Thought Bubble: Humor in Literature

Happy Monday, friends! 🙃

It’s possible that you may have noticed, that this month my TBR list is riddled with stories of a serious nature. Most of them are genre-strong, foundational types of books that pretty much embody a certain type of literature:

Fairytales

YA Fantasy

Horror

We got the popular, stand-out YA fantasy novel that’s hitting the movie theaters, the artistic spin on traditional fairytales, and two horror novels- one on the grotesque end of the spectrum and one on the ghost story end. All pretty capable, basic types of novels that embrace their stereotype with fervor and ease.

But what about those novels that blend and sew genres together into a sort of patchwork quilt? I’ve read a few novels the past year that mesh multiple genres within a single story: horror, literary fiction, and dystopia (The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis), epic fantasy, regency romance, and humor (Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix), romance, mythology, and YA fantasy (The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Abdieh)… all are pretty terrible to actually market in this blown-out, genre-focused industry, which makes this mixture of genres even more compelling in thought and conversation.


The one literary, spicy blend that I wish to chat with you guys about most of all is the following:

Humor

In most mediums, the comedy genre is NOT taken seriously. In movies, plays (Shakespeare may have made it cool, but not many else have), and literature, comedy is seen as a satirical take on what’s really important. But as an added bit of a genre twist to an already serious piece of writing, comedy can take a novel from merely acceptable to ingenious.

What novels have you read that incorporate humor into their dialogue or narrative? What part does it play and why does it make a story seem so well-rounded?

Humor is necessary in writing because it is realistic. All these fantastical novels in fiction are either too dark, too unrealistic, or too imaginative, but one of the things that grounds them is a sense of humor. It is real and relatable and can touch even the most cynical of hearts on the worst day.

I have found that humor is displayed in three primary ways when not in a comedy-driven genre novel: we see irony, sarcasm, and surprise used in dialogue and narration in order to instill a bit of realistic tension in the audience.

More than anywhere else, humor is interspersed in dark fantasy and fiction. Characters goad other characters to make the audience laugh, the protagonist comes upon something unexpected which elicits a shocked giggle, and the narration turns themes and plots on their side, making humorous yet truthful remarks about its intent.

Some of my favorite novels that include humor in its most honest form are the following:

  1. Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
  2. The Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith/ JK Rowling
  3. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
  4. Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Each of these novels showcase the different applications of humor as a literary device.

Galbraith doesn’t really write humorous characters in the Strike universe, but the three stooges-like depiction of some of the scenes had me giggling uncontrollably through all three books. Strike might be tailing psychotic murderers with an amputated leg, but some of the situations he manages to get himself stuck in are darkly funny and Galbraith uses that to bring the audience back from the depressing reality of crime.


Hawkins and Kadrey both write about terribly dark universes with pessimistic, trying-to-cope protags. Mostly, their lives were altered by someone else’s terrible actions, and because of that they developed a sick sense of humor and wit. Dialogue is like a battle of one-liners that leave the audience rolling with laughter, even though the characters just escaped a world-altering event or watched a loved one perish.

The thing that Bray, Kadrey, Galbraith, and Hawkins all have in common is the horribly dark, depressing universes that their characters exist in, and the audience can feel it’s oppression in the world-building. But the characters themselves bring the light and comedic effects to the forefront of the novel, therefore connecting with the audience and bringing a sense of realism to the story that other devices cannot succeed in.

Authors who successfully navigate the boundaries between humor and overwriting are the ones that produce well-rounded, interesting novels and characters. Comedy as a singular genre is just as flat as any other single-faceted genre, but when mixed with other devices it can create a realistic portrayal on paper.

Irony, surprise, and sarcasm make for interesting twists in otherwise one-dimensional narratives. Humor is just as important as any other device: a fairyland wouldn’t be worth defending without conflict, and a blue-collar worker wouldn’t be as interesting to get to know without tragedy.

I’d love to hear what you all think about humor in literature and some of your favorite examples. I know I didn’t list any classics above, but there for sure are some gems in the past. Do you think it adds to the story? Does it detract? Have you seen particularly terrible executions of it?

Let me know 🤗

Until Next Time!

Live,

Morgan Paige

Part 1: What Makes a Character Strong?

Strength.

Book covers feature weapon-gripping lords and ladies. Box office posters scream at you with the moody visage of a hell-hath-no-fury lead actor. Radios teem with the lyrics of perseverance from singers from Beyonce to Disturbed to Gwen Stefani. All of this media exposure leads to the same overall message: we want strength to inspire, and we want it now.

What you are about to read is the first post in a discussion that delves into creating strong characters in a novel. I want to talk with you about the qualities attributed to strength, especially in lead characters in literature, and today I am focusing on what the definition of a strong character is. It isn’t about who is strong and who isn’t, it’s why the character is strong and why they stand out as a full-fledged, well-written character.

