Author Archives: Amanda Giasson

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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What is that “effing” word!

Don’t you hate it when you are trying to remember that perfect word you want to use, only to be incredibly disappointed to discover that none of the words you come up with feel like the right one?  How many times have you wondered – “Am I imagining a word exists that never did?”

On the other hand, it’s so gratifying when you do remember or find the word you want. I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked Julie (using actual words and not this weird example), “what’s that word that is like such and such and is sort-of like this, but not exactly that?” and she responds with, “ You mean, blah” and I’m, like, “YES! Blah! That’s it!”

A confused panda who just can't find the right word!Sadly, for as many times as I have found the treasured “blah” word I sought, I have been equally dissatisfied in having to settle for alternatives that are not exactly what I wanted. Here’s a great example:

When writing the rough draft of our book together, Julie and I have come to refer to a certain type of smile our characters make on occasion as an “effing smile” (and yes, we actually use the word “effing” I’m not going out of my way to make this a G-rated blog). Why do we do this? Not because we’re being witty or even because it’s an inside joke, it’s literally because we don’t know what is the best word that would accurately describe the type of smile we mean.

In vain, both of us have tirelessly wracked our brains and turned to the thesaurus for any clues to find out what the perfect word could be. Naturally, we didn’t find it and just used the made-up term “effing smile”, so we would understand what the other person was describing.

In case anyone happens to know the word we’re looking for, I’ll do my best to describe the “effing smile” to you.

In my opinion, this is the smile that you give to someone when you understand, know, and/or realize that nothing more can really be said or done about a certain sucky/unfortunate situation or topic of discussion. In essence, the person giving the smile would like to give comfort, but they know that the situation is what it is, what’s done is done, and there is no fairytale ending. It’s like a combination of a half-hearted smile, an understanding smile, an empathetic smile, a wry smile, a comforting smile, and an “oh well, waddaya gonna do?” smile. See, it’s not so easy to come up with one word that encompasses all of that!

Today, after years of not finding the word (seriously, I’m not kidding, it’s been like 5 years), we are pretty much convinced that the word we’re looking for doesn’t exist. Therefore, until we can both agree on an actual word from the English language that will satisfy us, we’ve just used our term, because it’s what works for us.

When it comes to writing, whether it is creative or otherwise, it is important to not get stuck or hung up on finding the perfect word. That’s what editing is for. If after a few minutes you can’t call to mind the accurate word you want, use the best substitute (and even make a note to your future self about wanting to change the word), but keep on writing. If you obsess too much about making everything perfect in the first draft, you risk hindering your creativity and limiting your imagination. Believe me, I know. Editing while I’m creating remains one of my biggest setbacks as a writer.

Anyway, the good news is that before we introduce our book to the world, Julie and I still have time to find a suitable replacement for “effing smile”. While we won’t settle for something that isn’t satisfactory, I now understand that we may have to settle for less than perfect. I can live with that.  After all, writing a good story requires focus on the story as a whole, not obsessing over a single word.

And, who knows, maybe if we can’t find what we want, we’ll just make up words and provide a glossary of terms in the book 😉 Ah, the power of creative writing and imagination – I adolve* it!

Thanks for reading!

*Adolve – A newly made up word, which here means that the writer absolutely adores and loves the control she has when writing creatively.

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The Repetition Curse – Avoid turning your book into a drinking game

Have you ever read a book that makes you wonder if the editor fell asleep on the job?  I’m not just talking about books that feature nonsensical sentences, or that have tiny errors that include the occasional typo or comma. I’m talking about books that have an uncanny amount of word/phrase repetition – the type of repetition that occurs so frequently, it glares out at you from the page and is downright eye-rolling irritating.

Books and drinking gamesWe’ve all read one of these “drinking game” books (thanks for the term Julie ;)).  Books that make it easy for anyone to create a drinking game where you take a shot every time the same descriptive word, etc. is repeated. The trouble is, repetition is so bad in some of these books that if you were to make up drinking games for them, you wouldn’t just get yourself drunk, you’d end up in the ER with a severe case of alcohol poisoning after the first two chapters!

Take the popular Fifty Shades books, for example. Now there’s a series that could send you to the ER if you had to drink every time Anastasia Steele referred to her “inner goddess” or “subconscious” – Yikes!  Likewise, the Twilight series is littered with “pursed lips” and “murmurs” and “chuckles” and “sparkling” and “chagrin” and…well, let’s just stop there. Honestly, the amount of overused words in these novels really did leave me (the reader) chagrined and all but driven to drink 😛

Whether or not you liked the Twilight books or the Fifty Shades of Grey series is a matter of opinion. In fact, I’m not ashamed to admit that I very much enjoyed the first book in both series. I found them to be entertaining, fun, and enjoyable enough that I could overlook the repetitive flaws, which in later books had me so annoyed, I couldn’t have cared less what happened to any of the characters I once liked.

