Posted in books, creative writing, lessons learned, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Lessons Learned: Life of Pi

I watched the movie first, and really enjoyed it, so I figured I would read the book, since there’s always so much left out of the movie version of any book. This is one of those very rare times where I actually preferred the trimmed down movie version.

life of piFor those who haven’t read or seen Life of Pi, it’s about a young man who survives his ship sinking in the middle of the sea during a journey from India to Canada. He makes it to a life boat, but finds himself in the company of several of the zoo animals his family was transporting…including a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

What I loved about this story was the use of extended metaphor to tell Pi’s story of survival at sea with Richard Parker (I won’t give away what that’s a metaphor for in case you haven’t seen/read it). It’s not a commonly used tactic in modern fiction, and if you’d like an great example of it, read this book. Or watch the movie.

How to write an extended metaphor is not the lesson learned from this book, however.

Not overloading your reader or being condescending to them is the lesson learned.

c4223-robotcartoonInfodumping is often a struggle for writers who do in-depth research for a book. You found out all these awesome things about whatever and now you HAVE TO SHARE THEM ALL! Unless you are writing a non-fiction book about your topic that is meant to give a detailed history of whatever, please, please, please for the love of all things bookish DO NOT vomit up every seemingly fascinating tidbit of research you uncovered while preparing to write your book.

Listening to an audiobook, you can’t really skim, which makes endless amounts of information you’re not particularly interested in even harder to get through. I listened to Life of Pi and simply had to take a break when chapters went on and on about various animals, their habits and traits, mating rituals, etc. I started listening to the book to find out more about Pi’s journey, not to hear a dissertation on animal husbandry.

Focus on what your reader wants out of your story, not just on what you want to tell them.

girl-868784_1920I also struggled to listen at length to the religious discussions, which I usually enjoy quite a bit. I think religion is a fascinating topic and enjoy learning about many different religions. What I didn’t enjoy was, again, too much straight information that took me away from the story, and the sometimes condescending way the information was presented. I don’t hold with any particular religion, but I was still bothered by the sense I got that if a reader didn’t agree with the author’s opinions on eating meat, practicing multiple religions at once, or who or what God or gods might be they were simply wrong or not as smart as the author. I enjoy learning about how others view God, religion, the Universe, etc., but in a way that invites thoughtfulness rather than looking down on others’ beliefs or viewpoints.

Don’t talk down to your reader.

While I enjoyed the story overall, I definitely prefer the movie version, which focused the point of Pi’s journey as a struggle to understand faith and the meaning of life when faced with tragedy. If something you want to put into your book doesn’t add to the story or unnecessarily turns readers off, there’s a good chance it doesn’t need to be there.

Posted in creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing tips

Fiction Vs. Reality…And the Author’s Responsibility

I was going through my list of drafts in my blog roll and found this title but no content. I think there was a specific review or article that inspired this debate, but I can’t remember what it was lol!

Either way, it’s an interesting topic.

Typewriter illustrationSeveral years ago on a car ride my family and I started listening to “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. I downloaded it from Audible after only a cursory glance at the summary and checking the reviews. So, it wasn’t until several hours into the book that my husband and I both turned to look at each other and asked, “Is this book a true story?”

Why ask that question?

Because it was too unbelievable to be fiction!

Louis Zampirini’s life was quite literally unbelievable in many ways. As history, it’s fascinating and incredible. As fiction, readers would have rolled their eyes at how many dangerous and crazy situations he got into and survived! If you haven’t read the book, please do, you’ll understand so much better what I’m talking about.

So, this question is…where is the line as a fiction author? How do you balance crafting a compelling and engaging story without making it unbelievable? Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years.

1. Characters lose more often than they win.

Depressed woman portrait

Sure, most days in reality are pretty routine, and we all have those days where everything just goes right. Is that interesting to read about? NO. In real life, maybe the boring days and good days are the norm, but the days and weeks we struggle and fail and do stupid things and hurt the people we love are the ones that push us to grow and do better, or maybe to give up and throw our hands in the air. Readers are pulled in by the struggle. They can connect and empathize with lousy days and bruised emotions.

