Archive by Author

Writing as therapy.

1 Aug

by Biljana Likic

~~~

My sister keeps diaries, and she has all her life. It’s a form of therapy for her; getting it all out. It was also a form of frustration whenever she thought I read them (I still maintain that I never did). There would be times where she’d shoo me out of the room so she could have her alone time with a pen and journal.

I have to admit, I was a little bit jealous. I tried, by her example, to start a journal, but would always end up ripping the written pages to bits out of paranoia that somebody would read them. This paranoia was incredibly unfounded. I never wrote things down that were personal. In fact, I seem to remember one particular entry to be something along the lines of this:

Dear Diary,

Today, Daniel peed his pants! It was so funny.

Love, Biljana

Fascinating, I tell you. It was an embarrassing situation, but not for me. It was embarrassing for somebody else. Sure, there had been a time or two when I was little that I couldn’t hold my bladder, but you would never catch me writing about that in my journals. You would always find stories of what other people did, or which boy my friend liked.

And I would still take the pages, rip them up, and throw them out, scoffing in the process, and always feeling slightly self-conscious. Because even though the stories weren’t about me, they were still my stories.

It’s a revelation that came to me recently. My sister would write about herself in her journals, and I would write about others. Almost every story I wrote would be one I could relate to. Sometimes they’d be embellished, other times too plain, but ultimately, the reason my diary-writing was short-lived, was because after a while I felt like I was lying. The stories would suddenly have things in them that never happened in real life. It didn’t matter that they were little things, like saying that we ate spaghetti when really we ate pizza, they still made me feel like what I was writing wasn’t worthy of a diary because it wasn’t true.

It was around that time that I discovered creative writing.

Suddenly, lying became okay. I stopped feeling guilty about changing the details to make a better story, because when a whole story was fake, it didn’t matter. My early characters would have problems similar to mine, living out situations that I once lived through, and in themselves became to me what a diary was to my sister: therapy.

To me, writing a story is a way of writing a universal diary; something that anybody can read and say, yes, that’s exactly that, I feel exactly that shitty, or that happy, or that jaded. It’s a way of baring my soul without really baring my soul. Of discovering the reality behind an enigma and in that way, having one less person in the world that’s misunderstood. It doesn’t matter that it’s made-up. All that matters is the knowledge that having someone else feel what you feel is entirely possible. All that matters is reading that in the end, it can be okay; people do triumph. The time will come when we’ll be able to succeed, and the road will be easy, or tough, or hardly noticed, and we have all the coping templates we could ask for no matter which way life takes us.

You see, my biggest problem with diaries is that they take place in the present. I already know how I’m feeling right now. I want to know how I’ll feel when it’s all over; months from now; years from now. I want to know how I’ll feel in the future. Stories have a future you can explore. They are instant emotional gratification, a form of vicarious living. No waiting years and years before you can learn from your mistakes. They make you wise. They help you understand. Not just yourself, but people.

They help you understand people.

I find this incredible.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s going into her second year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog and follow her on Twitter.

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QOTW: Whose writer’s shoes would you want to fill?

1 Jul

This week’s question is from Marina, who asks:

Marina If you could fill one writer’s, living or dead, shoes for one day, who would you choose? And why?

~~~

I’m not so interested in filling shoes as… filling minds. I would looove to be able to see inside some of the thought processes of my favorite authors. Starting with Anne Rice, because I’ve been on an Anne Rice kick lately. How does she come up with those huge, complex plots? From where does she pull inspiration for those detailed descriptions of houses, restaurants, and hotel rooms? I’d love to be there on her shoulder observing as she writes. Other writers whose processes I’m curious about are Chuck Palahniuk and Toni Morrison. I just want to know how they think. But, as for the original question… probably J. K. Rowling. Just to see what she does day-to-day. 🙂

Savannah Foley

~~~

I’m with Sav here, I’d more just want to experience how they think. And one would probably be Tolkien. The reason is incredibly nerdy; it’s not particularly because of LOTR, but just because of his freaking mind. He was a medievalist and knew a bunch of dead languages like Old Norse and Old English which is how he created the language in LOTR, and I would love to have that knowledge at my disposal. (Of course, actually learning them is probably a bit more realistic :P). Also, Neil Gaiman. I adore his sense of humour and the way it’s conveyed through his writing style, and he just seems like an all-around awesome person.

Biljana Likic

~~~

What a tough question!  I don’t know that there’s a single writer whose shoes I’d want to fill–I mean, I’m pretty happy in my own shoes.  That said, there are quite a few I’d want to hang out with!

