Thursday, 29 August 2013

Kill Your Darlings

My favourite character out of the series I am writing is very complex and difficult to understand. He was hard to get to know and seemed to try and evade me. The more I get to know him, the harder it became to fit him in the story. There was this one thing that happened in his past that would influence how he coped with certain events and this would have a great impact on the story. More and more it seemed as if the story needed to bend around him in order to make him fit in, but he is not the only character. It just did not feel right.

 At that point I started to consider that perhaps this was not his story. But I was not going to give up that easy. I did not want to give up on him so easy because to me he was far more than just another character. Parts of me are in him and he is very loosely based on someone that I admire a lot and has been inspiring me for a decade. I did more research in the hope to find something that would enable me to bypass his problem and make him fit in the story nonetheless. The answers I found were not the ones I wanted. Maybe this was not meant to be.

I was very close to killing him. I did not want to and the thought alone made me very sad, but it he would probably cause the whole story to come crashing down and I wanted to avoid that at all costs. I ensured myself if I had to kill him, I would not bury him. When the time was right, I would resurrect him and give him his own story. But luckily I did found a solution. A very simple one, actually. The trauma of his past was not important for the story, so why would I make him suffer so much? Taking the trauma away wouldn't fundamentally change him but it would make him able to be in the story. Everything is now starting to fit together again and I am very relieved because of this.  

But finding a solution for one character/scene/plot point/sentence/... does not mean there will always be a way to make it fit. You always have to look at the bigger picture. If something does not fit in, do not force it. It will make your story's quality go down. It is not because you kill it now, that you cannot use it later. Keep a notebook or a document were you save all the ideas and things that had to go because it did not fit. Maybe in time you find a way to rehabilitate them. Writing is great fun, but sometimes I can be very hard and it can even suck. Turn your heart into a stone and kill everything that does not fit.

"Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings."
On Writing by Stephen King

Monday, 26 August 2013

Writing Habits

A while ago I did a blog on reading habits and I decided that doing one on writing habits might be fun. I have been writing for about a decade now, though I only started writing seriously a couple of month ago. Thus I am still trying out new ways to work. 

I try to write every day. I do not set myself goals for the days as in how many hours I will be writing or how many words I want to write. Some days when I am having a down day or when I am very busy, it is just very hard to write. Still I try to get some words on the page, even if the writing ends up to be very bad. Bad writing is better than no writing. I fail the write daily more often then I want to, especially now that I am studying for my resists it is very hard. When schools start again in autumn, I hope I will finally plan everything in on a weekly basis and commit myself to that planning. I am, however, notoriously bad in planning.

source: google images
I hate being disturbed while writing. It can kill my flow. Most of the time I do the disturbing myself. The internet and not picking the right writing music are things that easily distract me. I like to chat with my friends and I do not stop a conversation when I am writing. It is not rare that I spend most of the time chatting instead of writing. I actually should close down the internet when writing, but I often use google translate to check up words seeing English is not my first language. Also the internet is easy for research. Writing with the internet open, is a very bad habit of mine. I really should try to close the internet more often or just ignore the people who are trying to talk to me until I have finished a paragraph or a scene.

Without a doubt my worst habit is wanting to rewrite scenes all the time. I have a hard time controlling my inner critic. When I reread something I have written previously, I almost always want to write it all over again because I know I can do it better. I should, however, leave that for another draft or else I have the risk to end up in a circle of never-ending edits or making myself very annoyed. Yesterday I spent a lot of time on writing a significant conversation and when I reread it today in order to continue, I wanted to make a back-up of the whole thing and start all over again. I managed to restrain myself so far, but it makes me frustrated and loose my enthusiasm to continue. 

I tend to keep everything related to the story in my head. I have a fairly good memory and I know that I am not likely to forget good ideas. I know everything would be much more organised when I would write it down, especially since I am working with a co-writer. I love world building until I have to write everything down. Because I have absolutely no clue what the best way to organise everything, I cannot stand to write it down. It somehow always makes it look very messy and disorganised. A giant cork board would be handy, but I have no room near my computer to hang something like that. I have, however, decided to scan in all my notes instead of typing them. It saves me a lot more time. I am also considering on using cards to write world building things on them and file them in a particular way. The downside of that system that I might end up with tons and tons of cards because they are so small.

I could go on for a little while longer, but as this blog is getting quite long, these habits (looking back on it, I a doubting if habit is the right word, but for now I cannot think of anything else) are the first ones that sprang into my mind. I might do another blog on something similar in the future about how I write, but I'm very busy now and leaving on a holiday in two weeks, so I might take a while before I write another blog.

If you have tips how I can improve these 'habits' or sort my world building organising problem, feel free to share in the comments. I would also love to read about your habits!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Fan Fiction

Wikipedia defines Fan fiction as a broadly-defined fan labour term for stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator.