2. There are only so many times you can win or escape.

galaxy questBe mean to your characters all you want. Kill your darlings, right? However, if the end to every situation is a predictable close call or last second escape, readers will not only be annoyed they’ll lose interest. Have you ever watched Tim Allen in “Galaxy Quest”? They parodied this concept beautifully when the alien ship built to model the TV series spaceship is designed to stop its self-destruct sequence at 1 second because “that’s what always happened on the show.” It’s funny because we all now how irritating that “last second” save becomes after a while. While there are rare stories, like Zamperini’s, where people really do beat all the odds and survive the worst situations, most people fail and miss chances and get hurt.

3. Going through traumatic experiences have lasting effects.

unbrokenLouis Zamperini survived an incredible amount of danger and horribleness in his life, BUT there were deep scars left behind because of what he suffered. The last third of the book that deals with the aftermath of being tortured in a Japanese prison camp is very, very hard to listen to because the lasting damage is so real. I’ve read to many novels (especially YA) where the main character has some tragic past or experiences something truly awful…and bounces back like it was nothing. This is not one of those areas where reality needs to be downplayed. Let your characters be as broken as they need to be. Emotional scars are something we all understand. Characters need that element of reality to ring true with readers.

4. Romance has more leeway, use it.

Most people are fairly rational, even when it comes to relationships. Love can conquer all in movies and romance novels, but real people often give up on difficult relationships and choose not to take risks. Now, I’m not saying all romantic stories have to be 100% HEA, “Enchanted” style storylines. What I am saying is that in romance readers  expect a little more of a break from reality. Let your characters make rash decisions or fall too hard too fast. It’s okay if their choices wouldn’t be completely rational or logical in real life. A lot of romance readers want the escapism, the fantasy. Don’t go overboard, but bend reality a little when it enhances the love story.

Enchanted

Balancing fiction and reality is tough, because the line between captivating and irritating a reader can be thin. Stretch reality when it enhances the story, not when you want an easy way out of a situation.

Posted in books, classic literature, lessons learned, reading, writing, writing advice

Lessons Learned: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I’ve been on a quest to read some of the classics I should have read by now. Actually, I listen to them on audiobook while I run, but same difference. I wanted to read classics not just so I know what people are talking about when these books come up, but because reading is one of the best ways to improve your writing, so why not learn from the masters?

As Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I’ve got the writing a lot part down, but I’ve neglected reading lately, particularly classic literature.

stephen-king-read-a-lot-quoteIn 2017 I’ll continue my quest, and share you all what I’m learning along the way.

So, on to Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”

2017-01-03-03-58-11This was a different type of book than I’d normally pick up, but my friend Denise recommended it so I thought I’d give it a try. This is a coming of age story, but it doesn’t really have a focused plot. The reader simply follows the characters’ lives for a certain period of time. I have to admit, it wasn’t one of my favorite books for that reason. I like a clear-cut storyline I can follow.

However, I found the book absolutely fascinating from a historical perspective. If you want to know what early 20th century life in Brooklyn was like, read this book! I don’t write historical fiction because it is way too much work. I’m not willing to put in the research, time, and effort to do it justice, so I leave it to those more capable. If I were ever going to write historical fiction, though, I’d use this book as a guide.

Aside from the careful attention to detail in this book that made it so fascinating, one of the most poignant lessons I learned from this book was the importance of writing realistic characters, and I mean realistic to the point of almost being painful. Because this is a historical fiction novel meant to capture the great difficulty most poor Brooklynites faced in the first few decades of the 1900s, it truly delves into the awful situations of the time.

***Spoilers head***

There were times the family has so little food, they would play a game pretending they were explores at the North Pole waiting for supplies to arrive-slowly starving in the mean time. Sometimes the rescue didn’t come quickly.

