Friday, March 31, 2017

The One About Gender

If you’ve ever been on a writers’ forum that accepts all writers, you’ve seen the amateur writers. And if you’ve see them, you’ve seen this question: “how do I wrote the [opposite gender]?” In fact, you’ve probably seen it multiple times in multiple topics and areas of those writers’ forums, despite the fact they could have easily searched their question and found all the great answers in those topics from the past, rather than cluttering space up and---
I feel passionate about that space, okay?

Anyway. The question itself is a question people ask a lot. Almost every writer (not necessarily “amateurs” even) has asked this question before: how do I write a girl? How do I write a boy? It’s scary to think of write from the point of view of the opposite gender… for some reason.
I’ve answered this question multiple times on several forums, and then realized: “wait… what if I wrote a blog post about it?”
So here we are, my thought process finally being finished and composed enough for me to write the post without referencing the space-saving ability of searching your question before posting a new-

Well, too late, but may as well talk about it anyway.

Why Do We Fear Opposite-Gender POVs?

Whenever I’ve seen this question asked, I’ve been super confused. See, I’ve written stories from both gender POVs, almost in equal proportions. And I never really stop to wonder “wait… that’s scary”. So when people ask “HOW DO I WRITE [BOYS/GIRLS] HELP I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO HOW DO YOU THINK PLEASE HELP ME”, I started in a place of confusion.

See, here’s the deal: the other gender shouldn’t be scary to us. I’m not sure why people fear writing the other gender, but they do. They don’t want to mess up.
So there’s the reason for the fear: if the audience doesn’t feel the character is acting their gender, then they won’t like reading, right? In theory, if a guy reads a guy character written by a girl who didn’t write the guy character to sound like a guy, then the guy who is reading will dislike it and call it out as fake.
I… don’t believe this to be the case at all.
I’ve read dozens and dozens of guy characters written by girls and dozens of girl characters written by guys that sound just like they’re supposed to.
What did those writers do?
How did they overcome the fear of writing the other gender?

First, they recognized that the other gender isn’t something to be feared. We don’t have to be afraid of writing the other POV, not ever. They’re not meant to be feared, not by us.
So let’s examine those steps, and then look at what it really means to write not just the opposite gender, but your own gender.

The Reality of People-ness

Here’s the deal: gender isn’t a huge, life-changing thing. People like to fixate on it because it’s an easy way to classify people. Therefore, writers must also fixate on it and make a big deal about gender, right?
Uhm… no?
People are people. Regardless of their gender, they are people. And they are just like you. They are full of their own complexities and conundrums and hopes and fears and ticks and eccentricities. Every single one of us, male or female, is a flawed human with our own outlook on reality and our own personality that is a mix of circumstances, upbringing, and in-born tendencies. You can’t separate any part of a person without dissolving that whole person.

Therefore, when you try to ask “how do I write a male character?”, you’re actually pulling at a string that, if pulled hard enough, will make the character melt into a blob of less-than-human substance. Obviously, you don’t mean to do that, but it still happens. You can’t pull a person’s male-ness or female-ness out of them without making the rest of them collapse into a puddle of humanity flowing down into the drain.

Instead of asking “how do I write a male character?”, ask “how do I write a human?”
That, of course, is a much harder question, which I have attempted to answer time and time again (see my “six parts of character development” post, for instance. Our job is not to write “males” or “females”, but to write people. That’s the key to a character. That’s the key to everything. If we treat everyone like a person with the rights and the complexities of humanity that we ourselves have, then we rid ourselves of prejudices and preconceived notions.
This goes for writing as well. If we treat all characters – male female – as humans, we rid ourselves of the preconceived notions we all struggle with.

What are these notions? Well, let’s look at a few of the objections to do thing, and see if we can find out what those notions are… and then eradicate them so we can write real characters with real struggles and real humanness.

Notions: The Guys

I’m doing the guys first not because I’m sexist and think they should be, but because I thought up all the problems with us writing male characters first, because they’re the easiest and most obvious. So.

