Friday, October 21, 2016

Writing Characters with Depression: What You're Doing Wrong

The curtains are blue. It's raining outside. My character's heart feels heavy with an indescribable something that apparently isn't too indescribable because I'll spend about a page talking about it. Everything appears in dull greys and heavy blacks. There are violins playing sorrowfully in the background.

Get it? Do you get it, guys? What, you didn't catch on? My character has depression. I guess I was being too subtle.

That's a problem most writers have when writing about depression. They're too subtle. It's not as if they're whacking their readers over the head with a 10 pound sack of sad. They probably should give it a shot. Maybe that would help clear books up of all of the terribly written depressed characters.
You know what makes me depressed? A badly written character. So, today, I'm focusing on a particular type of character: A badly written character with depression. Because they're all over the place, and your depressed character just might be adding to the problem.

I'd give you advice, but you wouldn't listen. Nobody ever does.

Oh, who am I kidding? I'll give it anyway. Here we go:
Writing Characters with Depression: What You're Doing Wrong
1. You think depression just means sadness. I don't know your name, so I'm just going to call you Bob. So: Sit down, Bob. I'm not happy, Bob. Not. Happy. And I don't mean "not happy," as in depressed. I mean, "not happy" because you are writing a depressed character and didn't take the time to look up what that actually means. Depressed people have more emotions than just sad. Depression is a mixture of dozens of emotions, which is why it's so hard to deal with. Depression can mean sadness, yes, but it can mean apathy, it can mean hopelessness, anger, anxiety, loneliness, numbness, negativity, fatigue, loss of appetite, emptiness, shame, having a loud voice in your head that screams at you, "You are unworthy!" Like everything with character development, struggles with depression should be layered. So don't just slap on a "sad" label and move on. Dig deeper. Do better.

2. You're being too subtle. You need to paint it on thick. You're writing a depressed character, so why not make them super depressed all of the time? Depression is startlingly obvious and always recognizable, so reflect this in your books. It's very realistic and I'm sure it won't annoy your readers at all. It's not as if depression can be a subtle thing that lurks in the background. So why portray it as such? After all, that takes too much time and skill. So don't do it.

3. You think depressed characters need to be part of a depressing storyline. When people ask you how your books with depressed character are going, you shouldn't answer: "Well, they're just fine. You know, a little dark, a little gloomy. And, as always, hey, full of dead people." No. NO. A depressed character doesn't need to be in the middle of a storyline where people are dying left and right or where the whole world is burning. I mean, if that's the plot line of your story, that's fine. But depressed characters are not exclusive to dark storylines or hard lives.

4. All of your depressed characters are introverts. I've noticed this a lot in both books and film. Depression is almost always portrayed as a disease that extroverts are somehow immune to. Extroverts can be depressed, it just may be less obvious. After all, extroverts are out and about, having to wear a mask to cover up the fact that they have a dementor following them around. So, if you are tackling depression in your novel, don't be afraid to give it to an extroverted character. It's a problem that needs to be written about.

5. You are romanticizing suicide. Really? How long have you been training to be a prat? There are so many books out there that make depression look...alluring? Special. Pretty. It's not. Don't write a book that makes depression out to look like some poetic journey about becoming one with the darkness. And do NOT romanticize depressed characters who considering committing...or do commit...suicide. There are no words to describe how damaging this is.

6. You forget that depressed people have interests and personalities. No, sitting around and thinking about death does not count as an interest or personality. Depressed people like things just like anybody else: They like to bake, play the violin, go hunting, paint a picture, build a hot rod, read a novel. Some depressed people are logical, some are sarcastic, some are sweet, some are gruff. Flesh out your character as a person first, then give them depression. Not only is this more realistic, but it will keep your depressed character from falling into the shallow, nobody-likes-you character zone populated by Bella Swan.

7. Your writing style is overly flowery. When writing from a depressed point of view, many writers have the tendency to wax poetic. Stop being so dramatic. Find the style that you are good at and use it. Don't feel the need to contemplate the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

8. You didn't read up on other depressed characters. Books are full of amazingly written characters suffering from depression. They come in all genres with all different personalities and manifestations. Some of my favorite: Frodo from Lord of the Rings (read this great post on the topic), Arima Kousei from Your Lie in April, Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh, Charlie Brown, Marvin from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Conor from A Monster Calls, Celia Foote from The Help, Gwystyl from The Prydain Chronicles. Read them. Study them. Learn from them.

9. You're using depression as an excuse. I get it. Depression is a very good excuse for a character who is constantly throwing a pity-party and being annoying. But it's not a good enough one. Everybody has problems. Get over it. Depression is not a free pass to allow your character to be mean, lazy, or generally annoying. Either show your character struggling to change or make it clear that their lack of change isn't healthy. Don't just excuse them with the, "Oh, depression" excuse. After all, their problems can't be as bad as Marvin's.
10. Your character isn't awesome enough. You know what we need more of? Depressed characters kicking butt. Do you have any idea how awesome depressed people are? They have to fight their own minds on a regular basis, but they still keep going. Enough of the depressed characters who get dragged around by their non-depressed friends. Let's have more depressed characters who drag themselves around. Depression tells them: "You are in Hell, little man. And I am the devil." And they look back and say, "You're not the devil. You're practice." And then proceed to beat the crap out of depression. What? I love me my Batman references. But seriously, people who fight depression are amazing. So let's have more characters who get up every day because they're not about to let depression get the better of them. That, my friends, is a type of strength that fiction can use more of.

