doesn't seem to play any part in the entire rest of the series, and "the chosen one" thing isn't really mentioned after Episode I, the only reason for the entire "chosen one + prophecy" set-up in the first place was to get Anakin inducted into the Jedi Order. Which is a really bad excuse to use a cliche, especially if you aren't going to back up "the chosen one's" chosen-ness with actual tangible evidence or utilize the prophecy and/or chosen one thing much at all in the rest of the movies. (SPOILER END.)
    Except for that one time when Obi seemed to remember it.
    It didn't stop me from crying over Episode III, but still. Poorly done, Lucas. The prequel trilogy would have been much better if Anakin had been unusually powerful. And look, most Star Wars fans don't even like the prequel trilogy, or at least Episodes I-II. I wonder why.
    That was a mistake no fan would have made.
    Another poorly done "chosen one" cliche was in Divergent. Tris is never named a "chosen one," per se. However, she is supposedly special (SPOILERS ahead) because she is Divergent. However, she wasn't the only Divergent! There were hundreds of them. Roth's main problem with this was how she set up her world. How had so many Divergents gone under the radar if they were being hunted? Why is the majority of the population so limited in admirable traits? Why was Tris the only Divergent who took action? (SPOILERS end.) All these questions caused the idea of Tris's special-ness to fade, and had readers doing a little bit of head-scratching.

    So, don't use "the chosen one" cliche unless:
    1. You'll use it as a plot device more than once.
    2. There is a reason apart from prophecy that this character deserves to be labeled special.
    3. The character takes actions or possesses abilities no one else can manage.
    4. There is literally no one else in society who also shares the character's specialness.
    The Chosen One can be done really well and used to create a really fantastic story (look at the sheer success of Harry Potter!), but you need to make sure you're not just using it as an easy excuse to propel the plot forward or as a cheap way to set your protagonist apart from others.

    What do you think? Do you agree with my assessments of Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Divergent? Do you think that this cliche shouldn't be used at all, ever? If you don't, when do YOU think it SHOULD be used? I'm interested in what your guys' opinions on this are, guys!

    Want more posts on cliches and how to put a twist on them? Click here for all my posts on cliches, or click the label in the sidebar.

    Friday, July 24, 2015

    The Requisite Cat Post

    Today we derail from topics of books and characters and words, and instead focus on fur and fluff. I give to you: my family's cast of cats. They are often reading friends, but writing distractions. 
    This post was requested by one of you readers. I did not come up with this idea on my own. However, I love my fluffies and will take this chance to show you all how adorable they all are. Got it? Good. Now go adore those cute little photos.

    This is Cutie, also known as Fluffy, Fluffum-Squish, Fluffles, Fluffer-Nutter, Squishy, Squooshy, Moosh-Ball, Space Cadet, Mushum-Face, Allergies, and a host of other nicknames. At this point, even we're not really sure what her name is. She's about nine years old and we've had her since kittenhood, when she used to quite literally bounce off walls. Now she just spends her time sleeping and messing up our typing by walking on keyboards, stretching her paw onto my laptop trackpad, and falling asleep on our arms (as she has done to me as I write this very post). She will sit and/or fall asleep anywhere not normal: in boxes, in baskets, on top of backpacks, on shelves, or even just on a piece of fabric that has been left on the floor. In the last couple days she has made a habit of escaping from the three boy cats by jumping from our counter to the top of our fridge and then to the top of the kitchen cabinets. We aren't certain whether this was a stroke of rare genius on her part or another example of her daftness.
    This picture doesn't really do this cat justice. Meet Joshua, who is officially "my" cat, since I chose him and named him when he was a kitten (my sister chose Cutie, in case you were wondering - they are the same age and we adopted them at the same time). When we first got him he was the biggest scaredy-cat out there - hiding inside our office desk, only walking around the edges of rooms, etc. Now he's the most arrogant and in-your-face of all our pets. He just gets this look in his eyes that clearly says, "I couldn't care less about you and if you disturb me, I will not be happy." If you pick him up, he is likely to hiss, or at least growl if you're lucky. He doesn't bite though - unless you're a mouse or a bird. Then you might be in danger. Joshua has killed dozens of small critters and kindly leaves them on our porch for us to clean up. He even killed a small snake once and captured another. He rules the kitty roost.
    This is Derby (pronounced Darby, like Derbyshire in England). We adopted him when he was a kitten about four or five years ago, along with his brother Bromley (below). He is my cuddle buddy but is terrified of absolutely everyone else. He eats like the world is going to end if he doesn't finish his meal within 1.6 seconds, and likes to meow at us while we all eat dinner. He will carry out a conversation with you if you bother to meow back. For some reason, he enjoys the flavor of grass. He mostly just tries to stay out of Joshua's way.
    Lastly, we come to Bromley. He is Derby's brother, and the biggest cat in the house (although, that could be due to the volume of fur on him). We think that one day he'll coup Joshua for the position of superiority. However, he hasn't killed any critters yet, and he's gotten this paranoid streak in him since he received a few smacks for not knowing where the litterbox was. He'll have to grow a bit more of a backbone if he wants to overthrow Joshua. Bromley is my sister and mother's favorite, having attained the nickname Brom-brom (pronounced more like Breeium-breeium if you want to get technical). He likes to hide in our linen closet and will automatically collapse on his side if he walks through a patch of sun. 

