Search results for 'indulgent'

Self-Indulgent Fantasies: Funny, but Not Appropriate

2 Mar

by Susan Dennard

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Once upon a time, there was a really beautiful girl with LOTS of money. Her name was Susan, and she was super popular.  Everyone wanted to be her, but she was nice, so everyone liked her too.  She fell in love with a handsome Frenchman.

Oh, and she could fly and turn invisible.

Oh! And Sam Worthington wanted to go out with her, but since she was already married to the wonderful Frenchman, she had to turn him down.  He still sends her flowers and chocolates, regularly…and they like to hang out.

Okay, okay, enough.  If you don’t want to gag yet, you should.  Just writing that triggered severe gag-reflex in me.  Sure, that may be My Ultimate Fantasy, but it’s not a story.  It’s really not something I should share with people either, methinks.

The point is this: YOUR FANTASIES ARE PRIVATE AND SHOULD NOT BE THE CORE OF YOUR STORIES.

Fan fiction is one thing, as Savannah explains very well here, but original fiction is quite another.  You need to distance yourself from self-indulgent drivel.

And here’s why:

When we write our fantasies out, there’s never enough conflict.  Perhaps there’s no character conflict (notice that Susan above is an obnoxious Mary Sue), or maybe there is no plot conflict (um, there is no resistance to Susan’s love story with the Frenchie) or maybe it’s just all-around cheesy (yes, my fantasy definitely has a lot of CHEESE).  No matter what, the problem is private fantasies have no conflict, and without conflict, the story is of no interest to the reader.

Now, of course, you can use parts of your daydreams in your novel.  Or you can draw inspiration from your fantasies.  Gosh, the kiss scene in THE SPIRIT-HUNTERS is definitely something plucked from my Most-Perfect-Kisses-Imaginable-Bank.  And, of course, the rogue-ish Daniel is built from my dreams of swoon-worthy boys.

But those personal favorites are layered underneath not-so-happy conflict, rough decisions, crappy circumstances, and lots of failure — all stuff that doesn’t happen in my fantasies. 😉

Of course, fantasies can sometimes be hilarious for anecdotal tales…  Case in point:

If you ever have fantasies like Katie’s, I ask that you please share.  Or if you ever walk backwards into bushes while sighing deeply.  (Like, seriously, email me or something.)

But if you have fantasies like this, please don’t share! (Go to ~1:00 to hear the about the self-indulgent screen play.)

But if your fantasy is PG rated, just go ahead and share in the comments what your personal DREAM starring YOU would be!

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.

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Contrarianism. I have it.

3 Aug

by Savannah J. Foley

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One of  my articles on Sassiness not indicating a strong character got a great response, and provoked a lot of thought about trends, gender roles, and tropes. The discussion reminded me of the topic I’d like to talk about today.

At the time I was writing that article, I was also writing the part in my Sleeping Beauty retelling where the character describes how she looks (or in this case sees herself for the first time after waking up with no memory of her former life). Here’s what she said about her body:

I discovered I had solid limbs with muscles lying dormant beneath slightly freckled skin. My breasts were small but not completely flat, my belly pooched out slightly, and I had what I felt were very masculine feet, but then again there was nothing to compare them to.

Let’s recap: thick limbs, imperfect skin, small breasts, tummy, masculine feet. And this character is still going to kick ass and be beautiful because of who she is.

Not because I’m a feminist or an equalist, but because I’m a stubborn, irreverent contrarian, and I think you should be, too.

When I write, I want to show you characters that are as real as I can make them. That means they don’t look like book cover models (okay, Nameless is an exception because all the men are pretty, but that’s because they’re biologically engineered that way so it doesn’t count). They’ve got stretchmarks and acne, and they hate their noses. They get greasy hair and they stink sometimes. In a genre filled with descriptions of ‘icy blue ‘or ‘startling green’ eyes, I give most of my characters brown eyes. And they’re still, I hope, people you want to be because of what they have inside.

But like I said, that’s not because I’m on some moral high horse. I just happen to have that annoying condition (I can’t help it!) where I dislike what everyone else likes simply because everyone else likes it.

When I was in elementary school, I refused to talk to my friends on the phone because that’s what girls my age were expected to do. I wore jeans, a t-shirt, and a sweatshirt to school EVERY DAY because I was expected to wear cute clothes and jewelry.

When we had to write screenplays in Drama class and the teacher told us they had to start with ‘once upon a time,’ I asked if my story could start, ‘a time upon a once.’  Just, because, you know… I’m a contrarian. *facepalm*

Not always and not on all issues, but a lot of the times I am, and nowhere is this more obvious than in my writing.

