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If You Think Your Protagonist Will Survive This, You Are Not Schooled In The Basic Principles Of Human Life

3 Jan

By Biljana Likic

~~~

“Get ready for certain death!”

Jack squeezed his eyes shut against Noir’s proclamation, stumbling through the brush and clutching onto his bleeding forearm. He wouldn’t die if it was the last thing he did. He pushed on past the trees, gritting his teeth as blood seeped through his clenched fingers. His breath left his chest in a whoosh as he felt the ground drop out beneath him. His cheekbone smashed and shattered against the twigs and rocks of the forest floor, leaving his eyes watering and his nostrils full of suffocating grit.

“You’re mine now!”

No, Jack thought passionately. Carol was counting on him to save her. He had to save her.

He stood, and immediately felt a lancing pain through his thigh and collapsed as a harpoon went clean through the muscle. He heard a hiss of satisfaction from Noir as he grimaced against the agony. He gave himself a precious second of rest before standing once more and continuing his run.

And then he felt the pain in his neck. Lifting up a bloodied hand, he threw away the poison dart and kept running, faster than before.

And then there was a whistle of metal as a sabre cut through the air and severed his left hand.

Jack stared dumbfounded as his hand flopped onto the forest floor and was left behind as he kept on running. The blood loss was going to his head. His sight was turning black around the edges. He was going to pass out.

But then he heard it. Her voice.

Jack!

Carol’s voice was calling for him. He had to go on. He had to go on.

He began running again with renewed vigour, even as the ninja stars sliced through the space around him, evil giant spiders crawled towards him, and green alien monstrosities hovered, ready for Noir’s command to strike.

He had to go on.

Well tough shit, Jack, you can’t go on. You have a severe cut on your forearm, a shattered cheekbone, you practically can’t breathe from the dirt up your nose, your thigh is gravely injured, there’s a poison dart in your neck and running through your veins is its venom, and let’s not forget that your hand has been cut off.

This, my friends, is what I call a case of If You Think Your Protagonist Will Survive This, You Are Not Schooled In The Basic Principles Of Human Life. Or as I like to say, IYTYPWSTYANSITBPOHL.

(Not really.)

How many of you readers out there were getting sick of the unrealistic portrayal of human survival and the supposed power of love? How many of you clearly realized that at this point, there is no way that Noir could realistically lose? I mean the guy has aliens and giant spiders on his side, not to mention that Jack  was beyond a doubt heavily incapacitated. There isn’t even a convincing Deus Ex Machina that can be used to save him now, no way for his hand to grow back, or the poison that was only sped up by his running to be flushed out.

In point, Jack is dead. There is no possible way for him to live. In fact, he shouldn’t even be running. In fact, he should be passed out in that ditch he fell into at the beginning of the scene. Right around the time where he stopped being able to breathe.

As always, my example is very, very exaggerated, but what I’m trying to convey is that if you’re going to hurt your protagonist, do some research to make sure he can survive what you throw at him. There have been quite a few times when, both in movies and books, I’d do a double take when I’d see the hero still running after an arrow through his thigh. Injuries have to be realistic and they have to be done in such a way that the reader doesn’t get desensitized to the hero’s pain. If you write a book where all throughout, your hero gets hurt a lot, and then at the time of the epic battle, the hero is broken almost to the point of surrender, it won’t have as much impact as if earlier in the novel the hero wasn’t so beaten up all the time. When it comes time for the threat of the hero to be forced into submission, a way to create the sense of total despair and longing for a victory for the good side is to hurt the hero in a way that leaves him almost unable to win. But if you’ve been hurting him severely all throughout the book, beating him up as badly at the end, or even more so, won’t have a strong impression on the reader, and can give the writing a sense of absurdism and gratuitous gore.

As with everything, this is a case by case. If your novel is all about battles and injuries, and there’s a valid reason for the hero to be thrown around so much, that’s fine. But you need to keep your character’s tolerance of physical suffering consistent. You can’t have them bravely soldier on after a bullet to the stomach in one scene and then crying from a rug burn in the next. But then you also have to realize that when it comes to the end of the novel, you need to find a weak point that isn’t physical. The hero has to be broken in a way that he hasn’t been broken before for the ending to have its full effect. This is the only way that the end will be satisfying.

Consider it like this. What if I told you that that scene with Jack and Noir wasn’t, in fact, an ending scene as it sounds, but something closer to the beginning of the novel? And now imagine if there were another dozen scenes like that. You’d get sick of the violence. It’s unnecessary. And imagine that the final confrontation isn’t a battle of the wits, but a battle of brute force as they all have been throughout the rest of the book.

This is a perfect example of IYTYPWSTYANSITBPOHL.

So the next time you want to lop off the leg of a character, consider the consequences thoroughly. Is it too much? Is it unrealistic? Will he have other injuries? Will he be able to continue being the hero without a leg?

Think about it. The last thing you want your character to be known for is that one who just constantly gets the shit kicked out of him.

~~~

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.

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[Insert name here]

10 Nov

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Ahhh, names.

Names have the power to embody an ideal. They have the incredible ability of making you judge somebody before you’ve even met them, subconsciously or not. And certain names have inescapable connotations: a Jezebel is a whore; a Narcissus is vain; a Samson is strong. Names have become so much a part of human identity that when we just meet somebody, more often than not, our first words to each other include them. In fact, it’s unnerving not to know somebody’s name. It makes the memory of them so mysterious and enigmatic.