Honestly, writing characters with depression isn't that difficult. And no, you don't have to have depression yourself in order to write on this topic. You just have to take the time to get to know your character and what their particular brand of depression is. It takes time, but any character worth writing takes time.

Do you have any tips for writing characters with depression? If you're writing a depressed character or have a favorite fictional depressed character, please tell me about them in the comment section below!

Related articles:
Writing Teenaged Characters: What You're Doing Wrong
Writing Strong Female Characters: What You're Doing Wrong
Writing Awesome Male Characters: What You're Doing Wrong

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Lessons Learned from My Indie Publishing Journey Part 3: 5 Tips for Pricing and Distribution

The final part of this Amazon indie publishing series is upon us! I talked about how to get started in part 1 and included how to format books and ebooks in part 2. All without giving myself flashbacks or having a mental breakdown. Hurrah!

Now we come to the easiest, but still very important, part of indie publishing: Pricing and distribution methods. The rules are simple: Price your story high enough to make some profit, but low enough to still make sales. Make your story available for as many distributors as possible without over stretching yourself, losing money, or selling your soul to the industry.
Lessons Learned from My Indie Publishing Journey Part 3: 5 Tips for Pricing and Distribution
Now, before we get started. Calm down. Deep breaths. DON'T PANIC. Got it? Okay, let us begin:

Tip 1: Don't Expect to Make a Ton of Money At First
We've all heard the stories. Indie authors who are making a decent living off of their books. Indie authors who slap their books on Amazon, then somehow end up with a movie deal. This does not happen overnight...or even to most people who aren't named Andy Weir. Keep in mind that to make a decent amount of money indie publishing, you have to: 

  1. Have a darn good story...which takes a lot of time.
  2. Have a well edited story...which can take money and a lot of time. 
  3. A good marketing game...which takes a lot of time.
  4. Amazing fans...this takes a lot of time to develop, too. 
  5. More than one book out on the web...also a lot of time. 
Notice the theme? Making money indie publishing takes a lot of time. Maybe you, unlike Han Solo, are not in this for the money. Awesome. But, if you are, be patient and willing to work long and hard.

Tip 2: Find the pricing sweet spot
Both kindle and physical books have something of a pricing sweet spot. What are these? Let me tell you: 

Kindle short story pricing: 99 cents. Sweet and simple. This is the minimum price you can sell a kindle story for. If you are selling a story for 99 cents, you are only allowed a 35% royalty, which means you'll be making about 35 cents per sale. Not power money, but it's a short story, so what do you expect? Besides, having a low price will attract a lot of readers and reviewers, which strengthens your platform. It's worked well for Skies of Dripping Gold and many other short stories.

Kindle ebook pricing: $2.99 is about standard. You can try and sell for more, but if there are tons of other ebooks out there selling for less, then people are going to feel like they're being ripped off by paying more than that for yours. Which sucks, because that means you're expected to sell years of your hard work for about 3 bucks. The upside? If you sell your ebook for $2.99, you are allowed a 70% royalty (which is not a royalty amount you will ever be able to negotiate if you traditionally publish), which means you'll make about $2.00 per sale. Pretty good.

Physical book pricing: This is a harder one. Amazon uses a print-on-demand system, which means that the price for production is actually a bit more expensive. A standard 300-page novel costs about $9.00 to print. So then you have to decide: How much money do I want to make off of this deal? You obviously need to sell it for more than $9.00, otherwise you'll be losing money. But you can't sell it for too much, because then nobody will buy it. So pop onto Amazon's calculator to take a look at how much you'll be making. Then decide on pricing. $12 to $13 is awesome. $15 is reasonable and has been known to work. $18 is generally a bad idea, but may work if this is part of a series much beloved by your insanely loyal fans. $25 and you'll be put in a mental institution for believing you're J.K. Rowling. 

Tip 3: If you're good at something, never do it for free
Translation: Do NOT give your ebook away for free. You are better than that. You worked hard on that story. Respect yourself and your book. Giving away your sweat and blood for free sets a terrible precedent. You go grocery shopping and have to pay for a bag to carry it out to your car, but books should be free? No. Just no. If you are doing it for marketing reasons, try this:

Original price is above 99 cents? Lower it to 99 cents for a few days. Get some new readers, but without devaluing your work.
Original price is 99 cents? That's a great deal. If somebody isn't willing to shell out less than a dollar for your story, then that's their problem.  

Tip 4: Understand the CreateSpace distribution channels
CreateSpace will give you different distribution options called "Channels." Both standard distribution and expanded distribution are free. 

Standard distribution: You will want to select all three options for Standard Distribution (, Amazon Europe, and the CreateSpace store). Hands down. There's no reason not to. 

