Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Banned Book Review

The Rejectionist and Tahereh suggested that the perfect way to celebrate Banned Books Week would be to post a review of a great Banned Book. I like this idea. In fact, I like it so much, I've decided to do it. (Didn't see that coming, did you. ;))

Introducing: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Quick Intro:
Jonas was born into the perfect world. Here, couples are matched by the government for a perfect balance, careers are given out by the government for the perfect match, and death and birth are arranged by the government for perfect timing. But when Jonas turns 12 and is assigned the role of Receiver of Memories, he learns that his world isn't as perfect as it seemed.

My thoughts:
By the time I'd left grade school, I'd probably read this book three times. Most of my grade had read it, too. (I know at least one teacher assigned it.) Quotes from this book were actually an inside joke in my classroom.
I think of this book as dystopia-light, intro reading for the kids who'll grow up to adore 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and other books on the Banned Books list. Moreover, it's got a male MC and a gender neutral plot, doesn't involve too much violence or sexuality, and the diction is not overly advanced, so this book is appropriate for anyone 10+. Actually, I don't think I've ever met someone who didn't enjoy the book. (Though, I could be repressing the opinions of some of my 6th grade class. Can't remember all of those.)

Other thoughts:
A West Wing quote about book banning: "He banned Fahrenheit 451 which is about banning books." I'd like to take this moment to appreciate the irony (and irony makes the world go 'round) of the fact that many books people like to ban either involve banning books or involve worlds where there are no disseminated books. 1984, Fahrenheit 451, The Giver, etc.

In other news: Talei, thank you for giving me the award. As I've previously received it, I'll simply link to that post.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Hello, hello, fellow denizens of the Universe En Violet. I understand we have some new friends with us this week. Glad to see you all. Nice to have you with us. ^_^ Sit down, take a load off, stay a while. I'd offer you cookies and milk, but I've been given to understand that offering people internet cookies is considered poor form in many circles. At any rate, there's some cyber-milk (good for your cyber-bones) to my left. Enjoy.

Now, because my regular posting schedule is about to be interrupted by a blogfest, this Wednesday post is going to be lighter fair, Some Things Of Interest (STOI -- for those of you who missed my creating of that acronym) and linkaging. Enjoy.

First, some Ranting and Raving:
I've done my share of ranting and raving on this site, and I'm sure there's more to come somewhere. But, until that time, these two women have done it so excellently that I've decided to share their words.

Kiersten White does a great post on the importance on owning one's genre and not being ashamed of it. Right on, girl!

And Tara Maya's post on the self-imposed deadlines (they do exist!) is awesome and imbued with plenty of fire.

Some Other Things: Justine Dell is having a contest to celebrate having 250+ followers. Go over and say hi! :-)

Also,a while back, Vicki gave me the Versatile Blogger Award, and I've been remiss in thanking her for that. It was very sweet of you to think of my, Vicki.
(As I have already participated in this Award previously, I think I'll skip posting the seven secrets again, but if you really want 'em -- can't say I blame you, it's an interesting list --, here's the link to my original list.)

How are you all doing today?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned Books, a Blogfest, and Good Advice

Banned Books Week kicked in on Sept. 25h. Since we all know how I feel about banning books (if you're desperate to hear it, click here or here. I wouldn't fault you. I like my posts.) I'll spare you another rant/diatribe/epic poem on my feelings on the issue. Instead, I'll tell you a story.

(Unfortunately, I'm too far away from any of my old diaries to participate in the Public Humiliation Uncontest, this story can suffice for that moment too. Except I think of it more as fun than humiliating.)

When I was in high school, I was a member of the debate team. (This should not be construed as a representation that my friends and I were any good at it. But we had a lot of fun.) For my first and second years of high school, Debate Club was sort of a Geek Collective. Even the team captain admitted that you had to be something of a geek to want in.

