Friday, October 27, 2017

5 Tips for Creating Complex Characters

Do you want to know why I love Batman so much?

Bummer. I'm not going to talk about that today.

I'm just going to talk about one of the many contributing reasons for my love of Batman. That one contributing reason is his complexity.

Complex characters are some of my favorite types. They are rich, layered, and contradictory in all the best ways.

Oddly enough, complex characters can give writers a difficult time, possibly because they require a lot of thought, possibly because their personalities come with a lot of moving parts, or possibly because writers are scared that complexity will translate to hypocritical and unlikable.

That's what this post is for: To clear up any issues you may be having with your complex characters and give you tools to move forward and create something that is a Batman-level of awesome.
5 Tips for Writing Complex Characters
1. Give them contradictions. No, contradictions in character doesn't necessarily mean annoying or hypocritical or bad. Everybody has contradictory ideas and acts in contradictory ways. It's human nature. By infusing this element of human nature into your character, you are making him/her more realistic and interesting.
  • Joyce Byers from Stranger Things is an excellent example of an amazing contradictory character. She loves her sons and wants what's best for them. However, there are times when she is very hard on Jonathan for not picking up the slack that she has created in their home life. And she buys tickets for Will and her to see Poltergeist even thought it will probably scare him because she wants to bond with him. These actions contradict her love for her sons, but multiple scenes throughout Stranger Things shows that there is nothing she will not do to protect her boys. While her actions are unlikable at moments because of her contradictions, overall it gives her a human, realistic side that makes her triumphs all the more precious. 
In giving your characters contradictions, you make them more human, more complex, more relatable, and, ultimately, you give your readers more to think about and cheer for.

2. Don't be afraid to give them unlikable qualities. Many writers shy away from contradictions and inner flaws because they don't want to make their character unlikable. Don't worry about this. Unlikableness (Spell Check says that's not a word, which only makes me want to leave it in) gives your character something to overcome, which is not only a good basis for a character arc, but also encouraging for readers. Win win.
  • Prince Arthur from Merlin is a good example of this. Clearly, the guy has issues. Sure, he has a lot of good qualities, but he can also be entitled, insensitive, and rude. However, these flaws are all ones we see him wrestle with throughout the series. And they are also evened out by his good heart and innate desire to do right. He has unlikable qualities, but they add to his character rather than detracting from it. 
If a TV series can do it, so can you. Don't be afraid to give your characters some flaws. 

3. Don't forget about subtext. What do I mean by subtext? I mean don't forget to give your character underlying themes, motives, and beliefs. What emotions guide your character that may not be explicitly stated? What are some beliefs that he holds that shift subtly throughout the story? None of these need to be actually explained in detail, just alluded to. 
  • Ron Weasley from Harry Potter is a character steeped in subtext. He's always been overshadowed by his brothers, thus creating rarely-explicitly-stated conflict between himself and Harry. Being poor has given him issues of self-esteem, which shows itself in his tendencies towards deprecating others and needing to prove himself. But he also comes from a large family with loving parents, which is one of the reasons he ultimately sticks by the orphaned Harry no matter what. 
Subtext isn't just important for dialogue, so make it a point to give subtext to the personalities and actions of your complex characters.

4. Be intentional with their background. Their background should feed into who they are today: Why they are flawed, contradictory, and full of underlying motives. However, remembering the importance of subtext, recognize that you don't have to be detailed about the background. Some characters may benefit from having little to no background revealed about them, while others need their information rolled out at very specific points in the story. Think carefully about your character's history and decide how and when you want to dole out their background information.
  • Nell from The Haunting shows the perfect balance of background information flow. She has a history of supernatural events in her life which is important because it means that the haunted house she is staying in has a connection to her. This we are told right off the bat. However, we don't find out until later that these supernatural events have scarred her and left her less mentally stable than most. We also don't know until later that she's carrying around a lot of guilt related to her mother's death, which also makes her more susceptible to the haunted house. All of this information gives her layer after layer after layer, none of which are revealed immediately in the story. 
Ask yourself: What parts of my character's backstory are important to who they are? Do my readers need to know this? If so, when can I give this information in a way that creates layers rather than information dumps? 