Expanded distribution: Because of pricing, I can't give you a black and white answer on this one. There are three options for expanded distribution: Libraries and Academic Institutions (which makes your work available to these institutions), CreateSpace Direct (which makes your work available to certified resellers), and Bookstores and Online Retailers (which makes your work available to online and offline retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Ingram, etc). These are all great opportunities. The downside? It will increase the sales price of your book. So if you can take advantage of these channels without making your book absurdly expensive, then go for it. If not? Stay away. Those channels won't help you if nobody is buying and reviewing your stories.

Tip 5: Decide on KDP Select
Enrolling your ebook in KDP select means several things: It means that you have agreed to sell your ebook exclusively on Amazon for at least 90 days (at the end of these 90 days you can decide to drop out or renew). It also means that your book will be available for free to members of Kindle Unlimited. Amazon will pay you for each sale, though the amount will vary each month, since it's taken out of a pool. You will be increasing your readership and audience quite a bit while still getting paid. The downside? Because your book is free, people may download it without thinking. They may never read it or review it. Worse, they may read it only to realize it's not their genre, then leave you a bad review. It's honestly up to you. I have not enrolled Skies of Dripping Gold in KDP for various reasons specific to me and my story, so I can't personally give you my thoughts on the matter. I'm sure there are many other authors out there who can, so just hop on Google or tweet your favorite indie author. 

I hope this indie publishing series has been helpful for you. I know that jumping into self-publishing can be hard and more than a little bit scary, but it doesn't have to be. Always feel free to reach out to other indie authors and ask for advice. You can even contact me if you want to. I don't bite, I just spew nerd quotes and sarcasm (which I promise to keep to a minimum if you need my help).

At the risk of sounding cliche, all of the difficulties of publishing will mean nothing once you actually have your book sitting on your bookshelf. Other people will see it and and think it looks awesome. But you? When you see it, it will be bathed in glory because you know you worked hard to get it on that shelf.
So keep going. Your story is amazing. You are amazing. You can do this.

Have questions or tips of your own? Please leave them in the comment section!

Related articles:
Lessons Learned from My Indie Publishing Journey Part 1: 7 Tips for Getting Started 
Lessons Learned from My Indie Publishing Journey Part 2: 6 Tips for Novel and eBook Formatting
12 Ridiculous Questions Non-Writers Ask Writers (And 12 Ways To Respond to Them)

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Lessons Learned from My Indie Publishing Journey Part 2: 6 Tips for Novel and eBook Formatting

I'm not a fan of writing rules, but I do have a few I hold to. One of them is that, if I get 3 individual requests for a post, I will write said post.

After writing Skies of Dripping Gold, I conveniently ignored the first 4 requests for a post on how to indie publish because, honestly, that's a tall, intimidating order. But then the 5th request rolled around and I realized I couldn't put it off any longer. So I accepted it graciously:
Because indie publishing is a rather involved process, I decided to turn it into a blog series. Part 1 can be found here, which is an overview of how to jump into indie publishing. Part 2 is about...*gulps* *looks over shoulder* *whispers* formatting.

I'll have bad dreams for weeks after writing this. I hope you're satisfied.

Okay, I'm kidding. Formatting is something of a bad word among indie publishers, but it actually isn't terribly difficult. It's just a time suck. Let me give you some pointers:
Lessons Learned from My Indie Publishing Journey Part 2: 6 Tips for Novel and eBook Formatting

Yes, I'm aware that I already told you that a few times in Part 1. It seemed worth repeating. 

Tip 2: Don't forget about the front matter
What is front matter? Simple. It's the title page, copyright page, dedication page, and preface (if you have one). Read about that here

A note on the copyright page: You do not have to buy a copyright. You wrote it? You own it. Those are the laws. That being said, it is a good idea to reiterate this in the body of your work. For example, I put this in my physical copy
Note: my ebook does not include ISBN numbers. Neither should yours.

Yes, these laws go without saying, but I put them in anyway just to state: "This is my precious. If you mess with it, there is no measure to how fast and how hard I will bring this fight to your doorstep." So while you should put something like the above in your story, you don't actually have to dole out money for a copyright.

Tip 3: Use Amazon's formatting guidelines
Read them and follow them like Bucky Barnes' life depends on it. 

Kindle: KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) has some simple guidelines here. You can find a lot of the necessary information on that page. The rules are fairly simple: 
  1. Use page breaks. 
  2. Do not hit "enter" at the end of a line. 
  3. Use page indentations rather than using the "tab" key.
  4. Don't copy and paste images. 
  5. Use Doc or Docx. KDP hates PDF, so if you'd like to keep your cursing to a minimum, don't use PDF. 
Making these corrections alone will take quite a bit of time, but it's pretty easy to understand. If you run up against something you don't understand, type your question directly into the KDP site. The answers will be there 99% of the time. You just have to be patient. And the other 1% of the time? *slaps upside the head* What part of Tip 1 did you not understand? 

Physical: CreateSpace is a bit trickier. For formatting the interior, I recommend using this article first and this one for supplement. Have questions? Refer to these articles. Still have questions? Look at this page. It has dozens of articles written for frustrated, confused writers just like you and me. 

Unlike KDP, CreateSpace prefers that you format in Word, but then convert to PDF before uploading. 