Ursula K. Le Guin would be number 1. She’s led such a fascinating life, her novels are some of my all time favorites, and she just seems so…grumpy–in a good way.  Plus, the fact that she also gave up her PhD and married a Frenchman–I’ve always been convinced this means we’d get along. 😉

I’d also love to jam with Neil Gaiman (or Billy-as-Gaiman–ha!), Kurt Vonnegut, and E.M. Forster… Oh, and I bet George R. R. Martin is pretty entertaining!

Susan Dennard

~~~

Savannah stole mine — I was totally going to say JKR!  Essentially, she’s the most awesome person on the planet. After all these years, and all the fame she’s gotten, she’s still incredibly humble and down to earth. Have you guys seen the commencement speech she did for Harvard a few years back? It’s one of the greatest things I’ve had the privilege to witness, even if it was only via YouTube. Not only is she creative beyond compare, an incredible writer, and absolutely gorgeous, she’s funny. She’s charming. And she’s got a huge heart. That’s the kind of writer I’d like to be someday.

Sammy Bina

~~~

Any writer’s whose shoes you’d want to fill?

Allow me to romance you while you question your sanity.

28 Jun

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Ah, l’amour!

Love, in any form, is pretty sweet. It’s why you constantly see me writing about it. I’m a hopeless romantic. And while I can’t consider myself an expert on romance, I do know a thing or two about it. My favourite part is the tension.

The thing that makes something exciting is the lead-up. You can talk all you want about how you hate waiting, but half of what’s making your stomach flip is anticipation of what’s to come. It’s like when you hear a crush will be at the same party as you. Your mind goes into overdrive. Will they see you? Will they talk to you? Will they, dare you think it, accidentally graze your arm as they reach for the punch they’re getting for your rival? Will you finally be poisoning it tonight?

The wonderful thing about that last question is that it’s only a half-joke.

In writing, it’s no different. If you want the reader to be rooting for two people to get together, make them feel like they’re part of the romance. Make their stomach flip when it looks like the boy will finally notice the girl. I’m not talking about endless woe-is-me from the protagonist, or secret, long-suffering proclamations. I’m talking about subtle things. Things that really show how every moment the girl spends in the boy’s company electrifies her.

What makes it doubly fun, is having her not know if the boy is doing it consciously or not.

She walks into the room with a glass of wine. Her eyes are drawn to him like magnets and she stares at his face. He’s sitting by the cake, already having eaten his dinner. She decides dinner isn’t important anyway and makes a beeline for the three-tiered confection, pretending to be considering the cake whenever she thought he looked over.

She’s there before she wants to be. Her sudden proximity to him is making her aware of every insecurity, from the slight tummy she could never lose to the fact that she isn’t very good at walking in heels. She watches him from the corner of her eye and jumps when he turns to look at her. She makes brief eye contact before taking a drink of wine to distract herself.

“Would you like some cake?”

She almost chokes on her drink. She clears her throat.

“Excuse me?”

“You seem to really want some cake,” he says.

A rush of embarrassment pours through her as she realizes she just spent the last few minutes seemingly entranced by white frosting and pink sugar bows.

She clears her throat again. “Is it any good?” she asks.

He doesn’t answer but stands, taking a natural step towards her, and picks up a cake knife. He’s unbearably close. He cuts a piece and hands it to her on a plate. She has to be careful how she raises her hand to accept it so that she doesn’t accidentally touch him. He’s watching her as she takes it, and she feels his fingers brush hers.

“Thanks,” she says quietly, not looking at him.

“You’re welcome.”

She sits down stiffly. A moment later, he retakes his own seat beside her, and as he pulls in his chair his thigh comes into contact with hers. Her grip tightens on her spoon as he starts to flirt with the girl on the other side of him, and it’s a good ten seconds before he moves his leg.

She sets down her plate, takes up the wine glass, and drains it.

Not once does it talk about how she’s infatuated, and nowhere does it outright say that she’s attracted to him. This is an example of showing instead of telling. Through her reactions, you can see that she’s attracted to him; it never has to be said. And it’s done with the little things, the tiny details: tensing up when he looks at her; staring too long at the cake out of nervousness; skipping dinner altogether for dessert she doesn’t want.

