Deviant Login Shop  Join deviantART for FREE Take the Tour
It's a new year, so I'm ready for a bit of give and take. I want your awesome, but also to say some inspiring words.

If there's any advice I wish I could give to my younger self, it's this: People will hate what you have to say artistically. No matter what, somewhere, someone is going to hate what you do. You will meet people who will sneer at you, tell you you're crazy and stupid and untalented and wasting your time. You'll be ridiculed for trying, made fun of when you schedule time for your projects instead of hanging with friends or watching reality TV, and condemned when you actually finish something. People will claim offense, that worst of things, especially if anything you have to say involves race, gender, sexuality, politics, economics, religion, spirituality, culture, history, or a commentary on any of the above.

You'll be told that the worst thing you can do is offend someone. That you shouldn't speak up or make a bold statement because you might offend someone. And it's a mistake. Because society is comfortable, comfortable with the ugly parts of itself, and it's the job of the artist to say "Wake up! Do better than this!" And very often, when people say things like "Be happy" or "don't offend anyone" what they really mean is "Be more convenient to my existence. Don't make me think. Don't make me feel stupid. Don't make me change. And above all, don't offend me."

It's bullshit.

We've been born into a time where art is increasingly corporatist, where professional artists have become nomads, and the value of the artist is nearly nothing. I speak to too many parents who say "Oh, I wish I could have learned to draw!" but turn around and tell their children that art and writing is silly, they need to be more involved in sports and school. I've spoken to too many people who have no idea why I want to get home so I can start my real work, my real passion.

In this new year, don't fear the plebs. Don't fear the trouble you might get into if you decide to speak up. Don't fear controversy, which is far too often just disguised sensationalism. And above all, don't fear the fool who says "Why are you wasting your time doing this?" because what they're really saying is "I wish I was brave and dedicated enough to do this, but I'm not, so I don't want you to, either."

Post the awesome music you've found this year. Or awesome anything. I need the passions to others to get me motivated. Let's share and bring in the new year on an awesome note.
  • Mood: Triumph
At long last!

I have published Risen, the sequel to Highsong.

www.amazon.com/dp/B00H1CQAYA

It's been forever, almost two years (!!!), so for that I apologize. The third book is in the works and I certainly hope it won't take so long for it to get out.

Like it. Review it. Don't have the money or a Kindle? Do a Listmania or Wish List. Tweet it. Facebook it.

As you love me, DA. As you love me.
  • Mood: Triumph
  • Listening to: Pompeii - Bastille
  • Reading: The Book of Werewolves by Sabine Baring-Gould
  • Watching: Korra
I have the thing to evolve Tyranitar's Mega Evolution. I'm willing to trade it for an Aggronite!
I need a FEMALE. I have boxes of the little Wish/Yawn/Curse bastards.

My friend code is 0834 1857 9803.

And the Safari Code journal is still here: droemar.deviantart.com/journal…
Let's be awesome, people.

My friend code is 0834 1857 9803. I don't know what my Safari type is, but feel free to let me know. I'll add everyone who replies. And talk amongst yourselves to add each other.
I am getting Pokemon X, but I'd really like to have a Skrelp on my team. Is there anyone out there with Pokemon Y that would be willing to trade me? I can of course trade you a Pokemon if you have a preference, but I'm also offering to draw you a Pokemon of your choice if that's more your thing.

I'd also like an Amaura!

Hit me up with a note if you can help me out.
Do you have certain resource books that you always come back to? I have some basic drawing/painting books that are really helpful, and I wondered if you might have something similar for writing, or even for painting?