Now, getting it formatted is going to take a long time. Don't rush it. And don't worry about missing something. Amazon has a failsafe (See Tip 4).

Tip 3: Use the formatted template for physical copies
Please. There's no reason not to. CreateSpace will give you a formatted template with all of the correct settings: 

Take advantage of this. Will formatting still take a lot of time? Yes. But it will take less time if you do it this way. 

Tip 4: Use the Reviewer/Previewer resources
That file you're sure is correct? It's not. Trust me. Thankfully, Amazon has not overestimated your competence and has a program to keep you from utterly failing. 

Physical:  Createspace will give you the option to use their "Interior Reviewer." Do NOT skip this step. Amazon will load your PDF into their review system. It takes a long time to load, so you'll probably be staring at this screen for a while: 

Once it has loaded, it will tell you all about the things you did wrong. Now you can go back to the file, make corrections, then re-upload into the Reviewer. More things will be wrong. Repeat the process until you see only green checkmarks. This will take several tries. That's okay. After all, why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up. 

Kindle: For Kindle publishing, you will be given the option to use an "Online Previewer," which is similar to the Createspace "Interior Reviewer." Use it. It will show you how your story will appear on all different Kindle devices: 

Go over this with a fine tooth comb. Any glaring formatting issues will be apparent.

Tip 5: You can design your own cover...given you have some patience and skills
Yes, you totally can design your own cover. No, you don't need super fancy digital tools. You just need to know how to get your image at the correct DPI and how to follow the Amazon guidelines. But I'm not going to lie: It's a huge pain. Getting the dimensions right is very difficult and will take a lot of time.

Kindle: Kindle cover guidelines are here. Pay close attention to pixel dimension and DPI. If you get this wrong, your cover will be distorted. You can either upload your very own cover, or you can use Kindle Cover Creator. I made my own image, then uploaded it into Kindle Cover Creator to add text:

Physical: You can make your own PDF file (instruction here), but you can also use their Cover Creator. I thought PDF sounded too involved for my first time, so I went with Cover Creator. They allow you to choose from a plethora of cover designs. The design I used was "The Palm," which allowed me to create the cover image, then upload it to Cover Creator. I recommend this, as it allows more control. Take a look:
If the cover is completely incorrect, there will be a red dot rather than a green dot next to the "Front Cover Image" tab. If there are small problems, you will see a warning (like the one above). Also, note that the image I have put in Cover Creator for this example is less than ideal because parts of it will be cut out when printed. Also, if you choose to use "The Palm" design, you will have to upload a picture with the title and your name on it, as it will not put this information on it for you.

Note for both ebook and book covers: You want your cover to look nice as a small thumbnail, as this is how it will appear in Amazon search results. Take this into account when designing your cover. 

Tip 6: Purchase a proof copy of your physical copy
You don't want to order your book along with all the other peasants. Several weeks before publication, order a "proof copy" of your story so that you can look it over before anyone else sees it. Make sure it looks the way you want it to. If it doesn't, you can make changes before the book is made public.

See? Not so scary. The important fact to remember when Amazon indie publishing is this: It's not hard. It just takes a lot of work, time, and patience. Clearly all qualities that you possess if you have managed to write and edit a book. 

Do you still have questions about formatting? Please let me know! And, if you have already indie published, leave your expert opinion below to help others out!

Enjoy this post? I'll be finishing up the series with Part 3: Tips on Pricing and Distributing. This will be released this Friday (the 14th). Subscribe by email to have it delivered straight to your inbox! 

Related articles:
Lessons Learned from My Indie Publishing Journey Part 1: 7 Tips for Getting Started
5 Tips for Creating an Eye-Catching Book Title
How to Format a Magazine Submission in 15 Steps

Friday, October 7, 2016

Lessons Learned from My Indie Publishing Journey Part 1: 7 Tips for Getting Started

You're coming to me for Amazon indie publishing help? You think you're so cool. It's not cool to get help! Publish for yourself, you little gargoyle!

Sorry. I've been really wanting to work that reference in somewhere.

Let's start over.

My name is Hannah Heath. On December 5th of 2015, I indie published my first story, Skies of Dripping Gold. People liked it. People asked me to write a post about my indie publishing journey. People said they wanted to hear what I had to say. I ignored said people because the thought of writing about how to indie publish intimidated me. But now I've run out of excuses for avoiding this topic, so here I am, ready to talk about Amazon indie publishing.

That being said, this post is not going to be at all similar to the other posts you've read about indie publishing. Why? Because my style of doing practically anything is about as unorthodox as you can get. I don't lay out large, detailed plans. I things.
Lessons Learned from My Indie Publishing Journey Part 1: 7 Tips for Getting Started
When I jumped into indie publishing, I didn't ask anybody for help. I didn't read any books on the topic. I didn't watch any tutorials or join a workshop. I didn't pay anybody to do anything for me. Basically, I didn't do any of the things that people tell you you should do in order to indie publish.

And it actually worked.

How did I do this? I'll tell you: I don't know. But I have some pretty good guesses. So, if you're looking to indie publish a story, want to do it yourself without throwing down a ton of cash, and don't feel like signing away years of your life doing research, then you've come to the right place.

