Posted in On Writing, Useful Sites, Writing Rants

Abuse in Fiction: Romance

It seems like every other romance story found on the internet has aspects of abuse throughout the story. Whether this abuse is from one of the main characters to the other or from a secondary character toward a main character, the abuse is usually written in a way that makes it seem alright. In some cases the abuse is glamorized and in other cases it is glossed over as unimportant information.

This bothers me as there are many people who are victims of abuse and this abuse is neither unimportant nor glamorous.

Continue reading “Abuse in Fiction: Romance”

Advertisements
Posted in On Writing, Useful Sites, Writing Rants

Abuse in Fiction: Backstories

Many lazy writers attempt to create reader sympathy by saying that their main character was abused. At times these writers will include a chapter or two which involves the abuse. Unfortunately, the abuse is rarely dealt with in a healthy manner and tends to be quickly forgotten by the writer.

Words cannot describe how much this angers me.

Abuse affects people’s emotions and thought processes. Different people react differently to abuse. Different types of abuse affect people in different ways. Whether the abused realizes that the abuse affects their life or not, there are lasting effects that need to be dealt with.

If you must have your character abused in their past, make sure you include some of the side effects in their characterization.

Don’t include abuse simply because you want readers to feel sorry for your characters. Victims of abuse deserve so much better than you making light of what they have gone through. They are so strong to have come out the other end despite the scars they may carry. Please, if you include abuse, do them justice by writing it well and doing your research.

I’m not an expert on the effects of abuse and I don’t claim to be. Everything I know comes from what I’ve witnessed and through research. The following links are to some of my favourite, trusted sites that I go to when I need more information about this particular topic.

Posted in On Writing, Writing Rants

Why Writers Should Read

One of my friends* told me that he was an avid writer. I was ecstatic because none of my other friends at the time understood how much I loved to write. I asked him what genre he preferred to write in and he responded with a confused look. So then I asked him what authors he took inspiration from. At that point he uttered something which I found difficult to believe. He told me that he doesn’t read.

I found it extremely difficult to understand how someone could be an avid writer but not read anything. However, when I read his story, I finally believed that he does not read very much, if at all.

His stories were riddled with errors which made them almost impossible to get through. Truth be told, if he wasn’t a close friend I wouldn’t have bothered reading past the first few lines. He stopped writing a few years ago as he found other hobbies to fill his time but I will never forget the lesson he taught me about writing; those who wish to improve their writing should read.**

I’ve learned many things about writing through reading the stories of others. Every time I read a well written book, my writing knowledge grows. Through reading I have improved my characters, description, plots, grammar, and spelling.

 Characters

While my character ideas come from people I have met in my life, the way I describe my characters is inspired by the stories I have read. If I read a story with well written characters, I ask myself what it is I like about the character and how can I emulate that in my writing.

For some stories, I like that the character is believable. I like how the character reacts to situations and that their personality grows in a normal manner. Characters take their time to fall in love and are cautious about doing something which hurt them before.

In other stories I like how the author shares information about the character without interfering with the plot. It takes a lot of work to be able to filter in back-story and physical description without slowing down the action.

Description

In general I have trouble writing out description without bogging down my stories. I can never tell while I’m writing if I’ve included enough description or if I’ve written too much. What may seem like good description to me, pales in comparison to the description of other writers.

Anton Chekov famously said “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” When I compare my description to others, I feel as if I’m telling readers that the moon is shining whereas they are showing the glint of light.

I take notes when I find sections of description I like. Sometimes the description is very short, slipped into action without slowing the pace of the story. At other times the author gets into the character’s head and reader learns how the character views the world from the description given.

Through these notes, I’ve realized that many of my favourite authors only use relevant description. Everything they describe helps readers understand the plot more fully. Because of this, when I’m revising my works for description, I rate the passages against relevance to the plot.

Plot

Of course, description is of no use if the plot line is confused. While plots may seem like one of the easiest parts of a story, they can prove the trickiest if the writer doesn’t have sense of what makes a plot good.

Any writer who has pantsed their way through a long story can tell you how easily the plot can derail from your beginning idea. Plot holes form that you skip over because you don’t want to lose your current train of thought. A simple scene can make you change who your main characters are or where you start your story. Sub-plots can appear that you may not have thought of or can disappear before they are resolved.

The only way to remedy these is to know what takes away from your plot and what helps your plot. In order for you to know this, you need to figure out what your plot is.

