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BIG NEWS ANNOUNCEMENT!

2 Dec

By

All The Ladies At LTWF

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So, for a while now, the ladies of LTWF have wanted to find a way to take this site to the next level. Since LTWF started in fall 2009, we’ve grown and grown and grown, both in terms of our wonderful community and in terms of our own personal development. It has been exciting and exhilarating and one of the greatest experiences of our lives.

But a few months ago, we asked each other: what if we changed things up a bit? What would we have to do to take LTWF as it stands and make it into something bigger—something even more awesome?

So we talked. And talked. And talked. Many skype chats, google documents, and email chains later, we all agreed:

In order to grow, we had to undergo a major transformation. We’d have to take the best parts of LTWF and shape them into something new.

And to do that, we’d have to leave LTWF behind.

Not the community, not our contributors, not the openness of the site, but two things:

Our name, and our “Fictionpress authors only” background. Both of those things are closely tied—our LTWF name CAME from the FP website. And now that we’re no longer keeping our ranks closed to the FP community, it made little sense to hold onto the name.

So, today is the last day of Let The Words Flow.

Or, LTWF as LTWF. After today, we’ll be closing down the site until January 9th, so we can have time to organize, to recharge, and to make sure our new site is in order.

And on January 9th, we’ll be launching…

We’ll have our own domain name, a brand new look, and some new, amazing members. We’ll have a new structure, new content, and a new focus. All of us in LTWF will be there—and even though our wordpress site will no longer be active, we promise that none of the closeness and intimacy will be lost in the transition.

We are so, so phenomenally excited for the change to Pub Crawl. We’ll be spending our launch week introducing our new members, who are all fabulous, warm, and talented people. And we’ll be doing a MONTH of giveaways (from ARCs to critiques to agent pitches) when we launch in January.

So, this is our last post on this site. And, in honor of that, we thought we’d do one final Question of the Week—one that we hope you guys will participate in as well.

But before we get to that…

Thank you all so much for your support, for your enthusiasm, for embracing us—for making this into a community that we’re proud to be a part of. For making LTWF into a home for aspiring and published writers. For celebrating with us, commiserating with us, for laughing and crying with us. Thank you for two years of memories—two years that have changed all of us in every possible way.

Thank you—thank you from the bottom of our hearts. It has truly been an honor.

And to quickly announce Wednesday’s GIVEAWAY winner:

Kulsuma!

Email us at letthewordsflowblog (at) gmail (dot) com!

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What has Let The Words Flow meant to you?

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 I don’t think there are enough words to describe exactly what LTWF has meant to me. I’ve tried to write this at least six or seven times, but I couldn’t seem to fit in everything I wanted to say. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that, try as I might, there is just no way to properly express how I feel about this place, these ladies, and all of you.

LTWF scooped me up a year and a half ago, just as I was beginning my internship. It was my first real publishing job, and they’ve since guided me to where I am now. I’ve learned so much about this industry and writing because of them, and I could not be more grateful for their help and insight. Not only did they keep me focused on my career, they’ve helped me hone my writing skills, and I can safely say I’m a better writer because of these ladies.

But more than that, LTWF has meant unconditional friendship from some really incredible people. They’ve been there to support me in all of my crazy schemes, from numerous writing projects to graduating to moving to New York. LTWF has meant late-night skype dates, far too many inside jokes, and weird emails that never fail to make my day. These ladies have become some of my closest friends, and I’m so excited to move forward with them. As amazing as LTWF has been, Pub Crawl is going to be even better!

LTWF, I raise my glass to you.

–Sammy Bina

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 What has LTWF meant to me…wow… That’s such a hard answer to condense into words. All I can say is that joining LTWF was without a doubt the best thing that happened to me in the last year. Better than getting an agent and better than getting a book deal. Like Kat said, it’s so much more than just a writing blog… These girls and you readers are my best and dearest friends, and I wouldn’t know any of you if it weren’t for LTWF. How can that not mean the world to me?

I don’t want to get too sentimental because then I might start crying, and no one wants that (I am quite literally the world ugliest crier). So I’ll do this instead:

Once upon a time, there was a girl who had no idea what she was doing. When she saw her favorite blog was taking applications, she said, “What the hey? Worst thing that happens is that I don’t get in.” But she did get in…and she found something she had never expected–never even believed possible from “just a blog”.

She found community, support, and fun. She met new people through comments and chats. She learned lots and lots and lots from the other LTWF-ladies and she learned even more from the LTWF-readers.

And the days passed and the blog posts piled up and she thought, “Surely I should be sick of this by now? Surely after a year, this whole blogging thing would feel stale…?” But it didn’t…and then she realized why: LTWF is a community of writers and readers. Pub Crawl will be a community of writers and readers. These are people who live their lives around STORIES. And there are always new stories to experience and always new stories to share. How can that ever get “stale”?

And so, the girl set out to write the next post, to make the next friend, and to tell the next story…

See you on the flip side!!

–Susan Dennard

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 The last time we talked about what LTWF meant to us, my answer was pretty long. And all I can think of is, how do I top what I said last time? How do I not repeat myself?

And so I’ll keep things short and sweet (hopefully). LTWF has meant meeting amazing people, geeking out over books, and being part of an amazing community. To all the girls at LTWF: You’ve become some of my closest friends, and I’m forever grateful to be able to spam you with emails at ungodly hours, talk via Skype, and make delicious cookies (here’s looking at you for that last one, Biljana).

To all our readers: You have all been awesome, whether you’ve been the constant commenters, the silent creepers, or the ones who sent emails with suggestions / cool links. You’ve made LTWF worth it; worth all the late-night scrambling, hours and hours of blog post writing, and endless tweets. Without all of you, LTWF would’ve been nothing – and I hope you all move with us over to Pub Crawl in January. We’ll be bigger and better, but we’ll still be nothing without you. Cause in all honesty, LTWF has been a community of amazing people – and without people to talk to, us girls would just be talking to ourselves. So thank you!

–Vanessa Di Gregorio

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 What has Let the Words Flow meant to me? Others have used analogies to answer this (almost impossible to answer!) question, so I hope no one minds if I use one more.