This is a topic discussed throughout many media avenues, but its very foundation seems to exist on a superficial level. “Strong” female leads are flooding the mainstream with books/movies like The Hunger Games and Divergent.

Think about your idols and imagine what makes them so appealing. What makes them strong and capable, whereas others are not? Why is it that male characters can embody strength so easily when a female has to strive to acquire that trait?

What is it that actually makes a character strong?

Strength is in their ability to make decisions.

It isn’t about what makes a character good (versus evil), how much ass they can kick, how many people they kill, how far their adventure takes them, or what kind of creatures oppose them. It isn’t about how fucked up the world is and how, for some reason, it relies upon them to save it. Passivity and coincidence drive one too many lead characters. Usually this is a symptom of lazy writing (unfinished character arcs maybe) or merely the author’s choice to make the lead connect too well to its audience. Some main characters in books are just sort of blank slates that any person can put their own identity into in order to make the book more relatable and the character, therefore, perceived as “strong.”


However, strength comes from the character’s drive and how he or she leads their own life. As seen in the popularity of villains, they are characters that have a purpose and a moral code (though skewed). These alternative ways of looking at the world allow them to makes decisions and act on them, which sometimes makes them stronger than their protagonist.

And yet, there are people in books who serve as a guiding light and are the strength of a story. And yet, maybe they don’t have that physical strength that is regularly tied in with a “strong” character.

To show you just what I mean, consider this question: Why do people love characters like Dumbledore from Harry Potter so much? He is the epitome of strong, there is no doubt. He leads a wizarding world with just his presence, which just goes to highlight the fact that he never uses physical violence to make a point (except for his battle against good ol’ Voldy). His character and his sense of morality, his ability to inspire and bring together a group of people, and his desire to live life a certain way (as a good and pioneering wizard) make him a strong character. He makes decisions that are self-sacrificing and also pit him against those he had considered friends/allies (Cornelius Fudge and the headmasters of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang to name a few), because he believed in himself and what he stood for.


Other strong characters are Captain America (who lives his life to fight for the good and the weak despite clashing with his fellow Avengers), Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (who lived her life her way and only her way, even after society attempted to quash her), Ms. Coulter from His Dark Materials (even though her purposeful actions mutilated and crippled children), and Sherlock Holmes (who, despite being an addict, was revered for his super intelligence and ability to solve the unsolvable).

These characters have serious flaws and are also people that lead extraordinarily different lives in the literary world. Ms. Coulter wouldn’t be caught dead in the hovel that Salander lived in and Holmes would scoff at the boy-scout Steve Rogers as he tried to talk morality to a murderer. But all of them possess the unique quality of being able to make decisions. It doesn’t have to be the right decision, it doesn’t have to be good or inherently bad. It doesn’t have to change the world or even be the thing that you, as a reader, would do.

Being loyal to who you are and knowing who you are makes you strong.

There’s a quote in Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson that sums up part of what a weak character is, and is a gem for writers like myself to recognize weakness in their characters:

[speaking about his race of people]

“We are a weak people, mistress. We are eager to do as we are told, quick to seek subjugation. Even I, whom you dub a rebel, immediately sought out a position of stewardship and subservience. We are not so brave as we would wish, I think.”

Pg 274, Mistborn

It’s a bit meta as it is one of the preliminarily weaker characters in the series, but Sazed himself is a great example of a well-done character arc for a weak-to-strong character.

A person doesn’t have to be able to wield a sword or draw a bowstring in order to be inspirational. They don’t have to save all the children or even the world in order to be great. Good or bad, young or old, a character in a novel achieves strength when they make decisions and act upon them.

 

 

I will continue this Thought Bubble series in the weeks to come. Let me know if this sort of a discussion interests you! And please, chime in with any and all comments. This is a fun topic and is definitely something that I’d love to hear from you all about. Do you like strong characters? Do you see something else that defines strength? Let me know!

 

4 Tips to Better Reviews

Hey there party people!

You might have noticed recently that I’ve been focusing more on book reviews for you fine readers. That’s entailed a lot of reading and perusing other sites that specialize in reviews. I feel like, for the most part, people LOVE reviews. They get to see what other like-minded people think about certain books and they get to discover new and different stories they otherwise wouldn’t have picked up.

Occasionally, however, reviewers get too technical about their synopses. A review of a novel can sometimes read like a book report or a back cover blurb. You never want to come across that way as a reviewer… nothing can turn off a friend more than when you spew unwanted information at them, right? Why treat your awesome online/blog community that way?

So, in my humble experience, I’ve gathered a few tips to help any of you who review books, and honestly, it could totally apply to product, movie, and fashion reviews, too. Here we go!

