Character Development Gone Wrong

In an earlier post I admitted to absolutely hating my ten-year-old main character for being the brattiest, most annoying kid I could have come up with. To be honest, though, when I started thinking out the storyline I purposefully made him that way. Since he was a huge brat, it would be easy to make him go through some character development, or so I thought. I wanted to teach him to care about people instead of bossing them around and getting them into danger. I wanted him to become less of a lazy brat and actually start doing things on his own. However, I completely failed in this. The kid started out as a horrible person, which was enough for me to just despise having to write about him. I couldn’t even get around to his character development, as I’m only three books in.
Character development is good for any story. It is great. It is perfect for fleshing out characters, as it allows the writer to make the character overcome both external and internal obstacles. However, these internal obstacles sadly can get too big to overcome. I believe that our personalities are set – we cannot change who we are at the core, we can only change what we do with it. Sure, our beliefs can be challenged – so can mine. Maybe our personalities aren’t set in stone, but that doesn’t mean that this kid can go through a 180 degree turnaround.
Now, there is a big question left: how does one make a character develop in a way that feels natural, without them needing to be horrible people from the start? We, as writers, cannot force our characters to become people they are not. However, they can learn how to be a little braver, a little nicer or a little less reckless. Sometimes they have to. Even the laziest person would want to save their loved ones, right? Let them have to fight their internal battles to overcome the external ones.

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Change of Scene, Change of Mind

I have to admit that I fail as a blogger. I know that posting regurarly is one of the most important aspects when it comes to keeping readers interested, which is exactly what I haven’t been doing. The vacation of last week has taken its toll on both me and my writing skills. To me, keeping a steady pace is what makes me go on. However, as soon as that rhythm is broken, writers’ block sets in and I can’t bring myself to start writing again. The same goes with blogging.
Even though I may be complaining about the vacation, I also know that a change of scene is what every writer needs once in a while. While I don’t think it is an actual saying, I would like to say that a change of scene brings an actual change of mind. Sometimes, we need to keep our minds of our work and just do something completely else. In my case, my trip to Austria has been wonderful in that sense – although the backache that set in after only three days completely ruined our walking schedule. Just being in a completely different environment, surrounded by people with lives different than my own, was enough to spark so many ideas. I couldn’t write them down as my laptop apparently refused to save anything, but I certainly had enough time to let them stew in the back of my mind. What came out was unlike anything I had ever thought of, forced out by the nightmares I get when I’m sleeping in an unknown bedroom. I wanted to write a family drama concerning the spirit of a little girl, forgotten by her family as time went on. I don’t think I will ever actually finish it, or even start writing it, as it was meant to be a Young Adult novel, starring a teenager who finds out the secret of her greatgrandmother’s daughter. I do not really enjoy YA, nor overly complicated storylines. However, knowing that it was possible to come up with one was nice.
A story closer related to my actual trip was the one about a family running a hotel in the Alps, based on the little girls I met in the hotel where we were staying. They had to help their parents with tending to the guests and cleaning the rooms, so I wondered how many strange things they must have seen. Not much, probably, but it was fun to wonder about someone else’s life. I came up with the idea of them meeting a Yeti – or whatever similar creature is supposed to be living in the area.
While my ideas may not be of much quality, it was a great sensation to know that I still had it – the power of strange, childlike creativity. It may not be worth much to others, but this is the result of travelling. Every new experience triggers a new idea in the back of the writer’s mind. Try to experience as much as you can. It’s worth it.

Title Trouble

This may not be a problem for those whose works are getting published by a regular publisher, but for those who are not, it may be the cause for some massive headaches: coming up with the perfect title. After all, titles are what draw in readers, together with the cover and the blurb – the latter is not going to be read, though, if the cover and title do not stimulate the reader’s imagination. Earlier, I talked about the importance of a fitting cover. Now it is time to talk about the importance of the right title. How do you come up of that?

The kind of story and it’s genre usually determine what style of title would be fitting. I am only a writer of children’s fiction, so that is what I’ll stick to – plus maybe some YA novels.