When I was in college, there was a specific place on campus where I knew I could always find a friend or two. To my friends and me, this was “our spot,” and whether a half dozen of us were there or just two, it was always the place I felt welcome and understood. When I moved on from college, having a place like that was one of the things I missed the most. It had been so wonderful to know that – whether I had five minutes or five hours to hang out – I had a little sanctuary where I knew I would find people who really “got” me.

For me, Let the Words Flow has become a virtual version of that cozy spot on campus. I always know I will find friends at Let the Words Flow, whether those friends are the other bloggers or our fantastic readers. I know I will find wonderful conversation in the comments! I know that whenever I come to LTWF, I will find like-minded people who know what NaNoWriMo means, who don’t think I’m crazy because I have a two foot high stack of unread books beside my bed, and who will always encourage me to keep going toward my writing goals. Let the Words Flow has been a cozy sanctuary to me, and I feel so fortunate to have found it.

I look forward to Pub Crawl, in part because I know that this sanctuary will still be there, but also because I know it will be fresher and broader, and that I will meet even more wonderful writers and readers. Can’t wait!

–Julie Eshbaugh

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 The mentality of being a part of LTWF is incredibly hard to describe. It’s a group of friends, but it’s also a responsibility. We talk constantly, but we also work, and so I suppose it’s sort of like being in school 🙂 The ladies of LTWF are not only my friends, but my classmates, and they’ve given me an education I could never find in any college or university. I like to think I bring a little something to the table, but the truth is they have mostly been MY teachers. Being in LTWF changed my life in a big way. I had an agent but was still a hopeless noob. I didn’t know anything behind the scenes of the big, scary publishing world, and didn’t have the resources to learn. LTWF changed all that. It made my writing career an intimate and REAL part of my life, where before it had been a secret hope and dream.

LTWF was the only safe place I could retreat to during some of the most difficult times in my life. I am so eternally grateful to my friends here for their warmth and wisdom. We are SO excited to be adding our awesome new members and expanding our audience with a new website and brand. It is our hope that we can reach and assist more writers than ever before, and yet… and yet… I will definitely miss saying LTWF and how easily the acronym flows from under my fingers. This was the best time, you guys. Thank you so much for letting me be here.

–Savannah Foley

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 It really is hard to put into words. I can’t imagine life without these people. They listen to me rant, they laugh at my (stupid) jokes, they commiserate with me when frustrating things happen, and they support me to no end through griefs. In return I try to do the same. We share in our joys and sorrows. People throw around the word “family” but that’s truly what this feels like. Losing them would be like losing family.

And that’s not even touching on the sheer amount of information I’ve soaked up in the past few years, on writing, on editing, cutting, querying, the industry, not even close to covering the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made over random online interactions…

It’s really gotten to a point where I can’t imagine my life without it. I don’t know where I’d be right now. Probably still angsting over whether it’s financially prudent to be a writer :P.

Thank god for these people and this community :). I’m really excited to continue this trend in PubCrawl! 😀

–Biljana Likic

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 It is insanely hard for me to describe what Let The Words Flow has meant to me in just a few paragraphs. It’d be hard to explain in a few PAGES.

When I started my road to publication, I had very, very few friends in publishing. In fact, I’m pretty sure that for a while, Mandy was my only friend I had that was agented and (soon to be) published. I used to read author blogs and twitter feeds and wish—with all my heart—that I had wonderful writer-friends, too. Sometimes, it felt like I was on the outside, watching this wonderful world through a window. Though it might not have seemed that way at the time, there were moments when I felt really, truly lonely.

LTWF changed all that. Ever since LTWF started, not one day has passed where I have ever felt alone. Since LTWF started, I have never felt like I was on the outside, looking in. Since LTWF started, I have always felt like I belonged.

I have had many, many friends in my life, but I can say—without a doubt—that the friends I have made in LTWF are the friends of my heart. The ones that I’m fairly certain I couldn’t live without. They make my world a far, far better place. They make me a better person.

So, more than learning about the industry, more than learning about writing, I’d say that LTWF has meant unbreakable and irrevocable friendship. And no matter what happens on the road ahead, I will be forever grateful for it.

Sarah J. Maas

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 Vahini Naidoo: A year ago, when we did a similar post, I said something to the effect that LTWF meant home to me. It meant community. It was, to stretch a thin analogy comparing books to babies yet further, the community required to raise my book babies. At the time, I meant that very, very sincerely, and I still think it’s true. LTWF is a home, a haven on the internet, but over the past few months I’ve come to realize that LTWF also means something else to me. This blog doesn’t just represent home, comfort and safety. This blog represents growth. This blog is about all of us, writers and readers, aspirers and dreamers, at different stages of progress coming together and learning and growing. This blog is an adventure, fun and exciting and awesome, and I have to say that you guys (both my fellow bloggers and readers) are the best companions a girl could hope for.

So that’s what LTWF is to me — a journey. One that I hope you’ll share with me, and the other LTWF ladies, as we transition into Pub Crawl.

–Vahini Naidoo

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 I cannot *believe* it’s been a year and a half since I first joined LTWF. On one hand, how did time pass that quickly?? On the other, what do you mean I haven’t known these girls half my life??

When I joined back in Spring of ’10, I didn’t even have my first draft of WHAT’S LEFT OF ME finished. My entire writing/publishing since then–finishing that first draft, revising, querying, agent offers, more revision, submissions, selling–is utterly tied to the girls here at LTWF. They were my first critique partners, the first people I told about anything exciting that happened. They taught me so much about writing and about publishing and made me believe harder than ever that getting publishing *now* was doable.

I also now count them among my closet friends, and that’s even more important to me.

Being a part of LTWF opened my eyes to the vast network of writers and readers on the internet. I’ve met so many awesome, amazing people through LTWF–and from all over the world! You guys have all been so fantastic, and I’m so glad to have met you.

So, what has LTWF meant to me? Friendship. Support. Links to crazy things on the internet. Skype chats after midnight–I could go on 🙂

Here’s to continuing all that as Pub Crawl!

–Kat Zhang

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To All Our Friends, Old And New:

Thanks For Everything.