Which is exactly why, when it comes down to having to name things, I freak out. A lot. Especially when it’s the naming of a character.

There are so many questions to ask.

Do I want to give them a name with connotations? If I have a man who’s really strong, am I going to name him Jack, or am I going to name him Francis? If I do name them something that doesn’t really suit their personality, is it for the sole purpose of breaking the stereotype or did I do it for irony?

And then there’s the issue of multiple characters.

What if I have six characters, and four of their names start with the letter S? Is that too many S’s? Should I change them? If in one book my villain’s name is Matthew and in the next one it’s Mark, will people notice that they’re both M names and both biblical?

And then I try to reassure myself by telling myself that I’m thinking too much. People see the name, they see the character, they put them together, and run with it. That’s all.

But that’s not quite true is it? I’ve had many, many discussions about character names, and if they do or do not fit, or if they hint too obviously at the nature of the character. It used to be okay to name people Adolf. Now there’s a taboo. Do I use that taboo to my advantage, or do I try to give the character a clean slate?

That’s when I realized that there never really is a clean slate. People go into books with expectations, and names only help to feed those expectations. It’s up to the writer if they want to meet or break them.

And trust me, more often than not, you want to break them.

When I first told my friend about my manuscript, I told her that my protagonist’s name was Ingrid. She told me after she read it that at first she didn’t like the name. She didn’t think it suited her personality because she associated it with old ladies and not, as it were, with stubborn, loud sixteen-year-olds. Then, in one of the greatest compliments somebody could give me without realizing it, she said, “But the more I read, the more it felt right. I can’t think of any other name for her.”

Which may not have meant much to her, but to me it meant the world.

Her statement basically proved to me that Ingrid was a strong character. She was able to break away from the stereotypes her name leant her and make it her own. She changed my friend’s perception of the name Ingrid from Old Lady to Cool Heroine.

And through all this, I realized that all of my questions and trivial worries were completely and utterly moot.

As long as your character’s voice is strong, it doesn’t matter what you name them. If they are able to hold onto their personality, their personality will begin to have a hold on the name. If you can make them come to life in a person’s mind, they will become real. And them being real will give the name a new dimension.

So stop worrying about what others think of your protagonist’s name when they read it and focus instead on finding something that feels right to you personally. That character already exists in your mind, and only you know which name will suit it best.

And who knows. Maybe next time somebody thinks of Jezebel, they won’t just think of a whore.

~~~

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.

Can’t talk. Brooding.

1 Nov

NaNoWriMo Starts Today!!!

~~~

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Allow me to introduce myself. I am….a Writer. You look at me and you see literary brilliance ready to burst out of my fingers like the morning sun. Yes, this is a coffee in my right hand, and yes, that’s a lit cigarette in my left. The amber liquid you saw me sneaking into my cup was, in fact, whiskey, and now that you know, you must pity me and think I’m truly tortured. Just that you see me out of my natural habitat of a cave filled with paper and pens means you’re fortunate indeed, and my speaking to you must mean that I’ve had enough to drink to release my natural inhibitions and shyness.

A part of you wants to leave, that’s how intimidated you are by the phantom conversations going on in my head that I will later write down after I feed my two cats. Another part stays out of kindness; I don’t get out much, you see, and so people speaking to me is a rare occurrence.

Even so, you know that I don’t mind because I am used to it. I have lived my entire life in misunderstood solitude, and no mere mortal will ever be able to compare their knowledge of human truths to mine.

Now excuse me while I walk off holding on to my black beret lest it blow away in the chill wind that only I feel.

Shit.

Deep, right?

Wrong!

Total stereotypes! For the most part, at least. I don’t doubt that there are writers who are very reserved, or have drinking problems, or live secluded lives. Just like there are normal people who are very reserved, have drinking problems, or live secluded lives. What annoys me is when people think that all writers are like this.

This is directly the reason why I hold off mentioning to people that I’m a writer until they have a solid first impression of me. It only happened once that it was one of the first things I said, and the difference in attitude I got from this person was huge. Immediately, she went “Oh…” and I could just see the thoughts going through her mind:

“Damn pretentious writers. Think they’re special. Think they know shit.”

Well yes. I do think I know shit.

But it’s not because I’m an alcoholic, or I smoke, or I own cats, or wear black berets, or because I’m quiet. In fact none of those things can be applied to me.

I know shit because I talk to people. I observe real characters before creating my own.

Which is what I wanted to bring up in this article.

One of a writer’s biggest stereotypes is how secluded they are. I think this is true to a point. I think most writers are secluded because they’re too busy writing. But once in a while, you have to go out. You have to meet a variety of people so you can draw from them consciously or unconsciously. And here’s why.

Say these are some of the only people you have in your life that you see consistently: your mother, your father, your brother, your best friend, and your husband.

Now say you write a book. Say it’s about a woman who’s married, has a brother, living parents, and a best friend.

Guess who those people are going to be based off of.

This is totally fine. Until you get to your next book. Which is perhaps about a woman who has a boyfriend, a best friend, and one parent.

Well the boyfriend is going to be of similar character to the husband in the first one, the best friend is going to become the token girlfriend in all your books, and whenever the one parent mentions their missing counterpart, they’ll probably have a similar personality to the parent in the previous book.