When I was first starting out in my writing path, I use to compare my plot lines to those of faery tales. I would make a list of all the events which happen in the faery tale and I would make a similar list of the events in my story. Once the lists were made I would see if my list flowed as nicely as the faery tale list. Most of the time my list did not match up nicely against the faery tale. Sometimes the events would jump, as if there were a scene or two missing. Other times there would be scenes that would work better in another story.

While I can now pick out plot holes and unnecessary scenes without comparing against another plot, it has taken years to develop this skill.

Grammar

As with developing my plotting skills, it has taken me years to develop what I consider a passing knowledge of grammar. Reading has taught me how well written grammar should look. By knowing what good grammar is, I can more easily catch the grammar mistakes in my works.

That being said, reading does not teach everything about grammar unless you are reading grammar and style books. Reading is not the only way to learn grammar but it is one of the best starting points for new writers.

Spelling

Similar to grammar, reading can help give writers a start on proper spelling. This trick only works when stories have been edited for spelling. Reading allows the writer to know what the words should look like. The more familiar writers become with correctly spelled words, the more likely they will spell the words correctly themselves.

Summary

For those who skipped the majority of this post, the TL;DR version is as follows. Through reading properly edited works which are similar to what you are writing, you will be able to better catch the mistakes which you make. This is simply because of familiarity. The more familiar with something you are, the more you can see the differences.

These are the ways reading has improved my writing. How has reading improved yours? Do you disagree with any of the points I made?

 

* I am withholding the name of my friend as he is a very gentle creature who is extremely creative. While his writing was an extreme case, I have also read many online stories which contain one or more of these traits.

** There is a vast difference between reading to improve your writing style and comparing your writing against another’s work. There is also a difference between gaining knowledge from reading and plagiarizing someone’s work.

Posted in On Writing, Writing Rants

Historic Fiction That’s Not

I have a soft spot for historical fiction. There are so many stories in history that long to be told and are yearning for a writer to tell them. Unfortunately, historical fiction can be difficult to write and I’ve only found a few authors whose historical fiction is worth reading more than once. (1)

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry was the book that started my addiction to historical fiction. I read it as a child and still own that same, well read copy. From there I went on to other works based around WWII and later branched out to other areas such as the Tudors, Middle Ages, Victorian, and other ages of history.

While there are historical stories that are well written, most of the online ones I find make me close the browser within the first chapter. The main issue I’ve found is that the writer did not do their research. (2) But even this can be narrowed down into specifics.

Characters

Your characters should not fit into today’s society. Segregation did exist and was commonplace; just talking to someone of a different race or social class could get you in a lot of trouble. People in the 1600’s would have been scandalized by a young woman going off to the forest for a walk with a young man. Yes, these things are common now, but you aren’t writing about now. Society has changed throughout the years, if your characters would fit in now, they wouldn’t have fit in then.

Recreation

Recreation changes over time. While some leisure activities remain the same or similar in how they are used, their popularity has changed. One of the major changes in recreation over the years has been how much time is put toward it. If your story is set in the 1930’s and your main character spends all their time at the movies, I will expect them to either be very rich or very good at sneaking into cinemas.

Money

Which leads me to work and money. When characters spend more money than they make, they end up broke unless they are rich. Just a brief mention of how your characters earn their money can be enough to make it realistic. Unfortunately, if you don’t know the time period there is a chance of getting the type of work or the amount paid wrong.

Work

Another part of work that some writers tend to get wrong is who can work. I’m not talking about women, race or disabilities because, for the most part, they are taken into account. I am talking about guilds and unions. Occasionally guilds and unions will monopolize certain job types or businesses so that only their members will be able to work in that field. An example would be a Cobblers Guild where anyone in the town or region who opens a cobbler shop must be a member of the guild or they will be shut down. Depending on the location and time period of your story, you may have to take guilds and unions into account. (3)

Music

Music has changed. While this note may surprise some of my readers, I have come across historical fiction that has used popular songs from the last few years. I’ve read stories set in the 1970’s that had characters singing songs from 2010. Up until that point, the story was good but I had to stop reading because I was completely thrown out. When I read stories that have music from the wrong time, I can’t help but think that the writer did no research and no editing. Perhaps they were listening to the song and accidentally wrote it in; however that should be fixed in editing. If you have music in your story, do your research. (4)

Clothing

I admit that I don’t describe my characters’ clothing as much as I should. Most times I avoid it all together because it can be tedious. However, I am aware that many authors are not like me and do describe clothing. When done right, this can bring the reader back in time. Unfortunately, this tool is hardly ever done right. This is one aspect where research is mandatory in order to make it believable. Clothing can show off a character’s personality or make them an outcast in society. If you don’t know the styles in your time period and location, don’t describe clothing. There is nothing worse than reading a story set in Victorian London where the female character puts on a tank top.

