Friday, March 27, 2020

How to Come Up with a Story Idea


PSA: Today is the last day to grab your free ebook copy of Colors of Fear! Do it now.


This blog post is going to be a little bit different.

I was going to simply tell you how to come up with a story idea, but we all know the saying.

"Show, don't tell."

So, sure, I will explain the story generating process to you. However, I will also show you how I personally would go about coming up with a story idea from scratch.

Yes, this means that I'm going to build a full-on story idea while writing this post. You're about to get a behind-the-scenes look at how my brain works, so grab some popcorn and strap in.


1. Start with the one thing you have. Chances are, you have one single, not-super-helpful concept rolling around your brain. When I was beginning to write Vengeance Hunter, it was "Vampires." A more recent project (This Pain Inside) began with me just really, really wanting to write an underwater sci-fi.

Take that concept that won't stop bugging you and write it down. You'll need it later. It absolutely, 100% does not need to be fleshed out in any way. It can be bizarre, random, something that you look at and think, "That is not a story idea."

You're right: It is not a story idea. But it will be. Have patience, my young padawan learner.

My idea is in blue:

Starting with: A monster that steals everybody's left shoe

2. Pinpoint what story element is particularly important to you as an author. Do you focus on character-driven plots? Are themes a driving factor in your writing? Maybe you like twisting tropes? Most writers have a specific focus in their writing. The thing that shines in every single one of their stories because they like writing it and can't help but insert it into their stories.

For me, it's theme. Theme is very important to me, so I usually pick a theme I want to explore at the very beginning of any brainstorming phase. I know other authors who pick a world-building element ("what if a ring had the power to rule them all?") or a character type ("traumatized chosen one boi").

Why so sirius, Harry?

Maybe you personally really like playing with plot-driven stories. Awesome! Write it down.

Story element: plot-driven

3. Pick a mood. Do you want this story to be funny? Sad? Intense? Dark (yes, please!)? Romantic (you lost me)? Pick a mood. It can be random if you like, though hopefully you can match it with your starting point.

For instance, my above starting point (a monster that steals everybody's left shoe) has the potential to be funny. However, it could also be tragic or scary, depending on why the monster is stealing only the left shoe. Do your best to match the mood with the starting point. But also be sure to choose a mood that you are personally drawn to, because why write something you aren't interested in? For instance, I'm in a bit of a what's-that-in-the-shadows mood, so I'm going with...

Mood: Scary

4. Pick your genre. You probably already have a genre you're prone to writing. Do you feel like writing that genre again? Or do you want to try something different?

Make sure that this genre fits the elements you already have. For instance, I currently have a left-shoe-stealing monster, a scary vibe, and a focus on plot. This doesn't really lend itself to romance or historical fiction. It maybe lends itself to sci-fi or fantasy or, if we get real creative, a thriller. It definitely lends itself to horror and supernatural fiction.

Genre: Horror 

5. Start putting the pieces together. Let's see what we have so far. We have a scary, plot-driven horror story that will somehow incorporate a monster that is stealing everybody's left shoe.

Get out a pen and paper and start seeing how many different ways that story can go. Here are mine:

Villagers that rely on trading animal furs find the severed left foot of a strange, unknown creature in one of their traps. A few days later, the villagers' left shoes start to disappear in the night. And then their left socks. And then their actual left feet. [insert scream here] The village must rally and hunt down the beast before it continues to exacts its revenge.  

A bit goofy? Yeah. But give it the right twist (a mysterious, fairytale kind of vibe, perhaps?) and it could be something. Besides, I could even ditch the "everybody's left shoe" part of my idea and just go for this: 

Villagers that rely on trading animal furs find the severed left foot of a strange, unknown creature in one of their traps. The next night, a trader tries to leave the village to sell goods at the nearest city only to be caught in a horrifying booby trap that robs her of her left foot. The villagers soon find that their village is surrounded by traps. To leave is to risk maiming or death, but to stay is starvation. And with each night the monster grows bolder in its quest for revenge. 

Okay, not bad. But let's try an entirely new route, just for funsies. 

There is a monster outside Character's house, and it wants to kill him. He's seen it staring at him outside his window, heard its vicious howl. The neighbors say he's imagining things, but he doesn't think he is. If he just stays inside with all entrances locked, he'll be safe. 

But then one of his left shoes disappears. Then another. And another. Each missing shoe is replaced with something unsettling: a dead bird, a painting of a woman with her eyes scratched out. The creature is inside his house, taunting him. Character must find a way to escape from the monster before it kills him or drives him insane.