    And now, a few more pictures, just because I probably won't do this again and my kitties are adorable and characters unto themselves:

    Oh yeah . . . she fell asleep partially on my shoulder once.
    So there they are, my messed up little group of kitty friends. I think one day I'll write a story featuring human versions of all my cats, just for the heck of it. I think their personalities are character-worthy.

    Do you have pets? What kind? Do they hang out while you write/read? Tell me about the animals - especially the furry ones. 

    Tuesday, July 21, 2015

    On the Young Adult Love Triangle Cliche

    I'm pretty sure that if you've been reading Young Adult for any decent amount of time, you've noticed this cliche. It is pervasive in every genre - fantasy, contemporary, paranormal, romance, dystopia . . . you get the gist. No matter where you go, it will appear sooner or later. Love triangles are not necessarily bad. However, there is one specific kind of love triangle which has become cliche and is, quite frankly, boring me to death with how cliche it has become.

    The Hunger Games. Matched. Uninvited. Twilight. The Naturals. Hex Hall. The Vampire Diaries. They all feature a very specific breed of love triangle, the one that I now consider a cliche. It features a female main character being presented with the choice between two handsome guys (although, obviously, one will be blond and the other will be dark-haired, and thus, they'll be handsome in different ways) - one of which will be sweet and sensitive, and the other will be more broody and tough.
    It looks something like this.
    This can come off really well, in some cases. But in other cases, the characters aren't unique enough and/or the two guys aren't equally attractive enough (I'm not just talking about physical attractiveness here) to make this set-up work. Honestly, I can't figure out why this particular love triangle has become so popular - maybe our culture is gravitating to the idea of a woman having the ability to decide who she'll be with without any complications such as, ya' know, one of the dudes not actually liking her.
    Which leads me to . . .
    This is not the only kind of love triangle out there. And I really wish more authors seemed to know that and take advantage of the different kinds of romantic set-ups there are.
    For instance:
    1. A love triangle with a boy as the central character, who has to make the choice.
    2. A love triangle in which the girl is in love with one guy, but he is not interested in her at all. Instead, another love interest is pursuing her and she ignores him.
    3. There isn't a love triangle at all - perhaps a love square? A girl likes two guys, but maybe they're both interested in a completely different girl . . . or maybe they're both interested in both her and another girl, creating three interlocking love triangles.
    There are so many ways to layer love triangles to come up with unique romantic setups, which is why it is so frustrating to see the same love triangle repeated over and over again. There are so many opportunities to be had here, people! Can't we mix things up a little? 
    And if we aren't going to mix up this guy-gal-guy love triangle, can't we at least change the characters involved? Do the two guys have to be such complete opposites? Wouldn't it be interesting if they both shared one big flaw, but were different in other areas? That flaw could make the FMC's decision much, much harder. Maybe, in the end, she wouldn't choose either of them!
    Lastly, one last thing I urge you not to do under any circumstances: don't make the MC's choice for her (him if you're being blessedly unique). In the Hex Hall trilogy, a typical cliche love triangle was set up between the mysterious guy and the sweet guy. While I disliked this particular triangle with much gusto because their were several issues with it, the author made one big . . .mistake, I think. The FMC found out that her father had betrothed her to Mr. Sweet, a guy named Cal. I didn't think that was such a bad thing - it may have even provided a lot of tension, had it been used right. However, the author relied on this betrothal to create all the tension of the love triangle - which wasn't much, since Cal was almost never around and the FMC was clearly enamored (physically, at least) with the dangerous Mr. Mysterious. It was so one-sided. 
    Even so, the situation could have been salvaged. I held out hope throughout the trilogy that the FMC would see how much of a better guy Cal was than the other option, push away the dangerous unknown dude, and accept Cal. Even if she hadn't done that I may have been satisfied (although disappointed in her lack of common sense regarding strange, mysterious, and obviously dangerous guys who creep around your school). However, the author completely ruined it by (SPOILER ALERT) killing Cal at the climax of the last book, (SPOILER END) making the FMC's choice for her. What was worse, the FMC wasn't even that torn up about it, and was just something akin to "well, now that my fiance is dead I don't have to feel guilty about liking Mr. Dark-Dangerous-and-Mysterious."
    And so the love triangle was ruined, once and for all. Any tension that may have existed dead as a door-nail, with no hope of it being revived by a re-read.  

