Smarts versus Strength

The average kid is not a bodybuilder. They generally are not that tall yet, nor do they have the same strength of an adult. If they get into trouble with some kind of being that’s stronger than them, they cannot solve the problem through brawn. They have to use their brains instead. In my children’s stories, that is exactly what happens.
When I was younger, I was a pretty scrawny kid. I could not even turn a key in its lock (although, in all honesty, I still may fail at times). During that period, I really did not enjoy reading about people in my fantasy books who just managed to fight themselves past every obstacle. I wanted to be able to identify with the main character, which I could not in cases like these. Instead, I preferred the main characters to be clever and witty. They could be tiny, they could be weak, but they could not be dumb. I wanted them to be me, yet I wanted to admire them at the same time. How I admired those with smarts…
I still do, though. In my opinion, fight scenes are not all that interesting. Sure, they are great ways to create tension, but I cannot read them over and over again. People punch, people kick, people bite. I’ve never been interested in violence like that, especially since I couldn’t believe it. Nobody is going to convince me that the average eight-year-old can kick a powerful warlock’s ass with sheer strength. No thanks. I can imagine that there are more kids like me out there, and they are the ones I like to write for. Horror is my preferred genre, and I know that the evil doesn’t necessarily needs to be punched in order to be overcome. In fact, that sounds like a terrible idea. The supernatural cannot be hit – it should be outsmarted instead.
Horror is just as broad of a genre as all others. I like smart kids, so they will be in there. Still, though, I should be able to figure out a way to make them witty and smart and not want to murder them at the same time because I grossly overdo it. Smarts are fun in children’s fiction.

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.

The Voice

No, this is not a post about that horrible yet way too popular talent show which I don’t want to hear a thing about. Instead it’s about voices. Not voices in the literal sense, the ones that you can hear with your ears, but the ones that you can only hear in your mind. I’m talking about character voices.
In order to be believable, every book character or actual narrator needs their own personal voice. This doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be as simple as not letting a not-so-smart character use difficult words, as simple as letting a popular character speak in popular language and as simple as giving a character a catch phrase. Things like these are what makes a character come to life. This is even more important when writing in a first-person point of view, where one voices completely dominates the entire story. That voice needs to be strong, distinct and preferably relatable or interesting in another way. The kid in Emma Donoghue’s “Room” is a great example of this, as he is the story’s narrator and it clearly shows through that he is a little child who really doesn’t understand the world. I personally loved that novel, especially because it was so dark yet cute at the same time.
Another way of giving a character a voice is by actually writing out what they say phonetically, which might work if they have an accent or a speech impedement – but please do not overdo this, as I’m one of those people who wants to be able to understand what is being said without having to read it out loud/three times. Accents can give a character colour, although they come with some other dangers, as they might come across as racist or belittling towards those from a certain area or background. Also, the accent/dialect/whatever is spoken in my area is the most annoying kind of speech I know and I really wouldn’t want to see it in a book.
Character voices can make or break a novel. They can give a story a certain freshness if the protagonist or narrator is someone with a strong personality or wit, although this also goes the other way around. If the character is dull, their voice will reflect that – and a dull voice does not make for an interesting read.
Who is your favourite voice?

The Flawed Main Character

Every main character needs to be flawed, at least to an extent. Actually, every character needs to be flawed. No one is perfect, everyone has their own strange quirks and shortcomings. However, what are we as writers supposed to do when our own characters are driving us mad?
My series’ actual main character, a ten-year-old boy, is a total brat. He is bossy, arrogant and lazy, he’s a scaredy cat and he is driven by wanting to be perceived as ‘masculine’, although he really doesn’t have a clue as to what actual manliness entails. One hint, main character: it’s not about being a jerk to everyone around you. If it isn’t clear by now, I really cannot stand the kid. Why I ever picked him to be the lead of my series is a mystery to me. I actually had to quit the third book in the series for a while because I really did not want to have to get into his head again.
On the other hand, I liked the main character’s older sister much better. She’s eleven years old and aspires to become a witch. Although she is totally nuts in the main character’s eyes, she is so much more likeable to me than he is. She isn’t driven by some weird ideal – all she wants is to have fun and to explore the boundaries of the world. It may have been a horrible choice, but she is the reason why I decided to skip straight to the fifth book in the series, where she is the main character. A bad idea, huh? I’m guessing that most boys don’t enjoy reading about girls, especially not about young witches. With regards to my intended audience, it is not the greatest idea. However, as soon as I started writing about her, I immediately found my drive to write back. It may not just have been her, though. Another reason may have been that this is an actual ghost story with a likeable main character, instead of a story about a bratty boy who turns into a mouse.
I am not sure what to do now. I’m definitely going to continue the series. Possibly there will be another book about the girl. That is not the core of the problem, though. The real question is why the original main character turned into such a horrible brat that I couldn’t even stand to write about. I will have to fix that. He will get better over time, that’s for sure. That’s called character development. Until then, I will have to deal with him – and try to iron out his slightly-too-flawed personality. Thankfully, he is just a character in my head. He can change… Reality is, he has already come to life, so it’s going to be hard.
Has anyone else ever had that problem? Some main characters just decide to live their lives on their own… and it feels like there is nothing we can do to stop it. That may be the power of the writer’s mind, but it’s also a curse.

