Thursday, September 30, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Clichés


A constant and recurring struggle for me (and many writers, I'm sure) is the avoidance, balance, and/or embracing of clichés in their work. What is a cliché? Typically, it's a tried and tired concept or idea that's used so much that its originality or meaning is lost. This is how stereotypes are born. For example, if I were to mention Japanese Animation (or Anime), what's the first thing that comes to mind? Giant swords? Crazy hair/outfits? Forming balls of energy out of thin air? You get the idea. I've watched a lot of Anime and know that they don't always have these elements, but that was my impression for a long time (thank you, Miyazaki).

No matter the genre, there are unavoidable clichés that you have to deal with (or work around) in your writing. Does this necessarily mean you must avoid clichés? It all depends on your approach. Notice the above picture? It's from the first science fiction film ever made, A Trip to the Moon (1902). The concept of a "man in the moon" is every bit as clichéd now as it was then. However, the filmmakers decided to have the rocket ship land (crash) in the moon's eye, which causes the man in the moon to cringe in pain. They took a clichéd concept and spun it around, and in so doing, they made fun of a cliché. At the time, this generated a hilarious riot among audiences, but they wouldn't have laughed if they had not already known about "the man in the moon."

Making use of clichés for comedy is fun and fairly easy, but what if you're trying to be serious? What if you write science fiction, fantasy, or just fiction? How do you know what's clichéd or not? The first tip is to know your genre and immerse yourself in the already accomplished works of that genre. This, for one thing, will help you avoid what's already been done, or at least give you an idea of how to spin an established concept to make it original. Some concepts never get old (the mentor figure, whether old or not), but the way you do it will help your story stand on it's own.

The second tip is to familiarize yourself with your genre's tropes. What's that? Tropes are like clichés (or rather they are) but they are more or less specific to particular genres. For example, in horror films, how often is the last serving character a girl? This is called "The Final Girl" trope, and is most often used in slasher films (not my cup of tea, and yet I know this stuff anyway . . .). Other tropes (in fantasy) includes the use of a Dark Lord, The Orphan Hero, The Christ Figure, and/or others. These aren't essentially bad to use, they just typically come with the genre. Check out for an extremely thorough breakdown of common tropes used in creative fiction.

The third tip is to understand one very important concept: what may be cliché for one person may not be for another. If you love stories and read tons, you gain experience, thus you are better able to pick up on clichés. Which leads me to one of my favorite quotes (of my creation) - "When you are able to find clichés in just about everything you read or watch, it means you're getting old." Either that or you're a nerd, to which I proudly admit. Having said that, keep in mind that it's not only your genre that you must know well, but also that genre's audience. Assume that they are more familiar with tropes and clichés than you are. The more you explore your genre, the better you will be able to create something new that will wow your audience.

Should you avoid clichés? If you ask me, telling others to avoid clichés is a cliché unto itself. I will simply say, it's up to you. Stories evolve and change over time, but their arcs, from what I've seen, will always be the same.

Thanks for clicking in! See you next week.

I'm David, and I'm taking September down.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Post: Sick, Back, Week on Hold

Normally my updates are up and running Monday mornings, but this has been a off week. My wife is sick and I threw out my back. Darn roughhousing with kids . . . . Things are getting better, but it's not perfect yet, so my writing is currently on hold until we can get things sorted out on the home front. Shouldn't take too long.

In the meantime, I'm happy to report that Chapter 13 of the unannounced YA fantasy novel is done and Chapter 14 is well on the way, not to mention ultra exciting. I've wanted to draft this chapter for months!

I'm David, and I want to hang like a bat.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Surf with Caution

Good day, fellow aspiring writers. If you've come for advice, you've come to a good place. I thought of two topics this week, so I tossed a coin and this is the winner. What I'm about to share is fairly simple and common, and you seasoned computer users and writers might already know this, but my advice is the same for you and younger writers- if you use a computer frequently, or even at all, exercise caution at all times.