Anyway, if you've ever participated in something called Cross-Examination Debate, like our captain did, then you'll know that Cross-Ex debaters travel with what we called Debate Boxes. They contained the deep knowledge of the universe, and all the information you might need to combat any argument made by the opposing side, ever. That too.

If you're like just about every single other person in the world, you've probably never made a thorough examination of one of these boxes. But it can be a long trip to a meet, and those were some pretty interesting boxes. Now, in one of the boxes, there was something called the Porn is Good file.

Before you scream at me and threaten to call the FCC, Google, The Hidden League of Blog Controllers, or whoever moderates blogs these days, I'm going to remind you that this box contained any argument needed to block any point your opposition could ever make. So, if you tried to shut down an opponent by saying they were destroying free speech, they'd say that the free speech is secretly bad, citing pornography, and thus you needed to defend pornography.

My friends and I spent some time debating the merits of this file and its counter file, the Porn is Bad file. (Oh, Debate Club, I miss you.) This led to some interesting conversations between my friends, me, and the Debate Captain (who once sold me his soul for a water bottle, but that's a different story).

(It should be noted, to protect the innocents, that nothing said during a real or mock debate cannot be assumed to be that person's actual views. You flipped a coin to see who defended what side, so you could easily win a debate saying something you firmly believed to be false. Anything said on the bus, likewise, was an intellectual exercise and shouldn't be held against a person. (Note: unless you're running for office. In that case, everything from debates, press statements, and shoe size will be held against you in the court of public opinion.))

Debate Captain: So, you see, pornography will lead men to think about women in a sexualized way. Therefore, we must ban it.

The Other One: But, don't romance novels cause women to think about men in a sexualized manner? Do we have to ban those too?

Debate Captain: You are absolutely right. **He points to a sticker on the Debate Box that states READ BANNED BOOKS.**

So, in the spirit of my Debate Captain and Banned Books Week, I'd like to urge you to take some time this week and, you guessed it, read a banned book. (If you're looking for suggestions, click here.) Me, I'm working my way through 1984 by George Orwell. So far, plusgood ;).

How are you guys celebrating Banned Books Week? Anyone else participating in a blogfest at the moment? Anyone else a debater in H.S.? Or a member of any other geeky clubs?

Also, while this post might have anything to do with writing or banned books, her advice is both useful and important, so I strongly urge everyone click read Kiertsen White's post on ectopic pregnancy. It could save your life.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Character Roots

As I hop down from my censorship soapbox, I jumped on the bandwagon and doing a post today about writing compelling characters.

I think most people will agree with me when I say that compelling characters must be fully realized, rounded out characters. They have to be, otherwise there'd be nothing in them to relate to, and then no one would care about what happens to them. If you've ever read a book/watched a movie/seen a play/listened to a radio show where the characters are really just cardboard cutouts chilling in the story while the plot does its thing, then you know that can get old fast. After all, what's the point of watching people you don't care about do stuff, since you won't care if they succeed?

One thing that most fully realized and rounded out characters have are personality traits. You know, they have likes and dislikes, favorite things, things that scare them so much they scream like little girls as the sight/sound/taste of them.

Now, here's the kicker about personality traits: they can't be completely random.

Why? They'll make no sense, and they'll look like you put them there to make the character appear rounded out, and the audience will be able to smell it.

Story time: A while ago, Captain Film Major and I were discussing an old kid's movie, and he pointed out that the MC, a girl of about nine, I believe, had a big thing for Elvis. Captain Film Major's response to this was something along the lines of (and I'm paraphrasing, dude, so if you see this, chill), "It would've been great if they'd explained that at all, instead of just chucking it out there so that it made no sense." (Okay, so, I paraphrased a lot. Probably should've written the exact wording down. Note for next time.)

Much as it pains me to admit that Captain Film Major might have point about a movie, he had a point. Most nine-year-olds I've met aren't Elvis fans. Most probably couldn't tell you who The King is. So how did this character know? They don't say. They just say she likes Elvis. Now, if she'd said, "He was my dad's favorite... before he died. He used to sing along to the CDs when he did the dishes... drove Mom crazy," it would have had meaning. Because now we know how she developed this knowledge and interest, and we know a bit more about her character as a result.

