I will follow you I didn’t want to at the start When you kept shining that spot light on me Blinking Blinding I didn’t like what you said What you were finding As you walked around Tut Tut Tutting Then muttering All That Muttering Nearly drove me mad But now I see it was me […]
Villains are fun, or they should be. Even if they make us physically ill there is entertainment from loathing their very existence. So why is it so many villains end up cackling mustache twirlers? The answer is the same as why so many protagonists end up reading the same as others, writing a role and not a person.
As I was typing this up I almost wrote that the mistake was making characters evil for the hell of it, but I realized that has never been a problem. A well written villain can just enjoy being wicked or flat out evil just like a protagonist can enjoy being good for compassion’s sake. Some of my favorite villains have been those who are just quite simply evil. In my opinion one way to make these characters work is by giving them the illusion of having other motives and complexities. Another way is by making the villains motives unknown until the protagonist gets to ask. I don’t remember what show this was, but years ago I remember this exchange between a protagonist who’d just been captured and the villain of the show. The hero basically asked why, and ,without a single laugh or any other stereotypical sign of insanity or wickedness, the villain just said “Because its fun for me.” That moment always stuck with me.
The reason that stuck with me is because so often villains are just evil to fill the role of being evil without ever convincing you that they are the villain for a reason. Often there are mitigating forces writers mistake for backstory such as insanity, which is borderline offensive in most cases, or not being loved. But those traits and a thousand others don’t automatically make a villain complex. Those traits like any plot element become cliches when you fail to understand how to use and portray them well.
Why do people love Loki from the Marvel films?
Putting aside Tom Hiddleston’s acting(And face) Thor begins by showing Loki as an outsider not because of who he is, but because he is a methodical intellectual more than a traditional fighter. He is constantly compared to his brother who is more traditionally handsome, more of a warrior, and the first born. Thor is arrogant, but light in all places where Loki is dark. Thor’s arrogance came from entitlement, while Loki’s arrogance came from his actually being smarter. Loki’s most complex relationship comes from a father, Odin, who is moderately detached, set in his ways, and quicker with punishment than with a kind word. The great irony of their interactions is Odin, in trying to bring out the best in his sons, often brings out the worst…and the funny part is Loki’s worst parts are in many ways the parts that make him most like Odin. Does he hate Thor? Does he hate Odin? Yes…and no. He is a man who would gladly kill them both…and we constantly get glimpses that despite that he still loves them…and hates that. He is in conflict with his actions, wants, and feelings which are shown to be somewhat justified. All of these things make Loki a complex character and a protagonist in his own head.
When you watch him these things aren’t just thrown out to the audience. The complexities of his character play out in how the characters move, how they respond to traumatic events, and what brings them together just as much as what pulls them apart. Loki doesn’t spend all his screen time being the caricature his comic book persona really is(trust me on that). Loki isn’t just a villain, but a whole present person in a world where he chooses to antagonize the common good. Those traits are elevated because Loki doesn’t just act like a boring villain whose one purpose in life is to be in Thor’s way. He has his own goals…and Thor is just the one in the way.
Our villains can be simple, but that doesn’t stop them or their motivations from being complex. Another example? Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. He is a complete bastard who gets away with everything because he is a “man’s man” with good looks and supposedly little fear. Why does he fascinate people beyond his inflated sense of ego? Gaston thinks he is doing everything right. Everyone thinks he is. Belle is the problem, not him. In his eyes she should be fawning over him because that’s how it should be. His entire view of the world isn’t just based on him, but on a value system of how everyone should and should not be. In his mind every passive aggressive “compliment” at Belle is legitimate help, and he is doing her a favor by even speaking to her at all. Why be smart, he wonders, when you are a woman…and a beautiful woman.
I love the picture below because it captures everything about him and how he sees himself in an image. You understand him the moment he comes on screen because the moment he strikes that pose you learn everything. He is arrogant, self-absorbed, and superficial. Oh and a jackass. But the movie takes the time to situate him and those traits in his world. It’s not just him, but the whole village who is superficial because they all hold the same values. He is just the embodiment of every wrongly held value of that village. He is still a person with insecurities that make him lose all of his senses. Insecurities he probably never knew he had. He isn’t like the wicked step-mother from Cinderella who just is evil. Side note: the film Ever After does an amazing job of conveying why she is so cruel. Gaston is a product of toxic masculinity, of hubris left unfiltered, and of a world where pretty things become trophies even if they aren’t things at all.
Some of you may be wondering what is the solid difference between a villain having traits of substance and not. I said earlier I hate when insanity is used to justify a character’s evil actions. I am an advocate for mental health, but I will tell you that I still disagree with people who say mental illness should never be a part of a character who is evil. The problem with mental illness is that it is just glued on. All traits tend to be exaggerated in fiction, but mental illness is exaggerated to the point of mockery without any nuance. The villains run around talking to themselves doing crazy looking things because crazy. That’s just fucking lazy. It’s poor writing. It’s a cliche. And it sure as hell ain’t your average mental illness. There is a way to craft a character with mental illness as an aggravating factor to their actions. The trait has to be there not as an excuse, but as part of the character. No mentally ill person is defined by just being mentally ill. The problem too is plenty of mentally ill people are perfectly regular members of society, but we rarely see that portrayed. Instead we get a lot of mustache twirling justified because…evil.
When you are creating your villains don’t ever say “Ok here is the villain” because you should be creating a person with goals, dreams, and insecurities. Unless you intend it to be so don’t make your characters just be empty roles with traits glued on. Make those traits have real weight. Portray them as being individuals who are no less fully realized than your main character. It may take some time, but your story will be all the better for it. My dearest hope is people will take my advice, and I will never have to see a shitty villain again. That won’t be the case, but a girl can dream.
What does a world look like without any weight? What happens when death ceases to matter? Most would say life loses some of its meaning, and those people would be right because in stories where life is on the line death should matter. So why is it we treat it so flippantly when we write?
