Writer Life Lessons #20: Save Your Research for the Second Draft

Imagine how much work we would all get done if we stopped to research every little thing in our writing to make sure it was factually accurate. I don’t know about you, but I would probably get no work done. I would be so into researching and making sure that every little detail was painstakingly accurate that I would never get any words on the page.

This is why you should Save Your Research for the Second Draft.

Let the first draft be what it wants to be. Finish a whole project and then do as much research as your heart desires. Get your ideas down and then find out if they are accurate. If you research after every scene, not only will you be burned out on research, but on writing as well. Writers need to write.

Sometimes in first drafts, we don’t always know exactly what we want to happen, so we just write something that resembles a plot and then hopefully edit the hell out of it later. If we as writers edit every little detail and research as we’re writing the first draft, we might not even use that research in later drafts and that was time we could have been using to write.

Don’t get me wrong, small bits of research, like how to spell or phrase things, is fine. As long as it is under 5-10 minutes (depending on your internet/data speed), then I think it’s fine. It’s when you get sucked into researching for an entire afternoon that it becomes a problem. So try and keep research to a minimum and writing to a maximum.

Happy Writing!

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Wednesday Works: A Piece Based Off of the Worst Lyric in your Least Favorite Song

“I was a ghost on your birthday”- Transient Love by The Menzingers.

The letter was one of the smaller gifts waiting for him in the stacked pile of large oblong boxes. Brian would have almost missed it and it would have been thrown away in the refuse of blue and green wrapping paper, and thin ripped tissue paper warped into balls, if it hadn’t been for his astute eye. He was hoping that a smaller package was hiding amid the bigger boxes, something the size of an iphone, but instead he found the aged envelope.

He recognized the handwriting right away, and wasn’t sure that he should let his parents know, or if he should just slip it under his leg when he picked up the next gift. It was from his brother, but he had an idea who had put it there with the other gifts. He looked for her face in the crowd and he was sure she almost gave him a hint of a wink with her smile. She was mirroring the other faces all around him, though she was more his brother’s age. The not quite thirteen-year-olds, the smooth fourteen year olds, and his family, all smiling, even though they all knew someone was missing.

It was like a taboo to even think about it, about him, and Brian forced the thought out of his mind as he tore the wrapping paper away from a gift that any newly aged teenage boy would have wanted, it wasn’t the newest iphone, but he thanked his Aunt Judy for the socks anyway. He kept opening gifts, the pressure and the weight of the envelope pushing down on him, though it was safely trapped under his leg.

He was afraid to think about him too, afraid that it would crash the mood of his party and call back angry, tormented memories of his family’s past. Definitely not the right mood for a birthday party. So he kept opening the rest of the gifts, reacting as appropriately as he could to whatever the boxes and gift bags held. Then when they were exhausted, and the table cleared of all surprises, his mother called them all in for cake and ice cream. That was when Brian shoved the letter into his pocket and forgot about it until later.

The letter forced itself back into his memory as he got ready for bed that night. It fell onto his desk as he emptied his pants pockets of the things he had gathered during the day. The rocks that he and Tommy had collected to mold into slingshot ammo, the wadded up dollar bills that nearly every card had contained from the party earlier, and then there was the letter,  a new crease running along the thick envelope, the writing still clear as day.  His name in his brother’s scrawl.

Brian.

He wasn’t sure he even wanted to open it. What if it was the one thing they had all been looking for, the one thing that they were all missing as to why the things happened how they did. Instead of opening it right away he stared at it for quite some time.

But eventually, curiosity got the better of him and he broke the seal on the envelope and pulled out the contents carefully. It was a birthday card, and Brian wasn’t sure if that made him feel better or worse.

On the front was a dog driving a racecar, his ears blowing from the acceleration.  The front was a bit juvenile, with some pun about the happiest of “Barkdays”, but Brian was more interested on what was on the inside.

