As our virtual writing group closes up today (don’t forget to sign up or email me at breathingfiction at gmail.com or contact me through the Facebook page for questions), I was thinking of the different things I’m already using to help my writing along, and those things that I want to start using to help. One thing that I have become increasingly dependent on is my Galaxy SIII. Sure, I prefer taking notes in an actual notebook (I’m a bit OCD, too, where the notebook has to reflect the story or MC) and I write using Scrivener, but I often have my phone and not the other things I need. To digitize and make things easier, I started using a few apps and I want to share my favorite writing apps with you.
The first one I’ve been using for years. It’s called Name Generator and it does just what it says. Select a country/language of name origin, choose male, female, or both, and select how many results you want. It’s really simple, but I can’t tell you how many characters I’ve named with the help of this thing. I often can’t think of what name works, but I have an idea of how I want it to sound. Since it also gives you first and last names, you can mix and match to find the right combination. I personally love it especially for side characters. It’s fast and you can have endless results.
I have been looking for a motivation tool to help me write. While it’d be nice to have on my laptop, so many windows open, etc just distracts me. I found WriteOMeter though and I love it. If you put it on a timer, it’s mean to you and reminds you to keep writing. It helps you set daily word count goals, project word count goals, and you can even put in a goal date for finishing. I think this is going to especially come in handy when the virtual group gets in full swing.
Last but not least is Writer. It’s a fairly straightforward smartphone word processor, but it works really well. You can have lists, numbered lists, and other formatted niceties that a normal phone memo pad misses out on. This has already come in handy for me to jot notes down on the train/bus when I don’t have my notebook(s) on me. If I get a mini-bluetooth keyboard, it’s going to be even more helpful.
Do you have a favorite app to help with your creative writing process? What is it?
A few days ago, I was frustrated. I was frustrated that I was so busy that I barely had time to write for NaNoWriMo. I was frustrated that I had so little time to read. I was worried that neglecting my reading, and in turn, this blog, would cause me to be apathetic towards reading. If I only were to push myself, I would read and learn and grow. Somewhere in that thought, I realized that I could never become disillusioned to reading.
I might not be able to spend every spare hour of my day with a nose in my book, but I have always found time. For instance, Ally Condie’s Crossed was released ten days ago. Ten days. How ridiculous that I am not yet finished, and I even started it the day it was delivered to my Kindle. But I have only had time to read during my lunch hours at work, and even those are not always available to me. Sometimes I have lunch with my mother, other times with coworkers, friends, or I must run errands in that hour. And so my reading gets neglected.
As I opened my Kindle and began to read Crossed the other day (edging towards 60% finished), I realized that I do not care how fast I read. I do not care how many books I am reading in a month, or if I sometimes take longer to finish one. I care only that I am reading. Every day I drive to work, I listen to an audiobook. A story that will make that 25 minutes in the car to work a little less dull. When I am not lucky enough to socialize during my lunch, I can sit at my desk and be whisked away to another world where worries cannot touch me.
Have you ever noticed that? That with a good book you suddenly forget all about the stresses in your life? For me, books have led me on countless adventures, allowing my imagination to take control, if only for that hour a day. How sad is life without a book to fill those empty gaps that nothing else could satisfy.
I probably thought more of this because of Crossed. The sequel to Matched, we are now outside of the Society and its control, but Cassia still marvels in others’ ability to create something beautiful. The freedom to create has given us the freedom of imagination. We will not all be best-selling authors. While some of us may want to be an author some day, we can all delight in the written word. We can all be affected, moved, and changed because of words someone had the courage to record.
I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage. ~Charles de Secondat
For those that don’t remember, today marks the first day of National Novel Writing Month. Participants aim to write a 50,000 word novel within the next 30 days. We forgo sleep, human contact, bathing, and other sacrifices in order to make it work. I will finish this year.
Though I put off the start of the writing session tonight to watch the first two episodes of “Castle” with my mom, things are going well. I’m at 2,329 words so far for my novel. Which puts me slightly ahead for the month. In order to stay on track, you need about 1,667 words per day. When you think about it, that’s not that many. I mean, as long as you’re prepped with what you’re going to write when you sit down, you can knock it out pretty fast.