A Scottish friend of mine recently described X-Files as saying “Well, it’s an American show so it runs on way too long, but its good”. It was sort of jarring because I realized that’s how a lot of American shows look to the rest of the world. Our stories go on for years and years until the audience tapers off out of boredom. Part of why death often stops mattering in fiction is because we just keep bringing characters back, so the show never has to end. But there gets to be a point where no matter how much you love a show your ability to actually invest in it or recommend it to others suffers.
That doesn’t mean a story with meaningless death can’t entertain you or offer a good time. Look, I enjoy comics and Supernatural. So trust me when I say a lack of death doesn’t necessarily ruin anything. However when a show, movie series, or books begin to constantly subvert death the tension lessens. Unfortunately this is automatic because death is the ultimate loss and many of the stories within these fictional worlds hold up that standard. These stories agree that dying is the biggest way to lose and the worst. Your ability to be a free agent is gone, and unless death is framed as being free of your body it is the end of who you(or a loved one) are as a human. Death is the universal period. For those reasons it appears in virtually every story ever told. So why do so many stories undermine death? This isn’t me talking smack about happily ever afters. This isn’t me being a morbid person. What happens when death is off the table? What happens when you flip page after page of characters droning on about wanting to live and how much courage it will take to fight to stay alive only for none of the central characters to ever die. The risk lessens. The tension is the only thing to die.
I stopped watching Supernatural regularly because it got boring and I couldn’t care if Sam or Dean died because they were always dying. Several seasons ago they had an entire Groundhog Day episode where Dean was forced by the Grim Reaper to learn that death was unavoidable by endless loops of Sam dying. It is a brilliant episode rendered utterly pointless and undermined by later seasons. You see The Reaper is offended after watching the brothers circumvent death time and again. While they may see it as a sign of their strength and love for each other The Reaper sees it as the brothers as believing the rule simply don’t apply to them. It is unnatural, manipulative, selfish, and against the cycle of things to constantly manipulate the rules of death. Everyone has a time to die and you can’t always save everyone. Lesson learned…or maybe not.
Years later it seems the rules really don’t apply to them. At its core the show is about family thematically, but it’s a monster of the week. The problem with most monsters of the week is that you end up repeating yourself. The trouble with Supernatural is they repeat death to almost comic levels. At this point the show is entertaining, but how can I not roll my eyes as another season builds up to “sacrifice” and “Death” that is ultimately undone an episode later? How can I feel tension when this has been rinsed, washed, and repeated every single season? How can the writers keep doing this then think the audience would legitimately feel any weight with the brother’s lives?
Now, I’ll say that there is a good thing. Audiences know what they’re getting. Low stress, high entertainment value, and good looking men come to their screens every week. But there gets to be a point where people fall away. Nothing is at risk. Nothing is under threat. Nothing means anything. You’ve seen this all before. Different season same seasonings, and it didn’t matter before so it won’t now.
Supernatural, long standing comic books, games, movies, and novels of all kinds seem to have devalued death. Now each media has its reasons as do the authors. Bottom line is you want people to come back and they’ll probably come back to a character they love. Once again you sit down, open to the page, and know what you’re going to get. But when a writer takes away the real risk, the universal risk, and then keeps saying “Oh this is bad” then you’ll find yourself not believing them. That’s fine for some light reading, but it sucks when you love something and then one day realize it isn’t thrilling you. One day you’re reading intently, but then you feel yourself sliding back. Your favorite character lives, your heart should have skipped in your chest, but no. Why? That’s not normal for you. Well, after some long thought you realize you didn’t believe that character would be killed. Mindless entertainment can’t last forever. And a writer will never be remembered for it.
Do you know why Beaches stuck with people? Besides great acting, great writing, universal themes of love and friendship….there came death. Do you know why Steal Magnolias dug into people’s chests and made them cry? There. Came. Death. They were uplifting, but they used death to show the value and the strength of their characters. Everything ends, and it showed the beauty and pain of living. Death made life worth living, fuller and richer and messier, and that’s very human. Without death there is very little life. Without death there is a facsimile of it, a grotesque mirror…a dull mirror with no shine left.
No story has to be chalk full of death and misery to have tension or weight. I am not saying that and never would. But if death is on the line then death should be on the line. If your readers have seen you write Benny nearing death several times across three books and nothing has been lost, no one close to Benny has died, and nothing is really present as the greatest risk and cost then they won’t believe you the eighth time.Maybe that is the time you finally decide to kill Benny, but that won’t necessarily validate all the times you didn’t and Benny walked away unscathed. Death has to have meaning. People we like have to die at some point. IF the only people dying are bad guys then the story isn’t full of real conflict for 2017, and unless you craft exceptionally well you won’t be able to ignore most of the flak. If you keep devaluing death eventually, consciously or unconsciously, people will notice and begin to not see the tension as real whether they stay in the audience or not.
There are ways of getting around devaluing death. A lot of horror posits that the aftermath of death is the problem. The Hellraiser series is a favorite of mine and it isn’t so much the death that is the weight, but the dying. Death is horrid, but it is what becomes of you in the hands of the cenobites, in the hands of someone the cenobites have corrupted, and so fourth that is the ultimate cost we want our protagonist to avoid. And the way this is done is so beautifully simple. The cenobites have grown numb and no longer can differentiate between pleasure or pain. They’re sort of a play on the notion of demons. They aren’t malicious or evil. They invoke and experience sensations. They are not innocents, but they might as well be with their myopic view. The demons don’t tempt you in order to trick you so they can do you wrong. They tell you things without detail, promise sensations you’ve never experienced and simply do not see the big deal about pain. It is sensation. Sensation is good. With creatures like that death is triviality, and if they learn to keep you alive, which they have, they will give you endless sensations of unimaginable horrors. Death isn’t the enemy here. Life after “death,”being stopped from death, and being hunted are the costs. We get that from those monsters.