I have lots and lots of art books that I keep on hand for inspiration. The Art of Kung Fu Panda is amazing. Ditto the concept art work for Okami. I also frequent the website Creative Uncut, which reveals a lot of concept art work for a lot of video games. I have all of the Dinotopia books by James Gurney and and the Katturan Odyssey by Terryl Witlach. I always seem to find something new in terms of composition whenever I flip through those books.
As far is actual drawing books that have helped me, Ken Hultgren's The Art of Animal Drawing is endlessly helpful. I also learned at the feet of Jack Hamm. That guy can draw anything. Andrew Loomis, Muybridge, and Bogart are also great. For painting: James Gurney. I just can't say that enough. James Gurney's Color and Light and Imaginative Realism, my god. Also study Rembrandt and NC Wyeth.
For writing, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. That's my Bible.  I also like Stephen King's On Writing. It's probably one of the best books about what the process is like that I can think of. Anytime I need inspiration or motivation, I tend to read On Writing. Also highly recommended are The Writer's Journey by Vogler, and Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages and The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, and last but never least, anything by Joseph Campbell. Hero With A Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth are mind-blowing. It's just kind of impossible to absorb everything that they say through the first read through. So the reread of these books I find to be extremely high.

Hope that helps. :)

I'd love some insight into how you achieved the rendering here. +DS+:: Guardians Wallpaper by Droemar

Oh, wow. I was flying by the seat of my pants for this. Most of it was just that I colored in the inked parts with flat colors and then put paper textures over each color. And then I would airbrush or paint beneath the texture layer to kind of modify things a little bit more. Overlay setting won most of the time, but seriously, I would just cycle through the Layer settings and see what looks best. Different colors affect different layer settings, which is how I got kind of got the paper cutout look.

Biggest guilty pleasure, bookwise?

Oh my god, The Unicorns of Balinor by Mary Stanton. Hands down, it is the worst, stupidest series I've ever loved to read. It has no redeeming factors whatsoever other than its subject matter. And it turns out I am willing to tolerate a lot in order to read about unicorns. The characterization is stupid, the writing is bad, the plot is amazingly boring and inconsistent, and its just terrible. I can't think of any other word to describe it. It's just so terrible!
I also like The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance. I hate romance as a genre, but this book manages to point out that despite all of the amazingly stupid crap in romance, it is the only genre that dedicates the majority of its time to acknowledging that love is the greatest part of the human condition.

I have been told that my drawing isn't good enough for people pay for it. What exercises, or activities, (or whatever) can someone do to improve it's drawing?

Your whole life you will be told that your art is not good enough to pay for.  The first and foremost things you absolutely have to learn is that you never, ever do art for free. Ever. Art is a skill that's rarer than brain surgery, and anybody that tells you otherwise is full of shit.
Having said that, draw everything. Draw from life. And especially, draw what scares you. I have found the most useful thing to be, if I don't know anything about my subject matter, doing a hundred drawings of it vastly improves my abilities. There is no substitute for drawing what you see. Drawing from life cannot replace anything else. You can study anime, you can study cartoons, you can study anything, but if you're not drawing from life you will never be a good draftsman.

On average how much time do you take on one basic image? Ie: Sketch (optional) Lineart, base color, lighting/shadow. background (optional) other (optional)

I often find myself wanting to dish out these amazing detailed images like you and various other artists, but I lack the drive to sit around for hours and often become art-blocked half way or decide its a terrible piece of art and become depressed.

Whats the process?


It's very rare that I will go beyond 10 hours on something. I'm a very impatient artist. And it always surprises me when people tell me that my stuff is detailed. I'm very, very lazy and very, very sloppy. Having said that, 2-3 hours on my line work its about right. I am far more likely to spend more time on a drawing than I am painting digitally. Most of the time I paint for about 3 or 4 hours at the most. And that is not in one sitting.
My average is usually 4-6 hours for most of my pieces. Anything longer is usually because I'm trying to figure out a technique. Once I know my technique I just do the same thing over and over, and naturally get faster at it.
My process starts with my sketchbook. I do a whole bunch of tiny drawings, thumbnails, of creatures and people in various poses and compositions. This is also where I do my study work, my drawings from life. What I like I turn into a full on art piece.
I usually blow things up in Photoshop, or put the sketch under my light projector and put it onto a piece of tracing paper. Then I block out my structure, taking the sketch from gesture lines to something that has volume in weight and perspective. I work on tracing paper so that I can get messy, and I can flip. Flipping your drawings is very useful to make sure that you doing your structure correctly.
Then I take things to the light box. Most the time I work on bristol board.  Once I've done the final transfer, that it's time for more detailed work. All of my structure and pose has been figured out, so now I can focus on rendering.
And I still pretty much use this tutorial technique: droemar.deviantart.com/art/Col…

When and where did you come up with the concept for Mark of the Conifer? What inspired you? And just out of curiosity, why'd you choose an Acrocanthosaurus for your villain?

