Fiasco Friday: In Lamentation

I should preface this terrible poem with the acknowledgement that I do not care for coffee. Caffeine does nothing for me, and you have to fill a cup with a higher ratio of sugar and cream than actual coffee to get me to enjoy it. Nevertheless, I did go to college and was surrounded by coffee-lovers. Just for fun, I wrote this poem one night in sophomore year of college. Continue reading

January Update

What a wonderful year 2015 was! It was my first year of full-time employment, the first full year in which I wrote 2000 words a day (and every day, period), and the first year in which I applied myself to editing one of my first drafts. I can’t wait to see what comes in 2016!

The following data is mostly for my own gratification, because who doesn’t like to see his own stats?

2015 Overview

Words Written: 1,194,182

Most Prolific Month: November

Most Words in a Month: 425,524

Most Words in a Day: 28,090

Most Words in a Non-NaNo Day: 4,624 (10/21/2015, my dad’s birthday)

Fewest Words in a Day: 2,002 (5/14/2015)

Average Words in a Day: 3,271.731507

Started Projects: 20

Finished Projects: 12 (6 novels, 6 short stories)

A great year overall. On some days the writing was so easy it seemed to take only a few breaths to finish. Then on other days it felt like running a marathon backwards while juggling torches (I do not recommend attempting this to confirm the comparison). Perseverance, however, always prevailed. I’m glad to have tried it, and I look forward to even better stats this year!

Why is YA Dystopian Literature So Popular? Part II

As a continuation of an earlier blog, I decided I would delve a little deeper into what makes dystopian fiction so popular, especially since I kept most of my notes from college on the subject.

Similar to paranormal romance in which the hero or heroine finds satisfaction or fulfillment in someone existing on the fringes of the character’s society and/or reality, dark fiction tantalizes readers with the thrilling question of their own survival. In a shadowy way, it is a perverse carnivalesque. Instead of asking if we can get away with breaking the rules, we’re trying to discover if we can get away with our lives. While the stakes are not as high for us as they are for the character, our vicarious experience as readers provides us with the breeding ground for a fantasy in our minds: how we imagine we would—really, how we would like to—react to oppressive government.

We seek a certain freedom in something scary, a freedom from the constraints society and the ever-present realization that we will one day die place on us. While we recognize the benefits of the security government offers, there is still a measure of restriction.

This is perhaps why people of even older ages can relate to young adult fiction, and particularly post-apocalyptic stories in which government rule—or, really, any kind of code—is thrown into upheaval. In everyday life, the restrictions we accept in return for “security” may make us feel, at a subconscious level, as if we are not fully independent adults. In reality, the laws which govern our society and effect the efficient orderliness of everyday life (traffic laws, contract laws, age limits, etc.) are of our own construction—they are not natural.

Relinquishing our freedom to break those laws is the price we pay to take advantage of the accompanying security, both from outside threats and from punishment for the transgression of those laws. Underlying all of this is a kind of restlessness in which an individual recognizes that the status quo is insufficient or defective. Sometimes our frustration with all that is wrong in the world translates, in our fantasies, to the demolition of the world system entirely. The possibility of working from the ground up on a clean slate can be more appealing than trying to remediate the world’s perceived injustices. Dark fiction gives us the ability to imagine bypassing social laws and testing ourselves against the greater laws of nature that accompanies the breaking of human rules.

There appears to be a societal preoccupation with individual control of one’s life circumstances. Realistically, there are far too many variables for such a thing to be possible, but that doesn’t deter us from fantasizing about it. As one of my English professors in college said, our society is one in which individual freedom is equated with individual agency. It is an agency, however, that is confined by our own abilities and responses. At some time or another in our lives, we like to envision ourselves the heroes, whether that daydream involves saving the world or returning a lost wallet. By taking it a step further and making our agency responsible for our survival, we have the ability to inspire a what-if whirlwind of adrenaline.

Any discussion of agency must include a mention of chance and how a character’s agency is affected by it, and to what extent. One must remember, however, that the events and the characters exist in a novel, planned by an author, who left nothing to chance in the lives of his characters by virtue of the fact that he controls them and that they are merely figments of his own imaginative agency.

TL;DR: Dystopian fiction is popular as a relatable psychological thrill ride for readers.