That’s my advice, really. Don’t just sit down at the keyboard unless you have a plan. If you’re like me, writing doesn’t pay your bills. I will constantly be thinking about what I want to write that night. To make sure I don’t forget, I will often keep a notebook handing to jot something down in a moment of inspiration. I would also use lunch breaks to write, but right now Crossed (sequel to Matched) is stealing those hours. At least until I finish the book. But then I plan on using my lunch hours to sketch out that evening’s writing.
This means I will be getting behind on some television shows. Honestly, I watch too many and this will help me weed through those I no longer care about. Very few shows (“Psych”, “Castle”, “Once Upon a Time”, and “Chuck”) will be watched live or on DVR during November.
The great thing about NaNoWriMo is that it forces you to prioritize writing. It makes you think about your story, care about your characters, and really understand where your novel is going. It is about getting rid of those statements of “tomorrow, tomorrow” and instead sit down and write today.
The only thing that will make this month hard is that the Scottish fiance is coming in TWO WEEKS AND TWO DAYS (not that anyone is counting) and my older brother got engaged. So now there are two weddings to plan. And a fiance to spend time with for 11 days. And a lot going on at work, so some overtime will be involved. But I will merely have to push ahead, write a little extra, lose a bit of sleep around Thanksgiving, and type away while the fiance plays with the new laptop that is waiting for him.
As with most years, optimism level is high on the first day.
Word Count: 2,329 (Too bad I can’t count blog posts!)
This entire post originally was conceived a few weeks ago, when I was talking with friends. And then I started to think about it some more as I’ve read a few books (Night Circus and the soon-to-be-reviewed The Borrower especially). I began to think about why characters are so important in the making of a good novel, and why some novels fail to stick the landing when their characters fail.
Perhaps one of the most important things is that the character changes. Let’s create a fictional character (kind of ironic since all characters are fictional) and call her Sally. If Sally were to sit back and let all of the action happen to her, and not react at all, it would make for a very boring novel. She could be assailed with vampires, werewolves, zombies, and monsters calling at her door, but if she sits and lets everything happen with no change, that’s boring. She does not grow and consequently neither does her story. Without change, we read a straight line. But with some sort of change, small or not, we are given the tiniest bit of visual interest. With more change and reactions, Sally begins to become real.
Scottish philosopher David Hume best described a human’s unwitting need to change:
I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind that they are nothing but a bundle or collections of different perceptions which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity and are in a perpetual flux and movement. Our eyes cannot turn in their sockets without varying their perceptions. Our thoughts are still more variable. And all our other senses and powers contribute to this change.
Basically, Hume is saying that with each moment that passes, we change who we are. These changes may not be drastic, and most will pass without our even recognizing the change. But if we as humans change with every passing second, then those characters who do not seem more aloof and unrealistic. They are not only unexciting, but also without the grounding realism that modern readers look for, even if they are reading fantasy.
This is one reason I liked books such as The Hunger Games, Matched, and The Chosen One. Our three protagonists (Katniss, Cassia, and Kyra [the choosing of three protagonists with hard K sound-names was just noticed and unintentional]) have to deal with three very different worlds. Each girl was raised knowing that their lives would turn out one way, and each found a way to strive for more, but mostly to change their circumstances. Katniss begins the series hard and closed to anything save for her sister. By the end, she has let herself feel more than she ever imagined. Cassia dutifully followed in the steps of the Society, but begins to question her freedoms. She takes small steps throughout the novel to get to the end, but they are vital to the large leap she will inevitably take. Kyra opens the novel knowing that her world needs to change, but too afraid to take the necessary steps. But her awareness leads her to the goal of escape, no matter how bittersweet. Each girl began the novel in one place, and ended it somewhere else. Katniss perhaps changed the least, but her changes felt deeper and resonated just as strongly with the reader.