I personally like this idea, so I'll stop here. However, note that I could keep going if none of the above three ideas struck my fancy. I could also go back to my very first idea and keep tweaking it. Or I could swap the genre to, say, dark fantasy and see if that sparks any new ideas.

Keep playing with it until you find something you like.


6. Keep building out. You may have a basic story idea, but it's not ready yet. There will probably be some fairly large holes. Make a list of questions you have about your story and try to fit the answer with your current concept.

What is the world-building in this story? Well, the monster could be anything. Maybe it's real. Maybe it's imagined because Character is a little bit bonkers. Maybe Character is part of a cruel science experiment to see how the human brain deals with perceived supernatural events. The possibilities are endless. I personally like plot-twist type stories, so I'm going with the science experiment one. 

What is Character's backstory? I'm a sucker for broken, underdog character types, so let's say Character has always been a bit jumpy. He isn't the most stable person. He use to have delusions of seeing this monster in his closet all the way up until the age of seventeen, but he's been making great strides since then. He's now in his 30s, has a job, leads a normal (if not somewhat unhappy) life, and hasn't seen the monster again. Up until the beginning of my story, that is. 

7. Find your ending. Story ideas aren't particularly useful if they don't come with endings. Write down the first endings that come to your mind and see which one strikes your fancy. 

Character has a full breakdown, ends up stumbling across the scientists who have been putting him through all of this stress, mistakes them for the real monster, kills them, ends up in jail. 

A bit dark and pointless for me, so I'll pass on that ending. 

Character ends up almost losing his mind, but holds himself together through sheer will. The head of the science department finds out about this unauthorized experiment and shuts it down. However, it turns out that the monster is real because the scientists were stupid enough to get their experimental design from an old folk tale they believed to be false. The monster follows the scientists home and begins to torture them with similar mind games. The head of the science department goes to Character for help. Character must face his fears and find a way to stop the monster once and for all. 

Yup. I like that one. It's weird, it's interesting, it's scary. It has all of the elements I had originally wanted, and it only took me an hour to generate (30 minutes, actually, if we subtract the time it took me to explain the process while also coming up with the idea). 

Pretty awesome, right? 

There are a lot of ways to come up with a story idea, but this is the one that I've found to be the most effective. 

Want to give it a whirl? Leave a comment below and tell me what you come up with! 

And don't forget to stop by for my first live reading of Colors of Fear this Sunday!



Related articles: 

7 Tips for Re-Writing Your Story
8 Tips for Developing a Strong Theme for Your Novel

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Monday, March 23, 2020

Stay-At-Home Book Events: Free Ebook, Live Readings, and More!

The Virus That Must Not Be Named is going around (heretofore known as TVTMNBN). Maybe you, like me, are living under a mandatory stay at home law. Maybe you're bored. Maybe you're anxious. Maybe you're grieving. Maybe you just really need toilet paper.

I've got your back.

(except for the toilet paper part. Sorry)

I know these are difficult, stressful times for many, so I've decided to release a whole slew of fun events over the next month. A lot of these events are unprecedented, never-seen-before goings-on that I can guarantee will put a smile on your face.

Wanna know what they are?

Behold. My beautiful schedule:



It's a lot, so lemme break the awesomeness down for you. 

March 23rd - 27th: the Colors of Fear ebook is free! Head on over and grab your copy!


*throws confetti* If you've been following me for a while, you know that I never give my work away for free. I'm doing it this week because I know people are going through a rough time. There's a lot of fear circulating, so I hope that reading about Wanderer's fight against his own fears brings you strength. 

March 29th and April 1st: Live readings of Colors of Fear!


I'll read a scene from Colors of Fear on Youtube, then we'll have have a book club discussion. You can ask me questions, throw out fan theories, laugh and chat with fellow readers, and more. It's going to be a lot of fun. Invite your friends! Who says social distancing has to be tackled alone? 

Don't forget to subscribe to my Youtube channel and opt-in to get alerts when I go live. 

April 1st: 

Now here's the big one. The very-few-people-even-knew-I-was-working-on-this-novel one.

On April 1st, I will be releasing chapter 1 of So I Accidentally Killed the Chosen One to Wattpad.


So I Accidentally Killed the Chosen One is a a Mexican-inspired comedic Space Opera WIP that I've been working on for the last several months. It's about a happy-go-lucky mischief maker on the run from the law who accidentally kills her galaxy's Chosen One. But plot twist! This Chosen One is also her doppelgänger, so she does what an illogical, adventure-loving person would do: She decides to impersonate the Chosen One.