One of the most ridiculous notions we’ve got about guys is that they’re tough. I know more guys who aren’t tough than guys that are. Maybe it’s just who I hang out with, but so many guys struggle with the self-image and self-confidence issues that are supposedly a “girl thing” that I’m just confused about where this imagery comes from.
Guys aren’t emotionless. They may seem like robots on the outside, but that’s because they’re not built to simply lay out all their emotions on a table for you to admire and pick at. Instinctively, guys deal with their emotions internally because they have to look strong and be able to care for those under their protection. That’s just a natural instinct a lot of guys have because nature works that way. But they still feel those emotions.
Guys feel a lot of emotions. Often.
Sometimes they express them, sometimes they don’t. I can guarantee, however, that they experience as many emotions as girls do. They simply don’t express all of them. I’m not saying girls express all of their feelings, because they don’t, I’m just saying that guys have emotions, too.
Don’t have your male character be emotionless. Have them feel emotions, and have them express them if that fits who they are as a person.

Start with their humanity and work up, not the other way around.

Notions: The Girls

This one can be touchy, because it’s a prevalent issue right now. People want girls to have more representation in stories, especially in movies, and they want to “break the mold” of the damsel-in-distress. People want strong, independent women.

But here’s the deal: we’ve tried so hard to break the mold that we’ve created another one. By avoiding the damsel cliché, storytellers created the macho-woman. They created the tough woman. She’s so tough and so independent that she’s basically a rock with aesthetically pleasing curves.

That’s not the point of female characters.
In fact, that’s not the point of CHARACTERS.
Our job is NOT to create strong female characters or relatable emotionally strong male characters. Instead, we are to create CHARCTERS.
If your goal is to break one cliché, you’re going to end up falling into a different cliché, which may be worse than the last. Rather, you shouldn’t try to write a female character who is strong. Rather, you should try to write a strong character who is female.

Scratch that. Your job is to create a strong character. Gender shouldn’t play a huge role in whether the character is strong.
Should your females have emotions? Yes.
Should your females flaunt them? Only if it fits who they are as a PERSON.

Summing Up My Repetition

At this point, I’m being fairly repetitive. I’ve said the same basic things over and over, and I should really just shut up and wrap up.
So let me offer advice to all the writers wondering how to write the other gender:
Don’t write the other gender.
Write people.

If you’re having difficulty with them, then it’s not their gender. It’s a problem with who they are as a character. If you feel like they don’t sound like their gender, then there’s two steps:
Step one: forget their gender. Just forget that they’re not your gender for a moment. If it helps, write them as if they’re not the other gender and then switch pronouns around in your prose later. Whatever it takes, FORGET THEIR GENDER. Set it aside. It shouldn’t be an issue.
Step two: come back after writing it with gender forgotten, and find beta readers of the opposite gender to you, as well as those who are your gender. Get their opinions.
Beta readers are super helpful in this. Because sometimes your character may actually sound too much like a guy to be a girl. Just because they’re similar in most respects doesn’t mean there isn’t some line way out there.

Just write them as humans.
Then get advice.
Chances are, you won’t even need the advice, because they’ll sound so human that it won’t matter if you’ve got a guyish-girl or a girlish-guy. Because in the end, you’ve written a good human.
And that’s the point.

Intertwining POVs

If you’ve been on any writers’ forum, you’ll have seen this question: “can I write multiple POVs in a novel?”
It was probably asked by a new writer who didn’t bother to search their question before cluttering the forum with yet another topic. And the same old veteran writers answered it with long posts with great answers.

So let me answer the question simply: yes, you can have multiple POVs in one novel.
You can look at almost any novel and see multiple POVs written in the same novel, even the same chapter. Obviously, then it’s allowed. However, it’s a question so commonly asked that I decided I’d take today’s post to talk about it and give a few tips.

The Two Tenses

When you think multiple POVs, you tend to think of third person. Everyone does. It’s the classic move: write in third person and then use it to hop around all sorts of heads. Especially to write the villain’s point of view (which, for the record, is hardly ever done well and is actually quite cliché).