  1. Get personal. No one wants to read a review that sounds like what you can find on the back of the book. It wastes their time and it wastes yours. If you think you’re doing them a favor by giving a play-by-play of the book, too, you’re not. You’re exposing the very reasons why they should WANT to read it! Putting your personal thoughts, comparisons, and reaction makes the review worthwhile. Everyone has different tastes, but this way you’re allowing your audience to see exactly why you felt the way you did about the book and they can make a better judgment call on if they actually want to read it, too.
  2. Be concise. This is sometimes a no-brainer, but bears mentioning. If you ramble, your audience will lose focus. Just like in books, a passage that has impertinent information will be skipped over like the fruit in an ice cream sundae. Yes, you might be able to tell that the main character is an author’s wish fulfillment, but that doesn’t always pertain to the review. Which brings me to my next point…
  3. Review the BOOK not the author. Don’t pick and pick at a book because you think the author is an entitled jerk who decided to make the whole book about him/herself. You may be wrong, the book may be something completely different to the author, and there you are looking like an arrogant know-it-all. Your job is to review the book and take any biases out of the equation. Plus, if you destroy an author’s personality in a review, who will want you to review their book in the future? It makes you look unprofessional, and that’s something we definitely don’t want.
  4. Why does this matter? Why should your audience care about this book? What makes it stand out and flourish? Some books really are a carbon copy of other previously successful hits, but if that’s the case, say it! Always make sure to explain what makes this book different from the rest and why it’s worth your attention. The author has put a lot of effort into the story, and whether it’s exceptional character growth, unparalleled word building, unique style, captivating voice, distinctive names, uncommon themes, etc., everything should be analyzed by a reviewer. You aren’t doing your duty when you just blurt out the summary and say, “eh, it could’ve been better.” How? Why?

So, there we are! Some tips on how to make your review the best it can be. This is especially helpful if you are trying to break your way into the revision world as a beacon of info and fun knowledge.

Let me know if you guys have any other techniques for your reviews that you find especially helpful! I see a bunch of people (and follow a ton of blogs) that specialize in product reviews, too, and see that there are tons more techniques employed in the writing of those review posts.

Until next time! 🙂

Live,

Morgan Paige

A Collection of Thought Bubbles: The Difference Between Inspiration and Plagiarism

Oh my… the never-ending writer’s pilgrimage of finding creative inspiration…

The other day, I was talking to my boyfriend, who is an incredible writer, about how he finds inspiration for his poems. It was actually a very compelling conversation, because I found out that he and I operate as complete opposites in terms of finding inspiration. He is the type of person who drinks in media and culture and emotions to form a story or theme, and here I am… sitting and trying to use my imagination…

For the longest time, I’ve had this flag in my mind that said, “If you use someone else’s creation for inspiration, you’re plagiarizing.” Maybe it was from constantly being told in school you can’t copy or even paraphrase someone else, because, hey! That’s wrong! Drawing on someone else’s creativity seemed like a stolen and unoriginal idea, and I just couldn’t shake that from my psyche.

Sure, I’ve still written my entire life, but in hindsight, if I had been a little less “trapped” in my own head, my progress and proficiency would have probably grown faster and stronger than it has. Reading my boyfriend’s material really made me take a step back… because nothing of his is plagiarized. It’s all deeply original and thought-provoking, but it took a small spark from some painting or lyrical song to set his poetry in motion.

How does he do this, you wonder? How can you ensure you are using a medium for inspiration and not plagiarizing? What is the actual difference between inspiration and plagiarizing? Well… let me tell you some tips 🙂

First off, let’s begin with some definitions from gool ol’ dictionary.com:

Inspire: to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence.

Plagiarize: to take and use ideas, passages, etc., from (another’s work).

Ahh…just what I was afraid of. Even the definitions are shifty…

Essentially, what the biggest difference here is, is that when you use something as inspiration, you are not using the idea or the actual physical production of the medium. You cannot use direct text without referencing, you cannot use someone else’s photo and make it different colors and call it yours. But what you can do, is write about how that passage made you feel or drift off on a tangent that you feel like should have been discussed. The most identifying difference here is the emotional response and influence that inspiration has on you. If you don’t invest and produce your own ideas on top of what you are using as inspiration, you’re therefore only churning out a shadow of what was already created.

One of the biggest literary works that has been accused of plagiarism is the book Roots by Alex Haley… and even then, the author wasn’t fully denounced because there wasn’t (initially) much proof that could support whether plagiarism or inspiration was at fault (you can read more about this here). The fact that such a highly regarded novel could still be accused of “excessive” inspiration from other works makes me wonder… how do the rest of us get away with saying, “I was always inspired by such-and-such author as a kid?”

roots
AND it’s a Pulitzer Prize winner???