They’re going to become your stock characters. If that’s all you know, that’s all you know. If your husband is reserved, your heroes will be reserved, because in your life those are the only heroes you can understand. You’re at risk of having these stock characters become story constants.

Which is why I implore you. Go out and talk to people. You don’t have to make friends, you just have to make judgments. Approach somebody you think you know because of their appearance and find out if they’ll break the stereotype. And if they do, how do they break it? Store the information somewhere. Start studying people. Because if all you really know is five characters, that’s going to come through. And though you may try breaking the pattern, putting in new things, it’s very possible that the new characters you create will be caricatures; too big or too one-dimensional.

I already know that there will be some of you who don’t agree with anything I’m saying. You will say that I’m wrong because there are so many writers who were secluded and reserved and had fabulous career lives.

Yeah, but a lot of them also went crazy or killed themselves or wrote themselves into depression.

Basically, what I’m saying is, even if you are socially impaired and find it really hard to make friends and meet new people, the outcome has the potential to vastly improve your writing. Not to mention, your life. And you might think it’s easy for me to say this, because I’m not like that, but the thing is I am. I don’t like meeting new people. It makes me feel vulnerable, and I don’t like the feeling of judgment I get when I go up to someone and say hello, even if it’s imagined. Especially when it’s imagined. At least if it’s real I can call them a bitch and move on. But if it’s imagined, I’m left with a feeling of invalidated insecurity that can linger for ages.

Relationships take time to build but it’s something I get over for the sake of a new friendship, connection, or, frankly, a template for a new character.

It wouldn’t kill anybody to try the same.

~~~

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.

Are you scared yet?

12 Oct

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Before I begin, you have to promise yourself that while reading this article, you will not turn around. No checking behind your back for monsters. This is a bit of an experiment.

A few weeks ago I was hanging out with a friend. One that is fully aware of how paranoid I am. So like the great person he is, he made his face go all slack and surprised, widened his eyes, looked over my shoulder, and said, “What the hell is that?”

Obviously, I looked. Who wouldn’t? It’s a preservation act. It’s instinct. If you feel like there’s something threatening behind you, you look. And then you see that there isn’t (for the most part) and you go along living your merry life, laughing (or having a friend laugh) at your foolishness.

But of course, he had to make it a competition.

It quickly turned into, “I bet if I told you that there was a man in a mutant bunny suit behind you à la Donnie Darko, you’d look.”

Oh he’s a clever one, isn’t he? He didn’t even have to say it. He just had to allude to it and I wanted to turn around. It’s that creepy feeling where you imagine something watching you behind your back. You have to look to make sure there isn’t, even if the idea is absolutely ridiculous.

So I didn’t turn around. I glared at him, and all the while, I could feel the back of my neck prickling with just the possibility that there was something behind me.

Which got me thinking.

Being fortunate enough to not have experienced too much fear in my lifetime, scary scenes aren’t exactly on the top of my writing list. It could be just because it’s never come up in my writing, (because I’d most likely scare myself more than anybody reading it,) but it could conceivably also be because I’ve never been very, very scared in my life before.

So how do you go about getting across a character’s fear without being sure what it feels like?

Well here’s a way. Make yourself creeped out.

Allow me to help you with that.

First of all, don’t look.

Imagine that there’s a man in a mutant bunny suit behind you. His eyes are lifeless and the fur around his mouth is stained red. He is completely motionless; unnaturally still. Just standing behind you and watching you. Then he slowly starts walking up to you with noiseless footsteps. He’s getting closer. He’s close enough now to read this over your shoulder. You think you might be able to hear something dripping. He’s reaching out to touch you. He’s inches away. You realize the dripping is blood falling from a carving knife.

You suddenly know with incredible certainty that what I’m describing is what’s actually happening to you right now. He knows that you’ve figured it out. And just for that, he going to kill you.

He’s raising his arm.

He’s lifting the knife into the air.

He can smell your fear.

This isn’t a fun exercise anymore. This is reality. If you turn around and look, you will, without a doubt, see a man in a chilling, distorted bunny suit, a knife poised and ready to be driven into your spine.

And the only way you can save yourself if to look. Just turn around. The moment your lay eyes on him, he’ll disappear and you’ll be safe. But until then…

You can hear him shifting his weight. He’s about to strike.

Did you look yet?

Are you creeped out?

Can you feel your stomach coiling with tension, back hunching defensively?

Use it. Go back to that scary scene that’s been stumping you or sounds contrived.

Just be thankful it isn’t real.

…Right?

~~~

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.

LTWF Anniversary…What A Year It’s Been!

7 Oct

By

 

Sarah J. Maas

 

~

Looking back to last year, it’s hard to believe how far this blog has come in just twelve months.

When I got the idea for Let The Words Flow, I had very few writing friends—fewer still from FictionPress. The FP friends I did have didn’t know each other—didn’t know that there were others out there, struggling to make the leap between FP and publication.

The only proof I had that you could make the jump was embodied in Mandy Hubbard, our resident rock star, who supported this group from Day 1. I knew that if Mandy was on board, we’d have a degree of credibility—Mandy, with her multiple book deals and oodles of success, was our poster child for all that we could accomplish.

But there had to be more of us out there—there had to be other FP people with book deals, or agents, or querying agents. So I looked. I looked and looked, browsing through the profiles of other FictionPress “Greats.” And I found a few—enough to start a blog, if they would only join Mandy and me.