Scenes like these are what makes you want to scream. They make you want to either yell at the girl to grow a spine, or punch the guy in the face.

But, most importantly, when they finally get together, the event makes you squeal with delight.

What I love most about this stuff however is that they can lead to a happy, squee-inducing ending, or they can be the first sign of doom. As it stands right now, that scene can go in two directions: one is amusing, possibly frustrating, but ultimately happy; the other is degrading, miserable, and ultimately resentful. You don’t have to say right away right kind of relationship these two people will have. All you have to do is convey the immediate events. And though I would love for every scene like the one above to end in romance, it can always turn sour.

In the end, when it’s all said and done, the moment you leave the territory of maybe and cross into yes or no, the tension dulls considerably, and the conflict just isn’t as fun anymore. It is, after all, anticipation of the answer that keeps you at the edge of your seat.

And when it comes to romance, there’s nothing more exciting than maybe.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s going into her second year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog and follow her on Twitter.

General tips for not freaking out when you miss a deadline.

31 May

by Biljana Likic

~~~

This post is very, very late. In a bout of supreme intelligence, I didn’t check the May calendar, and there’s no way I signed up to post on the last day anyways, right?

Well…turns out I’m an idiot. On this blog we schedule articles for midnight EST. It is now past 3:00pm. A good fifteen hours after I was supposed to have posted.

So let’s talk about deadlines!

Some are casual, like little personal goals that would be nice to accomplish by the end of the week, but aren’t urgent. Others are a little more time-sensitive, like having a post ready for the next day, but after a bit of flurry and upset you can easily get back on your feet. Then you have the ones, like handing in your manuscript on time, that if you miss, it can put you months and months behind schedule, possibly pushing your publication date further into the distance, and make you lose some credibility as a responsible and punctual person.

But in reality, nobody’s going to kill you. There can be bad consequences; you can lose a very good opportunity. But when it comes down to it, nobody will kill you for missing a deadline. [/Pun about deadlines not actually being dead]

So if you’ve missed a deadline, the first thing to do is:

DON’T PANIC. Nothing makes your brain shut down faster than panic. I know. I panicked when I saw my name on the calendar and realized it was 2 in the afternoon and I had no idea what to write about. Instead, try to see what you can salvage from the situation. Think up some pros that can come out of it. For example, I got this lovely post idea when I sarcastically remarked to Savannah that I should write about deadlines. Lo and behold…

DON’T GIVE UP. More than once, I’ve had this happen:

“Where’s your essay? It’s been a week.”
“I didn’t finish on time. You said you wouldn’t accept it if it were late.”
“Well I won’t now, but if you’d given it to me the day after I would’ve just docked a few marks. Now you get a zero.”

(Just typing that reminds me of how frustrating it is.)

You don’t know that the thing you’re late for won’t accept the late admission. Even when it specifically says you’re disqualified if you’re late (or something similar), you don’t know if they will actually act on it. If you had extenuating circumstances beyond your control, maybe they’ll make an exception for you. Maybe they said “No late applications” because they anticipated a hundred, but really only got a few dozen, and so they’d be willing to accept your slight lateness rather than lose a lot of money or prestige by having a program only half full. Now, this doesn’t always work. Sometimes they say no lateness and they mean no lateness, even in extreme cases. But you don’t know if you give up.

RELAX. Similar to DON’T PANIC, but in a different way. Especially if it’s something trivial, don’t let lateness stress you out if there’s nothing you can do about it. If you need to take the bus downtown, give yourself time to do so. If the bus breaks down and you end up waiting for an hour with no taxi money, that’s not your fault. Call the person you were supposed to meet and explain the situation. More often than not, they’ve also had public transport screw them over at some point. If you talk to them in a considerate way that makes clear that you know it inconveniences them when you’re not on time, they’ll probably just slot you into a later spot.

GET OVER IT. This one’s a bit harder. I’m still kicking myself over those essay scenarios. There’s regret I feel over things that happened years ago. And to be honest, regret is okay to have, because it can help you take new opportunities more seriously. But if you have so much regret, and you’re so bummed out that can’t focus on your next deadline, it starts impacting your work. Get past it as quickly as you can so that you can produce stellar works for other things, and not end up late for those as well.

Try and remember these. Even agents can be understanding. Even publishers aren’t evil. As the hierarchy grows, missed deadlines become a bigger issue, but at the end of the day, nobody will kill you. Do your best, and figure out your own methods of time management. If sometimes they fail, don’t panic, don’t give up, relax, and get over it. Regain their trust by continuing to be punctual with everything else.

And, as always, better late than never.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s going into her second year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog and follow her on Twitter.

Don’t shrug this off.

24 May

by Biljana Likic

~~~

My vocabulary sucks.

