Sunday, December 28, 2014

Re-reading the Hobbit: Ch. 1: An Unexpected Party

     19 chapters. 19 days. 1 re-read-through of the Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.

     "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." Those ten unassuming words set the stage for a classic, epic fantasy adventure that has lasted throughout generations. 

     Man, I love those ten words. Most books try to start with a jolt, a sentence that catches your attention and throws you immediately into the action. Don't get me wrong, I adore those kinds of books. I try to start out with eye-catching sentences when writing. But I love how JRR Tolkien is so skilled that he can simply start out the book by telling you, "Hey, there's a hobbit and it lives in a hole", and without you even knowing what a hobbit is (and simultaneously wondering if it is some gross insect because it lives in a hole in the ground), you still want to read on. And then Tolkien still doesn't tell you what a hobbit is. Instead, he goes into this incredibly detailed description of the hobbit-hole. And yet, it works. It never once comes off as boring or unnecessary. You just accept it.

     Tolkien doesn't wait too long to get the story rolling, though. And while we're talking about how the story starts out, let me proclaim my love for Gandalf and Bilbo's conversation. I love it. You know, the whole 'good morning' bit. Ah. Pure genius. I adore that the movie kept that part. If you would paraphrase the whole conversation, it would go something like this:

Bilbo: Good morning.
Gandalf: *thought-provoking answer*
Gandalf: Don't you know who I am?
Gandalf: *Confusing tidbit about 'Gandalf means me' or something*
Gandalf: I want you to go on an adventure.
Bilbo: What? No.
Gandalf: .........
Gandalf: You're going.

     Let's fast forward. The dwarves! The dwarves are amazing! They just keep on coming and coming, and poor Bilbo doesn't know what to do. At least in the book, Bilbo is a lot less anti-social than in the movie. Not that I have anything against anti-social Bilbo - he's precious, really.

     Let's talk about Bilbo for a minute. I don't even know what to say. I love him. He is such an interesting character. He starts out not wanting to go on this adventure at all, but he really develops a lot during the course of the book, as we'll see as we progress. Bilbo is hospitable, nice, and generally pretty polite (except when it comes to adventures). 

     But Bilbo is also hilarious. Bilbo is that friend that mother hens everyone else. "I don't think you should stand on the swings." "Maybe you shouldn't try to hang upside down on the monkey bars or you might fall and hit your head." "I don't think we should go confront a dragon; do you know how bad they are for your health?" 

     All in all, Bilbo is not suited for an adventure. Pfft. Like Gandalf and the dwarves care about that.

    I wouldn't mind if dwarves showed up at my house and wanted me to fight a dragon with them. I mean, they go about it with such good manners: "_____, at your service."

     Like, thank you. If you're at my service, does that mean that you'll clean my house for me? 

     It's so nice seeing Fili and Kili again. They're young, excited dwarves, and they have no idea what's in store for them in the distant future. I won't cry. I won't. *sniff* I'm alright. I'll continue on. 

     And THORIN. The book literally says, "Thorin was indeed very haughty". I never remember it saying that before. Is is just me, or is that hilarious? Maybe it's not. I have a weird sense of humor. But I love that the book admits that Thorin is pretty arrogant. Thorin is so confusing, though. In some ways, he is very polite and kingly, and then a paragraph later Bilbo breathes and Thorin is like "no don't do that you are beneath me". I don't know. Just - Thorin. 

     The two songs in Chapter One are fantastic. My personal favorite is "Over the Misty Mountains Cold", but I love the "That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates" song too. "Over the Misty Mountains Cold" is beautifully written, and I love it even more now that it has been recorded and sung by the dwarves in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey".

     This was a pretty cool start to re-reading the Hobbit. There wasn't too much that I didn't remember, but the things I forgot were awesome to rediscover. 

     As this is the first chapter, I don't have as much to say. It feels refreshing to read the Hobbit again. I can't wait to continue this journey.

     How about you? Do you have anything to add? What's something you like in this chapter? Will you do the re-read with me? Do tell!


Re-reading the Hobbit

19 chapters. 19 days. 1 re-read-through of The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.

Last week, I went to see The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies in theaters with my best friend. After the sadness, weeping, and general feels of the whole experience, a sudden realization hit me - no more Hobbit movies. No more collective waiting for trailers, no more Tolkien characters, no more journeys to Middle Earth. It felt - wrong. Sure, I can always watch the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies again, and I definitely will, but still, no more new things to anticipate. As I walked out of that movie theater, I felt like I had just left Middle Earth - and left my heart there.