Here's the deal: If you're character is anything like just about every human being I've ever met (and I've met a fair number of human beings), likes, dislikes, favorites, and phobias come about for some reason. There's often something in someone's background that led to that reaction.

Story time: I love Irish music. I listen to it all the time. Captain Film Major hates it. He listens to it never. He blames his dislike on having to listen to it all them time when we were kids. I blame my love on having to listen to it all the time when we were kids. Both of our responses to that music are not random but the result of things in our past.

Obligatory Harry Potter reference: (Contains SPOILERS!) (And, seriously, if you haven't read all 7 Harry Potter books, stop reading this post now and get on it.) (No, I'm not kidding. It's much more important. Go.) Severus Snape considered himself the Half Blood Prince, because he preferred to associate himself with his mother's side of the family, because he didn't like his Muggle father, because his dad beat his mom. See how that relates to his life. Snape wasn't a fan of really any Muggles, because his dad beat his mom, which is how he could so easily fall in with Death Eaters. Severus Snape loved Lily Evans (later Lily Potter), so he betrayed the Death Eaters, joined the Order of the Phoenix, fought against Voldemort, and did everything he could to keep Harry alive. See how that relates to his history?

(Okay, so that was several Harry Potter references, but I think I made my point.)

To create compelling characters, they have to be fully formed individuals, and they aren't going to be fully formed by being hashed together bits of randomness. Follow the random to the history that made them who they are, and follow the history you have to the everyday things that will present themselves in your character's life.

Have you ever come across a character seemingly composed of unrelated bits? How did you feel about that? Could you still relate to the character? How much time do you put into your characters' histories? Have you ever learned something about a character by looking for the cause of a seemingly random aspect of their personality?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Books To Read Before They're Banned

Most of you who've been hanging around this blog for a while -- or just long enough to catch Monday's post -- might be aware that I think censorship is about as a good an idea as sleeping under, over, and between some smallpox blankets. To put it mildly, I'm not a fan.

But, since the present issues with Speak (and if you've missed those, look below) have reminded me that censorship has yet to stop rearing its ugly head in our public schools, local libraries, and other places where books should be allowed, I've decided to give out the names of books I think people should read before people succeed in banning them.