5. Remember that contrasting and paralleling is important. Parallel your complex character with somebody who is similar to them, though different in very stark ways. Or contrast with characters who are completely, entirely different. Or parallel/contrast with surroundings. Or all three. This makes their complexities into even more of a statement, giving them an extra interest point. 
  • Batman from the Dark Knight trilogy is a favorite example of mine (surprise. He's pretty much my favorite example for everything). His thirst for justice is parallel with Raz Al Ghul's, but contrasts because he isn't as heartless or depraved as the leader of the League of Assassins. This showcases his complexities in that he seeks vigilante justice, but also draws a line with how he goes about securing this justice...even if it is sometimes a thin one. This same parallel is drawn between his personality and that of Gotham city itself (they are both dark and disturbed entities, but Batman has morals and works to do good). A contrast is brought to light by his interactions with Alfred, who is far more grounded than Bruce and selfless on a more personal level, making us wonder about Bruce's choices and motives. 
Contrasts can highlight the epic complexities that you have built into your character, so if you're proud of what you've created and want to show it off, this is the way to go. 

And that's all I have for you. Why are you still here? Oh. Do you have something to say? Leave a comment below and tell me about your favorite complex characters....or tips you have for writing this character type!

Have writing or reading questions? Use the hashtag #ChatWithHannah in the comment section below or on social media to have them answered on my Youtube channel!

Related articles: 
Unreliable Narrators: What They Are and How to Write Them
Writing a Compelling Hero: 7 Tips With Examples

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Episode 1 of #ChatWithIndieAuthor: S.M. Metzler

The first episode of #ChatWithIndieAuthor has arrived! And what better way to kick it off than to interview amazing friend and amazing writer S.M. Metzler?

S.M. Metzler talks about her upcoming publication (Fiction's Lie), her outlining process, plot bunnies, hobbies, and more:

Are you following Susannah online? You should be. Swing by and say hello:
If you liked this video and have an indie author you'd love to see on this channel, send them this video and leave their name in the comment section! We just may be able to make that happen. 

The next #ChatWithIndieAuthor episode will be release on Wednesday November 8th and will bring us a chat with Aria E. Maher. Have questions for her? Leave a comment below or on social media using the hashtag!

Like this video and want to support my writing efforts? Subscribe to my channel, share the video on social media, or buy my short story. Or all three!

Related articles: 

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

Friday, October 20, 2017

Writing Dialogue: What You're Doing Wrong (And How to Fix It)

I'm going to go ahead and take a wild guess and say that you, at some point in your life, have had a conversation with another person.

I'm also going to go out on a limb here and say that you've have more than one conversation. Not only that, but you've also listened to and read dialogue.

So it is extremely pathetic that you are writing dialogue and doing it completely, horribly wrong.

How is that even possible? *shakes head* Inconceivable.

Here are 7 things you are doing wrong when writing dialogue. And, because I'm feeling generous today, I'm going to explain to you how to fix them. Isn't that nice of me?
Writing Dialogue: What You're Doing Wrong (And How to Fix It)
1. You're being robotic. Your dialogue sounds similar to what two very poorly developed androids might sound like if they were to discuss the weather.

"It looks cloudy today. Do you think it will rain, Andy?" asked Rob.
Andy nodded. "Yes, I do think it will rain today, Rob. But that is good. I like rain. Do you?"
"No, I do not like rain," Rob said, frowning. "It makes me rusty, which does not feel good."

Really? Really? Nobody talks like that. Stiff, on-the-nose dialogue is one of the greatest sins a writer can commit. Yet people do it every day.
  • How to fix it: Read it aloud, act it out, compare it to real-life dialogue. Seriously. Read it out loud as if you yourself are having the conversation. Does it sound like something you would actually say? Or something another person might say? No? Then re-write it. And yes, this rule still applies if you are writing a conversation between people that are completely unlike you. If it feels stiff and isn't supposed to, you're doing it wrong. When I applied this rule to the conversation above, here's what I get: 
Rob looked upwards, neck gears creaking. "Do you think it will rain?"
Andy grinned eagerly and nodded, then paused. "Why, don't you like rain?"
"It makes me rust," he complained, scratching at a flaking spot on his chest plate.