So, what could I do to keep the excitement of Middle Earth alive? Why not, after all this hype over the movie saga, go back to the roots of The Hobbit? After all, The Hobbit was what started everything. After watching the movies (no matter how much I adored them), did I lose sight of a little of what made the original book so special?

And so I decided to re-read the Hobbit, a chapter a day, and then talk about it with you guys. Each day, I'll read a chapter. Each day, I'll blog about that chapter, talking about the plot, the characters, the way it differed from the movies, and just random little things that maybe I forgot about.

The countdown starts today.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

5 Reasons Why Books Are Doing Romance Wrong

     I pride myself on reading (and usually liking) a variety of different books: fiction, nonfiction, biographies, autobiographies, textbooks, fantasy, action, adventure, mystery, historical fiction, dystopian, sci-fi, books with animals, mythology, and even a good crime novel now and then.

     But there's one genre that always makes me want to sigh, groan, and hide myself under a rock - romance (I really wish you guys could hear the disgust in my voice right now). Romance - or in other words, the entire YA section.

     I have so many issues with books centered around romance, but here are the five major reasons:

  1. These kinds of books can often get inappropriate. Listen, I don't wanna read that. If you've gotta have a dating couple, then please, let them hug more often or - even better - give each other a fist bump. I'm not above high fives, either.
  2. Cheesy, cliche romances. I feel like this speaks for itself.
  3. The girl always being so needy of her boyfriend and often focusing solely on whether she and her love interest are dating or not. Seriously. Just stop thinking about whether the guy likes you or that other pretty girl. The world is days away from being destroyed and taken over by the villain, child. You got no time for silly stuff like that. 
  4. Couples that are like, BAM, we're 'in love'. Example: Romeo and Juliet. You guys literally just saw each other across the room (didn't even say a word to the other yet, mind you) and suddenly that random guy in the mask is your true love. Yeah, I don't think so.
  5. Vampires. They're blood-sucking creatures, for goodness' sake! You might as well be writing a love story about mosquitoes. 
     And you know what's even worse than romance novels? Yeah, okay, sure, they're icky and all that, but at least they usually tell you, "Hey, there's sappy, cheesy romance in here. Just a warning" and then I can be like "Okay lol nope" and decide not to read that book. I am told ahead of everything and can effectively avoid a waste of my reading time. 

     But then there's those other books. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. What's worse is when a book's author tries to pull it off as some other kind of novel, and then within the first page, shoves some conveniently-attractive love interest into your face, and then the whole book proceeds to be about that. Even just thinking about it makes me mad. UGHHHHH.
     I'm not saying that books can't have any dating couples. Far from that, in fact. One of my OTPs is a pairing of two of my characters in my not-yet-written-or-published book. I'm not even disregarding couples that may not happen in real life - a prince and a peasant girl (Dragon Slippers)? If done right, that can be adorable. Wait, I forgot that that DID happen in real life. Y'know, with William and Kate. 

     I'm just here to plead with authors (and aspiring ones like you) to stop making romances sappy and unrealistic. One of the things I often say is, "You have to make me like both characters separately before you can get me to care about them as a couple". An example would be Percy and Annabeth (from Percy Jackson and the Olympians - yeah, I know, I reference this series a lot, but that's because it's just that awesome). They started out as twelve-year-olds. They weren't even exactly friends at first, but they definitely weren't boyfriend and girlfriend. The first thing Annabeth said directly to Percy was, "You drool in your sleep". Yeah....super romantic. 

     In the first book, I met Percy and loved him for all his dorky, quirky, kindness and bravery. Then Annabeth came into the picture, and I admired her brains, courage, and determination. It's only as the series progressed that I finally started seeing what a cute couple the two would make. And even then, Rick Riordan didn't rush things, which makes me extremely happy. Percy and Annabeth were questmates, friends, best friends, crushes, and then they became the happy sailing ship Percabeth - *ahem* they became boyfriend and girlfriend, is what I mean. Even now, their relationship isn't just 'I like you and you like me'. It's the fact that they work well together and make each other better people.

     Luka and Creel from Dragon Slippers is another great example. It wasn't your typical prince-meets-pauper-and-suddenly-they-love-each-other kind of story. No, Jessica Day George took her time and let their relationship develop. Did Creel see Luka and immediately think, Wow, that prince is really attractive? Yes, yes she did, but the author let us meet Luka and let him be friendly to Creel before they decided they were 'in love'. And by the way, I'm pretty sure that if Creel had to choose between a cute prince boyfriend and being with all of her dragons, she'd pick the dragons, because, let's face it, she's one of the few YA heroines that has her priorities straight.

