Friday, June 23, 2017

12 Manga and Comic Books Worth Reading (Part 1)

You like to read, right? Yes? I thought so. People don't generally read this blog unless they're fans of the written word.

I'm a firm believer in reading across multiple genres: It improves the mind and will immensely increase your writing skills. So it's only natural that on my shelf sits classic literature, fantasy, sci-fi, gothic literature (which I still can't bring myself to like, but I'll keep trying), satire, mystery, British and Russian and American literature, historical fiction, and nonfiction spanning world religions, pro-life apologetics, English grammar, and American government.

Chances are you've read some books in at least one of these categories. And if you've read books in all of these categories: You are awesome. And also probably need to get a life.

Aside from your standard (or, maybe, not-so-standard) novels, I also have several shelves dedicated to comic books and manga. And it always makes me sad that not very many people (specifically writers) seem to be familiar with this form of story-telling.

Some consider the images distracting. Some consider them childish (there's a difference between comics and picture-books. Just to be clear). But 90% of the time it comes down to the fact that people simply don't know where to start.

Well, that's where I come in. Allow me to drag you into the world of comic books and manga....Or introduce you to some new titles if you're already a native. I've only been reading these story formats for about a year and a half, but I'm in deep, deep love and am pretty confident that at least a handful of the books listed below will be something you'll enjoy.

I feel the need to mention to my hardcore fans: I'm not recommending purely classic comics/manga and yes, I'm aware that the below list is not encompassing some very excellent stories. This is Part 1 in a very long series of posts I'll be publishing over the years and it is put together using an incredibly complex system that goes something like this:

*stares at wall* *tries to remember all the comics and manga I've read* *remembers random ones in no particular order* *writes them down*

Got it? Okay. Let's go:
Hannah Heath: 12 Manga and Comic Books Worth Reading (Part 1)
But first, two quick notes:

1) Each book cover is clickable, so if one catches your fancy you can read more about it on Amazon. You're welcome.

2) If you see a manga you like and decide to read it, remember: You open them "backwards." This is important. You don't want to open it the wrong way and have the end spoiled for you.

1. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns: Comic Book. 
Obviously, the very first book I'm mentioning is about Batman. Why? Because he's Batman. Frank Miller is credited for taking the goofier version of Batman (think Adam West) and turning him into a darker, grittier character (think Christian Bale). This one is my favorite Batman comic, so if you like darker stories, symbolic imagery, and great characters, this is for you. Miller's Batman: Year One is also good....But we don't speak of The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Ever.

2. Naoshi Arakawa's Your Lie in April: Manga. 
This is an absolutely beautiful story. And I'm not just talking about the artwork. I discovered this manga by watching the anime (which is equally stunning). It's centered around a boy's struggle to find himself in his music and is the perfect story for all of us creatives. Read it. You must. Just keep a box of tissue nearby. And I say that as somebody cries about as much as a rock.

3. Ryan Smith's The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 1: Comic book. 
For those of you who want the exact opposite of Frank Miller's Batman. This is goofy, hilarious, and endearing. It's slightly juvenile and the artwork is very cartoonish, but that just adds to the quirkiness.

4. Jun Mochizuki's Pandora Hearts: Manga. 
This is by far the most intricate series I have ever read in any story format. There's intense world-building, time-travel, and about 20+ characters who are all excellently developed. Also, the artwork is gorgeous. In my opinion, Jun Mochizuki is the gold standard when it comes to manga authors. So yes. Try some of her stuff.

5. Jeff Lemire's Descender Vol 1: Comic book. 
Don't want to read any superhero comics? Well, you're totally wrong, but I'll humor you. This is a good place to start. It's sci-fi with stunning (STUNNING) watercolor artwork, endearing android characters, and great world-building. Also, here's a good rule of thumb: Pretty much any comic book you read by Jeff Lemire will be amazing.

6. Kei Sanbe's Erased: Manga.
Only the first two volumes have been released in English and I'm eagerly awaiting the next volume. This is a heart-rending series. It's a mixture of time-travel, mystery, and thriller. It's a dark story that deals with issues such as child abuse, so I suggest reading my full review first so you can be sure you'll want to read it. But, for those of you who can handle hard topics when they are written well (which Sanbe does), I absolutely recommend this.

7. Jody Houser's Faith: Hollywood & The Vine: Comic book. 
Allow me to introduce you to my favorite non-Marvel, non-DC superhero: Faith Herbert. She's hilarious, sweet, and throws around nerd-references that make me jealous. I love her and I think you will, too. I review her comic books frequently on Constant Collectible, so you can check those out here (The titles with "First Look" and "Hannah's Novel Notions" are my reviews).

8. Kafka Asagiri's Bungo Stray Dogs: Manga. 
Supernatural agency protecting their city. Nothing super unique there. But wait. There's a twist: All of the agents are based off of literary figures: From classic Japanese authors to classic English authors. It's amazing. Also, the character arcs, humor, and artwork are excellent....So far, at least. Only 3 volumes are currently in English, so I'm waiting on the rest. I feel I should just learn Japanese at this point. Would that be faster? Probably not...?

9. Jason Aaron's Vader Down: Comic book. 
Darth Vader in all of his badass-ness. That's really all I have to say on the matter.