Physical characteristics aside, I have a tendency to write YA characters who have a lot of responsibility or maturity for their age, which has created some problems for me. I’ve had to rewrite characters to make them ‘sound younger’, and change plots so that they face more ‘teen-like problems.’ I don’t quite know what to make of this. On one hand, I know that I was always way more adult-thinking than was normal for my age group, but surely I’m not the only one. Where are the readers who want to read about teens with immense leadership responsibilities and making long-term life decisions? Surely there’s a market for that, right?

Pretty much my worst fear is getting a review on one of my books where the reviewer says the characters are either stereotypical or too perfect to be real. There’s a lot of pressure in the industry to write a book that will appeal to a lot of teen readers, but the truth is that in real life individual personalities don’t appeal to everyone.

So how do we balance that?

I’m not blinded by my contrarianism. I understand that you can’t have a germaphobic agoraphobe go on this epic adventure and have it be realistic, no matter how brilliant the character’s creation is. Instead, I fit my desire for ‘real characters’ in the details of characters who have the type of personality that can carry the plot.

For example, on the side I’m currently working on a YA story about a girl trying to escape her high school during the zombie apocalypse. To propel the plot, I needed a girl who could be brave and resourceful, and who is motivated to escape not only out of a sense of self-preservation, but also through the desire to rescue her little brother.

Here’s a typical character who could fit that role (and who I think we see a lot of these days): pretty, athletic, semi-popular (she has a BF and a BFF at least), middle-class, white.

But here’s who cropped up: Milani, a half-Hawaiian, half-white, culturally displaced teen who hates tourists, coping with the potential death of her parents and living in a foster home in Texas after Hawaii collapsed under the zombie infection.

Milani is filled with guilt, hate, confusion, and love, and I find her infinitely more fascinating than Mary Sue, the midwest soccer player.

This blog has talked a lot about Mary Sues. Susan (whose main character in SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY displays some contrarianism herself) did an article about self-indulgent fantasy, and Biljana did one about how Mary Sues are good (in the beginning).

Today I guess the point of this article is just to ask that we all have a little more contrarianism while writing. The world does not need another book about a girl who doesn’t realize she’s pretty until everyone starts telling her so. We don’t need someone who is ‘special’ or has some hidden talent that makes them Important.

Who is more interesting: the girl who was born with a special power that transforms her into being totally kickass over the course of a chapter, or the girl that has to struggle and fight her way to the top in order to achieve that same level of kickassness? Who is going to be the most realistic role model for teens today?

I think we need more real characters, characters that people can relate to through their flaws. Today I encourage you to add detail to your characters that make them more unique, more flawed, and more realistic as human beings. Seek out alternatives, and find the individuality in your characters.