Some people, including authors, look down upon fan fiction. Some, like for example Robin Hobb, do not even allow fans to use her story as a basis for fan fiction. The most common argument against fan fiction is that a writer has to learn to create their own worlds, characters and stories. I agree with that, but I am also in favour for fan fiction.

I have read a lot of fan fiction and written a couple of stories myself. Most of them were set in Harry Potter universe. While there is crap among them, some of the stories are brilliantly written. Sometimes I did wonder why such skilled writers would waste their time on fan fiction, but I dreamt of becoming a published writer as well when I wrote fan fiction. I wrote fan fiction because I enjoyed it so much. I loved working with the character I knew so well (or thought I knew so well) and expand the stories we already had. I knew that nothing would be as good as the original, but that didn’t matter to me. Fan fiction gives characters and settings an entire new life. And I do think fan fiction is a great flattery. If people like your work so much that they want to create their own stories with them, you should be happy. I would be thrilled if someone would do this with my work someday. As long as they do not own money from it, or do not claim the original idea to be theirs, I see no problems.

Fan fiction makes writing swift. You do not have to do any world building and often you do not have to flesh out characters. It is a great way to teach yourself to write without having to put months’ worth of work into it. But you will never become a good writer when you stick to fan fiction. You are missing the whole process of world building and character creation, which is as important as the plot and the writing itself. I do think it is important to understand when you write a fan fiction that you limit yourself to certain aspects of writing. Now that I finally found an original story that I cannot stop working in, I have given up fan fiction for now. I’m not saying that I am never going to write any again, but original stories have my priority. 

Cassandra Clare and E.L. James are two well-known authors who stared their careers with writing fan fiction. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey started off as a Twilight fan fiction while Clare wrote Harry Potter fan fiction. There are probably other authors around who did the same, but these two are the ones that came to mind. It is not because you write fan fiction that you will never become a good writer. It is writing only fan fiction that will hold you back from becoming a great writer. is, I think, the largest fan fiction site on the internet.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Don't judge a book by its cover

We often say 'don't judge a book by its cover' and while I completely agree with that, I cannot deny that first impression are important. While the phrase is often used for people, I am talking about books.

The characters, the plot, the world building and the writing are the aspects what make a book good. These are the things that are discussed in reviews and often talked about when someone gives you a recommendation. When you go to a book store, either off or online, to browse books, the first thing you will notice is or the spine with the title on it, or the cover with the title on it.  This makes the exterior of a book very important.

Often I heard that people have bought a book only because the cover was so beautiful.Sometimes they don't even know what's it about. While I never buy a book without reading the blurb, I must admit that beautiful covers attract my attention as well. They make me curious and I want to know what it's about which results that I will pick the book up and read the blurb. Besides covers I am also attracted to titles and designs on the spine.

As an aspiring author, I am well aware that a striking, beautiful cover and an interesting title is very important. It makes your book stand out from among all the others. To who it stands out, depends. Beauty is subjective. I cover I love or a title I might think is very mysterious, might nor appeal to someone else. The difference between professional designs and amateur designs is very striking.

Out of my collection of books, these are my favourite covers:

Percy Jackson and the Olympians (source: google images)
The art represents a scene out of the book (that was the case of the first one). I love how they work with one specific colour for the whole images. I like the style a lot and the simple font fits the whole of the book perfectly. 
cover design: Christine Kettner; illustration: John Rocco

source: google images

 This the the Dutch/Flemish cover of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The Dutch covers are a lot nice than the English ones, though the new American covers seem to be pretty awesome as well. The book's design looks actually quite a lot like those of Percy Jackson and the Olympian, thought it works less with one general colour. I read somewhere that J.K. Rowling liked the Dutch covers the best, but I am not entirely sure if this is true. What makes these books even more beautiful is the spine design. The Order of the Phoenix has phoenix feathers on the spine while The Goblet of Fire has weeds (from the underwater sequence) on the spine.
cover design: Anne Kammers; illustration: Ien van Laanen

The Inheritance Cycle (source: google images)
I love the art of these dragons and the simplicity of the covers. The only downside is that the third book isn't over al yellow/golden like the dragon. But I suppose they didn't want to change the font colour.
Illustrations: John Jude Palencar

Friday, 9 August 2013

Review: The Fault in our Stars by John Green

Life is full of experiences that can changes us or our views on something. Sometimes in a positive way, other times it is more negative. But we never forget these experiences. Reading The Fault in our Stars was such an experience for me.

I won't tell a lot about the the contents of the book. The only thing you might want to know is that it is about a girl called Hazel who suffers from cancer. The book offers us a view into a part of her life wherein she explored; and now I will quote the blurb, 'the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and falling in love.' It sounds very cheesy, but the book is all but cheesy. I bought the book after seeing and reading very passionate reviews about it. I actually felt like I was the only person who had not read it yet. I wanted to know what made it so remarkable and why it appeared time and time again in best books lists.