Better, right? Of course right.

2. You're being too realistic. In trying to avoid writing robotic dialogue, you've swung too far to the other side, resulting in annoying, dragged out conversations. Do regular conversations include a lot of ummms, uuuhs, space fillers, pointless pleasantries, or unnecessary profanity? Yes. Does that mean that your dialogue should include all of these, too? Not necessarily. Chances are you're just bogging the story down and boring (or annoying) your readers. 
  • How to fix it: Cut out anything that doesn't serve a purpose. Ask yourself: "Does this move the story forward? Is this style of dialogue important for character development?" If the answer is no, delete it. Hyper realistic dialogue is only helpful in very specific cases, so be careful if you find yourself drawing too much from real-life.
3. There is no subtlety. Most people don't say exactly what they mean when they're talking. And yet, for some reason, you have decided to write all of your dialogue in a way that completely slaughters any and all subtext. Your dialogue is as obvious as Gollum's desire for the ring and it's really bringing your story down. Is that what you intended? If so, well done.
  • How to fix it: Be thoughtful and intentional with your dialogue. As you are writing, think about what it is that your character wants and how he/she is feeling at the moment. How comfortable is he/she with talking to the other character(s)? What are her ulterior motives? What is she driving at? How does what she is saying connect to the themes, plot, and pacing of the story? All of this subtext is crucial to a story, so try to work it into the way that your characters communicate with one another.
4. You aren't taking character personality into account. Your introvert talks in exactly the same that your extrovert talks. Your characters communicate with their peers in exactly the same way that they communicate with people who are or older or younger than them. Either none of them use slang or all of them use slang. Everyone speaks in exactly the same voice, which is not only boring, but also highly unlikely.
  • How to fix it: Decide on speech patterns for each character. Maybe your extrovert is long-winded, whereas your introvert uses short, hesitant sentences. Anne might use slang all of the time, but Brian only does when he's talking to his group of friends. Perhaps your straight shooting hero says exactly what he means, while your antihero says exactly the opposite. Put thought into making your dialogue diverse. 
5. Your dialogue tags suck. Did you seriously just use the word "said" to close out eight consecutive lines of dialogue? And then turn around and use super long, involved descriptive tags for the next five lines? Stop it! 
  • How to fix it: Vary your tags, and make sure they are relevant. Despite what you may have heard, Said is not dead. He's just been beaten with an inch of his life because people used him too often. It is okay to use said, but don't forget about retort, complain, shriek, and other such words. And remember to vary them with action, especially if it is important for the reader to understand the facial expressions and movements of the characters speaking. This is especially important when trying to add subtlety to your dialogue. Dialogue is never static, so don't forget to mention body language, hand movements, or actions the characters are performing as they speak.
6. You didn't do enough research. You're writing a surfer character, but your surf slang is way off. You've crafted a bilingual character, but didn't take the time to research bilingual speech patterns. 
  • How to fix it: Don't be lazy. Get online and read up about the character type you are writing. Watch some movies, check out some YouTube videos, go talk to people in real life who share things in common with the character you are writing. Take notes and apply them to your dialogue. 
7. Your dialogue punctuation is a mess. Commas and periods are outside of quotation marks, tags are disconnected, and over all your dialogue looks like you threw random types of punctuation at the page and hoped that some of them stuck to the right spots. Wow. It's like you've never read a book before. 
    • How to fix it: Go read a book. Seriously. Go find any traditional, nonexperimental novel and flip to a page that has dialogue. Notice common punctuation patterns, quotation mark placement, and tag usage. Or, if you aren't into critical thinking, go Google "how to punctuate dialogue." 
And there you have it. I bet you didn't know you were so bad at dialogue. Well, now you do. Don't feel bad. Just go fix it. Right now. It's hurting my eyes. 

Have any tips to add? I'd love your input! I'd also love to hear about some authors who write excellent dialogue, so please leave their names below. 

Have writing or reading questions? Use the hashtag #ChatWithHannah in the comment section below or on social media to have them answered on my Youtube channel!