At first glance, the inside was normal, the completion of the pun from the front of the card that would have made any twelve-year-old laugh, and then Brian saw it, the binder paper folded perfectly to fit in the card. His brother had written him a small birthday message in the card in his nearly unreadable chicken scratch, but the binder paper was more important.

Slowly, Brian unfolded it and found a letter inside,  in his brother’s handwriting, and he struggled to make out the words, either through his brother’s handwriting,  or the moisture that had blurred some of the letters, making them large splotches of blue ink.

Brian,

Happy Thirteenth Birthday!  I’m sorry I couldn’t be there personally to tell you all these things but now that you’re a man, you deserve to know. There’s only so much pain and sorrow one guy can take alone. There are too many secrets that can’t always be kept,  or friendships that require more balance than a tightrope walk, there are too many things that should be happy, that caused me too much pain.

But this is your birthday message, so I guess I should keep it somewhat upbeat, teach you the lessons of being a man or whatever. All of my problems started around the time that I was your age, so if I can give you any lessons about how to avoid the same mistakes I made, these are them:

Make Friends: You were just a kid when we moved here from Ohio, so you might already have more friends than I did at your age, but I was thirteen and going through puberty and moving in the middle of the year when all of the cliques and friend groups are already formed is tough. Make real friends, not just the guys that hang around the first girl you ever kissed. Make true friends that like the same things you do, and whatever you do, don’t force yourself to like something or have something just to fit in. Friends are out there.

Find Love:  All kinds of love,  not just the kind that makes your underwear feel tight. Love for friends, love for family, love for music. Yes, there will be romantic love too, but don’t force it, you will only cause yourself more pain. When you feel love, for friends, family, or the girl that you hated in elementary school, don’t hide it. Embrace it and your life will be so much easier. Mom and Dad will understand if you truly love it. You might get your heart broken, or wake up one day and find that you hate whatever it was you loved yesterday, but it is worth the risk.

Grow: Don’t stay hidden behind what people expect you are. How often have you and I gone out and looked at people and made snap judgements? “She’s shy” or “He loves cats”. People will judge you by what you look like and how you act,  but that doesn’t mean you can’t shatter their expectations of you. “She’s shy BUT she likes to belt out showtunes when no one is looking.” “He loves cats BUT he can never love them as much as he loves Death Metal”. Explore your passions and don’t keep them hidden. Break out of your shell every once in a while and be brave.

I didn’t follow any of those lessons, and I ended up wherever I am now. Don’t get me wrong,  Brian, this is meant to be a happy message, despite the blotches. Just be yourself and never apologize for that. Don’t make the same mistakes I did, and live the best life you can.

Ok, enough sappy stuff. Well maybe one more thing. Something to end this letter off right.

I remember the day you were born. I was just coming home from kindergarten and mom usually had a snack out for me, but no one was home and the door was locked, so I waited outside. It wasn’t very long before Grandma picked me up and we went to the hospital. You were just born so you were in the incubator, and I remember asking Grandma why you weren’t in Mommy’s tummy anymore and then I told her that I wished you would have just stayed in there. I liked my room to myself.

The truth is: I am a better person, a better brother for knowing you, Brian.

I’m sorry that I can’t be there in person, and I’m sorry I was a coward. I shouldn’t be just a ghost on your birthday.

Love,
Patrick

How To Tuesday: Female Characters

Over the past three weeks of How To Tuesdays concerning characters we have talked about how to find characters, how to name them, and how to develop characters. This week, is not necessarily a new How To, it is an addition to the rest of the information we have talked about.

This week, we are going to talk about female characters and how to write great female characters. For  a lot of people, this lesson will come as news, just because it’s one of those things that some writers do not realize until it is pointed out for you, and for others some of it might be obvious, but some of it might not be so obvious.

So without further ado: Writing Female Characters

Write Them as People

For as long as people have been writing characters, they have been writing women. The difference is the idea that women are people. Some writers write their female characters as stepping stones for their male characters or plot devices to move other characters forward. This is not the way to write female characters. They deserve to be people in your work and not just a plot device for your male characters. An example of what not to do is called the Sexy Lamp Test.