Provided it doesn’t interfere with your plot, of course. (That’s a whole other article about self-indulgence).

~~~

When have you been exhibited contrarianism in your writing?

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website and blog is at www.savannahjfoley.com. She is currently working with her agent to sell a sleeping beauty retelling about a girl who wakes up after a hundred years with no memory of her former life. You can read excerpts from her stories here.

When the Glass Isn’t Half-Full

9 Mar

by Susan Dennard

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Disclaimer: First of all, this post deviates some from the usual stuff.  It’s not really about writing as it is about life in general (which in turn affects one’s writing).

Secondly, this post is not about ME.  Yes, I use ME as an example because I’m the only person I know well enough to mention.  But, please, if you leave a comment, talk about YOU—what you think of the post, if you’ve ever been in this situation, and more importantly HOW YOU FEEL NOW.

Lately, there’s been some buzz on the internet about social networking contributing to depression.  I won’t reinvent the wheel, but instead send you to an article here.  Read it when you have time, and know that today’s topic stems from that hubbub.

I have to be honest: writing this post took a lot of…well, I’m nervous about your reactions.  It’s not something I want to discuss openly—especially in a forum as public as the internet!  But, I also think it’s this universal silence that makes me (and others) too scared to acknowledge what’s really happening.

Sometimes, I’m not happy.

And not just a little unhappy, but really, cruddy-life-is-blue-unhappy.

Sometimes there’s a reason, like I got fired from my job.  Or sometimes there’s not a reason at all…nothing tangible I can blame.

At first, my gloominess is something I can ignore. Something I can brush aside, hide with a smile, and pretend just isn’t there.

But then, sometimes it isn’t.

Like lately.  Lately, my melancholy has transformed into something darker and harder to deal with.  It’s a lack of desire to leave bed in the morning.  A loss of motivation to write or read or enjoy life.  And two weeks ago, it finally reached a point where I couldn’t smile and say, “Yeah! I LOVE my life!” because, for whatever reason (loneliness? hormones? vitamin-D deficiency?), I was at a real, unavoidable low.

The problem was tweeting happy blurps and grinning on my blog, when in reality, I was pretty lonely and worried.

The problem was seeing everyone else’s online “happiness” and thinking I had to feel that way too.  Thinking there was something wrong with me for being sad.  Thinking I should feel guilty for not being content all the time.

The problem was feeling sad but trying to pretend I wasn’t.

And like some nasty, untended tumor, that just made the problem WORSE.

But I finally realized something,  and it’s time to be open about it.

There’s nothing wrong with being sad or stressed or lonely or uninspired–whether you have a solid reason or not.

Happiness isn’t a constant state; it’s moments of joy that, when added together, outweigh the  moments of melancholy.

My favorite author, Ursula K. Le Guin, has an essay on happiness (called “All Happy Families”) in which she rants quite eloquently over why writers must be “unhappy” to be considered high quality.

I think the opposite happens these days, and writers (or rather ANYONE with an online presence) must be “happy” all the time.  Unhappy people are automatically lumped into this complaining, self-indulgent group of “losers”.  As the article from Stanford says, “You don’t tell your friends about how miserable you are because that wouldn’t be ‘cool.’”

People will think I’m whining if I tell them how I really feel.

My friends will think I just want attention.

They’ll think I’m a big, fat LOSER because they’re so happy and glamorous, and I’m…not.

Except that’s not true.  When I finally admitted to my husband that I was feeling down, I wasn’t doing it for attention or because I wanted pity!  I was doing it because it was too exhausting to keep pretending otherwise, and just admitting verbally that I was kinda depressed took such a weight off!  Just knowing he knew, just knowing I didn’t have to wear a fake smile and I could act blah/grumpy/sad without hurting him made an instant difference in my mood.

And when my mood swung back up, so did my writing. And the more writing I could finally accomplish, the higher and higher my mood rose.  (It didn’t hurt either that the sun finally broke through the clouds this week!)

Here’s a quote from Le Guin’s essay:

The enormous cost and complexity of ‘happiness,’ its dependence upon a whole substructure of sacrifices, repressions, suppressions, choices made or forgone, chances taken or lost, balancings of greater and lesser evils—the tears, the fears, the migraines, the injustices, the censorships, the quarrels, the lies, the angers, the cruelties it involved—is all to be swept away, brushed under the carpet by the brisk broom of a silly phrase, ‘a happy family’?

What she’s saying is that the word “happy” isn’t a uniform sense of never-ending well-being.  One person’s happy isn’t another person’s happy, and trying to hide all the “nasty suff” under the carpet, just devalues the true meaning and hard work behind the word “happy”.

NO, I’m not saying we should all start complaining and begging for attention.

NO, I’m not saying there’s something wrong with you if you really ARE happy 100% of the time.

And NO, I’m not saying we should all write literary fiction where our “unhappy genius” will be appreciated.

What I am saying is that we shouldn’t be ashamed if we’re unhappy—even if we have no real reason for it.

We shouldn’t feel like we have to wear a happy face all the time.  It’s okay to be just blah on Twitter, on our blogs, or with our friends.

And above all, we shouldn’t look at everyone’s smiling exteriors and assume there’s no strife or strain in their lives.

My life is mostly up, but sometimes it’s down.  When it’s up, I write well, work hard, and share it all with my online friends.  But when it’s down…well, I’m tired of pretending it’s always up!

And, I want you all to know that YOU’RE NOT ALONE if you feel this way too.  I’m here if you want to talk about it, or I’m here if you just wanna be able to say, “Look, I’m not weird!  Someone else has been through this.”

🙂

Tell me, do you feel this pressure to constantly wear a happy face?  Do you ever find your work or life suffering because you’re glum?  Do you think the online/social networking scene makes your “negative” feelings worse?

Evolving out of Fan Fiction

4 Nov

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Get your name added to our sidebar of NaNoWriMo Reader participants by going here.

(And you can add me to your buddy list here 🙂 )

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It seems like talk of fan fiction has been in the air recently. As someone who successfully made the transition from writing fan fic to writing original fiction, I thought today we could talk about the structural differences between fan fic and original fic, and how to make the change.

