Tag Archives: Writing

I’m not Ashamed to Say I’ve Cosplayed

In honour of “Fun Fact Friday” I thought I’d share a fact about myself that, in the past, I was hesitant to admit (even to my best friend, Julie) because I was afraid that I would be judged for liking something that was once typically considered to be an interest that appealed to only kids and teens.

Here it is: I like comics.Panda Quinn  - A Puffin Original

I know, I know, discovering the fact that I like comics was more of a massive anti-climax than a big reveal, but it took me almost half a year to tell Julie that I was completely obsessed with Batman comics and that I was on a serious Harley Quinn-kick.

Why did it take me so long to tell her? The reason wasn’t only because I was afraid of what she might think. My real problem was that I had already judged myself as being inappropriate, or wrong, for liking it.

That said, I would like to take this moment to explain that Julie has always been an awesome, non-judgmental, and highly-supportive friend and that I was a complete weirdo for not telling her about my sudden and odd obsession. To be clear: She never judged me – I judged me.

In fact (because it’s all about facts today) do you know what happened after I told her about my newfound interest? She instantly wanted to know more about it. She watched my favourite episodes featuring Harley in “Batman the Animated Series,” and, for my birthday that year, she themed the entire birthday gift she gave me around Batman and Harley. Furthermore, in honour of my nickname “Manda Panda” (yes, I happen to be one of the many Amandas in the world with that nickname, too 😉 ), she created a “Panda Quinn” t-shirt for me because she’s just that awesome of a friend, who, I also found out, happens to be a big Superman fan! As far as friends go, they don’t come better than Julie.

Today, I’m happy to say that I no longer judge myself for liking comic books, graphic novels, or anything superhero/supervillain-related. In fact, I’m proud to say I have a Big B Comics VIP Rewards Card; my collection of comics and graphic novels is steadily growing; I was Harley Quinn for Halloween two years ago; I cosplayed last year for the first time at the FanExpo as Lara Croft (an amazing experience); and I can’t wait to see the new Avenger’s movie, read the next “Loki: Agent of Asgard” graphic novel and the next “Thor” comic; and play the upcoming “Batman Arkham Knight” video game.

The point to this eAmanda as Lara Croft  - Cosplayntire Fun Fact Friday blog of mine is this: don’t be afraid to pursue your interests, no matter how silly you or someone else may think them to be. Who cares if it’s silly! As long as it makes you happy and you’re having fun, it’s worth your attention and your participation.

The same is also true when I write. When I am a fearless writer I am a great writer. I can’t be ashamed to write what I love! As a writer, I need to embrace who I am and this includes all of my idiosyncrasies, interests, and ideas, whatever they may be. When I allow myself to freely create, that’s when I achieve my full unique potential.

In short, be yourself and don’t let your insecurities stop you from loving what you love and writing what you love. Life is too short not to have fun!

Happy Friday everyone and thanks for reading 🙂

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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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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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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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How Not to Write a Romance as Cheesy as a Strong Limburger

To start, I should say that the Book that Amanda and I are writing is not a romance. What is it? I’m not tellin’! But it’s not a romance. That said, at some point, the plot does touch on the theme.

Julie Campbell writer - Romance writingI happen to like a good romance. But that’s just it: I like a good romance. Those are rare. So much of the romance that occurs in fiction is cheesy and rather nauseating to me. It frustrates me when I find myself trapped in a story with sappy, schmaltzy goo oozing from the page in front of me.

But, like everything else in writing – or any other art form for that matter – there is no specific structure or template that can be followed to ensure that the romance that is woven into a story will be beautiful, touching, and/or passionate and not single-dimensional, frustrating, out of character, and cheesy enough to cause the bile to rise.

I love the romantic points in the Book. But I love the Book and I love its characters.  How bias am I? I know how badly I wanted some of them to discover one another. I know that Amanda finds certain pairs to be more than a little appealing, too. How do we know that we didn’t force the characters together?  How strong is that bias and how much is it influencing the story’s development?

My hope is that because this story has two writers, not just one, then at least one of us will have been able to cling to reality (or at least the reality we established within our fictitious world) enough at any given time to make sure that the romantic elements of the story actually work. I don’t want to avoid romance in the story for the sake of avoiding it, but I don’t want to make it happen just so that there is a romantic element to the story, either.

The next issue that I’m facing in terms of romance in the story is timing. It is easy to become swept away in a case of “love at first sight”, but there’s also something to be said about allowing a love to build between two people before they really realize it or admit it to themselves, others, or each other.  Which works best within the plot of the Book and for the individual characters?  It’s more difficult to figure out than I thought.

I find that some authors deliberately place barriers in the way of romances. This can to contribute to a story in a way that it makes me antsy to find out if the couple (or potential couple) will find their way back to one another. I wonder if they’ll ever be able to get together. While this can be a fantastic technique, it must be done delicately. Otherwise, it’s easy to see right through the author’s deliberate efforts to keep me, the reader, interested, and I am drawn out of the story and into frustration toward the author for putting me through it all in the first place (naturally, all authors are writing directly to me, so I take it personally when they do this ;)).

Equally, when two characters are thrown together too soon, I don’t tend to feel as deeply about their relationship. I may still like the characters, but I don’t connect with the romance between them because it was handed to them too easily (characters need to work as hard as authors for my approval ;)).