Unlike most of my posts, this will be a 3 part series. Today, I'm posting about the general tips and tricks that I personally found helpful and think that you will, too. Monday, I'll do a post about all the gritty details: How to format both the story and the book cover. And next Friday I'll post on pricing and distribution.

Here are 7 tips I learned from my indie publishing experience that I think will benefit you:

Everything is going to be okay. Indie publishing is not as intimidating as it seems. It is time consuming, but it is not impossibly difficult. If you are clever enough to have been able to write a short story/novella/book/Great American Novel, then you are clever enough to figure out how to do some publishing through Amazon. So take a moment to scream (preferably into a need to alarm the neighbors), then breathe deeply, say a prayer or sing kumbaya or eat some chocolate or do whatever it is you need to do to stay centered, then sit down at your computer. You're going to do great.

Tip 2: Don't listen to the naysayers
Ever, especially if that naysayer is yourself. You can do this. Indie publishing is time consuming and it can be difficult, but it is nowhere near impossible. Some people will tell you that indie publishing is expensive. It doesn't have to be. Maybe you think you're too old to be all tech-ish and indie. That's not true. Maybe you think you're too young and inexperienced. Again, not true. Maybe you think that you aren't talented enough or don't have enough time or simply aren't smart enough. All of these are untrue. If you want it, you can make it happen. So go for it.  

Tip 3: You don't need Batman-level planning skills to pull indie publishing off
Many people are wary of indie publishing because there are so many different aspects to consider: legalities, formatting, marketing, pricing. People think that they have to read tons of blogs posts, join a workshop, talk to other experienced indie authors, map out a detailed plan, craft a utility belt, and build a bat cave before setting out on the publishing road. You simply do not have to do any of this. If it helps you to plan the heck out of your projects, then do so. But if it stresses you out? Don't. Indie publishing is a very fluid process. You cannot plan all of it ahead of time, so don't feel like you have to try. I jumped in head first without knowing what on earth I was doing and I'm still alive, so it can't possibly be as bad as you think.

Tip 4: You don't need Batman-level money
Indie publishing does not have to be expensive. Do you want to know how much money I spent on publishing Skies of Dripping Gold? $20. And that was to buy and ship an advanced proof copy of my story so that I could look it over before it went live. So no, it doesn't have to be expensive. You don't have to pay somebody to format your novel. You don't need to hire a lawyer. If you have the right skills, you can design your own cover. Honestly, the only part that may stick you is hiring a professional editor, and if your story is short enough (like mine), you don't even need one of those. So don't panic about the money. Indie publishing can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be.

Tip 5: After publication, you can still make changes
Yep. If you publish your story and then notice a few typos, you can just edit the original document and re-upload it. You can also go back in and change or make corrections to the cover. I'm not telling you this so that you will be careless about your publishing methods. Ideally, you don't want to have to go back in and make changes. However, I think it will help stave off the panic if you know any errors you make aren't completely permanent. Seriously:

Tip 6: It's a good idea for your first indie publishing project to be a small one 
I cannot stress this enough. Indie publishing can be dizzying, so start small. Skies of Dripping Gold is a short story. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been if I had tried to jump into indie publishing with a 300-page novel rather than a 40 page story. So, if at all possible, test the waters with a short story or novella. Not only is this good marketing for your future novel, but it will help you find how comfortable you are with all of the different aspects of indie publishing: the legalities, the formatting, the pricing, the cover designing. Can you jump right in and do a novel for your first project? Heck yes! Go for it. I applaud you. Will it be less of a shock if you start small? Definitely. 

Tip 7: Look at other indie published works
Do you have indie authors you trust? Go look at their books. See how they formatted, what they did for copyright, where they placed their acknowledgment page, how they did their cover. Look at a ton of indie books to get an idea of what is going on. And don't be afraid to ask your favorite indie people for help. Chances are they'll be more than happy to lend some tips. 

Basically, the point of this post is this: You don't need to be Batman to indie publish. You don't have to be a particularly good planner, a millionaire, or a genius. You just need to be willing to work long and hard. Indie publishing is 40% knowledge that you borrowed from Google, 50% improvising, and 10% cussing and wondering why you started the darn project. 

Are you thinking of indie publishing? I'd love to hear any thoughts or questions you may have! And if you have already indie published, please leave a comment below with some of the top lessons you learned from the process. 

Enjoyed this post? Stay tuned for part 2 on Monday and part 3 on Friday the 14th. Subscribe by email to have them delivered straight to your inbox! Need tips on book launching? Check out this post full of tips from fellow indie authors!

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Friday, September 30, 2016

A Review of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

What is this? Hannah doing a book review? What has the world come to?

I know, I know. I usually do a book review combined with a recipe inspired by said book. Well, that's not going to work this month because I royally messed up the recipe I tried for The Brothers Karamazov, September's book of the month.

I tried to make kvass, a Russian fermented rye bread drink. Ideally, this drink is nonalcoholic,  though sometimes it has a low (0.5 to 1%) alcohol content. Given that I don't drink, I wanted mine to be nonalcoholic. As it turned out, I did something wrong and it ended up being about 1 to 2% alcoholic. And it didn't taste very good. So not only did I make booze, but I made bad booze.