The Sexy Lamp Test is easy. If you can replace your female character with a lamp and the plot stays exactly the same with no changes, then you really should rewrite your female characters.

Another common theme is to write female characters as a plot advancement for your main character. The most common way that I have seen is to kill the female character, usually a mother or a lover that motivates the main male character to go after the villain or learn a new skill, etc.  This needs to stop in popular media, but it needs to be noticed by writers, readers and viewers first.

If you write your female characters as people, your work will shine, and you will avoid the usual cliches of female characters as cardboard cutouts.

Give Them Their Own Goals and Motivation

Just like any other character, your female characters need goals and motivation too. This will help a lot with making them feel like real people. Everyone has goals and motivation, whether it is something huge like to be a scientist, or a master shopper, or a small goal like wanting to wake up on time the next morning to not be late for work.

When you don’t give characters goals, whatever their gender, you create them as cardboard cutouts just revolving around a plot. However, there is an extra element to female characters if you leave out their goals and motivations. They become cardboard cutouts with sex appeal, and this is not necessarily what you want for your female characters.

Another issue about goals and motivations. Please don’t make your female characters only goal to get laid or be laid by the main character. Yes, it is a goal, but they should have more goals than to just be a sex object for the main character.

Give your characters goals and motivations and let them exist in your story not just for your main characters, but next to them.

Make Them Show Emotion and Change Throughout the Story

There is nothing worse than a character that does not react or change during the plot and action of a story. Whether they are male or female or anything in between, if they don’t change and react, then they might as well be a cardboard cutout or a lamp. This is especially important for female characters, because so often they are just there as plot devices and motivation for other characters.

Let your female characters react as people, let them show ugly emotions like anger and hate and let them react as real people would. Don’t keep them shiny and pretty, let them get dirty and downright ugly. Let them react and show them as you would a male character. Make them cry, or scream, or yell and be more than just sex appeal.

Make them change throughout their story, but make them change for the right reasons. If the only reason your character changes is because they get into a romantic relationship, then you need to examine your plot and try something new. This plot device is so overused, and so not the message we want to send to our young people. This is a common theme in teen romances that it needs to be corrected somehow. It starts with us, the next generation of writers and authors and creators.

Let your characters, whether male, female, or anything in between, be human and your writing will be the best it has ever been.

Happy Writing!

Writer Life Lessons #19: Learn Everything You Can

Some of you may be looking at this title and thinking “Learning? But I’m a writer and I already know what I want to write about”. I understand where you are coming from, and I know how daunting it sounds to learn new things, but there is a reason for it.

Learn Everything You Can because you never know when it will come in handy for your next draft, or even in your own life. If nothing else, it’s interesting factoids at parties. Entertain yourself and your friends!

When you have a voracious appetite for learning, it makes writing easier. Not only do the ideas flow better, because you know more base information to come up with ideas, but you more easily can identify plot holes and glaringly obvious mistakes that might have made your reader put your book down and never pick it up again.

I’m not saying that you should go to college, or back to college, just because you want to write about astrophysics. I am saying learn what interests you. With the addition of the internet and smart phones, tons and tons of knowledge is at the tip of our fingers. If I wanted to learn Mandarin Chinese tomorrow, all I would have to do is type it into my nearest search bar and find the link that interests me most.

The learning doesn’t always have to be online either. There are books and podcasts and shows on television, groups in your area. If you can think of a way to learn, it is probably out there in your community. Anything and Everything is out there if you know where to look.

I take this lesson very personally, because as of now, I have been in school for most of my life and am just starting to break out into the workforce. I have learned a lot in all the schools that I have been in and all of the classes and units that I have taken. Even now, after I have graduated, I still am learning new things everyday. I want to know as much as possible, so my characters, my scenes, my writing can be as amazing as real life, and so I can help as many people as possible in my life.

Recently, I learned the basic information about computers and laptops, and brought my old laptop back to life with a few parts from my lovely boyfriend, and the assistance of my dad. It’s running great now, and it is what I am using to write this post right now. Sure, I could have just bought a new laptop, when I get a job, but I get the satisfaction of knowing that I fixed it and that I have a new experience and new knowledge to fall back on.