I would say another important aspect for Sally is that she must feel real. Sally cannot be perfect, in other words. No one would want to read her story because no one would relate to her. It is ok to have an aspirational character, but even Gandalf and Aragorn had their flaws. Flaws ground the character much like their progression does. No human is perfect, even if we feel that we are at times. And if we are writing and reading stories about humans (or elves or vampires or fae or shape shifters), then we as humans want to see a bit of ourselves in them. I mentioned in my review of Night Circus that the story would have been far stronger with stronger characters. I did not feel much sympathy for Celia or for Marco simply because they were hard for me to relate to (dangling preposition!). After all their trials, they still felt distant and rather the same as they started. This was also the problem with The Iron Witch. Donna never felt like she got it, whatever lesson she was supposed to learn. And even after all the things she saw, I wasn’t sure she had made any change to herself.
The only passive character that ever worked (of the books I’ve read) was Shadow in American Gods. He might be passive for about 80% of the novel, but he makes a lot of waves after he has shaken himself awake. It only works because Shadow has just lost his wife and been released from prison. His passivity fits with a man who is grieving and relearning how to choose for himself. And yet, even Shadow changes in the end.
If you have a villain in your story, it is also good practice to have him be not wholly bad. Wholly bad villains simply feel like a caricature. After all, even the mean, nastly old lady down the street probably gives old clothes to the homeless or bakes for her grandkids. Just as Sally can’t be all good, neither can Jafar (I know, I know) be all bad. Heck, even Voldemort wasn’t completely evil. After all, he agreed to save Lily Potter because Snape was in love with her. Sure, Voldy killed her in the end, but he was willing to spare the life if it had been more convenient. (This was the only redeeming quality I could come up with, however. And Jo Rowling is about the only author I know who can get away with this evil of a villain and still have it feel real. Comment if you can think of other good qualities for poor Voldy.)
To recap: Sally needs to learn something or to change in some little way; Sally also needs to have flaws; Sally cannot be passive in her own story; Jafar cannot be totally evil. If the protagonist is flat, there is not much there to see or read.
See, didn’t I tell you that I would be reading things other than Ian Rankin? I actually had just looked at a list of the top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy books and Gaiman’s American Gods was there. I had looked at this book a few times, and with the knowledge that many people liked it, I figured I would give it a shot. I am ashamed to say that it is only my third Gaiman novel. I read Neverwhere last February while I was on holiday in Fuerteventura. My fiance was frustrated because I could not put the book down, so while he ran around in the Atlantic, I sat on the towel and read. I just read Stardust a couple months ago, though I own the movie and have watched it several times (two very different works of fiction, however). So when I picked up American Gods, I guess I expected something slightly familiar and similar. I was wrong.
American Gods is one of the most imaginative books I have ever read. Shadow is our MC (I think I’m going to make a glossary of terms that I’ll frequently use) and we meet him while he is in prison. A few days before his release, he knows something is wrong in the world, and yet he cannot pinpoint the feeling. He learns, just two days before his parole, that his wife has died in a car accident. The prison warden releases Shadow early so that he can make his way home for the funeral. Because he had to rearrange his flights at the last minute, Shadow ends up in first-class with a Mr. Wednesday, who offers Shadow a job. We follow Shadow as he works for Wednesday, and discover that Wednesday is really Odin and all of the gods of the past are still living, those that are remembered. They were brought to the Americas by their immigrant believers, and are now fighting for recognition in the world with the gods of technology. Wednesday wants to unite the old gods so that they might conquer the new ones, and somehow Shadow becomes the focus of ire for the new technological gods.
It’s honestly really hard trying to give this book’s synopsis. Some novels put themselves into neat packages that are easy to summarize. American Gods has so much going on that it’s almost impossible to do that without telling you the whole story or spoiling the various plot points. What I can talk about are Gaiman’s immense talents in writing.
American Gods is roughly 460 pages long, and meaty. Honestly, I am a very fast reader, and normally a book this length would not have taken me days to read. I’ve been reading it for almost a week. Sure, I do have less free time now, but there are so many things embedded into each and every word of the book. Gaiman makes you think very hard about everything he’s presenting to you. After all, the entire basis of the story is that our own human imaginations are so powerful that we have brought gods, folk heroes, and creatures into existence. I have never seen anything quite like this. Granted, Julie Kagawa’s Iron King series postulates that if the human imagination created the fae, then there would also be Iron Fae (it’s actually a pretty good YA novel). Even the Percy Jackson series tells us that the Greek gods immigrated to the States when it became the center of the world’s civilization. So, with our imaginations we carry our gods with us. It’s an incredible idea that we can create without knowing it, and very flattering to the human ego as well.