Love Always,

The LTWF Girls

The Big Pause

23 Nov

by Savannah J. Foley

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(cross-posted from my personal blog)

Recently I read this article by Jaye Wells, and it cleared something up for me about writer’s block and how I write.

Usually when I’m working on a novel I encounter a point I call The Big Pause. It occurs 75% of the way through the story, when all the meat is out of the way and all that’s left is to write the big finale.

I stop.

I tell myself it’s because I don’t exactly know what’s going to happen next, and how can I write it if I don’t know what to write, but that’s not really the reason. I know how it all ends up. I don’t have a firm grasp on the details, but I never do for any scene. Somewhere in all the work it just magically comes together.

But the above-mentioned article pointed out what was really going on: The Big Pause is my moment of fear. It’s the point where the book is about to turn into a reality. Soon it’s going to be a finished product, not something I’m just working on for fun. I’m going to have to show it off. Be responsible for its perfection. And that’s scary.

But not the only thing that scares me. The biggest reason I have a Big Pause is that I’m afraid what I’m going to write is total crap.

I don’t have this problem in the first three quarters of the book. As a friend once put it, I write really clean first drafts. I’m not saying everything comes out sparkling, and there have definitely been some scenes I’ve had to cut or seriously modify. But to put it in perspective, for the sleeping beauty story there was only one scene I really struggled with. One that got completely rewritten out of a whole book.

So when I have to face the prospect of writing just to get it done, I freeze up. I love the idea of writing messy and cleaning it up, or maybe I love the idea of getting into that mental space where you know, as the creator, exactly what needs to go, what can stay, and what just needs to be fixed. But when the moment comes I really struggle with writing a sentence I’m not happy with the first time around.

(This is starting to sound like I’m not capable of editing, and let me say that’s definitely not true. After everything I’ve gone through with NAMELESS I feel confident in stating I absolutely know how to edit and mix things up 😉 )

I also read recently that procrastination is sometimes defined by fear and guilt. The fear that once the story is complete it will have to actually BE a functioning, sellable story. The guilt that it’s not moving fast enough, that it’s maybe not as amazing as I’d hoped.

My Pause usually lasts a few weeks, and by that time I’ve gestated the issues in my mind well enough to know how to sprint towards the finish. But I don’t want that to turn into a habit. I want to learn to let go, and give myself permission to write the story clearly not perfect, because it can always be fixed later.

It can always be fixed later.

That’s what editing is for, after all.

I now declare The Big Pause officially over!

NaNoWriMo begins on Tuesday!

28 Oct

by

Savannah J. Foley

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It’s that time of year again! Whip out your notebooks and keyboards, because if you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month then you’re going to attempt to write 50k in November!

Last year a lot of LTWF contributors participated in NaNoWriMo, and we posted our word counts in widgets on the sidebar, and added the usernames of participating readers as well. We’ll be doing the same thing this year once the NaNo website is fully launched and offers up those widgets again.

If you’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo, now is the perfect time to sign up. If this is your first time participating, here’s what you can expect from the experience:

1. It’s intimidating. For some people, writing 50,000 words in a month is a feat on the same level as a divine miracle. That’s why the NaNo site provides you with a daily word count goal, as well as a forum to meet other NaNoers in your region to talk shop or schedule writing meetups. Lots of people ‘win’ at NaNoWriMo, but lots of people don’t hit their goal, too. Either way, you push yourself to write more than ever before, a challenge that can be incredibly fulfilling.

2. The NaNo site will probably crash at first. Multiple times. NaNoWrimo is non-profit, run entirely by user donations. In years past they were notorious for not having enough server space because they couldn’t afford it, and that led to frequent site crashes during the first few days. The good news is that the staff is extremely communicative about what they’re doing to get the site back up. In even better news, users donated more money than ever before last year, so much so that the staff has had ALL YEAR to work on NaNo projects, and we all anticipate this will be the best year ever in terms of site stability.

3. Should you go to meetups? The answer is yes. I love meetups. I’m the type of writer that usually writes at home, but home is also where I eat and sleep and relax, and sometimes ‘writing time’ turns more into ‘everything but writing’ time. Meetups completely solve that problem for me. You meet perfect strangers at a coffee shop or restaurant for the sole purpose of writing. It sounds crazy, but it’s incredibly effective. You’re there for one purpose and one purpose only, and so is everyone else. The motivation to stay on task is powerful (especially if you’re in a place with no internet access)!

4. If you can’t make it to meetups, you can go to virtual meetups! Virtual meetups are great, too. You can do word races with other writers, or even join in on #1k1hour sessions on Twitter.

5. Haters gonna hate. It boggles the mind, but some writers really, really hate NaNoWriMo. I understand their perspective: they feel telling the general public they can write a novel in a month demeans what writers do (I elaborate more on why some writers are filled with vitriol at the mention of NaNoWriMo here), but I disagree. NaNo is not only fun, but it’s useful for writers who are serious about their writing, and it shows non-serious writers and non-writers how hard it actually is to not only write a novel, but write a good novel. And guess what? Non-writers and people not serious about their writing stop writing after November. They go back to their normal lives and serious writers will continue writing all year round. So what’s the harm?

Once NaNo gets into full swing you might start seeing articles around the internet disparaging what you’re doing. Ignore them. And if you’re feeling down, just read this article by Sarah Maas telling you, among other things, “Stop listening to the haters, to the naysayers, and just WRITE.”

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So tell us, readers, are you participating? Is this your first time, or are you an old pro? What was your experience like last year?

We’ll talk again when NaNo opens on Tuesday!

Writing about Zombies + Book Giveaway!