  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: The novel, begins on Melinda's first day as a high school freshman. At school, students call her names and harass her; her best friends from junior high scatter to different cliques and abandon her. Why? Over the summer Melinda called the police at a summer party, resulting in several arrests. Why? A popular senior raped her that night. Because of her trauma, she barely speaks at all. Only through her work in art class, and with the support of a compassionate teacher there, does she begin to reach out to others and eventually find her voice.
    Why should you read this? Yesterday's post, enough said.
  • Define Normal by Julie Anne Peters: Nerdy Antonia is assigned to peer-counsel Jazz, whom Antonia assumes is a druggie and a gang hanger. After a few agonizing sessions, Antonia begins to realize how much she needs someone to talk to. Her dad's split, and her mom's she can't get out of bed. The two become friends and help each other get their lives back on track. They both learn that judging people by their outside appearance can be misleading.
    I probably drove some Junior High friends crazy recommending this book to them, but sometimes books are so good you can't stop trying to pass them on.
  • Luna by Julie Anne Peters:Regan has always been there for her transgender brother, Liam, sacrificing her needs for his, but when he announces that he is ready to "transition" into Luna permanently, Regan is not sure she can handle the consequences. She has been Luna's confidant all her life' however, when the hot new guy in chem class shows an interest in Regan, she wishes her sibling would just go away and give her a chance to live her own life. Liam realizes that in order for his sister to be free, he, too, must free himself to become the woman who lives inside him.
    This is one of the few books I've read that accurately depicts the struggle of transgender individuals and their friends and family. This story touched me with its honesty, it's love, and its acceptance. I couldn't recommend this book highly enough.
  • Far from Xanadu by Julie Anne Peters: Mike Szabo must deal with more than her share of problems in this engaging, angsty novel. Her alcoholic father committed suicide, her obese mother has given up on life, and her no-good brother has driven the family plumbing business into the ground. To make matters worse, Mike falls deeply in love with a new girl in their small Kansas town. Bad-girl Xanadu has been sent to live with her aunt and uncle after getting into serious trouble dealing drugs. She befriends Mike instantly, though she's undeniably straight, and Mike suffers when Xanadu starts dating. Mike copes by working out at the gym, fixing her neighbors' plumbing, leading her softball team to a winning season, and occasionally binge drinking with her friends. Throughout the novel, she struggles to come to terms with her sexuality– while everyone in town know, including Mike, knows that she likes girls, Mike's not quite achieved what her friend Jamie calls "coming out to yourself."
    This book manages to take some of the cliches about homosexuality in America and depict them in a new light and with new heart. This is a touching coming of age story that handles the difficult topics with grace and honesty.
  • Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles: This book portrays a romance between two unlikely lab partners. Brittany is her Chicago high school's "golden girl" but few of her friends know that her parents are totally dysfunctional and that she is highly invested in caring for her physically and mentally disabled older sister. Alex is a member of the Latino Blood, but he wishes he could leave gang life and pursue a college career. The plot thickens as Alex accepts a bet from a friend that he cannot bed Brittany by Thanksgiving. But as mutual enmity fades into mutual understanding and respect, which leads to mutual affection, the two must face their difficult personal lives and try to make their lives fit together.
    This book manages to depict with honesty and heart two radically different characters, perspectives, backgrounds, and cultures. For me, it was the realistic treatment of the difficulties of having a disabled family member that showed the merits of the book, but it's knowledgeable and reasonably nuanced understanding of gang-life make the book memorable.
  • Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles: Maggie has just returned home from a long stay in the hospital to repair the leg that was badly injured in an automobile accident; Caleb has just returned from prison, where he served nine months for driving the car that hit Maggie. In spite of a court order to stay away from her, Caleb continues to encounter Maggie and even ends up working for Mrs. Reynolds, the same elderly lady who Maggie helps. Telling the story in alternate chapters, Elkeles reveals the traumatic accident and its consequences from both victims' points of view. Maggie can no longer play tennis and is now convinced that she is ugly; Caleb must endure the harassment of his former friends, especially the beautiful, seductive Kendra.
    This book's raw emotions and blunt depictions of the American criminal justice system for minors stick out in my mind as things that make this book memorable, even for the sort who don't go for romances. The author captures accurately the emotional states and minds of two characters in difficult situations they didn't chose to be in.
  • Returning to Paradise by Simone Elkeles: [This book is a sequel to the above mentioned book, and therefore its plot will not be given, due to potential spoilers.]
    This book is well worth reading for much the same reasons as the first.
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, a Spokane Indian from Wellpinit, WA. The bright 14-year-old expects disaster when he transfers from the reservation school to the rich, white school in Reardan, but soon finds himself making friends with both geeky and popular students and starting on the basketball team. Meeting his old classmates on the court, Junior grapples with questions about what constitutes one's community, identity, and tribe. The daily struggles of reservation life and the tragic deaths of the protagonist's grandmother, dog, and older sister would be all but unbearable without the humor and resilience of spirit with which Junior faces the world. The teen's determination to both improve himself and overcome poverty, despite the handicaps of birth, circumstances, and race, delivers a positive message in a low-key manner.
    I'm a little late on this one, since some districts have already succeeded in pulling it from their shelves, though I can't imagine what part of it they found inappropriate for teens, except maybe the parts that mirror reality. (Have I mentioned I think censorship is stupid?) To that end, I'm declaring this touching coming of age story, which deals handily with the topics of racism, disabilities, and poverty, a red alert book. Read it before someone tries to tell you you can't.
  • Looking For Alaska by John Greene: 16-year-old Miles Halter's adolescence has been one long nonevent until he leaves Florida for a boarding school in Birmingham, AL. His roommate, Chip, a dirt-poor genius scholarship student with a Napoleon complex, lives to one-up the school's rich preppies. Chip's best friend is Alaska Young, with whom Miles instantly in love, is literate, articulate, and beautiful, and she exhibits a reckless combination of adventurous and self-destructive behavior. She and Chip teach Miles to drink, smoke, and plot elaborate pranks. Alaska's story unfolds in all-night bull sessions, and the depth of her unhappiness becomes obvious.
    A friend once gave an annotated copy of this book to her girlfriend as a guide to understanding her. Alaska is that well realized a character. This book somehow manages to be light-hearted and quirky and deep and dramatic at the same time.
(Summaries of these books are copied from, based on, or edited versions of the summaries given by Amazon.)