Well alright, it doesn’t suck, but it could definitely use some work. I figured this out when I read through a 1500 word chapter the other day and found about twelve uses of the word “though”.

I supposed it’s a bit unfair, though, (<–hah) because that word only has so many synonyms. It’s worse when you have people repeating actions. In your head, they nod a lot because they agree with what’s happening. On paper, you start asking yourself why your characters have suddenly turned into bobble-heads.

These are some of the actions I constantly find my characters repeating:

  • Smirking
  • Raising an eyebrow
  • Grabbing (why is there so much grabbing!)
  • Eyes widening
  • Eyes narrowing
  • Eyes blinking once to express confusion, disbelief, and/or bemusement
  • Fingers curling into fists
  • SHRUGGING.

So much shrugging.

There used to be a time where I would sit down to write a scene and a million different actions would come to mind to express amusement, or loftiness, or frustration. I’d have a mental list that was ten concepts long for actions denoting fear. Gradually, they became lists of five, then three, and then finally, the universal sign for fear simply became “Eyes widening” or “Heart pounding”.

But why? Why has my vocabulary of actions suddenly become so shit?

Because I’m not reading.

This is in no way sudden. Recently I’ve been so focussed on life and school and getting my own manuscript polished up that I haven’t had the chance to sit down and really read for enjoyment. It’s at the point where when I do read, I’ll come across things like “She looked at him sidelong,” sit up in excitement, and say, “I remember that! How could I forget that?” Then I’ll go back to my own MS and a few weeks later, while doing some quick once-over revisions, I’ll find that after so many pages into the story everybody begins to look at people sidelong. Then I’ll start yelling at them that they have necks for a reason and get frustrated with all my characters enough to scrap whole scenes. All because of my over-enthusiasm for remembering an action I’d forgotten.

Never before have I been so convinced that in order to write, you constantly have to read. Not that you can’t write if you don’t read, but your vocabulary will be much less rich. Sure, you can look up words and synonyms in dictionaries and thesauri but actions are far more complex. Describing an action you’ve never seen described before can be really hard. And like with everything else, it doesn’t hurt to have a few examples before trying. Some really great writers, I find, are ones who not only have a compelling story, but who know how to briefly describe shrugging without once using the word “shrug”.

And while you’re reading, observe people. Remember that your actions aren’t the only actions that exist. Some people facepalm, others run their fingers through their hair. I can’t stress enough how much watching real-life characters can help you develop the ones in your book.

But before this turns into an article about the finer points of stalking, let me impart to you this last bit of personal, opinionated, and always biased advice:

Don’t overdo it. There are only so many times you can get away with “The corners of his lips curved upwards into a crescent” before the reader starts shouting at you to “Just say he smiled!”

Different and innovative is awesome. Sometimes, though, simple packs as much of a punch.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s going into her second year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog and follow her on Twitter.

The lady doth protest too much.

3 May

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Today I’m going to share a short epiphany of sorts. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to realize it; I supposed it’s possible that it’s the sort of thing you learn by doing.

I’m in the midst of revising and I figured something out the other day. One of my main characters has a personality that isn’t exactly reader friendly. Being that this is a book I’m trying to write, that’s not the best quality a character could possess. And I finally understand what it is about her that needs to be tweaked.

You know those people that are adversative for no reason? That, usually just for kicks, say no to everything you ask of them? Yeah, she’s kind of one of them. At the beginning, when I wasn’t sure how my story would go, this was okay because it provided a great amount of comic relief and it was fun to write. But now that I’m trying to tighten everything up, all it does is gets annoying.

When you have, for example, an opening scene with said character, establishing that they’re contrary is great, but when their contrariness slows down the action, it becomes a problem. For example, I had a scene where a boy was trying to get her, Ingrid, to follow him somewhere and she just sat there and spewed stupid witticisms that made him look dumb. And the whole time I wanted to scream at her to shut the hell up and get on with it. So, in some spur-of-the-moment viciousness, I took that whole chunk and cut it out.