However, it’s not the only sort of POV you can hope around it.
That’s right. First person. It’s becoming more and more common to write multiple first person views into the same novel. I did it with Asher’s Song, Veronica Roth did it in Divergent (quality aside, she did it and got published), and others have done so as well.

Therefore, to answer that other common question: “can I write multiple first person POVs in one novel?”, yes.  you can.
There is, however, a jarring choice that some then assume they can make. It’s one of those risky choices I talked about a while back. Using both third and first person. Yes, there are published books that have done this.
Are they jarring?
Here’s the deal: if you write in third, your reader expects everything to be in third. Yes, even if it’s just the prologue.
Just like writing the same tense, you should write the same personal POV. While you may, it’s always jarring to your readers and causes confusion that pulls them out of the story for a vital moment.
Sure, it may be artistic and it’s your own choice, but that moment we’re pulled out is a chance you don’t have our full attention, and that’s never good. And rarely is it worth the artistic pleasure.

Careful Weaving

Some people will tell you to avoid switching POVs mid-chapter, others will tell you it’s fine and to switch whenever.

While I tend to lean toward the latter, I will admit this: some readers are thrown off by mid-chapter head hops. Therefore, I offer this advice: set a pattern early and stick with it for the remainder of the book.
If you don’t switch heads in the first few chapters, don’t switch for the last seven. It’s odd and unnerving to your reader to suddenly have a new head after an entire book in the one POV. Establish quickly that you intend to head-hop. And if you go by-chapter in the beginning, don’t suddenly change that near the end or in the middle have a chapter that’s split.

Basically, be consistent. You can get away with so much if you’re simply consistent and up-front with your choices.

Careful Vibrancy

It can be difficult to know when to make a risky choice and when not it.
Thankfully, there’s only one choice you have to make when it comes to head-hopping in novels: the level of consistency. It’s a relatively simple answer to a common question.
Do what you want.
Be consistent.
Don’t pull your reader out of the story.
Write well.

Monday, March 27, 2017

My Writing – Agram Awakens

I thought today I’d step back from handing out advice and shine a bit of a light on what I’ve been doing with my own writing for the last few months.

Since I use this book as an example for many of my blog posts, I also thought I’d talk a bit about it. Today, I’m going to talk about Agram Awakens, which is my most precious story.

Stage 1: The Beginning

Agram Awakens has been a long time in the works. Back in 2013, I wrote a low-fantasy novel titled “A Merchant’s Guard”, which too this day no one is allowed to read and I hope those who have read it will not judge me by it. When I finished it, I had a long list of ideas I wanted to write next. This list included novels I’ve finished, such as Asher’s Song and Barnslow Died and The Elenivir, as well as ideas I’ve not yet started such as The Biography of a Very Bad Man and A Perfect World.
On that list was also a very vague idea which I knew I wanted to write, but didn’t know what it was yet. In my list of ideas, it was simply titled “fantasy novel”.

My ideas for it? “I want to write a high fantasy novel that prods at the clichés of fantasy and pushes the boundaries of theme in that genre.”
Oh yes, real clear, right?

Well, in 2014 I began to write down different ideas for characters, plots, and worldbuilding. I began to seriously worldbuild that summer, creating a few dozen nations and a dozen cultures in their varying facets. I building a magic system (or two… or three), religions, government and economic systems, races and flora and fauna. I continued to flesh out characters and their settings, but still didn’t really have a plot I wanted all these characters to connect to.
All I knew was this: I wanted this to be big.

Stage 2: The Outline

One night, I had an idea: what if I took every cliché in the fantasy genre and turned it upside down.

So I found fantasy clichés: “the Chosen One”, the Prophecy, and others, and threw them together in a cliché plotline about my six main characters.
Then…. I flipped it. I used the inverse. I twisted the clichés so that they bore a resemblance to those clichés, but also broke out of their molds and pulled in new twists, motivations, and resolutions.
There’s now only a husk of the “Chosen” cliché, a hint of the Prophecy cliché (well, perhaps slightly more than a hint), and whispers of other clichés (AKA dragons) in the background.