Dialect

While describing clothing can be left out, dialect cannot be avoided without making all the characters mute. Now, dialect should not be confused with dialogue. Dialogue is the conversation while dialect is how the characters speak. Dialect changes depending on country, region, social status and time period. At times different dialects can almost seem like different languages. For instance, within Canada the dialects differ between provinces and the different regions within each province. Fortunately, dialects are rather forgiving to writers; if you get the time period and country right, you can make mistakes on regional dialects without it being too noticeable. (5)

While these are the major research mistakes that throw me out of historical fiction, there are more that are story specific. What throws you out of historical fiction? Are you able to read through some mistakes but get thrown out by others?

Footnotes:
(1) Readers will notice that I don’t have historical fiction online, I may write it but I cannot do it justice enough to publish it. There is always more research to do in order to get the time period right and more editing for it to seem less textbook
(2) While research is one of my loves, I will allow some mistakes to slip by if they would require substantial research. Unfortunately most of the mistakes I notice can be remedied with minimal research.
(3) Sometimes unions will allow outside workers to work alongside union employees or to join the union once employed.
(4) Using music from previous time periods is more acceptable. However, that is still no excuse for not knowing at least some of the popular music of that time period.
(5) Please keep in mind that if your story is very region specific, you should know what dialect is spoken.
Posted in On Writing, Writing Rants

I Won’t Take Your Excuses

I cannot count how many times I have met “writers” who have no pride in their work. I’m not talking about the writers who keep their work private but the writers who write poorly and have no desire to improve their writing skills.

It irks me when I read a story that has no paragraphs to differentiate the dialogue or smooth out the flow of action. I cannot stand characters that all act the same. Spelling and grammar errors which would be fixed by using spell-check boggle my mind.

I realize that I am not a perfect writer and I welcome critiques of my work so that I might improve. Because of this, I always send a note when I read a piece that needs a big improvement to help with readability.

Some writers are wonderful and thank me regardless of if they follow my advice or not (1). However, some writers see a critique and automatically assume it is a flame (2). When this happens, the writer makes excuses for their poor writing and tries to degrade the commenter. I’ve made a list of my least favourite excuses in a file of things to never say about my writing. Because I have recently been labeled a flamer, I’ve decided to share my list with you.

“I’m lazy.” Or “I don’t have the time.”

It honestly does not take much effort to run spell-check. If you write in Microsoft Word then all you need to do is hit F7. Even if you write your posts in WordPress it is possible to check your spelling and grammar. In fact, WordPress automatically checks posts when you click the publish button.

I honestly want to ask people if one extra button really makes that much of a difference in their lives. I mean, are you malnourished and pushing the enter button to make paragraphs uses up all the energy you have? Are you so strapped for time that the few seconds used to put in proper punctuation makes a difference?

“I don’t care if I get published.”

If you write because you want to write, then you should want to write better. There is no feeling that compares to seeing how much you have improved. The strange thing, improvement is not reserved solely for published authors.

It is also difficult to believe that you don’t care about being published if you are posting your work online for strangers to read. If you put your writing online, you more than likely want people to read it and like it. The secret to getting people (who are not friends and family) to like your writing is simple, write well.

“You understood what I meant.”

When I read a response like this, I cringe. I liken these “writers” to people who expect everyone to speak English, even if they are in a country where the language is not English. They expect the readers to put in more effort than they do.

This is probably the most selfish excuse for poor writing that I’ve ever heard. It’s like telling your employer that you want to get paid but you’ve never done any work. It’s absurd and shows how little you care about your writing.

“I’m not perfect.”

Neither am I. No one is perfect. But just because you aren’t perfect, doesn’t mean that you can’t be the best that you can be. By saying that you aren’t perfect so you don’t try to be, you are telling me that you never dress up because you aren’t a super model. It is a ridiculous notion.

“Writing is more about emotion than grammar.”

Who says that you can’t have both? I’ve read many pieces that are filled with both emotion and correct grammar. If all you care about is emotion or plot and you disregard grammar and spelling, then you are like that one-dimensional character that no one loves.