10. Hiromu Arakawa's Fullmetal Alchemist: Manga. 
Okay, so I haven't read the entire series. But the volumes I have read I've really enjoyed: The brother relationship is sweet, the alchemy system intriguing, and the plot is neat. If you like alchemy stories, this is a definite go.

11. Madeleine Holly-Rosing's Boston Metaphysical Society: Comic Book. 
Steampunk. Alternate 1800's history. Ghost and demon hunting. Yep. This comic is great. It also delves into interesting points such as the class system in 1800's America. I discovered this series at Stan Lee's Comic Con, 2016 and I am so glad I did. Full review is here.

12. Tsukumizu's Girls' Last Tour, Vol 1: Manga. 
Once again, the rest of the volumes are yet to be translated into English. But I really loved the uniqueness of volume 1. It's a hilarious mixture of post-apocalyptic and slice-of-life. You'd think those two wouldn't go together, but you'd be wrong. The setting is great, the characters are funny, and the artwork is quirky. Give it a shot.

I have SO many more to recommend (which is why the title reads "Part 1"), but I'll stop with 12, even though it hurts my heart to not be able to tell you about all of the other amazing reads.

If you haven't read this story format yet, I'd love to hear why. And, more importantly, whether or not you think you'll now venture out and try some comic books and manga. If you didn't see any storylines you liked, just leave a comment telling me what you're looking for and I'll see if I can recommend something.

Already a comic book and manga fan? I'd love some recommendations from you! I'm always reading, so send me your top picks and I'll try to check them out!

Related articles:
A List of Great Self-Published Books You Should Read (Part 1)
9 Ways to Use Reading to Improve Your Writing

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

10 Tips for Writing Socially Awkward Characters

"Hey there! What's up?"

"Oh, uh. Good, thanks!"

"...."

Oh dear. It looks like Socially Awkward Character has done it again. He was going to be so careful about not being awkward today. He even came up with standard responses to small talk. But he overthought it and now it looks like he has yet another event to add to his list of Awkward Moments that he'll be losing sleep over.

Socially Awkward Character is a favorite of mine. He/She shows up in many novels, floundering his way through life with a level of awkwardness that should be unknown to man, but actually isn't because we are all awkward people and gosh, this character's inevitable success is so darn encouraging.

Unfortunately, just like Social Awkward Human in real life, Socially Awkward Character is often misunderstood, misinterpreted, and miswritten in fiction. But he's too nervous to bring the topic up and point this out to us authors, so I'm going to speak on his behalf. Ready? Okay. Let me explain some pointers to make your Socially Awkward Character realistic.
Hannah Heath: 10 Tips for Writing Socially Awkward Characters
First off, a socially awkward person is a person who has a difficult time with social interactions because they don't seem to have/know how to use/even know that they are missing the correct responses to social cues. This is sometimes due to anxiety, but not always.

1. They don't need a reason to be socially awkward. No, they don't need to have been dropped on their heads as children. They don't need to have been former extroverts who went through a traumatic event and slunk into a shell of social awkwardness. You know that one amazingly lucky person you know who was just born naturally charismatic? Well, the same goes for socially awkward people, and, thus, for socially awkward characters.

2. There's a difference between awkward and socially awkward. We all have awkward moments. In fact, many of your characters probably have more than one. Socially awkward characters, however, are in an almost constant state of awkwardness.

3. There's a difference between autism and socially awkward. Many autistic people are socially awkward, but not all socially awkward people are autistic. Got it? You sure? Because this is an important point. Writing an autistic character is a whole different ball game. Please don't confuse your character portrayal.

4. Pick a list of awkward things your character does. Every socially awkward character should react differently. Here are various struggles that socially awkward characters have.
  • They have a hard time making or keeping eye contact. 
  • They constantly stumble over their words and mumble. 
  • They fidget during conversations....Or hold themselves in incredibly stiff positions.
  • They don't talk often because they're afraid of stumbling over their words....Or they talk too much because they're nervous. 
  • They don't understand context or appropriateness. 
  • They don't know how to enter a group conversation....Or a group anything, honestly.
I would too, man. It's okay. *pats on back, awkwardly shuffles away*
  • They try to shrink down when they're in a group setting in a desperate attempt to become invisible and, thus, left alone. 
  • They blush or turn pale when talked to. 
  • They are awful at small talk and thus plan out conversations ahead of time, but then get confused when the other party doesn't follow the script. 
  • They apologize frequently, even when something isn't their fault. 
  • They don't like to correct other people in public. Even when the person is clearly wrong. Sometimes even when the person specifically asks for correction. 
  • They get part way into a sentence, then kind of trail off because people aren't listening and, you know, it's probably not super important and maybe dumb and....you know....So yeah. 
  • They talk to themselves. A lot.
Aaaaand I just realized that I fit quite a few of these examples. *sheepish grin* *runs off to take a Social Awkwardness levels quiz* Well. BuzzFeed says I'm "Moderately Socially Awkward." So kind of them. I feel much better now. 

5. They overanalyze everything. Like, everything. No, you don't understand. EVERYTHING. Let me show you how their mind words: Driving in the rain? Gotta make sure the windshield wipers are going the same speed as everyone else's. Teacher taking roll call? Gotta make sure to say "here" in the exact same way as everyone else. Got a funny look from an acquaintance? Well, now there's no chance of making friends with that person because something has gone horribly wrong, but what was it?? Socially Awkward Character overanalyzes everything. And keeps overanalyzing events years after they've taken place. This can lead to your socially awkward character believing that he's more socially awkward than he really is, but being so wound up about it that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Poor guy. 