So go out and learn something new, and be proud of that knowledge!

And as always:

Happy Writing!

Wednesday Works: An Adult Book Book Report by a Fifth Grader

Fifty Shades of Grey in Our Culture: A View on Why Sarah Stevens Slapped Me

By

Joel Fisherman

Before the introduction of Fifty Shades of Grey, there was Twilight. My stupid sister had to read all the books when they came out, and she begged my mom for weeks and weeks and weeks to take her to the movies when they came out. I wanted to stay with dad and do manly stuff, like work on the classic cars and mow the lawn and talk about shaving, but mom made me go with them. She said that it would make me appreciate women better, whatever that means. I thought they were the stupidest movies ever, and then Fifty Shades of Grey came out.

Like Twilight, my sister begged and begged and begged my mom to get the books for her, but like everything else my mom gives my sister she has to read or watch it first. She doesn’t want it “poisoning our young minds” when there are all the things out there that are “safe” for kids, like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Teletubbies. What she doesn’t know, is that both my sister and I know about the internet and rule 34. Anyway, she had to read Fifty Shades of Grey first.

It took her weeks and weeks, and she was set in her ways that my sister, nor I, could even lay a hand on that darn book. Not that I cared, it was a stupid book based on another stupid book. My sister, a freshman in high school, was angry to say the least, and she wanted that book. What I didn’t know was that she would get it.

So what does this have to do with why Sarah Stevens slapped me? I’m getting to that. Anyway, my sister read the book behind mom’s back, in her bed under the blankets with a flashlight. How do I know this? She would tell me almost every detail on the way to school, and at first I was grossed out, but then I thought to myself: “Does that stuff actually work on women?” It had to, right? Why else would everyone want to read it and be so happy all the time? I had to know why, so I had to run an experiment, but more on that later.

So back to Sarah Stevens. We’ve known each other since kindergarten practically, and it wasn’t until this year in Ms. Buzman’s class that I started to feel all weird around her. She used to gross me out, but now I find myself wanting to hold her hand and play more than tag with her, and mushy stuff like that. Because of that, and all my sister had told me about Fifty Shades of Grey, I decided she would be the best test subject for my experiment.

I asked my sister more about Christian Grey and Edward Cullen and what made them so attractive to women and she told me all about it. At first, I was disgusted, and then somehow it all started to make sense. Some of the phrases were foreign to me, since I haven’t taken a lot of sex ed, but I do have the internet, and google, and a few sites I probably shouldn’t mention in this paper.

So after weeks and weeks of research, figuring out how to act and look like Christian Grey, or Edward Cullen, minus the sparkles. I finally had it all set. My experiment was all set to move forward.

I decided to do it on a Wednesday. Not sure why, I just woke up that morning and decided that that was the day. I would get my results by lunch, no chickening out, even though looking through all my research that morning on the bus, I did feel a little stupid.

At the first recess, I unbuttoned the shirt of my school uniform, just like Christian Grey wore his in one scene, and I approached Sarah on the playground. She was hanging around with her goofy friends, both more annoying than her and way less pretty, but she was the first experiment, and they were there if I needed a second and third test subject. So I went up to her, did my best impression of Christian Grey (smoulder included), looked her straight in the eye, and said:

“I don’t know whether to worship at your feet, or spank the living shit out of you”.

At first she was confused, and then her face turned varying shades of red, and I wondered if it was really that easy to make a girl have an organism. Then she started yelling a bunch of things that I probably shouldn’t repeat here, probably that she learned from her mom and dad. And then she slapped me the hardest I have ever been slapped in my life and ran away crying.

Experiment number one failed. Sarah now refuses to talk to me, her friends think I’m the biggest jerk alive, and I have no other test subjects at this time.

