A Villain is a Victim…

A villain is just a victim whos story hasn’t been told.”

I seem to have a knack for finding (and liking) what winds up being fairly controversial quotes in the writing world. I must admit, I didn’t expect some of the vehemence I have come across when touting a few of my favorite lines- these are words that I have plastered all over my writing desk to give myself inspiration. I should have known better- writers are generally passionate people (how could they be anything else, you don’t do this work for the glamor it provides), so why was I surprised that their passion extended as far as inspirational writing quotes about the craft itself?

Viewing a villain as a possible victim: there are people out there who get so enraged with writers who follow this piece of advice that they feel the sudden urge to catapult their book at the nearest wall. It seems like a strong reaction, I know- but that was exactly what I was told the last time I tried to post it to a writing website I used to frequent. In fact, the person in question was really unhappy with anything I could have said on the subject, and was rather angry that I brought it up at all (I obviously ruined her otherwise perfect day). Her stance was that real villains exist in the world and that no amount of coddling will change that, and ‘acting in a vile manner’ was a choice. She was a firm believer that evil is evil, and that claiming victimhood was merely an excuse. She despised writers who attempted to make their villains as anything but what the stereotype suggests- evil for evil’s sake.

Now, I have a very different interpretation of the quote- I guess that is the beauty of the written word- you can have a million people read the same words, and they will walk away with a million different viewpoints on it. In a literary sense, I view the ‘villain as a victim’ quote in a less literal way. My intent with my writing is never to coddle them or turn them into the ‘good guys’ in some fashion. For me, this quote was always a reminder that my characters- especially my villains- are three dimension creations. I like to remind myself that my characters need a motivation, a purpose- even the ‘evil’ ones still need a story to explain their actions. I want all of my characters to have a purpose, a reason for acting the way that they do- not just out running amok doing random evil deeds just so they can twiddle their mustache and laugh maniacally about it later. I don’t want to insinuate that they are necessarily innocent in any way, but I do believe that adding an edge of gray to a standard cookie-cutter character would add a new prism to view your writing in.

Let’s take a famous piece of literature for example- one I hope most people would know is Harry Potter. The villain- Lord Voldemort- there is no question that he is a truly evil villain. But, at the same time, he doesn’t do his evil deeds for the sake of evil- he does them because his belief system (as faulty as it is) tells him that the magical world is being tainted by impure blood, and he wants a superior race of pure bloods to be in charge. He goes about this personal mission in a variety of very dark and, yes, evil, ways. Now, they don’t delve too deeply into why his views go this direction- most likely it was his muggle father whom he hates, or the orphanage where he grew up- but no one reads that and says ‘aw poor little Vordey, we forgive you for all you’ve done’. It’s simply a fact- a piece of his backstory that motivates his later evil deeds. I don’t think villains should be coddled, but perhaps a bit of understanding is in order to make a truly realistic character. No one will look at the actions of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and forgive them because of his past- they simply provide the motivation for why he is doing the heinous things that he does.

It is all about perspective, after all. I love the concept that most villains don’t view themselves as villains. I like to add shades of gray to my stories, I have never been a fan of straight black and white. I want to invoke deeper feelings and thoughts about my characters apart from plain love and hate. I want my readers to feel something, to be forced to think and really look at characters I have created. And yes, I want my villains to be victims who haven’t told their stories- because that means they still have a story to tell, another dimension to color them. That is what makes a realistic piece of work- the colors that shade it.

I Suck at Decisions (Picking the Nano Project)

As the title suggests- I suck at decisions. I promised myself that I would have my Nano Project picked out by the end of the weekend, it wasn’t an unreasonable goal. The issue is I have far too many choices jostling for my attention. Currently sitting on my shelf are about 10 binders- each one containing the innocent beginnings of a new novel- partially planned out and awaiting my attentions. And then in the desk drawer below that I have a folder filled with a few dozen snippets of ideas that haven’t fully formed yet. These stories also run the gamut of genres. I’ve never liked working in a box, so I have made it my personal mission to attempt them all at least once. Though the majority of my work falls into the general realm of fiction, with a few dabbling into fantasy. Like I said- picking just one to focus on is not an easy task. I keep on bouncing between a few possibilities, and each time I decide that I am going to stick with it- but two hours later I’m floundering again and thinking that perhaps the other idea would be the right choice.