6. Your socially awkward character doesn't need to be introverted. It should also be noted that social awkwardness is not exclusive to introverts. Extroverts can be socially awkward, too, it just looks slightly different. Extroverts will talk too much, laugh too loud, and just generally try too hard. While introverted socially awkward characters try to fit in by making themselves smaller, extroverts can try to fit in either by making themselves larger...or by attempting to tone themselves down and thus coming across as stiff or creepy. Read this post on how to write extroverts if you're confused.

7. Socially awkward characters have a lot of upside. They really do, though they may not believe it. Give your poor character a break and recognize him/her for all the things they do right. Maybe he's refreshingly candid (a side-effect of not being good at small talk). Maybe she's an excellent listener and very observant because she chooses to talk very little. Maybe he's persistent because he's had a lot of practice from failing socially and still continuing to try to make friends. Maybe, though she doesn't have a ton of friends, the ones she does have she's very loyal to. Maybe his awkwardness is just incredibly precious and lovable. 

8. You don't need to cure your socially awkward character. Social awkwardness is not a disease. Newt Scamander is an excellent example in this area. He is undeniably awkward around people. He has a hard time making eye contact, he hunches, he's not particularly good at carrying a conversation. But he's very intelligent, a gifted Magizoologist, and though he's not a conversationalist, he has very strong opinions and will voice them if pushed. 
The movie never apologizes for his social awkwardness. In fact, one of the things that makes him such an excellent character is his layered, awkward personality. Learn from J.K. Rowling. You don't need to fix your socially awkward character. While he/she may need to overcome his awkwardness to get through certain circumstances, that doesn't mean that he/she needs to go through a complete personality change. 

9. They don't always need to have low self-esteem. How about some more socially awkward characters who know they're awkward and have a good sense of humor about it? Or ones who see it as a flaw, but don't really mind because they know they're good at other, more important things? 

10. Read up on other socially awkward characters. Obviously, I think Newt Scamander is an excellent example. Others include: Charlie Brown, Piglet, Hiccup, Lilo, Neville, Mr. Darcy, Mary Bennett, Merlin (kind of), and Sue Heck. Awesome people on twitter had more to add, so click here to read their thoughts! Notice that they exist in all genres (not just contemporary) and can absolutely be main characters, not just secondary comic-relief characters.

Tell me a little bit about the socially awkward character you're writing (or your favorite fictional awkward character!). Do you have tips to add? Please leave them in the comments below!

Related articles:
Writing Introverted Characters: 8 Things You Should Know
Writing Characters With Depression: What You're Doing Wrong

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

6 Problems with "Edgy" YA Fiction (And How to Fix Them)

So.

I read a lot. In all types of genres. I've seen some pretty sad things when it comes to messed up messages, damaging plots, and horrible characters. They aren't exclusive to one particular genre.

But they do tend to be very popular in YA fiction.

Now calm down. I'm not hating on YA. I love YA. I write it, I read it. Some of my favorite books are YA. In short: I care about YA fiction. And, because I care about YA, I have no problem with saying this:

Something has gone horribly wrong with this genre. Specifically that dark, shadowy section referred to as Edgy YA Fiction.

Edgy YA fiction (sometimes called gritty YA fiction) is pretty much what the term indicates: Young adult fiction that takes on what are considered edgy subjects: Sex, drugs, swearing, abuse, self-harm, bullying, suicide, violence, etc. Generally several of these topics (or all of them) are encompassed in a single novel.

Now, I'm not saying these topics are things that should not be addressed in fiction. What I am saying is that Edgy YA fiction tends to handle itself and its topics in all of the wrong ways. Let me point some of them out:
Hannah Heath: 6 Problems with "Edgy" YA Fiction (And How to Fix Them)
Problem #1: Hard topics are romanticized, dramatized, and made entertaining. Life is full of very difficult things: Suicide. Eating disorders. Self-harm. Abusive relationships. They are hard, damaging, and sad. But do you know what they aren't? They aren't cool. They should never be depicted as such. Ever. Too many times I've seen YA books take horrible situations and make it look like an adventure: Suffering is turned into something that makes a character more interesting, depravity (in the instance of abusive relationships) is an engrossing, thrilling plot point. It needs to stop. There is nothing romantic about suicide. Nothing entertaining about abuse. To depict these things as something other than what they are is incredibly hurtful to people who suffer through them...and damaging to people who are on the brink. Think very hard and very carefully about the way it is that you are choosing to portray "edgy" topics. If you aren't showing anything other than the exact truth, then you are only making things worse.

Problem #2: There is a massive lack of nice characters. I have a mind-blowing fact for you: Teenagers are not demonic. Crazy, right? Do you know what teenagers actually are? People. I'll pause for a second while that sinks in. We wouldn't want your brain to explode. Got it? Okay. So, if teenagers are people, then why do "edgy" YA books depict them as caustic, angry, base beings that run around ruining everybody's lives? Also, why are these characters often excused for their incredibly wrong behavior because of their age? Yeah, teenagers can be unruly, but that does not make their behavior acceptable or cool, nor does it validify all characters in YA being vicious, animalistic people. There's nothing wrong with creating polite, kind, and respectful teenaged characters. Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure that'd be a good thing.

