Just in case anyone wonders why I’ve stopped posting regularly – perhaps the last time I did so was two weeks ago -, it is because I am feeling absolutely horrible at the moment. My great aunt just passed away, my grandpa is on his deathbed and one entire side of the family is basically shunning my mum, dad and me. I really don’t feel like writing at the moment, or studying, so I definitely don’t feel like writing ABOUT any of those things. To make it worse, I’m extremely prone to depression. In fact, I suffered from it for at least three years straight. All I hope is that it’s not going to come back. Now I’m slightly addicted to calming tea… At least that isn’t bad for you.
Yes, I am sad to admit that this post is one of those posts that are basically blatant self-advertising. However, I’m just a little excited to let you know about this. No, I am not getting a book published. I haven’t even tried yet. The Horrirific is the title of my new blog, which deals with reviews for horror movies. I love watching horror movies, I love writing, so I thought, why not combine the two? There are about four reviews on there at the moment, but please check it out. After all, you may be interested in finding out about some of the strange things I watch.
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.
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.
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?
I had never seen the movie E.T. when I started working on my manuscript of which the working title was “The Moon Girl”. In fact, I didn’t even know what it was about other than the friendship between a boy and an alien. It was something I never thought about until after I had already finished the manuscript. That was when I realised something horrible: my story, about an alien princess who had been send to Earth to retrieve her space ships power device, was eerily alike with Spielberg’s E.T. Of course there were differences. The most important was that my alien girl was a lot less innocent than the other extraterrestial being. In the end, she even admitted to having contemplated destroying the entire Earth. As far as I could tell from the summary, E.T. never came close to such ideas. Also, there was nothing cute about my alien girl with her big black eyes. She strongly disliked the main character, who in turn strongly disliked her – even though she only disliked him because of how horribly he treated her. If this is plagiarism, then it was completely unintentional. E.T. came out thirteen years before I was born. I wasn’t influenced by it. However, now I’m starting to feel bad. I should have known.
Another case of possible unintentional plagiarism can be found in the first manuscript in my series. I am not sure if a character’s looks can be plagiarised, though. Otherwise, the Face Stealer and Slenderman could very well be twins. Again, I didn’t intend to do this. All I was trying to do was create a faceless being with some human properties in order to make it fit in with the world. Of course I could have come up with many different kinds of faceless creatures, but a shadowy figure would stand out in a crowd. I couldn’t use that. Instead, I chose to give my demon the form of a tall, bald man with pale skin and no face (until it started stealing them). That is where the similarities ended. This creature didn’t kill or actually harm anyone. All it wanted was to find its perfect face. In the process, though, it swapped the faces of almost everyone in town. It was meant to be funny with just a little bit of scary. It wasn’t Slenderman, yet again I feel like I horribly wronged someone without even thinking about it.
Now I’m wondering if unintentional plagiarism even exists. I know you have to do something horribly wrong in order to be persecuted for it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t bad. Being unintentionally unoriginal is not something that should happen to a writer – yet it happens to all of us, as nothing is ever really original. All stories have already been told. All kinds of characters have already been made. We just have to decide how to use them in order to make them interesting again.
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.
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.
For my 50st blog, I decided I’d do something special. Here is the first chapter of the first book in my children’s series, called The Face Stealer. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
Chapter 1: A Halloween Dream
“Can you see anything yet?” I asked my little brother Levi.
“No. Jamie, I don’t even know what I’m looking for! This is so boring.”
“I thought you wanted to see a real-live Halloween monster?”
To me, Halloween was the most special day of the year. After all, it was the day people would turn into monsters… And monsters would turn into people. I had been waiting all year for it. Me and my family had moved to this town called Borington – well, maybe that was not its real name – exactly eleven months ago, a month after the infamous Halloween night. The other kids at school loved to talk about it, but I hadn’t been there to see it. This year would be different. This year, I lived right next to the Poachers’ Forest, where everyone said all the fun always happened. If something sinister was going to appear, I would know it. However, since staring out of the window for hours was really boring, I had put Levi on the look-out. In the meantime, I slaughtered some virtual monsters on my computer.
Levi yawned loudly. I grumbled. Not yet… I thought to myself. Couldn’t he even stay awake for one night only?
“Jamie, I’m tired. This isn’t fun at all,” Levi complained.
I glanced at the alarm clock. 11:58pm, the red glowing numbers showed. Almost time. Almost midnight. Almost Halloween.
I put my controller aside and rapidly climbed on top of our bunk bed. Jamie was sitting crouched near the skylight. His breath had left marks on the glass, as a draught came through the window.