    So to recap: please don't automatically set up a cliche love triangle. Try to mix it up and go with some other arrangement. If you do go with the common love triangle, at least change up the characters involved a bit. And certainly, do not make the MC's choice for her/him by killing or otherwise conveniently getting rid of one of the love interests. Take advantage of the variety available for romantic setups, and create an equal attraction to both love interests to make sure that the love triangle is doing what it was intended to do: create tension and conflict.

    What are some love triangles you know of that were really well done? Really badly done? What are your thoughts on it? Do you think the love triangle I was talking about is cliche? Do you want some more variety too, or are you happy with the current state of things? Also, check out my guest post on Aimee Meester's blog, To the Barricade!: "One Simple Way to Add Dimension to Your Characters."

    Want more posts on cliches and how to put a twist on them? Click here for all my posts on cliches, or click the label in the sidebar.

    Friday, July 17, 2015

    The Problem of Too Many Books

    Most bookworms will have an immediate reaction to that post title. They'll say, "There's no such thing as too many books!" Well, I beg to differ. I have come to the conclusion that there is indeed such a thing, and it has very frustrating effects.

    Warning: this is something of a rant.
    You see, when I first started reading at bookworm-levels, I would start a series and read until there were no more books published in it. I'd only read a few series at a time since I'd read large Young Reader's series that published new books fairly quickly - none of these YA trilogies with a year and a half in between each book being published. So I wouldn't be reading a whole plethora of different story lines at once. It was very easy to keep track of and I could throw all my emotion into a single story at once. It was great.
    . . . at once.
    Then I grew out of the Young Readers' section in Barnes & Noble and moved into Young Adult, where long series seem to be an endangered species and it takes a year or more for each successive book to be published. It has become impossible to read through a single series in only one or two reading binges.
    This is problematic. To compensate for the lack of lengthy series, I had to read more and more series at once. So now, I find myself in the middle of dozens of series of books, with some sequels out and waiting to be read, and others waiting to be published. In addition to that, there is a huge stack of stand alone novels and series-beginners I want to read, which will inevitably lead to even more books being added to my to-read pile as I decide I like an author or that first book in yet another trilogy.
    Does anyone else relate?
    Entering the blogging world didn't help, either, because now not only am I getting books to read from browsing bookshelves and Goodreads, I'm getting book reviews every week recommending this book or that book.
    Oh, and Library, you aren't helping with your splotchy coverage of series, and World, your prices on paperbacks are thievery.
    So, I have resolved that I will try my hardest once again to read all the published books in a series at once before moving on to another story line. Even if some books haven't been published yet, at least I won't have a cloud of "those-two-sequels-are-out-already-and-you-need-to-read-them"s around my head all the time. No. I'll just have a cloud of single books whizzing around which I have to find a way to get from my under-stocked library or buy dirt-cheep online or purchase full price using a precious Barnes & Noble gift card. Heheheh, the cloud of books will go away eventually, won't it? I'll just have one book at a time to read?
    Oh. A bookworm's curse, I suppose.