     All I'm saying, is think before you insert that pointless love interest. Why do these characters like each other? Does it go deeper than outward appearances (which it should)? How do they make each other better people? Are they able to stand on their own without having to completely rely on the other person?

     Well, that's the end of my rant. : P What are your thoughts about this topic? What are some fictitious couples that an author has portrayed correctly? Do tell!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How To Write Girls: For Guys

     I've seen a lot of blog posts and stuff with advice for female authors on how to write male characters (which, don't get me wrong, is really useful, considering I am a girl writer and the majority of POV's that I write are male), but I've never really seen any posts helping out our male writer friends.

     Male writers do sometimes write in a girl's head. Even though I've never read any of his books, I know that John Green has done it. Rick Riordan has and continues to alternate between chapters that switch between a guy's and a girl's mind. Eoin Colfer briefly inserted a few chapters in each book of the Artemis Fowl series that changed to one of the female characters' perspective. C.S. Lewis was somewhat of an omniscient narrator, but he still wrote about Susan, Lucy, the White Witch, and other female characters from their point of views. Even if your whole book isn't through the eyes of a girl, you're still bound to meet up with some female characters, and it's important that you portray them correctly.

     Maybe there haven't really been any blog posts discussing this topic because girls automatically assume that guys should be able to understand us. Well, here's a news flash, girls: we're confusing, especially to the male mind. For goodness' sake, I myself am a girl, and I don't even understand us sometimes!

     So, male writer friends, I have decided to put this blog post together especially for you guys. You deserve a little help understanding how girls think, and since I am one, maybe I can help you out.

     - Girls are emotional beings. Some of us, more than others. It's perfectly okay for your female character to cry -- just please don't reduce them into melting into a sobbing puddle at every other word your other characters say. We may cry, but we're not that pathetic.
     - My dad tells me, and I've heard this from other places too, that guys usually think about one thing at a time. I can honestly say that has almost never happened to me. Like, ever. I don't just have 'thoughts'. I have thoughts that turn into other thoughts that remotely connect to another thought that then reminds me of another thought until finally I stop and go, "Wait...what was I originally thinking about?" This may just be me, but from what my friends have told me, that happens to pretty much all girls.
     - Guys, I know that you can somehow think of nothing. I have no fathomable idea of how in the world you can do it, but I know that you can. Girls can't. I have never met a single girl who can completely clear her mind and think of absolutely nothing. We are physically incapable of doing that. Believe me, I have tried. I end up thinking about not thinking. Like this: "Okay, think of nothing. Am I doing it right? Nothing, nothing....wait, I'm still thinking. UGH! I'm not thinking of anything. But I just thought about that. Aw, man!" Even just thinking about not thinking is stressing me out as I write this. Long story short: girls' minds are always moving. We never stop, we never go blank.
     - Girls usually don't act differently around guys. Some do. Some flirt with like, every single guy they see. As for the girls that are my friends, we don't. We act ourselves around boys. If a girl just wants to be your friend (or an acquaintance), she's probably going to act like 'one of the guys'. That's basically what I do with the guys at my youth group. Unless you're trying to make a point with an exceptionally flirty girl character, please tone all that down. Please and thank you.
     - All girls are different, but some can be interested in things that guys are without being tomboys. I personally love Marvel movies and the Lord of the Rings. Those things are like epic action movies/books, so most times they aren't considered something a girl would like. Would you think that I, being a girl, would get grossed out by seeing Orcs being skewered and beheaded on the big screen? I don't. My sister accidentally found some bones of an animal while she was digging up her garden. I promptly went out and examined them, even to the point of where I wanted to pick them up.

     To give you more specific advice, I'd actually need to know what your questions are and what you want to learn. Please remember that all girls are different! Some girls get grossed out by things that I don't. Some girls hate Lord of The Rings and think it's too violent. Some girls aren't as sensitive as others. We're all different, so remember that the points I have made are mainly from my own experience and what I have seen of others. A particular female character of yours may be the opposite of me - that's okay; these aren't definite molds that all girls fit into.

     So, guys: what do you want to know about writing female characters? Feel free to ask away, and I would love to give you more specified answers. Hey girls writers, do you have any other advice for our male writers? Do tell!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Flawed Characters Are Fantastic Characters

     A common misconception is that readers want perfect characters. Well, as an avid reader and writer, I'm here to debunk that myth. No one - and I mean NO ONE - wants to read about a completely perfect character. 

