Monthly Archives: October 2013

If I’m Not Normal, What Am I?

Do you think you could define yourself using one word? Chances are you couldn’t. Certain things about you may be “normal” or “weird” or “geeky”, etc., etc. but, just like characters, no one person is defined by a single label. We’re made up of far too many pieces of our own unique puzzle to truly be just typical or normal.

Bamboo PandaAt first, when creating a story, we tend to typecast our characters. For example, there are the main “good guys/heroes”, the main “bad guys/villains” and then a supporting cast of characters that could be made of up of the “normal”, the “weirdo”, the “sweetheart”, the “queen B”, the “insensitive jerk”, the “nice guy”, the “double-crosser”, the “nerd”, and that one mysterious “creepy” character that just makes your skin crawl. Speaking of which, what is with that creepy character and why do most stories we read have one? (And yes, we have a creepy character in our story…more than one actually, LOL!).

The point I’m trying to make here is that often, when we initially create characters, we usually give them defining characteristics (i.e. hair color, eye color, age, height, gender, possibly a brief background story, and personality traits such as happy, grumpy, sleepy, dopey, bashful, and any other dwarf that’s not Doc, etc.). This is a natural part of the creation process when we’re first fleshing out the story and we need to know what kind of role this character will play, how they will impact the story, and what they will do. In other words, we are defining who they are, as well as their purpose.

However, for any of you who have written a story, what you’ve likely discovered is that once you move away from the bullet points that have so far defined your character, and you actually begin writing, this character is no longer a stereotype that perfectly fits into the original parameters you created for them. They take on a life of their own and become so much more than a “good guy” or a “bad guy”. They become complex. They develop unplanned idiosyncrasies and many other components that make real people individuals and unique from one another.

Real people are not one-dimensional, which is why characters in a story shouldn’t be one-dimensional, either. If a character is so superficial they can be summed up with a single defining word, they’d be pretty boring in my opinion. They would hold no mystery, because you would always know what they’re going to do, and if you can always predict a character’s next move without fail, you’re in for one very boring read.

I don’t know about you, but as a reader, I respond to characters with attributes I can relate to and who also have traits I don’t personally have, but I find fun, exciting, and appealing. I can admit that when it comes to getting goo-goo eyed over a male character, I’m a girl who is far more attracted to the bad-guy than I am the hero. Why? Villains are fun! They do things and say things that I know are not right, but that I can adore in the fiction world, because in reality I am safe and in control. Equally, I can say with certainty that many of my favorite characters in fiction books are not people I would like in real life, in fact, I’d probably loath more than half of them.

Aww Panda!That’s the beauty of fantasy though, isn’t it? You can like people you’d otherwise hate, try new things you’d never do in real life, and walk the dark alley by yourself and not be afraid of what or who may be waiting for you in it. This is why I love reading fiction and I LOVE writing it. Nothing is done that cannot be undone. You are the master of your own universe.

That being said, as I stated in my last post, “Even Superheroes Need Limits”, characters do require certain limitations in order for them to make sense and not be too unbelievable. Nonetheless, these important limits should not restrict a character’s personality to a file cabinet with alphabetized folders.

As Julie mentioned in her blog, “Baking a Cake of Lies”, characters, just like people, will do things that seem uncharacteristic or strange in certain situations with the “right motivation”. There will be times when a character will make unusual choices and act oddly. They evolve with time and change based on their circumstances, just as we all do. As my co-writer perfectly put it in her post – “A character isn’t something that is set in stone.”

Now, to answer the question that I made the title of my post – “If I’m not normal, what am I?” – The answer is I am me. I am not set in stone and I can’t be truly defined by one label, stereotype, or even summed up in a single paragraph or a book series the size of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, no one can…well, no one can apart from those select few individuals who love to prove they are the exception (we all know one).

Thus, as time passes, more pieces are found and added to the puzzle that is me. We’re all enigmas and it’s becoming clearer to me that so are the characters I write.

Thanks for reading!

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A Code id by Dose!

Hi Everyone!

Julie Campbell writer - the common coldI’m sorry for the silence.  I haven’t forgotten about you and Amanda hasn’t killed me for requesting assistance with editing 😉

I’ve got a cold at the moment and am not thinking all that clearly.  I figured it would be better to take a bit of a break than to write something even more nonsensical than my usual posts.

I hope to be back again for the usual schedule next week.

Until then, Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

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Two Heads are Better Than One: It’s Not Just a Sesame Street Song!

I can’t stand it when writers get too descriptive. It’s not that I don’t understand the value of description. It’s not that I don’t see the skill that a beautiful and clear description requires. After a certain point, I just stop caring. It’s nothing but a big yawn for me.

julie campbell writer - writing descriptionYes, description is needed to tell the story. If I begin a story that dives right into a conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Character with absolutely no insight into who they are, how they look, and where they are, then I have lost an opportunity to give you, Reader, the chance to imagine the story in the way that I do.