Firstly, are you writing a series? If so, what is that series really about? If it is about a character, implementing the character’s name could work. Examples of this are the Harry Potter and the Junie B Jones series. In the case of the former, all titles in the series start with “Harry Potter and the [fill in phrase]”. In the case of the latter, Junie B.’s name is usually used somewhere in the title, although those are not as formulaic. Using a character’s name in a title is a good way to let young readers know to what series a book belongs. However, this does not only work for series; character names in titles often bring the fictional world a little closer to the reader, even when they haven’t read the actual story yet. You could also use a place name instead of a character name; as long as it is important to the story, it can be used.

Secondly, you could use an actual sentence from the story as a title – or at least part of it. Is there any sentence in your work that really stands out? Does it capture the theme of your story? You could tweak it a little if it’s too long. An example of this is To Kill a Mockingbird, which has been derived from the quote: “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” In other words, don’t kill innocent beings that are only around to sing. The title is not clear by itself, but it still captures the heart of the book in only a few words. Poetic sentences make for nice titles; so do witty ones.

Thirdly, and this is the case for many YA books nowadays, you could use only one word. This is probably the most difficult to do, but it could be really rewarding. Ally Condie’s Matched does this, for example, by using the one word that sums up the main dilemma of the story. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight is another case of a one word title, and while I am not going to judge the story’s value, the series’ titles are great – they all refer to phases of the night and darkness, as befitted for vampires. This might work the same as an entire phrase or sentence, though; is there one word that really captures the essense of your story? Use it.

This may or may not have been useful, but it is something I personally struggle with. Coming up with the right title is important, yet it can also be a lot of fun. In the end, it is also important to enjoy the entire writing process.

Prose versus Poetry

I do not intend to start a war between poets and writers of fiction; instead, I would like to tell why I prefer writing fiction over writing poetry. Most of it has to do with my lacking emotional capacities – although that’s an exaggeration – and my refusal to use flowery language, excessive descriptions or actually touching material.

Personally, I am not really an emotional person. While poetry does not have to be emotional, most of its power comes from touching the hearts of its readers. Most of the fun, lighthearted poetry does not have that effect, although there is nothing wrong with that. I do not like writing either of them. I prefer my writing to be fun and adventurous, yet not to be devoid of meaning. Finding that balance is hard. To me, writing is supposed to carry some kind of meaning or message without being obviously blatant about it. Poetry is great for those who are not as blatant as I am. I would not be able to do it right. Either it would come out over the top emotional or completely inane. A great poet knows the difference, whereas I do not.

Also, writing fiction seems to come more naturally to me. There haven’t been many instances in my life where I tried to write poetry, whereas fiction has always been important to me, both in reading and writing. I wanted to tell fun stories that captured the readers’ attention. They had to be clear, to the point and interesting. Poetry can definitely be interesting, but it seldom is as much to the point as I’d like to write. Besides, I prefer longer texts, as slowly giving away pieces of information does not really work in a short text. Poetry is short, in general… And I have to admit, I often won’t read it if it looks too long, as I typically struggle to grasp the sentences. It might be because English is not my mother tongue, making long sentences even harder to understand. I’d like to think I am relatively proficient, but not enough to pull off some beautiful poetry.

All in all, both poetry and prose have their qualities, but I still prefer the bluntness of my children’s books… The reality is that it’s what I can do best, and while experimenting is fun, I’d rather stick to what I know. How sad, I know.

The Necessity of the Internet

Now that I’m lacking an Internet connection for yet another day (I am writing this from another location), I finally realise how important it is to have access to the Internet when trying to write. I need it.

First of all, I like to use Google Docs in order to keep my documents safe. However, I found out that there is only one computer I like to write on. It is a mental thing; while I have access to my files at the moment, I cannot force myself to write, even though I probably should. There is nothing else to do at the moment. From that point of view, having no connection should be good. However, it is not. I will have to go back to my house at some point and write there. For that, I actually need a working connection. How else am I supposed do to my research?