It's a mixture of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and dark comedy, but with tortillas and brujas.

You're going to love it. Go follow my Wattpad account so you can read it when it releases.

Now this is just Phase 1 of my Stay-At-Home book events. Stay tuned to learn about more fun events that I'll be rolling out over the next few months.

Do you have any questions? Requests for bookish events? I'd love to hear about them!

Remember to join my Torn Universe or subscribe to my newsletter if you want to be among the first people to hear about these kinds of events.

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Friday, March 6, 2020

Why Tropes Are Awesome (And How to Use Them In Your Writing)

*rises from the dead* I'm aliiiiiiiive.

Kind of.

Actually, if anything, I'm mostly dead. But mostly dead is still slightly alive, so that's something.

Many thanks to everyone who was chill with my random, unannounced blogging absence last month. I've been having some super fun health complications (yay Lyme disease), but hopefully this month will be better.

Writing this opening really got me thinking about tropes. After all, I have now become the trope-y blogger who takes a hiatus then comes back and explains why they took a hiatus even though very few people asked. Soooo. I guess today is the day to embrace tropes.

Let's talk about why they're actually awesome...and how to use them correctly.

Why Tropes Are Awesome (And How to Use Them In Your Writing)

Why Tropes Are Actually Pretty Rad


First off, let's talk about what a trope *is* exactly. A trope is a recurring character type, theme, plot point etc that is generally specific to a genre. They're basically templates that get used over and over in different ways. 

For example: We've got the Chosen One trope in fantasy and sci-fi (Harry Potter, Anakin Skywalker). There's the "Oh, I'll just go down into the basement of this creepy house by myself, brb, it'll be fine" trope in horror movies (I have no examples for this because I don't watch that kind of horror). Oh, and the Stoic Killer with a Heart of Gold trope in action movies (Jason Bourne, Rambo). 

Readers of specific genres tend to love (and even look for) specific tropes. Using tropes in your story is a great marketing tool because it basically acts as a Bat signal for your target audience. It's a quick, fun way to draw readers in. 

It's also a great way to display your genius by taking a beloved trope and putting an awesome twist on it. 

OH. And tropes can actually be a helpful jumping-off point if you're struggling to create a character or plot point. Just pick a trope, then dress it up as your own. Some of your snobbier writers will say: "But Hannah. That's derivative. Originality is important." 

Yeah. About that. I got news for you, bud: Originality is an absurd concept. All original ideas aren't automatically good ones. Looking at you, person who designed these torture devices and then marketed them as desks: 


Plus, originality is almost impossible to obtain. You may think nobody's ever had this story idea before, but honestly? That's very unlikely. And you know what? It doesn't matter. Write what is important to you. It may not be "original," but if you love it enough and work hard enough, it'll be a good story. And that's all that really matters. 

How to Use Tropes Well


1. Familiarize yourself with your genre. What tropes are beloved? What tropes are falling out of favor? Read within the genre that you're writing to see what tropes are overused, underused, or need to be killed with fire (*cough* stalker romance in YA *cough* *cough*). Not only will this help you find your target audience, but it will also help you see gaps you can fill. What cool twists haven't been used yet? What tropes are common, but not being fully utilized? What are tropes that are so beloved that you'll want to be careful about tampering with? Find your niche and go for it. 

2. Make note of tropes outside of your genre. If you want to surprise your readers (while also attracting readers outside of your usual genre), read-up on tropes that are used in genres that aren't your own. For instance, when I wrote Vengeance Hunter, my Aztec-inspired vampire anthology story, I drew from several horror tropes. The story was dark fantasy, but I wanted it to have a slight horror vibe so I went for a play on the Horrible Truth Cover Up trope (Get Out) and That's a Lot of Blood trope (every horror ever, honestly). 

The one thing to be careful about is that, while mixing genres will make your story unique, it may scare off fans who were expecting one genre and got a bit of a taste for another that they don't particularly like. So just make sure you know who your target audience is and don't upset them too much. Or do upset them and then revel in their anger like a Disney villain. The choice is yours. 

3. Put a twist on it. *in Devo voice* Twist it! Twist it good! (sorry, not sorry) You don't have to use a trope as-is. I've written an entire post on all the ways to dress-up the Chosen One trope, so check that to get an idea of what I'm talking about. Of don't, and then live the rest of your life knowing that you've disappointed me.

Gif of Obi-Wan yelling "You were the chosen one!" in disappointment.

Twisting tropes is a really awesome exercise in creativity. It's also a great way to put your signature spin on something while also giving your readers a fun surprise. 