Needless to say, I will not be publishing the recipe for you all to try. You're welcome.

Sometimes things just don't turn out the way we'd like them to. And no, I'm not just talking about kitchen misadventures.

Fyodor Dostoevsky has been an author that has fascinated me for some time. There was something unique in his writings that I couldn't quite figure out where it came from, so I did some reading on his background.

His father was a cruel man who died unexpectedly...quite possibly murdered by his own serfs. Fyodor spent several years in a Siberian prison and as a forced serviceman in the army for being part of an anti-government group. He suffered from epileptic seizures, was almost constantly in debt, and his first wife of seven unhappy years died of consumption. Spiraling into more debt and gambling, he married for a second time, this lady somehow managing to help him put his life back together. He had four children, only two of which survived to adulthood.

After reading this, suddenly so many pieces of his writing made sense.

Fyodor Dostoevsky is known for writing psychologically complex characters and pushing farther into themes of religion and politics than most writers were (or are) willing to go. If you've read multiple stories by him, you may notice that he also had something of a fixation on the word "spite."

So far, my favorite work of his is The Brothers Karamazov, the largest and last novel he ever wrote. It is the story of the Karamazovs: Alyosha, a monastic novice of great faith, the cynical atheistic Ivan,  the flippant and destructive youth Dimitri, and their father, a depraved old man.

The general plot of the story is patricide, both the events leading up to and taking place after this incident. It serves as the central point of the story, but, like the murder in Crime and Punishment, it isn't so much the crime that is the focus of the book, but the ideas and people surrounding it.

At first glance, Alyosha is the spiritual and faithful character who loves all and works to heal the problems within the Karamazov family. The father and Dimitri are the exact opposite: sensualists who love only themselves and bring pain upon all those around them. Ivan is the tortured intellectual who denies the existence of God and yet cannot be happy with this conclusion.

But, as the book progresses, you realize that each of these characters is not exactly as they seem. They are all connected by the "Karamazov way." Dimitri is not as depraved as you would think, and the father is not, in fact, a complete idiot. Alyosha and Ivan, though seemingly having exactly opposite religious beliefs, both have the same questions about the world and it's fallen state.

Each Karamazov has within them the same draw to the dark, perverted side of life, but they each also have (or had) a sense of right. Each sit at difference points on this spectrum, Alyosha closest to the pure side and the father completely over in the depraved side.

One of the unique points about Dostoevsky's writing is that he isn't afraid to go deep and ask all of the questions everyone else is to afraid to ask. This is one of the few novels that I've read that skips over the "Does God exist?" question and goes straight to, "Why would he create such a terrible world? If he loves, then why would he create a place knowing that his creations would suffer so greatly and that some would be damned to hell? Is this all worth it?" Which, honestly, is the question that most people have, even if they think that it's the existence of God that they're questioning.
To me, he is one of the few authors who is willing to look at Christianity in a full light: At the brilliant and the beautiful, but also at the questions that many seem to think it's followers should not ask.

One of my favorite parts of the book, and one that I think sums up one of the main conflicts for Ivan and Alyosha's beliefs, is this one:

"I accept God and am glad to, and what's more I accept His wisdom, His purpose -- which are utterly beyond our ken; I believe in the underlying order and the meaning of life; I believe in the eternal harmony in which the say we shall one day be blended....Yet, would you believe it, in the final results I don't accept this world of God's....I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts...that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened with men -- but though all that may come to pass, I don't accept it. I won't accept it."

I think that only a very tortured mind would have been able to write such passages. Dostoevsky's characters and stories are clearly crafted out of his own questionings. It seems that he took his own suffering and worked hard to turn that pain into something that would make other people learn and think and grow. That takes a lot of bravery.

The Brothers Karamazov is one of the few books that made me underline passages, put notes in the margins, and go back and reread sections. Here is a book that asked all of the difficult questions without trying to answer them a tidy, perfect way. Rather, points are made, countered, and questioned in such a way that it forces the reader to really think about what they believe and why they believe it.

Dostoevsky is one of the authors that inspired me to approach Christian fiction in a new way: Ask the hard questions. Don't shy away from the confusing parts of the faith. Christians are not perfect and shouldn't be portrayed as such. Believing in no way means not questioning. I applied these concepts to Skies of Dripping Gold and was excited about the results. Dostoevsky, C.S. Lewis, and Douglas Adams (don't ask) were largely helpful in my discovery of my own style of Christian fiction.

For those of you who are like me and have a curious mind full of oh so many questions, The Brothers Karamazov is certainly a book to consider reading. That being said, this is a Dostoevsky novel and it is Russian literature, which is pretty much synonymous with very dark and difficult, so proceed with caution.

It's a book I'm very glad I read and one that I mean to revisit. Have you read this novel or others by Dostoevsky? Please tell me what you thought! I'd love to hear about your favorite Russian novels.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

7 Common Writerly Fears (And How to Combat Them)

For people who create entire worlds and write about brave people, writers are extremely fearful people. We freak out about other people not liking our stories, of writing something that sucks more than anything in the history of sucking, of writing a story that only gets read by a few random people who all leave us 1-star reviews.