Any of the books listed above is one I consider a great book and would recommend to a friend or a high-schooler in a heart beat. Too bad the qualities that I think make them important and memorable are the qualities that might make people want to ban them.

What books do you think every high school student should read? What books you love do you worry might get banned?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Time to SPEAK

Today, I had other plans for posted material; however, due to a post by Janet Reid, a certain disturbing situation has come to my attention. A man named Dr. Wesley Scroggins wrote an editorial for the News-Leader in Springfield, Missouri. I've linked to it, because I'm sure you'll find it enlightening. I did. Until I read it, I hadn't realized that the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is soft porn.

That's right. He called it soft porn.

Now, I've read the book Speak. I've listened to the audiobook. I've watched the movie. And let me tell you this, it is not porn. In no way, shape or form, do I believe these things could be confused.

In case you have not previously read the book or seen the movie, Speak deals with the story of a young woman who is raped and chooses not to speak out about it. It's a rough book to read, as it deals with the challenging topic of rape, elective mutism, and PTSD.

Yes, the book and movie contain rape scenes. They are not pornographic. I can only characterize Mr. Scroggin's assertions that they are as terrifying. If you think I might be wrong, read the book, watch the movie. Double check me. I'm begging you.

I am not a Christian, but I do know many, and I've yet to meet the one who finds these books out of keeping with the tenants of their faith. I've yet to meet any religious person who's said that of Speak.

I am not a parent, but I know that I would not shrink from letting my teenaged daughter or son read this book. I know my parents didn't shrink from letting me see it as a teenager, nor did the parents of my friends.

What I am is a human being, and what I know is that the best way for us to grow and understand ourselves as people is to turn to others and hear their stories, even fictional ones. To find the truths in the stories of others and allow ourselves to be moved by and to learn from them. I know that the book Speak had nothing but a positive impact on my life.

Today, I will begin writing letters to the school district where Mr. Scroggins lives and encourage them not to ban the book. If you would like to do the same, you can get the addresses from a link on Ms. Anderson's response on her website.

To hear another Myra McEntire speak out on this issue, click here. I found her response considered, eloquent, and pointed.

To read one of the most moving pieces I've ever seen on the Internet, click here. C.J. Redwine is one of the most qualified commenter on the subject I could possibly imagine, and her response demonstrates a poise and grace I don't think I could have managed.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Harry, Larry, and Me

Yesterday, Kiersten White did an interesting post about how her blogging experience and style has changed over the time she's been writing it. She ends the main post with the sentence: "The day I start thinking of this blog as just a tool is the day I'll stop writing it." This post sparked some thoughts in me.

It occurs to me that some bloggers are using their blogs as a medium for getting their name and their work "out there" or as a means of building their online platform to help their getting an agent/getting published/getting readers once their published. So, for some writers, blogs are tools. For some, they're very successful tools, even. Lots of readers know this persons name and will recognize it if/when the book is sold. Then again, a well-used tool is still a tool.