4. Re-use negative tropes to point out a problem. I made a jab earlier about stalker romance in YA, so let's use that as an example. You can use the stalker romance trope, except as the story progresses you shift from portraying the stalker as being "romantic" and show them for what they really are: Creepy and probably illegal (Edward Cullen breaking-and-entering to watch Bella sleep, The Flash/Barry Allen and all the weird watching/baiting he did to Iris). You're taking a negative trope and putting an interesting and helpful spin on it. 

5. Go cultural. A lot of common tropes we see are Westernized. There's nothing wrong with Western tropes, but if you're looking for something new, consider looking at non-Western stories. Watch some anime. Read some fiction by authors from Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, etc. You'll notice tropes popping up that don't seem to be used as often in more Western stories. For example, a lot of Mexican fiction tends to use the Magic is Real but We Just Abuse It trope that is only recently becoming popular in America (Bright is a good example of this). 

6. Start small and build out. Pick a very basic trope, then slowly start adding layers from there. Some of my favorite characters are basically just dress-up tropes. Take Loki, for example. He's your basic Trickster trope. Marvel added some extra depth to him by giving him a complex backstory, complicated relationships with other characters, and ever-shifting goals. So if you're ever stuck with a character, pick your favorite trope and build from there. Just put in the work and it'll turn out awesome. 

See? Tropes are actually super awesome. If you want to do a deeper dive into how you can fully utilize them, check out this PFW podcast I hosted on the topic. 

What are some of your favorite tropes to use in writing? Do you have any tips to add? Comment away! 

Related articles: 
Favorite and Least Favorite Tropes in YA Fantasy

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Friday, February 7, 2020

8 Mexican Folktales and Mythical Creatures to Use in Your Stories

Hola, guey!

If you're part of my Torn Universe group or subscribe to my newsletter, you know that I'm currently working on a few Space Opera stories that center around Mexican world-building. I've been having a TON of fun with it. I'm a quarter Mexican, so it's been awesome to connect with the Mexican culture and also learn about the etymology of things I've heard about from family members.

One of my favorite parts of the Mexican culture has been all of the folklore and mythological creatures. This is unsurprising given my fascination with spooky monsters and underused mythical beasts.

Today I wanted to share some of my favorite folklore and mythological creatures with you, so get ready for some chido tales:

8 Mexican Folktales and Mythical Creatures to Use in Your Stories



Alebrije 

Source: JillianLambertArt 


I love these. Alebrije are like snowflakes in that every single one of them is a unique shape, size, and pattern. At first glance, Alebrije are just Mexican folk art, but the background is much richer than that. The original artist (Pedro Linares) saw visions of alebrije when he was close to death and, upon recovery, started re-creating these mythical animals. They now have taken on multiple meanings in Mexican culture: Some people think that each person is matched with a alebrije at birth (thus explaining why each alebrije looks different: It's because they're a mirror of a person's soul). Some see them as symbols as Oaxacan pride, as Oaxaca is known for being the place to go to create and buy alebrije carvings. 

Regardless of the meaning, they are straight-up beautiful. And, because their purpose is so ambiguous, they make for a great blank-slate for either world-building, a character, or a magic system. I'm a fan. 

Huay Chivo

Source: Nimrais

This creatures is basically what would happen if a chupacabra and a minotaur had a baby. It's part person, part goat(ish), usually has horns, and always has red eyes.

Despite looking like it will eat you as a snack, Huay Chivo actually doesn't consume people, only their livelihood. He's rude, but he's not a murderer. 

Duende

Source: Wiki

Duende is probably one of the most difficult words to translate. Talk to any Mexican and they'll each give you very different definitions of what it means (or stare at you blankly, as it doesn't seem to be a commonly used term).  My grandparents told me that it was the Mexican equivalent of Mr. Nobody: It's a little house spirit that goes around making mischief while nobody's looking. If you ever do something wrong (break a glass, stain a rug, etc), you can just say the Duende did it.

However, other people say that Duende like to live in children's bedrooms and clip their toe nails (because that's a normal thing, apparently), but sometimes mess up and chop off the child's entire toe. Yeah. I...have no explanation for this.

Still others say that duende is a type of emotion linked to passion and art. It's what gives you chills when you hear good music or watch a beautiful dance.

So. I guess pick your favorite version and run with it...? 

La Llorona

Source: focusnm

Ah, one of my favorites. La Llorona is a cheated-on woman who either intentionally or accidentally drowned herself and her children. She now lives in bodies of water while wailing loudly and luring children to their deaths.