    Tuesday, July 14, 2015

    Characters Need Motivation - A Guest Post by Aimee Meester

    Greetings. It is I, Aimee of To the Barricade! and Annika has made the mistake done the awesome thing of letting me onto her lovely blog today.

    Today, we’re going to talk about character motivations. Specifically, why all characters need them.

    I’m going to take a moment and shamelessly self-promote because it sort of ties in. I wrote a post recently about how villains are people too, and one of the things I pointed ever-so-helpfully out was how villains need motivation. There’s a trend with the general Dark Lord type villain, and most of them don’t have a motivation other than to be evil. Because EVILNESS, dang it.

    This can happen to other characters, too.

    Why does your hero want to save the world? What motivation does the angsty sidekick warrior guy have for following him? Why does the girl in the dystopian world want to join the rebellion, even when it’s nothing but trouble and danger for her and her family? We can often fall into stereotypes with these things, and one of the greatest stereotypes in my opinion is no motivation at all.

    This is not a valid reason.

    There’s a writing quote out there (several, in fact, but there’s one specifically I’m thinking of) that says, in short, that if your character doesn’t have a motivation, there isn’t a plot. This is 100% true. It’s also true that pretty much everyone in the story needs to have some reason to do what they do. Not to mention, motivation makes us care. I’m way more likely to be invested in a character that has a good, compelling reason to do what they do.

    “Because NOBILITY, DANG IT” is rarely a good reason. Kind of like “because I said so” or “because I felt like it” or my personal favorite, “because reasons.”

    So what are good reasons?

    Katniss in The Hunger Games survives because she has to get home and take care of her little sister. (Motivation = taking care of her family.)

    Edward in Twilight does everything he does to keep Bella safe. Yes, I went there. (Motivation = keeping the girl he loves safe.)

    Thomas in The Maze Runner keeps all his attention on escaping the deadly maze with his friends, and then keeps friends safe, so he can find out what happened to them. (Motivation = amnesia and a need to find the truth.)

    You get the point.

    Character motivation is the driving force of the plot. We all have motivations for the things we do in real life — it shouldn’t be any different in fiction, really. These motivations are super important to figure out as you write, too. They shape how the character acts, what they notice and focus on, and so on.

    Know what makes your character tick.

    It’s that easy.

    Thanks so much for having me, Annika! And thank you, all you lovely peeps, for reading.
    Aimee out.

    Aimee is a writer, reader, fangirl, homeschooler (and proud of it), Christian, Myers-Briggs ESTP, and many other things. She is fond of referring to herself in the third person, believing it makes her look cool. She blogs at To the Barricade! about writing, books, chocolate, gifs, life, and most importantly, sarcasm. You can find her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

    Friday, July 10, 2015

    Beautiful People #11, a.k.a. I Adore Ace

    I am writing this post five days ahead of time, since I've found a small break in my crazy Camp NaNoWriMo schedule. It is day 5 of this mad race, and my word count is currently in the 18,000s. At the very beginning I decided to double my target word goal, so now instead of aiming for 50,000 words (which I estimated would only cover about one third of this draft), I am aiming for 100,000 (which should cover two thirds of this draft). Suddenly, this book is the largest I've attempted with an estimated end word count of 150,000. I'll tell you though, word wars are my salvation.

    ANYWAY. You're not here to hear my Camp NaNo updates. This is the Beautiful People linkup! (If you don't know what Beautiful People is, it is run by Cait @ Paperfury and Sky @ Futher Up and Further In - check it out here). However, Camp NaNo did influence my choice of character today. In maybe day 3 of writing, Ace gave me this quote which just makes me want to hug him and not let him go:
    (Click to enlarge)
    So, yes, I have a new favorite character and I totally choose my Beautiful People characters based on favoritism. I know I've been focusing on Ace a lot lately with this linkup but I now adore him so you shall just have to go with it.

    1. What's their favorite ice cream flavor?
    Chocolate Moose Tracks (which happens to be my favorite as well). If he saw a chocolate blueberry kind of flavor, he'd go for that instead, but I don't think I've ever seen such a thing and neither has he. 

    2. You character is getting ready for a night out. Where are they going? What are they wearing? Who will they be with?
    Ace would be going out to dinner with Victoire, and he'd be wearing a plain white t-shirt with his brown leather jacket and aviators. They'd probably be at Ace's favorite burger place, but Victoire may have convinced him to go somewhere more formal. 