Have you been there? Yeah, probably.

It's pathetic. Get a grip, dude. Do better.

No, I'm serious. Just suck it up and keep going. What? You want me to expand on that? Fine.

Luckily for you, I've come up against pretty much every writerly fear imaginable (I blame my overactive mind), which has forced me to come up with some ways to combat them. Here are some of the more common writing fears, along with ways to help you work through them:
7 Common Writerly Fears (And How to Combat Them) - Writer's suffer from so many different kinds of fear. We're afraid our writing won't touch others. We're afraid nobody will like our work...or that nobody will even read it. How are you supposed to get your mind out of the endless loop of writer fears? Check out these 7 tips.
You just aren't any good. This is probably the top one. You think you suck. Actually, you know you suck. Half of your ideas never get written out and the ones that do get written are just dumb or poorly executed and people say they like your work but they're probably lying and oh my gosh why are you even writing? You should just get a job cleaning toilets because that's about all you're capable of...and you'd probably suck at that, too.
  • How to combat it: Remember that you're crazy and thus aren't judging your writing properly. Don't make me come over there with a rolled up newspaper!
  • I know I have terrible bedside manner, but seriously. You're freaking out. Calm down. Remember that writing something sucky doesn't make you a bad writer. If just means you have a chance at becoming a better one. Remember that your writing seems boring and lackluster to you because you've been carrying it around in your head for so long that it seems commonplace. Remember that writing stories is probably one of the hardest jobs in the galaxy, and yet here you are, tackling it head on. That's insanely cool. You're doing great. Just keep going and you'll do even better.

People will reject your writing. People won't understand it or they'll think it's dumb. You'll hand your sweat and blood over to people for their perusal and they'll laugh at all of your hard work. People will start using your writing as a punching bag rather than Stephanie Meyer.
  • How to combat it: Frankly my dear, you shouldn't give a damn. Who cares if some people don't like what you're writing? They probably have poor taste. You are doing this because you enjoy it and feel called to it. If just one person benefits from your stories, then you have accomplished something huge. Maybe that one person is you, maybe it's a reader, maybe it's another writer. Don't be afraid of people not liking your work. It happens to everybody in every field. Grow a thick skin and don't pay those peasants any mind.

People won't even read your writing. You're just shouting into a void. You're going to spend your years writing and where will it get you? You'll end up living in somebody's basement, drinking hot water because nobody bought your work and you can't afford to buy caffeinated drinks.
  • How to combat it: Remember that if you have the talent and drive to finish a book, then you most definitely have the talent and drive to get it read. You may doubt this at times, but it's true. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for. So stop being afraid. After all:

You'll never be able to live up to your ideas. You have these brilliant stories lock up in your mind. They are beautiful and wonderful and will touch the hearts of so many people. But when you write them out? They're just not that special. You will never be able to meet the expectations that you have for your own writing.
  • How to combat it: Just keep writing. When your stories are not going the way they should, you can only fix it one way: Keep going. Keep writing and rewriting and working hard. Will you ever get your story to match exactly what is in your mind? No. But that is completely okay. Just because it doesn't match doesn't mean it isn't good. You have to let go of the idea of how something "should be" in order to move forward and discover new, beautiful ways of approaching a story.

You don't have enough experience. Who are you to write a book or start a blog? You don't know anything about anything. You are an imposter and should leave the writing of books to those that know more. Maybe you're too old and behind the times. Or maybe you're too young and inexperienced. You don't have what it takes to be a writer.
  • How to combat it: Shut yourself up. You're being dumb. Do you have an idea? Do you have something to write it down on? Then you are enough. Don't let anybody, especially yourself, tell you otherwise. You don't need to travel the world, you don't need to have undergone some terrible trial. You just need the capability to think deeply, read thoughtfully, and write honestly. That's it.

People will think differently of you. They'll assume certain things about you based off of your writing. They'll look at the themes in your story that are important to you and they'll deem them unworthy. Those you respect will read your work and judge your poor writing abilities.
  • How to combat it: Anybody worth being friends with will still like you and want to be around you after they read your stories. Simple as that. Don't overthink it. You're being crazy.

Your writing won't make a difference. People will read your book, put it back on the shelf, and never think of it again. They won't be moved by the characters or inspired by the storyline. You will add your stories to the piles of stories that already exist and it won't matter. Nobody will be changed by what you have worked so hard to create. Or, even worse: You will write something that is misinterpreted and causes the downfall of civilization.
  • How to combat it: Write hard so that this doesn't happen. You have the words. You have the power. Get up early, stay up late, write and write and write until you know that you have something that will allow your soul to touch the souls of your readers. The fact that you care about making a difference enough to be afraid of failing in this area means that you already have the upper hand. You will do everything in your power to write a story that will not be forgotten. And the power of words in the hands of somebody who cares to wield them is one of the most powerful forces that exists on the face of the planet.

Those are some of the biggest fears that writers come up against. They never go completely away, which is probably a good thing. Fear pushes us to become better writers. The only time it can hinder your progress is if you allow it to.