Oh, boy. That's a long question. I will try and be succinct about it. I had a story idea a long, long time ago, mostly just the idea that I wanted to do a story about dinosaurs. I didn't have a plot or anything. I chose all of my favorite dinosaurs to be in the cast, and then realized that all of the dinosaurs that I chosen had lived the different eras of the Mesozoic or different continents. One of my biggest gripes about dinosaur media that no one ever does the research for it, and when I realized I was making the exact same mistake that I hated, that completely tanked the story for a very long time.
Then, in 2007 I visited a friend of mine in Utah, and went to a dinosaur museum for the first time ever. It was without a doubt one of the greatest experiences of my life. I came back inspired, and actually started doing much more research. </i>Raptor Red</i> by Robert T. Bakker was a huge influence, mostly because I could count on its scientific accuracy (and I'd loved the book for ages). That's where the Acrocanthosaurusus as villains came from. They dominated the Early Cretaceous; there was just no other theropod as big as them during the time Utahraptor was around. I'll confess I wish they could have been T. Rexes or Giganotosauruses, but it was one of sacrifices I made in order to have the story be about a Utahraptor and retain scientific accuracy.
I was also heavily inspired by the manga and anime series Ginga Densetsu Weed. I like the way the dogs were ruled by this kind of brutal and fierce sense of honor, and I wanted that to appear in my own story. Naturally, I drew from other animal stories like Watership Down, Ratha's Creature, and Firebringer as well. When I really sat down to start planning the story, I tried to think of it in terms of high fantasy archetypes, because Ginga Weed had basically been "What if samurai were dogs?" And that was really when the story started to take off.
A lot of validation for the story came when I posted the short 10-page comic "The Pact" to Deviantart. Because my biggest concern was that nobody was going to care about a bunch of dinosaurs. I needed something human within the story to resonate, which was a challenge considering I was writing about things that existed long, long before humanity.  "The Pact" was an experiment to see if I could get an emotional reaction from one of the story's biggest core elements. If it mattered to the readers, it would matter to the story.

There's something that kind of confuses me when it comes to writing. When I was taking script writing classes in school, they would talk about writers who would attempt to manipulate their readers' emotions. They always told us not to do it and it was a sign of bad writing. I think you may have mentioned manipulation in writing too, but I can't remember. What exactly does it mean? How do you avoid it?

I think the best example of what you're talking about is a Jack Handey quote that I love:

"Is there anything more beautiful than a beautiful, beautiful flamingo, flying across in front of a beautiful sunset? And he's carrying a beautiful rose in his beak, and also he's carrying a very beautiful painting with his feet. And also, you're drunk."

A lot of this falls under the "show, don't tell" rules of writing. Jack Handey is telling you things are beautiful, but he's not showing you that they are. Manipulating a reader's emotions happens when an author basically says "No, reader, this is how you're supposed to feel about this thing!" They show you a sad, sad thing, a sad dying kitten in a dying man's lap and both of them are dying because a rupture in a nuclear power plant killed them. Therefore, you, reader, are supposed to feel bad about nuclear power. Regardless of how you might really feel about nuclear power as an energy source with its pros and cons, the author is telling you you need to feel bad about it. That is manipulating emotions. Most of the time it's very obvious and very ham-handed.
The way to avoid it is to understand that part of the story belongs to the reader. The job of an author is to present a story and allow a reader to draw their own conclusions. The value of the best kind of stories anyway are those that we can draw our own opinions from.I think some writers are afraid of the idea that they can't control the reader's emotions, so they try too hard. It happens all the the time: people don't cry at a scene that's suppose to be sad, or laugh when something is supposed to be funny. It all just depends on the reader's experiences. The best way to handle this is study how other have done it successfully and attempt to do it successfully yourself. And eventually get to the point where you trust yourself to make the best decisions for your creation.