10 Oct

by Savannah J. Foley

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(Cross-posted from my personal blog)

Is anyone else totally psyched that it’s October? That it’s any month in autumn, really? But October is dear to my heart, and I imagine it’s dear to many of yours for the same reason: Halloween, and all the scary stuff that goes along with it. If you follow my blog then you’ll know that I recently finished a YA zombie apocalypse novel. I’ve written before about how scared of zombies I am, but working with them has transformed my fears into enthusiasm. You could, these days, if you were so inclined, call me a Zombie Enthusiast. *Puts brain-splattered monocle into place*

One of the most enjoyable parts of working on this book has been planning out which types of zombies I want to use. For such a well-known genre, the monster itself has many variations: undead, alive, slow, fast, hungry, lusty, moaning, silent; the list goes on and on. And since it’s October, the month of horror, I thought I’d put together a short list of some of the more popular types of zombies, and the pro’s and con’s of each, in case some of you find yourself branching out into zombies as well. But first, a glossary!

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Zombie: A blanket term referring to the walking dead, or the undead (Romero zombies)

Infected: Sometimes used interchangeably with ‘zombie’, could be taken to mean someone who is about to become a zombie, or someone who has whatever causes zombieism and is acting like a zombie, but not technically dead yet.

Horde: Sometimes referred to as ‘The Horde’: a large group of zombies, typically attacking a building.

Incubation: The time it takes for someone who is infected, or zombie-capable, to become a full-out zombie.

Reanimation: Refers to the point in time when someone rises from the dead as a zombie (Romero). Usually takes place after incubation (WWZ, Resident Evil).

Turn: As in, ‘to turn.’ The point at which someone becomes full-on zombie, usually after reanimation, but not in the case of still-living infected, as in 28 Days Later.

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Type: Voodoo Zombie

Cause: Mostly dried pufferfish. And a little bit of voodoo.

Effect: Turns the infected into mindless slaves.

Characteristics: These are the original zombies. Still alive, still human, just mindless slaves of the voodoo master.

How It Spreads: Typically the voodooer would get the secret pufferfish recipe onto the skin of their victim. The toxins in the pufferfish slow down the victim’s life signs to the point where they are considered dead, and buried. Then the voodoo practitioner digs them out of their grave and presto! You’ve got yourself a zombie slave.

Side note: I own several dried pufferfish. You can read into that whatever you like.

Why are they scary: You get what you think is a bit of dust on your arm and then the next thing you know you’re rising out of the earth like a corpse and forced to do whatever it is some crazy voodoo witch wants you to do. You lose your personality, your sense of time, and your family thinks you’re dead. It’s basically a living nightmare.

Why they don’t make sense: This is a tricky one, since there are reports of this actually  happening. The only hard part of making this work is infecting the person in the first place, then convincing their family they’re actually dead. These days with autopsies and formaldehyde it’s highly unlikely this tactic would work.

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Type: Romero Zombies

Cause: Radiation.

Effect: The dead walk. All dead, even the recently buried (no infection; the zombieism is transferred simply by dying)

Characteristics: The goal of Romero zombies is to consume (that’s where the symbolism for consumerism came from, har har). These zombies are undead, and have low intelligence. Humans only.

How It Spreads: Through death, or biting. Incubation is at least 24 hours for bites.

Why are they scary: They want to literally eat you. Dead corpses have risen from the grave to sink their rotting teeth into your flesh. Terrifying.

Why they don’t make sense: So do they stop eating you after you die? Or do they keep eating you? If so, then why don’t they eat each other? Could you, hypothetically, turn, and then start eating them back? Or yourself?

Also, space radiation? Seriously?

~~~

Type: Resident Evil Zombies

Cause: Science Experiment gone extremely wrong (T-Virus) (T for Totally Awesome?)

Effect: Turns the infected into walking corpses.

Characteristics: These zombies are also undead, and slow. Low intelligence. Incubation period of less than 24 hours. No real eating; these zombies exist only to spread the virus. Also spreads to non-humans.

How It Spreads: Biting. Originally the virus was airborne, though.

Why are they scary: Have you seen Resident Evil? Walking corpses that don’t care if you shoot them or break their legs are scary.  End of story.

Why they don’t make sense: A virus that originally spread through the air ducts? But doesn’t go airborne afterwards? Also, if you’ve seen the later movies, you know how the virus managed to mutate and turn its hosts into squid-humans, which is just ridiculous. Plus there are ‘bosses’, but that’s because this movie was based on a computer game. I don’t really like computer/video game zombies because the nature of the game demands ‘bosses’. Some zombies mutate into really weird, oddly specific types, and that just bugs me because it wouldn’t happen ‘in real life.’

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Type: 28 Days Later Zombies

Cause: PETA  Tree-Hugging Activists Another science experiment gone wrong (The Rage Virus)

Effect: Turns the infected into violent monsters that want to attack any uninfected.

Characteristics: These zombies are ‘fast’, and can be moderately intelligent. They’re still considered alive. Eyes typically become red or yellow, and the infected vomits blood. Some people may have a genetic immunity to the virus, but can be ‘carriers’ of it and pass it to others.

How It Spreads:  Fluid transfer, whether saliva, blood, or bloody vomit. There is no incubation  period for this one; the virus goes into effect almost immediately.

Why are they scary: In the first Romero film, one of the characters is able to repel a zombie simply by pushing her back weakly. These zombies are not like that. They will hunt you down, can probably outrun you, and attack you like a boxing linebacker. Plus, any hint of contamination and you’re a goner.

Why they don’t make sense: First of all a virus could not possibly spread that quickly. Secondly I don’t buy into the whole ‘rage’ thing. Finally, did you see 28 Weeks Later? The same zombie followed them around the whole time! Totally illogical!

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Type: World War Z Zombies

Cause: Unknown, some type of creature in a river in China. Not known whether this is a virus, a bacteria, or something else.

Effect: The infected become walking corpses that seek to pass on the infection. 

Characteristics: These zombies are slow, both physically and mentally. They are attracted to noise, and usually moan themselves. They can last for years at a time, growing progressively more raggedy. These zombies fail to blink, so their eyes quickly become milky with scratches on the retina. They are attracted to all forms of life, but the infection itself does not cross species.

How It Spreads: These zombies pass the infection mostly through biting, but in one notable case the infection was transferred through a heart transplant, so clearly it’s fluids-related. There is a 72-hour or more incubation period, after which the infected dies and ‘reanimates’.

Why are they scary: These are the zombies that took over the world. The incubation period is so long that infected were able to fly all over the world, spreading the infection rapidly.

Why they don’t make sense: These zombies are very well done, in my opinion, but the constant moaning means they wouldn’t be able to hear their prey a lot of the time. However, the author uses this to his advantage because the moan activates other zombies nearby, so if you encounter one sooner or later more are going to show up. Plus they can keep moving after being frozen and dethawing, which violates the rules about how cells work.

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So, what have we learned? It makes more sense for zombies to exist solely to ‘reproduce’ by passing on the infection. Shorter and longer incubation periods are ideal for fast transmittal over a large areas. Dim-witted zombies are more common, and good in horde situations, but smarter ones can be used very effectively to create scarier situations. A zombie who can figure out how to pick your locks? No one would survive the zombie apocalypse.

Here are the specs I chose for my zombies, pulling features from my favorite canons:

Type: Savannah Zombies (Woo!)

Cause: Bacterial in nature, originated in Asia before spreading to the US through Hawaii.

Effect: The infected become living and undead zombies seeking to spread their infection.

Characteristics: The bacteria works like a hive mind, taking over the human body and using it as a host to the infection. After a two-day incubation period during which the human becomes more ill, the infected turn when the bacteria population reaches a breaking point and takes control of the human. ‘Fresh’ zombies are intelligent and speech-capable. Once the human within has died the zombie loses its intelligence and begins the moan. These zombies are fast in the early stages, but get slower. In late stages the bacteria consumes the body completely and it has a harder time moving. Growths burst from the skin. The bacteria makes the infected run at a high temperature, even when deceased, and gives their blood and skin a greenish hue.

How It Spreads: This infection spreads through biting, but could conceivably spread through other fluids.

Why are they scary: In the beginning stages the zombies are able to express their hungers and pursue characters with intelligence. In later stages they are essentially decomposing corpses badly mutilated with infection and continuing to move. I don’t know about you, but that certainly gets my adrenaline going.

For more zombie goodness, here’s an article about how the zombie apocalypse could actually happen (including brain parasites, hooray!).

And to balance it out, here’s an article about why the zombie apocalypse could never happen.

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How do you like your brains: What are your favorite types of zombies? Alternately, what do you find really unrealistic about the zombie genre?