While some people may not forgive Joss Whedon for killing off characters the notion that he engages in senseless deaths is a wrong one. Sorry to break it to ya’ll but Buffy, Firefly, and Dollhouse wouldn’t give you the same feeling if death wasn’t always on the table. He and his writing teams designed characters who felt like they were part of the main crew or who outright were. Maybe you didn’t know the story or see the adventure, but you knew from the dialogue that the characters saw them as an honorary part of the team. By snuffing those characters out those writers seeded doubt. They taught their audience how to fear and not to trust that everything would be wrapped up. And 90% of the central teams still made it to the finish line. Realistically you could look and say “Oh one character will tap out and it’ll be done” but did the audience do that? No. Whedon’s shows were crafted strategically to make us believe every person was fair game despite the obvious fact that they were not. They weren’t senseless deaths for the writing of it. They weren’t bad writing. If you believe that then you believe wrong. Death can just happen and sometimes it doesn’t need to be built up because life is pain and suffering with real consequences. That is what makes the good parts of life so important.
Truthfully all death is senseless and it can strike at any time. Our media often likes to forget that, but by showing you these characters who get killed you learn not to trust. That makes you hurt and ache and invest. Some of you may turn off the screen, but that’s your loss because:
Previously, a post mentioned how reading poetry can make any writer better at their craft. Today I’m going to tell you why that is, and why that fact makes me buy poetry.
I buy poetry books every once in a while because I love them, but also because think they can offer a number of lessons of how to construct stories and evoke feeling. A workshopping buddy of mine told me that she believes people can be taught craft, but not how to tell a story. You have to learn story telling on your own. I am inclined to agree. The very nature of poetry makes me inclined to agree because poetry can violate all the rules of craft but still support a powerful story. A poem is as versatile as a piece of elastic. You can use it to hold a crown in place, to make pants more comfortable, or to make a foot tambourine(that’s a thing I learned that existed last night). The nature of a poem is something you can alter into whatever shape you need. The accouterments, whether they be crown or tambourine or the elements of the story telling and the evocation of feeling, are an essential part of crafting a story.
When you know how to cut, define, hide, and comfortably place elastic you have learned skills you can apply to nearly any fabric. Yet elastic is a structural component, what catches your eye is how the accouterments are presented. Does the crown look janky as hell? Does the rhyme scheme break without,pardon the pun, rhyme or reason. Knowing Iambic pentameter won’t necessarily make you a good poet. Hell it could make you a worse one if you only follow those rules. But knowing how minimalist elements produce vivid clear imagery that moves you in a poem using iambic pentameter is something you learn by consuming poetry. And when you don’t look at the pentameter, when you look at clear word usage, or even page formatting you learn far more about story telling than reading some novels or short stories. Writers often focus on writing craft over story craft when even the best writers should expose themselves to the craft of story telling. Poetry reading is an excellent way to do that. You learn how to convey the raw story in a dozen or more different ways.
In that last post I told you:
I am proud to say I write great dialogue because I read and wrote poetry starting from 10 years old. Actually maybe even younger I remember reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings at some point with my mother’s help. How did poetry help me write dialogue? A good insult should be as sharp as a good poem and just as heavy with the punctuation. A proclamation of love that, I believe, has the most effect can be as simple as one line when you craft to context well. Poetry has done a lot of me as a writer, as a human being, and I know I’m not alone.
Dialogue is poetry. The stupid things we often say can be poetry especially if we’re clever. When I write a powerful moment, especially in a script it is closer to poetry than prose. If I have character who has finally had enough say “I hate you. Go away” to another it can be powerful. But it can be more powerful to have them laugh with tears glistening in their eyes and say “Loving you is hell. Just let me be free.” Poetry also has a lot of contradictions, long verses interrupted by short ones, odd comparisons, and both broken and praised conventions. The sheer variety can show you so many tricks to showing emotional reactions, foreshadowing, and character building in neat little ways. More so than with novellas, where a period is in a poem or whether that poem uses periods tells you a lot of information. Read some of my poetry here and all the punctuation and line length is intentional. Why? Because even the punctuation has to do work in a poem.
Poetry has so many forms and variations, but I promise you even the variations you can’t stand have moved some one else’s emotions. There will be poems you won’t understand. Some poems may simply not be meant for you to understand, and that’s ok. Regardless, reading poetry provides a guide to understanding story telling and story crafting. Not the craft of writing, but the craft of learning to tell a good story. You can spend $500 on a seminar, download $100 worth of ebooks on writing, and learn every grammar rule by heart. None of that is going to make you a better story teller without a diversity of reading. They can help you learn the craft, and understand how to convey things in a improved way.
BUT reading poetry gives you examples of how to convey emotion, setting, story telling, and how to line craft in beat by beat punches. Even the longest poems have an economy of words and structure vastly different than novels.
Specifically, the lyrical nature of poems can radically improve your writing in specific genres. Experiencing poetry especially as a romance or horror writer can vastly improve your story telling. Why do I say this? A good horror story should sing like a poem. Do you know why so many children’s rhymes are morbid? Besides as a coping mechanism, there is something pointed about morbid things. They don’t require long explanations. I joined wattpad and have been reading some great horror stories, but have been coming across far more awful ones. The awful ones lacked feeling, suspense, scene, and sense of character. But let’s look at a lyrical example of a good horror story:
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Were you surprised I used that one? In four lines we have a character, an event, and a conflict/realization, and then a choice. Slow it down and have children skipping rope to it and gets even more morbid. There’s a beautiful simplicity to that rhyme and the fact that this story has been told as a children’s jump rope rhyme even adds to the character. You have a woman who “whacks” her mother with an axe, and then the line is she sees what she’d done. Whether you think she did it in anger or not doesn’t matter because she saw the blood, the gore, and then not only killed her father but did so more violently.
