Monday, January 28, 2013

Story Satire #2: Teen Paranormal Romance

Hello, all! The time has come again for another brave foray into the world of writing. As you can see, today I have another Story Satire for you. Today, I will teach you how to make a name for yourself in one of the most lucrative genres of the 21st century: teen paranormal romance, not to be confused with teen dystopic romance (that's a post for another day, if the world doesn't end first).

So, here we go:

1. The heroine must be between 15 and 17 years old. Any younger, and it will be too creepy when she falls for an immortal being. Any older, and she would be too wise and guarded to allow herself into this kind of relationship. The love interest, as stated, should be immortal. He should also be conflicted about living forever. If he is not immortal, he must be older.

2. The heroine must have the following characteristics: physical weakness and lack of coordination or dexterity (it will make the love interest's physical prowess seem more extreme and manly); a sheltered existence (small town, overbearing parents, etc.); an interest in something eclectic like classic literature, indie music, art...anything that indicates depth of character without making you write a deep character, and stubbornness. She must be ridiculously stubborn to the point of stupidity. This will make your readers see her as a strong character. Also, when describing her appearance, compare her to a bird or a doll. Make her fragile and tiny. Again, this will make the love interest look stronger by comparison. She must be able to charm all carriers of the Y chromosome, but be shocked and amazed when she does. Don't waste time fleshing out her character; the flatter she is, the better the reader can put herself in the heroine's place. This leads to reader involvement, which is highly important in selling books.

3. The love interest must, as said before, be immortal/older. He must be conflicted about this. In fact, the more things you can have him conflicted about, the better. One thing he should DEFINITELY be conflicted about is his relationship with the heroine. You see, he must endanger her. Either he is a being that is inherently dangerous (vampire works well, but you can also try werewolf, faerie, alien, fallen angel, cyborg, or whatever else may be able to kill a doll-like human with one fierce hug), or he is surrounded by danger. Maybe he is human, but under a curse or bound to hunt the things that go bump in the night. But he loves the heroine, and as much as he tries to leave her, he can't.

4. The heroine will not leave the love interest for any reason, including near-death experiences. When asked to stay away, she must either retort with a sassy remark or stammer out a romantic phrase like, "But I love you. You're perfect."

5. This love is TRUE love. The heroine has not realized what she has been living for until she has met the love interest. Dialogue must show the depth of their passion, and thus must not be tailored to individual characters and situations. Everyone knows what lines cause the most swooning, so add as many of those as you can, like variations of "I can't live without you", "There's only you. There's always only been you", and "Spend eternity with me."

6. Add lots of physical contact. Remember, this shows, better than anything, how deep the love is. This is a teen romance, so don't go all the way. But go pretty far before the love interest breaks away because he's conflicted. Have your heroine yearn for the love interest physically. Have her think about his perfect face and body all the time. Never discuss which of his personality traits she likes, and NEVER EVER mention ones that detract from his perfection. If you must complicate his character, have the heroine say he is "frustrating."

7. As a plot point, the heroine must be in danger and need to be protected. This could be because of the love interest's ardor for her or something else, like an ancient curse or family feud, a physical trait, or even her amazing ability to make men fall over themselves for her. This is very important: she is not able to protect herself. She must rely on the love interest, who is conflicted about his ability to protect her.

8. Love triangle. Every good teen paranormal romance has one. The Other Man, opposite the love interest, must be the love interest's polar opposite. Do not try to flesh out an individual character; it will take too long. Just mirror-and-flip the love interest. Thus, the Other Man is not conflicted about anything. He can offer the heroine a normal life, away from the world of the paranormal. She may find herself wanting this, but in the end she scorns it and him for the dangerous love interest.

9. The climax must be a decision. Build up to a huge battle between the love interest and the antagonist (you don't need an antagonist for this to work; you could have him fight the Other Man or try to leave forever), as this will keep the readers hooked, but bait-and-switch with the heroine making some grand epic choice that until this point seemed like a non-issue. This will make the heroine seem in charge of her fate and therefore a strong character without rounding out her personality in a way the bump the reader out of that space.

10. Deviate only slightly from these points. You may be tempted to develop character first and writing second, but that is a waste of time. Save that energy for the pages and pages of florid poetry describing the paranormals and the deep love this 16-year-old feels for one of them. So-called "good" writers would say that any genre can be rendered new and exciting by a fresh take on characters and plot, but you're not looking for fresh. You want something that you know works. Why risk an experiment when the formula is right here?

I'm looking forward to seeing your black-rose beautiful stories on the shelves before Valentine's Day. If you liked this and have a genre you'd like me to satire, put it in a comment. Expect some more of these, nonetheless. I have some good ideas, leaving romances behind. Every genre has its stereotypes that give the good eggs a bad name.

Also, expect further news about my novel. The sneak peek is still up, and I've gotten a lot of positive responses about it. The most common being, "What happens next?" Read it and tell your friends, and stay tuned for the release.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Writing Strong

Well, the sneak peek of my novel has been up for about a week and I've heard good things about it, such as "WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?" Which, as a writer, I love to hear. So, read the sneak peek, tell everyone you know about it, and read my novel when it comes out. Details forthcoming.