~~~

And, of course, because I’m a zombiephile and I want to spread the awesomeness of this genre, I’m going to give away a copy of my favorite zombie book to one lucky commenter. That’s right, you could win your very own copy of World War Z!

True, it’s not a new release, though it is being turned into a movie (OMGSQUEE), but it’s the most emotionally compelling zombie book I’ve ever read, and is also told in the format of oral biography. The awesomeness abounds.

To Enter:

Do nothing but comment. 🙂 Unfortunately, I am going to have to restrict this to readers in the US only. Commenting closes on Wednesday!

~~~

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

Where Do You Live Your Life?

29 Aug

by Savannah J. Foley

~~~

In July I was lucky enough to be able to go on a retreat with some of the girls here at the blog. We talked constantly for five days about writing and writers, and this is something I’d been thinking about for a while that I finally voiced to Kat Zhang:

Don’t you think it’s funny that huge-name authors, like J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins, have humongous fan bases and best-selling works, and practically zero web presence?

Stephenie Meyer hasn’t updated her website with any sort of personal note since May 17th. In 2010.

J. K. Rowling did just launch Pottermore, but before that her most recent update was from 2008. She also has a barely-used Twitter account where so far all she has done is confirm that it is actually her official twitter.

Suzanne Collins’ website looks like it’s from the 90’s and has zero personal update information.

Why?

Why would these megastars of the writing world NOT utilize all the social media applications we’ve been told will make or break us? Here’s why I think it is:

They are living their lives in the real wold, not the virtual one.

And that made me wonder… where am I living my life? I was slightly disturbed to realize that most of my life is entirely virtual. I don’t have any friends in town; all of them are online. LTWF takes up a lot of my thoughts and energy, and I’m an active member of several online communities. I wasn’t disturbed from an anti-technology perspective, and actually I’m in the camp that believes all this technology has brought all of us closer together. But it’s a different sort of mind space, and it made me realize that… I love my virtual life, but I miss my life in the real world, too.

Here’s my issue with cutting off all my social media, though: I pride myself on being available. I have my gmail up constantly. I see everything the instant it comes in. On one hand, this is great; through gmail I get to chat with my boyfriend and my writing friends all day long. I’ve gotten some wonderful opportunities just by being able to instantly respond to something. But it’s also a big distraction. Every time something pops up I leave whatever I’m doing to see what it is.

The other weekend I tried writing with the internet closed down. No gmail. No Twitter. No Facebook. It felt good. It felt like the old days when I wrote in my room because I loved it, because I couldn’t stay away from my stories.

But could I live like that? Could I be like Joanne, Stephenie, and Suzanne, and not tell the internet at large what I’m up to?

I grew up posting to Fictionpress and FanFiction.net. I’ve always written ‘publicly’. I’ve heard some writers say they have to feel like what they’re working on is ‘private’ or they get too stressed and can’t perform. But I love thinking about my audience while I’m writing. I get so excited, and can’t wait to share it with you (though these days all I can do is tell you how awesome it is on Twitter, lol). I enjoy updating my word counts every day, and posting on Facebook about the awesome thing my character just did (like cutting off a zombie’s head with a circular saw).

I can take breaks and not check my media accounts, and it feels nice, but I don’t think I could ever go fully private. The internet is too much a part of my life. But I do sometimes think it would be nice to be completely unplugged, or to never have plugged in at all. Life would consist of my family, my town, my pets, and my writing, and that’s it.

But this also ties into something else I’ve been worrying about… social media and ‘branding’. During the retreat, Susan relayed a story about a writer who emailed her to ask if she really, really needed to have a website like everyone said? Susan gave a great answer: Only get one if you really want it.

Yes, publishers will probably want you to have a website, but that doesn’t mean you have to blog or update it constantly. It can just be a landing place for people who want to know more about you and your books.