Suddenly, the scene got much, much better, and the discovery that I could keep cutting out the annoying bits whenever I wanted to re-inspired me more than anything else recently.

But why did it take me so long to figure this out? Surely I always knew that, it being my work, I could cut whatever I wanted, right?

Well…not quite. I had to learn a few things first.

Like I said, Ingrid isn’t exactly a people pleaser. She’s extremely stubborn and there are times where even I want to punch her in the face. It’s not that she isn’t likeable, just that sometimes it’s easier to not have to deal with her—especially when she’s in one of her moods. When I first thought about cutting out the parts where she amps up her annoying traits, I was afraid that it would change her actual personality.

You see, my fear was that if she started giving in easily, she wouldn’t be as strong.

But a strong character is strong not only because they’re confident and aware of themselves, but because they choose to do the things they do. If someone tells Ingrid to do something, she doesn’t do it because she’s been told; she does it because she wants to or because she accepts that she needs to. And when something really exciting is happening, chances are she wants to find out what’s going on more than she wants to stand in one place just because she knows it’ll annoy whoever she’s with. So why would she say no to following the mysterious boy with answers? Yes, it makes sense in the shallows of her personality; she’s adversative. But deeper than that, she’s adventure-seeking and suffering from cabin fever. She would actually very readily follow. She’s interested. She’s hooked. She’s passionate as much as she’s contrary, and when the passion wins over, all she wants to do is find out more.

So really, cutting out those tedious scenes of “No, because I feel like being obnoxious,” and replacing them with scenes of “Yes, but only because I want to,” has made more sense than anything else I’ve done so far. The only thing it’s done to her personality is it has made her look less like a 3-year-old constantly asking why and more like a sixteen-year-old headstrong young woman who knows that she can back out at any moment she wants. She has that power.

I think that’s far more interesting than funny, insulting one-liners based in the first-impression insecurities of the characters around her.

So pretty much, what I’ve learned and am trying to share here, is that strength of character isn’t denial. It isn’t spunky for the sake of spunky, or bitchy for the sake of bitchy. It’s a deeper, more personal trait that isn’t always shown through dialogue, but can always be spotted through the subtleties of actions. These actions, no matter how brief, have the power to add up to a fully-formed character with countless dimensions that will take root in the reader’s mind. You will no longer be saying “Hey look! Look how strong they are!” You’ll be saying that yes, they’re strong, and yes, they know it, and because they’re secure in that knowledge, they don’t feel the need to constantly validate themselves by putting down others.

This, I believe, is applicable to more than just Ingrid.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She is in her first year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here and follow her on Twitter here.

Doubtlessly, there is doubt.