After all of this – and mountains of other – analysis and research to try to make sure that the romantic moments are expressed properly within the Book, I’ve come to a very important decision. Love isn’t something that can be decided upon. If I want it to be “real”, among the characters in the Book, then they will just need to go with it as it happens, just like the rest of us! Those elements of the story are going to have to stay as they were when they were originally written. That’s how the romance “really” happened and I can’t do any more about it than I could to change the way a romance has occurred within my own life.  The heart wants what it wants! ♥

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A Work in Progress

Although I have been posting every weekday and I am still greatly enjoying it, I don’t always have a story to tell about my progress.

Julie Campbell writer - work in progressWith that in mind, and with the help of the feedback that I received through the polls that I ran last Friday (Thank you for your help!  You can still participate. Just click here to find the right post), I have decided that it’s not entirely necessarily to post every weekday just for the sake of posting (because it’s fun).

I’m going to slow things down a little bit and try to post three days per week – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That will help me to make sure that I’m always writing something of value, that I always have something interesting to say, and that I’m not driving you crazy with my wordy babble!

I think that this blog, like the Book, is a work in progress. I’m starting to get to know when you, Reader, are most likely to want to read, and I’m beginning to figure out what topics are most appealing to you.

Of course, writing a blog post, like writing a book, isn’t something that has a certain specific structure for success. That’s why there are some great books out there, and there are some books that never should have been – there is no single format for making them great. But still, blogging, like book writing, isn’t just a matter of what the writer wants.

When I write, I write for me. It’s a very selfish thing for me to do and I love it. But at the same time, if I ever want people to read what I have to say, then there will need to be a little bit of give. When it comes to the Book, Amanda and I plan to write our story the way we love it and the way it makes sense to us. There really won’t be a way to know what the reader thinks until it’s already completed and published.

But when it comes to this blog, we’re working together. Reader, through your comments, private messages, and posts on social media (as well as your participation in the polls last week. Thanks again!), we’re getting to know one another and we’re working together to make this a great experience.

Yes, I’m still writing this for me, but it’s great to write it for you, too, and I’m slowly (but surely) figuring this out.

Thank you for your patience over the next little while as I discover what else you’d prefer me to write about and at what hour you’d like to see the posts appear. Please feel free to disagree with the choices that I make and drop me a line in the comments below the posts to let me know what you’d like to see from the posts or what you’d prefer not to see anymore.

Off I go for now. See you on Friday!

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Baking a Cake of Lies

Last week, I had a conversation with Amanda in which I proudly declared that I had successfully cut many of the unnecessary sugary treats out of my diet. I’m not on a weight loss diet, but I am quite health conscious and I struggle with the havoc that a sweet tooth plays in the efforts to live a health-conscious lifestyle. I don’t know anybody who loves cake donuts more than I do.

Julie Campbell writer - cake of liesHowever, after eliminating the excess sugar from what I have been eating (no, I’m not trying to live a sugar-free life and no, I don’t use artificial sweeteners – don’t get me started on that), I have been discovering that I have a lot more control over my hunger levels and I find that I don’t crave sweets nearly as much as I once did. In fact, other than wanting a little yogurt cup after dinner, I don’t crave sweets at all anymore.

On the evening of that conversation, as I was taking ingredients out of the cupboard to make dinner, I discovered a mix for a spice cake that was riding the line of its expiration date. Since I loathe wasting food, I had a mixing bowl out on the counter and was cracking two eggs into the cake mix before I could realize that what I was effectively doing was whipping up a cake of lies. I was doing exactly the opposite of what I’d just finished telling Amanda!

The universe clearly knew what I was up to, because it decided to punish me for my dishonesty. Since it was a very small spice cake of lies (it fit into the loaf pan for my toaster oven), I decided to be environmentally friendly (and to keep my electricity bill down) and I baked my cake of lies in the toaster oven, instead of the full-sized oven. Like most lies, this cake grew and grew and grew, until it touched the top heating elements. This caused copious amounts of black smoke to billow out of the small appliance as I threw open the windows to stop the smoke detectors from going off.

Still determined not to waste food (clearly, I have a problem), I popped the cake out of its pan and set it on a plate, finishing the cooking in the microwave (after having sliced the blackened layer off the top). A quick nuking is, apparently, all it takes to finish the baking of a cake of lies. How was it? Honestly? It was the best spice cake I’ve ever made. I don’t know if it was the fire, the microwaves, or the lies, but it was the perfect texture and flavour. Once the clouds of black smoke were out of my home, I could tell that the cake smelled great, too.

What lesson did I learn from this adventure? It wasn’t that I shouldn’t be ridiculous about trying to save food. It wasn’t that I should remember that cakes rise a lot in the oven. It wasn’t even that I shouldn’t tell friends that I’m off baked sugar treats when I have cake mix in the cupboard.

The lesson I took from it was that people will do things that seem to be quite out of character and bizarre, provided they have the right motivation. Without knowing that I was trying not to waste food, it would have looked like I’d completely lost my mind (it may still seem that way to you, though not to the same degree as it would if I didn’t have the justification behind my behaviours).

This has given me some important perspective when it comes to judging the actions of my characters. I’m always afraid that they will do things that are “out of character” and that I won’t notice because I’m so used to the story I’ve written. However, even real people do things that are out of character. A character isn’t something that is set in stone. Circumstances can easily change the way we react. Also, fictional characters,  like real people, can’t always have days in which we’re at our very best. Sometimes, we find ourselves nuking a burnt cake of lies.

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