I still remember the terror and anticipation of sending out those initial emails to potential contributors—I remember praying that any of them would respond to me.

After all, very few of us were friends—in fact, most of us had been fierce rivals on FictionPress. We never talked, and if we ever came across each other, it was in fan-run contests that did nothing but increase the tension between us. We were all islands surrounded by a sea of adoring fans.

You can’t imagine my surprise when all of them not only replied to me—but they all accepted my offer to join LTWF.

The biggest surprise came from Savannah J. Foley not only accepting the offer, but being absolutely thrilled to join the group. She’d been one of my biggest rivals on FP—QUEEN OF GLASS and WOMAN’S WORLD were always matched up against each other in contests. But it was our similarities, not our past differences, that bonded us: we both had agents, and had both started submissions to editors. Though she had a ton of potential, I had no idea—none—that she would become not only a close friend, but also the solid foundation upon which LTWF would be built.

I will admit, initially, I was swamped. I managed a lot of features on the site, and would often bolt upright in the middle of the night to realize something needed fixing. We only posted three days a week, but it was enough to keep us all busy. We survived the initial few months, and our readership grew more and more every day—we actually had readers! We had people who were interested in our journeys, people who were having journeys of their own—people who were interesting and brilliant and oh so lovely.

One of those people was Biljana Likic. A long-time friend of mine from FP, Billy is a bit of a child prodigy—though she was only 17 at the time, her writing was  (and is!) incredible. At the risk of sounding like an old person, Billy showed a tremendous amount of potential. She’s also wonderful person—funny, kind, and clever, and she brought a much-needed burst of humor and fun to the group dynamic when she joined in January of 2010.

With Billy on board, we had enough members—and enough readers—to start posting more frequently. We dared ourselves to start posting five days a week. I fretted over that (when am I NOT worrying?), wondering if we could possibly keep it up, and how we could keep our readers interested. I also wondered if we had enough diversity in the group—there were plenty of aspiring writers in LTWF, but what about the other side of the desk? What about aspiring agents and editors?

That answer came in early March, in the form of Vanessa Di Gregorio, an aspiring writer attending a publishing course, but also an intern at a literary agency with dreams of working in publishing. The other side of the desk didn’t look so empty anymore. Of course, we had no idea that being on the other side of the desk would later be the way we got hooked up with prizes for all of our giveaways, or that she’d become the Grand Dame of our Saturday Grab Bag posts and book reviews. Or that she’d be the one to revamp our site and become the ghost behind our twitter account, taking it from 50 or so followers to over 450 followers (and counting)!

By that point, it seemed only natural to add Jenn Fitzgerald to our ranks in late March. Another aspiring author, Jenn spends her days living out one of everyone’s childhood dreams: working as an archaeologist. Her adorable MG novel brought a bit of a change from our usual YA fare, and her determination to keep querying and writing, despite digging all day long, made her an inspiration.

At this point, we found new members left and right. We had people applying to be in the group. That absolutely blew my mind.

In the group itself, the number of emails back and forth skyrocketed. Communicating with my contributors was no longer a daily thing, but an hourly one. Girls who I had once seen as my enemies were my confidantes and cheerleaders. I’ll never forget the joy of sending an email to them, announcing my book deal with Bloomsbury—and I’ll never forget crying in my car as their replies showed up on my blackberry. Sharing that moment with them was one of the best moments of my publishing journey thus far.

In the wake of getting a book deal, one of the congratulatory wishes I received was from a FP writer named Julie Eshbaugh—who sent me a message to say that LTWF had inspired her to keep querying, and that she now had an agent. She was so passionate about the group (and had received multiple offers of representation!) that we knew she had to join us. So, in early April of 2010, she did. And she meshed perfectly.

With so many members, we no longer had to worry about filling out the calendar. In fact, we were all so eager to post that we added another day of posting, and in May, we kicked off our Saturday posts.

Swamped with pre-wedding preparations, I had to step back a bit from my LTWF duties. I wondered if this group—which I had once managed all on my own—could function without me for a few weeks. Well, to my delight, it could—and it did. The site that I had struggled to maintain months ago was suddenly a well-oiled machine—people had assumed responsibilities without even my asking. Realizing that it had become a community-run blog was one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had.

One of the members who would later become a huge help was Kat Zhang. She submitted an application that blew us all away—not only was she querying agents with a wonderful manuscript, but she was also an amazingly talented spoken word poet. We had tentatively discussed not taking on any more un-agented new members, but Kat’s humor, kindness, and brilliance won us over. We knew it was only a matter of time before she landed an agent. And this September, she did. Kat claims she didn’t cry the day she got the call, but I think a few of us cried enough on her behalf to compensate.

After Kat joined, we had a dilemma: did we have too many members? Were our readers getting detached from the warm, cozy atmosphere of the site? It would take a truly incredible member to get us to change our mind. We found two.

Sammy Bina originally joined us as a month-long guest contributor, though by the end of week 1, it was pretty apparent that we had to have her forever. An intern at a literary agency, Sammy brought invaluable advice to our readers regarding all aspects of the querying process—and as an aspiring, querying writer, she was also a contributor our readers could connect with. More than that, Sammy was also a part of the wildly-popular Plagiarism Haven group, and many of her readers became LTWF regulars. If you attended our latest livechat, you’ll know that she’s a firecracker, and provides us with endless hours of entertainment (which is obviously the most important thing she could do!).