The two main contenders both fall into the realm of fantasy, which, as I said, is a bit unusual for me. The first is a complete re-write of a story I wrote a few years ago. It is best described as The X-Men meets Divergent. The pros: I already know the characters and plot, I just need to re-do it all. The cons: I am worried that the original draft will get distracting and that I will burn out before I finish it. 

The second choice is something I have never done- it falls in the realm of paranormal romance. It’s a Seattle Vampire story that would be most akin to The Vampire Diaries. That’s right, I said it- vampires. This is something completely new, it would stretch my writing muscles in directions they have never gone. It will include a lot of history, a slight romance, a mystery that needs to be solved, secret cults, etc. The pros: it’s a clean slate and something to really test myself with because I have never done a project like this. Cons: I have only the vaguest of ideas on what plot points I want to hit, so it will take a bit longer to prep for, and I am worried it would be very easy to run into creating a cliché piece of work.

So that is the current decision that I am trying to sort through. I can’t really delve into any of my prep work until I make a final choice. So yea- I suck with decisions. The struggle is real. If anyone has a vote, please- leave me a comment, I will take any advice.

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Planning or Pantsing?

As another Camp Nano draws near, the epic battle of the Planners vs the Pantsers is set to commence. For those of you who count yourselves amongst the proud ranks of the Nanoers- I am sure you have your own strong stance, ready to charge into this battle with pens uncapped to slay your enemies with valiant verbosity.

Now, the Planning vs Pantsing debate really boils down to how you decide to write. Do you like to plot out your story in advance and follow an outline, or do you prefer to wing it, to ‘fly by the seat of your pants?’ Never one to shy away from a challenge, I’ve tried both over the years.

When I started writing, I was a tried and true pantser. Planning seemed like an imposter’s role- if I had every detail plotted out, then what would be the fun in telling the story? I wanted to feel the natural twists and turns, and I balked at the idea that of writing within the confines of a plan. After a few novel attempts I learned a few things. Number one: When I pants, I am far less likely to make it past the first ten or fifteen pages. I run out of steam without my direction, I don’t know which scenes I have to look forward to, and I lose interest constantly having to rack my brain for the next mini adventure. Second- when I did make it past the ten pages- I rambled. A lot. I would fill the void when I didn’t know where my story was going, in hopes that my character’s sudden bout of extended dialog would give me a clue about where they should be going next. Out of that period of my life I think I wound up with one finished project- and about two dozen partially started seeds. They were promising seeds, but without proper care, they were simply languishing on my shelf, just one more item on my to-do list.

I knew it was time for a change, if I ever wanted to feel like an accomplished writer, I needed to mature my style a bit. It was time to level up: it was time to plan.

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I was a born planner in my personal life. As nerdy as it may sound, I get a thrill from crossing off items on my daily to-do lists. And I go to bed in shame when there are inevitably a few unfinished items still staring up at me, with what I assume is judgement in their i’s. (See what I did there? That pun is gold- go ahead, feel free to laugh heartily). Planning would be a piece of crumb cake, I would be a natural. So I went out and bought all of the organizational tools I could think of. Binder, loose leaf paper, sticky notes, binder dividers, colored tabs. I was ready to go. I planned everything, running through my story from start to finish, attempting to nail down every little detail. I was excited, it felt like I was adulating all over the place.

And then I started to write. It didn’t take long to realize the error of my ways. You see, in all of my time planning, I had thought of my characters and what they would do in my imagined scenarios. But I had never ‘met’ my characters. Thinking about how they will be, and then seeing how they translate on a page are two very different things in my experience. Through my writing I discover who they are. This method didn’t allow for those variations in personality, nor did it give much credence to any spur of the moment creative decisions that I love to make to develop my story. Planning was a bust. I had tried too hard, I had overshot the goal.

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Back to the proverbial drawing board. This is the moment when my true style came into being, the hybrid that has served me well for many years now. I am more of a pantsing planner now (or a planning pantser?). I still have the binder, I still have it sectioned out between my character analyses, world building, and the plot points. But before I start, I only write down the bare bones of the story, a few key plot points that I know I will want to hit, the rest of it remains blank. Think of it like a road trip: I mark the cities I want to stop in at, but I’ll choose which roads to take me there as I’m driving. I get the best of both worlds: creative freedom to follow the story where it chooses to lead me, but I still have a roughly drawn map in my back pocket when I find myself mired down in the pits of writer’s block. If things aren’t lining up perfectly, that’s okay. I will take the time to close any gaps and make stronger connections between a few of those dots when I run back through for editing.There is no right or wrong way to work through your story. You have to experiment and find what works for you. It took me years to find my perfect balance, but I couldn’t be happier.

