Monday, November 21, 2011

Kick-@$$ Books, and How You Write Them

This pep talk is inspired both by NaNo, my GR friend Jillian, and Kat Kennedy's recent post onWaif-Fu. Random? Not really.

Dear Writer,

By now you are probably sick and tired about hearing how your novel can't be perfect on the very first go. I beg to differ - your novel will be perfect. It will be amazing. In fact, it'll be so good you'll want to query it on Dec 1, and become famous for having written a bestseller in 4 weeks.

That's why Stephen King usually waits 6 months between drafts, and only does two.

You need to love your book to make it work. Hell, you need love in every aspect of your life if you want it to work, because there will always be moments of frustration, sadness, and even borderline hatred, and you'll wonder why you even bothered in the first place. Love is wonderful, but it also makes you blind to some of your work's shortcomings.

A few days ago, I taught Time Management, and in that session, I informed my students that perfection is absolute bull-jazz, and that striving for perfection is not only undesirable, it's actually harmful. Of course, as one of them pointed out, there's math, but math is a correct science... for the most part, and there is no subjectivity... for the most part. But in general, in life, perfection is not something that can be attained, and punishing yourself for not being able to attain it will only drag you down, instead of make you better at what you do.

What does Waif-Fu got to do with it, though? Well, as Kat puts it, it is rare that heroines in real life are these perfect, tiny creatures that are always ready for action and wear skintight leather like it's flannel (for somebody who owns a lether jacket, I can attest that it's very stylish, but not something you'd want to fight in).

Book covers give us an illusion of reality which is usually how (male) graphic designers and (male) readers imagine kick-ass heroines. It's an ideal which is rarely upheld in the actual book (nine out of ten times, the heroine has to get saved), or in real-life.

Real-life heroines and heroes are the everyday people. Joe the milkman or Carla the teacher, who might be at the right place and the right time to save a life, or just contribute to our daily lives in a very unappreciated way (teachers, in specific, have my undying gratitude and respect for everything they put themselves through to educate the ungrateful masses).

The same thing goes for books - perfection is fantasy. It is illusatory. It is painful to strive for because it ends up discouraging you even before you begin to write. Look at the little things in life that make you happy - a new book after a long week, a cup of coffee your special one made you, a kiss by the autumn river, a teacher who fought through your cynicism and got you by the heart. Those are the things that make a book resonate and connect. Those are the things that make readers laugh with you, cry with you, and think of your characters as real people, maybe even real friends.

Those are the things where the love lies. And, in my experience as a reader, they're enough to forgive a gaping plothole or two.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Schadenfreude, or a NaNo Pep talk from an Aspiring Author

The other day, a friend on Goodreads mentioned they didn't quite enjoy the pep talks from the staff of the NaNoWriMo website (for those of you who don't know, National Novel Writing Month is when we all come out of the closet as writers, make sweeping declarations to conquer the publishing world, and churn out 50,000 word drafts). The idea with NaNoWriMo is that it is not the quality, but the quantity that matters in first drafts, and that the important thing is to have something there for you to work on during the rest of the year.

However, my friend was unhappy with the overall assumption in the pep talks that everything is crap and that everyone is about to give up. So I figured I'd write a pep talk of my own.

Mind you, I'm not published. But I did win NaNoWriMo in 2010, my first go, and the second draft of that project is only getting worse now. So here are my two cents of nano wisdom for you, cross-posted from my blog:


Dear writer,

It's the 16th, or 17th, depending on where you are. You're smack dub in the middle of NaNoWriMo and you're either breezing past the 50,000 words, or are wondering why did you begin in the first place.

At any rate, your story is not finished. Chances are, you are going to ask yourself (or maybe you already have), "Where is this story going?" If you're like me, you've gone through your initial ideas, worked out some pent-up steam, and now near a mellower, more meditative section of the book.

The advice I'm going to give you is dangerous. In fact, it would be illegal if it wasn't about a book.

You know what you should do? You should let all Hell break loose. You should hit the "Do NOT Push" switch. You should blow up the Earth.

Most importantly, you must make your characters suffer.

Cause here's the thing - mellow, meditative sections put people to sleep. No, I don't care if you're touching on an important topic - you can still impart your wisdom on the subject of abortion, homosexuality and religion while the Zombie Apocalypse is raging.

Why? To put it simply, nobody likes preachers. And putting issues in simple words is preachy. People want to make their own opinions about stuff - that's why you need to impart your lessons through your characters.

And another thing: Torturing your characters is a Cornucopia of delicious plot, and character development, not to mention dialogue. Look at "Interview with the Vampire" - nothing but Louis being melodramatic emo, and yet that launched Twilight.

But most importantly: It's not by succeeding that we learn the important things in life - it is by failing. It is by scraping our knees that we learn to be careful on the playground, and by burning our fingers that we know why fire has to be handled carefully. Your characters are no different.

So let's break out the Iron Maiden and the rack, people, and take our characters for a time trip to the Inquisition.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


My short story, "Fireflies," is online and ready to read at Underground Voices. I don't normally write speculative fiction, but check it out!

And, yes, this is shameless self-promotion.