Friday, October 12, 2018

8 Tips for Writing Characters with OCD

"Yeah, I'm a little OCD."

We've probably all heard this phrase. It's so normal that we (maybe) just shrug it off and move on with our lives.

Unfortunately, this flippant treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder has led to a lot of problems. One such problem is the stereotypical OCD character that appear in stories from time to time. They're usually portrayed comically, or perhaps as psychos. Neither of these are accurate or helpful representations, so let's discuss some tips for writing OCD characters accurately and thoughtfully.
8 Tips for Writing Characters with OCD
1. Understand what obsessive compulsive-disorder is. Most people think that OCD is just needing things to be clean and orderly. While this is an OCD subtype, it is not the definition of OCD or the only expression of it. OCD is an anxiety-related disorder where you have frequent thoughts, mental pictures, or urges (aka: obsessions) that often result in compulsions, which are the performing of repetitive actions (hand washing, double-checking things, smoothing clothing, confessing, etc) or thoughts (counting, repeating a phrase over and over in your head, praying, etc). This can be accompanied by the thought that if these repetitive actions/thoughts are not performed, something bad may happen to you, your loved ones, or people in general. Or one simply may performed these actions to soothe nerves and reduce anxiety. There are MANY different levels of OCD. You can be OCD while only having compulsions or only have obsessions, but not both (or having both of them, but to varying degrees). There are many other aspects to having an obsessive compulsive disorder, so be sure to do your research.

2. Don't make fun of it. Seriously. This is way overdone. Not only are you uncreative by doing this, but you are also labelling yourself as a pretty inconsiderate person. You have brought dishonor on your cow, and now deserve the cone of shame.
Old woman from Princess Bride booing gif
Don't create an OCD character specifically to play them off for laughs. Consider this: OCD is a legitimate disorder that people sincerely wrestle with. It can affect self-esteem, relationships, and careers. Does that seem like something you should be joking about? Yeah. I didn't think so.

3. Decide how your character's OCD presents itself. Do they have both obsessions and compulsions? What are they? How are they connected? Do they always give into their compulsions? Do they believe something bad will happen if they don't? As mentioned before, OCD presents in many different ways. Figure out how it presents for your character and stick with it. And also consider doing something other than "When they get stressed, they need to clean and organize everything." There are SO many other types of OCD. Consider broadening your representation.

4. Consider your character's triggers. There are certain events that can exacerbate obsessions and compulsions. Maybe your character heard about a break-in on the news, so now he's even more afraid of a burglar breaking in and thus has to double-check, re-check, and check-again to make sure he locked all his doors and windows. Maybe your character has to drive through a crowded city, triggering her obsessive fear of running over a pedestrian. Maybe he drew an unlucky number at the deli and now has to burn incense in every room of his house, while also staying away from friends to avoid passing on the bad luck. Maybe she has a really stressful exam today, so she needs to line up all her pencils in her pencil case so that she can do well during the test. The list goes on. Put thought into your character's triggers to add realism.

5. Make your character a real person with real interests. I said this when talking about how to write characters with anxiety. And how to write characters with depression. And how to write characters with a chronic illness. But I'm going to say it again here because it is very. very. important.
Captain America sitting down in a chair to have a serious chat gif
People with OCD are still people. Even if their OCD is very severe and rules their life, that doesn't mean they don't have things they enjoy. Do they like comic books? Enjoy making soap? Think biking is fun? Do they have a sarcastic personality? Are they super compassionate? Or super serious? Give them personality traits outside of their OCD. Write them as people, not disorders.

6. Avoid victimizing your character. Is it hard having OCD? Yeah, for some (most?) people. It can be time consuming, difficult on relationships, and really tough to handle mentally (depending on the level of OCD your character has). While it is important to represent OCD properly, it is also important to avoid writing your character as a sad, crazy person. Write them so that people can empathize with them, not so that readers can just feel bad for them. There are so many negative representations of people with OCD. Put some thought into writing a character that uplifts and empowers.

7. Decide whether your character knows they have OCD. Your character's level of awareness can play into how you write them. It will affect the way your character views themselves, and also the way you write about their obsessions and compulsions. And, if you are writing fantasy/sci-fi where OCD isn't a term, you'll have to take world-building into account: Are their actions seen as abnormal? Are they stigmatized for them, or praised? These are all things you need to be thinking about.

8. Go talk to people with OCD. Seriously. This is important. Don't know anyone with OCD? Go online. There are plenty of bloggers and youtubers who have shared their experiences. Read up, ask questions (if they've said they're open to that), and learn.

Have any extra tips or thoughts you'd like to add? Let's hear 'em!

Please note that, for some unknown reason, Blogger respond to comments (I keep getting logged out). So while I am reading (and appreciating) all of your comments, I'm unable to respond to them until this glitch is cleared up. And yes, this has been going on for a few weeks, thus the radio  silence in my comment section. Thanks for understanding!

Related articles:
10 Tips for Writing Socially Awkward Characters

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Friday, October 5, 2018

9 Stupid Writing Rules That Aren't Worth Following

Ah, writing rules. Like pretty much every other type of rule, I am not a fan.

Some writing rules are okay. Most just make me think: Hah. I bet I can break that one and still write an awesome story.

See, writing rules are very stifling. People throw them around like law, which results in writers misunderstanding important writing concepts or creating stories that all sound the same. I don't necessarily think that all writing rules are bad, but I do think that pretty much all of them are more like guidelines.

Let's discuss some of the top writing rules, along with reasons they aren't always worth following:


1. Show, don't tell. I need this rule to go away. It is quoted way too often, and is usually used in illegitimate scenarios. I'm going to let you in on a secret. It's going to blow your mind. You ready for this? Okay, here we go:

Sometimes it is okay to tell.

