Saturday, August 28, 2010

RESEARCH is your Best Friend

"...for bigger fictions (maybe 10-20 chapters, or more) for a big fan fiction or OC fiction, how much do you plan out? Since you are an actual Author I was just wondering how you would fair on this idea?"

How much do I plan out for one of my novels...?
-- I detail everything. Seriously.

I start with a basic plot formula and extrapolate on certain points as needed.
-- Romance needs extra doses of lover's angst, Gothics need psychological breakdowns, Horrors need room for monster attacks, Sci-Fi's and Fantasies need moments of wonder... This gives me a rough plot outline to work from.

Next, I break down each of the Three Main Characters: Hero/Ally/Villain.
-- This is to make sure that they are 'psychologically' in sync with the Plot and Each Other, so their actions/reactions will mesh in the way I intend. (Ahem... That their personalities will clash nicely.)

If I'm doing a Historical, I also look up the 4 years they were in High School (at ages: 15, 16, 17, 18) and check out what books, songs, movies, and/or TV shows were popular during that time. Believe it or not, those are the most common foundational points in most people's personality.

Think I'm kidding? Look up your own high school years and check out what books, TV shows, songs and Movies were out during that time. Now consider how much those things STILL influence you today? (If you're still in school, check out your Mom's or your Dad's high school years. The results will be shocking!)

Once I get my main characters down, I sketch out the major support characters.
 -- I don't go into detail on them. Just names, jobs, physical descriptions, and what I've based their personality on, (Scorpio and an INTJ?) or who. (Riddick under a new name?)

Why not detail the Support characters?
-- Because I don't want to find myself attached to a character that ISN'T who the story is about.

Then, I map out the LOCATIONS I intend to use.
-- Location Research is especially important if I'm writing a Historical piece.

I begin by researching the NEWS local to that area. Did riots break out the summer my story happens? Was there a killing snowstorm that winter? Droughts? Floods? Fires, Quakes...? Weather and social conditions are vitally important because these conditions will make or break all the plot points caused by Setting.

In other words, if one location won't work-- "Oops, on that day, there's a riot on that street..." --I'll have to thrash out either a way around it or find a whole new location -- or a new Time Period.

Case in point, I seriously thought about writing a Meiji Era story--until I discovered that Japan was in and out of war with Russia and China that whole period because of WWI, plus a few other less than savory--and still hotly debated--skirmishes in Korea. Then there was the Kanto Earthquake and hundreds of massive city-wide fires. Also, their Justice system was NOT Just. (If you had money you were innocent. If you didn' weren't.) In short, it was waaaaaaaaay, too much work to thread my little story in the middle of that mess.

  • If I'm using a completely fabricated world or country, I suss out the political system and history for that country or set of countries for that last 200 years--or more. Then there's the time system: how many hours in a day, days in a week, a month... (Is there a moon on this planet--or two?) How long is a year? Education system, medical system, money system, invention or magic system, what occupations are available...etc.
  • If I'm doing a Sci-Fi or Steam Punk, next is Invention and Science research. It always pays to know what actually existed during a certain time period and what current science says is possible in the future! I normally find major inspiration during these research sessions.
  • If I'm doing a Paranormal or Fantasy story, Mythology, Magic and Paranormal research is next. Since I've got quite a home library on these subjects, this is just a matter of pulling a book from a shelf.
After all that is done, I take one last look at my plot outline then set it aside and begin to write.

I believe in a Total Immersion style of writing. In other words, I want to know the world so well I can simply step into the mind and skin of my main character and LIVE the story.

In the course of writing, some plot points will work and some won't. Some locations won't offer quite the right atmosphere I intended for a scene. Sometimes a whole new character will step onstage and become the Ally to the main character or the Villain INSTEAD of the one I mapped out.

When that happens, I take a few moments to extrapolate how such changes will affect the story. If the ending doesn't change--or a better one suddenly crops up, I go with it. I DON'T stick that hard to the plot outline. I change as needed to make the STORY better--not my ego, or worse, my Character's ego.

And...that's pretty much it. *Grin*

Morgan Hawke

The Pecular Popularity of sparkly vampires, Pokemon, and other fairy-tale Lovers.

The Peculiar Popularity of sparkly vampires, Pokemon, and other fairy-tale Lovers.