The last member to join our ranks was Vahini Naidoo—who came to us just days after accepting an offer of representation from an agent (after receiving multiple offers)! Not to mention, she’s still in high school (way to make us all feel bad, Vee!). Hailing from Australia, Vee took LTWF from a North American group to a truly international one, and her dry sense of humor melded beautifully with our group dynamic.

Had you asked me a year ago if I knew that the group would become so large, and so diverse, I would have laughed. When I started the blog, I had high hopes, but I never thought farther down the road than a few months. Now we think in years.

One of the exciting new features that we’ll be adding is our free online creative writing course, which will begin in February of 2011 (details soon to come)! We’re also planning tons of livechats (next month: querying!), adding some new members, and we have a few more surprises up our collective sleeve.

But we wanted to do one more thing—just to say thank you to the readers who have helped make this blog such a success.

In honor of our one-year anniversary, we’re going to be giving away nine gift baskets customized by each LTWF member! On Saturday, we’ll post the official contest announcement/sign-up, but gift baskets will include contributors’ favorite books, moleskine notebooks, and much, much more!

Because we owe it all to YOU. We never could have added new members—we never would have met each other—if we didn’t have readers coming back every day, asking us QOTWs, entering our contests, and turning this blog from a dream into a reality.

A year ago, that’s all this blog was—a dream. A dream that we weren’t the only FictionPress people trying to get published. And if there’s any moral to this post—to this blog in all its entirety—it’s that you are not alone.

I think that’s what took us all by surprise: despite years of rivalry on FictionPress, we are more similar than any of us realized. We are not alone. We are no longer islands.

Thank you all for proving that.

~~~

Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in late 2011. Sarah resides with her husband in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.

Oh the Agony of Imaginary Pain!

15 Sep

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Jack opens his glassy eyes and tries to focus on Carol’s features. It’s hard to concentrate. His wound is excruciatingly painful, throwing streamers of agony down his arm. He is breaking out into a sweat and his face is contorting into an ugly grimace, teeth gritted behind pulled-back lips, and throat struggling not to let out a scream.

“It’s okay,” Carol whispers, running cool hands down his arm in attempt to help, horrified at his injury.

Her touch only makes the pain worse.

She jerks back when he cries out, writhing on the carpet of the office floor, eyes squeezing shut and breath coming out in gasps. Carol spears her fingers through her hair, clutching briefly at the strands. She is at a complete loss over how to help him. Close to tears for his pain, she turns to Noir.

“How could you do this to him?” she says, voice shaking.

Noir blinks, utterly confused.

“…It’s just a paper cut.”

…Right.

Basically, the purpose of that was to show in extreme exaggeration how terribly confusing and sometimes downright hilarious it can be if the actions and reactions of the characters don’t suit the scene. Specifically, I’m focussing on pain.

Have you ever sat down to write about a character that’s about to have his arm cut off, but being that you’ve never had that happen, you in truth have no idea what you’re talking about?

If you’ve asked for help with this, I’m sure you’ve heard this before:

Imagination.

…Kidding. (Sort of.) Here’s the better advice.

Use your past experiences. Just because you’ve never had your arm cut off, doesn’t mean you can’t write a scene about a guy getting his arm cut off. Think about the closest thing to that scenario that’s ever happened to you, and try to equate that pain with the pain of what you imagine getting your arm cut off would be.

And if that wasn’t wordy enough for you, here’s an example.

This actually happened.

…The first part.

I was wearing flip-flops yesterday, sitting around outside, minding my own business, and I felt something poking me. I looked down and there was a wasp on the top of my foot, embedded quite nicely into my skin, so much so that I had to take out the insect with my fingers. I’ve forgotten how much stings actually hurt. It felt like a needle but thicker and rougher, and even after I pulled out the wasp, the sting throbbed with pain, and the skin around it rose with the venom.

And that got me thinking.

Imagine if it were a wooden pike instead of a wasp.

First I’d have the blunt ache of something with no sharp edge driving through the skin, tendons and bones. I’d have the feeling of something foreign inside me accompanied by the awareness that it hurts like crazy. I’d have the panic of seeing and acknowledging the fact that yes, there is a pike in my foot. I’d probably try to scream but wouldn’t have the voice for it, and I’d probably be too scared to pull it out right away. But when it is pulled out, I’d have the relief of it being gone. Unfortunately, it’d be followed by the adrenaline wearing off, making the pain worse, turning it into a pulsing agony of gushing blood and the general terror of there being a hole in my body.

And now imagine if the pike had venom on it.

I’d have it spreading up my leg, the skin around the wound rising white against the unaffected parts, becoming puffy and hot to the touch. My quickened heartbeat would work not only to spread the poison, but also speed up the blood loss. Maybe I would go into shock.

While in shock I would be looking at my wound, not really understanding that it’s mine, my eyes would go wide, my pupils would dilate, everything would be too bright, too loud, my breathing would get too shallow and too quick.

Maybe I’d faint.

While unconscious, the venom would spread throughout my body, the wound would fester and become infected. I’d be too weak to wake up. If I did wake up, it’d be to the pain and stench of a rotting foot and the swollen and feverish feel of a body turned septic. I wouldn’t be able to move, let alone crawl to a hospital, and by this point they wouldn’t just have to cut off my foot at the ankle, but at the knee.

Or maybe I’d never make it to the hospital.

Maybe I’d die.

So many exciting possibilities!

All from getting stung by a wasp.

This is the kind of stuff that goes on in my mind when I’m alone and think too much. You are free to make fun. I’m aware that I’m paranoid.

But you have to admit. Next time I need to write about somebody having a pike driven through their foot, I’ll already know what it feels like.