Yep. You heard me. Telling is a necessary part of writing. Sometimes you have to tell backstory or world-building. Sometimes you need telling to explain a change of location, or perhaps even to point out emotions. Because here's the thing: Telling isn't the problem. If you're doing it on purpose for specific, non-lazy reasons, it's fine. The problem is when you slip into telling because you didn't take the time to ask how to most effectively convey information or scenes. So if you want to tell, tell. Don't listen to the haters.

2. Never write prologues. Pffft. Please. This is absurd. While it is true that many people completely butcher prologues, it is also true that it is entirely possible to write necessary, important, stylistically beautiful ones. I explain how in this post, if you're interested. Which you should be, because we should all be coming together to stop the discrimination and abuse of prologues. The mistreatment is unacceptable and must cease.

3. Don't start a story with an action scene. Okay. I understand the concept behind this. If you start a story with an action scene, the stakes are fairly low because readers don't know any of the characters yet and thus don't care if any of them are hurt. It can also be somewhat jarring. HOWEVER. That does not mean that you cannot utilize opening action scenes to establish world-building, character status, POV, and story mood. So grab your sword, helmet, and rush into battle!
Unless you're writing a romance novel or contemporary YA book. In which case...maybe don't.

4. Write everyday. If other people want to follow this, good for them. But it is absurd to think that everybody needs to do this. Is it good to write on a regular basis? Yes. Is it important to do so as a professional writer? Yes. Does "regular basis" need to equal "everyday"? No.

5. Don't use adverbs or adjectives. I don't know how to say this nicely, so I'm not even going to try: This is incredibly stupid. Adjectives and adverbs are amazingly helpful. They are an important part of our language and can help convey ideas, images, and emotions in beautiful ways. Can they be overused? Yes. So treat them like any other type of word: Use them with purpose and meaning. That is all.

6. Don't use said. What did Said ever do to deserve this treatment? Said is a cool guy. He can help the dialogue flow smoothly without making readers get caught up in other, fancier dialogue tags. It's true that Said is better left out for some writing styles (I personally don't use him very often, as I write Deep POV and tend to use action to tag dialogue). But that doesn't mean that he needs to be discarded altogether.

7. Always know how your story will end. *puts on leather jacket and aviator glasses* *tattoos the word "rebel" across forehead in case the jacket and glasses were too subtle* No. I refuse to bend to this rule.
Again, some people may need to know how their story ends before they start writing. It may be their writing process. That's totally fine, but also isn't for everyone. This rule can stifle your writing process and result in you having to force specific plot points into your story in order to reach the set ending. In addition, going into a story with an ending in mind can blind you from seeing that there is another, better way to end the story.

8. Write what you know. Can you hear that? That's the sound of me screaming in pain because I rolled my eyes so much that I sprained them. "Write what you know" is possibly the single-most irritating, misleading rule I have ever heard. Stop telling people this. Seriously. STOP. If you absolutely must throw this rule around, do so responsibly by explaining what it truly means.

9. Eliminate passive voice. I can feel people glaring at me, but I don't care. Somebody needs to point this out, and it may as well be me: "passive sentence" is not synonymous with "weak sentence." A sentence can be written in passive voice without coming across as weak. Sure, passive voice shouldn't be your go-to, and it certainly should not be in the majority. But sometimes it provides good contrast, or is important to POV or character dialogue. Stop demonizing it.

What are some writing rules you think we could do without? Let's rant together in the comment section below!

On an unrelated note, I will be doing a livestream with amazing indie author J.E. Purrazzi tomorrow (Oct 6, 2018) at 7 PM EST. You should stop by! It's going to be fun. Read more about it here and be sure to set a reminder to be notified when we go live!

Related articles:
Why You Shouldn't Listen to Writing Tips Blogs
12 Writing Myths You Need to Stop Believing

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Friday, September 28, 2018

8 Ways to Get Into A Healthy Author Mindset

Authors can be very insecure about themselves. If I had to guess why this is, I would assume it has something to do with the fact that we're putting pieces of ourselves into stories and then asking people to buy them and critique them in public.

Seems like a legitimate reason to feel anxious and insecure, right?

But that second-guessing yourself? The nervousness and the fear? That chips away at you as an author. And it chips away at your ability to produce stories you can be proud of.

I've been a published author for...*counts in head* three years now. That's not long, but it's long enough for me to have learned a thing or two. Specifically, I've found thought-patterns that are crucial to me and my success as an author. Let's discuss a few of the ways that you and I can slip into the author mindset.
8 Ways to Get Into A Healthy Author Mindset

1. Do not compare your work. EVER. Do not compare your current work-in-progress to anybody else's story (I wrote a whole post about that here). And do NOT compare your current work-in-progress to any of your other stories, either. That way lies insanity. Because you know what? This new story is unique. It is not going to be like any other, so why are you comparing it to anything else? Yes, you can look to other stories (both by other people and ones that you've written in the past) for inspiration and lessons, but you absolutely should not be using other stories as a measuring stick.

I realized this when I was writing Colors of Fear. Two years previously, I had published Skies of Dripping Gold, a short story that was very well received. I was afraid Colors of Fear wouldn't be as good. And then I realized: They are not even close to the same story. One is dystopian, one is fantasy. One is highly symbolic, one is not. The list of differences go on. Once I was able to break out of comparing my stories, I was free to move forward and create something new.