Anyway, I digress. The purpose of this particular post of mine is not to actually bash either of these books or to debate whether or not they are good or bad, but to briefly point out – in my opinion – that the excessive overuse of the same word descriptions in each of them took away from their stories.  This is one mistake I don’t want to make in the book I am writing with Julie.

I don’t mind if the reader rolls their eyes at one of my characters, because they disagree with what he or she did or because they think the character did something ridiculous. However, a reader rolling their eyes at my poor use of the English language and my inability to tell my story without repeating the same descriptions a hundred times over, to me, means that I have failed as a storyteller.

I can’t speak on behalf of all storytellers, but personally, I want you to get lost in the words I weave, escape with them and live in my story every time you choose to read it. If I’m constantly referring to my character’s “inner goddess” or use the word “chagrin” more than once in a single chapter (or several times in the same book), my skills as a storyteller are going to lose you, but not in the way I want.

Fairy RepetitiveOn the flip side of the coin, after reading a lot of books, you may start to discover that while some writers need to pick up a thesaurus, others need to put it down! As a writer, your words are your power, but this power needs control.  It has to have structure, purpose, and it needs to be executed in a way that leaves readers wanting more, not wondering when it will end. This requires more than a large vocabulary. It requires understanding the meaning and significance of the words you use and knowing how to utilize them effectively. Equally as important, every writer – no matter how skilled – needs an editor. Someone to tell them when something doesn’t make sense or when there is too much *cough cough* repetition.

So, the next time you pick up a book and you really feel that the author did a crappy job, remember that the editor is also to blame for the mess. That being said, I would like to take this moment to thank Julie for being an awesome editor (one more perk of creating a story with another writer).

That’s it for my little rant for the day. I hope I wasn’t too preachy and I apologize for repeatedly using the word “chagrin” to make my point.  I promise it won’t happen again 😉

Thanks for reading!

P.S. – What books have you read that you felt were overloaded with repetition? Please feel free to share your opinions and comments 🙂

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Don’t stand still – Create!

I am – without a doubt – my own worst critic. I can go from thinking that what I have written is golden, to doubting its quality and ripping it to shreds in seconds. Not feeling like you are good enough, or that you are original enough, or that you are skilled enough, or that you are fast enough, etc., etc. is a poison that will ultimately prevent you from reaching any of your goals. You’ll turn what you love to do into a chore and start to fear failure. Eventually, you stop trying and you stand still.

Create!

 

If anyone else can relate to what I’m talking about, you know what it’s like to hate yourself for standing still, but continue to stay where you are because you fear failing. I have one piece of advice for you – tell your brain to shut up!  We allow our minds to take over and tell us we are wrong and not good enough, when we should be listening to our instincts and stop holding ourselves back.

One of the best things about writing a book with another writer is that you start to realize you DO have your own unique writing style, and that this is a GOOD thing 🙂 Julie has not only helped me to improve my writing skills over the years, by editing my work, increasing my vocabulary by introducing me to new words, and providing me with a few helpful tips, she has also helped me to realize that my style of writing is MY own. In fact, we don’t really write anything alike, which you will likely notice as you read our different posts.

A long time ago, way back in university, I once believed that her writing style was better than mine. Now I can happily tell you that I was wrong. Her style wasn’t better, it was different – it was hers.

So, what’s the point to this giant ramble? It’s to let you know that in my experience, writing skills can always be improved, but your creative style is a part of you. No one can teach it to you, you have to learn what it is for yourself. Don’t criticize or compare your creativity to someone else’s. Let it evolve and let others enjoy it.

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A labour of love

Amanda GiassonGreetings!

For those of you who don’t know me, let me start by introducing myself. My name is Amanda Giasson and I’m a creative writer. For now, that’s all you really need to know about me. You’ll likely discover more about me in time if you continue to follow this blog. On the other hand, if you choose not to follow this blog, at least I haven’t wasted your time with a bunch of facts about myself that you may find truly insignificant, such as my love for the colour green.

If you’ve read the first post of my best friend and fellow writer-in-crime, Julie Campbell (which I highly recommend you read if you haven’t done so already), you should have a good idea why we created this blog and what it’s all about. If you don’t know, well, I’ll keep the gist of what I feel you need to know, short and sweet 🙂

We’re writing a book, a series of books actually. What began as a playful back-and-forth of creative writing during a rather boring history class in university over a decade ago, has evolved throughout the years into an awesome story. Writing, developing and growing this story has become – for me specifically – a labour of love . Writing this story with Julie has definitely been one of the highlights of my life, and I really believe that what we’ve created should no longer just be something we enjoy, but should be shared, so that others may enjoy it, as well.  After all, who doesn’t like a good story?

Although we have completed the rough draft of the first book, the actual finished product is still in the works. You’ll have to bear with us and have patience, but I’m confident you’ll find it worth the wait!   Until the big day, we’ll continue to post updates about our writing progress and about anything else that we feel you may find interesting, useful – or at the very least – amusing.

I hope you’ll enjoy the journey with us 🙂

Bye for now!

P.S. For those of you wondering – Yes, the first book in our series does have a name. No, I’m not going to reveal it at this time 😉

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