Obviously, the most important part is to not steal direct quotes as an author. Names, places, magical systems, all of those are completely out of the question. But there are a few ways you can ensure your own contribution to art with original, well thought out ingenuity.

  1. Don’t be afraid. This is the biggest hurdle for me, personally. I’m so nervous of getting in trouble or coming off as insincere if I use something as inspiration. By allowing myself to be a little more unrestricted in regards to inspiration, I’ve added a sort of depth that some of my writing has lacked in the past. Go ahead and give it a shot, but always be honest with yourself if you go back and read it and it is essentially a mirror of that painting or movie. Readers like authenticity, and they like reading something with an author’s personal spin on it. So, even if you feel like your idea isn’t as good as the one you saw, have faith in the fact that audiences always pick up on your own special touch… and that’s way better than some sterile copy.
  2. Start with inspiration, end with originality. No matter your approach, keep going until you have struck gold. Sometimes, you may be too afraid in your story outlining that something may seem too similar to another book. Begin writing before you chuck out the idea, because chances are, you will not stick to the inspiration and your story will grow from it. And, for example, if you do choose to write a scene where there is a troll confronting your heroes *cough*Lord of the Rings AND Harry Potter*cough*, make sure the scene is distinctly yours. JK Rowling did get a lot of flak for the scene resembling JRR Tolkein’s, but really… the only similarity is that the protagonists are fighting a troll. The scene is different, the motivations are different, the world is different, the dialogue is different, and the end is VERY much different. Start with that troll, and make sure that by the end of the scene it’s twirling it’s tiara between two fingers or something. Everyone likes a princess troll!
  3. Identify the inspiration. The most important thing about inspiration is understanding why it’s so appealing to you. Oh, you enjoyed that side character from that specific movie and now you want to write a book about him? Why? What was so appealing about him? Don’t just write a character profile about this one dude and assume you got it in the bag. Identify what made you so compelled to write a story about a character like this. Is he mysterious? Funny? Supportive? Is he just so different from the norm that you couldn’t look away? Was it his myriad of tattoos or was it the way the actual actor looked and held himself? Always dig deeper, because there’s usually something else there that can spark another wild idea and lead you to something original and enchanting.

I hope this discussion sort of addressed some writing fears and trials of yours, because God knows I’m in the middle of a personal overhaul in terms of inspiration. Do you guys have any piece of work that was inspired by something and, when finished, was completely different than you thought? Or have you scrapped anything that just couldn’t shake its ghostly influence? I’d love to hear what your experiences are!

Until next time.

Live,

Morgan Paige

Traveling Blues VS Editsaurus

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Well, I’m back! The trip was a short one, but it was just what the heart ordered! My boyfriend and I took the long weekend to visit my mom in Florida, and we spent a few days relaxing on island-time and enjoying the sun. We left behind negative degree weather for perfect 70 degree days and came back to New England… in a snowstorm.

florida collage
Farmers Markets and Tiki Bars
It’s a whiteout outside while I write this and it’s supposed to continue snowing throughout the day. Luckily, we stocked up on Domino’s pizza and Chinese takeout when we drove home, so we will still eat like kings while we’re trapped inside the apartment… there’s no better way to wind down after a trip than with some greasy food and movies (we finally watched Crimson Peak by Guillermo Del Toro) is there?

But as we speak, I’ve had a hard time getting back into the routine of reading and writing. Usually, books are like water to me. They are just a part of my life like food and sleep is… more of a necessity than anything. So, I’ve tried picking up a few different books that are more entertaining than thought provoking to try to rekindle that flame, and also, since my brain has gone beyond writer’s block to the ultimate stage of thoughtlessness, I’ve been going back through my writing trying to edit it. It’s hard though, because when you have no creative inspiration you also can’t see your own writing for what it is. To me, this story I’ve been putting my heart and soul into for months looks uninteresting and drab. It makes me want to edit everything.

That’s why I took to the internet to find something to help me and, lo and behold, I discovered a program that helps analyze your text and picks out word choices that you may want to rethink or rewrite.

It’s called Editsaurus and was created by a writer/programmer named Tyler Walters. His free program allows you to see where you’ve used pronouns (he, she, it), misused words (their vs. they’re), lexical illusions (duplicate words your brain may have skipped over), passive voice (was doing, had been running), filler words (very, but, some), and adverbs (happily, furiously, quickly).

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Very rough first draft! 
As you can see, I ran through a paragraph at the very beginning of my story and YIKES did it need work. But, it’s pretty fantastic because it allows me to see my weaknesses objectively instead of just staring mindlessly at my computer screen.

I have a real problem with adverbs and pronouns, apparently… but, which writer doesn’t? All of us have our weaknesses, and we can only get better when we acknowledge those weaknesses. I think this program can also be used by blog writers, journalists, poets, and technical writers. Most writing needs this sort of close attention to detail, and, ultimately, you’re the one who decides what stays and what goes.