Here’s the thing about blogging: Everyone is doing it, and it’s hard to do it right. I’ve struggled with blogging for a long time, because I’m not a social media guru, and I don’t particularly want to be an ‘expert’ on any one thing. I do love writers and helping out writers, but there are already so many awesome websites devoted to teaching about writing and publishing (like this one) that starting my own on the side would be pointless, and redundant.

Instead I decided I would just blog about me and my projects. After all, if you’re coming to my website that’s what you’re interested in, right? And it doesn’t matter if I don’t have a million comments or a fan club or 5,000 Twitter followers. If J.K, Stephenie, and Suzanne have taught us anything (from a social media perspective), it’s that you don’t need to do all that in order to have readers. All you have to do is write a great book.

And that’s where I want to live my life. Offline or not, I want to make sure that I’m giving enough dedicated, distraction-free time to my writing. So while I’m not going to unplug completely, I will cut down a bit, and accept that I don’t have to be ‘available’ constantly. I will allow myself to be busy.

Busy living. 🙂

~~~

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

Staying Motivated with Word Count

24 Aug

by Savannah J. Foley

~~~

I’ve had some good writing weekends. Weekends where I write 10,000 words. And I’ve had some bad ones, where I get maybe 200 words. Every single time I sit down to write, I’m always amazed by how much text it actually takes to make even 100 words. For example, in Times New Roman sized 12, double-spaced, an average page from one of my books has 350 words on it. This paragraph only has 89, and look at all of the ideas I’ve expressed so far.

So even though numbers like 100, 200, or 300 seem low in comparison to what I get on a good weeknight (2,000), that’s actually quite a bit of writing.

And I’m obsessed with word count. Here’s a picture of the spreadsheet I keep open in Google docs when I’m working on my books (the word counts are from the zombie book I have going on the side) (click to see it bigger!):


I got into word counts when I participated in NaNoWriMo last year, and made the foundation of the above chart at that point. (At the time I originally wrote this post, I was the only one I knew of who kept charts like this, but then Susan came up with the awesome idea of us at LTWF sharing our daily goals/achievements with each other. For the past week we’ve updated our word counts in a shared google docs, and it’s been incredibly motivational, as Susan mentioned yesterday, but I still maintain this chart on my own!)

These days, whenever I’m writing and hit a pause (you know the kind. The one where your brain interjects and says, “HEY! Let’s go check email! Or Twitter! Or Facebook! Or Google+!”) I do a word count check and update the word count chart. I know when I’m really hitting my stride because 500 words will go by and I’ve been so engrossed in my story I didn’t even think to stop and check. I’ve gotten really good at estimating how many words I just wrote by the time it took. On average I can do 1,000 an hour (Yes, I also maintain complicated hour-by-hour charts as well. What can I say, I love charts!)

Yes, this behavior is obsessive. But it has also taught me something about writing and motivation:

Writing takes a long time. A long, long, long, long time. From conception to actualization on my last book it took 9 months. In actual writing time it took 3 months. That’s faster than some, slower than others, but still, when you think about it, a really freaking long time.

9 months of staying motivated about a story. 3 months about showing up and making it happen (Or as Susan calls it, BICHOK). 90 nights of going home with the intention of working on this huuuuuuge project, and sometimes not even getting started. This past weekend, I spent 8 solid hours over two different days, and got almost 9k out of it. But that was 8 hours of my weekend dedicated to doing nothing but writing. That’s an entire work day! And I only added about three scenes.

If you let yourself think about how much work and time goes into making a novel, it’s very easy to become demotivated. That’s why I like word counts. It compartmentalizes my goal for the day, and makes it attainable. I don’t think about having to write 70,000 words. Instead, I usually shoot for about 1,500 per night. That’s doable. It takes about two hours, but I’m lucky in that I have that time every evening.

During the day, I do spare some thought to the eventualities of the novel, but mostly I focus on the upcoming scene. I use all spare time to think about what I’m going to write that night, and then when I get in front of the computer I know exactly what I’m doing.

By the end of the novel, I’ve spent about 90 full days with my characters. Thinking about them, talking to them, exploring their worlds in my mind. They become friends. And that’s something else to look forward to during the process; it’s not a race to the finish, but a stroll with good company and an exciting reward at the end.

In other words, “It’s not the destination, but the journey.” And the satisfaction of every small goal along the way.

~~~

How do you stay motivated when working on a novel?

~~~

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

Contrarianism. I have it.

3 Aug

by Savannah J. Foley

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how do we balance that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

When have you been exhibited contrarianism in your writing?

~~~

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

The Tuning Fork – Knowing When It’s Right

11 Jul

by Savannah J. Foley

~~~

When I was younger, I literally thought I was crazy. I felt about writing in a way that none of my other writing friends did. I seemed to have an instinct for what would work in a story and what wouldn’t, something my peers weren’t even conscious of. Later on I found out that I was just a normal writer, but that fascination with the ‘different’ things I was feeling never really went away.

Recently I read an article where the author mentioned that when she had an epiphany about a particular topic from reading a quote, she “felt every tuning fork in me go buzz.” Well, my tuning forks were going buzz, too. Not at her same revelation, but at her very description.

I, and just about every writer I know,  have an innate ‘tuning fork’ of sorts that gives me insight into my writing. It’s the extra sense when something ‘feels right.’ For me it’s a slight pressure on my chest as if the idea has landed there and started absorbing into me, usually precipitated by a rising feeling of excitement. It’s a sense of rightness, of saying, ‘Yes. Yes, that’s it exactly!’

My tuning fork thrums when I see a quote or hear a song lyric that unlocks the meaning to a feeling inside me I didn’t even know I had. As if I couldn’t recognize this knowledge I was carrying until those words verbalized it.

Lately I’ve been thinking about that ‘gut feeling’, particularly as it relates to novel writing. Last month I hit a burst of creativity that allowed me to write 10k in two days and finish a book I was working on, but it wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t listened to my tuning fork to guide the way. After experiencing a rush like that, I wanted to keep the momentum going, and continue to work at a crazy pace. So I started brainstorming on my next book.

And ran out of steam.

What could be wrong? I kept asking myself. I was just plowing through this other story, why am I stopped here? Eventually I realized it was because I was forcing scenes I logically thought would work, instead of listening to my tuning fork telling me that emotionally that scene is NOT going to work, and in fact I need to start from a completely different perspective.