After all, if I don’t tell you that Mr. and Mrs. Character are having their conversation on the deck of a sailing ship, then you might be imagining them in their kitchen, sitting on the porch, or on a picnic blanket at the park. Even if I do tell you that they’re on the deck of a ship, I need to tell you that they’re on a sailing ship or you might think that they are on a massive cruise liner.  For that matter, are Mr. and Mrs Character merely passengers, or is Mrs. Character actually a pirate queen who terrorizes the nine seas (it’s my world, it can have nine seas)?

However, if I spend the first thirty pages of the book describing the precise wood used to construct the deck of the ship, the type of sealant that was applied to protect it against the salt in the seawater, the name of the family that developed said sealant, the back story on how they came into the sealant-development business, the precise shade of brown that is achieved after the application of the sealant, the number of knots per plank and the difference the sealant makes in the clockwise swirling pattern of the knots in the surface of the deck, and so on, then I’m pretty sure that I’ll have lost your attention halfway through the first paragraph. I know that my mind would certainly have wandered by then (possibly to a story from a book that wasn’t as overly descriptive).

At the same time, though, I love to write description. I adore describing a scene. Since, I can see everything very clearly in my head, I want to share that image with everyone who is experiencing the story that I am telling in the Book. But where do I draw the line? It is in this area that I find myself relying very heavily on Amanda’s opinions. I haven’t come to the point that I have had the guts to ask for it (although, being a very smart person, she may see the subtle hint in this post), I think it’s coming close to the time in which I am going to need some extra help in the editing process to know when it’s time to just shut up.

I am confident that I can do my part in giving the book some polish, but this was a team writing effort and I know that it will be a team editing effort, too. We can only work on it independently for so long and then it’s time to get out the boxing gloves.  I only hope that I will be able to take the criticisms of the length of certain descriptions with dignity and not break down into a ball of tears on the floor. If the next post sounds a little bit cranky-pants, then you’ll know that things are off to a rocky start and that I’m clinging to that thirty-page ship-deck description. Wish me luck!

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How to Replace Marilyn Manson

Everything around a writer impacts what he or she produces. I have heard this in interviews with some of my favourite authors and I know that it is true of my own works, too. What’s funny, is that I always thought that this simply referred to the experiences that a writer has undergone in his or her lifetime. Nope! Julie Campbell writer - art affects moodAt least, that hasn’t been the case with me.

Some of the editing of the Book has, of course, involved the rewriting of certain sections that just don’t seem to work in one way or another. I try to keep that to a minimum because I want to be able to maintain the original style and intention of the Book, but at the same time, some rewrites are unavoidable.

My most recent discovery about this process, however, is that I need to be very careful about my writing environment as I rewrite. I can clearly remember what I was doing as I was writing the sections/chapters for the first time.

I was still in university and parts of the story were dreamed up on a public transit bus (I had a two-and-a-half hour commute in each direction so that gave me a lot of time to come up with sections of the book while I was trying to escape the nightmare that is a transit bus), parts that were written as soon as I arrived home (when I could play very loud music because no one else had arrived home, yet), and parts that were created in the middle of the night during one of many bouts of insomnia (bleh).

On the bus, I came up with the intricate parts of the plot. I was sinking so far out of reality and into the world of the Book that I was able to interact with its people and scenes very effectively. I could see what was possible and come up with branching storylines that were rich with juicy complexity. At home, with loud music playing, I would be able to create specific situations with great depth and detail. I would choose the music to reflect the character and the moment.  Everyone from Mozart to Marilyn Manson would blare from my “Optimus” store brand mini-stereo (which produced pretty good sound for a cheap piece of plastic!). In the middle of a sleepless night, the characters could dive into their own thoughts. They would examine their dreams, worries, and predictions of their futures.

Now, as I rewrite the work, I am living a completely different life, but I still hope to be able to seamlessly add the reworked pieces into the original story. I certainly won’t be riding the bus or blasting music to try to recreate the same mental state, but I have found that certain tricks have worked for specific circumstances.  At the same time, I have yet to discover everything that I need. It will certainly be an important part of the journey.

Insomnia is still a problem for me, so recreating that experience isn’t hard. I have found that listening to meditation/yoga music can help me to achieve the same feeling of dream and escape that I used to find while mentally distancing myself from the reality of the bus (only at a much lower anxiety level and without the unique aromas that only an overcrowded public transit bus can provide). That technique is particularly effective on rainy or foggy days, when it’s easy for the mind to step away from reality.