2. Take your writing seriously, but not yourself. You want to be an author? Then be an author. Dedicate. Write on a regular basis. Learn how to draft and re-write and edit and edit again. Practice social media presence, marketing, and reviewing. Work hard. Take your writing seriously. But do not take yourself seriously. Why? Because you are human. You are going to fail. To expect differently is like expecting Vizzini to stop using the world inconceivable. It's not going to happen. So be willing to laugh off your mistakes, learn from them, then get back to work.

Bonuses: Not taking yourself seriously allows you to enjoy the writing process more because you are no longer afraid of looking stupid (even to yourself), so you can attempt new styles and stories. It also lets you separate yourself from your work so that you aren't offended when idiots people leave you bad reviews.

3. Do not wait for inspiration. You do not wait for stories to come to you. You go after them, and you go after them hard. Inspiration is for hobbyists and amateurs. Be better than them.
This will allow you to approach your writing as a job. It will also allow you to break free from the horrible "I'm not inspired today, I must be a bad author" mindset. 

4. Always move forward. Your story is a mess? Don't give up. Instead, look for the next step: Do you need to rewrite? Adjust the world-building? Add a character? Put together an action plan and keep moving forward. Are you getting slammed at work/school/life-in-general? That sucks, but that doesn't mean you can give up on your author goals. Adjust your life so that you are still able to brainstorm/plan/outline/write in spite of everything that is going on around you. The only real way you can fail as an author is if you stop moving forward.

5. Remember why writing is important to you. Being an author can be very stressful. You may find yourself getting distracted with pitching and formatting and marketing and gaining reviews. That's normal. After all, those are all parts of being an author. But none of those are the reasons that you started writing. So, while it is important to be an author, it's also important to scale it back and remember why you started creating stories in the first place. What is your mission as a writer? Keep that front and center. It will push you to work hard, but also remind you to take a step back and be proud of your accomplishments.

6. Remember that it is okay to edit heavily. Maybe there are writers out there who don't need to do a ton of editing. Or maybe you've written stories in the past that required basically no rewriting or editing. That's great. But that doesn't mean that you can expect all of your stories to come easily. There will be stories that you have to edit heavily or re-writing completely (perhaps multiple times). That is okay. It's part of the process.
Alllll part of the process.

7. Do not rely on reviews or feedback to validate you. It doesn't matter what other people are saying. What matters is that you believe in yourself and your writing. No, I'm not suggesting that you ignore reviews or reader feedback when trying to improve your writing. What I am saying is that you should not be relying on outside advice to feel like an author. Because you know what? It'll never be enough. No amount of 5-stars or "you did goods" from friends will help you kick imposter syndrome or self-doubt. The only person who can do that is you.

8. Allow yourself to be proud, and give yourself room to grow. The key to this? Be proud, not arrogant. Arrogance means you are so blinded by ego that you cannot grow. Being proud of your accomplishments as an author means that you have a healthy respect for how far you've come. This is really important, people.

I have my three published stories sitting on my bookshelf. They are in my line of vision when I write. And you know what? I am proud of those stories: Of the work that went into them and the lessons I learned from them. I'm also proud of this blog, my Youtube channel, my title as a Phoenix Fiction Writer, my time as the Live Events Coordinator for WriteOnCon, and many other things. I am proud of these things because they represent hard work, learning, and fulfillment. But I also recognize that I have room to improve. This is not an admission of self-doubt, but an opportunity for exiting new growth.

Those are 8 ways that I help pull myself into a healthy author mindset. I hope you find them helpful. Do you have any of your own? I'd love to hear them!

Related articles:
5 Steps to Fighting Off Writer's Insecurity
9 Tips for Dealing With Writer's Burnout

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Ep 13 of #ChatWithIndieAuthor: Nate Philbrick

Nate Philbrick writes adventure fantasy, is a fellow Phoenix Fiction Writer, and also creates awesome digital art. In this video he discusses balancing humorous and thoughtful writing, his Wattpad adventures, digital art tips, and more.

Remember: You can listen to this chat on iTunes
You can find Nate’s amazing books here:

Where the Woods Grow Wild

The Broken City of Crows

Check out his PFW page here.

Are you following Nate Philbrick online? Why not? His social media presence is hilarious and helpful (and his newsletter is the absolute best).
Go say hi.

Like this video and want to support my writing efforts? Subscribe to my channel or buy my short stories. Or both!

Related articles:
Episode 3 of #ChatWithIndieAuthor: Kyle Robert Shultz
Ep 12 of #ChatWithIndieAuthor: Beth Wangler

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

Friday, September 21, 2018

7 Writing Lessons Learned from Stranger Things


Look. I know Jonathan Byers says you shouldn't like things just because people tell you you're supposed to. That's a great rule.

But I want you to defenestrate that rule today. Why? Because I'm telling you: You should like Stranger Things. Not only is it a completely amazing TV show, but it is packed with excellent writing lessons. Haven't watched it? Too bad. We're going to spend this entire post talking about it. However, I'll be nice and add context to each point for all you mouth breathers who have never seen this TV show.
7 Writing Lessons Learned from Stranger Things

1. You need to allow your protagonists to make mistakes. Strange things is full of characters that are pretty messed up. They make bad decisions, are often unkind, and just generally have very flawed personalities. While each character has strong points and redeeming qualities, the writers never shied away from allowing their characters to be fully human and fully flawed. Mike can be judgmental, Joyce can be overly hard on her sons, Steve Harrington is pretty horrible and misguided (in the beginning, at least), Hopper started out as apathetic and skeptical, Jonathan is kind of a creep. I could go on, but I'll stop there. Now, despite their shortcomings, all the characters I just listed are completely awesome and I loved each of them. This is partly because they have great character arcs, but mostly because they are realistic, well-rounded characters that I can easily see existing in real-life. Their flaws give them a depth that is difficult to reach if you insist on making all of your characters perfect people. (Pro tip: I put together a whole list of personality flaws to help you get started)