20 Apr

by Biljana Likic

~~~

I have to brag a little bit; I’m surrounded by some amazing writers. Not just here at LTWF, but at school, on Twitter, blogs, people who I hardly even know aside from the random and tentative internet hello. And it can be intimidating. Friends left and right of me are getting agents and book deals, and while I am extremely happy for them, screaming like an excited fool over long-distance Skype conversations, there are times where impatience sets in; impatience with myself, with how much time school is taking up, and with how I know I lack a lot of the discipline needed to balance my studies with revising my manuscript. But it’s important to remember that I’m still young, and that everybody has their stages of development, and I’ll get to where I get to in my own time.

It’s also important to remember that the fear of being inadequate is hard to get rid of. We all have our moments of doubt, and right now I’m seeing more in my friends who have agents and books deals than in those who don’t. What if my book never gets sold? What if I’m not satisfied with the final revisions and the book I publish embarrasses me? What if I’m unable to fix it? What if, after this book, I can never write again?

To this I say, yes, it’s possible. You might never sell your book. The story you love might get so twisted and warped that it’s published into a story you hate. You might lose all inspiration after your first book because you’ve simply exhausted all your ideas. Each one of these is possible. It’s why they exist as doubts. If everything were guaranteed there’d be no stress or drama in the world. There’d be no stories to tell.

Things like these are hard to swallow. To make things worse, we’re all so caught up in how others perceive us that half the time we don’t even voice our problems. That would be whining, and nobody likes a whiner. So we bottle things up within ourselves and turn to Internet for guidance.

The Internet is a place of self-diagnosis, not only for your flu symptoms, but for the worries you have about your novel. Blog upon blog is filled with the do’s and don’ts writing, LTWF included, and the information is so overwhelming that suddenly you don’t just have the flu anymore; you have pneumonia, or an ulcer, or you’re in the early stages of sepsis. You start going through the symptoms until they blur into a mass that seems unmanageable. You don’t think have a stomach ache, but now you see it’s possible, you feel one coming on. You get to the final few things listed, about fast heart-rate and high fever, and suddenly your heart is pounding in your throat and you’re burning up. You have to go to the hospital. You have to get cured. Because the next symptom is a little harder to get rid of: death.

It isn’t until you get there that you realize you’re making yourself sick.

There are so many rules about writing. Rules about tension, plot-building, characterization, word count… There are so many things that you can read and start panicking that you’re doing exactly what they’re telling you not to. Sometimes, it is a real problem, but a lot of the times it’s simply paranoia caused by that unshakeable feeling of inadequacy.

So here is my piece of advice, coming at you from an un-agented, book-deal-less, anxious girl who knows the doubts will follow her long after she has her break, if she even gets one:

Have faith in your writing. You know your plot, you know your story, you know what you’re doing. If you’re in a place where you’re out of questions, and you truly believe there’s nothing more you can do till you get word back from your critique partner, or your agent, or your editor, then stop looking for answers. Illnesses only get worse after a trip to Dr. Google. Let the hiccoughs pass, and have patience. Worst thing that happens, you get your feedback and you’re re-inspired.

Most importantly, voice your doubts. It’s amazing how much lighter you feel when you share that weight with somebody. Talk to people. And if they accuse you of whining, tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She is in her first year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here and follow her on Twitter here.

De-glorifying History

31 Mar

By Biljana Likic

~~~

Hi.

I don’t know how to start this, so I’ll just dive right in.

Basically, history has a way of conceptualizing its eras and stereotyping the people that lived in them until all somebody thinks about when a person says “Victorian” is corsets and top hats.

Today, I’m going to try to break that.

The most important thing I’ve learned from studying history is that people are people no matter what time period they lived in. Sensibilities were different, and rights fluctuated between just and unjust by today’s standards, but when it comes down to it, the fundamental aspects of human nature (an admittedly moot term) stayed the same. You can see this in any candid primary source that still exists from hundreds of years ago; private letters, diaries, and most importantly, the works of shit-disturbing writers, the kind that wanted to shock the niceties out of people by writing inflammatory pamphlets and books. What always strikes me is that many, including myself, are often delighted when they read sarcastic or silly commentaries written by supposedly rigid diplomats of times past. Not everything was stuffy; people had a sense of humour then, too. It’s easy to forget that, since so much of history is focussed on war and drama.

But that is neither here nor there. The argument that I’m having so much trouble trying to put into words is mainly for the benefit of those who are interested in writing period novels.

This is pretty much the gist of it:

Don’t let humanity play second fiddle to plot and history. Never let the preconceived notions of a time period restrain and shackle your personalities to the ground. Always break the mould. The most intriguing period novels are the ones where the characters sound like they could be alive today. When those kinds of books crop up, people are impressed by how realistic the characters are, “even though it doesn’t take place in the present day.”

But why should that be impressive? That should always be the case. You can go on and on about etiquette and details, but if you don’t show how these affected the layman of the time, who cares? It’ll just read like a book on etiquette and details. You can find those separate of fiction, written by historians who have dedicated their lives to accuracy. Your job is not to list the details, but apply them to your story. Get into the skin of your character and imagine what it would be like to live in a time when having a fashionable silhouette included not being able to breathe properly.

The next point is this: If a time period seems mysterious to you, it’s probably because you haven’t done your research. It’s like a magic trick; it seems amazing until you figure out how it’s done. And then the time period becomes fascinating because you’ve suddenly realized that all the people that lived in the 12th century are the same people living today. There’s nothing particularly special about them. They just lived in a different manner. So you start imagining what it would be like to live with no electricity, or no cheap books, or no fridges. It becomes an exercise of the imagination, limited by their appliances and technologies, but broad in the opportunities of exploration. You suddenly find yourself having to come up with solutions. Say you have no water. What do you do? You go to the well. Where is it? Who do you meet on the way? What if the water’s poisoned? What if you fall in? Get stabbed? Are murdered? How are they going to find the killer when there’s no such thing as dusting for fingerprints? Will you ever get your revenge? Because now that you don’t live in 2011 anymore, revenge for murder by murder is normal and perhaps expected. But can you live with that? Killing is never easy.