The Internet is a vast conglomeration of data and information - but not all data and information exist in safe domains. If you have email, be careful who you share it with and note that if you use it to fill out information to sign up for a site account (like a social networking site), chances are you'll get spammed - or worse - receive emails with malicious software, just waiting to be opened. They say a good writer writes about what they know, but what do writers do if what they want to write is beyond the scope of their experience? For example, I write fantasy. I have no idea what the Medieval times were like, how they dressed, or what their customs were, so how can I write about that? The answer - research, but even research can be dangerous.

I had a close call a few months back when I searched the web for instructions on how to make a medieval princess dress. Thankfully, I had reliable software that blocked the baddies, Trojans, and other awful stuff, but someone out there could be an easy victim without it. So, what can you do? Here's a few ideas:

Your Local Library - libraries can't give your computer a virus. On top of that, they have loads of resources, no matter what topic you're interested in, plus you can grab a few books, look through their indexes, and jot down the information that's pertinent to your story. Be a good sport and put the books on the "return" cart before you leave. Your librarian will thank you.

Wikipedia - let me clarify that if you're writing historical fiction, don't use this website as a resource. Since the articles can be written and edited by anyone, the information is likely inaccurate. What Wikipedia is good for is gaining a general idea for something that you don't know much about. For example, I have a story where a family resides in a watermill. I knew what watermills looked like, but I didn't know how the process worked. With Wikipedia, I was able to learn enough to write a convincing, detailed chapter about the structure, to the point that some readers have asked if I've visited a watermill or knew someone who owned one. Wikipedia is a great and safe tool, but only in a general sense.

Avoid Unfamiliar Sites - if the domain name looks funky or if you've never heard of it before, chances are you're safer not clicking on it. No need for unnecessary risks.

Overall, be safe. Computers are amazing tools, but they can lead to some terrible stuff. No one wants their hard work compromised, so research smart and play it safe.

How do you keep your Internet experience a safe one?

I'm David, and viruses are nasty.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Post: Authorpalooza - Reader Endorsement - New Draft!


Guess what? I have something to talk about for once!

This last weekend was productive. Saturday morning, I browsed through Facebook and noticed a comment left by Brandon Sanderson about "Authorpalooza!" - a gathering of local authors in a single Barnes and Noble bookstore. This just happened to be a few blocks away from my place. Abandon an otherwise lazy Saturday afternoon to mingle with a bunch of writers? Why not? So my wife and I went and had a good time interacting with friends, authors, and making new friends. My wife was finally able to get her Jessica Day George books signed - yay! She is so wonderful in so many ways; laughs, advice, encouragement, you name it.

I'd like to welcome two new Laire followers, fellow aspiring author Shallee McArthur and avid reader Kari Wendt. I met Shallee at Authorpalooza while waiting in line to meet with Brandon Sanderson. So far, she's accomplished three novels in the genre of YA Science Fiction and has a rather "stellar" blog herself. Check it out here:
Kari is the sister of my soon-to-be in-law Katie (her sister is about to marry my wife's brother). Though I felt that The Dragon's Heart was better left on my dusty shelve, Katie had a read and liked it enough to pass it along to Kari, who reads tons. And I mean TONS. She has books, books, and more books! Sadly, we've yet to meet, but she liked my book enough to mention it on her blog! Thanks for the endorsement! Welcome to the Laire, you two.

In light of this unexpected praise and Mr. Sanderson's mentioning that a book entering a publisher's review board is "excellent," (which has happened twice for The Dragon's Heart), I've decided that maybe it's not such a dead-end project after all. Thanks to Jessica Day George's advice, I have a new goal - finish my current novel and revamp The Dragon's Heart before the next Writers and Illustrators for Young Reader's conference. That's 10 months away. Do you think I can ready two books by then? Let's get to work!