2. Intentional information flow is key. The first season of Stranger Things feeds us very specific pieces of information at very specific time. We don't often know what is going on. Where did Eleven come from? How did she get her powers? What is this mysterious monster that is threatening Hawkins? We're given enough information to be able to guess, and, better yet, to be kept engaged. As you write your story, think carefully about how much information you want to give out. If you give too much at the very beginning, you'll lose the intrigue  factor. If you give too little, you may confuse your reader so much that they'll put the story down. However, keep in mind: Friends don't lie. So be careful about giving out fake information (or foreshadowing, and then never delivering). That's one of the reasons everyone hated this guy:
Stranger Things gif of Billy
Ew.
Aside from the fact that he is a terrible person, he also has zero connection to the plot or any of the other characters. This is annoying because the first part of Season 2 made it appear as if he may be an essential plot point. But then he wasn't. Don't make this mistake.

3. Don't be afraid to create multiple antagonists and conflicts. Strange Things has two main antagonists: the Demogorgon and Papa. They are both intimidating for different reasons and are connected to the protagonist in different ways. However, they aren't the only conflicts in the story. Joyce Buyers has to fight skepticism and struggles against having another mental breakdown, Hopper is assailed by memories of his daughter, Eleven fights to find where she belongs, and Dustin is constantly creating problems with in the story out of sheer stupidity.
Stranger Things gif of Dustin giving a goofy smile
What can we learn from this? Your story needs to have more than one type of conflict, and can absolutely have more than one type of antagonist. A mixture of external and internal conflict adds depth to the characters and stakes to the plot.

4. Bigger is not always better. Yes, this is where I bash on Season 2. While Season 2 is still enjoyable, it falls far short of Season 1's ingenuity because it makes one fatal mistake: it forgot that less is more. The demogorgon in Season 1 was frightening, so they added dozens of new demogorgons in Season 2 (along with a new, giant monster). The romance was well-recieved in Season 1, so they added more love interests in Season 2 simply for the sake of squeezing in additional romance. People liked Eleven and wanted more of her backstory, so they shoehorned in Eight and her connection to Eleven. The lesson? Always ask yourself: Is this necessary? What is this adding to the story? Be intentional about your writing.

5. Multiple strong character = awesome. I can't think of many other shows that contain as many strong characters as Stranger Things. Each character is willing to fight for whatever it is they care about. Joyce fights to protect her sons, Eleven fights to save her friends, Hopper fights to uncover the truth, Nancy fights to rescue Barb, Jonathan fights to find his brother, and Season 2 Steve fights to protect all of his adopted children.
Stranger Things gif of Dustin and Jonathan walking. Caption says "[gives bad dating advice]"
Steve Harrington is the best babysitter ever.
These strong characters compliment each other rather than overwhelm. Don't be afraid to fill your story with strong, passionate, determined characters. We fans can handle cheering on more than one or two protagonists.

6. Write characters from multiple age groups. Stranger Things has middle schoolers, high schoolers, and adults. All interacting. All with their own parts to play. This is actually fairly unusual in fiction, but is very realistic and has the added bonus of allowing you to reach many different age groups. Totally tubular, right?

7. Mood is important. Stranger Things has a distinct mood all throughout Season 1 and Season 2. It is suspenseful, a little scary, very 80s, but also thoughtful and humorous at points. They rarely stray from this mood, resulting in a very cohesive-feeling world and plot. Try to explain the feel of your story in four or five phrases. Can't do it? Hmmm. It would seem you need some coffee and contemplation.

Have you seen Stranger Things? What lessons did you glean from it? And, more importantly, who are your favorite characters? I love Hopper, Joyce, and Steve. Though, honestly, I'm pretty much a huge fan of anyone who isn't Billy, Billy's dad, or Mike's dad. They can go live in the Upside Down for all I care.

Related articles:
8 Ways To Use Movie Watching To Improve Your Writing
Why Writers Should Strive to be More Like Batman

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

#ChatWithHannah Ep 14: Writer Burnout

Today we talk about writer burnout: How to avoid it, how to deal with it, and how to recover from it.

Time Stamps:
  • 1:06 Beth Wangler - What are some strategies for avoiding burnout? 
  • 5:27 Deborah Kelty - Strategies for recovering from writer burnout? What have my experiences been?
  • 9:50 Kirsten Pierce - Tips for getting back into writing after recovering from burnout?
  • 10:53 RM Archer - How to recover from burnout when the problem is the book, not the amount of writing?
  • 12:45 KT Ivanrest - Cry for chocolate. 
  • 13:13 SM Metzler - Which of my characters is most like me? 
  • 14:54 Captain Marvel comic book recommendations!
Recommended Captain Marvel comics by Kelly Sue DeConnick:
The #ChatWithIndieAuthor interview with Nate Philbrick releases on September 26th, 2018. Have questions for that video? Leave them below! Don’t forget to check out his website.

The next #ChatWithHannah is on October 17th, 2018. The topic is…*drum roll* character development! Leave questions/comments related to character development below, ask questions on social media using the hashtag, or email me on my website.

Like this video and want to support my writing efforts? Subscribe to my channel or buy my short stories. Or both!