~~~

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.

The Name Of My Muse Is Mary Sue

26 Aug

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Hi! My name is Felicitie Del’Ortollio. I have a great personality, and I’m generous, kind, helpful, and encouraging. I’m a great leader, too. I’m a straight A student, speak 23 languages fluently, and I work out a lot, so I have a great body. I also have very nice hair. It’s brown, which is a plain colour, but on me, it looks totally awesome. Mostly because I have such a gorgeous face. My eyes are blue, but sometimes they’re violet, depending on my mood. I have lots of friends that tell me I’m cool and want to be me, and most of the guys in school are secretly in love with me. But that doesn’t make me arrogant. I’m actually quite sweet.

I also have magical powers that you won’t know about until an impossible situation comes along and my creator has no idea how to fix it. Then, I’ll reveal that I’m the most powerful member of a super secret order of faeries that against all judgment chose me as their leader. Probably because I would never let the power corrupt me.

I’m just an overall amazing person.

I’m also completely unreal.

You knew that?

But how did you guess?!

Is it because my second name is Mary Sue?

Yes. Yes it is.

But the above is an exaggeration. Mary Sues can be a lot subtler than that. What they are in the extreme is the creation of a character that is exactly like the writer, or what the writer wants to be,  with the good traits amped up and bad traits abolished. Certain things like insecurities and confidence issues become non-existent to the character, whose life is pretty much great, and whose problems melt away with really easy solutions.

The reason they exist, I believe, is simple. Once in a while, everybody wants to be perceived as funny and nice, or delightfully quirky, or devilishly sarcastic. Whatever the desire, Mary Sue waits around until you choose it, and she presents you with an irresistible opportunity: rewriting your life to be exactly how you want it to be.

It’s a way of immersing yourself into that universal dream of things going perfectly as planned, with everybody on your side.

Unfortunately, just because it offers you a fantastical escape that seems like sheer brilliance, critics may not agree.

From her humble beginnings in Star Trek fan fiction to her present day appearances in contemporary novels, (read a description of Bella Swan and compare it with a picture of Stephanie Meyer,) Mary Sue has become the whispered-about small-town disgrace that nobody wants to be associated with publicly but everybody wishes they could have. She has earned herself a reputation of being the fictional equivalent of a hooker, who tells you she loves you, tells you you’re beautiful, amazing, absolutely perfect, and who will pet and pamper your ego till your head’s too big to fit through the door.

And then she’ll jump into the proverbial bed of another, leaving you quite metaphorically screwed, and burdened with the heavy price of a whole manuscript of mental indulgence to rework.

But it’s not fair, because nobody really warns you. Nobody tells you when you’re young and writing your first story to be careful not to answer the siren song of a fake confidence boost. Or if they do, they don’t give you real reasons. They just say “It’s frowned upon” and expect you to listen without any facts. And to add to the frustration, they accidentally encourage it. When you’re just starting out as a writer, the common piece of advice that everybody hears is “Write what you know.”

Well of course an obvious answer would be a Mary Sue. What do you know better than yourself?

The problem isn’t having her in your writing. The problem is the small town. Mary Sue has become so shunned and ostracized that the town refuses to believe anything good can come out of her. The moment they see her around they boo and hiss and fail to realize that to get out of the Mary Sue relationship in a healthy way, all you really need to do as a writer is grow up.

Practice, mature into your writing, and slowly ease her away. Turn the torrid, injuring love affair into a comfortable friendship. She can be quite kind when you acknowledge her with respect. By having a friendship, you’ll accept the possibilities she offers without letting yourself fall in too deep.

Most importantly, you’ll lose the town’s mentality of Mary Sue as a destructive, leeching succubus. To cut her off completely would be impossible and stupid. You created her; she’ll be a permanent part of you for the rest of your life. You’ll remember her for all the wonderful ideals she inspired, and all the glorious emotions she made you feel when you wrote about flying to the moon with angel wings. She is the embodiment of all your fears, hopes, insecurities, and dreams of adventure, everything that still exists in your blood, all the stuff you think about daily, and to kill her off would be like killing a piece of your soul.

She’ll stalk the edges of all you future writing endeavours, looking in with clear eyes and grudging respect, no longer a jealous lover, and just for that, she is entitled to a word, a sentence, a mannerism, or personality trait of any character you create in the future, if she so chooses.

She is your muse. Treat her with dignity.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She just graduated high school and is on her way to 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.

A Very Bad Article On Word Choice.

2 Aug

Oh wait I meant good!

Damn. Already my word choice is screwing me over.

Just like it screws over others.

Today I’m going to show you how easily really bad word choice can break the drama of the moment. I’m going to demonstrate this with an example based off a piece of work (which will not be named) containing the same maddening literary gaffe.

Take this riveting scene:

The stage is set for the heart-clenching rivalry between good and evil to explode. Many have been lost, and the casualties, not so casual to their friends, families, and lovers, are predicted to rise drastically in numbers. The hero is facing the villain, who has the hero’s dame of choice secure against him with a knife pressed to her neck. One wrong move and a love like no other will be lost, unleashing a sorrow of epic proportions.