What I don’t understand is why women think Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight are so worth reading. Why do the the men in them get to do all of the things they do and the women eat it up, and then when I do it, I get slapped? I don’t understand it, but I intend to research further. I want to know why Fifty Shades of Grey is so popular!

Joel- This was not the approved assignment. See me after class.

How To Tuesday: Write Developed Characters

 Hello Readers! Special Message here: If I seem short during this How To Tuesday,  blame WordPress. I had been working on this post for more than a week, almost 2000 words put into it, and then WordPress decided to be a butt and delete it all. So here is attempt number two!

Some writers will tell you that naming characters is the hardest part. To develop them all you have to do is write out their story and their arc, then edit it in later drafts. I think that it really depends on the character. Whether or not their arc is a wide sweeping arc or a simple event that sets their actions. Being a writer, and having several characters, I can tell you that sometimes their arcs come easy, and then other times it will be several drafts in and I will be staring at a blank page thinking “Who the hell are you? What the F*@K do you want?”

To write developed characters, with complete arcs and growth, there are three things to keep in mind: Backstory, Mid-story and post story.

Backstory

Backstory is important, but not always relevant to the specific scene you’re writing. You should make it match your character, but not too obvious that the reader feels like they were fooled. Unless your character is the luckiest person in the world, everything is not going to just fall into their lap. They have to work to get where they are when your story starts. They have to have failures and successes. Not just one or the other.

Depending on your story and your character arc, your backstory determines how your character will react to certain situations in your plot. If your character is in a bank robbery, whether they are a trained soldier, or a guy who adamantly hates guns and violence will change how they react to the gunmen.

Mid-Story

In the middle of the action, your characters decisions determine their growth and their arc. There are generally two reactions to growth in story. Your character can either accept the changes, or fight them tooth and nail. There are a thousand choices, several types of growth, but it all basically boils down to “I accept this” or “Not in a million years”.

The most important thing in Mid-Story character development is consistency. If your character encounters a barking dog at the beginning of the story and is scared of it, then if they encounter the dog again in the middle and are not scared, there better have been some kind of growth in between.

Post Story

Post Story is probably the least important development, but it is still important. Unless your character dies at the end of your work, or they are braindead, they still have to grow after the events of the story. Post story is more important if you are working on a series, but for stand-alone is still relevant.

Post Story is what happens “after the credits”. The hero has saved the girl (or vice versa), the evil baddie has been taken care of and all is well. So what are the hero/ girl’s plans after? Some choose to let the reader decide, hence the “Rides off into the sunset” ending. Still, some others add in small hints throughout the piece. Like for instance, your character loves knitting and is working on a blanket, but they are pulled into this elaborate plot against the president. “ALL I WANT IS TO FINISH MY DAMN BLANKET!” is repeated several times in your piece.

Post story they better finish their damn blanket.

No matter what your plot or your character arcs, do your best to keep them consistent and your characters will be well developed and readers will thank you for it!

Happy Writing!

A Quick Note on Frustration

Happy Monday!

For some of us, Monday means going back to work, or school. For others, it means delving into personal work and projects. For me it means queuing up the blog for the week. What does this have to do with frustration?

Everything.

Last Friday, I decided to be proactive and write a little of a How To Tuesday to make it easier on myself over the weekend and today. I have around 2000 words all set up and ready to go, and just needed a few more paragraphs to finish.

Today, I go to my drafts, ready to pick up where I left off, everything looks good in the screen where all the drafts live, and then I open it. AND IT’S BLANK!

I was so frustrated that I had to write all of it again, pull the ideas back from what the original idea was and type angry and jaded. Instead of a long post, it only came out to be around 700 words (though you all might thank me for that).

I know frustration is a normal occurrence, and that it might just be a fluke on WordPress’ end, but still 2000 words and like 15 ideas just gone, off into space, never to be found in that exact order again. Frustration is putting it nicely.

So hopefully something can come from that frustration and the problem of words disappearing can be solved (By the way, not the first time this has happened).

Has this happened to anyone else? Have your drafts ever disappeared when you try and edit them?

Please let me know so we can fix this problem!