I, for one, don't think of my blog as a tool. It certainly wouldn't help me develop the sort of great fame that could make me famous as a writer, especially because I am not, in case you haven't noticed, using my legal name. Thus, I don't think I'm likely to achieve The Gospel According to Larry-type blog fame or suddenly become the next Harry Potter ("Hey, look, over there! Next to the tall kid with the red hair!" Hey, look, a purple blog! Somehow connected to the pretty, pink blog! Unlikely. (And yes, I know, I've read those books too often. I admit it.)) with this blog. That's okay with me.

I see my blog as a means of connecting with the other interesting members of the blogosphere. Y'all are fascinating people, and you're always coming up with neat and informative things to say. You're what makes the web worth it for me.

I'm with Ms. White on this one. The day this blog becomes a tool for garnering fame, is the day it should probably be shut down.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Sorry for deviating from my usual posting schedule, but I waited Sunday night for the magic fairy of blogging inspiration to visit me, and said fairy failed to arrive. (Speaking of which, Missy, I'm on to you, and you better show up on time next time.) Actually, she did visit me over lunch, so here's what occurred.

At Wellesley College, there's a ritual called Flower Sunday, whereby on the first Sunday of the academic year, new students receive Big Sisters at Wellesley and go to a special assembly at the Houghtan Chapel. It started as a means of easing the transition from home to college for students, and it remains a Wellesley tradition. Many sisters remain friends through their time together at Wellesley. It took place this past Sunday.

It occurred to me yesterday that it would be really great if there were some sort of equivalent tradition of sorts for writers. Writers are great people, but even awesome people can use some support every now and then.
Natalie Whipple blogged about a similar idea a while ago. A Writers' Society. I think it'd be nifty.

Any thoughts? Any suggestions? Anyone thinking a writer-sibling would be pretty useful right about now? Anyone have any similar traditions in their life they'd like to share?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Character Cliches

When it comes to the question of putting together/discovering/unveiling a character, or however else you care to put it, there comes a time when you need to determine whether or not the character in question is a unique individual.

Most human beings are, in my estimation, unique, at least in some respect. Heck, my sister and I share parents, a best friend, schools for K-12, and DNA, and we somehow pulled off being different people. Thus, I feel reasonably sure that everyone else on the planet can certainly manage to be an individual in some respect.

That said, some people have a lot in common with other people. Pretty much everyone I know has read and loved Harry Potter. Some more devotedly than others, but they've all read it. Most girls I know read Twilight. They didn't all like it, but they've probably read it. Most people like sweets, summer vacation, and funny movies. Some things are universal.

That doesn't, though, give us as writers the excuse to default to stereotypes. When we do that, we both perpetuate often ridiculous conceptions of certain groups and create characters that no one's going to believe. (I don't know about the rest of the world, but in my experience, a person who actually aligns with the stereotype is more the exception to the rule than the rule itself.)

And even the most original person can become a fiction stereotype. I've actually created a genre in my head of books in which my friend-- let's call her Lee -- dies in the middle. Lee is a dear girl and definitely not traditional. She's the sort of girl who likes tattoos, dies her hair, wants to study Gaelic, is intensely loyal to her friends, and always seems to know a person in need to help. She flips off authority but has an ethos she believes in. I'm sure you've seen her in a book, even if you've never met her in person. Somehow, one of the most exceptional people I've ever met has become something everyone's seen in a book or movie.

(I kid you not, I once lent her a book, because I thought that, as she bore so strong a resemblance to the supporting character, she'd like it.

Me: What'd you think?
Lee: I hated it.
Me: Why?!
Me: Oh, right. That.

Probably should have realized she wouldn't be keen on that bit. She's since grown fond of the book and once gave someone a copy as a means of understanding her.)

When I see that same character over and over again, it makes me wonder if the writers know how many times someone's written her. They change the back story and the reasons why, but they end up with the same girl anyway, and she looks mighty familiar.