I have been working on a story for a long while (working out major plot points and hiccups, building characters, creating settings, religions, themes, not to mention the actual story) and I recently lost all of my files (I should have backed them up, I know). Now I'm having a hard time starting again, even though I know that it will (probably) be better than before. I've lost my motivation; I just feel devastated. Has that ever happened to you? Do you have any tips on regaining lost motivation?

Do something else. When I have to recharge, I completely shift the content of my days. I'm sitting in front of the TV with a controller my hands, or a popping in a DVD. I'm going to see movies and reading new books. Whereas when I'm working, most of the time I'm in my studio sketching or typing. Everybody needs down time. And one of the most important thing to realize is that the downtime is just as vital as production time.
It sucks that you lost your files. Next time, upload to Google Drive or get yourself an external hard drive for $20. I have both. Backup software might also be a worthwhile investment. Depending on what happened to your computer, it may be possible to get file retrieval. I remember that happening for about $200 dollars when I lost a computer and nearly had a heart attack over the writing I stood to lose forever.
But if you really are starting completely over from scratch, you are probably going to do yourself a disservice by forcing yourself to start over again. You suffered a loss. You need some time to heal and regain your energy.
Years ago, I had a cat that I based a major character off of. The cat died suddenly and unexpectedly, and I was devastated. I did not work on that story for probably two years because of it. But eventually I got to the point where I was ready again. Persistence really is more important. Give yourself a break and get excited about it again. That's your first step.

I'm writing a story and I can literally feel the beginning dragging on. How can I make the story interesting right away and keep that going even through the introduction of characters and places?
This is more advice, I don't want you to tell me exactly how (doubt that's possible)


I recently read a manuscript for one of my writing group's newest members. She was writing fantasy, and her first chapter was about twenty pages long. By the time I got to page five I was drowning in exposition. By the time I got to page fifteen I couldn't take it anymore. I was writing in all caps in the margins telling her that I didn't need to know all of this information yet. She was telling half her story in twenty pages.
My advice to her was "Three things. You have three things you are allowed to tell me about in this chapter. That's it." She looked shocked. She had probably twenty or thirty things that had been in her writing, and I was telling her that she was only allowed to tell me about three. But God bless her, she did it. She cut it down to seven pages. And it read so much better.
I use the rule of three when I feel like I'm lacking in focus. Its one I've come to appreciate very recently, but that's because I just got a better understanding of focus as an element. Another useful bit of advice is "Group things together". If your main character is a dragon rider with special magic that will drive the plot, don't put him in a ballroom and tell us he's a dragon rider with special magic. I want to find out he's a a dragon rider with special magic when he's saddling up his dragon and casting spells, because I want to be shown that he's a dragon rider with special magic, not told about it. And if you do put him in a ballroom, just let us see his character and wait to tell us that he has a dragon and special magic. What you don't tell us becomes a hook that will make us want to read further.
Murder your darlings. In writing, less really is more.

African or European?
Listen. Strange questions regarding the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical avian ceremony.
I figure since I got such an outpouring of support about my crappy roomates, I could return the favor.
I will answer 20 art/writing related questions, to be answered in my next journal. Anything you guys want to ask me about, I will do my best to answer. Process, creativity, etc.
It's kind of first-come, first serve. I can't think of any other way to do it. The first twenty questions will be answered!
Ask away!
I apologize, but I need to talk about my roommates.

:iconwadifahtook: Lauren Banks and her husband Killian Zimmerman became my roommate in December of last year through this journal: wadifahtook.deviantart.com/jou….

It was the first time that I had ever lived with someone aside from my own family. It was going to be a big step for me, but I took a deep breath and decided to trust and open my home. As an introvert suddenly struggling with social anxiety, I had to "step outside my comfort zone, give people the benefit of the doubt, and be a friend." At first, things went well. I guess there's always that grace period. Lauren Banks and I did art. We went to an SCBWI meeting. We talked politics and movies while she made tacos. We talked about her emotionally abusive mother and how they'd worked with mean, shallow people who smiled in your face before they stabbed you in the back living in Utah. I like having roommates. It was nice to have someone that I could trust and rely on. That hadn't happened a lot in my life.

