Tag Archives: Biljana Likic

Writing as therapy.

1 Aug

by Biljana Likic

~~~

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

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

Dear Diary,

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

Love, Biljana

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

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

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

It was around that time that I discovered creative writing.

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

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

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

They help you understand people.

I find this incredible.

~~~

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

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Allow me to romance you while you question your sanity.

28 Jun

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Ah, l’amour!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Would you like some cake?”

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

“Excuse me?”

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re welcome.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

31 May

by Biljana Likic

~~~

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

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

So let’s talk about deadlines!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, as always, better late than never.

~~~

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

Don’t shrug this off.

24 May

by Biljana Likic

~~~

My vocabulary sucks.

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

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

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

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

So much shrugging.

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

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

Because I’m not reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

The lady doth protest too much.

3 May

by Biljana Likic

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

Doubtlessly, there is doubt.

20 Apr

by Biljana Likic

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

De-glorifying History

31 Mar

By Biljana Likic

~~~

Hi.

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

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

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

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

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

This is pretty much the gist of it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lol.

~~~

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 Grieving Process

21 Feb

by Biljana Likic

~~~

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

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

Here’s an example of what I mean:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Along with the sadness, the reader is given hope.

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

~~~

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.

Profound doesn’t even begin to describe it.

26 Jan

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Think back to an old crush; maybe the first boy or girl you really felt something for. The way they made you feel when they smiled at you, or accidentally brushed your hand. The way that sometimes, when they needed a pencil, they’d ask you for one. No matter that it was because they sat beside you in class, and you were the closest and most convenient person to ask. They asked you for a pencil, and you felt your heart soar.

Until you saw them kissing someone else during recess.

Your heart plummeted and when you went home, maybe you cried, maybe you accepted it without tears, maybe you got over them that instant. Or maybe, you went on liking them even though you knew they’d never like you back, and whenever you thought of them it made your stomach hurt how much you missed them. Oh, you’d still lend them that pencil, but maybe with more sadness than usual. The pencil has lost meaning to you. You’ve realized you’re just a convenience.

And then months later, when you’re over them, you see the situation for what it was: an infatuation.

Trivial.

But it wasn’t trivial while it was happening.

Puppy love and crushes make you do stupid things for people that sometimes don’t even notice you exist. And they have a crappy reputation. First because you often make a fool of yourself when the vulnerable situations you’ve been thrown in crumble against you, and second because, let’s face it, nobody takes them seriously. Even if you swear you’ll jump off a bridge for somebody, hardly anyone over the age of twenty will be concerned. They’ve already deduced that you are not in love, but that you are infatuated. And because you are infatuated, and not in love, that means your condition is a bit of a joke; something you’ll be embarrassed about in a year or two when it’s all in the past.

But the truth is, when you’re infatuated, to you it feels like love. To you, it’s not a joke. You really would try to give them everything. And while you’re in this phase there’s nothing more you would like than being with the person of your affections.

The reason I’m bringing this up is for the sake of all those teen protagonists that like the cute classmate but can’t approach them. More specifically, it’s for the sake of the readers that sympathize. I’ve talked to people who snub YA because the problems of the characters aren’t big enough. They don’t want to read about puppy love. They want to read about the love that makes your gut twist with longing and your heart feel full to bursting; that takes residence in your chest and presses down with the constant worry of what would happen to you emotionally if your loved one died.

They don’t want to read about something trivial.

But aside from constancy, which can’t be proven without the test of time (which books may not have), the only thing this adult love has over puppy love is the retrospective view of the situation. When it’s all over, you can look back on love and think, “It was beautiful while it lasted.” You can’t always do that with an infatuation. In fact, more often than not, you’ll end up thinking, “I can’t believe I used to lend them my pencil.”

The point I’m trying to make is that what’s trivial later in life may not be trivial in the moment. People don’t think it’s funny when they tell somebody about how they cry themselves to sleep every night. Later they might feel stupid, but while they’re crying, all they feel is a yawning black hole where their heart used to be.

So when you write about love, whether it’s infatuation or the real thing, never, ever undermine it. Never make it about how when she’s twenty-five and married to somebody else she’ll look back and flush with mortification. Don’t ever let the character know that when he’s over her, the oceans that remind him of her eyes will be easy to look at again. That’s not what the story is about. And it’s certainly not something your character is likely to believe.

Give infatuation the respect it deserves. It can be as dangerous as love, if not more so, because it’s selfish; you won’t be happy if they’re happy with someone else. You’ll keep doing whatever it takes to get them to love you. That pencil will be given away. She will never find a bridge too high. And the oceans will always look like her eyes.

And he will always be willing to drown.

~~~

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.

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.