The mother, Katie, admits not only that she loves her son more than her daughter because he is an easier child and different enough from her that she can understand him, but also that her marriage choice has left her facing a bleak future of staying with her drunkard husband and carrying the family largely on her own.

Francie, the main character, is often told by others that she’s barely pretty enough to be considered passable. It breaks your heart when she falls for the first guy willing to dote on her and ends up bitterly heartbroken when she realizes how cruel people can be.

The handsome, charming Johnny, a young man teen girls dream of being swept off their feet by doesn’t turn out to be Prince Charming at all. He’s a drunk who folds under pressure, never wanted the children he has, and despite loving his family is incapable of being the father or husband his family needs and deserves, and dies young and penniless.

The early 1900s in Brooklyn were a harsh time period. Betty Smith doesn’t sugarcoat it to give readers a nice, feel-good story. She highlights the unfair struggles real people face, the crushing mistakes they make, the regret they face over unrealistic or selfish choices, and the often bleak hope they hold onto that things will get better.

Lesson learned: If you’re goal is to tell a realistic story, develop characters who are deeply flawed, make choices they regret, face unfair situations, and are sometimes unlikable. In other words, write real realistic characters.

Posted in writing, writing advice, writing tips

3 Tips for Researching #Paranormal (for your writing) #research #podcast

For Halloween, I decided a paranormal themed podcast was in order! Read the transcript or listen to the podcast for tips on researching paranormal for your writing and incorporating what you learn into your story.

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The blending of fiction genres has led to a variety of paranormal subgenres, from paranormal romance to paranormal military fiction. Readers love paranormal fiction, but they expect it to be either factual or wholly unique. Now, when talking about factual paranormal fiction, what do I mean? I mean researching the common theories, terms, mythos, and culture. Writing paranormal may sound as easy as throwing in a few ghosts or vampires. Writing paranormal that truly draws in readers takes a little more than that. Today I’ll discuss how to research paranormal and incorporate what you learn into a convincing story that will capture reader’s attention.

Research

How do you find reliable information on your chosen paranormal topic? That’s a tough question, because when you type “ghosts” into a search bar, you’ll get anything and everything. There are two important aspects of researching the paranormal for a work of fiction.

First:  You’re not looking for a scientifically proven set of facts. You’re looking for the general consensus among a community of believers. What are the hallmarks of belief in ghosts? What do most accept as standard and what are the outlier theories? What is dismissed outright? Talk to people who actually believe and participate in the culture. It’s important to understand the core beliefs of a paranormal topic in order to ground your story in the basics. Then you can take it where you will.

Second: Learn the culture. Given that I’ve been working of The Ghost Host: Episode 2 lately, I’ve been researching ghosts, ghost hunting, and concepts of the soul and afterlife. Even though Echo doesn’t need as many physical tools as the average ghost hunter who can’t see ghosts, it’s important that she knows what others are using to confirm her talents and explore their own paranormal experiences. I need to know about EMF, EVP, protocol for séances, what herbs are involved in ritual cleansings, and more. Know the terminology, tools, and implements of your topic so your character can convincingly belong to that world.

Applying what you’ve learned

The tough part of research is that you learn thousand things when you only needed to know about one. A mistake writers sometimes make is trying to cram everything they learned into their book. Just because a reader is interested in ghosts doesn’t mean they want a chemical breakdown of why salt disrupts spiritual energy.

When incorporating your research into your stories there are two questions to ask:

Is this integral to the plot? If it is, blend your research into the story as needed. Don’t info dump. Give the reader only what they need to know in each scene in order for them to suspend disbelief and stay involved in the story. Add research as you would leave pieces of a breadcrumb trail: Just enough to follow along.