Problem #3: Chastity is disparaged. This point stems from the novel idea that YA books should not be cheering on teen sex (or any book cheering on extramarital sex). However, that's a controversial topic that I'm saving for another post, so I'm just going to focus on this one point: In YA books, it's become a norm for teenagers to sleep around to the point that it's considered abnormal for a teen to not have sex. Is the world ending? Somebody dying of cancer? Sex is a must because apparently virginity is something you don't want to die with. Is a teen uncomfortable with having sex? There must be something wrong with him/her, so let's make an entire plot point out of them overcoming this issue! Your character has decided that he/she should only have a physical relationship inside of marriage? What a weirdo, right? Wrong. Chastity takes self-control and strong moral character, not to mention the fact that it is healthy both physically and emotionally. It is a good trait, not a flaw. I understand that many real-life teenagers (and people in general) do not see it this way, but that doesn't make it any less true. Stop belittling modesty and abstinence.

Problem #4: It carries unclear messages. What are you wanting your readers to get out of the "edginess" of your story? You need to know the answer to this question before you start smearing hard topics all over the place. If you don't, your story will have questionable points. You don't want your reader walking away thinking, "Huh, maybe that story means suicide is a way out of my problems." Or "Oh, maybe self-harming is a good way to let off steam." Or, "Abuse is okay as long as the abuser is cute and has dark, brooding eyes." Many authors reason that Edgy YA is important because it teaches teenagers how to deal with hard issues. Okay. Then write like you actually believe that. Write with a clear, helpful, non-damaging message. Not an edgy story that just wants to revel in the darkness.

Problem #5: It shows teenagers in a negative light.  As touched on previously, teenagers are not demons. Likewise, they are also not idiots. Teenagers are capable of amazing things and you do them a disservice by showing them in plots where they are always either victims or trouble-makers. You degrade when you show teen characters as all petty and selfish and lacking self-respect. If you do show them as such, this should not be the majority and it should be mentioned why they are that way (such as lacking parental love and support)....Just like how your adult characters have backstories explaining their bitterness. You write teenagers like you would any other character: With thought and purpose. Pure and simple.

Problem #6: It forces the edge. Look. Shoving the most recent controversial topic into your story just to be "relevant" is idiotic. At best, it will make your story feel awkward. At worst, you've taken important issues and tried to make money off of them with no regard for how you are impacting your readers. Nobody likes that type of author. Don't go there.

Those are some of the main problems I've seen with Edgy YA. Have any points to add....or disagree with any of the ones I've written? Please leave your (kind and courageous) comments below. If you have any edgy YA novels that you think do a good job of avoiding these problems, I'd love to hear about them!

Related articles:
Darkness in Fiction: 7 Tips for Writing Dark Stories
Why You Should Intentionally Write Messages Into Your Stories
Keeping it Classy: When is it OK to Use Profanity in Your Fiction Writing?

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Unreliable Narrators: What They Are and How to Write Them

[Author's note: This opening paragraph needs to be read in a Mexican accent]

So I was on twitter looking for blog post ideas, right? And I was like, "Ese, what you want me to write a post on?" And a couple of people, they're all, "You should do something on unreliable narrators, ya know?" And I got excited 'cause, like, that's delightful. Unreliable narrators are so cool, bro! You know what I'm sayin'?

[Author's note: Only about 12% of you will have any idea of what just happened. Go clue the rest of the confused readers in by leaving a comment below.]

Obviously, that's not how this post came into being. It happened more like this:

So what was with my original story? It was told by a very unreliable narrator. Who some of you may or may not know. Seriously. Who recognizes the narrator? Leave a comment. I must know.

Anyway, unreliable narrators are a favorite of mine. Plus, I'm not one to turn down requests from followers when they promise me adorable baby animals. Onwards!
Hannah Heath: Unreliable Narrators: What They Are and How to Write Them
What is an unreliable narrator? 


A narrator who isn't reliable. Duh. 

Fine. It goes a bit deeper than that. An unreliable narrator is somebody who either cannot or will not tell the story the exact way that it happened. Maybe they simply are not privy to all of the details and are not upfront about this fact for various reasons. Maybe they are very biased and, without realizing it, allow their bias to seep into their narrative. Maybe they are trying to make themselves (or their friends) look good. Maybe they are insane and don't even realize that they're not telling the story straight. Or maybe they simply think it's funny to lie to you. 

Here's something you may not know about unreliable narration: 

All novels written in first person use unreliable narration, though in varying degrees. Why? Because nobody is reliable. Some less so than others, sure, but even if a person tries as hard as they can to recount events exactly as they happened, that person will still end up telling a slightly different story than what actually happened. 

Many novels written from any non-omniscient POV use unreliable narration. Just like with 1st person, this can often be unintentional. 

When should you use an unreliable narrator? 

Unreliable narration is excellent for creating mystery and intrigue. It's a classic when it comes to psychological thrillers and horror. It can be good when you're writing characters who are massively flawed, writing pure characters in a massively flawed system, are using POV switches between multiple characters who are all very different from each other, or are writing a character with a mental illness. It is excellent if you are trying to show the grey areas of life, create tension, or keep your readers in suspense. 

It can work for any type of story, but is best used to create conflict and provoke thought. 

What are some books with unreliable narrators? 

Harry Potter: We spend a lot of time suspecting the wrong people because Harry is a biased person, thus creating mystery and plot twists. He is an unintentionally unreliable narrator and is not malicious, simply a hurting, angry, and confused person who has the unfortunate tendency to hold grudges and see things from only one point of view. 