It Got To Me

Writer’s block got to me last month. This third book in my series isn’t working. I’m on the verge of just giving up on it and starting with the next manuscript – the fourth, or maybe even the fifth story.
I am not sure what it is, but there seems to be a lack of story to be told. I should have planned it beforehand, I am aware of that. Now I just cannot bring myself to work on it. In fact, I am starting to hate it. At first, I was looking forward to this tale very much – my main character turned into an animal and had to figure out how to change back. Well, it turned into some kind of mystery drama with a lost teacher and a spy who brought down a curse on the people’s heads. It wasn’t fun. I don’t like this kind of story. I like actual horror, containing spirits, demons and other monsters. None of those are in here, so it isn’t working for me. I’m quitting. Maybe, someday, I’ll finish this manuscript.
I’m sorry for the rant, but in all honesty, I needed it in order to come down to this decision. Therefore, I’m thankful of everyone reading this blog, even though not everything I have to say is all that interesting.

It’s “Just” A Game

I do not claim to be a hard-core gamer, as that’d simply be untrue. However, I can appreciate a nice game now and for. For instance, I thoroughly enjoyed Dragon Age and its sequels, just like I indulged in Guild Wars 2 (about 800 hours over the course of a year and a half is not that much, though). Many people love games, as they allow them to play out a story and feel like they actually can influence what happens – others use these games to vent, rage and unleash the stress of daily life. To be honest, I do not just play fantasy games. I also adored the The Sims series, strangely for reasons close to the ones I mentioned before. I like storytelling.
One could claim that a game is just that: a game. They think video games are about nothing but aggression and killing virtual opponents. Well, while some games are like that, just as many are not. Shooters are not the only genre in the virtual world. Some games tell actual in-depth stories in the same way a book would tell them. The only difference in that case is that the player is involved.
What I’d like to say is that I think that games have become a valuable means of storytelling. While they are different from books and movies, it doesn’t mean that they are worth any less. They are a new medium – one that may be more compelling to its audience than any other one. In games like Dragon Age, the player can actually influence the outcome of the story by making choices, which is something not often seen in books – most likely never in movies. I know that books like that are out there, but they seem to be for kids only. Don’t get me wrong, I am the kind of person who loves children’s books, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get it. Gaming has become a hype because it is so varied. There is something out there for everyone. The fact that some of these stories allow us to change their outcome often makes them more interesting, at least to me. Just like children, adults like this ability. They like feeling powerful. Not all of us want to read about a dumb hero wandering into a deserted building, only to find out it’s a trap and get killed. We want to fight back. We want to change his fate. That is the power of games.
As the world keeps advancing, new mediums of storytelling become available. I believe we should use them to their fullest instead of bashing them. “Just” games? I don’t think so.

Reviewing for Dummies

I am sorry, but I’ll admit beforehand that this is not really a guide as to how to review anything. I am not a reviewer myself, so it would be strange for me to try to do so. Instead, I would like to note something about reviews, which may sound a little harsh, but I don’t read them. Ever.
To be honest, I haven’t read many books, at least not adult literature. I am a children’s writer. I know this is terrible, as every writer should probably start at the highest level and dial back from there, but I can’t. I generally don’t like it. Therefore, I’ve almost never heard of the books that are touched upon in reviews, no matter how popular they are. In fact, doing so would probably negatively affect my view of a book I haven’t even given a try yet. If the reviewer is negative, I will be intrigued, but there is no way I am going to read something that is completely bashed by multiple people.
Of course, there are some great reviewers out there, who know how to be critic without being overly harsh. They are witty and interesting, and even more important, they know their audience. Most people aren’t inclined to read about a book they’ve never heard about. I like reviews about Harry Potter – which I loved – or about Twilight – which I hated – because I already have an opinion about them. Popular book reviews do draw my attention, mainly because everyone has a different opinion about the same book. In the case of not-so-wellknown works, chances are that opinions are not going to vary much. I like depth. If it isn’t in there, then reading the review isn’t worth it to me.
Blogs about reviewing aren’t necessarily bad. However, I am getting the feeling that most of those start out as writers’ blogs, until their creators gradually start to slip up as they find out there isn’t that much to write about. That isn’t true. Writing is everywhere! Of course, writers and other people’s books are connected, as those books are what we strive to create – or absolutely not to create.
In the end, I am a liar and do think I have some tips: don’t overdo it, be creative, be relatable. The last one may sound like horrible advice, as the creative mind isn’t always relatable, but at least pick a subject that is relatable. Something that people can think about on their own. Maybe they will pick up that book that you criticized, just because some just criticism can stimulate them to come up with ideas of their own. Get your readers to read. Some people, like me, don’t do it enough.

The Planner’s Flaw

Maybe I am overly perfectionist when it comes down to planning absolutely anything. For those who were wondering how I could write or post this while I am in Belgium without access the Internet; I can’t. In reality, I wrote this post a week before and requested WordPress to upload it for me at a certain date. I usually want everything to be perfect. My blog posts should be spread out evenly, I should write a story chapter a day, every task should be done before dinner… The list goes on and on. It might seem nice to be a planner, as you always know what you are supposed to do. However, there are many drawbacks to planning almost obssesively.