    3. Look at your character's feet. Describe what you see there. Do they wear dress shoes, gym shoes, or none at all? Are they in socks that are ratty and full of holes? What do they consider comfortable and what do they consider agony?
    If he's at school, he's wearing gym socks and sneakers. If he's at the Mage League, he's wearing combat boots. At home, he's just wearing his socks, which is what he finds the most comfortable. He hates flip-flops because of that weird thing between your toes. For summer sandals, he probably prefers something like this:

    4. Do they have any birthmark or scars? Where are they and how did they get them?
    All my characters in Shadows and Light have a birthmark - it's how their destiny is discovered. As far as everyone knows, Ace's is a shield with four quarters of color on it - skin so pale it's nearly white in opposite corners and then very reddish skin in the other two corners. It is located on his chest, directly over his heart.
    He has the faint scars of a couple bug bites that got infected on his legs. xD

    5. What kind of music do they listen to? Does it change depending on their mood or is it always consistent? (Feel free to share samples!)
    When he's feeling sad or depressed he prefers sad music - oftentimes, he'll be playing the music on his keyboard. His go-to piece for times like that is "Moonlight Sonata (1st Movement)" by Beethoven.
    Otherwise, he listens to some pop rock - things like Fall Out Boy, "Angel With a Shotgun," Kelly Clarkson, "War" by Poets of the Fall, etc. 
    "War" is practically his theme song (at least in my world). I mean, come on, it talks about destiny, and battles, and love. THIS IS ACE. *feels because Ace and Victoire*

    Quote not mine.
    6. Do they have any musical talent? Play an instrument? How’s their singing voice?
    He's pretty good at playing the piano, though no one knows that besides him since he's currently keeping it as his big secret. I actually have no idea whether he can sing or not. I know he never does it, but that isn't necessarily a tell. He never plays piano when people can hear or see him, after all. He probably does have a good voice but never uses it for fear of it wrecking his perfect hero reputation (it would, in his twisted view of the world). 

    7. What kind of book would you catch them reading?
    Superhero comics. That's about it. Scandalous, I know.

    8. How would they spend their summers (or their holidays)?
    Hanging out at the diner with friends, hiking in the woods with friends (maybe family every now and then), hanging out at his cousins' houses, and working at the Mage League. 

    9. It’s Saturday at noon. What is your character doing? Give details. Ex. If they’re eating breakfast, what’s on the menu? Are they hiking, shopping, lazing around?
    He's out to lunch with about eight other people. They've either spread out over two tables at the diner or they've pushed two tables together. Darcy might be sitting on Ace's lap if we're talking at the beginning of the book before Victoire and Ace started dating. Afterwards they'll probably go to one of their homes to hang out and play games. Ace wants ot drink two milkshakes but doesn't because he's scared that isn't a healthy thing heroes would do if they're concerned about staying heroes.
    Stop reading superhero comics, buddy, they're messing up your psyche.

    10. Is there anything your character wants to be free of?
    Expectations created by his destiny. But at the same time, he clings to them to give him identity and purpose. This is why he's my new favorite. He's so obliviously self-destructive.

    Have you done Beautiful People this month? Link to it in the comments! Also, do you have any characters that trap themselves in a bad way of thinking or living? If you're doing Camp NaNoWriMo, how's it going? Have your characters thrown any good quotes at you? Share them below!

    Tuesday, July 7, 2015

    The Orphan Protagonist Cliche - Why Is It Still Used?

    Have you ever noticed that, in a lot of children's and YA fantasy/adventure/action/sci-fi novels, the main character is an orphan? This is so common that the orphan main character has become cliche. Maybe you're sick of it and really wish a biological parent would show up every now and then. However . . . have you ever considered why the orphan MC is so common?

    Photo not mine - found over here. I don't know who to credit.