If you want to keep your children from drowning, telling them this story is certainly one way to do it. Though you may end up giving your kids aquaphobia, so maybe don't do that.

La Llorona's story is definitely a very creepy one. However, it also is told from multiple angles (such as La Llorona just being lonely and not actually intending to hurt anyone), so it makes for great writing material. 

Chaneque

Source: Canijochaneque

Legendary creatures of Mexican folklore, the Chaneque are sprite-like beings that guard nature with a  vengeance. They protect specific parts of nature (trees, meadows, riverbeds, etc) and attack any intruders by scaring them so badly that their souls leave their bodies. The only way to retrieve your soul after such an attack is to perform a specific ritual. If you don't? You'll get sick and die very soon.

Of course you could just respect nature in the first place and the Chaneque will let your soul stay in your body where it belongs. They're nice like that.

Quinametzin

Source: Roque Leão

Did somebody say "Ancient Aztec Giants"? Yep. I did. That's what Quinametzin are. They stand about ten feet tall and are credited for a lot of the impressive architecture in ancient Mesoamerica, such as Teotihuacan or the Great Pyramid of Cholula (which, by the way, is the largest pyramid in the world. Take that, Egyptians! Just kidding. Though...why did we never learn about this in school??).

However, the Quinametzin messed up and angered the gods, so the gods just...killed them. All of them. Yeah. Seems a bit dramatic, but okay. 

Nagual

Source: LeonelSaberTooth

This one is complicated. At its core, nagual is the term for a person who can shape-shift into a human. The superstition is that the nagual made a deal with the devil to gain this ability, but, like most folklore, this isn't the sole view. Tonalism and brujos come into play for the other versions, so feel free to look that up if you're interested.

However, the deal-with-the-devil is my personal favorite version because I think it would make a great story. After all, let's be honest: Who in their right mind would go to El Diablo so they can shift into an animal? It's not that great of a skillset...? Why risk that? What happened to make you think that's a good idea?? I must know.

Chupacabra 

Source: LuxDani

You've probably heard of this one before, but it's a good one so I can't not mention it. Sure, it technically originated in Puerto Rico and not Mexico, but Mexico has folktale about them, so I'm just going to go with it.

The word chupacabra literally translated to "goat sucker," a very fitting name considering that chupacabra's sole source of food is goat blood. Chupacabra have spines along their back, long teeth, and leathery or snake-like skin.

Oh. And sometimes they hop around like kangaroos. Because why not?

And there you have it. Which of these is your favorite? Did I miss any that you love? Leave a comment below!

Related articles:
12 Unusual, Frightening Mythical Monsters to Use in Your Fantasy Novel
10 Little-Known Weapons to Use in Your Speculative Fiction Stories
12 Horrifying, Unbelievable Sea Creatures to Use in Your Writing

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Friday, January 17, 2020

Factoid Friday #4: About the Colors...

Ever noticed that colors pop up in my stories quite a bit? Colors of Fear, as the title indicates, is literally centered around colors. Skies of Dripping Gold has a color named in the title. Every single one of my stories has a color (or colors) mentioned in a significant way. Why is that? Well...


Yup. Colors play a large part in my life: I keep my hair bright blue (or red or green or whatever else I'm feeling like), I have a piece of art on every single wall in my room, and I almost always have a neon-colored pen in my purse or backpack. They make me smile and help me remember the good things in life.

Because colors are such a big deal for me and my mental health, they started leaking over into my stories. It was unintentional at first, but I chose to lean into it after a few publications.

So if a color is ever mentioned in any of my stories: Pay attention. It probably means something important.

Related article:
Factoid Friday #3: My Weird Writer Quirk

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Friday, January 10, 2020

#ChatWithHannah Ep 22: Awesome Tropes in YA Fiction

A few months ago I made a video about problematic tropes in YA fiction that need to die. Today I want to talk about all of the amazing, helpful, and just plain fun tropes YA fiction has to offer.


Articles mentioned in this video: 

What are some of your favorite tropes in YA fiction? Let's hear 'em! 

Related articles: 
#ChatWithHannah Ep 18: Tropes in YA Fiction That Need To Die

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Some links are Amazon Affiliate. Thank you for your support!

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Why We Need to Let Female Protagonists Just Be Protagonists

Have you ever noticed that people tend to be hypercritical of female protagonists? Specifically female protagonists in action or speculative fiction stories?

Yeah.

Let's talk about that.

This is something that I've been observing and thinking about for years, both as an author and a consumer. It is something that always kind of bothered me. However, the more I publish and the more I get into books and movies, the more I start to notice things.