“She’s dead now, Jack!” Noir shrieks, voice rising with the hysteria involved with finally besting your mortal enemy.

“No!” Jack pleads, throwing down his broadsword and lurching forward.

He trips over an unseen corpse and falls onto the ground. The dirt is muddy with blood. A psychotic laughter builds in Noir’s body as he pushes the knife closer, stumbling further away from Jack and taking Carol with him. Her face contorts with pain.

“Please!” Jack calls, voice gruff with terror.

Noir’s eyes narrow into slits.

“Pleading won’t save you this time,” he seethes.

In one quick motion, he jerks his arm and the knife hisses over Carol’s white neck. She tries to scream but it comes out like infant gurgles, and her clenching fingers grow steadily limp. And then she is gone.

Carol slips out of Noir’s grip, a dead weight.

Noir watches her fall. He let’s out his laugh as her head bounces against the ground. It is the deranged, demented laugh that accompanies horrific, impossible accomplishment. He looks at Jack, elated and disgusted by the blood on his hands, and sees his enemy staring shell-shocked at the body of his lover. He watches the expression transform before his eyes.

Jack’s face is paper white. His lips are bloodless even as they spread open to show teeth. His brows are heavy and slanted over his mad eyes and a feral growl is growing in his throat. His glare lifts to lock with Noir’s. He can hardly form words, but he tries.

“You…killed her,” he grits out grumpily.

WHOA now.

Grumpy? Really? You’re going to describe him as grumpy?

My god, woman, what were you thinking? Do you know what I picture when I think of grumpy?

This is what you want:

~

Word Choice Article

~

This is what you gave me.

~

Word Choice Article

~

Anybody can see that that word is extremely bad in that place, which leads me to believe that when writers make this kind of mistake, they don’t do it on purpose. Usually. And sure, I’m picky about word choice, (I may or may not have had ten minute long discussions over a single word with critique partners,) but certain things, everybody catches.

So here’s how I avoid this mistake. It’s incredibly easy.

  1. Instinct: After writing, when you’re reading your stuff over, if there’s a word that doesn’t feel good where it is, replace it immediately. You’re probably right. Better to do it right away than after the fifth reading and much frustration.
  2. Thesaurus: Because we can’t all have the honour of coining some 1700 words like Shakespeare had, we use those available. Which is more than enough, seeing as it’s practically impossible to count the number of words there are in the English language. The word ecstasy is stronger than the word happiness, but they both define one type of emotion. Choose the one that suits the situation best.
  3. Dictionary: If you find a word you think will fit but you’re not quite sure if the meaning is right, for Christ’s sake use a dictionary. It’s what it’s there for. It’s better to look it up to know for sure than having it clarified by a pansy little know-it-all who will Tweet it to everybody once your book is published.
  4. Critique Partner: Or anybody who reads. Find a fresh eye to look over something you’ve read a million times. Sometimes these mistakes just happen and you don’t notice because you’ve half-memorized the passage to the point where you’re no longer really reading it.

Obviously, I exaggerated with my example. I’ll always exaggerate when I use Carol, Jack, and Noir. And obviously, not many people have the time to comb through their manuscript looking for exactly the right word in exactly the right place. It’s really just the big mistakes that grate on people’s nerves and throw out the flow.

All I’m asking is for you not to trivialize dire situations with stupid word choices.