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: This is an excellent novel where the main character slowly goes insane. The narrator has two different levels of unreliability: One level where she is clearly losing her mind. And one where, even before she begins to clearly go crazy, she seems incapable of clearly judging the motives of those around her....Thus making it nearly impossible for the readers to understand them, either. It is expertly used to enhance the psychological thrill of the book. 

Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky: This novel is told from the bitter, skewed perspective of an old man. We know almost from the start that he is unreliable because he pretty much tells us he is. His unreliable narration is used to help along the satire and social critiquing that is a focus of the story. 

Other examples of varying levels of unreliable narrators include: The Life of Pi, The Great Gatsby, Flowers for Algernon, Wuthering Heights, The Yellow Wallpaper, The Hunger Games (specifically the later books in the series), and Pretty Much Any Story Told by Loki. And those are just the one's I've read (or seen) and can easily remember. There are many others. Feel free to leave the titles in the comments section below! 

How can you write an unreliable narrator? 

I have tips. 

1. Pick a reason for their unreliability. People don't usually twist a story without reason. What motivates your narrator's unreliability? Is she/he protecting himself/herself? Protecting friends? Trying to make a point? Is he crazy? Or just ahead of the curve?
Is she herself being lied to? Pick an angle. There can be multiple reasons. In fact, when it comes to normal people, there is almost always more than one reason that people spin a story.

2. Decide why it's important to the story. How does this unreliability affect the storyline? You can use it to create tension. If your character isn't aware of her own bias, it can be used to cause her to make an incorrect choice that leads to a plot conflict. If the reader isn't aware of the bias, you can use it to spring an unexpected plot twist. The options! How will you ever choose? 

3. Decide whether you want the unreliability to be noticeable. There are two main ways you can spin this. #1: Your reader knows the narrator is unreliable. #2: Your reader has no idea your narrator is unreliable...Or at least doesn't understand the extent of their unreliability. #1 can cause mystery, thrills, and engage the reader as they try to discover the true story behind the narrator's words. #2 allows you to spring plot twists, unexpected endings, and emotional reveals. You can completely misdirect your readers. However, don't go too far with this. No reader wants to feel tricked. Thrilled and surprised, yes. Cheated? No. A truthful secondary character can help offset completely unreliable narrators.

4. Don't feel the need to make the narrator a bad guy. While unreliable narrators can be manipulative, narcissistic, or sadistic, they aren't always. Sometimes they are victims of their own lies. And sometimes they are honestly just confused. Yes, unreliable narrators can be antagonists. But they don't have to be by default.

And there you have it. Unreliable narrators. What they are. Where you can find them. How to write them. Now somebody give me my adorable baby animals. They were promised to me. A niffler is preferred.

Before you go, leave a comment telling me about your favorite unreliable narrators! Are you writing an unreliable narrator? Tell me about him/her below!

Related articles:
7 Tips for Writing in Deep POV
How to Effectively Write from Multiple POVs
7 Tips for Writing Emotion Into Your Story

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Friday, May 26, 2017

5 Reasons An Avenger-Style Writing Team is Invaluable: A Guest Post by Nova McBee

Today we have the grand finale of the "Help Hannah get through finals" guest posting series. This last post is by Nova McBee. Nova reads and writes YA fiction books while traveling the world with her husband and two kids (she's currently in China). She co-hosts The Spinning Pen at www.thespinningpen.com and has promised to blog at her new website www.novamcbee.com soon. But thankfully we don't have to wait until then to get some of her wisdom. She's here to talk to us about writing teams. Specifically, Avenger-style writing teams. So sit tight and get ready for an epic post. We're bringing the party to you: 

If you are to be a contender in the Super Galactic Heroic World of Writing – you will need a team—or, more clearly, A Writing group. Critique Partner(s). A Writing Community. A Tribe.

Writing can be a lonely business with fierce competition on all sides. But it doesn’t have to be. Why? Because you don’t have to do it alone! There are others like you just dying to connect—dying to write with you and to join forces with you. To be a team. And being on the same team with other writers can save the world (well, maybe…)
My awesome host, Hannah, has an incredibly inspiring post on why we should be like Batman in terms of our personal writing life. I wholeheartedly agree. We can learn loads from Batman’s intense commitment and devotion to his trade and calling: Read that here, but, in terms of a writing group dear superhero-writer friends, we cannot look to him. (The poor guy—his peers were no where to be found.) Instead, we must turn our eyes to one of the greatest teams—the Avengers—to see why a team is so important.

Here are five reasons that may convince you, (If you are not currently writing with others) to find your own team, tribe, group, cp, or community.
Hannah Heath: 5 Reasons An Avenger-Style Writing Team is Invaluable: A Guest Post by Nova McBee
1. NEW YORK—We can agree that only one Avenger would have failed miserably facing the giant alien attack in New York. We writers are facing giants in the publishing industry and with a team we are more likely to be prepared to face it.

One of the greatest gifts other writers can offer each other is: Honest and Helpful Critiques (from those who know what they are doing).