This ‘tuning fork’ is something I think that all writers need to learn how to recognize. Because you realize I’m not talking about some fictional organ in your body cavity thrumming with activity. The ‘tuning fork’ is actually your subconscious, the place where a story’s bones are grown. I believe that you can write a book using pure logic, but it’s not going to be fun, and in the end won’t be enjoyable.

We write because we want to communicate. And communication comes with a whole slew of other social cues: tone, connotation, trust, etc. You have to use every piece of humanity at your disposal to create a story that’s going to thrum with your readers, that’s going to activate their tuning forks and make them realize that a part of them is in that story, too.

How good are you at listening to your tuning fork, and when has it steered you right? Let’s discuss in the comments!

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournalShe is currently working on editing Nameless to go out on submissions. You can read an excerpt from Nameless here.

The Advice I Didn’t Take

14 Jun

by Savannah J. Foley

~~~

Over a month ago I posted an entry to my personal blog called ‘Knowing What Your Dreams Are In the First Place.’ It recounts my story of growing up as a writer and not knowing any other novelists, and shares some of the bad advice I received.

Today I thought I’d share this bad advice, some even from other writers (though not novelists), and why I’m glad I didn’t listen. Then I’ll share the advice that I did take, that really helped me.

 People Whose Advice I Didn’t Take

Non-Writers.

Non-Writers who love you are all around you. They’re your parents, your teachers, and your friends. They want what’s best for you, and often they think they know what that is, even if they aren’t writers themselves.

Non-Writers have told me to do a lot of stupid things in regards to my writing career, but only because they didn’t know any better. Here is some of the advice they gave me:

  • Be a journalist
  • Be a judge
  • Don’t write until you’re older
  • Don’t write until you get a degree
  • Don’t write until you get an MFA
  • Be a teacher
  • Don’t write fantasy
  • Write about dreams
  • Stop reading so much
  • Don’t post your work online
  • Don’t start a blog
  • Get published in some literary magazines first
  • Submit directly to publishers
  • Don’t be a writer at all

Obviously I didn’t take any of this advice, and I’m very glad. It’s easy to listen to the concerns and fears of others, but oftentimes they don’t know what they’re talking about. My parents were convinced if I posted my work online people would steal it from me, publish it under their own name, and make millions off my ideas (yeah right). If I started a blog it meant I’d get stalked and killed. If I didn’t study academically I wouldn’t be able to write well. If I didn’t focus on another career I’d starve to death.

None of that was true, and somehow I knew not to trust anything a non-writer said about writing. I trusted my passion for writing, even when it felt like I’d never be good enough, never be prepared enough to be a writer. And eventually I discovered this wonderful community we’re a part of, where we make writing work and it’s fun, and we all have day jobs but write at night anyway, and your capability to write a good story has nothing to do with your age or education level.

The other day (as I’ve already told you in this article about ‘coming out’ as a writer) I was offering some anonymous critiquing to a writer who had posted a short story online and asked for suggestions. At the end of my review I said that I’d been a writer for 7 years, and had an agent for 2, if he wanted to know my credentials. Another user added a comment asking me just in what capacity I had ‘been a writer for 7 years’, because all the writers HE knew had been copywriters for years before moving into fiction.

I didn’t exactly see red, but I saw shades of pink. Though I didn’t respond to his comment, internally I thought, ‘I know people who have been writing for a single year and produced work so amazing it made my jaw drop.’ I’ve been focusing on and learning about writing for seven years, regardless of my publication credits or how much experience as a copywriter I had (none). I know good writing when I see it, period, and I’m knowledgeable enough to pinpoint exactly what works and what doesn’t work when asked for my opinion.

So, you know. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too young or too uneducated or too inexperienced. Remember, they don’t know what they’re talking about. We do. And you’re okay 🙂

Writers Whose Advice I Didn’t Take

As I’ve learned from first-hand experience, writers can misadvise you and let you down as well, usually because you work in different mediums. A writer who only works in poetry isn’t going to be able to give you the best advice on your novel. Neither is someone who specializes in short stories, or in fashion articles. Here’s some of the advice they gave me that I’m glad I didn’t take:

  • Be a journalist (I’m so sick of that one)
  • You have to go to workshops or you’ll never be a good writer
  • You have to have an MFA or you’ll never be a good writer
  • Self-publish; it’s the only way to make money and traditional Publishing is full of thieves and sharks
  • Don’t get an agent; they’re all scammers
  • Write short stories first, only short stories
  • You have to be published in literary magazines before anyone will take you seriously
  • Write every day, otherwise you’re not a real writer

Perhaps it was ego or arrogance, but whenever someone said something that didn’t ring true in me, I ignored it. Here’s the thing: If someone’s not doing what you want to be doing, they might not be capable of giving the best advice.

I remember being SO thrilled to finally meet some ‘real writers’ when I went to a critique group at a local Barnes & Noble, but when I got there I discovered they’d been in the same group for 12 years – and none of them had published anything yet.

Or the time Kat Zhang and I went to a book fair in Nashville and met an obviously very self-possessed illustrator who insisted we could only make money through self-publishing. He’d never been traditionally published, nor was he, actually, a writer.

Or when I showed an edited version of Nameless to a friend of mine who dabbled in writing on the side, only for her to tell me I was ruining the story by making some essential changes both my agent and I felt were healthy for the manuscript, as well as making it more marketable.

You know that feeling when someone suggests a plot point and you just know that’s not going to work? That’s the feeling I get when someone gives me advice that’s not going to work for me. I think ‘yeah that could work, but I’d be forcing it and it wouldn’t make me happy.’

Writers Whose Advice I DID Take

 I will never forget the moment I realized I was not alone.

I grew up never meeting a novelist, never knowing anything about the publishing industry, or the community of writers out there. None of my friends or teachers felt what I did, this wonderful resonance with writing and creating stories. Even the friends who did actually write didn’t ‘get it’ – they wrote terrible, and failed to recognize how to improve.

Then I read Fahrenheit 451. It was a great book, but it was the author’s note in the back that really changed my life. Ray Bradbury mentioned feeling as if he was just following his character around with a notebook and jotting down what they do. What he said about writing rang so true in me that my eyes teared up a bit.

That day marked a turning point for me in my writing career. I started seeking out writer autobiographies, and reading instruction books. Stephen King’s ON WRITING came a little too late to be truly formative for me, but it’s also on my list of highly-recommends for aspiring writers.

Another turning point came from joining Let The Words Flow. I’d had my agent for nearly a year but was still lacking in real writer friends or sense of community. LTWF gave me that and showed me all the other people out there I’d been missing so desperately as a teen. I can chat with novelists like me on a daily basis, Twitter provides me with an endless supply of interesting links and ideas, and the contributors here have been an invaluable resource for encouragement, advice, and knowledge.

Disclaimer

Finding and trusting ‘experts’ is really important. Someone may be a NYT best-selling novelist but their advice still won’t ring true for you, or you may meet a lone blogger online with no agent or publishing creds who gives you a greater insight than you’d ever expected to receive. It’s important to be able to identify who’s an expert and who is just blowing their own horn, as evidenced by this article.

