My New Godsend: The Ultimate Planning Resource!

So, over the years, I have been looking for a story planning resource that will help me formulate and compile all my complex fantastical stories in a way that is understandable, accessible and removes the time-consuming elements of planning a whole universe. I would sit there with thousands of ideas, and they would remain in my head, only to slowly leak out again because I didn’t have the patience to write down all of my thoughts and I found the ones I had written down really difficult to sort through when I’m looking for small details. I gave up attempting to plan my stories before writing them, sticking to a short 2000 word summary of what I wanted to happen at the beginning, middle and end. However, what that meant is that all the beautiful ideas I had in Chapter One would either have to be put into the story there and then, or I would have to see if they would survive the passage of time and the slow leaking of my memories, so that I can place them in Chapter Ten instead.

So what the hell was I supposed to do? I tried so many different apps and ended up spending a fortune on Persona, Timeline 3D and MacFamilyTree 8 for my MacBook Pro in the vain attempt to compile all my data into timelines and family trees and character profiles. It did somewhat help, but having to use three apps for planning stories caused so, so many issues. There are too many of them, so I’ll just mention a few that really affected me.

For one, I was forced to work on four documents when writing down the original draft of a chapter to keep my facts straight. Sometimes I would employ my iPad on the side so that I didn’t have to keep opening app after app and feeling a little bit lost.

Secondly, there was the problem of the fact that each app only had one function. One could help me understand the elaborate makeup of the Royal Family, but it didn’t help me to cross-reference this with who was in charge of the country when a specific war was going on and how they would have contributed to the growing tension, for example. That would involve me going back to the timeline and cross-referencing it with the Family Tree app, then looking at the character profile app to have a little delve into their character.

The worst issue, in my opinion, is the fact that using three apps at once can cause so many discrepancies to appear! On one particularly frustrating writing session, after I had decided that it was stupid of me to not add all the Royal dates to the Timeline app and spending three hours doing that, I realised that I needed to know how old Princess Evanna was when she was captured. I went to my Family Tree app and had a look at her birthday… hold on! The story starts in the year 2206, and I had established her as seventeen! So why does the Family Tree app say that she was born in 2190 while the Timeline app says she was born in 2189?! Uh oh. I had to go back and cross-reference once again to make all my dates match. What a palaver!

Do you know what would be useful? An app that does a lot more than just the character profiles or locations or magic systems or different races that I have in my story. An app which compiles a lot of data that would possibly serve as super useful to me when I’m trying to sort through my ideas and actually use them in my writing. Something that can link characters via their relationships like a family tree app, whilst also allowing me to explain what the differences are between the various fantastical humanoid races I have used. Something that looks pleasant, cuts down the planning time, and has a search feature so that I can remember what the hell I was talking about when I wanted to add in a special plot point back in February 2017.

It has taken me almost two years, but I have found exactly that! And I don’t want to keep it to myself!

Read moreMy New Godsend: The Ultimate Planning Resource!

The Art of Using Big Words Properly

If you’re someone who loves the English Language as much as I do, it can be challenging to know how to create pieces of literature that are both easy to read and sophisticated in their vocabulary. Don’t worry! It’s definitely a good thing that you’re looking into the language more than most. Grammar fascinates you? Discovering new words and the etymology behind them envigorates you? Excellent! I totally understand you! Languages can be exciting – especially when you realise that you can never know every single word. There will always be growing-room, and space to learn and make yourself seem smarter than before.

So let’s imagine that you’ve been reading avidly and regularly, and recently you stumbled across a particularly fascinating word. You get it from context, look it up in a dictionary, ask someone, or a mixture of a few different methods to discover its definition. Now, you’re pretty confident that you know what the word means and how to use it. Great! I wouldn’t blame you if you were eager to jump straight into your work and insert the new vocabulary in as many places as you see fit. After all, as someone who studies a few different foreign languages, I’m more aware than most that the best way to consolidate your understanding of a word and make sure that it sticks in your head is to use it. But should you just use it without thinking about the effect it’s creating upon your work? Certainly not!

You’re probably thinking “what do you mean? Of course, I should use the word if I know how! What else is there to think about?” and my answer to that is a lot. There’s a lot to think about. Way more than you’d imagine – and it’s whether or not you think about the effect your words are having upon your story that can make or break you as a writer.

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Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Creating Positive Female Characters

A few years ago, I was doing my AS-Level in Media Studies, and we were given a coursework assignment to make a two-minute film opening. We all split off into groups, and I ended up working with two other girls. Of course, studying Media made us all hyper-aware of the fact that a lot of women are given a somewhat bad name in films and television, so we were adamant about portraying a strong female character. With that in mind, we got to work planning and creating a storyboard, sure we would be able to represent a woman who didn’t adhere to the typical limiting conventions.

The first thing we did was discuss our protagonist. Naturally, it would have to be a woman. She would be strong-willed and independent, resourceful and brave. She would put her mission before her feelings because that’s what we thought would make her comparable to men in the media. We really wanted to make sure we were good feminists (the word didn’t have such a bad name a few years ago) and make the man the vulnerable character for a change. I mean, of course, men are allowed to show vulnerability. Toxic masculinity was stupid and destructive. Let’s create a man who isn’t portrayed as less manly simply because he shows us his feelings.

All was going wonderfully… until my teacher came up to us and, having listened to our great enthusiasm about this innovative and progressive female character, said:

“So you’re creating a femme fatale?”