Unless we are JK Rowling, (although I’m pretty sure she’d agree with me) we need feedback to grow in our craft. But not all feedback can be helpful, or honest. In the publishing world, flattery will get us nowhere, likewise vague utterings from a reader (aka, your mom) on what they like or don’t like won’t help much. Moreover, non-writers don’t understand the writing world; for example, many don’t know what a query is, much less how to write one. But a writer can help you understand how to fix the parts in your story that aren’t working, write queries, synopsis, pitches, etc.

Once you find a group that suits you, perhaps you’ll find a Dr. Banner who’s science of writing can search out plot holes and character flaws. Or a Captain America’s kind but honest and confident critique on story structure and dialogue, or Thor’s God like natural talent for writing character and emotion, or Tony Stark’s style for those perfect first lines. What we don’t need, however, is a Hulk to destroy our work. Criticism without constructive advice will never serve us. (We can forgive the Hulk though, if he makes a mistake, and then task him the job of grammar and punctuation!) But remember, critique are meant to be helpful. Here is another post on how to give feedback.

The Avengers brought their own skills, personality, and strengths to the table but often used, to their advantage, each other’s skills and strengths. As writers, we do the same. Together they (and we) cannot be stopped—reaching farther than they ever could alone.

2. S.H.I.E.L.D. Stark Tower. Avenger Facility. Nick Fury, in other words, Insider information and tips on how to navigate the writing world.

Within the Writing World there is a whole lot going on. A plethora of resources and opportunities are available to those inside. Without a writing group and writing community, I would’ve never learned about NanoWrimo or Pitch Wars, (a contest I later won,) or the amazing YA community within Twitter, or conferences like Write On Con where I was introduced to Hannah. Neither would I have understood which were worth pursuing.

I learned more about growing as a writer, where to participate in contests, pitching to agents, editors, writing groups, tips, blogging, new books, marketing, and more.

Knowing the industry is super important if you want to be successful within it. Thankfully, the greater writing community has blown me away with their ability to share what they know with other writers.

3. Encouragement—No matter which stage we are at—writing; Revising; Querying; On sub; Book release; Promoting; Sales; we need encouragement.
The Superhero Writing World has a lot of ups and downs. Not only do we face outside threats, we also face inside threats. As Captain America fears his past & Dr. Banner fears his loss of control, Tony’s regrets, etc. They need each other like the Hulk needs his whole team to stop, save, and settle him.

As writers, our outside threats often come in the form of rejections and our inside threats often come in the form of self-doubt—Will we ever finish that novel? Will it be good enough? Will others like it? Will I ever get an agent? Will my novel sell? Why didn’t I get into that contest?

Your Team provides great support against these doubts! The amount of cheerleading and encouragement from those who are on the same journey is invaluable. We conquer our disappointment and jump right back in to win another battle. And we get to do it for others too.

4. We IMPROVE by critiquing others work. It’s also a chance to give back into the community.

Critique partners are just that: partners. They serve each other. Just as Thor teaches Earth’s Avengers about the Teseract, we can learn from one another’s victories and skills and knowledge.

In a group, we don’t just come to receive, but we come to give and the truth is: We have something to GIVE—our own unique skills, our own undying love for the craft; our endurance for editing and revising, and our own faith not to give up in face of disappointment. Likewise, as they give to us, we can give to them. When we dive into editing others work we identify and evaluate our writing in a fresh way. Guaranteed you will start making a checklist of things to change in your own novel after editing someone else’s.

Make time to critique others work. Your MS will greatly improve if you do.

5. Synergy, Accountability, Motivation, and Fun. (Is that 4 reasons in 1? Bonus!)
Accountability is not a chore with a team, it’s fun because you know someone will be there to read your work! And Synergy naturally produces motivation. A team can make all of our writing goals more enjoyable to do. It’s one of the most valuable strengths we have! Many of my Critique Partners have also become close friends. Major bonus.

So…here’s my question for you. WHO do you do the writing life with and what have you learned from them?

On a scale of Failed DC Movies to Amazing Marvel Films, I'm saying this post is some Schwarma level awesomeness.  If you want more of her greatness, you can follow Nova on Twitter, Instagram, her website, and The Spinning Pen. Go on. You know you want to. Now leave some comments below and tell us about some of your favorite parts about having an Avenger-style writing team!

Related articles:
11 Tips for Building a Successful Writer's Platform
Why Writers Should Strive to be More Like Batman
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Friday, May 19, 2017

How to Effectively Write from Multiple POVs

When we were little, we played dress up. Then we entered the land of Adulting where it is frowned upon to play dress up...though maybe we're able to get away with cosplay. Maybe. But it's no longer socially acceptable to pretend to be fairies or knights or astronauts (or knightly fairy astronauts) whenever we feel like it.

Unless, of course, you happen to be a writer. We get to play dress up, only in a slightly different way. Rather than putting on costumes, we slip into different mindsets. It's called POV writing. And it's awesome. Mostly.

I'd know, because I'm writing a story in deep third person with multiple POVs. Some days it's fun. Other days I find myself three pages into a particular POV before realizing that half way through I switched voices and my spunky female elf is now thinking like my anxious male human. Not good.