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So where do I fall in the epic battle? Somewhere in the middle- the peace negotiator who needs both sides to survive. So please, my friends, stop throwing pens like they’re arrows, they are much better used on the blank page. What about you? Leave a comment with your own personal style.

Camp NanoWriMo: Pre-Madness Month

It’s official, there is less than one month left before the start of the July session of Camp Nano. The site is open and ready for you to sign up and register your novel. I am so excited, and yet a bit apprehensive. There is so much left to do before the end of the month, how am I going to find the time? Because missing a Nano is out of the question.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about- I’ll give you a quick run down. Camp Nano is an offshoot of the main Nano, also known as NanoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a virtual writing challenge where thousands of people across the globe sign up to tackle a single venture at the same time. The main event takes place every November. The challenge: to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Nano has actually been around since 1999, but I didn’t discover it until 2013- I haven’t missed a Nano or Camp session since.

The Camp Nano is the figurative little brother of the November session. It has more of a community focus to it. If you sign up, you get the option to join virtual cabins- either of your own creation or through a bot that will randomly place you. You also get to set your own customized word count goal- whatever you want it to be. Every person in your cabin has their own project to work on, but you get to network and talk throughout the month as you all embark on the adventure together. Rest assured, it is a virtual camp- there is no ravel required, and no real roughing it unless you decide to take your laptop out on the back patio.

I am addicted, I’ll tell you that upfront- and if anyone reading this is interested in writing- I strongly suggest you give it a shot, what do you have to lose? It’s such a positive community, it is one of the few places where I feel completely accepted. My oddball interests and quirks suddenly aren’t so strange anymore. Plus- there are thousands of writers who have years of experience, tips and tricks to share. And they are more than willing to help anyone who stumbles across their path.

So here we are, at the beginning of June, less than one month out from the start of camp. There is so much to do to get ready this time around. I still have to decide what project I want to dedicate my time to this year, preferably something that wont require massive amounts of research to prepare. I think I’m going to be trying something crazy again- as I said before, the usual word count goal is 50k, which is a challenge when you have your regular life still moving forward without pause. So far I’ve managed to hit it every time. But the past few sessions I made my own private goal: one I still haven’t touched. I want to hit that coveted 100k in 30 days. That’s it- the big dream, the word series kind of goal I have fallen just shy of every other Nano.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive- I have a lot more on my plate this year that I have had in the past. It’s quickly turning into vacation season at work- which means I will be busy covering everyone who is out of the office. Besides that, I have this blog that I refuse to neglect. There are a few side projects that I am hoping to have in full swing by the time July rolls around. And who can forget my regular life that I can’t just hide away from- there will be no living in seclusion this Camp. In spite of all of the demands for my time, I know I have to try anyways. I have to beat my old record, I have to get better this time. If I plan it right, I might be able to push for it. It’s just going to be one hell of a month.

 

Life and Work: The Balancing Act

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Like nearly all other writers out there- I have a day job. Now, fate was kind to me, and it is a job that I deeply enjoy- but it is also a job that takes up the majority of my week. Between the time it takes me to get ready in the morning (I move glacially slow before 7am), my commute to and from work, and my time actually spent there- that is about 12 and a half hours of my day, 5 days a week, already spoken for. That’s just for my regularly scheduled programming; sleep sold separately.

We live in a world where we are constantly moving, other people and things are poking and prying for attention- in fact as I sit here typing this, I have a black and white kitty attempting to head butt my fingers off of the keyboard to pet him already- before giving up and sitting on them. That will show me.

I wish I could tell you that there was some secret to making it all work- managing to have your day job, your writing career, friends and family that feel both valued and loved by you, and still squirreling away some time for yourself. I would love to impart some words of wisdom that would transform you into the superhero of your own life, kicking ass and taking names.

But if we writers know anything, it is that growth is only born from the struggle. Becoming a good writer is like anything else in life- you have to fight for it. You have to decide that it is important enough. You have to learn the balance that will make you (and those that you love) happy. Now, I don’t have a magical solution- but I do have years of trial-and-error that have helped me get closer to my own balance.

For starters, and I can’t stress this enough- whatever you are doing, be present in it, be fully immersed- in all aspects of your life. If you are writing, be in your writing, not poking around online (unless it is research that you cannot make it through another scene without). If you are spending time with loves ones- be in the moment. Do not ‘take two seconds’ to check up on the status of your last blog post- because trust me, if you seem to be distracted they will probably notice and say something. And that conversation will go much better for you if you don’t have to ask them what they said because you were only halfway paying attention. We live in an age of instant gratification- don’t fall victim to it.