Oh wow. Change of plans. It seems we did slip into a conventional role for women – just the complete opposite one. We’d added in a cliche without even meaning to… but we weren’t about to change it! I mean, all of that time lost – with all our other coursework? You have to be kidding! We wanted to create a positive female character, but not that much!

The moral of my little story is that it is very easy to fall into the trap of adding in cliches and turning any character into a stock character without realising. This is especially true of women, who have suffered from a long history of being given the shaft in media. There were, however, a few points that we’d failed to recognise when we were beating ourselves up about not realising what we’d done:

  • Cliches aren’t always your enemy. You just need to know when and how to break them if you’re going to use them.
  • Physical strength doesn’t mean strength of character. There are many different types of strength.
  • We should have focused on creating a convincing and interesting character first, instead of simply reducing her to a feminist symbol.

Before you dismiss me as a crazy tumblr feminist and denounce me as a “man-hater”, please hear me out! People love to shout “sexist” or “bigot” whenever they’re met with criticism or alternate opinions in this day and age, but the truth is often far from that. Really, in the West, most guys are absolutely happy to treat women as their equals and give them the respect that they deserve. Likewise, most women act like they’re worthy of the respect they’re given. Women are largely paid the same (with an exception being, surprise surprise, the media industry) and legally, women get the same benefits as men. It’s the media as an institution which just doesn’t seem to keep up with the way our society actually already is. It is the biggest culprit of perpetuation gender gaps and often seems to just be stuck in a time when women were viewed as weak, helpless, sexualised objects. Save from the odd film that’s rare in the grand scheme of things, the media industry is just not as progressive as we are in our everyday lives.

Read moreBreaking the Glass Ceiling: Creating Positive Female Characters

Is Exposition Really That Bad?

If you’ve been around literary critics or writers who love to read about writing techniques, you’ll most likely have heard of the term “exposition”. No doubt, it probably confused you a little bit. It certainly baffled me when I first heard about it. It can be thrown around as this awful thing that can taint a story when all it really seems to mean is explaining elements of your story to the audience or reader. What the hell could possibly be so terrible about telling the audience what’s going on?

You may have heard the phrase “show, don’t tell”, which seems to go against what you’ve seen written in some of your favourite books. Nevertheless, when people hear this piece of advice, they pounce on their stories and remove all adverbs with extra malice and ruthlessness, thinking this is the best way to “cut all the crap”. In fact, many a friend of mine has overused that little phrase when they’re fresh out of a creative writing class, which leads to frustrating conversations when they ask me to have a look at their work. “Show, don’t tell” is something you will hear people say when they’re desperately trying to prevent new, budding writers from getting their narrator to explain things which can be shown through the dialogue, setting or general encounters. It’s almost like letting the audience figure out a thing or two themselves, instead of overexplaining and spoonfeeding. However, people often go from one extreme to the other as soon as they hear that it’s better to show.

So, I’m here to tell you why exposition is not your enemy, but rather something that can be great in moderation. Hopefully, by the end of this post, you’ll be armed with the weapons to create a story that makes sense and is enjoyable to read.

Read moreIs Exposition Really That Bad?

“God did it”: the Problem with Deus Ex Machina

You may or may not have heard this term thrown around a lot when you’re writing and reading. It’s actually a massive problem in a lot of stories, published or otherwise, and can leave a reader feeling frustrated, unfulfilled and lost when it comes to tying up the loose ends of your story. Deus ex machina takes away the ability of the reader to immerse in the action, while simultaneously making you seem like a lazy and unskilled writer. But what exactly is this weird Latin term and how can you avoid it?

In Latin, ‘deus ex machina’ means something along the lines of ‘God from a machine’. It refers, in short, to when Greek plays would have a God character suspend from the stage on a crane and swiftly solve all of the remaining problems at the end. No mess, no fuss. God did it. No questions asked. Now it’s come to mean any character that pops out of nowhere to solve a problem (or all the problems) without any prior warning or mention. It can be quite a tempting tool, frankly: when you’re stuck with writer’s block and don’t know how to conclude this elaborate tale you’ve concocted, what better way to solve the glaring plot holes than to plaster them up with a new, unknown character?

Well, I say no. Euripides may have been a fan of that style of writing, and it may have worked for him, but does no one else remember that “what the hell” reaction when a seemingly impossible (and therefore massively intriguing) problem is solved with the wave of some random person’s wand? It’s lazy and useless most of the time. You’re cutting corners and robbing your readers of a genuinely good ending.

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Writer’s Block

I’ve got writer’s block.

It’s probably one of the most frustrating feelings for a budding writer: you’re the only thing preventing you from churning out award-winning stories at factory speed and ‘winning at life’. There’s no quick fix and no one to blame but yourself.

It can be pretty easy to give up right now. There have been times when I’ve felt the sudden urge to throw my laptop across the room and rip my hair out in an exasperated sigh, vowing to never type a fantastical sentence again. The only thing that really prevents me from throwing in the towel is asking myself a few questions: what good would it do? Who would win if I gave up? No one. Absolutely no one. I don’t even think the people who dislike me in real life know I’m writing amateur stories online, so I actually don’t have anyone who’s out to see me fail. It would be the most useless thing in the world to quit.

 

Artwork by Chaotic Deluge

 

So what do you do when you’re going through a creativity drought? How exactly do you remedy sitting in front of a blank word document, writing and rewriting the same sentence for hours on end? I don’t know how to answer that question other than to tell you to wait it out. Preoccupy yourself with other activities. After all, you can’t make the creativity-rain fall on command.

Read moreWriter’s Block

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