If you use proper grammar and spelling, you can get the emotion across better. In fact, if a piece is well written, readers will feel the same emotions as the characters. If a piece is poorly written, readers have to be told point-blank what the characters are feeling.

“I wrote it a long time ago.”

I feel your pain with this excuse. I really do. In fact, some of my old pieces are very poorly written in terms of spelling, grammar and style. However, before I post an old piece of writing, I check it over. Sometimes I even rewrite the piece so that it reflects my new writing style.

The list of excuses is as long as the list of bad writers. These are just the excuses that really make me cringe and my thoughts on them. (3)

Are there any writing excuses that make you face palm? Do you make excuses for your own bad writing?

Footnotes
(1) If I give you advice, take it with a grain of salt. I’m not saying it to be mean, I’m giving you advice because I see something that can gleam like a diamond with a bit more polish. You also don’t have to take my advice. Don’t worry, my feelings won’t be hurt (well, maybe a little but shush).
(2) Flame – the term for a review or comment that is filled with negative words but no actual critique. For instance “This sucks” Or “I can’t believe you wrote this garbage.” Both of these are negative and neither gives the writer any idea of what the reader didn’t like.
(3) There are two excuses that I will accept for a short time. The first being a hospital visit and having someone else post for you. The second excuse is being completely drugged up, possibly from your hospital visit, and not realizing that you had posted the piece online.
Posted in On Writing, Writing Rants

Why I Hate Epilogues

The other title of this post is: Shooting Myself In The Foot because there is a distinct possibility that one day I will write an epilogue. And, to be honest, I don’t necessarily hate all epilogues, just most of them.

and there were no more conflicts and no more stories.
and there were no more conflicts and no more stories.

Confused yet? Let me explain. As a writer and as a reader I hate stories where every single loose end is tied up neatly at the end of the story. As a reader epilogues kill my curiosity and leave me feeling bored. As a writer, I want the option to write more stories with that world and those characters.

Epilogues are used to tie up loose ends. But most writers go overboard and tie up loose ends that readers didn’t know existed. These epilogues leave nothing to the imagination. They’re the difference between someone who is naked and someone who is covered up to their neck in a blanket. The person who is naked leaves nothing to the imagination but the person under the blanket could be naked, clothed, amputated, tattooed, you name it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Not all epilogues are full of boring information that I couldn’t care less about. In fact, some are even well done but they are the exception not the rule. If you think you’ve written an epilogue that is the exception, please read the following paragraphs and take notes.

I hate epilogues that focus on completely different characters than the main story. These types of epilogues very rarely mention the main characters in any way. As a reader, I care about the main characters not the characters that I’ve never read about.

Another type of epilogue I hate is the one that focuses on how the characters lived happily ever after. I honestly do not care how many children Bob had after defeating the corrupted emperor. Perfection and happily ever after are boring when written down.

But not all epilogues are boring. Some epilogues are full of action and adventure. These epilogues are usually the length of at least one chapter. They don’t necessarily tie up loose ends but rather continue on a different story arc. In my opinion, these epilogues should be their own story rather than an add on of another story. Epilogues shouldn’t have their own plot line and shouldn’t be more than a few pages at most.

You’re probably thinking that I’m going through a lot of things epilogues shouldn’t be. So, I’ll write a bit about what epilogues should be.

An epilogue should be the equivalent of a hot bath after a long day of work. The reader should have gone through so many emotions in reading the main story that the epilogue gives them a chance to think about what they read.

If your story world was destroyed or changed, then use the epilogue to give a brief glimpse of the future. And I do mean brief. Dedicate 75 words to telling the reader about the new government. Use 50 words to tell the reader what role your main character has. Add another 50 words about how the story just read is being taught in this future world and there you have your epilogue.

The readers should always be left asking question and wanting more. There should always be something that you can write about. If the story itself is finished, then leave the reader questioning the future of the characters. If your characters had to die to complete the story, then readers should wonder about the world.

With every loose end tied up, a little bit of curiosity is killed. With every extra, boring detail some of that sense of wonderment vanishes. And, lets face it, wonderment and curiosity are the two things that keep readers reading and writers writing.

So, that is why I hate epilogues. Not because they have no purpose, but rather that they kill my curiosity and destroy my sense of wonder.

What is your take on epilogues? Do you love them or hate them? Is there a type of epilogue you believe can do no wrong? Let me know.