And, of course, to avoid Purple Prose :).

~~~

And now for my requisite Challenge!

Check it.

You can do better than that.

21 Jul

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Take this article with a grain of salt.

He drags her behind a heavy table. It isn’t perfect, but at least it would provide some protection. He checks his gun and he is down to his last round. This would not be enough to kill Noir. Nothing would be enough to kill Noir. The target on Jack’s back would finally be met, and the notoriously heartless man would have nothing standing between himself and the destruction of the world.

“Carol,” he says, grasping her face. “Look at me.”

She snaps her fearful eyes up, shock leaving them bone dry and adrenaline reddening her cheeks.

“We’re good as dead,” he says.

With a click, Jack cocks his pistol.

“I have one shot left. Enough to distract.”

“No—”

“You have to run.”

Leaning his forehead against hers, he rests for a moment, eyes closed, listening to Noir’s sinister approaching footsteps.

“I can’t be without you,” she gasps, hand rising to clutch his at her cheek.

“You can.”

He crushes his lips to hers, drawing courage from the stolen kiss, and then he shoves her hard down the wide laundry chute. He blocks out her scream of terror and outrage.

She was always too stubborn for her own good.

Noir’s footsteps slow.

“I can hear you trembling.”

Sure enough, his hand is tapping the gun against the table with the force of its tremors. He swallows, lifting himself up slowly, planting his feet firmly beneath him as he stands to face his mortal enemy. Noir, the vilest man to ever live. Noir, whose face is stretching into an evil grin even as Jack’s shaking hand rises, cold, deadly metal heavy in his grip.

“Do you mean to shoot me?” Noir asks, amused.

Jack pulls the trigger. The gun clicks.

It’s a dud.

His face crumples. As a last resort, he throws the gun pathetically at the now chuckling Noir, shoulders dropping in pitiful defeat when it is swatted aside like a bug.

“It’s too bad, really,” Noir says, and the last thing Jack thinks when he hears Noir’s pistol go off is that he will never hold Carol again.

His breath is knocked out of him, his knees collapse to the ground, and he lies there heavy and beaten.

But something isn’t right.

He feels no pain other than from the impact with the floor. There is a heavy weight on his legs. Would his death be so immediate that hurt was mercifully taken away?

No. Because then he hears it.

Carol.

She is screaming, screaming at Noir to leave him alone. She crawled her way back up to try to save him and threw him down before the bullet could hit home. She is sobbing heavily, draping her body over his, and all Jack can think is Stupid girl, this is why I love you so much.

“Don’t kill him!” she cries. “I love him!”

Silence. Jack forces his eyes open to look at Noir. He is shocked to see him gazing at the fallen couple with sorrow and remorse.

“What affection,” he says, “that you would risk your life after he saved it.”

He lowers his gun.

“I see there is still humanity in this world,” he says. “Your devotion has struck evil out of me. Your love has truly moved me to the path of light.”

Jack stands, pulling Carol with him. He puts one arm around her, and another, hesitant at first, but then strong, around Noir.

“Let’s just go home.”

Arm in arm, they leave the building, on the road to becoming life-long friends.

The world is safe.

The end.

Now doesn’t that just piss you off?

Imagine: an amazing book; fantastic action; a budding romance between two strong people, with the two strong names of Carol and Jack; an evil man, Noir, so called because his soul is black as night; a terrifying plot to destroy the world which is executed in such a way that nobody would dream of calling it cheesy or old.

And then you get an ending like that.

This, my friends, is what we call Deus ex machina: God from the machine. It is a sudden, unexpected, totally ludicrous, eye-rollingly, glaringly, unforgivably cheap way of resolving a conflict, where the thing causing you problems is suddenly not causing you problems because of a contrived turn of events. It is from the wise words of Horace’s Ars Poetica, (literally Art of Poetry,) where he tells poets to never, ever, fall so low as to use a god from the machine to solve problems.

What he’s talking about goes way back to Greek tragedies, where during the play actors playing gods would be lowered onto the stage with a crane or appear from below with the use of a riser and a trap door to solve all the difficulties those silly little mortals had gotten themselves into. The phrase actually refers to this mechanical manipulation, or the making of something with one’s hands. So a better way of translating deus ex machina is “God that we make” or “God from our hands.”

So here’s the lesson of this article:

Don’t do it.

A sad ending where Jack dies is better than a bullshit ending where an evil, heartless, unsalvageable man, who never exhibited any kind of change of heart when he saw all the other couples who loved each other killed before his eyes, is suddenly saved. If your plot is such that you can’t think of a way to end it happily, don’t end it happily.

Believe me, it’ll feel wrong if you take something like the story of Jack and Carol and try to turn it into fluffy lesson that love conquers all. Because frankly, it doesn’t, especially not villains like Noir. Keep the ending true to the story because otherwise readers will notice that you didn’t listen to the voice that said “Kill him!” but rather to the voice that said “That’s not marketable” or “I don’t want a sad ending” or “But he’s hot”.

If you didn’t want a sad ending, you should’ve thought of that before you got to this point.

Here’s another important point I’d like to stress.

Deus ex machina isn’t only restricted to getting happy endings. There are people that are the opposite of those who want happy endings: the ones that want the shock value of death and destruction.

Please.

Please don’t kill the main character in the end just because you want to shock the reader.

If the story is well constructed, and you have a good reason to kill them, then by all means, go ahead.

But before you do, ask yourself:

Is he dead because he slipped on a puddle of water and cracked his head on the corner of the counter in a cruel twist of irony for all the people he’s ever wronged?

Or is he dead because him living is inconvenient to your shocker ending so you decide that a sudden invasion of giant squids takes him out with their mutant gills that can breathe air and tentacles that have morphed into three-foot-long knives because of a previously unheard of influx of radioactive solar flares?

Make your ending suit you story. A forced ending will sound as contrived as it probably is. A lazy ending will leave readers unsatisfied. A writer-selfish ending will have people confused and questioning your intelligence.

Seriously.

Deus ex machina.

No.

~~~

Challenge! Because I always seem to have these in my articles.

Come up with your own examples of deus ex machina. Let’s get our funny going.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She just graduated high school and is on her way to 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.

Prompts. Let’s see what you got.

14 Jul

by Biljana Likic

~~~

A couple months ago, we asked you guys what you wanted to see more of on LTWF. One of the comments, reinforced by similar comments, was this:

“TymCon: You could give a weekly/monthly writing prompt and then judge the stories and declare a winner.”

We’re not quite at the point of a contest yet, and none of these are going to be judged, but today I wanted to experiment with this prompt idea.

So here’s today’s exercise.

Choose your favourite prompt and run with it.

~~~

1. You’re walking down the street and you bump into a person. Their first response towards you is desperate flirtation.

2. You’re at a carnival and in line for a shoot-em-up. You unwittingly pick up a real gun.

3. You’re a spy who’s just been caught selling secrets via dating websites. You have one last chance to cover it up.

4. You didn’t intend on kidnapping anyone.

5. A telephone rings. You don’t own a telephone.

~~~

CHECK IT: If ideas run dry, but you don’t feel you’ve exploited the prompt enough, add [Cont.] to the end and invite somebody else to pick it up.

CHECK IT SOME MORE: Fun fact I’ve noticed while writing this post. Prompts are hard to come up with. I challenge you to put any that come to mind in the comments.

~~~

Have fun, and don’t be shy!

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She just graduated high school and is on her way to 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.