The next question you want to ask is: Will this help create a believable setting or world? In The Ghost Host, I mention that one of the characters sleeps with a hex bag under his bed. Other than a brief mention of what “might” be included in a hex bag, I don’t go into any more detail. The story itself doesn’t deal with hex bags. I used it only to add to Kyran’s character and illustrate that he comes from a family who believes in the occult and doesn’t think twice about what others would consider odd.

If a bit of research doesn’t enhance the story or help with world building, save it for something else.

Suspend your own disbelief

Writing paranormal fiction, by its very nature, requires authors to write in a way that convinces readers to put aside typical logic and science and accept the unexplainable as fact. You can’t convincingly do that unless you as the writer can do the same thing. Now, just because you write about vampires doesn’t mean you have to believe in them. You do, however, need to believe they could exist in the world you’ve created in order to convince a reader to believe.

This requires the paranormal aspects of your story to hold equal weight with the plot and characters. A brief mention of one character believing in something paranormal during the course of plot and character development doesn’t constitute a complex blending of story and paranormal. If the main resolution of the story hinges on the paranormal, it can’t come as a surprise to the reader. No one likes to get involved in a coming of age story only to have a horde of ghosts jump out at the end to resolve some critical plot point. Trust me, it happens.

Even in “The Sixth Sense” where the twist is that Bruce Willis is in fact a ghost, the entire storyline revolved around the viewer believing that ghosts are real and involve themselves in the world of the living. Had there been absolutely no mention of the paranormal and the story focused only on a young boy receiving counseling for behavior issues, only to have Willis suddenly figure out he’s a ghost with unresolved issues and the boy knew it the whole time, would have been confusing at the least.

Just as when an author researches another culture, specific location, scientific breakthrough, or historical event, due diligence is required in order to fully capture what they are researching. There are many people around the world who believe in the paranormal. If you intend to write an authentic account of someone experiencing paranormal phenomena, treat it the same way you would write about anything else. Your fiction may be someone else’s real beliefs, and they’ll spot lazy or halfhearted work a mile away.

research-paranormal-wpr-long

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing tips

Genre Tropes are like Bunnies

To listen to the Write. Publish. Repeat. podcast version, CLICK HERE.

2015-04-21 09.07.18Just to clear up any confusion right off the bat, bunnies are the worst! Sure they may look cute, hopping around with their cotton tails and twitchy noses, but it’s all a trick. They will destroy your grass by eating it down to the roots and by peeing and pooping on it like mad-which also kills the grass. They will also gnaw off the bark of your fruit trees, which is not good for them at all, and those freaky jackrabbits’ giant creepy teeth, I’m pretty sure, could chew through your ankle if it got the chance.

Bunnies are NOT cool.

And, neither are overused genre tropes.

What is a trope?

Trope DefinitionA trope is a familiar and repeated (aka overused) symbol, meme, theme, motif, style, character or thing (anything) that is spread throughout a particular genre.

The problem with tropes is not necessarily that it kills your story, like bunnies will do to your lawn, but they have the potential to kill your readers’ interest in your story.

How?

When a reader picks up a book and sees the same types of characters, the same pattern behind a storyline, the same hints that his 16-year-old nobody is destined to save anything and everything by discovering their deeply buried inner strength/power/importance/etc., they start to see how the story is going to end, because well…they’ve read it before. Maybe the names have changed, or the setting, or the mythology, or whatever, but if the overall concept is something every other genre writer is using, readers are going to pick up on that.

Is that to say you can’t ever write using some of these tropes?

Blonde Upper BodyOf course not. The key is to use them in their barest form. Strip them down to the essence of what makes readers connect with the trope to begin with, and add from there.

Weak, friendless, unimportant teen becomes the hero? Check. We’ve all been there, so we identify with those emotions and frustrations, and especially the hope for something more.

Self-conscious, doesn’t understand her own worth heroine who thinks she’ll never find love. Again, check. Everyone has those moments of thinking they aren’t good enough to find their happily ever after.

The problem with tropes isn’t that they exist and are used. The problem arises when writers stop there, and don’t expand, delve deeper, experiment, make it unique.