This program has actually helped me a ton this morning in getting my groove back into writing and meeting my word count. It’s helped me stay mindful and more aware, which is what I think my brain needed. I’m much more a creature of routine in regards to motivation, and though the vacation was so necessary and wonderful, it really threw off my creative flow! Does this happen to anyone else?

I’ll be picking through my writing and editing my way through this ocean of pronouns and adverbs… wish me luck! Haha I hope the rest of you aren’t trapped by a snowstorm and closed highways and are staying nice and warm!

 

Until next time!

Live,

Morgan Paige

Travel Reads: Book Suggestions and the Overdrive App

Hey, everyone!

This is a bit of a last minute post, but honestly, everything that has happened in the past couple of days has turned every decision into a last minute one. With the snow storms, the spontaneous work projects, and the sudden request to pick my brother up from the airport (welcome back broheem!), my schedule essentially fell apart.

And, to top it all off, my very own travel plans have gone unaddressed until the very last minute. I stayed up last night trying to figure out what to pack for my morning flight and was busy grabbing books to bring to my mom (some choices are the Lightbringer trilogy by Brent Weeks and the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray), when I realized: I hadn’t packed any books for myself!

What time is more fortuitous to a reader than the (hopefully) quiet hours spent as a passenger on a plane? What more of an excuse do you need to sit and devour your favorite book?

I didn’t have any time to go to a book store, I couldn’t make it to the library in the morning, and my bookshelves are surprisingly void of new material. I don’t have anything wrong with rereading a book (in fact, I’m considering grabbing a Harry Potter book for nostalgia’s sake), but the opportunity to spend an afternoon reading without a new story was quite tormenting.

And, so!

I present to you my foolproof, last minute method of actually getting a new story to your fingertips! I do not have an eReader, but I do have an iPad! I downloaded the Overdrive app and connected that to my library’s eBook and audiobook selection. All you need is your library card number and possibly a PIN number (just give your library a call if this is the case… usually it’s as simple as your phone number). Voila! It’s like having an eReader without having to actually buy a whole new device and subscription! You do “check-out” books, and they have to be returned after a set amount of days. However, you are free to read without internet access once you have the book downloaded. This is so perfect for traveling and is so efficient. I love that libraries are doing this and have offered this to the public!

So, with the method chosen, I still have yet to choose a book. I have a couple of ideas bouncing around, however. Generally, when I travel I like something gripping and fun, because there can be numerous distractions around you onboard a flight (crying babies and drunk people… woot…). In this same vein of thinking, I was thinking about checking out one of these books:

  1. You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day
  2. Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
  3. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

What do you think? Do you have favorite books you bring with you while you travel? Do you always read certain types of books to keep you happy in the stress getting through an airport? Have eReaders served you well on flights/car rides?

Can’t wait to hear what you think!

Until next time!

Live,

Morgan Paige

A Collection of Thought Bubbles: Effectiveness of Word Count

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With popular writing events like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), NewNoWriMo (New Novel Writing Month created by one of WordPress’ favorite bloggers, N.E. White), and 500 Word February (also created by one of the most fun bloggers here on WordPress, Lizzie!), authors and writers equate success with word count.

Just to further support this, I found a list that dictates how many words established authors must reach each day. Some authors measure their success by the amount of words they write every day, and we aspiring writers follow suite with our own monthly public challenges like the ones listed above.

xlarge_The_Daily_Word_Counts_of_39_Famous_Authors_1
This is just one of the three images on this site that will show famous authors’ word counts!

In contrast, there are the authors who also tell you that word count does not matter; half the time you’ll go back and edit out all the filler, anyway. Determining your workmanship should be based on time and quality, not amount produced.

It’s hard to judge progress when it comes to writing, because every reader is a critic and everyone has a different taste in literature. An author can be beloved by one reader and hated by another… this inability to be quantified makes writing such a subjective art. Putting a number count on a writing goal gives the writer something to quantify the hard work that they’ve done.

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Found on Garth Nix’s facebook page… haven’t we all been here before?

The old saying goes that you become the master a craft after 10,000 hours of devoted time. Aspiring writers can reach their goal much more easily by starting a daily word count goal instead of a time limit. For example, who can sit and immediately begin writing, only to end their creative work after an hour? Personally, it takes me a while to get into the groove of writing and to find the voice that I desire after a break. I can’t be forced to write quality stories within an hour-long time span. However, if I don’t force myself to sit and write during a certain part of the day, I know I wouldn’t regularly have the inspiration required to write on my own creative flow.