We spend a lot of time critiquing flowery language and purple prose, but sometimes we misunderstand why. The problem is when flowery language detracts from a story or reads as fake. If flowery language reads wrong it comes across as an insincere way for the author to show off their talent. Good poetry flows, and good sentence should flow like good poetry by the last revision of a piece.
Lyrical poetic language isn’t about how many ways you can describe the night’s sky though it can help you diversify your descriptions. It isn’t about ego though I will say a lot of poets love to show off their egos in their poems. Lyrical poetic language is a means to tell a story in an immediate way to get a reaction, which is something many authors struggle with. It’s hard and let it be said that you may not always get what a poet is trying to do. It may not work for you. Still when written form a sincere place poetic language is incredibly potent. Understanding that potency is something that can greatly add to any written word. It pushes you to think in a different way than short stories and novels. The best thing a writer can often do is have exposure to everything under the sun. Not to copy, but to learn from.
That is why I read poetry. That is why I feel all writers should pick up a poetry book every blue moon. You can learn so much about how to craft a story.
I’ve been debating releasing a collection of erotic poetry I’ve been adding to for the past…nine years? And as I’ve been thinking about it I wondered..do you guys buy poetry? I do on occasion, but more and more I have begun to wonder if poetry only sells if you are lucky enough to end up in the New York Times. Plenty of other writers have had success as poets, and poetry publishers.
Nikki Grimes,whose published 50 books over the course of 30 years, had a pretty honest perspective about selling poetry that I find very realistic:
To be fair, if you are a poet, it is highly unlikely that you will become wealthy working in this genre, no matter how well you hone your craft. That much is true. But chances are, you already know that. I would wager that most writers, keen on this particular genre, aren’t looking to make a killing in the marketplace. They simply have a penchant for the lyrical line, and a passion for metaphor. Like me, they pen poetry because they, quite frankly, can’t help themselves. Poetry is in them. It’s part of their DNA. Poets don’t value their work in terms of fiscal weight, and that’s where we differ from agents and editors.
No one alive should ever expect to break bank via publishing. It’s just not how it goes, but you can be comfortable. Besides poetry is about the feeling, the intent, and inspiring others to feel and see in new exciting ways. But here is the catcher. I am a poet who likes to have food and ,ya know, live.
As I’ve researched poetry publishing it is becoming clear that it’s a gamble, no one knows either way how it could go, but ya know what? Don’t act like you’ll make money. Act like you’ll do what you love. That’s…hard to do sometimes.
Still the world would be lesser for a lack of poetry than an overabundance. Poetry, like music, can do things in a line that thousand page novels fail to do in 400 pages not because those 400 pages are ineffective, but because the minimalist nature of a poem can do things in ways novels simply can’t do. In that way poetry offers an exceptional learning opportunity for writers of all kinds…which I will detail in my next post. For now let me say that poetry is incredibly important for writers to read and comprehend. You don’t have to like all poetry, but reading a diversity of poetry can sharpen your skills at conveying feeling, producing imagery, and understanding line structure.
I am proud to say I write great dialogue because I read and wrote poetry starting from 10 years old. Actually maybe even younger I remember reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings at some point with my mother’s help. How did poetry help me write dialogue? A good insult should be as sharp as a good poem and just as heavy with the punctuation. A proclamation of love that, I believe, has the most effect can be as simple as one line when you craft to context well. Poetry has done a lot of me as a writer, as a human being, and I know I’m not alone.
So why do we let it go so under appreciated? Why do people hesitate to spend $5 on a book of poetry that could effect them as deeply as 400 pages? Times are tough for many people. Yet even still there is so much we could do if we embraced poets more.
No one should ever expect to get rich off of writing. If you read those “I made a Bajillion $$$ Writing Ebooks” articles and believed them I’m sorry. There’s a reason a ton of those articles reference Stephen King or J.K Rowling, and not hundreds and hundreds of other writers. There’s a million of us. Yes, some are better than others, but this field must be about passion. Whether you write to market or no you must display some kind of passion because $$$$ doesn’t just fall into your lap; because you may write 30 good books before ever making $500; because so many authors haven’t been “discovered” until after their deaths. Writing is a cold hard mistress, and I’d say poetry holds a steel tipped whip.
But we can make it softer.
If we consume each other. If we’re willing to take that risk and buy a random book of poetry, if we’re willing to say our emotional and mental labors are worth something.
We have to create and contribute to the market as both buyers and writers. We have to recommend books and poets to build excitement and appreciation for poetry.
How do you edit the first chapter of your story is a question every fiction writer asks, and it is a question I’ve done my share of struggling with. However I think I’ve found the most important bit of advice when dealing with the beginnings of any story, and even any non-fiction piece. Whether you’re doing chapter one or the opening paragraph of an essay, you are doing a fine balancing act. You have to give as much information as possible to the reader without overwhelming them, but also ensuring they’re following along with everything you say. The opening of your story, regardless of genre, will sink or swim your novel. While I don’t claim to have perfected the opener, I do claim to have worked at working around and through common mistakes authors are prone to make. And so I’m going to offer the best advice I’ve ever heard for editing chapter one of a novel, advice I was reminded of by the lovely Stephanie London via her youtube channel.
When you’re writing you feel the pressure to get everything just so because you want to be clear about who, what, where, and why. However, the dangers of exposition are many. Since I’ve been an active member of scribophile I can tell you that I’ve seen my share of wonderful tales bogged down by the exposition fairy. That little butthole flew through the window and just refused to leave from the moment the story began. The exposition fairy encourages telling not showing and harkens back to the way we most naturally tell stories, orally. But away from the oral tradition you have to put people in the story. You have to give them a front row seat, and if the exposition fairy is guiding your hand at every other paragraph, or god forbid every other sentence, the reader will be stuck in the back of the theater.
So how do we deal with this?