Update: Chapter 13 of my current project is drafted (awaiting polish) and The Dragon's Heart has a new prologue. I see now that this novel would work best as a Middle-Grade fantasy, but it's currently at 120k words. That's a bit long for Middle-Grade, huh? The goal is to cut the fluff and make it more like 90k words, and fix a few subtle flaws along the way (beginning/ending, villain, character's main problem). So far, so good.

I wish to thank my readers, my family, my friends and new friends for your support at a time when I was really beginning to think that I couldn't hack it as a writer any more. Because of you, my resolve has been toughened and my determination enhanced. I'm doing this for you and all who love to read!

I'm David, and I'm getting off at this exit!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Personality = Character

A good friend of mine asked a rather intriguing question the other day - how do you create a personality for a deaf mime who is void of all feeling? While this question may have been in jest, there's actually plenty to go on here. A deaf mime who is void of feelings . . . now that makes for an interesting character! More importantly, how do you create a personality? I may have touched on this a little, not too long ago, but I think the topic is worthy of a closer look and deeper scrutiny. We'll get back to the deaf mime in a moment.

First, let's ask what personality is. There's a wide range of definitions out there, but for this column, I'll describe personality as this - the character of a person, noticed by a collection of behaviors and qualities as impressed by others. These qualities are culminated by physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social characteristics or traits. The first step in creating a personality is to generate a character for it.

How do you do this? There is no straight answer, but there are a few points (or questions that I keep in mind) when I begin a new project and need to generate characters to fill the void. First, what is the nature of your story and how many characters do you need to carry out your story? Second, what has happened to these characters before your story begins and how does that affect them at present? Third, how many traits do they need to make your character interesting and appealing? Lastly, will these traits play a role in your story's future and conclusion?

Characters tell the story. You do not. To tell your story effectively, you must imagine, role play, and really get into the mind of your character(s) and understand what they would do when given a certain situation.

Let's go back to the deaf mime. For some reason, I see a person who is a war veteran, who experienced hearing loss from a explosion and saw his buddies die, which rendered him emotionally detached from other people. Maybe this person was born "deaf and dumb," and the life of a mime provided an adequate living, as mimes are not supposed to speak and being deaf allows the person to work without hearing the ridicule of others. As a result, this person never learned how to interact with people, being emotionally withdrawn. Poor fellow . . .

The long and short of it - you create personalities by knowing everything about your characters before your story begins. Does the reader need to know that the mime is a war vet right away? No. That's something the reader will gradually learn as the story progresses, which makes for a more interesting read, that is, if you can get us involved in the character. The writer knows all, which means the writer would (or should) know what the mime would do in any given situation. Below is a link to an excellent list of personality traits, to get an idea:

Creating one personality is like generating a matrix - the possibilities and combinations are endless. Strengths - impairments. Loyalty - distrust. Dopey - grumpy. Notice how, in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, their very names reflect the dwarf's personalities. To me, that makes the story fun. My advice this week - pay attention to the characters you read and watch - actively pick them apart for their personality traits and the reason(s) for these characters to behave as they do. Do this long enough, and you'll be able to generate intriguing, plot-driving personalities in no time. I know you can do it!

I'm David, and Sun Chips make for a good breakfast.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Post: Mid-September Already?

Time has flown since my last post. The feathers outside must be an indication of that, or an unfortunate bird . . .

Anyway, Chapter 12 is finished, reviewed, and done! Chapter 13 is well on the way and should be finished before the week is out. This means I could pull three chapters this month, something I haven't accomplished since my complications of last year. Few things are as exciting as reeving up the fire and rediscovering why I'm doing this. It's my dream - plain and simple - and I want to see it come true, even if it's only one book. I know I have a lot more in me than that, but publishing one book, just one, will prove to me that I can do it.

I've noticed two new followers since I last looked - my pals Micheal and Mary! Welcome to the Laire, you two. Also, I intend on writing a column this week about character personalities, as requested by a good friend of mine via facebook. Come back Thursday!

I'm David, and this water tastes rusty.