Does a writer’s word count really mean so much in regards to their prowess? How can you tell when a writer is a good storyteller? Writing is so subjective; it is amazing that we all still aspire to become authors! It is important for us to have a writing count/goal because of the lack of other quantifiable assessments of our craft. Word count shouldn’t be an actual designation, however, because the amount of words you put to paper doesn’t mean it is actual quality work. It is instead a means by which we can use to determine our progress towards our own goals. No writer is done learning… no author has mastered the craft completely. And that’s where word count goals come in and why monthly writing challenges are so popular and rewarding.

With the pressure that some of these contests put onto word count, don’t lose sight of the skills that need to be honed and built when you write. Changing voices, trying new styles, working on weaknesses… these should all be considered when you set pen to paper during these challenges. Skill-building tends to get lost in word count goals, so I’ve created a small list of how writers can be more mindful of actually building their craft rather than just vomiting words onto a paper.

Instead of just focusing on word count, try to…:

  1. Pick a word of the day. And try to use it! Sure, you have a story/chapter/poem in mind, but how will you use the word provenance in your subject matter? It’s a challenge! And it grows your vocabulary. Every writer needs a strong and varied vocabulary to further their reader’s interest. Personally, I subscribe to the dictionary.com Word of the Day on my Feedly App (it’s an app that keeps you up-to-date with articles and postings online). You can also just visit the website, get one of those nifty word-of-the-day daily calendars, or just flip through a dictionary and pick a word at random.
  2. Edit! Don’t be afraid to edit your work! I feel like word count gets so ingrained in an author’s mind that they think, “Hey, I’ve finished my work for the day… now I can watch Netflix!” But, wait! Take ten minutes and read through your work and pick up on something that needs to be fixed. Yes, editing right away isn’t ideal because you aren’t subjective enough or removed enough to pick up on the big things that need to be changed, but maybe a quick read-through can show you just how many times your sentences start with the word “the” or how each dialogue ends with “she said.” You can then make a post-it note or highlight certain areas that need attention, so next time you’ll be less likely to make the same mistake. Awareness is the best tool you could have when you’re writing for your word count.
  3. The Thesaurus is your Friend! Building off of the previous tip, many authors have a hard time noticing when they repeat words or when they use the same sounding words in a row. Just go ahead and type “hair” into your finder bar and see how many matches your Microsoft Word can make. It’ll help you see how often you describe your characters with their hair color or how often you mention someone’s hair in their reactions. Change it up! Either replace the word with a synonym or choose another descriptor! It really is that easy, and can help you determine which parts of your writing need to be worked on.  Note: “said” is a bit of an exception (some readers just hate wading through the “she exclaimed,” “he shouted,” “she bit her lip”… sometimes simpler is better). If you feel like searching and replacing “said” with other descriptors, just be mindful of how much verbiage you’re adding to a dialogue and see if it still flows smoothly.

 

That being said, most writers love these challenges, because it gives us inspiration and motivation. I love events like NaNoWriMo and think every author should push themselves hard to finish their book .It is difficult to become proficient at writing, as practice and devotion are the only things that can further your skill.

Who here takes part in these events? Do you think they are worthwhile? Do you judge your progress by word count or by how many styles/genres you’ve managed to practice? Let me hear about it! 🙂 And please check out those links above to the bloggers who have begun their own monthly challenges. It keeps our community strong and gives you motivation on those days/weeks/months that you really really need it! lol

 

Until next time!

Live,

Morgan Paige

A Collection of Thought Bubbles: Outlining VS Freeform Writing

  

Outline Writing VS Freeform Writing: 5 Tips to Enhance Your Preparation

 

I was sitting at my desktop and staring at my monitor, when I realized- I may have writer’s block. 

How embarrassing…

I’ve been trucking through the story that I wrote during last year’s NANOWRIMO, and though I’m getting further than I had expected, I still find myself coming up against a creative cement wall.

This spurned me back to the drawing board of the story, because clearly the characters refused to continue on the path that my mind was paving. And this gave me pause… the story was going so well without an outline, why would it change now that we were more than halfway through?

Outlining and freeform writing are two of the most distinctive yet opposing approaches that an author can take in his or her creative writing. Short stories, poems, novels, all can either stem from a single, blooming idea or a chapter-by-chapter plot that an author dreamed up. Most of us, I’m sure, have tried their hand at outlining. It helps keep the blizzard of ideas in line and also allows us to live halfway in the world that we’re creating. Most authors, like JK Rowling, have their own approach to make sure that they keep their subplots, main plots, and character growths in line without losing a thread in the shuffle.

 

JK Rowling’s Outline
 
However, there are many other authors who approach their stories with a shovel and immediately begin heaping the ideas out onto the page without a clear path to travel… but usually with a destination in mind. People like Stephen King use this approach (and can we say we’re surprised? The man churns out books like we pleebs go through shampoo).

“Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.”-Stephen King

Wow. A little harsh… only because I’m nearly positive no one wishes they were writing a masters’ thesis… But, I digress. Although King’s quote may make it seem like authors are polarized to either be an outliner or not, I feel like there is more of a mix amongst those of us who like to write. I have played at the task of outlining each chapter, but found that it takes a lot of the fun of writing out of it for me, and if I’m not having fun creating it, then who would enjoy reading it?

And yet, with my story I found my content separated by a plain of unmapped territory. So how do I get from here to there? It’s times like these where I need to figure out a step-by-step process of how my characters are going to get where they need to be. Yes, it’s a first draft, but the structure is lacking and that’s messing up my idea of the world and its inhabitants. Time to throw caution to the wind and plan it out!

Despite what some authors would say, I would tell you writers to mix up your approach next time you hit a creative block. Here are some tips just in case you do find yourself in a rut and need that extra push to challenge yourself and your story:

  1. Freeform <-> Outline. Switching halfway through from one approach to another won’t hurt anybody… so why are you afraid? It’s common to feel discomfort when breaking out of your literary comfort zone, but usually stretching these unknown muscles can yield something spectacular. Give it a shot!
  2. Give yourself a time frame. Are you painstakingly trudging away one paragraph at a time? Does something just feel off? Is your project becoming stagnant? I’m never an advocate to give up on a story, and I think changing your approach is a huge way to make something fresh again. Your imagination needs fuel, too. I feel likes story has a first life of about three months… If it’s not growing within those three months, start over with the opposite approach. Maybe an outline can give it life or free form can give it spirit.
  3. Try the opposite approach on a short project. If suggestion number two is too radical, try it out on a smaller project. Are you a short story author? Try a 500 word limit. Do you write poetry? Try a few haikus. Just make sure you take a different creative approach so that you can get a good feel of whether or not ith helps.
  4. Resources are your friend. If you aren’t used to outlining, look up helpful templates or programs that can help keep things in order for you (I like to scour Pinterest for outlines and have made a few of my own that I’ll be posting, and there’s Scrivener, a great plotting program to keep you neat and organized). They’re like the trainer that you never knew you had! And if spontaneous word dumping isn’t your thing, try looking up prompts or images to inspire your creative muse. My favorite website for this is Deviantart where talented people post photos and artwork they’ve created.
  5. Be mindful of your genre. Sometimes, it isn’t you thats the problem. If you’re a prodigy at freeform writing, but you’re writing your first mystery novel, your issue might be the fact that you haven’t neatly tied up every loose end on the page. Getting some structure for a crime thriller or allowing some freedom with your science fiction epic isn’t a bad idea. Just be mindful of what each genre tends to promise their reader and go with that approach.

I hoped this helped a bit! Until next time!

Live,

Morgan Paige

A Collection of Thought Bubbles: Audiobooks

A Collection of Thought Bubbles: Audiobooks

 

In honor of this month’s book review, this thought bubble is a little more of a discussion I’d like to have with you.

I’ve never been an audiobook lover. I hated listening to them in the car as a kid; it just never felt like actual “reading,” which, for me at that age, meant it was a COMPLETE waste of time. I was a purist, plain and simple. Books should be read to you as a child and only as a child, and you can’t count audiobooks as books that you’ve “read.”

To this day, I am confronted with the fact that my mindset is totally at odds with the rest of the world. The audiobook phenomenon has become a booming industry and people are clamoring at book stores to order newly released copies. Audible, the audiobook download service you can get for your phone/tablet/computer, is becoming a staple amongst all generations- most of my friends from college have audible downloaded on their phones as well as their parents.

Audiobooks always felt like cheating to me. You can’t go and watch a movie and say you’ve “read” that book it was based on or read its screenplay, so why does an audiobook count?

I’ve come to realize that this is still a hot button issue within the literary crowds. I’ve seen numerous online discussions about how “audible has me reading 30 books a year instead of 3” followed by the quick retorts, of, “that’s not reading!” It’s not literally reading, that’s true, but because of audiobooks, people are becoming more and more interested in stories/novels in general. It perpetuates movie production, novel production, and author successes. It may not be traditional, but should audiobooks be given the credit they deserve in their contributions towards the reading community?

And, in such a growing industry, there are very few standards in what rates a “good” audiobook and a “poor” one. I realized just this year that a lot of what had turned me off towards audiobooks when I was younger was the boredom that the voice actors instilled in me. I could fall asleep to the sound of their droning… they absolutely killed the excitement of the story for me.

What’s even worse is that when a book is read out loud, you can pinpoint all of the problems in sentence structure, character voice, and the author’s inability to actually tell a story (I know, I’m probably the only one here who strangely pays attention to these things). I mean, the audiobooks ruined the magic of the story for me in such a complete way that I hated and blamed them. It was a mixture of voice actor and author inconsistency that really turned me off to audiobooks.