When I create a character, I try to make sure he or she isn't someone I know. Then I make sure he or she isn't someone I've read or seen. If my character is someone else or someone else's work, I'm not doing my job right. I don't know my character well enough, or I'm not painting them clear enough. I'm letting my characters become cliche.

Do you ever see characters in books, movies, radio shows, etc. that you feel like you've seen before? Did it bother you? Do you ever feel like someone you know appeared in a book you read? You wrote? Have you ever seen a character that bore a startling resemblance to you?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Building Character

Hi y'all. If my notice serves, we have some new friends in the audience. Thanks for stopping by, lovelies. It's a pleasure to have you. Take off your coats and stay a while.

I just want to say, my copy of Paranormalcy by Kiersten White arrived yesterday afternoon, so my capacity to get anything done instead of holing up with the book is, in my opinion, laudable. (No spoilers, or I'll be forced to do something really nasty.) Hope you're all facing similar book-related temptation and enjoying what you're reading. On to my post...

Based on the comments to my most recent post, it seems to me that most people experience their characters, at least at the start, in flashes of knowledge and not in one fell swoop. This indicates to me that somewhere along the way, we build our characters. Some of us, possibly, more literally than others.

Even as I work on Cordamant's Heir, I'm building a character for my next project. Her name's McKinley Gallagher, she took up residence in my skull late this January, and I've a feeling that if I don't start working her out, she's going to start picking fights with my other "guests." She's not violent by nature, but for a quiet girl, she seems to be growing increasingly vocal about the stance that she's up next.

Anyway, for McKinley's story, I'm employing a character analysis technique I picked up in a screenwriting course. I'm writing a character biography. Actually, it's one I wrote myself, and it's sort of a blend between a character profile and a bio. Just the sort of thins I think one should know about a character and their chronological history.

In the past, I didn't write character bios. Well, I sometimes wrote 200 words or so about the MCs and maybe 100 about the minor characters, but I didn't put a ton of effort into creating a record about them. I just knew what I knew and assumed I knew everything. Sure, I'd find out surprising things about them along the way, but I never knew how much I didn't know. I didn't know a lot.

Even though I've never done a character bio for a novel before, I'm already finding it a tremendously useful exercise. Because, after I write down everything I already think I know about that character in that aspect I start free-writing about them, I'm learning all sorts of things I normally wouldn't figure out until free-writing my novel. (Yes, I do that sometimes. My fingers move and words appear and I don't even know if there was a thought process for that. Hint: sometimes, I do it on this blog too.) I've learned that McKinley always has a runaway backpack in her closet, not because she actually intends to run away but because her mother used to move them at the drop of a hat. I learned (while thinking about her bio in a movie theater) that she can't stand sci-fi that takes itself seriously but doesn't mind sci-fi that knows it's ridiculous.

Because of this experience, I'm definitely considering making these character bios a regular part of my writing routine. They're dead useful.

Now, what I'm saying above should not be construed as a belief that a character bio, once written, is set in stone. No, these things can and will change over time, just like your novel will. No matter how long or detailed your character bio is, you'll learn new things about your characters as you write about them and think about them more. Heck, you might even learn that you were wrong. (Shocking, I know.) Still, the fact that they can change is not a reason to write them off, as it were. After all, first drafts change, but we still make them. (In fact, we need to make first drafts. Otherwise, there'd be no book. Just saying...)

A good post on this issue can be found on Natalie Whipple's blog. Just click here.

Do you write character bios? Why or why not? If you do, are they very detailed? What sort of stuff do you include?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Character At First Sight?

(Disclaimer: While I fully intended to return in September to a schedule of posting five times a week, it has come to be my opinion that my summer schedule of posting three times a week is much better; therefore, I'll be sticking with it for the foreseeable future. And yes, I just used a semi-colon, because they -- and people who use them -- are just that awesome.)