Well, truthfully it will always be tempting to have it happen unless you are a minimalist story teller. Fans of grand epics and sprawling worlds fall prey to the exposition fairy most of all, but everyone can be a target. To that end, you have to write smart. BE vigilante of your own bad writing behaviors, and then keep writing. MAke notes, and even make minor changes but don’t edit constantly while your writing unless you truly benefit from it or it has to happen. Then once your opening is written you have to do this one super important thing. This is the thing that will make all the difference in the world….
Go back through your opening and highlight every ounce of exposition.
Reread and highlight. Whether you print it out or do it digitally, go through and highlight everything that is only there for exposition. What lines only serve to explain what isn’t shown? You may wish to use different colors for exposition related to different characters or events in order to keep track. Sometimes I mark exposition important to the plot with stars or sidebar comments so I know why they’re their and that they matter. If your opening is mostly color coded and coated then chances are you need to tighten that sucker up. You will most likely need to rewrite the whole thing. It isn’t enough to disguise exposition in unnatural dialogue. It isn’t enough to excuse why its there because it is there for a reason. It isn’t enough for it to be there to help your readers understand. If it isn’t furthering your theme, your plot, your characters, and bringing people into your text then it isn’t working. I say to do this because you need to see how much explaining to the reader you’re doing. Seeing it visually becomes a lot harder to justify or overlook. Does this mean all exposition is evil? Not at all, but there are ways to pace exposition and present it that are vastly superior to walls of text that may not enrich the story.
By doing something as simple as highlighting expository text you are increasing your ability to keep the story in action and moving forward, which will keep your audience engaged.
The worst thing about being a lazy and creative person is realizing how much doing different activities fuels writing. As much as I would love to just lounge around and write all day there is an energy from going out into the world and being active that makes my writing flow easier. When I go for walks my mind wanders, and more often than not it wanders to my writing. That quiet time away from people is one factor, but I’ve realized using my body in an environment that is constantly changing or is simply not my home adds something. In previous blogs I’ve talked about this, but I want to put this in a different way. Something about moving your body and exposing your mind to new or different activities gets the juices flowing. Monotony breeds apathy, but even worse monotony breeds a lack of ideas. If you do the same unstimulating things in an unstimulating place every single day you’ll probably find yourself at a stumbling block. You’ll probably also find yourself five seconds from pulling your own hair out. As much as I’m a lazy introvert I’ve learned the value of being in the world and not just thinking about it is priceless. So often I like to pretend I can just live a life of the mind, but that quiet contemplation (which comes with a side order of repetition) eventually wears me down. It’s hard to explain, but it leaves me with a frustrated restlessness and a profoundly unsettling emptiness. It becomes a scream I can’t get out. It disrupts my focus and muddles my creativity.
Sometimes I can work through it from home and sometimes I have to when my anxiety about outside gets high. While reading does contribute a lot to writing and creativity, while going to art museums does the same, while watching shows can do it too, and while talking does boost creative thinking going out and doing activities enhances creativity. Anyone who works out will tell you that after a while doing the same exercises the same way loses the effect on your body. It is still good for you, but the assumption that you can just keep jogging for a year and it will be as effective as it was during the first month isn’t quite accurate. It’s something a lot of people forget when trying to lose weight, and it is why a lot of people quite. Truthfully it is why a lot of people assume anyone over weight or even a bit heavier than average must never work out or be active despite the facts. You have to break your muscles, your system, and your body out of routine because then it adapts. I could lose one hundred pounds(and hopefully I will) but I won’t ever be skinny (And why would I want to?) and chances are my body will find its balance point and I’ll gain back twenty pounds in a few years. Why? Routines let your body tread the same processes and unless your shifts really get your body in gear, for a lot of bodies routine just allows it to do the same thing. The gains decrease. The brain is the exact same way. Doing the same 100 piece puzzle can only help you so much. You can only learn so much about solving any puzzle from doing the same one a thousand times.
The mind of thinking creatures needs exposure to different exciting things, and the most direct way to get that is by going out. The mind also needs the body to move, to use different neuron pathways instead of the same ones over and over. Not only is this good for creativity, but it helps fight mental decay such as dementia. Dancing is the best thing you can do for your brain, so far as I’m concerned. The brain is ultimately a muscle that requires a work out to stay healthy. The best thing about giving your brain a work out by reading something you wouldn’t otherwise read, meeting new people, going new places, going for walks, or trying out a new hobby is that it enriches what you create. It allows you to bring something new to the table and get inspired. We don’t always feel the inspiration, but the fact that we use our brains means we’ve added to the experiences we can pull from and allowed our brain to flex in a different way.
So the next time you get a brain fart that blocks creativity try switching up your routine. Try doing something a bit different and you may just be surprised!
How do you react when you don’t finish a project when you plan? When your doing something that is entirely self-driven schedules help hold you accountable, but sometimes for one reason or another you just don’t meet them. Then you wake up one day and realize “Oh…I was supposed to be done by today.” It’s not a fun feeling, and for me it provokes some anxiety.
So I’m finishing Come at Night, which is the first book of The Marquess series that I was supposed to finish months ago. Why has it taken so long? The story was thicker, better, and more interesting than I initially planned. It went from an erotic short story to a sprawling tale of politics, gender, and redemption. And ,as much as I love the dirty business, I love those things just as much when they’re explored in an interesting way. Still that development wasn’t planned. I wanted to have the book done by Christmas, but at this point I’m only going to be able to deliver the “preview” short story. That’s fine, and that short story will be more than worth its small cost. However it is disappointing to be where I am now.
Yet, as I reflect the importance of realizing how and why you miss a schedule is important because you can prepare better next time….or realize what affected your inability to meet the schedule at that time. So what happened to me? I got tired of writing smut. I’m brand new, but I was spending an average of eight hours a day on several different stories…most of which aren’t finished. Most of which people promised to beta read and edit and…never got back to me on consistently, which lead to me saying “I’ll give them a week…I’ll give them another” because I know I need feedback like any other writer. So I sort of burned myself out…however it was sort of a blessing because then I focused on my other stories. Stories you won’t hear much about, but I will tell you they’re great. One romance is going to be about 200 pages and I’m on page 50, which is actually amazing because I started the story on the first and have been running around for weeks trying to finish paintings and presents for the holidays. Still…it hasn’t made me feel great.