The first drawback to my excessive planning is that, once it does not go according to plan, I lose all will to continue as I regard it as failing. This is hard, especially during the holidays and vacations. I had been planning to finish the third book in my series when I went to Austria. The laptop failed and did not save the one chapter I had written… and I immediately could not do it anymore. I haven’t written a thing ever since. And just when I felt the desire to start again, the date on which I’d have to leave again was approaching. It all felt pointless. If I don’t manage to finish within the time range I’ve given myself, I feel like giving up.

The second drawback is that this amount of planning stresses me out more than it should. Planning is supposed to allow you to rest when you deserve to, right? I personally cannot feel rested when I know there is so much left to be done. At the moment, I am stuck with a terrible headache, just because I am stressing out. I actually had to leave my job early, just because this spot at the top of my skull was throbbing. As far as I know, that is a bad sign. It is not like I do that much in my free time, but just the feeling of never being actually free is enough to cause this.

Thirdly, certain things probably should not be forced, like writing. While I said before that it is a perfectly fine way of writing to just sit down and start, it does not always work. As it turned out for me, I cannot do that without stressing over it. What am I supposed to write today? What if I don’t like it and it is just pointless? What if I never finish it? I usually deal with deadlines fine, but not in this case. You cannot always force the creativity.

Sometimes the planner just needs a rest. No planning, no doing anything. Of course, that isn’t always possible. However, we should try not to overdo it. Not everything has to happen right the day we decide it has to. Not everything is as important. Pick your battles or you’ll end up sitting on the couch, almost unable to do a thing.

Breaking the Rules of the Writers’ Blog

Supposedly there are several rules for keeping a writers’ blog in order to keep it valuable to both other aspiring writers and publishers. Now, I definitely am not aiming at publishers when writing this – the other writers, and possibly readers, are the ones I would like to reach. However, I am getting the feeling that I break those rules too often.

First of all, every blogger needs to be cautious of their amount of posts. To be honest, if I notice people are posting their musings about ten times a day, it is doubtful that I am actually going to take a look at them. I am sorry for that, but such an amount becomes bothersome to keep up with. I try to make sure I don’t do that – in fact, I am pretty sure I don’t do that, as I am sadly in the opposing category of bloggers: those who post way too less and way too irregularly. In order to keep a steady base of readers, one must make sure to actually post to their blogs. While I try to make sure I do that, sometimes my enthusiasm just falters. Suddenly, I lose all inspiration and don’t even want to write a thing anymore. As soon as I stop for a few days, those few days quickly turn into weeks. This is something I should try to avoid, just by keeping up the stream of ideas.

Secondly, the main goal of a writer’s blog should be to either help other writers or to get help for themselves. However, my posts definitely don’t consist of any helpful tips. Yes, there may be some hidden in my posts, but they generally are not the main point. I doubt anyone actually sees them in there. Strangely enough, I am getting the feeling that my posts that aren’t focussing on writing tips are the most well-read. Maybe people just enjoy reading about my musings more, or it may be because I am not an expert, but it still strikes me as odd. I am defying the entire point of the writers’ blog by posting all of this nonsense, yet it appears that people enjoy that nonsense. At least, it is what I seem to get the most responses to. This is still a writer’s blog; I am going to keep it that way, but I am not afraid anymore of breaking the rules.

In the end, I am not entirely sure what the benefit of keeping a blog as a writer is. Nobody is going to find me this way. I am not going to posts my manuscripts on here, as that would cause publishers to never want anything to do with me. I do it, though, because it is fun to me. Keeping this blog is not so much a job as a nice activity to keep me writing. That is all that counts.

Why Having a Writers’ Mind Improves Your Life

Having an active life outside of writing stories definitely stimulates the creative mind, but the opposite is true as well; having a creative mind improves the quality of daily life for sure. It may be because I am still a kid at heart – from the American point of view, I still am a (college) kid, so this may be a strange thing to say. When I started going to the gym for the first time in my life a few days ago, I had been dreading the moment for ages. However, when I arrived it turned out not to be bad at all. I decided to just go for a run on the treadmill, as the other devices seemed a little threatening for someone without training. As soon as I got up there and started running, my mind went wild. Why was I running? Was I fleeing from someone or something? Who or what was it? Ignoring the fact that I actually did not move from my spot at all, it was a great method for keeping my mind busy while my body started to ache. I had to keep going, no matter what, or the enemy was going to catch up with me. I hope I didn’t say anything strange or made any weird noises, which I sometimes do when in thought, but at least my imagination made this physical torture a lot more bearable. I’ll go back there as soon as possible.

It may be a little geeky, but I doubt I am much of an ordinary person. I know everyone likes to claim that about themselves, but seeing the other people’s faces around there allowed me to deduce that most of them were not having any fun at all. I guess that is the beauty of the writers’ mind; it allows us to turn an ordinary day into something amazing, even when nothing at all happens.