Things that I find...nonsensical. Frustrating. Disturbing.

People have massive arguments and discussions surrounding female protagonists that simply aren't had when a male is the head of a book or movie or franchise. A single female-led story is bashed left and right for containing feminist agendas, for reinforcing gender roles, for undermining traditional family roles, for having a flawed protagonist, for having a perfect protagonist, and on and on and on.

It doesn't make any sense. To me, female characters are just characters. I don't place extra expectations on them. Why would I?

But apparently that's not the right thought-process. Apparently female protagonists must be held to impossible, contradictory, and sometimes flat-out insane standards.

It must stop, people. Let's take a look at all the ways we ostracize female characters and all the reasons that's messed up.

Why We Need to Let Female Protagonists Just Be Protagonists


1. Putting female characters in their own category. This happens on a regular basis and, while not always intentionally malicious, is pretty undermining. For instance, think about how often you hear the phrase (or even say the phrase): "She's a well-developed female character." Or "She's one of the best female character's I've read." Now think about how often you hear or read or say "He's a well-developed male character."

It's a stark difference, isn't it?

See, when people like a male character, they just say "He's a great character" or "he's one of the best characters I've read." They don't feel the need to clarify his sex. But, when it comes to female characters, they do.

There's also that whole issue of people who think that children's books with female leads are "girl books" meant for a female audience, yet children's books with male leads are simply books meant for any reader.

This is signaling that people view male characters as the standard. It also says that female characters should go in their own category where they are judged by a different set of rules and labels. And, unfortunately, these rules and labels are often nonsensical and impossible to follow, such as...

2. Incorrectly labeling female characters as Mary Sues or Manic Pixie Dream Girls. For anyone who isn't familiar, here are the basic definitions of these labels:

Mary Sue: A seemingly perfect female character who has little to no flaws, is often overpowered, and is naturally good at pretty much everything.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl: A sweet, eccentric, and often very "girly-girl" type who has no real purpose in a story except to help a (usually mopey) male character become a better person.

Critics of female characters love these terms and often throw them around as a broad, catch-all way to  put down a female character they don't like.

For instance, a very popular example of a Mary Sue is Rey from Star Wars. People like to call her a Mary Sue as a way to explain why she's not an interesting character to them. She picks up the Force easily, she's randomly a great pilot, and it is always understood that she will 100% win her struggle with the Dark Side.

But you know who else this describes? Switch the pronouns in the above sentence to "he" and you've got Luke Skywalker (from the original trilogy).  Rey is simply a less-whiny version of Luke.



And, yet, nobody bashes Luke for being a Gary Stu. They may not like him, but at least they take the time to explain why, rather than labelling him with a broad, sex-specific catch-all term.

The same goes for Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Any cute, confident, supportive female character is in danger of being termed a Manic Pixie Dream Girl simply because she has her life together and has decided to help a less fortunate character.

Now, to anyone who is about to grumble at me, I will say this: Yes. Yes, Mary Sue and Manic Pixie Dream Girl characters do exist as actual annoying tropes. Yes, these labels can be used correctly.

However, they often aren't. And that's not even what makes them so sticky and troublesome.

What makes these terms problematic is that they are labels that only exist for female characters.

There are absolutely derogatory terms for male characters ("boy scout," or "white knight" being used to describe flat, overly goody two-shoes male characters, or "Broody Boy" being used to put down the darker, more emo types). However, they are not used as often or as incorrectly, and they don't always carry a 100% negative connotation.

For instance, Finn from Star Wars is a total Boy Scout, but most people don't mind. In fact, many like him because of that trait. If people dislike Finn, they don't often use the term Boy Scout because it's not as widely known. Instead, they take the time to explain why they don't like him by using complete, logical sentences like all normal mature humans should ("He lacks any real character arc and his traumatic backstory doesn't seem to impact him the way it naturally would," rather than "I don't like him 'cuz he's a Boy Scout!!!!"

The same is not generally true for critics who label female characters as Mary Sue or Manic Pixie Dream Girl. They (often incorrectly) slap those labels on with very little provocation and little to no explanation.

3. Constantly scrutinizing their appearance. Ummm. Guys. I feel like it's obvious why this is bad, but it's still happening, so I guess we need to talk about it. Again.

Remember that time when the first Wonder Woman trailer dropped and people started going insane over her perfectly shaved armpits? It sparked all sorts of arguments about how this was either feminist or anti-feminist. People got so fixated on her hairlessness that they ignored the fact that you could see her armpit because she had her arms raised while fighting in battle like a badass. Yeah.