My last attempt at driving this home is to have you consider the range of human emotion. Everything, hate, love, doubt, fear, happiness, rage, and especially the need to fit in, existed then as much as now. Don’t bury it under random facts just to show off how much you know about the history. Be flexible with your portrayal of personalities and never forget that the only difference between people then and people now is time and access to knowledge.

And lastly, never let it be said that people back then didn’t have a sense of humour.

“Wishing to teach his donkey not to eat, a pedant did not offer him any food. When the donkey died of hunger, he said: ‘I’ve had a great loss. Just when he had learned not to eat, he died.’” (Philogelos 9)

Lol.

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Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She is in her first year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here and follow her on Twitter here.

QOTW: Romantic Interest

25 Mar

This week’s question is from Miranda, who asks:

How do you guys create a worthy romantic interest for your hero/heroine?

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Honestly? First and foremost, I try to envision a guy I could see myself being interested in. Otherwise I’d have a hard time relating to him. Then I consider what kind of guy would compliment my heroine. If she’s kind of frigid and has trust issues, more than likely he won’t. Admit it — it’d be boring as hell to have two MCs who are bitchy and cold. I’ve found that trying to piece together someone who will eventually help the main character is always a good tactic. If my MC is shy and mousy, I’d probably pair her with a guy who would instill in her a bit of self-confidence. They’ve got to be a good match in terms of personality because, as I said, two people who are continuously in a bad mood are no fun. Lately I’ve taken to stealing bits and pieces from friends’ personalities. My closest male friend gives the best hugs in the world, and that definitely wound up in my current WIP. Also the fact that he’s great at communicating his thoughts without a lot of words. They always say write what you know, so combining that with your image of what you feel your love interest needs to be seems to be pretty foolproof.

Sammy Bina

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Firstly, any romantic interest has to be central to the plot. You can’t have romantic interest just for the sake of romantic interest. However, I do like seeing it in the stories because usually romance challenges the Protag to grow in personal ways. Therefore, the romantic interest needs to provide some sort of conflict, in order to promote growth.

There’s a lot of different types of romances… there’s the ‘We hated each other at first but then grew to like each other’, ‘we didn’t consider each other romantic possibilities at all until later’, ‘we liked each other immediately but it took us forever to get together’, etc. There’s even the ‘we’ve been together for a while but are now being tested to see if our relationship can survive.’ Each of these scenarios provides opportunities for conflict.

Secondly, there has to be CHEMISTRY!!! Chemistry arises from (you guessed it) conflict. We already did a QOTW about that here.

Now, as for that word ‘worthy’… I’m not sure what you mean in this particular situation, but I definitely believe that love interests should be on the same ‘level’ as the MC. They need to be strong enough to offer something to the other person. You’d never be with someone who couldn’t provide something for you, whether it’s comfort or understanding or even financial assistance. Relationships are about give and take. The romantic interest needs to have something to give.

Savannah Foley

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Like Sammy, I first try to think of a guy I might be attracted to–and not just in a physical sense. Looks usually play a really minor role in the process of creating a love interest. While I do consider how the love interest might complement my heroine–what traits they might bring out in her, for better or worse–once I have a vague idea of the character, I run with it.

I let the love interest become their own person, with their own history and wants/goals outside of my heroine’s life. When I know what the love interest wants (um, not in the romantic sense, but more in the sense of what they want from LIFE, what they are trying to accomplish, what they fear most…), then I see how that impacts their relationship with the heroine. Sometimes that means butting heads all the time, sometimes that means an instant, close connection. So, long story short, I think you write a convincing love interest best when the love interest is an actual person–when they’re not only defined by their relationship with the heroine. There isn’t any formula to it.

Sarah J. Maas

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I think about couples as, well, a couple. They’ve got to spark in some way, and while not every couple I write is going to explode with some kind of mad passion for one another, they need to stir up something in each other. They’ve got to complement one another, push one another, support one another.

I try not to just think about this one-sided; the love interest tends to turn out a little shallow sometimes that way. I keep in mind that I’m not “making him for her.” He’s not supposed to be some perfect guy who provides everything she needs. He’s going to need things from her, as well. I write him to be his own person, first.