Great. I had the plan.

Only… it was going to take more than one book.
And… these books were going to be long.

Oh well. I began major outlining in winter of 2014, finding myself looking at a series of 10-14 books (the number changed daily). I finished the outline for the first book, Agram Awakens near the beginning of 2015. Things were looking up. I attending writer’s workshops, learned everything I could about the writing craft, and wrote novels in practice.
This work was to be my crowning achievement. My story to end all stories.

Stage 3: The Rough Draft

I don’t have too much to say about this one… I wrote the book over the course of eight months near the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016. I took a break and wrote a novel in November for NaNoWriMo, and finished in July of 2016.
It was done.
All 202,912 words of it.

Go me.

I felt… dissatisfied.
Don’t ask me, I still don’t know why.
I wrote over 200,000 words in eight months and felt like it wasn’t complete.

I walked away from the book for two months, edited Barnslow Died and submitted it to a contest (it placed as a semifinalist). I gave Agram Awakens to a friend who read the whole freaking thing and critiqued it.
Then I came back, to figure out what I wasn’t satisfied.

Stage 4: The Second Draft

Starting in October, I began editing. I was in college, which meant the work went slowly. I used the critiques given me to edit and fix rough draft problems: plot holes, character inconsistencies, emotional and conflict lapses, and basic prose issues.

I forged the book into something better. Not great, not yet, but something better.
I finished the second draft March 7th, 2017.
Three and a half years and three other novels later, Agram Awakens had a second draft.

And I knew why I hated the rough draft.
Here’s the thing about flipping clichés: it’s easy to forget to keep them flipped. I’d made the mistake of going lax in my fight against clichés about mid-December, during the middle of Act Two of the book.
I let the clichés in, and it hurt the story.

I discovered this a month into the editing process, when I reached the end of Act One and realized… I love the first Act. Love it. The characters act believably, the emotions and conflict run high, and the world and plot hang just where they need to be.
Then I realized that I hated Act Two. I disliked chapters or even whole character arcs.
And I figured out why: they were cliché. The very things I’d written this book in a protest against were filling the pages.

I edited the second act much slower than the first, taking my time to eradicate plot holes and clichés that littered some of the chapters.
It got better.
Slowly, slowly, I found myself becoming more and more satisfied.
By the time I finished Act Three, I found myself content. Not with the way the prose is, but with the way the story worked.
It told a powerful tale.

So What IS Agram Awakens?

I’ve been rather vague, so let me sum up what Agram Awakens is about:

“Agram Awakens is the story of six people struggling through their own personal dreams when their plans are interrupted by cataclysmic events set off by their own choices.”

That’s my log-line. It’s not perfect, yet, but it does fairly well in summing up the first of ten books that are 200,000 words long.
To give you a bit more detail: Agram Awakens is a high fantasy novel about six characters: a slave running from her masters, a knight fighting a religious war, a thief leaving behind the world he knows to see what’s out there, a noblewoman whose plans are upturned, and a merchant forced to take a dangerous trek through a desert.
It’s about their hopes and dreams colliding with their pain and suffering. Agram Awakens is about power and weakness, racism and equality, death and life. It’s about questioning truth and finding either hope or nothingness, and the consequences of each.

That’s Agram Awakens. That’s my brainchild, the story I hope I can impact the world with. That’s the art I want to create.

What Comes Next?

On March 8th, 2017, I began the sequel to Agram Awakens. I’m not near done editing it, but I needed to set it aside.
The sequel, Slave to Prophecy. It’s going to be thirty-two chapters longer, according to my outline (94 chapters versus the 62 of Agram Awakens) and I hope to take the themes and plot and characters of the first book and dig deeper into them while introducing new ideas and plots and themes.
I’m going to be writing this book until the end of May, when I’ll switch back to editing Agram Awakens, which I hope to finish draft three of by mid-August. From there... back to Slave to Prophecy which I’d love to finished by March of 2018. We’ll see how it all turns out.