Then suddenly things changed. Lauren stopped cooking. Stopped talking to me. Stopped buying groceries and toilet paper and paper towels. We didn't hang out anymore. They went out on hikes, I worked on my art and writing. And pretty much the only thing we did talk about when we crossed paths was the weather. I started to get the feeling they didn't like it here.

I was working a new job and struggling to get by. I tried to tell myself that my instincts were wrong. That my feelings that my roommates had suddenly become unhappy was paranoia born of my social anxiety.

But I couldn't shake it. I was being given the silent treatment, which, if anyone is in doubt, is a massive, massive red flag that you should not ignore. Ever.

I texted Lauren directly about a week ago. "Are you guys mad at me?" I received no reply. I chalked it up to her having cellphone trouble. And in truth, I was a little afraid of what the answer was and just trying to get through the work week.

Yesterday evening I drove up and found both of their cars missing. I joked to myself, "What, do you think they've left you?" I had some anxiety, but about fifteen minutes later I heard their car pull up and scolded myself. Killian was walking around the house while I was in the studio. I asked for the rent check. Killian said, "Give me about ten, fifteen, okay?"

Then they left.

I thought they'd gone for a hike.

Then, of all places, DeviantArt clued me in. Lauren had blocked me from her DA page. That was when my heart started to pound in my chest, my hands went cold, and I started to tremble from anxiety. What the fuck was I going to do? What the FUCK?

Then I got a text from Lauren. "Hey, Laura, your rent check is inside our bedroom door."

Telling myself I was wrong, that my instincts were wrong, I got up. And found that the room they'd been staying in was completely stripped bare.

They had moved out.

There was a letter to check with only half of my rent lying on the floor.

"Dear Laura. We can no longer stay at this location. You can keep our deposit. We wish you the the best of luck in your life."

I felt like I'd been kicked in the chest by a horse. I stood there, in my empty house, wracked with anxiety and bewildered by what had just happened to me. Suddenly, and out of nowhere, we weren't just not roommates anymore, we weren't even friends. I discovered that I had  been de-friended on Facebook. They didn't pick up their cells. I was reduced to leaving voicemails that I have no doubt will be deleted.

I had been abandoned by people who had told me over and over how terrible it was to be treated like they didn't matter. In a move of amazingly calculated cruelty, they'd quit and fled. Knowing full well how terrible they were acting, they'd run like dogs with their tails between their legs.

I sobbed my sorry heart out and spent most of the night trying not to let my twisted stomach get the better of me. I struggled not to blame myself, because mature and responsible people would have said something to me. They would have come forward and said, "Hey, this isn't working. We need to leave." I wasn't a tyrant. I hadn't even asked them to sign a lease. I couldn't have made them stay if I'd wanted to.

At this point, what other recourse do I have but to try and tell how badly I've been hurt? I have no forwarding address. No idea where they are. And what could I do if I found them? Tell them they made me break down in tears like a stupid little baby? Tell them they made me feel like shit?

I'm angry at myself for being blind. For being so trusting. This is WHY I have social anxiety, because I've been taught that people suck. And I'm so, so hurt that I wasn't worth a civil conversation or a mature dialogue. I was worth abandonment. I was worth half a rent check and skipping town. That's all I was, after 9 years of being friends with Lauren via Internet, and after trying to give her a place for her and her husband to stay, I thought I had beaten the odds on who to let into my home.

I know I'm the wronged one here. Hell, they know it. They ran like guilty people too ashamed to face what they were doing. It's just that I think back on the good times that I had with her as a friend, and it's all been poisoned. All I can do is get dressed for work and try to get through the day, battling the demons that are telling me somehow I deserved this because I was stupid, stupid, stupid.

If you have someone you're keeping shit from right now, please go tell them. Don't just sit on the silence. Don't tell yourself you're afraid of confrontation, that it'll end up in a fight, an explosion of feelings to be avoided at all costs. Do your best to tell them what's going on. Because the worst about all of this is that the people I had judged to be steadfast and honest people are nothing more than terrible hypocrites and liars, who will go through life convincing themselves they're not bad people because they just ran.

Feel free to let them know that. Because I sure can't.