    Think about it. All children's and YA protagonists are the same ages as their target audiences - under aged. They're not adults yet, and that means that they are subject to a legal authority. Parents. What do you think most parents' reactions to their teenager/child going off on a probably dangerous adventure would be?
    This sounds quite callous, but one of the easiest and most convenient ways to get rid of that authority which would otherwise prevent the children/teen MCs from going on their perilous adventures is to kill the parents before the book even starts. This leaves the main character in one of three positions: (1) he's on the streets, free to do whatever he wants including running into characters involved in the adventure (Mistborn trilogy); (2) he's in an orphan home which obviously will be very careless and not bother to go looking for the MC once he's gone, or will send him away with a man of dubious motives who will inevitably get the MC involved in the adventure in the first place (hello The Ascendance Trilogy and The Ranger's Apprentice); or living with his last remaining distant relatives who either don't care enough about him to bother if he dies -
    - or will soon die to provide the MC with a motive for his quest and conveniently free him of remaining parental authority at the same time.
    Obviously, this whole removal of authority thing is getting somewhat predictable. But, then again, I suppose that is sort of the point of cliches.
    Now the question is, what to do about it? If we leave the parents in the story, we're still going to have that irritating parental protectiveness to deal with, which means we won't be able to really torture the MC as much as we need to. 
    Or does it? Here are ten ideas of ways to avoid the orphan protagonist cliche.
    1. Make the parent(s) part of the adventure. Mother gets kidnapped and the child has to set out on a quest to save her (Michael Vey). The dad is an adrenaline junkie and wouldn't pass up the excitement for anything. The mother goes along to try to mother-hen the protagonist on his journey, but believes in good enough to let her child be brave. 
      Sorry. I couldn't resist throwing that in.
    2. The parent(s) are absent so much that it is easy for the protagonist to run away/get taken away and have some time before anyone notices he's gone. A more extreme version of this happened in Nobody by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, when the female protagonist was actually incapable of being remembered by her parents after she'd left.
    3. The parent(s) are part of the adventure before the protagonist is, on either the side of good or evil (Elemental trilogy by Antony John, The Compound by S.A. Bodeen). 
    4. The protagonist is abducted away from his parents and forced into his adventure (Legend trilogy by Marie Lu, The School of Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, Girl, Stolen by April Henry).
    5. The protagonist has no idea who his parents are or if they're alive (this is beginning to be used more often, so be wary). Maybe he is reunited with one or both of them at some point in the plot, complicating things.
    6. The adventures happen at a boarding school or summer camp which the parents/parental figures sent the child to (Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, anyone?). 
    7. The law interferes with parental authority over the children - this happened in the Black City trilogy by Elizabeth Richards because of Ash's half Darkling status. His father couldn't control all the events in Ash's life because the government was running control measures on Darklings. Other examples of lawful interference take place in Divergent, The Hunger Games, Uninvited, Half Bad, The Darkest Minds, and plenty of other dystopic novels.
    8. The parent/s (long shot if there are two parents) are mentally ill, and due to extenuating circumstances (like the end of the world and psychoactive medications) can't take authority over their child. Take a look at the Penryn and the End of Days trilogy by Susan Ee to see this very unique set up. 
    9. The adventure does not require any long-distance travel, and so the MC manages to have his adventure right under his parents' noses. (V is for Villain by Peter Moore, Slated trilogy by Teri Terry).
    10. The age of majority (legal adulthood) is younger than it is in this world, so that the MC that we would consider a teen or child is actually considered an adult (Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown)
    There are a few ways to spice things up, but sometimes . . . there is no other option. Your plot requires the parents to be dead, and there's no way around it. Don't be scared that you're being cliche, if this is the case. Just make sure you didn't automatically make the MC an orphan because that was the first idea that came into your head. Think about other options. Family is a big deal, and sometimes, it is nice to see some familial relationships in a book. 
    Or maybe you have to do the opposite. You've got the parents, but they're proving pesky. In that case:
    Kill those darlings.

    So what about you? Do you agree that the orphan protagonist is getting cliche? Have you ever used it, or one of the twists I listed? 

    Want more posts on cliches and how to put a twist on them? Click here for all my posts on cliches, or click the label in the sidebar.