Thankfully, writing from multiple POV's just takes a little bit of extra planning. You have to consider two angles: The technical angles (scene placement, POV switching, etc) and the character angles (goals, voices, and tags).
Hannah Heath: How to Effectively Write from Multiple POVs
First, let's start off with some technical tips:

1. Choose which POV's you want to write from. You'll probably want to write from the main character's POV. Often, books with multiple POV have dual protagonists, so you don't have to limit yourself to just one main character. Traditionally, people also write from the POV of the MC's BFF (sorry. The abbreviations are addicting). Antagonists can also provide a really good POV. It's up to you to decide which characters should have POVs in your story, but here are some quick points to consider:
     You want POV's that will bring something new to the table. I'm sure there are people out there who are dying to read books from four different POV's that all show the exact same thing in the exact same way. But let's just assume that those people don't exist. Pretending this, go and pick characters who have unique perspectives. Omit the POVs that do not.
     You don't want too many POVs. This is true for two reasons, one being that if you have too many POV's, your readers won't be able to get attached to any of your characters because none of them will get enough page time. The other reason is that your brain simply can't handle writing from 18 POV's. Trust me on this one.

2. Choose your opening POV character wisely. Legend says that you should always start with the protagonist. Not true. Your opening pages should mention or allude to the the main character, but that doesn't mean that your first pages must be from your MC's POV. Nope. You simply need to choose the POV that will provide the most immediate conflict. This means you can open from the villain's POV. It means you can start with a secondary character who sets the main character into action. You can even get creative and open with an omniscient narrator that is never used again. Do whatever you have to do to give your story an urgent conflict or immediate hook. If you have to, try writing your chosen opening scene from several POVs and see which fits. There's always one that seems more natural than the others.

3. Recognize that page time doesn't need to be split equally.  The characters that have the most direct impact on the plot (or are most directly impacted by the plot) should get more page time than those who don't. I don't care if you have to hurt your character's feelings. You're aiming for good writing, not fair writing. If any of your characters complain, let Snape give them a talk.

4. Decide when POV switches will take place. At the top of each chapter? Or will you allow more than one POV per chapter? It depends on what works for your story. Action-packed stories can often benefit from POV switching from scene-to-scene rather than chapter-to-chapter. More laid-back stories (or first person stories) may flow better with POV switching from chapter-to-chapter. Pick the one that makes the most sense for your plot.

Now that we have some of the technical tips out of the way, let's talk about how to tackle the problem of writing from multiple POV's without confusing the voices of each character:

1. Find out the goal for each POV character. Your book has an end goal. Some kind of conflict for the characters to overcome (If not: You are doing this wrong. Go fix your plot, then come back and finish reading this). Hopefully you've also given your characters other side-goals to achieve along the way. It can be anything from killing the 6-fingered man who killed his father to finding delicious crunchings and munchings. Write down what each of these goals look like for each POV character.

2. Find out why each POV character is working towards his/her goal(s). Why are they doing this?   What do they hope to gain or learn? Why does it matter to them? None of your POV characters should have the exact same reason for trying to overcome the main conflict or reach their own personal goals. If they do, then at least one of your character's isn't pulling their weight.  They are thus unworthy of POV page time.
Be sure to find each unique motivation and write it down.

3. Give each character a tag. Give them each a few unique things that they do when they're nervous, excited, or just acting normal. Give them each specific speech patterns, go-to emotions, character flaws, and heroic traits. Now write it down.

4. Find their buzz words. Words that sum up who they are: Their emotions, their fears, their hopes, their skills. Colors and sounds and places you associate with them. They should be single words or short phrases that get to the heart of who they are. Now...you guessed it: Write it down.

5. Consider creating soundtracks and storyboards for each character. This can help you get to the core of each character simply by looking at some images on Pinterest or listening to some music. It's not 100% necessary, but it does help.

Now, with all of this information written down, sit down and pick a scene in your story where all of your POV characters are present. Now write that scene from each character's point of view, being careful to use your knowledge of their emotions, goals, and mindset to give each scene a unique feel. Read these scenes over. Tweak them. Make sure that each is not only engaging to read, but also immediately recognizable as a different voice.

Now not only do you have unique POV voices, but you also have material to go back and read whenever you're having a hard time slipping into that specific character's viewpoint. Though, thankfully, the more you write in a particular character's POV, the easier it gets.

What do you think? Have tips to add? I'd love to hear from you!

Related articles:
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What to Do When Your Story Bogs Down
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Friday, May 12, 2017

Tips for Crafting the Ultimate Dystopian World: A Guest Post by Elizabeth Hunter

Greetings, earthlings! I hope you are all doing well. I'm almost done with my finals and look forward to getting back to my regular posting. However, today I'm thankful for my workload because it means I have an excuse to bring you this excellent post by Elizabeth Hunter. She's here to break down what makes a good dystopian world. This article will give you a ton of ideas, so get ready to take notes. 

I've been fascinated by Dystopian literature ever since I secretly read 1984 in 6th grade. (Very dystopian of me, I know) I devoured The Hunger Games, fell in love with the Giver, and often imagine creating my own dystopian world, in a book of course.

Not everything that claims to be dystopian is dystopian. If you choose to write, or read dystopian fiction, you should know what makes something truly dystopian. On another note, when politicians claim that government is becoming dystopian, knowing what really is dystopian can help you decide if the fear mongering is legit.

I'm going to use a lot of literary examples to flesh out dystopian world building. So be prepared for illusions to: The Giver, 1984, Brave New World, The Hunger Games, and Divergent.
Tips for Crafting the Ultimate Dystopian World: A Guest Post by Elizabeth Hunter
Illusion of Choice

Dystopian governments know people need choice. Especially Westerners. We don't want to think we don't have any say over our lives. To compensate for this, dystopian governments always provide choice.