Related articles: 
#ChatWithHannah Episode 4: NaNoWriMo Tips, Favorite Movies, and Overcoming Writer's Block
#ChatWithHannah Ep 9: On Writing About Tough Topics, The Batman Mentality, and More

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Top 6 Songs I Listened to While Writing Flames of Courage

Occasionally, people will ask me what type of music I listen to when I write. My answer? I don't really know. It varies depending on the project, and I don't put together or use playlists.

However, I do keep mental track of the songs that seem "right" for a project. The ones that help me get in the mood when they pop up on Pandora (yeah, I use and love Pandora. Don't judge).

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to give you a list of the music I listened to when writing Flames of Courage. I have a habit of listening to music that absolutely does not fit the genre I'm writing, but still weirdly matches the story, so be prepared.

Top 6 Songs I Listened to While Writing Flames of Courage

Play With Fire by Sam Tinnesz



Why this song? Well, obviously, this song features fire and Jayel, the Flames of Courage protagonist, has fire powers. On a more subtle note, it has a very rebellious, subversive feel that somewhat matches Jayel's justice-seeking tendencies. 

blood // water by grandson



This band (and this song in particular) comes across as very angry and very over-the-top social justice warriors, which has some similarities to a main theme in Flames of Courage. On top of this, blood // water has a strong vigilante vibe to it, which pairs well with Jayel. It ended up being my go-to when writing  most of her justice-seeking scenes.

Antihero by Noisestorm 



Look. Is this song a bit different? Yes. But it has good energy and helped me get in the mood. I really can't comment on this song beyond that because I know nothing about this type of music (or any time of music, if we're being honest). So if anyone would like to do an in depth analysis of this song in relation to Flames of Courage, feel free. 

Unstoppable by The Score



What can I say? The title is "Unstoppable." Jayel is unstoppable (or at least thinks that she is). It's perfect. 
This song does not match the mood of any of the other songs. However, given Jayel's somewhat sarcastic and not-overly-serious personality at points, this song was a go-to when I needed to lighten my mood to get into that part of her mind. But it still does have the activist-feel that captures parts of Jayel. Because, yes: Jayel would be a modern-day activist for a while, before taking a step back and finding a new approach.

Mama Look At Me Know by Galantis



This one also has a much lighter feel to it, but the pride and "hah, I did it in spite of it all!" vibe is similar to Jayel's outlook (especially in the later part of the story).

Aaaaand there it is. Yes, I do recognize that my taste in writing music is a bit....unusual. Especially for fantasy. Hopefully, this little glimpse into my brain and general writing process was entertaining and/or helpful (and hopefully not too scary).

What types of music are you currently listening to as you write? Tell me about your favorite songs!

Related articles:
Writing to Film Scores: Emotion from Music to Paper - A Guest Post by Susannah Metzler
10 Songs to Listen to While Writing Action Scenes (fun, old post from back when I couldn't write to music with lyrics) 

#ChatWithHannah Sept 2018 topic: Writer Burnout. Send in your questions related to writer burnout using #ChatWithHannah and I'll answer you on my Youtube channel on 09/19/2018.
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Some links are Amazon Affiliate. Thank you for your support! 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Head-hopping: What It Is, Why it Sucks, And How To Avoid It In Your Writing

I'm going to take a wild guess and say that you don't know what the term "head-hopping" means. And, if you do know what it means, I'll go ahead and guess that this practice drives you insane.

I fall into the latter group of people who know about and despise head-hopping. Of course. I always fall into the group of people that knows about an obscure thing and wants to tell everybody about said obscure thing. It's kind of annoying, yet you keep coming back and reading this blog. Why?

Meh. That's a question for another time.

For all you muggles out there, let's start out by defining head-hopping.

Head-hopping: What It Is, Why it Sucks, And How To Avoid It In Your Writing

What is head-hopping? 


Head-hopping is when the point-of-view characters switches (or, as we writers call it: "hops") within the same scene.

Now, some of you more brave souls may attempt to defy me and say: Hannah, that's not head-hopping, that's omniscient narrative.

To this I say: You dare question me, mortal?? FOOL.

Ahem. Kidding. To this I say: No, head-hopping is not the same thing as omniscient narrative. Nice try, though.

Omniscient narrative is when an all-knowing narrator tells the story and gives us a bird's eye view of a character's thoughts/feelings. It only has one voice (the narrator). Head-hopping happens in third person limited and deep POV. Third person limited is when the narrator only knows the thoughts of one character per scene. Deep POV is third person as well, but there is no narrator. Rather, a scene is told entirely from the POV of a single character, and this character is not aware that they are narrating a story.

So, that explained, head-hopping is when a scene is supposed to be told from Bob's point of view, but, about half way through, you slip up and end up telling it from Mary's point of view. For example, here is a scene from Bob's POV with no head-hopping:

Bob was never a huge fan of Batman, but Mary was quite obsessed with him. So, here he was, bingeing Batman films with her. Reaching for a handful of popcorn, he glanced at Mary. Was she buying his enthusiasm? He really just wanted to eat popcorn in silence, but it was either watch a Batman movie or talk about a Batman movie, so this seemed to be the safest option. 

Now, here's that same scene, but with head-hopping:

Bob was never a huge fan of Batman, but Mary was quite obsessed with him. So, here he was, bingeing Batman films with her. Reaching for a handful of, he glanced at Mary. She frowned at the idiot and his fake smile. Did he think she didn't know that he'd rather be stuffing his face with popcorn in his man cave? 

See the red part? That's where the paragraph shifts from Bob's perspective to Mary's, and thus spirals into head-hopping. Why is this a bad thing? *rolls up sleeves* How long have you got?

Mace Windu gif - Take a seat, young Skywalker


Why head-hopping is the worst.