Last week I wrote about how difficult it is to write strong female characters, aka, characters who are undoubtedly female (they act, speak, and think female) yet are strong characters who act and are not acted upon and push the story forward. This week I want to talk a little about how to write strong MALE characters, which, after a lot of thought, I've decided can be just as hard.

I don't usually run into this problem when I write science fiction and fantasy. I'm building on the foundation left me by Tolkien, Asimov, Bradbury, Rowling...the list goes on and on. Generally, it's easier to write strong characters in epic fantasy because the characters can be kings and queens, warriors and magicians, characters with the sheer power needed to influence the plot. It gets harder when writing realistic fiction, especially comedy, and that's what I want to discuss.

Remember last week when I talked about a strong/feminine continuum? I believe there is also a continuum for men. On one side we have men who are strong and masculine, but brutal and uncaring, and on the other side men who are effeminate, foolish, and weak. The Wifebeater versus the Suburban Numbskull. I feel like I see this dichotomy a lot on TV.

If the character is meant to be that way, then so be it. The character comes first. However, when writing a strong male character, the writer does not have to make him violent, cruel, or womanizing. A man can be strong and caring at the same time. Think Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. This is a character who has a strong moral code and, importantly, affects the plot and the other characters.

I guess the main jerk-back reaction I have to the problems with writing strong characters, be they male or female, is that it is so easy to fall into a stereotype or the mirror opposite, which can be just as bad. In trying to make a female character look strong, it's easy to write her with the thoughts, speech and action of a man, AND to make all male characters look weak and silly. On the other hand, in creating a strong male character, it's easy to show him dominating silly, weak women. Neither one of these is good writing.

There are real physical and cognitive differences between men and women, and a good writer knows this. The readers certainly know it; I can't tell you how many times I've offered up a piece of fiction and gotten told that my male protagonist sounds like a girl. Also, human beings are complex, convoluted creatures. They don't tend to fit a stereotype. Not completely, at least. I once heard (or read) a quote that said, "Hitler loved dogs." Even the most depraved people have soft spots, and even saints have sins. It's for the writer to flesh out a real person, not a caricature or even a answer-back to conventional stereotypes.

So, how do you write a strong character? I guess the first thing to do is decide what you think it means to be strong. For me, it's moving the plot forward and acting rather than being acted upon. Then build the character with the strength to be strong while adding the talents, flaws, and personal traits that make the character a real person. Male or female, it's just good writing.

Monday, January 14, 2013

News and Strong Women

Well, my last post got a good response, so I guess I'll keep doing posts like it. There are so many formulaic ways of telling a story, I doubt I'll have a problem with several more. Comment and let me know if there is a specific genre you'd like me to break down and satire (like romantic comedy, high fantasy/science fiction, for example). That being said, I will say that I LOVE ANY STORY, IF IT IS WELL-WRITTEN. Just because something is a tragic romance, or whatever, does not automatically mean I hate it. It's just when the writer sacrifices skill for whatever tends to "work" that I get a little peeved. Stay tuned: I'm definitely going to do more of those. publisher puts out a magazine, featuring certain kinds of writing. Emerald Sky is science fiction and fantasy, and guess what? It's featuring a sneak peek of my upcoming novel, The Shifting. Take this link to their current issue, read it, and tell your friends. I'm just new enough to things like this to still get giddy seeing my name published.

That being said, I want to discuss the writing of strong female characters. I think this is really tricky to do in today's society, because no matter how you do it you're going to tick someone off. With some readers, and writers, it seems like there's a continuum between "Strong" and "Feminine" and the more your character leans to one side the less she can be on the other. So how can a write create a female character who is strong and capable, but who is also not a male character named Jamie instead of James?

I'm not sure of the answer. It's not easy to figure this one out, and again, this battle cannot be won. If the female character is, for lack of a better word, girly, there will be readers who don't buy her strength and bad-mouth the story for having a "weak" character. Conversely, a super-strong female may seem too manly to be a woman. Maybe you want this. Maybe you don't.

In my mind, there isn't a continuum. I think a character can be strong AND feminine. Hermione, from the Harry Potter books, is a good, well-known example. It's clear she's female; the way she speaks, acts, interacts with other characters, makes this clear. It's also clear that she's strong. She affects the plot, and without her, the story would not end happily. Eowyn, from LOTR, is also a good example of this. She is female, feminine, and she stabs the King of the Nazgul when no one else can. She's no pushover, but reading her character, I can't fit a man into her role. Her character is female. I can keep going, but I won't.

Here I am, speculating on what "strong" means in this context. I guess I figure that a strong character, of any gender, is one that acts, that is able to move the plot along. Someone that has a will that isn't shaped by another's character but is that character's own, and changes the way the story moves. I like characters that get stuff done. I guess that's why I have issues with Bella Swan as the heroine of the Twilight books. I feel like I'm scraping for ways she influences the plot, even though she is very stubborn and self-sacrificing.