First, a little bit about fan fiction and why it’s good for you to write it:

(Before I begin this article I want to preface it by saying that I know there are legal concerns to writing fan fiction. This article isn’t about that; I just want to show how writing fan fiction may help young writers develop, and give a guide to current fan fic writers looking to move into original fiction).

FAN FICTION: TRAINING WHEELS FOR WRITERS

I’m a huge fan of fan fiction (:P). I remember back in seventh grade when I got so frustrated by a lack of romantic consummation between Rachel and Tobias in the Animorphs series that I just decided to write it myself. I’d never heard of ‘fan fic’ before, and so of course I thought that what I was doing was very original and groundbreaking (side note: does it seem to you that every writer thinks their younger self was a total dork?). That’s the beauty of fan fic; you can modify a pre-existing story to make it turn out however you felt it should have.

Emotional satisfaction aside, there are other benefits to young writers working with fan fiction. Here are some of them:

Pre-Existing World/Characters: Fan Fiction takes all the hard work out of establishing your own unique characters and world, and lets you borrow existing ones. This is beneficial to young writers because you already get to start with a wonderful plot/characters, and all you have to worry about is the craft of writing itself.

Length: Many works of fan fiction are quite short. Others are sprawling. Both teach the writer about story arcs; no matter the length of the fic, it has to have an introduction, some sort of middle action or revelation, then the denoument. I’ve seen some truly heart-breaking one-page fics, and some fabulous, wish-it-never-ended, 200-chapter fics.

To focus primarily on the short fics, works of such emotional saturation would have a hard time existing outside of fan fiction. Where else can your craft be judged based on one page, except in a universe where the readers already know your characters/world, and moreover are INTERESTED in them. The great thing about posting to fan fic sites is that your audience is already salivating and ready to read.

Craft: The medium of fan fiction is prime territory for using that infamous beginner’s tool -exposition. In fact, fan fic practically requires a lot of exposition (in the beginning chapters). Since young writers are naturally drawn to exposition, fan fic gives them a place where this device, normally seen as a faux paus, is actually perfectly normal.

Versatility: Fan fic also allows writers to explore different genres and scenarios they wouldn’t otherwise get to explore if they dedicated themselves to writing a novel. Writers of fan fic can take the same two characters, in the same setting, and create a hundred varying outcomes, from romance to comedy to outright fist-fighting. Fan fic encourages imagination, and really exploring the depths of the characters at hand.

TRANSITIONING

I made the leap from fan fic writer to regular writer when I had my first original idea (Antebellum). Finally I had a unique world of my own to explore, though in the beginning I wasn’t used to creating my own characters, so I borrowed some and gave them different names (don’t worry, they later evolved into their own unique beings).

I’ve heard several young writers express fears of devoting too much time to fan fiction, and harboring the vague but powerful worry that they really should be writing something ‘real’ instead of continuing their epic Harry/Ginny romance. While I can’t say it’s perfectly okay to continue to write fan fic forever, I can say that you should realize that you’re actually learning very valuable writing lessons, and your experience in fan fic will actually help your ‘real’ writing.

Fan fic writers become masters of emotion, and plot intrigue. These are skills that don’t go away. I learned lots of great tricks on how to write good action and climax scenes through reading fan fiction, then sitting down to write my own.

That said, there are a few bad habits that can bleed over from fan fiction into original fiction. When making the leap, here’s what you should watch out for:

Exposition: You. Yes, I mean YOU. You cannot write five pages of background on  your world and/or characters before the story begins. I’m serious. This DOES apply to YOU. While it’s great in fan fic to get all of that history out of the way so you can get on to the good stuff, in original fiction that does not fly. Just start at the good stuff! Weave your backstory into one-sentence narrative explanations and hints from dialogue. If there is one thing you take away from this article, it must be this: don’t begin with too much exposition!

(Also, don’t think that just because your characters are walking around and doing stuff that it isn’t exposition. If they’re having a mindless conversation just to establish their characters while you comment after their every sentence explaining their history together, that’s exposition. No conversation should ever be there ‘just because’. No ‘Wow I hate math class.’ ‘Yeah me, too.’ for an entire first chapter. Dialogue needs to advance the plot. Always.)

Fluff/Ego Stroking: This one’s gonna be tough, because fan fictors love them some fluff. I know, I do, too. But while it’s okay to include self-indulgent extras in fan fiction, it is NOT okay to do that in original fiction.

For example: an entire chapter devoted to hair-stroking, nuzzling, and gentle kissing. In fan fic readers lap that up. In original fiction, we do want to see your main couple in an ‘aww’ moment, but we also want to see your plot advance. 3,000 words of lovey dovey fluff will turn readers off.

As for ego stroking, in fan fiction it’s okay for your character to go off on a diatribe about why they hate a particular brand, or food, or political party. Or, rather, it’s more okay than in original fiction. Because it’s definitely NOT okay in original fic. We call those sort of non-essential asides ‘indulgences’, or, if you make an entire character based on them, a ‘Mary Sue’. You know about Mary Sue. Don’t even pretend you don’t. In original fic, ‘asides’ get you an eye-roll from a reader, and a big, fat, red strikethrough from a CP. Don’t do it.

Pacing: When you’re writing a decent-length fan fiction, particularly of the romance genre, and if you have a few dedicated readers who beg for your next chapter, it’s very easy to just throw up something entertaining but plotless, and call it a day. Your readers demand updates, and you need some time to pass in your story, so your characters take a chapter to go to the park, cook a meal together, play chess, go shopping, etc. It’s the character bathroom break of writing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if it’s not necessary, it needs to get cut. If you want to show time has elapses, say ‘the next day’ or something.