In all honesty, there is not much research for me to do. Still, I like looking up names and myths from all over the world to give me some inspiration. The Internet is a blessing for the aspiring writer. It can provide us with everything we need to come up with that one spectacular idea. On the other hand, it also can be a massive curse, as it brings forth procrastination and distraction. At the moment, the pros outweigh the cons.

I am sorry for the rambling, but I have to use the connection I have at the moment to give this update on my life. Again, the Internet is a curse, as I could have used this time to write… And yet, I cannot do without it.

Society

I’ll be spreading my wings tomorrow. I’ll be flying out. In other words, I am going to move tomorrow, not only for the first time in my life but I’ll also be without my parents for the first time. I am not much of a poet; in fact, it felt wrong to write this passage as I generally do not enjoy how pretentious poetry can come across. The only time I allow myself to do so is when writing my character, the ten-year-old smartass who likes to impress people by coming up with synonyms.

Maybe there is not much of a point to this post, except for me rambling. What I really wanted to do was to share my favourite song, as for a change, poetry seems to describe what I am feeling right now: Eddie Vedder’s Society. I do not have much – not because I can’t, but because I do not need anything. There are not much things in my life I enjoy that much, and the ones I do enjoy, I already own. The only thing I want at the moment is a quiet space for me to write, where no one is going to disrupt me – although that never happens anyway. When I am writing, I feel safe. For those who hadn’t picked up on it by now, I am slightly depressed. At the moment, I just feel like running… and listening to some music.

The word “running” in the last sentence was actually a mistake, as I meant to say “writing”. However, I guess this describes what I’m really feeling. I’m trying to get away from society for a bit. I’m getting anxious. I’ve never done this before!

The more useful posts will be back in a week. There’s no Internet connection yet in my new home.

Writing for Children – The Fun of Grade Calculating Devices

The stories are write are meant for children of the ages between eight and ten years old. However, while I can say that they are meant for this group, this does not mean that they would be actually appropriate. Figuring out the right style has always been difficult for me. Back when I used to write for teenagers, my language always turned out to be too difficult and prententious. No kid would want to read it, I am sure of that. That is why I am not going to try that ever again. Still, now that I am writing for younger children, I keep running into the same problem. What style is age appropriate? Am I really just dumbing it down, which is the most horrible mistake to make, or am I so afraid of doing so that my texts are too boring or difficult for the average eight-year-old?

I know that there are a few tools out there that could be helpful in this case. I tried the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level technique, and according to that, my stories should be appropriate for children in the third grade. However, at the same time, either the Gunning-Fog Score or the Coleman-Liau Index (I cannot remember which) indicated that my writing would be more appropriate for sixth-grade readers. Apparently the words I use are too long of difficult. Now I am left wondering if I should take those out or try to ignore these scores. Do they really mean as much as they appear to? The problem is that I do not enjoy writing for older audiences. Even a story for actual sixth-graders demands more depth and more emotional problems… and while I love creating backstories, deep, emotional problems are not something I want to deal with. My stories should be short, fun and a little scary, in my eyes.

I’ve come to the conclusion that writing for children is hard; much harder, in fact, than writing for teenagers – but only when it comes down to style. I am not saying I am going to give up. That would be a shame. I am just going to keep writing, try to ignore the problem and finish my job. It will be hard, as I will be moving out in a couple of days, but the holidays are near and I will have a lot of spare time. I will also be joining Camp NaNo, so let the writing commence. I will not let those horrible grade calculators stop me!

The Publishers’ Nightmare

I am the publishers’ nightmare. As a shy non-native speaker of the English language who lives overseas, I probably couldn’t be a worse candidate for the English publishing houses. However, that does not mean I would forsake my dream without a fight.