Julie Campbell writer - musicHowever, the effect of Marilyn Manson just can’t seem to be replicated. Some of the most intense and thrilling scenes that I wrote in the first Book were due to my emotional state when listening to those songs. It wasn’t anger or rage. That’s not what I associate with his music. Instead, it was empowerment, confidence, and the will to do what is right and not simply what is typical. That was how I always saw Marilyn Manson’s lyrics. If you can get past the gratuitous swearing and deliberate statements meant to shock adults so that those in the adolescent rebellion phase would automatically gravitate toward CD/MP3 purchases, the raw, grotesque, and rather tongue-in-cheek poetry and profound message within his words are quite stunning…anyhoo.

As I have no intention of having my neighbours bang on my door or call the police due to the noise, Marilyn and Manson and I won’t be writing in the same way throughout the editing process. You might wonder why I don’t just wear headphones and play the music loudly, that way. The answer is simple: it’s not the same and I don’t wanna. Mature, aren’t I? The truth is that the experience of blaring headphones is not the same as having the sound fill a room. Since it is a writing atmosphere that I am trying to create and not just the ability to listen to the music, it’s just enough to make a difference.

Until I figure it out, I suppose I will just have to hope that I will be able to edit effectively without actually “being there” in the story in the same way that I was when I wrote it over ten years ago.

I welcome your suggestions for using music and other forms of art to inspire writing in different moods. Please share in the comments below. Heck, if I try your suggestion and it works, I’ll be sure to give you honourable mention in one of my blog posts and add link to your blog (if you have one) as a “thank you” 🙂 After all, writers need to stick together!

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Is That Your Lunch on Saturn’s Moon?

As I was reading the news this week, I came across an article in the “Science” section of Google News that was entitled TUPPERWARE FOUND ON MOON of Saturn. Naturally, I clicked. Thoughts were whipping through my mind. Holy cow! I wonder if that’s what happened to my lunch when it went missing when I was in seventh grade! I thought I’d accidentally left it on the bus. All this time, it’s been floating in space and has landed on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons!

Julie Campbell writer - honest titleIt took me all of three seconds to discover that I’d been duped. Of course I was! There is no Tupperware on the surface of Titan. The story being reported was actually describing the discovery made by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. It detected traces of a substance called propylene in the atmosphere of the moon. Propylene is used to make a number of different types of plastic products, including Tupperware. Was I impressed? Not really. In fact, I was ticked.  I felt as though the author of the article had personally sought me out to lie to me.  That certainly wasn’t the case, but that was how it made me feel (I know I can be honest with you, Reader.  You understand).

I’m not the kind of person who can’t laugh at herself. I make a lot of mistakes on a daily basis, and I can get a good chuckle out of the foolishness of many of them. But I’m not a fan of being tricked by the media. I love a clever title. I also know the value of an amazing title that will encourage people to click through – which that one clearly did. However, there is something to be said about making sure that the title is actually accurate so that the visitors to the site don’t find themselves simply put off by what they find.

Upon further research into the topic of the NASA findings, I found many article titles that said that propylene had been found on Saturn’s moon.  Not really exciting enough to move me to click the mouse.  But there was another one similar to the title that had tricked me, which read Propylene (the chemical Tupperware is made of) found on Titan. Ignoring the misuse of the preposition, that title was much more relevant to the topic and still encouraged me to click to read more. The difference was that when I arrived at the second article, I wasn’t instantly frustrated with the author.

This is a struggle that readers and writers continually face. Although it is a sizable achievement to write a great article is filled with well written, interesting information, without a flashy title, the odds are that people won’t take notice. Without taking notice, no one will ever read it and know how amazing it is. But there has to be a line between a title that will draw readers and a title that is simply a lie.  Where is it?

When it comes to my own work – including the Book – I don’t feel that I need to sink as low as to trick my readers into reading my work. Indeed, this means that coming up with a title that will truly grab the reader is quite a challenge, but it is a worthwhile challenge. I would rather have my readers know that I respect them than to have them think that I’d do anything to try to trick as many people into reading what I have to say. That’s why this post was not entitled “If You Read This Blog, I Promise to Send You $1 Million”. It’s just not true. It may have caught your attention and you may have clicked to give it a try, but you would have been disappointed.  I have respect for you, Reader, so disappointing you is never my goal.

To write a work that other people will read comes with a certain obligation not to deliberately mislead just to build a webpage’s visitor count. To quote Amanda, in her last post Even Superheroes Need Limits, “with great power comes great responsibility” (which she was quoting from the Stan Lee Spider-Man movie…which was quoting Voltaire…who may have been quoting someone else, but I didn’t Google it that far).