I realized all of this when I stumbled across the best audiobook I had ever listened to (irony is the best, isn’t it…). It was of course a magical mix of masterful storytelling and skilled voice acting- Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling’s story The Cuckoo’s Calling was the audiobook that gave me hope in the future of audiobooks. It was so beautifully written and orated that I had a hard time keeping my head out of the clouds as I listened to it. I’ve listened to Harry Potter on audiobook and even then I wasn’t as enchanted as I was with this mystery novel. I’ve listened to Gillian Flynn, Lev Grossman, Dan Brown, Haruki Murakami, etc… and everything pales in comparison to Rowling’s and Robert Glenister’s expertise. Glenister has a perfect approach to voice acting for a mystery novel… not too contrived, not too peppy, he brings the entire series to life.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other well produced audiobooks. I’ve seen the lists, forums, and references that other avid readers have suggested and I have yet to delve into them. I’ve seen exultations of praise for Stephen King’s 11-22-63, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files all over the place. Audiobooks vary based on voice actor(s), production quality, sound effects, etc., and can be produced multiple times. For example, Harry Potter was first produced with Stephen Fry as the voice actor and was redone with Jim Dale.

The world of audiobooks is growing exponentially, and I’m not one to pass up an opportunity to grow my own story repertoire. Whether it actually does mean that I’ve “read” the book instead of listened to it doesn’t mean much to me as I have already put a lot of time into physical books, and I feel like I learn a lot when I listen to the composition of a sentence or paragraph. I do not seem to get the same enjoyment out of audiobooks, however, unless there is a perfect trifecta of author/voice actor/production goodness. Am I being too picky? Most likely… but in a growing industry, I think it’s okay to keep your eyes open for improvements.

I’m curious how everyone else feels about audiobooks. Do you have a favorite that I didn’t mention or don’t know about? Or do you have an even more traditional viewpoint on the literary gap between novels and audiobooks?

Until next time!

Live,

Morgan Paige

A Collection of Thought Bubbles: Character, Style, or Conflict?

Thought Bubbles: Character, Style, or Conflict?

What is it that draws you into a story? Is it the way the words flow together, weaving a tapestry of imagined places and things? Is it the characters, their growth and learned altruism? Or is it the drive of the story, what keeps the scenes moving and gives the characters and story purpose?

I’ve come across this question more often than I thought I would, but it is a compelling introspective question for readers like us. It’s easy to say, “I loved the characters in this story,” but did you like the actual story? Were you drawn in by the character’s conflicts and problems? Some things stick out to us as readers more than others and they draw us back into these written worlds.

Some authors/critics actually try to argue that one is more important than the other. It’s true, you have to have conflict to have a book, but what kind of conflict does that mean? There are some books out there like The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison where the main character doesn’t have to fight some big bad guy (even though there are plenty of big bad guys in that story), but it revolves around internal conflict and societal acceptance. Does this count towards conflict?

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And as for characters, what if you don’t like the characters? Do they have to be likeable? Stories can be written with leading characters that have very unattractive traits, or they simply don’t connect with the reader. Can these types of protagonists actually lead a novel to success? In my (humble) opinion, you can see this in the novel The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. His main character Kvothe is widely regarded as a Mary Sue (a character whose world bends to its story line and has unrealistic traits and skills), but his novel is so beautifully written that the prose has been widely regarded as classic in taste.

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Or as for prose and style, can a simply unadventurous, unassuming novel with unlikely characters be worth reading? Can an author’s mastery of the human language and his/her ability to tell stories be the only reason worth trudging through an otherwise uninspiring story? As a fan of classic authors, some have taken stories with simple premises and elaborated on this simple world and turned it into an epic. This month I’ve read The Road by Cormac McCarthy as part of the monthly challenge, and he took such a simple, sad idea and turned it into a thought provoking novel through the simple stroke of a pen. The characters were unassuming, the story simple, but the style was out of this world.

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What is it that makes a novel for you? Is it so black-and-white that you can pick one but not the others?

This issue isn’t simple even though many try to make it so. Not every story can be told the same nor should they be told the same. The above novels are highly regarded for a reason and have touched many lives. I know that I’ve read novels that I didn’t enjoy that fell under a few of these categories: reading about unlikeable characters really strikes a negative cord with me, and having unrealistic conflict really sets off my bullshit alarm. If I smell a hint of weak writing, however, I immediately set the book down. I can’t read something where the author has no idea how to write dialogue or how to use a thesaurus.

If a story neglects any of these three, which one turns you off completely? Or are you able to work past the weakness and still appreciate the story for what it is?

I’m curious to hear what you all think in regards to this month’s Thought Bubble. Any books that you’ve read that particularly remind you of having one particular strength or weakness? Or all three even?

Until next time!

Live,
Morgan Paige