I think I finally figured out why teenagers and housewives loooove the young adult vampire series "Twilight" so damned much. Well, to begin with, it was written as a Young Adult novel with blatant teenage (read: immature and childish,) views on Love.

The teenage view of love...?

It's ROMANCE with all the hearts, flowers, angst, and over-the-top statements of eternal devotion that one finds in the most popular of fairy tales -- and romance novels.

Specifically, a handsome and powerful man that sees her as the most beautiful girl in the world ('Cinderella',) who will do anything and everything to win -- and keep -- her love ('Princess on a Glass Hill'.) Add to this mix the Bad Boy image; the Monster who loves only Her and will tear apart any foe simply to see her smile, and you have the world's most beloved fairy tale -- and the blue-print for the only romance novels that actually sell: 'Beauty and the Beast'.

In short, the teenage view of love is a rot-gut fantasy that contains no resemblance to the reality of love what so ever. As in, birth control, morning breath, and hoping he calls you later for an actual date rather than just a quickie after work.

Where does 'Pokemon' come in? 
Hmm, a story whose central theme is about adorable little monsters that love only their trainer, and who will attack anyone said trainer asks them to on command? Even I can see the appeal, but beyond that, can you say Pre-Teen 'Beauty and the Beast' for girls -- and boys
Still not seeing the connection? Think: pet. A Pokemon is a magical Pet completely devoted to their 'owner'.

Now, consider this: 
When one fantasizes about love, one thinks in terms of:
  • One who loves YOU -- no matter what. 
  • One who will do whatever it takes to make you happy -- no matter what. 
  • One who stays at your side at all times simply waiting for you to speak and/or command them -- no matter what. 
  • One who is so sexually attractive, powerful, clever, etc.... that You are the envy of all who see them because they are the BEST.
See it now?

The fantasy of love says: lover = a visually attractive, adoring pet who will always come to our rescue, fetch us anything we want, and forgive all transgressions, including extreme selfishness.

*snort* Not even my childhood collie-shepherd dog was that devoted to me. Let me tell you, when danger reared its ugly head she was gone like a shot.

Anyway, I'm sure it's pretty easy to understand why teenagers adore the fantasy of love that is 'Twilight'. Teenagers who've never fallen in love simply don't know any better, but why housewives? Housewives do know better, right?

Yes, the average housewife knows the reality of love very well indeed. They know quite intimately that love isn't when someone falls in love with them. It's when they they do. It's the awful reality of finding oneself helplessly devoted to someone else's happiness whether that person actually deserves it or not  -- often at the cost of their personal hopes and dreams.

That doesn't mean they Like it.

the reality of love doesn't mean that they don't wish with every fiber of their being that the fantasy was true and the reality a lie -- while washing dishes and changing dirty diapers at top speed, so they can get the kids to the daycare/school fast enough to get to their job on time.

Which would you prefer, seriously?
  • The fantasy of romantic love with someone utterly fantastic eternally devoted to only you?
  • The harsh reality of love where You are the one eternally devoted to someone rather ordinary that may not even love you back? 
Now you know why sparkly vampires and other fairy-tale lovers are so very popular -- especially with those who know the reality better than anyone else.

Keep in mind, women aren't the only ones with unrealistic fantasies about love. There are plenty of fantasies for guys about lover-pets out there too, but most call that porn or hentai.

At least, in my opinion.
-- Your mileage may vary.
Morgan Hawke

Writing Adventures ~ A Summary

Writing Adventures
~ A Summary ~

Note: This is the summery of a huge article I found about seven years ago on the ‘net. Unfortunately, I didn’t bother to record the actual name of the article or the author’s name. I was more than a little lax about how I collected information back then. Worse still, the bulk of this has been removed, rewritten and/or paraphrased for brevity and easy grasping. If you happen to know where this came from, please let me know!

• The STORY is the single most important thing.
No one is going to read a book that doesn't have a bold, fast-moving story with a clear course of action that comes to a satisfactory conclusion without too many dangling ends. Any mystery has to be solved; any goals should be achieved; and most characters have to be given what they deserve.

• Don’t be BORING - for more than half a page (125 words) at most.
Ahem... A properly formatted manuscript page is 250 words.