Writing online with the intention of having other people read your work comes with the responsibility of respecting the reader enough to tell the truth as you see it. Deception should be left to the world of fiction, where the reader can be led down one path so that he or she can be surprised when the truth is revealed. The news, on the other hand, is best kept in the world of reality. After all, reality is warped enough to keep us all interested and reading for the rest of our lives – no imagination or lies required!

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Even Superheroes Need Limits!

Every character in a story needs to have limits to their awesomeness. Even superheroes and supervillains must have restrictions. Why? To put it quite simply, invulnerable characters (especially major characters – protagonists, antagonists, etc.) are un-relatable and, quite frankly, ridiculous.

Super-DudeAs soon as a reader deems something a character does as too unbelievable and outrageous, they start to lose their ability to suspend their disbelief. Instead of continuing to accept certain fantastical elements of the story, they begin to read with a far more critical eye and a “ya, right” attitude.

We’ve all been there before, haven’t we? Wrapped up in a book we really like, getting lost in the plot and the excitement and then…BHAM! A character does something completely preposterous that leaves you blinking and staring at the page wondering, “Did that just happen?” Willing to believe that it’s your eyes playing tricks on you, you re-read the same lines over and over again in vain, realizing that your brain didn’t just suddenly have a meltdown. You weren’t imagining those words. What you read really was that awful!

Take this made-up story, for instance: Imagine you’re reading a book starring a female character named Bitsy.  Bitsy is described as being ordinary, of average intelligence, and prefers running shoes to heels, because when she does wear heels, she’s a total walking klutz. The story is interesting, the plot thickens, and you find Bitsy to be a cute, quirky character. In fact, you laugh when she finally wears high heels for the first time and she has a klutz attack. You keep reading and the book gets really good. You’re almost at the end now, just a few more pages to go. Oh no! Bitsy is in serious trouble!  How is she ever going to escape that impossible situation? BHAM! Don’t worry! Not only does non-extraordinary Bitsy manage to save the day in record time, she does it running through the woods in 10 inch heels, using a highly technical plan that suddenly came to her after she deciphered a random mathematical equation she found in a bathroom stall in a public restroom. Yay!  The End. WTF?!?! Wouldn’t you feel the author ripped you off with that ending? I certainly would, because  Bitsy went from being cute and ordinary to extraordinarily absurd.

The same problem happens with supernatural characters and superheroes. If you’re going to make a character have a certain super power, you need to define their limits. After all, “with great power comes great responsibility”. While any Spidey fan reading this post will recognize that line I just wrote as an awesome quote from Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, its purpose here is to remind writers (myself included) that while you have great power, as you are the god of your story, you also have great responsibility to your readers to not make your characters ludicrous (unless, of course, the sole purpose of your character is to be ludicrous then, by all means, more power to you 😉 ).

Super-ChickAllow me to elaborate a little more about my point that superheroes need limits by using Marvel’s superhero, Spider-Man, as an example. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive (or whatever) spider and the spider’s venom gave him super-human abilities – he’s amazingly strong, he can stick to walls, etc., etc. We can suspend our disbelief and accept that Spider-Man can crawl up walls, shoot webbing from his wrists/cartridges and web-swing all over New York City. Why? Because he’s a very intelligent guy who was bitten by a magical spider. What won’t we accept? We won’t accept Spider-Man having the ability to fly. Why? Because spiders don’t fly (nope, not even magical ones). Thus, since he inherited his powers from a spider, it doesn’t make “logical” sense that he would gain an ability they don’t have. See – limits.

Even Superman, in all of his awesomeness, has his weakness to kryptonite. He also has his love for people, his farm-boy values, and his personal code of honour to keep him in line. All of this is important. These details define his character and his character limits. No one cares what happens to someone who is invincible. OK, maybe some people do, but personally, I don’t.

I like characters with flaws. What’s more, I want to know what dangers exist for characters. I want to know their restrictions, their weaknesses, what they can naturally do, and what they could do if they pushed themselves to the brink and maximized their full potential, as well as what happens to them when they overdo it. I want to know what is possible and what is not possible and use this knowledge to create one incredible story.

As we write our book, I’m discovering that having the power to create does carry a lot of responsibility. If we want our readers to suspend their disbelief, the world we create needs to have a certain level of logic that must be maintained, so that things will  continue to make  sense to the reader. As soon as you start bending your story’s rules of logic, the reader no longer suspends their disbelief, they just stop believing.

So, what have I learned after years of writing a fiction book? If a character was never meant to fly, make sure their feet stay firmly planted on the ground. And if you’re going to toss them off a cliff, you better be prepared to kill them or be able to justify why some awesome superhero who sprouted wings after being pecked by a radioactive bird, swoops in to save them. Otherwise….BHAM!

The End.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

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