Katniss can choose whether or not to volunteer for The Hunger Games. Tris can choose which faction to join. Winston must decide whether or not to join a rebellion.

But, this choice is entirely dictated by the government. The government creates the options, so even your choice is an illusion.

Some call this shadow government. A puppet act. Either way, characters feel empowered by their choices, only to become a tool of the government.


At some point in a dystopian world, one character realizes this choice isn't all it's cracked up to be. As Peeta remarks to Katniss, "I just don't want to become a piece in their games."

In a dystopian world, you're just a piece in the game. Each step the characters take falls right into the government’s hands. They expect you to take that choice and even manipulate you into thinking you choose that choice.

Winston falls into this trap in 1984. Contacted by a government agent to join a rebellion, Winston jumps aboard. He feels empowered making this decision; he's finally taking a step against the regime that has held him hostage.

But this choice plays right into the governments hands. In the end, Winston's decisions only doom his fate. Winston was always a puppet of the dystopian government.

Utopian Beginnings

Each dystopia starts as a utopia. No one wants to live in a government controlled hell. But everyone wants a slice of heaven on earth.

To begin writing a dystopia, you must ask, "What creates a perfect society?"

But perfect for you, is not perfect for me. To create a sublime society, you cannot make everyone happy. Something must be sacrificed in order to create perfection. In The Hunger Games, the districts are sacrificed to give the Capitol a Utopian world of privilege. In Divergent, individuality is sacrificed for the Utopian ideal of group conformity.

Lois Lowry in The Giver paints this picture exceptionally well. The Society is perfect: no pain, no suffering, no disease.

But to create this perfect society, something was sacrificed. Feeling.

The characters in The Giver are content with their society as long as they don't know what's been sacrificed. But once the weight of loss is impressed on Jonas, he cannot bear to live in this seemingly perfect world.


A well-rounded dystopian novel has glimpses of good. In the Giver, we admire the precision of language, the family units, the controlled, perfect weather.

But at the same time, our stomach turns at the casual disposal of children. The loss of love. And the Societal control of every aspect of their lives.

The Giver nearly perfectly balances Utopia and Dystopia. Don't create a dystopian world that has no element of Utopia. Otherwise, the government will feel contrived.

1984 fails with creating a needed government. The entire society is afraid of Big Brother. Communist thugs rule the word. This Dystopian government feels contrived, forced into existence by the death of Capitalism. (Just guessing with that, I'm not really sure why Big Brother exists)

As a reader, I'm angry with the government in 1984. I'm angry with a complacent population that lets the government rule like that. I'm angry the government seems to win and how useless the protagonist is against Big Brother.

But in The Giver, I am more than angry. I'm moved to pity. These people are blind, because everything seems perfect.

Unless you're trying to get readers to burn your books, create a dystopian society to be pitied. People that need help. People just like you and me, who wouldn't be complacent if they knew they lived in a dystopia.

Both The Giver and 1984 end on similar notes. Does Jonas survive? Will Winston really die?
But I've vowed to never reread 1984, simply because I grew so angry with the people and government.

On the other hand, I love The Giver. I weep for their Society - the love the government has stolen, the lives needlessly lost, and the lies earnestly believed.

Which reaction do you want to create?

Don't Dead End Your Dystopia

The Hunger Games, The Giver, 1984 - all three Dystopian worlds have something in common. The Dystopia is the only option. The history creating the world is fleshed out, the politics workable, and the problems real.


Divergent falls off the Dystopian train when the story becomes an experiment. The Society is an experiment, not a reality.

This is frustrating for readers and for the characters. The life they've always lived is actually just science fiction. In fact, they aren't even needed to stop injustice. The Scientists can decide to stop the experiment at any moment.

I can't imagine finding out my life was truly just part of some grand social experiment, I know that would be soul crushing. So, please don't do this to your characters. It can ruin anyone's day.

Science Fiction and Dystopia are two different fields. I don't recommend you mix the two together. Making your dystopia science fiction, an experiment, limits the humanity of your story.

A dystopian world allows you to explore the depths of depravity and humanity of your characters. You can create a world of moral greys, of unspeakable evil, and of life-altering hope.
But when that world is simply an experiment, the character's journey feels fake, nearly forced.

Don't throw your readers and characters into a tailspin. Don't put their world into a box of experiments.

Now, I'm not bashing science fiction. But I am bashing using experiments as world creators. Dystopias have existed in real life - Nazi Germany, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Stalinist Russia.

But no experimental society has ever existed. I think this method of world building is lazy, a cop-out from the harsh realities of government creation our history has given us.

Which leads me to my last idea -

Dystopia is based in reality

No matter what dystopian world you create, there are real life examples of dystopia. Humanity is rife with examples of evil governments and terrible societies, you don't need an exhaustive search in order to borrow ideas from other oppressive regimes.

Suzanne Collins borrowed from ancient Rome for the Capitol in The Hunger Games. George Orwell used his experience in 1930's Russia to craft the world of 1984.

When you sit down to craft a dystopian world, remember, the best dystopias parallel real life.

Did you get ideas for writing a good dystopian world? I know I did. If you want more great thoughts brought to you by Elizabeth Hunter, follow her blog here and her Facebook page here. Now go tell her how awesome she is in the comment section below. And don't forget to leave the title of a book that you thought handled it's dystopian setting well! 

Related articles:
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