~~~

Well, I guess that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

If you want to hear more about what I have to say on the basic craft of writing, click here. Otherwise, I’m going to open the floor for questions. Do you write fan fic? What’s your favorite ship? How did you successfully transition out of fan fiction into original fiction? See you in the comments!

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Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is http://www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.

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Apparently Mercedes Lacky concurs! Read her inspirational article on encouraging writers to write fan fiction here

Writing: Noble or Selfish?

4 Aug

by Savannah J. Foley

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Perhaps it’s the inherent nature of a writer, or maybe it’s just me, but I spend a lot of time contemplating the nature of life and consciousness, and my place/purpose within the world. I wonder if I am a good person. Do I need to be doing more? Such as administering AIDS vaccines to children in Africa, volunteering at a crisis hotline, joining the Peace Corps, becoming a pastor, working as a counselor, or just in general doing favors for others?

Lately I have been concerned about writing. By choosing to be a fiction writer, am I being selfish? Or am I being noble? Are those the only two choices? And what do I do if it turns out that fiction writing is a selfish activity after all? Does it even matter?

Reasons Why Writing is Selfish

Look, I write for myself, okay? I do this because I love it. I’m betting that’s why you do it, too. Why else would you put in the time and effort, and submit to the emotional beating that success requires, if you didn’t love it?

Writing lets me escape. I indulge my fantasies, following my brain on a creative tour of possibilities that I invent. The worlds I create come from me, and I find them pleasing. That’s a little self-indulgent, don’t you think?

And even after the writing process itself is done, I then subject other people to my work, asking for their feedback. Afterward, I impose my creations onto literary agents, some of which don’t appreciate it (others do, but we’ll get to that later), followed by publishers (again, some of whom will not appreciate the submission), then reviewers, bloggers, and finally readers.

I pump up my own career, blog about my projects, and network for the purpose of furthering my popularity/sales.

Me, me, me. I, I. I. My story, my characters, my book, my reviews, my place on the NYT list, my advancement, my career, etc.

You have to admit, it sounds really self-possessed.

Reasons Why Writing is Noble

Now the flip side.

Yes, I write for my own enjoyment. But if I didn’t also write for others, then I probably wouldn’t try so hard to get my stories out there. I and the rest of my contributors came from Fictionpress. No one was paying us to write those stories and post them. We posted because writing was pleasurable, but also because our stories made others happy.

We try so hard to get published because we know that our stories will touch someone’s life. We can give them an escape from their issues, an inspiration to try/do/succeed, and role models to base decisions off of. Along the way, we can educate them about issues and human nature, and create warnings for the future.

Fiction writing is an art, and I believe that our stories can enrich the soul as much as any painting or piece of classical music.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, 1984, Romeo and Juliet, etc. These books and many more entered our consciousness and created universal truths. They encourage us to rise to a greater level of humanity. In this respect I can say that writing is noble.

Conclusion

Ultimately I think fiction writing as an activity is a mixture of selfishness and nobility. I suppose it depends on your purpose and message, but overall I don’t think that writing should be disdained as a selfish and/or self-serving activity.

Am I a good person because I am a fiction writer? No. Am I a bad person because I am a fiction writer? Again, no. Writing is an expression of the mind, and what we choose to express makes us selfish or noble people. No matter how hard we try, I don’t think there will ever be any fiction writing on the same level of nobility as, say, anonymously curing cancer while simultaneously solving world hunger, but on the other hand, someone’s got to create spiritually-enriching entertainment. I enjoy it, so why not me?

What do you think? Do you ever feel bad for choosing to be a writer instead of a doctor, astronaut, U.N. peacekeeper, etc.? Let’s discuss in the comments.

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.