I'm still blocked from Lauren's DA page.
  • Mood: Bitter
1. "I have a problem with your premise." This is the red flag to end all red flags. I don't care how flimsy the premise is. Every idea has the potential to be a good story. Execution is something else entirely, but if somebody doesn't like your idea: don't listen to them. What they're basically saying is "I am not an Ideal Reader, therefore not your target audience, therefore I am not the right person to critiquing your work."  I hate, hate, hate people who think you should be writing for broader audiences than your story is capable of reaching. If you're writing romance, you're writing romance for romance readers. You're not trying to reach hard science fiction readers. Very few people even know what makes a breakout mainstream novel that has high market appeal. If they did, every single book ever written would be Harry Potter. It just doesn't happen. And for somebody to ask you to make that happen is ridiculous and unfair. For the most part, writers are writing to please themselves first, and you don't have to feel bad because your fantasy story is not grabbing the attention of romance readers. It's a freaking fantasy! I had someone in my writing group tell me that she found my psychic dolphin story "ludicrous." She basically said it could never happen. Aside from the fact that that seemed to be missing the point of science fiction and fantasy entirely, it affected her ability to feel basic things about the story like emotional connection to the characters or plot stakes. I went home, incorporated her line edits and punctuation suggestions, because that was all she was capable of giving me aside from telling me "this story doesn't work." She had all sorts of ideas of how she would have done it. That didn't mean they were valuable critique.

2. "This would be better as a ________." I keep hearing that my prose work needs to be graphic novels. I keep hearing that my dinosaur story needs to be for children, not teenagers. I hear all sorts of people say that a chapter book should be a picture book should be a board book.  And boy, do they love bludgeoning you to death with what something should be. It's a very popular pastime. The problem with this is that it's not necessarily your job as a writer to find your market niche. It the job of your literary agent and eventually the marketing team that will be part and parcel of your publication contract. Believe me, these people know how to sell books. And once you get to that point, they will tell you what your book needs to be in order to sell. (Or, with the rise of ebooks, it'll be your own damn job anyway.) However, publication is a long way away for a lot of writers. So this kind of critique just wastes your time. The only time you need to implement this is when a literary agent is telling you so. And odds are, if you think your story is a YA novel, you've landed a literary agent that thinks so, too. Granted, knowing your book's level is important. You need to know the difference between a chapter book, a middle grade book, and a YA novel. But that's very basic research, which should take you about five minutes on Google. It's not rocket science. This sort of critique is smoke screening, the same sort of useless ideamongering that's direct kinship to "Oh you're a writer? I've always wanted to be a writer!" The most important thing to remember about critique is that it's someone else's idea about what your writing should be. A lot of ideas from other people about your writing are good and should be implemented. But not all of it is gold. Sometimes you get really stupid ideas from other people. And you need to trust your judgment to know when something is a stupid idea that will wreck your story to its very heart.

3. "You can't do (insert arbitrary story movement here.)" I have been scolded for not having my protagonist show up in the first 10 pages, despite the same thing happening in Harry Potter, David Clement-Davies's Fire-bringer, and even the story of Jesus Christ. I have been chastised for characterizing before I begin the plot, when everybody knows hundreds of books that take the time to characterize for emotional stakes before the plot begins. For every time someone tells me I can't use a trope, I can pull up an article on TvTropes where that trope has been used successfully. Please note that critiques like "This story movement isn't clear" or "This story movement makes no sense" are not the same thing, and are (or can be) valid critiques. (And if you do hear that, you should pay attention; odds are it's pretty important.) This sort of critique springs from "knowledge" of the market. Mysterious, ethereal "knowledge." Its most common form is when someone is published, and someone who knows that person seems to think that their success is due to a specific formula. Therefore, if your novel falls outside that formula, you can't do it and expect to be successful (i.e. published). Another popular form it takes is when someone goes to a writing seminar and listens to literary agents talk about trends or things they're looking for. Believe me, you will hear at every writing session you ever go to, every literary agent you ever encounter, that "the writing should be good, the characters should leap off the page, the plot should be engaging." That does not mean that if your YA novel is not a paranormal romance it's doomed to failure. Or that this arbitrary thing you've done will doom you for all eternity. (One of the biggest lessons you learn from popular literature is that "good" writing is not the same as "marketable" writing.) It never seems to occur to these people that one literary agent's opinion is just one literary agent's opinion. Or that nobody sees bestsellers coming, and that one book's success becomes the next round of "You can't do (insert arbitrary story movement here because (bestseller) didn't!"