First of all, a welcome to any newcomers to the blog. Glad to have you with us. I'd put out cookies, but I'm told that Internet cookies are generally unwelcome. And happy Labor Day to everyone. :)

On the regularly scheduled programming...

Once upon a time, I watched an episode of
Bones in which Booth talks to Bones about old married couples who claim that they just saw each other and knew that they belonged together. Then, once upon a slightly later date, I read a column by Dan Savage who claimed that such a phenomenon is (and I'm paraphrasing) mostly caused by couples who've been together a while misremembering how they met and imagining that they always knew what they've now long for so long but didn't know at first.

I'm not going to say how I feel about actual life couples in this instance, but the difference between these views certainly reminds me of different perspectives on character-writer relationships. (Bet you didn't see that coming.)

I once heard a story that J.K. Rowling said that Harry Potter walked into her head fully formed. That would be, in my opinion, an example of the
Bones case.

There is another way. I know that personally, characters usually do not march into my head fully formed. Instead, I tend to see snatches of their lives flashing before my eyes, not their whole self. For example, with Cordamant's Heir, I think the first thing I ever saw of Amira's life was her execution. There's a lot I'm still learning about her in the writing process. Or, with the Thief Book, the first thing I knew was the Code, then DiSpirito. The MC didn't arrive until later. I think of this as the Dan Savage style.

This got me wondering if characters do appear to some people in a magical vision or something. Maybe some characters really do appear before an author fully formed and demand to have their story told, a la
Six Characters in Search of an Author. That hasn't been my experience, but I'm not the world's leading authority on the subject. Maybe people find a character slowly, but misremember is as happening in a flash. I don't know. I still remember where all of my MCs have come from, and so I doubt I"m likely to misremember them in the future.

I don't know if either method is better or worse than another. All I know is what works for me, and what works for me has been working pretty well so far.

How does it work for you? Do your characters come to you all at once or in bits and pieces? Do you get a mix of both? Do you have a preference? Fan of Bones?

Friday, September 3, 2010


For this weekend's selection, since I'm moving to an Undisclosed Location and therefore short on time for Moments of Awesome Geniusness, I've decided to share the love and point out other moments of Awesome Geniusness I've watched others have lately. Spreading the love.

Tamara Heiner wrote a great post on the nursing of an MS. It's clever and insightful. Go check it out.

The brilliant Nathan Bransford did a great post that finally explained High Concept in language that
I (and consequently my band of MS typing monkeys) could understand. Check it out. Since he's been very brilliant lately, he also did a great post on First Ideas. Check it out too.

And Pimp My Novel ran a nice post the other day about meeting deadlines, which is good thing to do in writing and in everyday life. Check it out.

I hope these are interesting and helpful to you. And, you know what, if you've seen interesting and useful around the Internet lately (or in the last decade, if you happen to still have the link saved -- and if you do, respect) feel free to post the link in the comments section. Share the love. :-)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Captain Film Major recently used his extensive powers of persuasion (read: getting my mother to make her guilting face -- I can't say no to my mother) to convince me to watch The Ghost Writer. What can I say, I don't usually watch movies.

At any rate, in one scene in the movie, the MC remarks at a book launch that ghost writers are rarely invited to book launches, because they're something of a dirty secret. "Like a mistress at a wedding," he comments.

After my family and I recovered from the brilliance of that line, I started thinking about it. A large part of me wonders what it would be like to always be doing my writing for someone else. To not be able to really work on my own ideas, because I had to pursue someone else's vision. To not be able to put my own name on my work, because I wasn't supposed to exist.

I'm not sure I could do it. I've never tested this, but I think seeing my work on a bookshelf and having to pretend I didn't work on it might just kill me. (I guess that means I'll never be Lemony Snickett or Silence Dogood. Somehow, though, I'll survive that fear though.) I don't think I'd risk it on ghostwriting.

How about you? Could you ever work as a ghostwriter? How do you feel about ghostwriting?