What are some of your main fears as a writer? How do you overcome them? I'd love to hear any and all thoughts on the matter.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Writing Introverted Characters: 8 Things You Should Know

You have the scene all laid out. The dragon is roaring outside of the castle, challenging the king to a fight. The servants have the king's sword sharpened and his armor polished, the townsfolk are watching from the castle gate, and lightning is crackling the background. It's time for the the king to come forth to claim his moment of a glory and...

He just wants to stay in his room and read a book. He'll go kill that dragon when he's formulated a plan. And when there aren't any onlookers to make him nervous or rain to get his novel wet.

Pesky character. Why can't they ever do what they're told?

Introverts pop up in books quite often, and quite often they are done very, very well (Bilbo, Nick Carraway, Katniss, Sherlock, Jane Eyre, Walter Mitty, Batman). But sometimes they are very inaccurate, and sometimes they are simply painful to read about.

As somebody who's made it her profession to sit alone behind a screen and talk to imaginary people, I feel that I am singularly qualified to write about how to create introverted characters. Here are several points that can help writers steer clear of writing lame introverts and move directly into the "awesome introverts" zone:
1. Introvert is not synonymous with shy or socially awkward. Pay attention. This is important. So many writers think that introverts have to be painfully shy or awkward. Not true. There are varying kinds of introverts and yes, some of them are shy and not very good socially, but others aren't. Being an introvert simply means that you prefer spending more time being quiet or alone than you do being around lots of people who you are required to engage with. That's it. Shy and socially awkward has little to do with it. So ask yourself: on a scale of first-part-of-the-novel-Mr.-Darcy to Captain America, how socially awkward are your introverts? If all of your introverts are closer to first-part-of-the-novel-Mr.-Darcy because you just assume that all introverts are awkward, well:
2. Introverts dislike small talk or shallow things. They don't want to waste their energy talking about the weather. Seriously. Just look at the sky and decide whether it's going to rain yourself! Don't drag other people into a 3-minute conversation! If they are going to talk, there is often going to be a reason behind it. Either they like another person enough to be willing to talk to them or they have something that needs to be said. If your introverted character is doing a lot of talking about nothing (especially to people they don't particularly care about), then you'll need to redo some dialogue. Unless your introvert talks a lot when he/she is nervous, then you are forgiven.

3. Introverts spend a lot of time in their heads. This means us authors get the chance to explore facial expressions, internal monologues, context, and between-the-lines dialogue when writing introverts.

4. Not all introverts like to read or play video games or garden. That's cliche. And goodness knows introverts don't like cliches, since they fall into the "shallow things" category (Suddenly you all understand why I keep writing cliche bashing articles). Some introverts like to play sports or go to coffee shops or people watch or bungee jump or listen to hard rock cranked up super loud. Your introverted character is allowed to like pretty much everything that other people like. Except for being around massive amounts of people for extended periods of time. That doesn't follow.

5. Cut the "reluctant leader" introvert. Please. Being an introvert doesn't mean that your character has to hate being the leader of a group, especially if that group is only comprised of a handful of people. In fact, some introverts may feel uncomfortable being the follower. Because they spend more time internalizing and thinking things through, they're the ones who are likely to say, "Um. NO! Splitting up is never a good idea. That's how people get eaten by spiders or attacked by people with chainsaws. Stay as a group. Don't listen to the idiot who suggested otherwise." Introverts can and do lead, so don't be afraid to put your introvert behind the wheel.

6. Introverts are loyal friends. So maybe an introvert only needs one or two really good friends, but you can be sure that they'll stick by these friends no matter what. They'll carry you up Mount Doom even after you accused them of pigging out on the elvish food you packed. They may be generally quiet, but you mess with an introvert's close friend and you'll find yourself running for your life while the introvert's pal yells after you, "She's our friend and she's crazy!" They'll even mascarade as extroverts while dressing up like a giant man-bat at night if they think it'll help or honor their loved ones. And, in case you're wondering, yes, your introverted character can and should have extroverts as friends.

7. Confident introverts are the best and should be in more novels. Think about it. The introvert who slays the dragon and doesn't feel awkward leaving the Dragon Slaying After Party early. The introvert who is comfortable being quiet and doesn't feel the need to explain their silence to anybody. Or the one with a great sense of humor who shows up late everywhere wearing this shirt:
Novels need more introverted characters who own their introvertedess. 

8. Introvertedness is a disease that needs curing. There is something very wrong with somebody who is comfortable in their own company and doesn't crave being around large herds of humans. If you have an introverted character, that character needs to be fixed by the end of the novel. Have him meet a manic pixie dream girl who shows him how to live life to the extroverted version of fullest. Make her take off her glasses and go to a party. Introverts are not as valuable as extroverts and thus must be converted. Introverts are a public menace, undesirable No. 1, America's most wanted. There are only two ways to handle a fictional introvert: fix them or kill them off.

And there you have it. 7 tips to keep in mind when you are writing introverts. Also, remember that this pointer trumps all of the above:

Make your character a person first. Then an introvert.

Character building 101. Applies to the creation of every kind of fictional being.

What do you think? Do you have any tips or comments to share? I'd love to hear from you via comment or social media. Not through a phone call. That freaks me out. Please don't.

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