Related article: 
5 Steps to Writing 100% All Natural Dialogue - A Guest Post by Miranda Kulig

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

#ChatWithHannah Episode 4: NaNoWriMo Tips, Favorite Movies, and Overcoming Writer's Block

Whaaaa? A post on Wednesday? Unheard of! This has never happened in the history of the Hannah Heath blog (I think? Maybe? I don't keep track).

So what's going on? Well, for those of you who don't know, I launched a Youtube channel back in July. That's right. A writer attempting to be a Youtuber. Who thought that was a good idea?

Anyway, this Youtube channel has two aspects: #ChatWithHannah, the series where you can write in questions and have them answered every third Wednesday of the month. AND the brand new #ChatWithIndieAuthor series beginning on October 25th where you can ask indie authors about their writing.

So what does this mean for the blog? These videos are going to start being posted here as well as Youtube. So now you can be lazy and just watch my videos here, rather than having to travel waaaaay over to Youtube. You're welcome.

Now, without further ado: Episode 4 of #ChatWithHannah:
Today we talk about NaNoWriMo, favorite movies, newsletter marketing, how to overcome writer's block (assuming it's real...which I'm not convinced of), and more.

Also, when I said "Perihelid came out today" I meant it came out on October 17th, which is the day I recorded this video, not the day I published it (the 18th). *facepalm* My bad. You can still get a copy on Amazon, though, so we're all good. 

Recommended books: 
Here is the blog post about writing sucky first drafts, in case you're interested.

The next #ChatWithHannah video is coming out on November 15th, so leave a question below or use the hashtag on social media to get answers. OR email me here

The interview with S.M. Metzler will be up on October 25th under the new series title of #ChatWithIndieAuthor, so if you have questions for her, use the hashtag below or on social media to let us know! 

Like this video and want to support my writing efforts? Subscribe to my channel, share the video on social media, or buy my short story. Or all three!

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

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

Friday, October 13, 2017

12 Fiction Genres You've Probably Never Heard Of

Things are about to get really hipster in this post.

Like, hipster Josh from Blimey Cow hipster. Yes, I understand that a percentage of you won't understand that reference. Your loss.

You may think you read a lot. You may think you've read across many genres.

But, no matter how much of a hipster bookworm you are, this post is more hipster. This post is going to discuss all of the genres (and/or subgenres) that you've probably never heard of. So put down your specialized coffee drink and listen up:
12 Fiction Genres You've Probably Never Heard of
Note: I'm listing examples of books and movies for each genre, but some of them I have not read or seen. What? I only pretend like I know everything. Anyway, all of the examples that I have read (in case you care, which I'm not really sure why you would) are listed in green.