Okay, so maybe it's not "the worst." I mean, I can think of a few other things that are more horrible. Like Dolores Umbridge. Or people who try to explain why Jar-Jar Binks is actually a good character. But...that's about it. Here's why:

It's confusing to your readers. Readers go into a scene expecting it to be told from one POV. They may not know that they're expecting this, but they are. So, when you start jumping around from character to character, things get blurred. Readers have a hard time differentiating between your characters. They confuse Bob's thoughts and emotions with Mary's thoughts and emotions and vice versa.

It makes you look lost. Just pick a character POV, man! It's not hard. But, by head-hopping, it makes you look like you don't know how POV works. And, well...if you are head-hopping, you probably don't. Aside from making you come across as the galaxy's most confused Padawan, it also makes you seem indecisive. Like you can't pick which scenes should be from which character. It's not a good look.

It yanks your reader out of the story. Who is talking right now? Bob or Mary? Which is which? Head-hopping forces your readers to pause and ask these questions. They have to try to decipher which character is thinking/feeling what. This pulls them out of the narrative, which is a huge no-no when it comes to wanting to engage your readers.

When head-hopping is okay. 


Never.

Okay, let's move on. 

Just kidding. If you're like me, you're an annoying innovative person who always wants to challenge writing rules. That's cool. We can talk about that. Head-hopping, while wrong 99% of the time, can be pulled off when: 

You know that you're doing it. Look. If you're looking over your manuscript and thinking, "I head-hop, I just didn't realize it until now," then you're disqualified from using head-hopping. It only works if you are hyper-aware of the fact that you are doing it because it's important that...

You're doing it for a reason. Now, there are a several reasons for head-hopping. I personally think that most of them are no good, but some decent ones are: 
  • The scene calls for showing multiple character experiences. For instance, if you write romance and want to highlight the relationship by telling both character's emotions/thoughts, head-hopping may be okay. Or maybe you're writing a death scene and want to intimately show how that death affects multiple characters. Head-hopping may be okay in these scenarios, but also begs the question: Are you head-hopping because you are lazy or because you can't decide what POV to tell this scene from? If so: Don't. 
  • You're writing not-super-limited-third person. The tighter you are to your character, the more jarring the head-hop. If your third person POV is fairly distant, head-hopping is slightly more permissible. More distant third person was fairly common back in the 1800s which is why head-hopping tends to be more accepted in classic literature.
You are signaling that head-hopping is happening. In my Bob and Mary paragraph, I switched character POV mid-paragraph. Super annoying. However, if I wanted to give my reader a heads-up that I'm about to start hopping, I would switch POV by opening a new paragraph. Preferably with the new paragraph starting with the new POV character's name. This gives your reader a nice clue that the POV has shifted.
Willy Wonka gif - Hold on, everybody. Here it comes!

You're writing an experimental story. Have at it, dude. Just...make sure that you're making sense. 

How you can avoid head-hopping. 


Okay, let's discuss how to fix this problem.

Pick a POV character and stick. with. that. character. Every time you enter a new scene, choose your POV character and be sure to only tell the scene from their POV. Write their name on a sticky note and slap it on your computer screen if you need a reminder. 

If you want to switch POV, do a paragraph break or open a new chapter. It is 100% okay to switch POV if you do so by starting a new scene. This is very normal. Obviously, this doesn't work if you are writing from only one POV. 

Make sure you are using the correct POV style for your story. If you frequently find yourself head-hopping or wanting to head-hop, it is very possible that your story shouldn't be told in deep or limited-third person (or that it needs to be told from dual or multiple POVs, not just one). Maybe you should try first person, or omniscient, or multiple POV. Heck, you could even try objective. You do you. 

That's it. Head-hopping is really easy to avoid once you realize that it's a problem that exists. Keep your eyes open and you should be okay. 

Now that you've read this entire post, I feel obligated to state: If you didn't know about head-hopping previous to the post, I apologize. Why? Because you will now start noticing it everywhere. It's a curse, really. But I'm kind of tired of being the only one plagued by it, so I've decided to pass it on to you all. 

Want more POV nerdy goodness? Check out this Phoenix Fiction Writers podcast about writing third person POV. Myself, J.E. Purrazzi, and Janelle Garrett geek out about POV. Jill is a Deep POV expert and Janelle hates head-hopping even more than I do. Impressive.

Also check out my posts on how to write multiple POVs, deep POV, and tips for transitioning from scene to scene.

Have any questions or comments about head-hopping? Let's hear 'em in the comment section below!


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Friday, August 31, 2018

9 Ways to Keep Your Character From Being Boring

Your character bores me.

As a writer, the thought of hearing that sentence probably makes you want to fling yourself into the fires of Mount Doom.

Yet, oddly, boring characters are still fairly common. You'd think writers would be so afraid of this phrase that they'd learn to create attention-holding characters, but apparently not? It's a problem, people.

Don't be part of the problem. Here's a post alllll about how to make your characters interesting and non-snooze-inducing.

Take notes.

9 Ways to Keep Your Character From Being Boring

1. Give them fears and flaws. Seriously. All the flaws. There is nobody on earth who does not possess dozens upon dozens of flaws, so withholding this from your characters will make them unbelievable and incredibly flat. Do you want a plastic pancake character? Okay. Then make them perfect. Want a luscious cinnamon roll character? Give them flaws. I've created a whole list of flaws for you to choose from. Also, another helpful tip: Your characters fears will often be directly connected to their flaws. For instance: Ron Weasley is afraid of being forgotten and pushed aside, yet one of his biggest flaws is that he's so jealous that he pushes his own friends away.