Can you tell I was an English major?

*Featured image courtesy of tigerlaohu on DeviantArt

Writing for Your Audience

As I review my manuscript and the edits that I’ve already made to it, I am encountering a major issue.

I am not writing to my audience.

For background, my WIP, temporarily titled Cursed, is geared more towards mid-grade readers. When I wrote the story, however, I wrote it for me. That’s fine, and that’s the way I wanted it to be (after all, as the author, I need to enjoy my story before anyone else can). There are several aspects of my “writing for me” writing voice, however, that do not translate well into the mid-grade reading level.

It’s important to make sure that your readers can understand what you’re saying without having to dart to the dictionary (or Google, nowadays) to figure it out. A few words here and there that might throw a reader can be healthy, couched in sufficient context, but a string of them can cause confusion. An example from my current edit in progress:

A few people glanced at me; some celebrants shook their heads, and I heard a bookie quip to a bettor, “That one’s a sure loss.”

At face value, this is not a bad line (even in spite of the semicolon). But how many ten year olds are going to know what a bookie is? Quip might get by, as well as bettor, but it depends on how advanced the reader is, and I don’t think my eleven-year-old niece would be able to tell me what either of them meant (well, she knows what quip means because it’s my dog’s name). Other dubitable words in my first chapter include verdant, accoutered, and demure.

Another aspect of my writing that I have encountered as a potential problem is the relative maturity of the main character. Because I am introspective, my characters tend to be as well, but so far the main character of this particular project has an almost disillusioned sense of the world. That does not fly for someone of her age (15) and with her experience, and especially not for a mid-grade reader.

How does one get around this? I’ve been waffling on the ages for both the main character and my target audience. When I was editing the manuscript without regard for target audience, I was lost. Now that I’ve decided to fix it firmly at a mid-grade level, I know what it is for which I must watch.

Have you struggled with aligning your writing and content to your audience? How did you reconcile them?

The Wishing Tree

Two nights ago, I took my mom to the local botanical conservatory as a birthday gift to view the “Lights in Bloom” festival offered there for the holidays. The gardens, which are no small patch, were lit with Christmas lights in creative interpretations of flora, draped over actual plants (monstrous banyan trees, extensive succulents, lush orchids). The evening was balmy, boasting little breeze, the slight tang of sea salt, and the waft of cinnamon from a snack stand.

In the extreme corner of the property stands a ficus religiosa tree, called the Bo tree (short for Bodhi, which means enlightenment, as it was supposedly under this type of tree that Siddhartha Gautama, known better as Buddha, attained his enlightenment). For the event, the gardens called it the “Wishing Tree.” Visitors could write wishes on provided ribbons and tie them to the tree amid the strands of circling lights.

Because we went to the event on the last day it was open, the tree was covered in hundreds of wishes. There were the funny ones (“I wish I had a magical unicorn,” “I wish I had a Girl Scout Cookie Maker”—it is my opinion that this second wish is perfection). Close to seventy or eighty percent of them, however, had to do with health and happiness, and about forty or fifty concerned prosperity. Children wrote for their families to be happy, people wished for lasting relationships and marriages, the unemployed desired steady work.

This is, in itself, telling of the universality of our dreams, but more powerful were the individual, vulnerable, and sometimes heartrending wishes: “I wish Danny would love us again,” “I wish Kate’s cancer would disappear,” “I wish I could love my parents.”

Why am I writing about this? Because stories are everywhere. They are in every life, in every hope, in every experience. Behind each of the wishes on that tree, from generic to specific, are stories of people’s lives, hopes, dreams, fears, sins, desires, values, and souls. We live and breathe stories. Some of us feel like we have comparatively little to tell, and some of us feel like our stories aren’t worthwhile, that they mean nothing.

They mean everything. Stories are accounts of the human condition; any human can consider his or her life a compelling story precisely because it is his or her story to tell, and no one else’s. Many times, authors (including myself!) get caught up in writing about the plot and tend to neglect the characters, but more often than not, it is the characters—the people—who make the story come alive.

Next time you have encountered writer’s block, whether it concerns a new novel idea or a development in your story, look around you. Talk to who you can, learn what you can, and draw inspiration from the stories that are playing out around you, including in your own life.