~~~

What are some examples of advice you DID and DIDN’T take?

Villains: Empathy and Motivation

7 Jun

by Savannah J. Foley

~~~

Note: This post expands on this excellent one by Vanessa di Gregorio. She covers everything that has to do with villains, whereas here we’re only focusing on one aspect: motivation.

When we were kids, the villains were obvious. Every kids movie makes the bad guy very clear: diabolical grin or laughing, spiky costumes, menacing physical appearance, explicit statement of evil intent, a darkening of the music, etc. Was there ever any doubt in your mind that these characters were Bad?

But let’s face it – that only works for kids. As you become an adult, you realize that contrary to the stories you read as a child, the world rarely has clearly defined villains. Sure, there are bad people who do bad things, but no one goes out to commit world domination just because they feel like it. Everyone has a powerful motivation for their life-long goals, and your villains should be no exception.

Why is your villain mercilessly torturing space soldiers to get the access codes for the nuclear device on the space station so he can blow up Planet Xenon 3? Is it because he’s Evil? If that’s your excuse, you need to go back into the editing cave. Just being Evil doesn’t cut it anymore, because no one is just Evil. Maybe your villain is trying to destroy Xenon 3 before it collides with his home world, even though he’s exiled from there, because if he saves the planet they’ll finally let him come home to his wife and children. Or maybe he’s doing it because Xenon 3 hosts millions of miles of cloned death warriors beneath its surface, and another villain is going to activate them to destroy all life in the solar system (For a very good reason).

The point is, you have to give your villain some very powerful motivation, otherwise they’re just not believable.

I like to take things one step further. As 19th century German playwrite Friedrich Hebbel wrote, “In a good play, everyone is right.” Ever since I’ve heard that quote I’ve tried to take my villain’s motivations more seriously. I love stories where both sides have equal claim. Whenever possible I try to work that into my own plots. Does it mean I want my reader rooting for the ‘other guy’? Absolutely not. I chose my main characters for a reason, and of course we’re going to side with their needs more than the antagonist’s. But I do want the reader to recognize that choice is sometimes a very hard thing, and to empathize with the villain even if they don’t support their actions.

Because that’s what empathy is: Understanding why, even if you don’t agree.

Take my novel NAMELESS, for example. In this world, women rule as heads of the households and men are kept as domestic slaves. An underground Rebellion movement seeks to free the slaves, but at what cost? True, no human should be enslaved, but on the other hand, an entire society has been built around a slave system. What will happen if they are all freed at once? There will be no one to tend to crops, or do maintenance on the sewer system, or even make consumable products. How many will go hungry? How many government-provided necessities – water, electricity, plumbing- will fail? Obviously we want our main characters to defeat slavery, but we can also empathize with those who choose to put down the Rebellion out of fear for the outcome of freedom.

For a pop culture example, consider GAME OF THRONES (book and TV): Yes, we want the Stark family to come out on top, but isn’t Daenerys the rightful heir to the throne?

In THE OFFICE (TV), didn’t we both want Michael to get fired out of empathy with his employees, but not want him to go out of empathy for him (and comedic value)?

In JANE EYRE (book and movie), weren’t we horrified at the revelation about Mr. Rochester’s secret, yet understand completely why he lied?

When I was working on my fairytale retelling, ROSES OF ASH, I knew that the main villain, the Fae witch Silaine, had to be pretty evil. She cursed my MC to sleep, brought winter on the kingdom for a hundred years, and generally behaved rather poorly in regards to humans. As I wrote the book I thought I could just chalk it up to hunger for power, but soon it became clear that wasn’t going to cut it. It wasn’t interesting, and it didn’t lend any sort of new possibilities to the plot. Then I realized, Silaine wasn’t doing all this because she wanted to rule, she was doing it because she felt the Fae people had lost their soul when they left Earth for their perfect world of Avalon, and she was trying to revert to the old ways to get it back.

Power hunger or need to save the spiritual identity of her people? Which one is more interesting? Which one makes you empathize with her more?

As a conclusion, I’d like to share with you several passages about empathy that you can apply both to villains and main characters. These are all from a wonderful non-fiction book I’m reading called WRITING WITH BREATH, by Laraine Herring:

“A writer without empathy cannot create a world where you, the reader, can understand the characters, even if you don’t agree with their actions.”

“Acceptance doesn’t mean condoning actions. It means recognizing that piece of each of us that is purely a human animal, not dressed up to go to church all the time.”

“Empathy helps us move from an ‘us and them’ mind-set to a ‘we’ mind-set.”

“Empathy, like forgiveness, doesn’t mean that it’s OK for people to murder one another. It means we can find our way past the deeds to the human being, and we can discover the basic need that person was trying to meet.”

“Empathy creates connection; judgment creates distance. Choose connection.”

What motivations have you given your villains, and do you have any particular philosophies when it comes to villains?

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Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournalShe is currently working on editing Nameless. You can read an excerpt from Nameless here. You can read an excerpt from her Sleeping Beauty retelling here.