“Move it,” I commanded, pushing Levi aside. “I want to watch.”
Levi gave me a sluggish look. He nudged the sleep out of his eyes. I suspected he hadn’t been awake all evening, even though I had told him to do so. What if the monster had passed by while Levi had been drowsing of?
“So… Does that mean something is going to happen?” Levi asked me.
I nodded. “And I am the one with the first-rate seats.”
I could feel my heart throbbing as I looked at the alarm clock. 12 o’clock. Were the stories true or were my classmates just messing with me? I had to know.
Levi whacked me aside with his elbow. “This is my bed. I deserve the first-rate seat.”
We both pressed our noses up against the window, side by side. I could still feel the spot where Levi had hit me. He was surprisingly strong for a six-year old and angering him definitely wasn’t fun. I wanted to take revenge, but I knew that if he started yelling, mum and dad would be here in a second. Then the fun would be over forever…
A deafening bang echoed through the Poachers” Forest. Was it the sound of thunder or was it something less ordinary? I could think of a million things it could have been, but it was for sure that it was real. Levi had covered his ears with his hands to protect them from the noise. A group of winged creatures glided past, lit by nothing but the moon.
“Are those bats?” Levi asked.
I chuckled, even though my blood had run cold. “No, you moron, they were just birds. But something must have scared them…”
Levi frowned. “Are you deaf? They were freaked out because of that explosion!”
“Or because of something else…” I mumbled. “Look over there.”
A hunched figure was standing in the shade near the end of the street, close to the edge of the forest. His back was turned to us, but I could tell something was off. He was very tall and thin, with snow-white skin and a head as round as a bowling ball. A black mantle adorned his pointy shoulders and covered arms that almost reached his feet.
When the person turned around, I was sure about it: that creature was not human! He did not have eyes or ears. He lacked a nose and a mouth. His face was perfectly smooth, as if it was an egg instead of a head.
As soon as I realised what I saw, I crawled back and dragged Levi along. You shouldn’t let it see you, the little voice in the back of my head told me.
“What are you doing?” Levi asked, clearly annoyed.
“We have to hide,” I whispered.
“Why? It’s just a person in a costume…”
No matter what Levi thought it was, I was sure something was not right. I pressed his head down, into the mattress.
“Jamie!” he squeaked.
“Stay down!” I murmured, as I pressed my back against the wall.
Levi laughed quietly. “Do you really think it’s real? It doesn’t even have eyes. It’s not like it can see us.”
“Then be quiet!” I hissed.
Levi raised his head and made a face as if he thought I was stupid. “Does it have ears?”
“No, it doesn’t…” I sighed.
“Then stop freaking out. You’re not a bird, are you?”
I glanced through the window again, watching the figure walk slowly across the street. His head was tilted slightly, as if he were looking for something – if he could see anything at all.
Levi wrestled me until I loosened my grip on the back of his head. Immediately, he whizzed down the ladder. I quickly shut the curtains and followed him. There were two important questions left for me. Firstly, where was my moronic brother going? Secondly, what could a creature without face possibly be looking for?
Quietly, Levi opened the door to our bedroom and sneaked outside. He tiptoed across the hallway.
“Where are you going?” I asked softly. “Mum and dad cannot know we are still awake!”
Levi pointed at the stairs. “Downstairs,” he answered. “I want to see it.”
“It could just be someone who’s trying to scare us…” I said with trembling voice.
Levi did not listen. He crept down the stairs without thinking. I had to go after him. Sometimes, Levi was not just a moron. At those times, he was just an idiot. Like now. As I liked to think, Levi was the brave one when it came to the two of us. I was the one with the brains.
Downstairs, Levi opened all curtains and lit all lamps in the room. The situation was even worse than I thought… The faceless monster was standing in our own front yard! It was so close it could smash the windows with ease, especially with those monstrous arms.
I held my breath. Levi was standing face to face with something that came directly from my nightmares.
This had been my idea. Why had I been so stupid? Borington, no way. This was Creepsville.
“Stay away from that window,” I whispered. “We don’t know if this is a prank. What if it is dangerous?”
Levi shrugged and turned towards me. “Isn’t that part of the fun of monster hunting?”
The creature disappeared. Just now, it had been standing right in front of us. In the one second Levi turned around, it was gone. Where could it be hiding?
I ran across the room, looking out of every single window. Gone. It was gone. My stomach turned in my belly. Something bad was about to happen. This was not possible. No prankster was this good…
I heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Levi and I both leapt in the air out of fright. This was worse than the monster…
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.