Firstly, yes, I may be shy, but that is not everything I am. It does not shape me as a person, especially because I am shy when it comes down to talking about the weather and other seemingly unimportant subjects. As long as I am not interested, I am shy. Still, once I actively get involved with anything that lies close to my heart, I basically cannot stop talking about it. That’s still a quite annoying quality, but a lot easier than not knowing what to say. To the publishing house that claimed on its site that it refused to accept work from socially awkward writers: too bad, but I am not going to show you my work. I have enough self-esteem not to give it up for your socially inacceptable standards. Do not put guidelines like that up on your site.

Secondly, yes, I may be a non-native speaker of the English language, but that does not mean I am not allowed to try. To me, writing English children’s books is much more interesting than doing so in Dutch. The former is much more lively, in contrary to the stiff Dutch vocabulary. Besides, I am officially a student of the English language. I should be able to master it at a near-native level of speech and writing, and writing is not a problem for me. I consistently get great grades on my essays, so I doubt that would be a problem. However, mastering the literary language is a self-contained skill. I may have to practice some – or a lot – more, but in the end, I will reach my goals.

Thirdly, yes, I live overseas, which may be a huge problem for English publishing houses. Most of them prefer manuscripts from actual British writers, which I am not. However, the British Islands are not that far away from where I live. Nothing but a canal – and a sea, but that would make it sound like a bigger problem – divides Great Britain and the Netherlands. I know it is a presumptious idea to ever have to cross that sea, but I can still dream, right? Plane tickets are not that expensive. I could make it.

All in all, while I may be a true nightmare for British publishers, at least I would like to disprove the reasons why I could never reach my goal. It may still be far off, but publishers, beware. I will cross that ocean, one way or the other.

My Sources of Inspiration, Part V: Boredom

This might be a terrible idea, but one of my main sources of inspiration is boredom. To be honest, I do not have that much going on in my life. Yes, I will be moving out in two weeks, but for now, I am stuck in my home town where I am supposed to study for my exams. I definitely study for them, but that does not take that much time. In fact, I have way too much freedom at the moment. While it is amazing not to have to show up at university for days, it also can get quite tedious when you are all on your own. Coupled with depression, it makes for long-winded days. No parties, no hanging out – everyone is studying back in our university city (well, it is only 15 minutes away, but they are too busy). Still, this boredom works as an amazing source of inspiration for me. Looking at pictures at the Internet is not all that interesting anymore after a week. By then, I want to actually do something. Being bored is what gets my mind racing. It makes me dream of the most horrifying tales I could ever come up with. While my life seems a little empty right now, my mind itself is full of life. Maybe it’s because of my studies, but I am starting to doubt that; translation philosophers are not the most interesting people when you try to write stories on aliens, vampires and urban legends. I love urban legends, let that be clear. Today, I spent most of my time looking up shadow people and black eyed kids, just because I could. My boredom is forcing me to spend my time doing things, whether it is external or internal research. The gears are turning. I am ready for anything.

The Science of Translation

My upcoming exam will be on translation sciences, as translations make up a great part of today’s literary world. Don’t get me wrong, but when I chose a course called Translation Sciences, I was under the impression that we would be taught how to translate. Sadly, that’s apparently not the way universitary courses work. Instead, they are all theory and no practice.

Ever since I was able to read English, I have dreamt of becoming a translator. More precisely, my dream was to translate my own manuscripts into English, hoping that they would be able to spread out over the world that way. That is probably idle hope, though. If I wanted to become a translator, I should have attended a school of applied sciences instead of a regular university.

Personally, I’ve given up on the idea of translating my Dutch manuscripts into English. To me, it is absolutely impossible. The Dutch and English grammar look alike at first sight, but there are so many differences between them that even looking at Dutch texts confuses me. In English, the Dutch “ik woon hier al mijn hele leven” is translated as “I’ve been living here my entire life” (“woon”, in this case, is “have been living”). It is terribly confusing when two languages use different grammar, yet I have to use both at the same time. That is why I have to do without. It may not be a bad thing, though; not being able to really translate has forced me into writing my stories in English. Writing definitely can happen much more quickly when you do not have to use interim measures. I will become a translator someday, but not from Dutch into English. For now, I’ll just be a student, a writer and a wage slave.