Now I know why. I started to read the book only yesterday. The book is narrated by Hazel through a first person perspective. Normally I am not so keen to read books in that perspective because I have the feeling it creates a distance between the reader and the narrating character, but this was so wonderfully done that I had no problem to relate to Hazel even though what she was experiencing was alien to me.

I absolutely love John Green's writing. I was immediately pulled into the story and could not get wholly out of it until I finished it. I have to admit that I was scared to read it. Scared that it was going to end badly but me not finishing it, was not an option. I enjoyed the whole book. The story is fast paced and reads very fluently. It is filled with interesting thoughts and good humour to lighten up the mood. The book is filled with so many different emotions, which are brilliantly brought to page, that I felt like I was riding the emotional roller-coaster together with the characters. I enjoyed this from the very first sentence until the very last.

While I have heard the name John Green before, I never read any of his books until now. I will, however, read all his other books as well because I want to know if they are just as good. If they are, J.K. Rowling might be knocked of the my-favourite-author-position by Mr. Green.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Review: The Accidental Sorcerer by K.E. Mills

Funny, witty, exciting and original are the words that come to mind when I think about this book. The Accidental Sorcerer is the first book in the Rogue Agent series, written by K.E. Mills, which is a pseudonym of Karen Miller. The book is about a bad wizard who goes through an event that changes him and the change makes him very dangerous.

Source: google images

     "What can be imagined, can be created." 
                                         - Lional 
  The Accidental Sorcerer. K.E Mills.Chapter fifteen, page 260, Published by Orbit. 

When I started the book, I was quite surprised to discover that the story took place in a modern world. I have mostly read fantasy set in medieval like settings, so this was something new for me. While I really enjoyed the book, I felt their was a lacking of worldbuilding. I have absolutely no clue how modern the society is, nor what the exact limitations of magic are. Because of the latter, I have questioned quite a few things in the book. The author's writing style is very fluent and engaging, a real pleasure to read. The characters are memorable and they feel very real, which I find very important. My favourite character was Reg. I love her sarcasm and her witty comments.

I never had the feeling that the book was slow, but the actually plot only starts to reveal itself at the middle of the book or, perhaps even beyond it. The first part of the book seems to have the sole purpose to be funny and introducing the main character, Gerald. While the humour is often good, sometimes there was just too much of it. The second half of the book is more action packed. There was a very interesting plot-twist that I had not expected at all. It was not a great book, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I will most likely read the other books in the series as well, because I am curious about Gerald's fate and I would not mind reading more about Reg!

Thus I give the book a 3/5 stars.


Friday, 2 August 2013

Writing Courses.

There are a bunch of writing courses out there, both for academic and creative writing. I myself have done an academic writing course because it was part of the curriculum and another one will follow the coming year or the year after that. I found this course very useful, because I had absolutely no clue how I was supposed to write a descent academic paper. Now I know what the rules are, or maybe guidelines is a better word, I am able to produce a descent piece of academic writing.

While I believe that academic writing courses can be useful, I frown upon the creative writing courses. I am talking about fiction writing, seeing that I have absolutely no experience with scripts or whatsoever. Creative writing does not have rules or guidelines, so how can you teach them to someone? Learning to write something good, is in my eyes a slow, hard process that requires a lot of practise. Everyone decides for themselves what good creative writing is. Thus it seems very hard for a teacher to decided what good writing is. What is also impossible to teach, is the writing voice. Every writer has his own writing voice and it is not something that it taught. In order to find your own writing voice, you have to undertake a journey. Lauren Sapala has written an interesting blog about finding your writing voice. You can find it here. I will not say that there is nothing to learn from such a course. I am sure that whoever teaches the course knows what he or she is doing and will be able to provide the aspiring authors with some useful tips. I do not think I will use that way to improve my writing.

My teachers are the books I love. I always ask myself why I liked certain books so much and use them as a guideline for my own writing. Blogs are also very useful tools to find some tips and tricks about writing. What I like a lot, are forums. You have a lot of people together who discuss writing, so if you have a question, the chances that you receive different answers are quite high. On youtube you can find whole writing courses. I watched a major part from one of them and I have to admit that I have not learnt a lot from it. Another way to improve your writing is to become a member of a writing group. Such groups gather together a couple times a month/a year and critique each other's writing. I would love to be in such a group but unfortunately there barely are any groups where I live and an online writing group does not seem as fun.

There are a lot of different ways to improve your writing, so before deciding to take a course, I would advice you to wonder if it is the best method out there for you.

Some useful links:
Fantasy writing blog and forum
Creative writing forum
Writing course taught by Brandon Sanderson
Writing excuses: writing tips podcast