Not completing a task you set out for yourself can be disheartening, especially because you are entirely responsible for it. Whether you just temporarily burn out like me, or whether you’re pushing yourself constantly to finish there is a struggle to reconcile why you couldn’t finish. It’s depressing, but for those of us building a platform and small business it is worrying. You begin to question if you can do it. You begin to make ideas for change but them worry you can’t do what you need to in order to be successful. Some people balk at me when I describe this and say “It’s your own fault. Have a tougher skin,” as though that makes the feelings about the situation go away. It doesn’t. It may be my fault…and what does that matter? We can be upset at ourselves and the situation and still have “tough skin”. When you’re responsible for your business, your books, your blogs, your livelihood, and your dreams it is frickin scary! That’s the bottom line, and when things don’t go as planned it is even scarier
But to conquer that feeling you just have to accept it.
That is something I’m really struggling with because I’m very scared. I’ve been strong armed into spending money over the holidays to maintain certain relationships I need in my life and I have been forced to buy a new phone by relatives(long story). My finances are more than a little tight, which adds stress and anxiety to my life in general. Now writing isn’t just about the money though if you’d like to buy my books please help a sista out. Writing is what I love to do and it is what I can almost always do at any time of the day. My dream career would be to be a team leader/research in a non-profit organization and also have a career writing on the side. I’ve been writing since I was a child and this career is amazing, but it is never stable and always changing with technology and interest. Every day is a gamble. Heck, blogging is a gamble because people make new blogs every day, and even those that aren’t active for more than a week can bury yours to the bottom of the search pile regardless of SEO keywords.
However, to get to where you want to be you have to take that gamble and accept that sometimes you won’t meet a deadline. Sometimes you will discover that what you’re doing needs more time and care than you can give and you have to put it aside. All you can do is accept that sometimes you won’t meet the deadline and that your anxiety about that is ok and normal. More importantly, you can begin to figure out what to do next time. That won’t fix the now. It won’t let you go back in time and finish the project. But it will let you feel like you’re taking a step forward towards completing the goal. That can be the difference between falling into a funk over the situation and finding a new way to push you to completion next time.
Cliches aren’t an inherent problem. Shocker. I know. You’d never expect Rosie to say something like that, but it is true. Cliches are not an inherent problem in writing or life. The problem with cliches is twofold sincerity and whether or not they’re boring. A cliche fails when it feels insincere. Let’s put it another way your partner can say “You look great”, but you’ll usually be able to tell when they are really serious or just spouting platitudes. Why? Because there is a difference in tone. Whether your reading a book or a blog you can tell the difference between someone writing passionately and with more than a passing interest to get a concept out.
I say this because I think there are a lot of writers who like the idea of writing and the concept of telling a story, but who don’t want to dig into what they’re writing enough to make it feel authentic. You pick up a book or read someone’s story page and your met with an obvious love of the concept of a character or a relationship, but the writer hasn’t made the story worth your while. They love the idea of this handsome young lad sweeping this girl off her feet…but there is actually no relationship between them except for the writer telling you so. They never have serious conversations or bond beyond steamy scenes, and even if your’re left with a bit of enjoyment you can’t quite believe in their relationship.
Plenty of blogs and stories that I started have not been finished for that very reason. They’re concepts with no depth, and that’s how you fall into the cliche. You don’t sound sincere even if you sincerely want to tell your story. D.D Griggs and I talked about this the other day. Whether you are writing non-fiction or fiction there are cliches and themes. She writes self-help books, and 70% of them are similar or have similar themes that are cliches we can all spout to a certain degree. Writers like her put those cliches into a context and a way of living that is incredibly important, but we’re all familiar with self-help stereotypes of conferences, yogis, and hippies. Most people can tell you one common philosophy in self-help, but neither of those things are inherently bad. What makes a self-help book succeed or fail is a matter of someone liking the author’s style, but more so it is a matter of whether that author is speaking from a place of sincerity and belief. That’s what keeps those cliches from being a problem.
When cliches become a problem is when they’re boring and don’t feel genuine. A blogger talking about “the power of positivism” and working out won’t grab your interest if they are just issuing copy-pasted ideas to their audience. If they don’t let you in to who they are you don’t feel like you can trust them because all you see is surface cliches. The same thing happens in fiction. If you have a book about a werewolf romance that is just paint by numbers it may make money…but it won’t make you an audience for the next book. It won’t get you the sort of repeat readers you want because the readers can tell you aren’t in it and you’re not giving them anything interesting. By that same token, someone else can write the exact same plot (and people do this and do it well) but they make the characters more sincere and write with more passion. They try to keep the story interesting and their readers see that. In blogging and ebook writing I see a lot of people just regurgitating what they think will get them blog follows or downloads, and then I go to forums of people upset and complaining about not getting sales. Well, you aren’t giving a unique product. You give something that is pain by numbers…and so have hundreds of thousands of others, which has hurt the market in many ways all on its own. These writers just don’t see how the cliches aren’t what hurts or helps a story or blog or what have you. It is a matter of how something is written and the tone that allows readers to connect.
Cliches can be powerful tools not only when you subvert them, but when you embrace them with the intention of making them interesting and bringing somethign new to the table with all the sincerity you can muster. This not only applies to the page or screen, but to how you talk to people as well. I hope you keep that in mind when writing holiday cards this season or are getting ready for New Years.