NO: lectures on the rules of magic or astrology - for more than half a page
NO: artistic description - for more than half a page
NO: descriptions of machinery not necessary for the story - for more than half a page
NO: loving re-creation of how it felt to be in, say, 1920 AD or 2000 BC- for more than half a page. Unless this is demonstrated in narrative, it is just a history lesson.
NO: social documentary lectures - for more than half a page
NO: preaching - for more than half a page
NO: general ranting of any kind - for more than half a page
NO: extensive soul-searching - for more than half a page
NO: long exposition of ANY KIND that is unbroken by action - for more than half a page.

• What interests Kids – STILL Interests Adults
DO: cars
DO: guns
DO: computers
DO: gadgets
DO: expertise
DO: frightening things
DO: witches, wizards and magic, but don’t repeat what has already been done. It’s BORING the second or fifth time around.

Give the Reader an experience they can get no other way.

• Offer HOPE.
If your desire is to give a detailed account of bullying, or drug addiction, or parental abuse, fine, but it does no good just to do ONLY that. ‘Readers’ in these situations know all about them, better than you probably do, and will find such narratives boring, while ‘Readers’ who don't know are going to find them either glum or repulsive. You have to show someone handling these situations or, better, overcoming them.

We are programmed to like puzzles, and try for solutions. The best plot for (any) book distances the Reader from her or his problems, so that they become puzzles that the Reader can turn this way and that, and follow with the author to the solution. Do that, and you have made a blueprint for living.

• It is very unimaginative to discourage (anyone) from aiming as high as they can.
It is better to show someone aiming at the moon and only getting halfway than to show them trying to climb to the roof and only getting to the bathroom.

The PLACES where your story happens are as important as the story itself.
Visualize. See the place in your mind, as wholly and exactly as you can, as if you were standing in the place yourself, and then simply write the story that happens there.

Don’t foist on the Reader a loving description of something that has NOTHING to do with the story.

• Beware of making absurd random changes.
Unexplained random changes destroy any feeling of the reality of the story, such as Toad in The Wind in the Willows who is sometimes frog-size and sometimes human-size.

• Use DYNAMIC Characters
The people in your book make the story happen. It follows that they usually have to be fairly strong, dynamic characters, and some of them have to be people that the Reader would follow willingly into the action - likable, understandable, a lovable rogue and so on. 

Before you start writing, you will need to know your characters so well that you can hear their voices - then what they say will come out right without you really trying - and see details that won't get into the book, like the way they walk and what they habitually wear.  

• Never actually specify the character’s actual ages.
No one is more humiliated than the 12-year-old who eagerly follows the adventures of a strong character, only to find that this character is five years old.

• Make your Villains HATEFUL.
EVERYONE likes to have a good hate. Understanding the baddies may seem politically correct, but is not recommended. Children, rightly to my mind, regard this sort of milky tolerance with contempt.

You can ache with sympathy for your villain and delicately comprehend exactly what childhood trauma caused her or him to be such a nasty piece of work, so long as you also remind them that they are also really quite hateful.

Simple Words are NOT always the Better choice.
It is not necessary to limit yourself only to easily-understood words. After all, how else are the Readers going to learn new words unless they read them? On the other hand, almost anything worth saying can be said in short, simple words, and tends to make a greater impact if it is. The advice here is not to start your book with a string of unusual words, which will be off-putting, but to include them by all means when the context makes it clear what the words mean.

• Your sentences must be constructed so that readers will not lose their way in them.
If you are in any doubt, read the sentence aloud. This will almost infallibly show you if it is right or wrong, because you will get in a muddle if it is wrong.

• Clich├ęs make your book very Ordinary.
Clich├ęs are not only found in descriptive passages, but in whole Stories as well, such as when our romantic heroine dislikes a tall dark stranger on sight and then marries him in chapter 30.

Take the time to actually describe the actions and situations. Take the time to make your passages and story DIFFERENT.

• Watch for the Inner Squirm
Good enough is NEVER Good Enough.

• Don’t Leave Anything Out
Every story has to have reasons for the things that happen in it. Make SURE you include the Reasons for those happenings!

• When you End your story, make sure all the important facts are accounted for.
Like explaining why the villain did what he did, or making sure that Jack is not still buried alive in a mineshaft.

• Finally, Don’t end it as a dream.

Morgan Hawke