2. Make sure their personality is contradictory. A lot of writers don't like doing this, but it is 100% realistic to real-life and also 1000% fascinating. Your characters should hold inconsistent ideas both about themselves and the world in general. Legolas and Gimli are a great example of this. At first, Legolas doesn't like Gimli because Gimli is biased against elves...yet Legolas himself is prejudice against dwarves and doesn't seem to see that that's problematic (and vice versa for Gimli). Another cool thing to keep in mind: These inconsistencies generally feed well into your character's fears and flaws.

3. Give them beliefs. What does this character stand for? If the answer is, "Ummmm....I don't know." Then I have another question for you: If they stand for nothing, then what will they fall for? A rhetorical question, really. The answer is: They won't even have a chance to fall. They will be ripped down by your readers and trampled upon for being one-dimensional and difficult to relate to. Yeah. Not good. Give your character things that they very strongly believe in...or, if they don't have any particularly strong beliefs, give them things they at least kind of maybe believe in. After all, what's supremely important is....

4. Give them a reason for having their beliefs. Most people don't often spend a lot of time thinking about this because most people are shallow and sad, but: Our beliefs come from somewhere. They may have been purposefully taught or learned, or they may have been absorbed unintentionally. Some beliefs may have sprung from an innate sense of right and wrong, but were later twisted by various experiences. Explore what makes your character think they way they think. Perhaps by repeatedly asking:
Ross from Friends gif: "Why, why would you do that?"
Yes, that includes creating backstory for your character. No, you don't have to explicitly state the backstory, but you do need to have it fleshed out to the point that you understand where the character is coming from.

5. Don't forget the importance of interiority. What's interiority? you ask? *puts on massive writer nerd hat* *pulls out podium* *points at power point* Interiority is a character's inner thoughts and emotions. While many books focus on what happens around the character, it is equally important to showcase what is happen inside of the character. Try telling events and emotions as your character sees and processes them. Yeah, I said telling. I know that you've probably been told "show, don't tell," which is a decent guideline, but not always applicable. Interiority is a good type of telling that is very important when it comes to helping your readers connect with your character. Not only is this an excellent way to show off your character's excellent voice, but it is also a good way to help your readers connect with your character and their goals. Still not sure what interiority is? I'll give you an example from my own story Skies of Dripping Gold (shameless plug):

He stepped out the door, cars honking at him. This time, he didn't curse. Never in front of Lilly. As far as he was concerned, there were only two all-mportant laws on earth: 
  1. Don't murder people.
  2. Never swear in front of Lilly. 
This second rule he had adopted the day he'd seen her horrified look when he let loose at a bicyclist. That's all it took. If Lilly one day told him to stop breathing, Gabriel supposed he would start holding his breath on the spot.

See how the main character is talking about what's happening (not cursing) and why (he doesn't want to offend his sister)? He tells this in his own voice and in his own way. That's interiority.

6. Don't forget that your character needs goals. Why are they doing what they are doing? What's in it for them? Nobody does anything without motives (ulterior or otherwise). Give your character a goal. In fact, give them more than one.

7. Connect all of this to the plot. Their flaws, their backstory, their motives, their beliefs. It should all in some way connect to the plot. After all, your main character is your main character because they are important to the plot/story. And your secondary character is secondary because they have a necessary role in the story. Now, no, not every. single. thing. about your character needs to connect to the story, but pretty much all of the major points should. Everything you put into your story needs to be intentional. Character personality and backstory is no different.

8. Use other characters as foils. Have you ever noticed that some people are more interesting or lively when they are around other specific people? Yeah. Characters are like that, too. You should be creating your characters so that they play well together: They should bring out each other's motives, flaws, backstory, and overall personality. For instance: Alfred is an excellent foil to Batman. Like Bruce, he is very disciplined and has a strong personality, and this brings those personality traits out in both of them. However, he is also very even-keeled and is not one to be cowed by Bruce, so he is thus able to keep him in line.
Alfred from Batman Animated gif: You're bleeding all over my nice clean floor.
Basically, all of your characters need an Alfred: Somebody who compliments and/or highlights some of their personality traits while providing a good character dynamic.

9. Pay attention to information flow. Pacing is very important to character development, but this is often overlooked. Think about it: If somebody tells you alllllll about themselves (their backstory, their flaws, their goals, etc) when you first meet them, not only will you be bored out of your mind as they talk, but you'll also be less interested in them when you next meet. After all, you know all there is to know about them. Same goes for characters. Give out bits and pieces of their flaws, motivations, emotions when it feels appropriate, but don't lay it all out at once.

Who are some of your favorite, attention-grabbing characters? Who are some of your favorite boring characters that you like to make fun of?

Related articles:
5 Tips for Creating Complex Characters
24 Personality Flaws to Give Depth to Your Characters

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

Friday, August 24, 2018

Get to Know Me Writers Tag: Fav Authors, Embarrassing First Writing Projects, and More

I know, I know. I don't usually do tag posts. Fridays are for writing tips and writing tips only.

Well, I'm sick with a cold, so it was either something easy like this tag, or nothing at all. And I obviously didn't want to deprive you of the awesomeness that is this blog, so here we are.
In all seriousness, though: This post was a lot of fun to make.

That being said, there are rules to this tag and we all know how I feel about rules. But I'll suffer through them:
  • Link back to the amazing person who created the tag: Savannah
  • Thank the sweet person who tagged you: Thank you, K.L.+Pierce! You rock.
  • Share the tag graphic below. *raises fist rebelliously* Nope. I'm putting it above. And altering it slightly. So edgy. 
  • Lastly, tag 11 bloggers. Hah. Everybody I would generally tag has already been tagged, so no. 
Okay. Now that we have the rules out of the way, we can get to it.