The first time I wrote a story with a sex scene I was 14. It was a Full Metal Alchemist fan fiction. The first time I wrote an original piece worth a damn was at age 15. The story concerned a young unnamed woman who encounters a shape shifting wolf(original I know). The wolf isn’t some bad boy though. He’s a teenager like her, but full of cheer and hope for a better world. One moonlit night the unnamed girl kissed him and shy fumbling led to more. Now as I begin my journey as an erotica writer I’ve been forced to ask a question: is it wrong or uncomfortable for my readers if I revisit those ideas and give them a more evolved form? Is it wrong to plumb my brain for dirty fantasies I drooled over as a minor? Is it wrong to take old stories from my books and USBs and rewrite them as something new? It may seem like a stupid question, but as young people gain access to more technology and we engage in discussions over technology, sex, consent, and inevitably morality we have to begin figuring out these often arbitrary lines of legality and morality.
My natural instinct with creative works is that they are fictional and though they do impact our society we can’t and should not treat thoughts as crimes. So long as no one is hurt then regardless of our disgust no one should be penalized legally for fictional content creation…though they can be penalized socially. My litmus test has always been “Is anyone being hurt by this?” and I mean that both directly and indirectly. And take notes here because that question is going to become particularly important as we advance virtual reality and robotic technology (we often talk about robots used for sex, but a debate will be around animal like or childlike robots made for that purpose. This will soon be our reality.). Access to stories, platforms like amazon, and access to the materials necessary to create stories/comics/games/movies/etc. are already complicating our reality. Back in 2014 I remember reading a story about a man returning from Japan who was arrested on child pornography charges because of comics specifically manga as well as this. The characters were written as being the age of majority, but they said it didn’t matter because they saw what they saw on the page/screen. And I get why people reacted this way because they saw what they saw. I have no doubts that some characters are written younger despite their given ages which can be gross and uncomfortable to say the least. I have no clue what sort of manga or comics that the people prosecuted had, and I don’t know how young or realistic the characters drawn were, so it may have really been a case of “I know it when I see it” and even though that’d make me more comfortable part of me hesitates because it’d still be fiction. But I’d still be more comfortable.
But the weird part is basically the choice to prosecute these individuals penalizes artists for their style but more than that it brings up a whole lot of questions. To me this asserts if a person has a young face, or more dramatically has a youthful body and you date them you could be subject to being called a pedo. A lot of people say it is a matter of using common sense to decide what is and is not ok, but it isn’t. I wish it was that simple to separate the wheat from the grosso chaff but it isn’t.
Despite all the fan service I loved the animes pictured above…now let me tell you a secret. They are both animated versions of The Dirty Pair. One is the original show from the 1980s and the one on the right is from the fan service laden ugly 1990s reboot. The exact same characters are depicted, but the artists had very different interpretations, styles, and quite frankly most people probably wouldn’t think they were the same characters or the same ages(mid twenties). The reboot had them less mature and more cartoonish in personality, so is that enough to penalize it? I’d guess not, but still it might be. Whether right or wrong it can lead to sticky situations. But plenty of people risk arrest for creating characters who are drawn or written in a certain style. It’s arbitrary decision making based on some random person(s) comfort level, and in the case of fiction…depending on the style of the artist the only difference between a child and an adult is height and eye size…and that’s not always the case.
I point out the difficulty of this scenario because it is something we’re dealing with now that affects creators both in business and in figuring out how people see their work. The comics/manga examples are far more clean cut than me revisiting stories from my teenage years, and yet they are fraught with ethical, moral, and social questions. Do we assume that any character in a particular style is a child. In the picture about Hiei, the short black haired guy on the left, is the oldest of the core four characters if I remember correctly. He’s just short. Do we assume any character written a specific way is meant to be a kid? I think there’s a reasonable argument for that, but even then I have to admit it becomes “I’ll know it when I see it”. All of these issues of morality, technology, and creation come to the forefront of your mind as a writer, especially when you begin engaging with pieces, thoughts, and characters that have experiences with sexuality. As I said, I wrote sex as 14 year old, and though it wasn’t good…it was there depicting characters who were young and on adventures. And while their or my age was never fetishized…I cannot stop someone from sexualizing it. I can’t thought police people to not find it arousing that I was a young pervert even if I find it gross, but can people be penalized for reading those revamped old stories, fantasies, and thoughts?
But that’s complicated…and this next part is often something we don’t like to discuss but it is true.
Quite frankly, we can’t 100% know what exactly excites someone or what role they are taking in their fantasies. Research finds time and again that some fantasy aren’t of the one traditionally considered the victimizer. Not every sexual thought is going to be safe, sane, consensual, or even possible but people have them…and there is no way to stop people from sharing them. Further why shouldn’t people profit off of fiction so long as it doesn’t give people a step by step guide to illegality? There are arguments to be made, but even still we don’t know what other people think. It isn’t my place to assume your darkest taboo fantasies place you in the role of the victimizer/power-holder/etc. because there is literally no way to know that unless you told me, and even if I did know what does that have to do with you in the real world? If its just a fantasy, a fun story to read, a fun story to write…than who is anyone to decide that makes me immortal?
Yet I can’t ignore that a large part of society disagrees. What I consider “Playing thought police” is what others call setting standards, and while I disagree with many of those standards I can’t say it is wholesale wrong. Now, this isn’t a matter of people being able to critique and turn their noses up in disgust. It is a matter of wondering what is inappropriate, not in risk of being seen as illegal, and generally pragmatic. So long as a piece isn’t harming anyone then it is generally seen as fine. The problem is deciding when something “promotes” something negative. Hundreds of thousands of people would see my BDSM erotica ,like Suffer too Good or my latest Dirty Honey, and decide I’m promoting anything from insanity to sexism. And I was once told by a room fool of people that sexual submission is an extension of sexism, so this isn’t me over reacting to nothing. Take that and add to the fact that I do have stories I wrote years ago that I find hot, erotic, and would love to rewrite, and we have some difficult questions. I’m pulling stuff from myself, but from my teenage self. Is it wrong because I should ignore who I was or ignore young people having sexuality and only write new stuff? I was a teen, a kid, and I had some of the dirtiest fucking thoughts you can imagine (pun intended), so I wrote some intensely erotic smut that would work for my business now. To some people that can be a problem.