    Friday, July 3, 2015

    My Conjumbled and Ever-Changing Writing Process

    I've blogged a little about bits and pieces of my writing process - timelines, sticky notes, and character development - but I've never really given an overview. So. That is what I shall do today.
    Every writer's process is different, and mine is continually changing. But, as things stand now, this is how I roll:

    First, the idea! I spot something on Pinterest, see a quote, or otherwise am struck by inspiration. If the idea really grabs me and sticks around in my brain, I'll start generating things like world, genre, protagonist, conflict, and anything else essential that was left out of the initial brainwave. Once I've got a decent picture of what this story would look like, I decide I'll go ahead and plan it. This is when things take off.
    Next: making deadlines. Typically I choose a NaNo event to start on the first draft, so however much time is in between me and either April, July, or November - that's how much time I give myself to get my planning done. I've never had too little time, but if it was only a week from the next NaNo event I'd probably postpone the draft writing until the next one. Ha . . .ha . . . planning an entire novel in that amount of time would be . . . nuts. Right? (I'm slightly scared that I'm even considering the idea.)
    With my goal in mind, I start with solidifying my beginning and ending. Where do the characters start and where do they end up? What has changed? Maybe I'll jot down a few notes and options about climaxes, but nothing is set in stone yet - I just need a general idea of the plot.
    Next I go about developing my main characters, because stories are all about the characters in them, right? I do this by examining first the role the character will have to play in the story, and then adding in flaws and good qualities that will work well with that role. I basically write down (in a character sheet) whatever comes into my head about them and if they change later, well, they've changed. It happens every time but I need something to work from. (For more details on developing characters, check out this post.) At this time, I'm so excited about this new project that I'm bouncing on the couch.
    By this point, all the character development will have given me ideas for scenes and plot points. I start by writing a summary of my plot as I know it, then start an outline and write a chapter-by-chapter outline. I make scenes up as I go to fill in blanks. There will be no subplots or complicated little diversions from the main conflict at this point - it's all still very bare-bones. After the draft is written I always look back and think, "how simplistic . . . bleagh."
    Once I've gotten my first full plot down, I start playing with structure. I follow the three-act structure as outlined by K. M. Weiland in her books and on her blog, Helping Writers Become Authors. Using that structure, I start shifting my outline around in order to structure my plot, nailing down the inciting event, the first plot point, the midpoint, and the third plot point. Also, at this point I'll commonly revise what will happen in the climax  and shift where I start the novel. I make all these changes to my outline as I go. Here is where I also planned out the entire character arc of Mara when I wrote Shadows and Light - I never did such a thing with Taken, but I wish I had. It was confusing, difficult, made me cry, and took way too long, but the story is so much better for it, even as a rough draft.
    Often, new minor characters pop up during that stage, so sometimes I'll draw up quick character sheets for those. Also, through all of this, I'll have been on my Pinterest procrastinating brainstorming - building a main storyboard, boards for the main characters, and setting boards. These really help solidify characters and setting, as well as the tone of the book, in my head.
    After all that is when I finally feel confident enough to start writing the first draft. If I have time, I may make a timeline before starting, but it isn't necessary. As I said above, I like to write my first draft during a NaNo event - that way I have plenty of motivation to keep pounding it out and I can't stop to fiddle with things as I write. But I'm at the beginning of the event, and I'm finally going to write the first words of the story.
    Most writers know how NaNoWriMo goes: you're attached to your laptop, forget to eat, try to block out distractions like the television and cats and school (hahaha right that doesn't work), and beat yourself up internally for not meeting the daily word goal or pausing to go back and change that one word. With Taken I finished half of my first draft during NaNo and spent months dragging through the rest of it. With Shadows and Light I wrote about 25000 words more than I aimed for and finished the draft in one month. Either way, I got a lot done. I'm feeling accomplished.
    After a (hopefully short) break, I then read through the first draft and feel like this:
    I realize that I'm nowhere near done and that now I am going to have to engage in edits. Bleagh bleagh bleagh. Also, I wonder why I started in the first place because SO MANY PROBLEMS. 
    After eating a case of chocolate to console myself and giving myself multiple motivational speeches, I start working on draft two - for which, I apparently have no process.
    With Taken, I made lists of changes I had to make and positively crawled through those edits. I made no major changes to plot or characters. With Shadows and Light, I've gone into a whole second time of plotting and planning, with revised character arcs and plot points, altered world building, and an added narrator and team of minor characters. I'm basically redoing the entire thing (and writing this radically changed second draft during this month). Whatever happens after draft #1, I guess all depends on how interested in it I am, and what specifically is wrong with it.
    I haven't ventured past the opening of the draft #2 stage, so after that is . . .
    Or at least, where no Annika has gone before.
    What does your writing process look like? How far have you gotten into it? Do I do way too much pre-draft work?