Appearances


Name: Dude. My name is literally all over this blog. It's in the header, in the sidebar. It's even in the URL, for goodness sakes. Pay attention.

Nicknames: None. I mean, some people use to call me Hannah Montana, but I don't speak to those people anymore.

Birthday: July 2nd, year None of Your Business.

Hair Color and Length: The length is easy: Pixie cut. As for color....I'm not actually sure. Black? Really dark brown? It depends on the lighting. Also: A colored streak that is currently bright blue.

Eye color: Brown

Braces/Piercing/Tattoos: None. Unless we're counting a regular ear piercing? Which I never think of a piercing, so... *shrugs*

Righty or Lefty: Righty. Hands down. Fun fact: There are actually 5 different types of handedness. Read my post about that here. It's fascinating.

Ethnicity: Errrr. Everything? I'm a quarter Mexican, and also a random mix of Okie (yeah, I know that's technically not an ethnicity, just go with it), German,  Swedish, Native American, and probably many more.

First


Novel written: Horse Tales, the rip-off novel I never finished. It was basically LOTR, but with the main characters being horses. What? I was eight.
Stop looking at me like that.

Novel completed: The Stump of the Terebinth Tree. Yes, this is the novel that The Terebinth Tree Chronicles short stories tie into.

Award For Writing: None, yet. Though I'm still expecting to receive a unicorn for achieving 50 reviews for Skies of Dripping Gold.

Publication: Skies of Dripping Gold, Colors of Fear, and Flames of Courage.

Conference: Not yet, but I'm hoping to make it to Realm Makers next year. And I have been to multiple comic cons and a writers group, so I feel like those should count for something.

Query/Pitch: The Stump of the Terebinth Tree is about four warriors who struggle to assassinate a tyrannical sorcerer and have faith in something beyond their own swords. That's technically more of a tagline pitch than anything else, but whatever. You can read more about the novel here.


Favorite


Novel (that you wrote): Well, it certainly isn't my LOTR ripoff novel, so I'm going to go with The Stump of the Terebinth Tree.

Genre: YA Christian Speculative Fiction. Currently I've published fantasy and dystopian, but I'm branching out into sci-fi (and maaaaaybe horror) soon.

Author: Gah. What kind of cruel tag is this? I can't just pick one! For traditional authors, I'll go with: C.S. Lewis, Douglas Adams, Patrick Ness, and Lois Lowry. For indie authors, I'm going with my fellow Phoenix Fiction Writers:  K.L.+PierceE.B. Dawson, Beth Wangler, Nate Philbrick, J.E. Purrazzi, and Kyle Robert Shultz. They're amazing. Go read their stuff.

Writing Music: It depends on what I'm writing. Though I do listen to a lot of indie pop, alternative rock, and EDM.

Time to write: Mid morning. By then I'm awake enough to function, but am not so far into the day that I'm tired and want to go to bed, a feeling that usually strikes me at around 2 PM. And yes, I know I have problems.

Writing snack/drink: Water. Anything else distracts me. Though sometimes I will go with chai tea.

Movie: Wait, let me fix that: Movies. Okay. I like all the LOTR movies, Inception, The Dark Knight, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Arsenic and Old Lace.

Writing memory: Crying as I wrote sections of Skies of Dripping Gold. That story was (and is) very personal to me, and writing it helped me work through some difficult emotions.

Childhood book: Island of Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. I really, really liked Scott O'Dell as a kid. I still do like him, actually, and I also suspect that he's the reason I write mostly sad stories. Have you read any of his books? Some of them are oddly dark and messed up for the age group he was writing for.

Currently


Reading: Disintegration by J.E. Purrazzi. It technically hasn't released yet, but I get to read it because I'm special. It's a great book, so keep an eye out for the release. I'm also reading Love Among Chickens by P.G. Wodehouse and wow. Wodehouse is hilarious.

Writing: An anti-hero short story. It's about vampires, so I'm having a lot of fun. When I'm not frustrated with the main character and her propensity to run off and stab people, that is.

Listening To: Bohnes radio on Pandora. It has the right kind of creepy vibe for a vampire story.

Watching: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's SO good. Also: I love Giles. He's like Google, only very British and very awkward. This was me being floored that I've never watched this show:


I'm also watching The Wild, Wild West, a show that K.L.+Pierce got me hooked on. It's this brilliant, weird mix of westerns and James Bond. I'm in love.

Learning: Is it sad that I'm in college, yet am not currently learning anything? Yes, yes it is. So I guess I'll say: I'm learning to not be frustrated at mandatory, waste-of-time classes. It's a slow process.

Future


Want to be published: Pfff. Want to be? I already am.

Indie or traditional: Indie. The community and creative freedom is very important to me. I do plan to traditional publish and some point in time, but I'm pretty sure I'm not going to make that the focus of my writing career.

Wildest Goal: Write ten bestsellers, become a millionaire, and own a house in the Cotswolds. This house will have a library and a secret writing room. It'll be glorious. Aside from that, my slightly more attainable goal is to continue writing Christian SpecFic that encourages my readers and inspires other writers to keep writing true, honest fiction. 

Does this tag look fun to you? Yes? Okay, consider yourself tagged!

Now I know this post was mostly about me, so lets hear a bit about you! Feel free to answer your favorite of these prompts in the comment section below. And be sure to tell me: Have you read any of the authors I mentioned in this post? If so, which ones? Let's chat!

Related articles:
Yeah, I'll fill this out later. Did I mention I was sick?

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