Another Damned Damsel in Distress

In today’s post, I briefly explore unconscious bias and stereotypes. I could easily write 10,000 words about this (and I’ve also touched on it here, here, and here), but this blog is about the writing process, not the social deficiencies of our culture. So, I’ll share a little insight into my own process in the hopes it might help you recognize something you’d like to change in yours.

The title of this post came to me during my morning commute. I’d been thinking about writing my protagonist, which can be challenging when she is a thirteen-year-old girl and I am not. Of course, neither am I a wizard, dragon, slither-wither, or dreddendow. Nevertheless, it’s still something to consider because, in my experience, thirteen-year-old girls tend to be realer those other things, and therefore, people know more about them. In other words, I didn’t want to set myself up for some lazy, shortcut criticism of my story: Oh, another damned damsel in distress story.

A little more context about me. I’m a Gen-Xer, a small-town white kid whose life was 99%-filled with white people until I went to college. The stories of my childhood similarly lacked diversity: the majority had straight white heroes regularly saving women and/or children. Because clearly, helpless women and children give you the most “hero credit”. Unless perhaps you’re saving this baby pig.

230191-Cute-Baby-Piggy

Sorry, helpless kiddos!

Call them tropes, call them trite, or call them tired, I learned a lot about right and wrong from my childhood tales. I also, unconsciously, learned about strength and weakness. As a writer, I’m learning how to, uh, learn from these examples.

Go through this brief exercise with me. Don’t worry, we’re in a judgment-free zone, and no one will know your answers except you. Continue reading

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Writing Exercise #8 – Whimsical Horror

This is post is approximately 650 words, many of them silly nonsense, but limned with a sinister tone, I hope.

I like fun and I like whimsy, and I like them mixed with horror. In the appropriate proportions, of course. Without the proper balance, a story is either too dark or too goofy. It’s something I’m managing in certain parts of my current manuscript.

I think this penchant comes from fairy tales I read in childhood. They’re cautionary stories, of course: stay in bed, eat your peas, don’t lie! They all promise horrible fates to children who fail in some regard. Take Little Red Riding Hood, who was devoured by a slavering wolf before a woodcutter sliced open the beast’s belly to free her.

In deliberate contrast to the horrors of the story, the pages often featured colorful illustrations of cherubic tots venturing obliviously into danger. After a few similar stories, we all knew something bad was coming, despite the innocence of the art. And we loved it. As kids, we were practically watching them through half-covered eyes, gleefully anticipating their demise as we imagined their chubby little legs carrying them toward certain doom.  Continue reading

Tighten Up Your Writing #5

This post is approximately 500 words, and it argues in favor of using many words, even when a single one would suffice.

Recently, I was reviewing a passage in my manuscript that reminded me of a word I’d forgotten. I’m an English language geek, so I like collecting words, even if I don’t always put them on display. Rather, many are crammed into the attic in dusty boxes sealed with cheap tape (feel free to analyze whether this is a metaphor for my brain). In this case, I hadn’t used the term, but it did motivate me to reacquaint myself with it.

It’s a word I think many people will appreciate because it describes something we love: the distinctive smell that follows the rain. The scent is evocative, both to the head and the heart. If you’re like me, you take walks to fully enjoy the experience.

after the rain

PETRICHOR

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That Time I Shared My Writing #2

This post is approximately 400 words and is the follow-up to a piece I wrote about two years ago: That Time I Shared My Writing #1.

nervous kermit

Over the last two years, I’ve shared portions of my book with sixteen ‘trusted readers’. They’ve ranged from family and friends, to coworkers and even one of my wife’s students. Their feedback can be grouped into two categories:

  1. Positive and rewarding (yay!)
  2. Radio silence (meh!)

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The Book’s New Working Title

A 750-word post for those who want a peek into the thought process – in the loosest sense of the term – that a writer puts into naming his first book.

I’ve probably renamed the book a dozen times in the last three years.

At first, I just needed SOMETHING, because I’m writing a book and a book needs a title. It wasn’t even a full title, but sometimes the Muse won’t let you progress until you’ve checked off that box She wants filled. So I’ve named and re-named, never finding something I loved; always promising to figure it out later. I usually followed the typical pattern you see in a book series: “The Lost Princess and the Descriptive-words-that-will-intrigue-readers”. I like the style and I’ll admit I’m heavily influenced by the Harry Potter series, though you’ll see it these excellent series, too: Percy Jackson, Skulduggery Pleasant, and The Spook’s Apprentice (US version shown here).

Unfortunately, I’d been imposing some confusion upon myself, and I just hadn’t been able to get past it. Because I was too in love with my own idea.

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Inspiration: the Star Wars soundtrack

This post is approximately 900 words and focuses on one of my favorite topics: Music. Ooh, and Star Wars.

Star Wars reel-to-reel 1You won’t be surprised that Star Wars has been hugely influential to this 40-something writer. It’s second only to family in that regard. I’ll probably write about that on some future date. A large part of my adoration/zeal/mania is the soundtrack. I’ll get to this in a moment, so please bear with me while I set the stage, sounding like an old man as I do so.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have streaming services that allowed us to watch any movie when we wanted. We didn’t have cable. VCRs were around $1,000 and video tapes were $100.

I grew up twenty miles from the nearest movie theater, which doesn’t sound like much these days, but when you’re on the edge of the North Dakota prairie, you don’t make a lot of trips “to town”. Back then, you saw a movie once, and you might never see it again. If you were lucky, one of your three TV channels might air it, though your rooftop antenna was at the mercy of the elements. Yes, yes, first-world problems.

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Wonder – Discovery – Adventure

I started this post in June, but set it aside as part of the writing break I described in my last post. The title comes from three words I wrote as they came to me. Behind my office desk, I might refer to them as ‘guiding principles’ or ‘fundamental values’. But we’re talking about writing today, so no stuffy corporate phrases allowed!

macbook pro beside white cup and saucer on table

Here’s what they really are. They are the heart of Tildy’s character, and therefore, the heart of her story. Of all the words in the English language that I could use to describe her, these three are all I need. Everything I have written so far – and everything I will write – needs to convey this or I haven’t adequately transported the reader.

The amount of thought writers put into their works might surprise people. Using a scientific measuring tool known as ‘my gut’, I’d estimate nearly half of my time is spent thinking about the story. Yeah, it’s not all butt-in-chair, typing away like a half-crazed hermit. Whether I’m walking in to work, driving, or waiting in line for coffee, I’m thinking about where the story is going. What happens beyond the first book? Am I doing my female protagonist justice? Is it marketable? There are myriad questions, and if a writer isn’t focused, it’s easy to deviate the story too far from your original intent.

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