Do young people have a right to write erotica or smut? Is there an inherent problem with anyone, especially adults, reading and enjoying it? Is there something wrong with me writing old sex stories from my teenage years into something else? These seemingly ridiculous questions have to be asked at some point and people don’t because they think the answer is obvious or the subjects make them uncomfortable. But we have to be braver. We have to be honest.
Every writer I know has at least one story or article that they’re written and put aside. I have thousands of notebooks filled with unfinished stories with some great ideas, but they were written at a point in time when I could not do them justice or give them the time they needed. Full disclosure…The Original Story that Dirty Honey was based on was a story I began at some point between the ages of 16-19. Does that make you uncomfortable? If yes…why? Because now you know I had very aggressive sexual fantasies at a younger age? If I liked the story then and I liked the story now, so what does it matter? Does the story take on added dimension with that revelation? Perhaps yes, but does that make the story disgusting in some way? So far as I can see no. The fact is I am a sexual and romantic being. I’ve always been fascinated by sex, romance, and falling in love. What is the difference between me coming up with the story now or then? Nothing practical or logical justifies a reaction.
The aversion some may feel comes from this belief that young people shouldn’t be sexual even though we know they are, and that feeling isn’t logical…but conditioned and arbitrary. I debated over using old material,but ultimately I realized it’d be more criminal to not do so and pretend something drastic happened at 18 and I realized I had girl parts that could be fun and imagine these filthy things. But no one took the adult filter off my brain like all of a sudden the kids have left home and the adult channels no longer need an adult filter. Nah. I’ve been sexual for a long time and there is no reason I should act ashamed of that or not use valuable material because someone might be uncomfortable with realizing I’ve always been me. Life is too short and I am too poor to not look to the things I like and use them in profitable ways. Bottom line: that’s their hang up not mine.
But I want to throw a wrench in here…what about teenage writers?
Fanfiction.net, live journal, Gaiaonline, myspace, Xenga, IMVU, and ,hell, even Neopets were spaces where I found sexual young people who were writing flat out smut if not erotic romances. Anyone of any age could read them. Once upon a time I was one of those teens, and writing was so much happier than my reality. Writing those sexy, romantic, and angst filled stories helped me develop as a person. Getting feedback helped me develop as a writer. Some people would look at those places and see corruption. I have no doubt there are predators on those sites because there are predators everywhere, but that isn’t what this article is about. This article is about navigating artistic boundaries, and what I’m asking is does age negate the right to certain types of art, to profit from that art, and/or affect those creating it?
There’s a difference between sexualization and writing sex, which I believe in. However I acknowledge that it is difficult to navigate. I know a woman who published her first book at 17 to rave reviews, she sold the rights while maintaining royalties, and generally could stand to make millions from that still popular book. As I began writing Dirty Honey, I found myself thinking what if that author had written a sex scene in her book? What if there is a book written by a brilliant 16 year old who is able to write with the sort of maturity and care that most adults can’t even do, but they’re story has been hurt by sex?
While plenty of YA books contain elements of groping or “fades to black” or references to candles burning all night…what happens when 15 year old Rosie D. writes sex that is inherently different from 20 something year old Rosie D. ? Content wise I’m a better writer and I write better stories. There is no moral imperative here. Nothing changes, and yet so often we use age to determine what is appropriate not because it works, but because why not. We have to do something to protect those who aren’t mentally matured enough for the sexual world, but even the more tangible aspects of sex and age and consent still have muddied waters. A number of gay kids have been charged with statutory rape because they turned 18 and their current or former girlfriend or boyfriend was a pinch younger with parents who blamed the now-18 year old for “making their kid” gay and forcing them to acknowledge their kids as sexual/romantic beings. It is an unfortunate reality that the laws just can’t cope with, and I don’t know if they ever will be. So how do authors especially young authors navigate this moral mind field?
If a 15 year old was revealed to be a top selling erotica author how would the world react? Probably with calling the kid’s parents perverts, suggestions of child protective services, investigations of abuse, laughter, derision, suddenly rave reviews are redone to point out “childish” aspects of the writing they once praised. It has a sense, but it isn’t logical or reasonable. Yet people would feel dirty, but if that 15 year old held back that book and then published it five years later? Their reputation would be un-compromised and the readers would feel less upset and bothered. That 15 year old might be harassed as well, and perhaps sexually harassed by not only old perverts but classmates and others. But I don’t know how we would handle that. I don’t know how we would make peace with the fact that a 15 year old wrote a mature, sensual, erotic, and emotional sex scene that excited adults, teens, and anyone who got their hands on a copy. I do believe we’d struggle. So often we pretend young people are sexual or capable of sexual thought with any weight to them.
But if that kid waited five years…what would we do? Praise them, share their works, whisper about them in coffee shops, and then see them on Oprah’s Book Club. And then what would happen if that now-20 writer went on TV said “I wrote the story when I was 15. I fully edited it by the time I was 16, but didn’t get the courage to send it out until I was 19”? Once again people wouldn’t know what to think. They wouldn’t know what to say, or how to feel about reading sex by the author’s younger self, but I’d imagine they might excuse in five seconds if the author was charismatic enough. I hope that’s what will happen with my writing.
For me…I have lived a life as a teenage wasteland of sex, and now as a young adult obsessed with sex and candy and whips and things I find the best policy is to look at the piece as what it is before doing anything else before moving to where the piece came from and who wrote it. In erotica the best way to examine our works and to enjoy them is to just accept them and the creativity that birthed them then we can evaluate what they are, how they work, and if they really do promote dangerous ideas for someone to follow through on to hurt people/creatures.