Or how about that time people got upset about Rey being "too skinny" to be a good fighter? Like muscle mass has anything to do with being able to use the Force....?

Or what about when people lost their minds arguing over how Brienne of Tarth wore normal armor rather than armor that showed off her boobs (AKA: "boob plate" armor)? I don't even watch Game of Thrones and I still heard about that one.

Or when people were arguing about what message it sends that Bo Peep wore pants in the newest Toy Story movie.

It's gross, guys. Women come in all shapes and sizes. Some shave, some don't. Some wear dresses, some wear pants. None of it has anything to do with how well-developed a character is, so there's no reason for us to be making any kind of an issue out of it. Stop trying to fit female characters into tiny boxes.

4. Not letting them have flat character arcs. Before we get started, let's define some stuff. A flat arc = a character whose personality and motives don't really change. Instead, they change the world/characters/plot around them. It's not a bad thing. A flat character = a character who has no real emotional depth or complexity. It is almost always a bad thing.

Take Captain Marvel vs Captain America. Captain America has a flat character arc: He starts his story as a good person who's being kept down and must fight not only for himself but for others, too. He's an incredible character and I, like many others, absolutely love him.

Captain Marvel has pretty much the same arc: She starts the story as a good person who's being kept down and must fight not only for herself but for others, too. And, yet, so many people bash on this aspect of her character because they think it's pushing the "feminist agenda" that women are perfect, unflawed, and above needing to change.


Look.

You can't be okay with flat character arcs for male characters, but get upset when female characters have them. You can either always find flat character arcs socially problematic or never find them socially problematic.

Be consistent, please.

5. Pitting them against each other. You've heard the squabbles. "Moana is better than Rapunzel because she don't need no man!" or "Cinderella is a superior female character because she's not afraid to be 'feminine'!"

Wut.

You know it's possible to like multiple female characters at once without tearing other ones down, right? Even if there's a female character you love and one you don't, there's no need to pit them against each other. Simply discuss why you like or dislike the individual characters without mudslinging or stepping on other character's necks. It's not hard.

This is a weird trend because we really don't do this with male characters, do we? There's not a lot of "Aragorn is better than Legolas because he's more ripped and 'masculine'!" or "Superman is better than Batman because he's able to settle down with a woman and Batman isn't!"

Soooooo. Maybe stop being so weird about comparing female characters?

6. Pitting them against male characters. Did you know that you can like a male character and a female character at the same time. *gasps* Yep. You can! Please refer to the point 5 because yeah, all of that logic applies to this point.

7. Generally criticizing them for things you would never criticize a male character for.  When you're about to go all hypercritical on a female character, ask yourself: "Would I apply this same nitpick to a male character?" This is important to do because female characters are often subject to very specific criticisms. Aside from the critiques I mentioned above, here are some other female-specific standards:


  • People get into arguments over a female character marrying vs being single because clearly that's forcing an agenda, yet marital status is not generally a concern when discussing male characters. 
  • People get weird about female action heroes being mothers ("They're enforcing gender stereotypes!" or "Look, this is how all female characters should be!"), but nobody batted an eye when the entire plot of the Mandelorian revolved around him taking on the role of a father.
  • People tend to nitpick a female character's profession ("They just made her a mechanic to fulfill an agenda," or "Making her a babysitter is heteronormative"), but how often do people take issue with a male character's profession? 


Now, before you get me wrong, I need to make something very clear:

I am not saying we shouldn't critique female protagonists (or female characters in general). We should. But we should be critiquing them the way we would any other character. After all, some female protagonists suck, some are amazing, some are just mediocre. Call it like it is and move on.

My point is that we should not be holding female characters to insane standards, double standards, or pretty much any other standard that we wouldn't use for other character types.

Put simply: We need to let female protagonists just be protagonists.

Stop putting every female hero under a microscope unless you plan to treat every single hero you read or watch in the exact same manner.

*takes deep breath*

Okay. I think I'm done now.

What do you think? As always, I'm very interested to hear your thoughts! All I ask is that you please keep your comments (both to this original post by me and to any posted comments by others) respectful. Thank you!

Related articles:
The Do's and Don'ts of Writing Strong Female Characters
Writing Awesome Male Characters: What You're Doing Wrong
How to Identify and Obliterate Sexism in Your Novel
7 Tips for Writing Characters of the Opposite Sex

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Friday, December 27, 2019

8 Tips for Writing a Good Screenplay

Ah, screenwriting. One of the two types of writing that I know virtually nothing about.