And yes, sometimes I draw from characteristics I find attractive in real life :P. But actually not that much, because my protagonists ultimately aren’t me, and they’ve got different likes and dislikes. Plus, wouldn’t it be boring if all your books had basically the same love interest–the perfect version of the guy the writer wants to be with?

The Writer on SUBS! 😀

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Got any pointers of your own to share on creating a hero/heroine’s romantic interest? Share them in the comments!

The Grieving Process

21 Feb

by Biljana Likic

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Sadness can be tough, I find. It can be hard to see when you’re going overboard. And since everybody handles grief differently, it can be tricky to suspend disbelief so much that everyone reading believes in the sadness, and not just the people that would react similarly. For example, if somebody found out their pet had died, and they went into the kitchen and blindly broke every plate and glass, an animal lover who’s been in that position before might understand why they did it, but somebody who hasn’t known that type of relationship might not. Personally, I would consider it an overreaction, but how can I judge the bond between pet and master when I’m not an animal person, and don’t have any conception of what the pet meant to them?

So the first thing to do would be creating a deep connection between the griever and the thing lost. If the reader doesn’t believe that the lovers love each other, when the woman dies and the man throws himself off a bridge they’ll think it’s contrived and silly. You need to show throughout the story that what they have is special, and I find one of the best tricks for doing this is subtle repetition. This means keeping the woman in the man’s thoughts. If you can have him naturally think about her, you’ll remind the reader about all the things he sees in her, which leads to a subconscious understanding that he loves her and that losing her could potentially crush him.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

He walked through the crowd, hands in his pockets, and the sun warmed his face when he stepped out of the shadow of a building. Fiddling with the keys, he crossed the street to his apartment and slipped sideways between two parked cars. His eyes followed a blonde briefly before remembering that she was out of town for the day. Letting himself into the lobby, he called an elevator and tapped his shoes against the carpeted floor.

Little things like this happen to everybody. You have a girl or boy on your mind and suddenly everyone with the same hair colour could be them. But you have to use this in moderation. In real life our thoughts move too fast for them to seem repetitive about stuff like this, but written down they’re painfully obvious if you overdo them. Hence, subtle repetition.

So they’re in love. But now she’s gone.

How does he find out? Is he at work? Does he hear about it the next day because his cell phone ran out of batteries? Does he watch her die? Did he have time to kiss her one last time, to say goodbye, hold her hand, believe that it could still be her on the sidewalk by his apartment?

Then there’s his reaction. His devastation, numbness, denial, whatever fits his character or stream of events best. It’s something that should come naturally. If you don’t know what his reaction should be, maybe he doesn’t know either. Maybe he flounders in a desperately emotionless void until those around him think he’s inhuman. Maybe that’s followed by inexpressible anger at everybody who dared imply that he didn’t love her, and general fury that she left him in the state of things as they are. Perhaps he starts analyzing the day of her death; if he’d convinced her to stay for coffee, the car would’ve just driven by. If he had noticed her fever, he could’ve gotten her to a hospital in time. If he’d realized how icy the sidewalks had been he would’ve forced her out of the heeled boots.

A person can drive themselves insane with if only’s. And notice how each one puts the blame on his shoulders.

Underneath everything though, there is a constant, aching sadness. The numbness is just the mind trying to protect itself from the acute sense of loss. Behind it all there’s the knowledge that something was taken away forever. Even if he finds it again in another person, it won’t be the same. And that’s where the deepest grief comes from.

But the most soul-stirring part, for me at least, would not be his anger, or his tears; it would be his acceptance. The strength he would need for this isn’t something that can be put into words, because accepting loss doesn’t mean forgetting it. It means continuing life, adjusting where he can. It doesn’t mean learning to live without her, but admitting the pain of loss, allowing himself time to mourn, but not letting it control his life. With acceptance comes the gift of being able to breathe without the air hitching in your throat, and being able to think about the future without the grip of total fear wrapping itself around your heart.

If the man can grasp that, or even just give us the hint that he will, the story is complete. Grief comes around full circle and the reader reaches a forlorn closure. But most importantly, they’re given the awareness that the man will go on. That it’s possible.

Along with the sadness, the reader is given hope.

That’s something I don’t mind walking away with.

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Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She is in her first year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here and follow her on Twitter here.