Gaiman also mastered giving us a character we care about. Shadow has our sympathy almost immediately, despite being a convict and a big, intimidating guy. When Gaiman kills Laura, Shadow’s wife, we are only on page 11 and already we care. I actually felt sorry for him, as if I had known him for more pages than we were given. And when Shadow discovers his wife had been cheating on him while he sat in prison (for her), your sympathy doubles. We never really know his whole story, and for the most part, the novel is about Wednesday’s goals and Wednesday’s plans. But Shadow really comes alive towards the end, and he steals the plot from the others and creates his own story. I never would have thought a relatively passive character would have been so interesting, but Gaiman has done a fabulous job of making his audience care first, then slowly changing Shadow into a character worthy of our attention. It’s almost as if having his story told gives him the confidence for that change. And if you’d read the book, that sentence would sound far less crazy.
The thing that really makes readers love Gaiman is the basis to his stories – that there is a world there hovering next to (or under) our own that we just don’t know about. That there is something magical and if only we were able to open our eyes we could see it. I have seen that same thread through American Gods, Neverwhere, and Stardust. I cannot say for sure whether or not this theme prevails through all of his novels, but it is certainly common to the three. But his imagination, his ability to show us the world that we could see if we were only to open our eyes, is very reminiscent of Peter Pan and so many other childlike classics. Of course, just to ruin the image, Gaiman has to throw in sex, violence, and other adult themes. But you understand what I mean. It’s the childlike desire steeped in adulthood. Something like that.
While I will mostly use this blog and the forum it provides with the opportunity to discuss fiction, I do plan on a slightly altered course from time to time. And sometimes, I will begin these derivations with really wordy beginning statements.
Matched (by Ally Condie) has had me thinking a lot about creating and not just consuming lately. (I have not even finished the book, and already it has me thinking. You can fully expect a glowing review in the next couple of days.) It is perhaps the perfect week to read this book, because I am spending a week with my 2 year-old nephew. O likes to move. A lot. He likes to play, run, yammer to himself, and just get into lots of trouble. But the thing that really inspires me as I spend time with him is the depth of his imagination.
He is 2, so of course everything is a game to him. I miss having that freedom in my life, to not have to live with one foot on the ground while the rest of me is in the clouds. O gets to make his life what he wants because it all exists in his mind. This week, I bought him a new stuffed dog when we were at Ikea. He held onto it the entire time we were in the store, and then back in the car, he was making it bark at me, and you could practically see the wheels turning in his little head. He also got a new set of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head toys. We knew that he would like them, but we had no idea how much he would love them. He takes them apart and puts them back together in all kinds of configurations. He piles all the pieces into his current base (an Amazon box that held his trike), and plays with them and makes them talk to each other. Miss and Miss (he hasn’t grasped the -ter part of the second potato head) have to watch him eat dinner, they have to be on his dresser when he sleeps, and tonight they needed forks at dinner. He has turned these toys into his friends, even scolding Miss for taking his fork at dinner.
My mom often tells me and others how imaginative I was myself as a child. I apparently could not be trusted to set the table quickly, because the forks and knives needed to have conversations before being set in their place. I would often make my food talk to each other before I ate it. And I remember the “stories” I wrote as a child before I could even really write. That is perhaps one of my earliest memories. Squiggles on a page I meant to be a novel, and showing it to my mom and then “reading” the story to her. I have always loved to create, to write, to invent. My nephew is no different from most toddlers, but there is something in watching this process that reminds me of my own childhood musings, of my own dreams to always be creating new worlds for my imaginary friends to live.
I wish that as an adult, we could have those same carefree days of play. That we could sit and imagine a world into existence without a care to stop us. I know that some people are that lucky, but we are always hindered by bills and responsibilities, families and friends who keep us grounded just enough that we cannot truly get lost in our own creations.
I may not be able to live it anymore, but I love to watch my nephew experience it. How grateful I am that he can be so lucky.