     Readers want to relate to the characters in one way or another, and not a single person can relate to the flawless complexioned, always-nice, never-gets-into-trouble and always-gets-A's character. This isn't saying that your MC (or any other charrie, for that matter) can't get good grades or be an all-around nice person. But while you're thinking up all the good aspects of your character's personality, be sure to remember their flaws, too.

     I have flaws; believe me on this one. Sometimes I'm too loud or too talkative, and I often think before speaking. I fight with my sisters sometimes. At times I overthink things. All these things are real. You can probably relate to at least one of those situations. If I get into trouble for saying something I shouldn't have and I go to read a book to get my mind off of it, I don't want to read about some perfect person who does no wrong and never makes mistakes. I want someone who tries to be good, but messes up sometimes because they're human (well, they could be some kind of creature, depending on the genre, but still, you know what I mean). 

     Perfect people don't exist, and neither should perfect characters. Don't be afraid that readers will hate your character because they have a few flaws; it'll be completely the opposite. Perfect characters turn out - what's the right word - ANNOYING. Like, I-want-to-smack-this-character-with-a-frying-pan-Tangled-style-and-throw-this-book-across-the-room annoying. 

     The solution? Make your characters have flaws. It doesn't even have to be a lot of flaws; take some of the characters from the Percy Jackson and The Olympians series for example. Percy Jackson's fatal flaw is loyalty - although that's a good thing, sometimes he's so loyal to his friends that he'll forsake saving the world for them. Another PJO character, Nico di Angelo, has problems with holding grudges. Annabeth's is hubris (or pride).

     As for me, I enjoy giving my characters flaws. I know that it makes them more realistic. My MC's best friend is (sometimes!) nice, and he's very talented, but he's a thief, and he tends to be snarky, sarcastic, a bit of a flirt, and can appear heartless. Another character of mine is really a sweet, caring guy, but he tends to come off very arrogant and egotistical. He's also a bit too reckless and impulsive.

     So, long story short, don't make perfectly annoying characters. Don't be afraid to make your characters imperfect. Let your character smart off every once in a while. Let them make mistakes. Let them reach the limit of their patience sometimes. That'll go a long way to making it easier for your readers to fall in love with your characters like you have!

     It's your turn! What flaws have you given your characters? Have you ever encountered a 'too-perfect' character in a book? Please tell!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Captain Consistent

     What do you like most about Captain America? That he happens to have Chris Evans' face? Well...yes, that's definitely an upside. However, the reason why Steve Rogers is such a lovable character is his personality. The epitome of what Americans (and people in general) should be, Steve Rogers is brave, selfless, kind, compassionate, and an all-around good guy. 

     Now, keeping that in mind, let's pause for a moment. Remember how in my last post, I talked about how you should let your characters stay consistent? Steve is a perfect example of that. When we first meet Mr. Rogers, he isn't considered great in any sense of the word. In fact, he's undersized, sickly, weak, and rather...ordinary. Despite all that, Steve stands up for what he knows is right. Although he does get into fights (that he badly loses, may I add), he is not a violent person by nature. When asked if he wants to kill Nazis, he adamantly replies, "I don't want to kill anyone. I don't like bullies; I don't care where they're from." He cares about justice prevailing, but he'd rather get that equality by peaceful means. He's also probably the most selfless person ever - he throws himself onto what he thinks is a real grenade to save his comrades, and he tells his best friend that he wants to join the war because "men are out there laying down their lives. I have no right to do any less." 

     In short, Steve is awesome. He sounds like the kind of main character you want, right? There's good reason for that. It's even better when he is scientifically altered to become all muscular and fast. Yeah, that's nice, but it's still the same Steve inside. He doesn't change; he's still as sweet, kind, and awkward as ever. He still does what he knows is right even if it means putting himself on the line. So, there's my first point:

Characters' personalities often do NOT drastically change. Steve was always an incredibly nice, polite gentleman - becoming Captain Amercia didn't change that. He didn't magically become arrogant and proud because he got taller and started wearing a red, white, and blue suit. 