(the other one is poetry, but we won't speak of that because it makes me sound like uncultured swine)

However, Alexis P. Johnson and Ryan Penland know about screenwriting. They have both written multiple short films, some of which have been or are currently being produced. And guess what? They're here today to tell you about how to get started with screenwriting.

You all better take notes.

8 Tips for Writing a Good Screenplay, a Guest Post by Alexis P. Johnson and Ryan Penland

Alexis P. Johnson 


1. Get scriptwriting software. This is crucial as most people won’t even get past page one if your script is improperly formatted. There are some free ones online such as Celtx.

2. Read some books about screenwriting structure. My favorite books are Cut to the Chase about writing films, and Inside the Room about writing for TV. There are many available to choose from.

3. Though structure and formatting are important, your own style does not need to be restrained by them. Keep your voice unique. You will see how others do that when you…

4. Read screenplays of your favorite movies. You’ll see how a variety of writers add their own spice and flavor to productions long before they are shot. You can’t have a great film or series without solid writing first.

5. Seek out feedback, especially if you’re new to scriptwriting. There are usually groups on Meetup or Facebook that you can join for film and TV. Seek out other writers and see if you can mutually beta read each other’s work.

 

Ryan Penland 


1. When writing dialogue for your characters, make sure you give each character their own voice. The tendency I have when writing my first draft is every character sounds like me. Get creative and give each of your characters their own personality. With each draft of the script, you’ll see each character come more and more into their own, and it will reflect on the actors!

2. Watch your favorite movies that inspire the story that you want to tell. Watch them for their lighting, cinematography, acting, and storytelling. The more movies you watch, the more you are able to think and problem solve like a writer when it comes to your own script.

3. Remember that the rules of screenwriting are more guidelines than anything. Every movie you have watched has broken one or two screenwriting rules. However, it’s important to know the rules so that you know which ones you are breaking.


Are you interesting in screenwriting? We'd love to hear about what you're currently working on, as well as tools you've found helpful! Leave a comment below!

Related articles:
8 Ways To Use Movie Watching To Improve Your Writing
11 Classic Movies All Writers Should Watch (Part 1)
7 Writing Lessons Learned from Stranger Things

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Some links are Amazon Affiliate. Thank you for your support!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Factoid Friday #3: My Weird Writer Quirk

I have a lot of weird writer quirks. Most of them aren't a problem in my day-to-day life, but this one? This one is.


For instance, when I was writing Sounds of Deceit, I really, really wanted to watch the newest season of The Dragon Prince. But The Dragon Prince is fantasy, as is Sounds of Deceit, so I wasn't able to watch it. 

This isn't because of will-power. It's because of the fact that, if I had watched Dragon Prince, my brain would keep screaming at me: "You should be writing!" Why? I'm not sure, but I think perhaps the fantasy elements would keep making me think of my own WIP, thus triggering a guilt-trip in my mind. 

On top of this, I try not to be overly influenced by stories in my own genre because it can end up making me feel boxed-in, so watching the show would've made me question my characters, tropes, and plotlines. 

Yeah.

It's not great, but there it is. What are some of your weird writerly hang-ups? 

Related articles: 
Factoid Friday #1: About Wanderer's Name

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Sunday, December 15, 2019

#ChatWithHannah Ep 21: Why You Shouldn't Be Afraid to Write Disabled Characters

"I'm afraid it will limit the story." "I'm afraid of doing it wrong." "I'm afraid I'll get in trouble." Let's talk about all of the reasons why people are afraid to write disabled characters...and all of the reasons these fears are not good reasons to give up on disability representation.


Here are a list of my blog posts, videos, and interviews regarding disability:

Writing Disabled Characters: What You're Doing Wrong (AKA: The afore-mentioned post where I talk about the magical trope)
9 Tips for Writing Physically Disabled Characters in Fantasy
My interview with Yaasha Moriah about disability in fiction
#ChatWithHannah Ep 12 Part 2: Disability in Fiction, World-Building, Descriptive Writing, and More
7 Tips for Writing a Character with a Chronic Illness

Giveaway!!! Here's the link to the giveaway for my indie-versary. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Want to read some books with awesome disability representation? I've got your back.

The Electrical Menagerie by Mollie E. Reeder
Dragon School by Sarah K L Wilson
Irellia the Nightwalker by Beth Wangler
All of my stories (except Vengeance Hunter in the Antiheroes anthology)

Have questions? Comments? Book recommendations! Please leave them below!

Enjoy this post? Take a look around. If you like what you see, don't forget to subscribe by email for a new post every Friday!

Some links are Amazon affiliate. Thank you for your support!
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