1. Wuxia. A genre of Chinese fiction that focuses on the adventures of martial artists in ancient China. I think you all recognized that this was a genre, but didn't know it had a name because you are uncultured swine. Well, now you know. You're welcome.
  • Examples: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Or pretty much any of those Chinese action movies that have terrible English dubs that people pretend they've watched, but actually only caught the first twenty minutes of it before giving up. 
2. Epistolary. You know those books that are just a bunch of letters? No? Well, those are epistolary. It doesn't have to just be letters, though. It has expanded to emails, newsletter clippings, diary entries, etc.
3. Atom punk. A subgenre of punk that usually takes place in the 1945-1965. It typically deals with communism, space travel, and what the world would look like with the advancement of atomic weapons, atomic energy, etc.
4. Slipstream. This is also what could be called "weird." It's a genre that slips in and out of fantasy, science fiction, and literary fiction. It always has some type of surreal or clearly unreal elements, but also some that are very grounded in real life, thus giving it a strange feel.
5. Black Comedy. Okay, so maybe some of you have heard of this one. Calm down. I'm mostly including it because it's a slightly lesser-known genre that I adore.
It's a type of comedy that deals with dark, morbid, or taboo subjects in a comedic or satirical way.  
6. Robinsonade. Yep. This is an entire genre based off of the Robinson Cruseo book. Because apparently that's necessary. It's focus is on people (usually just one person) being stranded on some type of island (or maybe a really secluded area). It's a broad genre, okay?
7. Antinovel. The anti-villain of novels! Not really. It's just a type of experimental fiction that goes out of its way to avoid established conventional styles of writing a novel. It usually lacks a plot, traditional character arcs, linear narration, set beginnings and ends, and "proper" syntax.
  • Examples: *sigh* I don't know. Go ask that grungy, disdainful looking person wandering your nearest used bookstore. He/she will know. 
8. Jiangshi fiction. This is the long lost sister of werewolf and vampire fiction. It is a monster/horror story centering around the jiangshi from Chinese folklore. Jiangshi is a mix of vampire and werewolf: It cannot speak, shambles around, and, instead of drinking blood, sucks away people's chi. So there. That's a fact you now know that is clearly essential and not at all extraneous. 
9. Flintlock. A subgenre of fantasy that, rather than being swords and sorcery, is guns and shooting. Rather than a setting influenced by the medieval ages, it's usually set in a world similar to the industrialized period of the 18th or 19th century.
10. Mannerpunk. You may have heard of steampunk, but have you heard of mannerpunk? Of course not. It's a very tongue-in-cheek genre name that is also alternately named "Fantasy of manners." It is a fantasy novel where there is more of an emphasis on etiquette and social constructs than actual fantasy elements. 
11. Philosophical fiction. This is a type of novel where the plot and/or theme is based entirely off of a philosophical subject. They are specifically written to address a specific question within philosophy and are usually (though not always) pretty hefty and thoughtful. 
  • Examples: Pretty much anything ever written by Fyodor Doestoevky.
12. Cli-Fi. An emerging genre, cli-fi is short for "climate fiction." Put simply, it is sci-fi that deals with climate change. It can either focus on environmental sciences or climate disasters (usually man-made ones) or a negative futuristic projection of climate change or all of these. Because what better way to protest climate change than chopping down trees to make books? 
Bonus Genre: This one came to my attention after creating the cover image for this post and I'm too lazy to update it, so I'm just calling this a bonus: Bangsian Fantasy. Look it up. It's fascinating.

Now, in case you hadn't noticed: These genres are so obscure that their lines are very blurred. They have a lot of similarities to each other or with other, better-known genres. As such, there are a lot of very hipster arguments going on about which of these genres are "real" genres and which books actually fall into which genre. 

The answer to these arguments? Pffft. Like I care. It doesn't really matter. I just think these are fun genres to know about in case you ever find yourself wanting to read something weird and wonderful. Or if you ever want to sound really smart...or just really annoying. 

Which of these genres had you already heard about? Which are you interested in exploring? Do you have your own obscure genres to add? I'd love to hear from you! Get your hipster on and leave a comment below.

Have writing or reading questions? Use the hashtag #ChatWithHannah in the comment section below or on social media to have them answered on my Youtube channel!

Related articles:
12 Manga and Comic Books Worth Reading (Part 1)

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

Friday, October 6, 2017

Macro and Micro Editing: What They Are and How to Use Them to Fix Your Story

Wouldn't it be awesome if we had the ability to edit our lives?

If magically awarded this power, I think we all know exactly what parts we'd like to edit. Fix that conversation, don't get that one haircut, change majors, never watch the Star Wars prequel films.

Yet, when coming face to face with our manuscripts, most of us don't know exactly how to edit. We don't know which parts to delete, which scenes to move where, or, on a more minute level, how to punctuate dialogue, correct paragraph structures, or ensure good grammar.

We stare at our book and wonder, "Would it save any time if I just gave up and went mad now?"

The answer is no.

It would not save time or help your publishing efforts in any way. So what are you supposed to do?

Well, there are a lot of editing methods out there. However, a lot of them boil down to a similar formula to this one:

First, Macro Edit. Next, Macro and Micro Edit. Lastly, Micro Edit.

What does that mean? I'll show you:
Macro and Micro Editing: What They Are and How to Use Them to Fix Your Story
What is Macro Editing? 

Put simply, Macro Editing is editing the overall structure of the story. It's stepping back, looking at the big picture, and then setting about to fix the parts that don't make sense. This means you're cleaning up plot holes, strengthening themes, correcting pacing, and making sure the story has an overall clean, concise, good flow.

How do I Macro Edit? 