Second, know and maintain your schedule. When you have a laundry list of things to do each day, and only a couple of free hours to cram them in- take the extra time to plan. Perhaps you have happy hour after work tomorrow, and you know you won’t ‘have just one and head home early’ (even though you always tell yourself that you will)- maybe you should go to bed early tonight, so you can wake up and get a bit of writing done before work. Or perhaps your schedule fits better as a lunch-hour or weekend writer- know yourself and your schedule, otherwise you will be setting yourself up for failure.

Don’t run yourself ragged. You need time for yourself too, after everything else is said and done. You need to recharge. Getting outside and going for a walk, or starting a workout routine can be helpful. I know it seems counter-productive, this whole post is about finding time to write in your busy schedule, so why add something seemingly unrelated on top of the heap of items you should accomplish? Trust me- your work will thank you. Your brain needs a break too. A big part of finding the time is to use the time you have available more wisely. I am a firm believer in working smarter, not harder. So give yourself regular breaks, get your blood pumping and your brain working more efficiently- then you will need less time to produce a higher caliber of work. Sometimes the answers are hidden in plain sight, and sometimes all you need is to take better care of yourself.

At the end of the day, it will come down to you, it will come down to whether you want this enough. Writing is one of the hardest things I have done, but I don’t know how to be me without it. That is my reason, that is my purpose. I do this for me.

 

 

Jumping off the Bridge (crossing out of the comfort zone)

I once jumped off of a bridge because my friends did. (Sorry mom, but I can explain).

It was early spring, and still cold enough to be comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt, but the sun was out and there was not a drop of rain in sight (a rare treat in the pacific northwest). We were on a white water rafting trip for my friend’s birthday- the first time I had ever done something like that. I was already feeling emboldened because I had not only managed to climb into the raft without any help, but I had also succeeded in staying in it the entire time- didn’t even lose my paddle! So naturally, being dry and warm in my wet suite- it seemed like a perfectly logical idea to take the guide’s offer to climb out of my little raft and scramble up to the cement monstrosity we had just managed to pass under. I even convinced my sister to follow along (again- sorry mom, but big sister peer pressure is a force to be reckoned with).

That was all it took- not even gentle prodding, just the mere mention of this possible adventure, and there I was. Standing on the cement railing, staring down into the dark rushing waters below me as four rafts of college aged students (most of which I didn’t even know) stared up at me with gleaming expectation in their eyes.

Now, let me explain something to you- a vital element to this story. I have two big fears: heights and deep water. And there I was, standing on the edge of a bridge glaring into the eyes of both of them. I remember thinking that after everything, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I would be the only one to turn tail and walk sheepishly back down to the rafts, dry as a bone. I stood there and nearly froze, perched precariously on the railing, staring down into the black water. And then my friends started cheering for me- perhaps they were able to see the slight hint of panic in my face, or they noticed the way my muscles tensed and I stopped breathing.

I knew that all I had to do was take one step off of that ledge- just one, and then there would be no more going back, it would be done. It would be over in a heartbeat. All I had to do was go- and forget the fact that I was stepping out into a void of nothingness. Before I could let my brain catch up and realize what I was doing, my body moved.

You always expect that something crazy and adventurous would go quickly, it would be over in the blink of an eye- I would hit the water, and all would be right in my world once more. Don’t let the lies fool you- that’s not how it happened. Everything was suddenly going in slow motion. I had more than enough time for my brain to catch on to what was happening and berate me for what a stupid decision I had just made. Jumping off of a bridge? Really Katie? A bridge? Isn’t that the exact example all parents use because its just so ludicrous, who in their right mind would do it? I am pretty sure I could have read the entire works of Sherlock Holmes and Don Quixote- and still had time for a spot of tea- all in that endless moment from when my feet left the cement bridge to when the water engulfed me from below. And all I could do was stare at it’s lapping waves as I approached, as the dark expanse of water slowly grew larger. The whole time I was hoping it wouldn’t hurt too bad when I hit, and secretly willing my body to magically learn the art of teleportation and zap me back up onto the bridge.