However, over time, characters' personalities DO develop. As we all grow older, we gain more life experience that shapes who we are. We learn lessons that mold us. The same thing happens with characters. They may still have the same personality, but by the end of the book and/or series, they should've grown and expanded due to what they've experienced. Let's look at Percy Jackson (from Percy Jackson and The Olympians). He starts out as a dorky, troublesome outcast in The Lightning Thief. By the end of the fifth (and final) book in that series, he's matured into a slightly less dorky, skilled, and intelligent (albeit absentminded) young man. He's faced countless monsters, embarked on dangerous quests, and fought a war; of course he's changed a little bit! He's no longer twelve years old; he's grown up. It can be best explained as this: consistent is staying yourself, while developing is yourself growing.

There are some ways that you can get away with dramatically altering your character's identity. The biggest loophole is 'extreme circumstances or events". We're gonna go back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for this one. Here we have Bucky Barnes, best friend of the aforementioned Captain America. After being presumed dead, Bucky is captured by an enemy organization and tortured, brainwashed, and experimented on, shaping him into the Winter Soldier, a fierce assassin who has no regard for human life. Bucky and Bucky as the Winter Soldier are completely different. Pre-war, Bucky is shown as a happy, sarcastic, and charming young man who cares very deeply about the best friend that he sees as his little brother. On the other hand, the Winter Soldier is cold, calculating, deadly, and a merciless killer. So, how did Marvel succeed in completely redirecting his character and still keeping him essentially Bucky?

     Simple. They used extreme events to explain his change of personality. If you REALLY want to change a character's personality to something completely opposite, choose this road. For example, if someone is being controlled, is under the influence of magic (in a fantasy novel), has been tortured, brainwashed, or experimented on, there is a good chance that this will alter their personality and who they are. Other than that, remember to stay consistent and always develop your characters. No one wants a wildly fluctuating character, and no one wants a boring character who stays completely one-dimensional. 

     How are you developing your characters? Have you taken advantage of 'extreme events'? How does your character grow and mature in your book? I would love to hear about it!


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Characters Have Minds of Their Own (And This is Why You Should Listen To Them)

     Let's get our facts straight. We, as authors, create creatures, plots, settings, plants, even entire WORLDS, but we're only controlling about half of the story. Who's governing the rest of the book, you ask? I'm pretty sure your MC and just about all your other characters want to have a word with you.

     No matter how much you might not want to admit it, only sometimes are you in complete authority over your characters. Seriously! They're fictional people, and yet they still manage to make things go their way. Guess what? That's not a bad thing! In fact, that's one of the most useful things about being a writer, because sometimes our characters have way more sense than we do.

     Let me tell you a story (don't groan, this is gonna be awesome). As I planned my second book series, I got so excited about my one character, because he was finally going to reunite with his friend, save the world, and have a better life than before. In fact, I was totally planning for him to be a main protagonist. Apparently he didn't like that idea for some reason, because the next time I turned around, he had turned into one of the villains. I still feel betrayed about that - I mean, sure, I now have fun writing him as the villain, but I had planned such a GOOD FUTURE FOR HIM. *clears throat* Okay, sorry about that outburst. Point is, what I had planned hadn't mattered because he didn't listen anyway.

     Once you get to know your characters very well, you have this sort of sixth sense about who they are. You know how they feel, talk, and act. You know what they wouldn't do or say. The weird thing is, we still try to force those unnatural actions and phrases onto our poor characters. The good thing is, our characters usually won't let us get away with it.

     Have you ever been writing something that your charrie says or does, but it just feels - wrong? Yup, that's your beloved fictional friend, tugging at your mind like "Hello? Remember me, the person who knows what I would or wouldn't say? Why aren't you listening to me?"

     Let's say that you have something really funny and witty for your main character to say in a scene. It's so hilarious that you can't even believe that you came up with it! But the problem at hand is that your MC is neither funny nor witty. In fact, he's a quiet, shy thing that has never cracked a joke in his life. What do you do? You have two options: either scrap the sentence entirely (yeah, it's hard, but it's necessary), or, if you really want to keep it, give it to another character to say (if you have a wisecracking best friend, that's usually a good choice).

     If you are constantly having your character saying and doing things that their personality would never allow them to do, then the reader won't be able to get to know the character because they're always changing.

     However, if you allow your characters to help steer the story (even if it means that a scene or two turns out differently than you want it to), then I guarantee you that they will stay consistent. Staying consistent is not the same as not developing. Your characters should grow and develop over the course of the book, but they should keep their initial personality. My next blog post will be about how to keep characters consistent while letting them grown and expand - and I'm gonna use Captain America to do it. ;)

     It's your turn! Have you ever experienced a time when you were trying to force your character to say or do something (and your character gladly steered you away from that)? What were you trying to make them say/do? How did you correct the mistake? Do tell!