There are a few methods, but this is a favorite of mine because it makes logical sense to me:

Step 1: Make a list of all of the important parts of the story. The inciting incident, the climax. All of the different characters arcs. The themes or messages you want to convey. The writing style. Specific subplots or twists that you feel are necessary to the story. Write them all down with little explanations next to each. Give this list a name because it will now be your new best friend throughout the rest of your editing process. From here on out I'm going to refer to this list as Batman because...well, whatever. I don't need to validate my naming choices. Clearly Batman is the best name ever.

Step 2: Read through your story. Keep Batman next to you while you read. Do you see anything in your story that isn't in line with something mentioned by Batman? This could be anything from seeing a paragraph that would be better somewhere else to noticing a character arc heading in the wrong direction. Make a note of it (either with a red pen, sticky notes, or using your word processor's commenting function). Do you see anything in your story that is in line with Batman, but could be strengthened? This might look like a weak theme or a slump in the writing style. Make a note. See something that you think should have been mentioned by Batman, but isn't? This could come in the form of an exciting subplot that needs to be foreshadowed or a POV that is more important than you originally thought. Make a note of it somewhere on Batman.

Step 3: Apply your notes. Your manuscript? Copy and paste it into a new document. Now you'll have two: The original and the one that you are about to rip to shreds. Take all of the notes you made and start using them to improve your story. It will be messy. There may be tears. That's okay. Keep going.

What is Micro Editing? 

This is when you get to fix the smaller stuff. Punctuation, typos, sentence structure, page breaks, paragraph size. All of the little, annoying things you probably didn't have time to deal with when you were just trying to get the story down.

How do I Micro Edit? 

It's not easy. Because you wrote the story and have read it so many times, you'll end up reading what you meant rather than what you actually put down. For instance, you'll read "I am on with the Force an the Force is wit me" as "I am one with the Force and the Force is with me." How do you avoid this? Here are some tips:

Tip 1: Read it out loud. Preferably to somebody else. Seriously. This will help you catch a lot of errors. You'll notice typos or problems with sentence flow that you probably wouldn't have seen before.

Tip 2: Have your computer read it to you. Yeah, this will be annoying and metallic sounding. But your computer will stutter over incorrect sentence structure or spelling mistakes, which is awesome.

Tip 3: Know your weaknesses. Do you have an affinity for typos? I know I do. Do you have a habit of skipping words? Using commas incorrectly? Know what areas you fail in and keep an eye out for those hot spots when reading.

Avengers, Assemble! 

Now that you have this information, you can start assembling these editing styles into an editing process that works for you. Here's what mine looks like: 

Step 1: Macro Edit. This part is messy. Fire and brimstone. Earthquakes, volcanos! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice. 
It's bad. But that's okay. Because I get to move onto step 2: 

Step 2: Don't panic. Seriously. 

Step 3: Macro and Micro Edit. That's right. More Macro Editing. Why? Because, chances are, in cleaning up plot holes and themes and characters, I've created a few other holes. So now I get to go back and catch those. Thankfully, there are less, so I can also do a bit of micro editing along the way. Also, note that this round of Macro Editing is slightly different. I'm stilling listening to Batman, but I'm also editing with a very clear question: Is this entertaining and does it move the plot forward? If the answer is no, it has be reworked or slaughtered. 

Step 4: Micro Edit and Macro Edit. No, this is not the same as Step 3. My main focus is now on micro editing, but I also keep an eye out for any pesky macro issues that may still need cleaning. 

Step 5: Micro edit. 

And that's it.

What? I didn't say it would be easy. 

Sure, your order of editing may look different than mine. That's fine as long as we all understand that my process is clearly the best process and all others are inferior. Got it? Okay. With that out of the way: Feel free to rearrange your editing process to match your personal style. However, it can and should involve some forms of macro and micro editing. 

Whichever way you choose will take a lot of time and tears and (possibly) curse words. But that's okay. You are taking an ugly first draft and you are making it better. That's awesome. Go you! 

Do you have any tips to add or questions to ask? I'd love to hear from you!

Have writing or reading questions? Use the hashtag #ChatWithHannah in the comment section below or on social media to have them answered on my Youtube channel!

Related articles: 

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