And then I was in, the water was cold as it enveloped me, slowing me down as I sunk towards the bottom. It was done, I was kicking towards the surface, fleetingly wondering how deep this little water hole really was, and whether Lake Placid style crocodiles could ever hide in a place this far north (fully immersed underwater, it seemed like a plausible possibility- so I kicked harder). I half floated, half swam back to the raft where my friends pulled me in and I looked up to watch the next person take their death defying leap.

I grinned like a Cheshire cat the rest of the way- and I’m actually doing it again now as I relive this memory. There is something about knowing your boundaries and your fears- and tossing them to the wind anyways.

If there is anything that I have learned, it’s that every story we have worth telling starts at the edge of our comfort zones. We just have to be brave enough to take that leap outside of our self-imposed boundaries. I am the first to admit that I forget this fact a lot. But this year I have been fighting for my adventures, the spice that peppers my writing. Some days all I want to do is curl up on my couch and ignore whatever is waiting for me outside that door. But the other thing life has taught me- you never regret opening that door, even if it all turns out disastrously- you have one more memory, one more moment to shape who you will become. I don’t know about you, but I want to be the girl who did something- even if it was as crazy as jumping off of a bridge in spite of your fears.

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Red-Nose Day: rediscover childhood joys

“The most radical act anyone can commit is to be happy.”

-Robin Williams (Patch Adams)

Red Nose Day is here, a time for merry-making and frivolity! And all for a good cause. For those who don’t know, Red Nose Day is a fundraising event geared towards raising money for children living in poverty. It is a brief moment in our busy lives where we lackluster grown-ups can rediscover the giddy memories of a simpler time and strive to help those in need, so they can afford the same opportunities many take for granted. It is giving us an opportunity to help others create the same find and carefree memories to cherish when they join the adult masses of the world. Children shouldn’t be worried about finding food, or worried about their health care or education- that is our burden to bear. We can’t let them down.

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In the spirit of the event, I thought it could be fun to take a moment to reminisce about a simpler time. As a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up and be in charge of my own life. Now, granted, I must admit that I do occasionally imbibe in that long-coveted childhood dream of ice cream for dinner- these days it tends to feel more like defeat than the glorious victory I once thought it would be. It seems that youth is wasted on the young- oh how I crave those simple memories some days, before responsibility came pounding at my door and barged in uninvited.

Not that I don’t still find a way to ‘relive’ my childhood on occasion. I will be the first to admit that I don’t say no when the nephews want to play ‘action figures.’ Okay- full disclosure- at my last office I even had a shelf full of the little things. They were much coveted by my co-workers kids when they came to visit, but like the Grinch- I was unwilling to share my prized possessions. And sure, you can still find the sporadic Disney movie mixed in my recently watched list on Netflix. My poor fiancé has learned that Beauty and the Beast playing is usually a sure sign that I’ve had a rough day and need to immerse myself in animated comfort.

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my old toy shelf at work. poor kids cant reach, hehe.
But my biggest guilty pleasure- the one I relish and refuse to admit to the rest of the world? Re-reading my old tried-and-true favorite books growing up. Oh yes, there you will see my literary roots, the books that fed the writerly obsession that has guided my life. You can still even see the seeds of these past inspirations nestled in my most current work. So why not share my past joys with all of you?

These are some of my favorite books that filled my days as a clueless little lass (in no particular order or specified age), these are the ones the I still search for to add to my extensive book collection, and the ones I run to when I am in need of chicken soup for my soul.

  • The PhantomTollbooth
  • Bunnicula (if you haven’t read this, please, please go out and find it- it’s a hidden gem)
  •  Animorphs
  • Harriet the Spy (and yes- I did own one of those black-and-white marbled notebooks for my very own spy work)
  • Ramona
  • Ralph S. Mouse
  • Wayside School
  • Scary Stories
  • Goosebumps (especially the choose-your-own adventure books. Spoiler: I usually died the first six rounds)
  • Dear America series (bonus points if it included the Titanic, oh be still my beating heart)
  • Nancy Drew
  • Walk Two Moons (first book to ever make me cry)
  • Amelia Badelia (the adorably literal woman who open my eyes to the strangeness that colors the English language. I will never forget ‘hitting the road’ and ‘letting the bread rise’
  • Anything Dr. Seuss
  • And while I’m at it: anything Shel Silverstein (my goal: own a signed copy- very hard to find, even harder to afford)
  • And of course- Harry Potter (still obsessed, probably bordering on unhealthy. But I grew up with them. Still waiting on my letter- the owl post isn’t what it used to be)

So what about you my friends? What colored your childhood and worked your passions? Leave me a comment with your favorite works.

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