Ultimately, I guess it always comes down to your character. Maybe she is weak and girly, maybe she is strong and kind of manly. But if you sit down to write a "strong, female character", I don't see why one aspect has to trump the other. A lady can like makeup, charm men, and rule a nation in peace and war. Queen Elizabeth the First managed it okay.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Story Satire #1: Tragic Romance

I'm back from break, and ready to write! This will likely last for the rest of the week, and then I'll want to sleep all the time. Anyway, the break has been good for me. I have an idea for a bunch of posts. I talk a lot about how to write well, but each genre has its pitfalls. Today I'm going to teach you how to write badly. This is a joke; if anyone cites me as a source for writing poorly I will point at the title of this post and deny everything. I am not putting this disclaimer on future posts of this nature. If the title says "Story Satire" understand I am not kidding.

(I'm sorry if the last sentence insulted your intelligence. I just want to make myself clear.)'s how to write a tragic romance! Now you too can have readers bawling into a tub of ice cream without using any real writing ability!

1. Introduce 2 characters, a man and a woman, as the romantic couple. Put a social divide between them, such as money, status, life choices, parent's don't approve, prior engagement etc. This will add drama from the beginning. Remember, the bigger, the better. The less the situation parallels real life, the more your readers will love it. For example, if there is a prior engagement, the fiance is a cruel, ruthless pig that will never allow the woman to break it off, and the parents approve of him, and he's rich. Create the perfect storm.

2. One or both of the couple should be poor. The story should be set either in the past (the Victorian Era works well) or in the present. If set in the present, it should take place in a small town. Everyone knows tragic romances don't happen in the city. Romantic comedies do.

3. One of the lovers (preferably the man) should have a heart of gold despite coming from a cruel/humble background. Do not show how rough circumstances may roughen your character, because they haven't. Your poor character must act as if he/she has been raised by kindly nuns. That's not to say this character is not rebellious, but the rebellion is never life-threatening and often categorized under "fun." You want readers to like this person, and that means editing out anything that makes this character sound like anything other than a middle-class nice guy. Most people immediately relate to this role, and writing that character will save you from having to write a character who appeals to readers through tricky details like events, thoughts, and the unique way he sees the world.

4. The other lover (preferably the woman) must be trapped by her society. The Victorian angle works well here. She yearns for rebellion, but never takes one move towards it until the man she loves tells her to. She is a strong character, and you must show this by having her swear, drink, and contradict everyone. Everyone knows a strong woman is never kind. This will appeal to modern women, and you will not have to flesh out an individual for your character.

5. All love must be displayed through sexual actions. That spells out "true love" to your readers. This is more important than sweet, personalized actions real people use to tell others they love them. Such as: making dinner, romantic getaways, planning a date based around the likes of the other person.

6. Throw problems at your couple. Now, other writers will say that this is the point of fiction, and they're right. But you will do more. You will throw problems at your couple that are BIGGER and BADDER than anyone's problems. This is no place to introduce an issue common to your readers and explore how the different characters act. They'll react negatively, you know that. Have a screaming match/drug issues and get on with it. Layer abuse on status issues. Parents are getting a divorce? Not good enough. One should be sick with cancer (or whatever illness is in vogue) or commit a crime. A violent one. Send the male lover to war. Threaten the female with disinheritance. This all comes before the final problem: death.

7. One or both of the characters must die. Accidents are nice, but illness works best. If the story is set in the past, kill with tuberculosis. Call it "consumption". Brain fever also works well, since it is serious, causes hysteric fits, and in fact does not exist as a real medical problem. If in the present, use the most talked-about illness of the time. Cancer, AIDS, certain kinds of doesn't matter. Your characters must react to whatever you chose the same way they would if you picked another: negatively. Social connotations of each illness must be ignored. Hope will not be abandoned ever, even if the illness is always terminal. Hope causes pain later, because your reader will keep hoping your character will survive.

8. No medical action can be taken. That would defeat the point. All characters, even medical authorities, must shake their heads, weep, and say there is nothing they can do. This is not true of real life, but who cares? You can't let that character live.

9. As for writing and style, there's no need to impress anyone with delightful dialogue and spectacular prose. Write prose as poetically as you can, even if your point-of-view character is from the slums. Dialogue can be kept to a few passages of semi-witty banter (keep it mild, though. This is not a comedy) with long, tortured passages about how much they love each other. "You're my world" and "Who cares about everyone else. All I care about is you" will tear at the reader's heart, and perhaps even get reposted to a Facebook page.

10. Stick to these rules. Do not deviate. Other writers who spend too much time "honing their craft" may say that even a tired formula can be new and fresh when time is spent shaping and developing unique, 3D characters with excellent writing. They try too hard. Why fix what isn't broken?

Now you know what it takes to write a tragic romance that will get the nation sobbing. Get out there and write!