If your male lead has commitment issues, give him a REAL reason for his fears or avoidance. Being too awesome to be tied down isn’t going to cut it in most cases.

Your teen hero is going to save the world? Fabulous, but make him or her take a different path to get there than the typical camp/school/mentor/etc.

What new, exciting, difficult, gut-wrenching ways can your characters develop into their final self? It doesn’t have to be so complicated that solving the prime number equation looks easy, but it does need to be unique to your story, character, and plot.

Working with teen writers over the summer, most start out with fan fiction. It’s a great place to start, because a lot of the difficult world and character development is done for them and they can focus on the story and figuring out their style. It’s a great learning experience, and it’s okay that their stories often end up being a mishmash of all their favorite books, because they’re working on their craft.

However, as that writing skill develops, we need to move away from well-worn tropes and begin experimenting with new, fresh concepts that will take a story from something frustratingly familiar to one that stands out from all the others.

So, don’t let the bunnies destroy your grass, and don’t let your story get passed over because it’s just more of the same.

Open Blue Book

Posted in books, publishing, self publishing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

#AuthorChat with @TS_Krupa

Last week I was able to try something a little different!

https://blab.im/ts-krupa-authorchat-with-delsheree-gladden” target=”_blank”>TS Krupa, author of “The Ten Year Reunion,” invited me to chat on a new-ish platform called Blab. The neat thing about this is that you get audio and video, split-screen, as you watch the chat session. It was so much fun!

The replay of the chat is stored on the site and available to watch at any time!

https://blab.im/ts-krupa-authorchat-with-delsheree-gladden

author chat

Posted in writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

The Fear of Imperfection

One of my students this spring was interested in writing for magazines, but felt held back by her fear of putting something out there that wasn’t perfect. She wanted my advice on how to overcome that.

Honestly, that’s a really hard thing to give advice on, because every writer is different.

I’m going to attempt it anyway!

#1: Realize no one’s work is perfect

DeathtoStock_Clementine9.jpgYou’re not the only one who makes mistakes. We all do. While I was on a panel at Denver Comic Con last year, we were all asked what was the biggest mistake we ever made in a book. Jim Butcher was on that panel as well (which was seriously the highlight of that entire weekend!) and he said when writing the early Dresden Files books, he didn’t have the income to visit Chicago, where the books are set, and wrote a scene with characters meeting in the parking lot of the baseball stadium. Problem was, that stadium was built before the majority of people had cars. Hence: it has no parking lot.

If you need more examples…check out THIS LIST of the best/worst plot holes in movies. You could literally spend all day watching or reading similar lists.

#2: Waiting on perfection = Missed opportunities

Perfection is unattainable. In life, and in writing. No matter how many times you read your article, book, or story, there will be something you want to change, tweak, fix, whatever. It will never be done. At some point, you simply have to be DONE. Do your best, and then put it forward. I know authors who refuse to ever read their own books again once they’re published. If they do, they’ll want to go back and change it.

#3: You’re your own Worst Critic

This can be a good thing when working through plot holes or character inconsistencies. When it comes to nitpicking your own writing, you will drive yourself crazy before you’re satisfied. Writers are often too close to their own work by the time they get to that final stage of editing. One word or comma likely won’t make the different between success and failure.

#4: Failing is OKAY

If you put out an article or book and it gets ZERO view or buys, is that the end? No, it’s a hurdle you just jumped over. Whether you breakout from day one or have to slog through mediocrity to achieve something better (like the majority of us) you’re on your way. That typo in your first paid blogpost, or character you forgot existed and was never heard from again, are a right of passage. We’ve all done it, and laugh about it later.

Never putting anything out there DOES mean you’ll never have to face rejection. It also means you’ll never get that message from a reader who loved what you wrote and wanted to thank you for sharing it with them. Those come a lot more often than the obnoxious ones pointing out that one typo.