4. "______ is too scary/controversial/morally wrong and shame on you for writing it!"  This one is a double-edged sword that lurks in children's writing groups and among literary agents. Everybody's out to sell books, and for some reason it never seems to occur to these naysayers that controversy sells just as well as good wholesome morality (or better). The younger you go, the more scrutiny you're under to be politically correct, but I've seen people who write YA scolded for having sexuality in their books and, no joke, a children's picture book where a dog chases off thieves being scolded for "too much real-life fear for a child." When writing becomes a social event, it can be a lot of pressure on a writer given to the demands of the audience. Regardless of whether it's your target audience or not. I've seen entire stories wrecked by this. The climax is too controversial, so every single building block of the story leading up to it gets demolished. And more often than not, the story gets destroyed in the process. It just becomes this bland, happy, generic thing. This rubs me the wrong way as an artist, and as somebody who feels of the role of the artist is to be controversial. To forge new paths and make new statements. Given the "Hollywood" trends of a lot of YA literature, we need more original, breakout stuff with profound and real things to say. Not less of it. I can freely admit that a lot of people write for the express purpose or being published, not to make an artistic statement. But I maintain that this attitude is an insidious one. I believe it has a direct correlation with the cookie-cutter YA that keeps telling the same story over and over and over, in ever narrowing margins. I'm not published yet, but if that were the sort of feedback I got from a literary agent, I would not implement it. I just don't think it's valid critique to be told "you can't" rather than "this is done well despite the controversy and stands on its own merits despite breaking from the norms."

5. "Well, I don't read (genre), but I don't like (obvious genre element) and think you should cut it."  This gets back to the Ideal Reader thing. I can't stress how much a difference it makes to have an Ideal Reader. And Ideal Reader is not somebody that will tell you "I love everything you write!" An Ideal Reader is more than likely a member of your target audience. I have had my fantasy worlds scolded for being too detailed. What I think is an intriguing and interesting detail, my writing group often accuses me of world-builder's disease. Each is its own battle, and sometimes they make good points, but nonetheless I balance every bit of critique I receive with the knowledge of fantasy that I like to read. But when somebody starts telling me they don't like magic or psychic dolphins, that kind of critique is going to go in one ear and out the other for me. I read fantasy. I read a lot of fantasy; I read a lot of types of fantasy. I read fantasy on different reading levels. I read myths and fairytales and have studied deconstructions of myths and fairytales. So when someone who's never read a fantasy novel in their life starts telling me how to handle my fantasy, I don't have to listen to that. I have the right to trust my own judgment when it comes to an element about the genre I adore. Again, please note that things like "This element isn't clear" or "This element doesn't make sense", that is not the same criticism. This is when someone tells you to remove your psychic dolphins from your psychic dolphin story because their premise is too ludicrous. This is someone telling you your romance novel has too much romance in it and could you ease up on the steamy scenes already? This is a grey area for sure, when someone starts telling you to remove the part of your genre that makes it your genre, that's another pretty big red flag. You need to put on the brakes and examine where this person is coming from before you start to doubt yourself.
  • Mood: Suffering
  • Listening to: A lot of progressive house for some reason
  • Reading: Salamandastrong
  • Watching: Gravity Falls
There's a frustrating element I've noticed lately in regards to Art. "Art with a capital 'A'", as a friend of mine calls it. And I suppose this blog was triggered by the cancellation of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan game Fighting is Magic. The fandom lost its collective shit because Hasbro sent the developers a Cease and Desist letter. The entitlement was just amazing to watch, and even worse was the sheer ignorance. Some of it stupid, like "Technically, all fanworks are parodies, so it's not illegal!" and "Copyright laws are so stupid!" to cruel, like "They can just take their development overseas, then Hasbro can't stop them!"

I was baffled by this. Because Hasbro had the right to protect their intellectual property.

See, I've been a freelance artist for a while now. And it's hard. It is so freaking hard, and part of the reason it's hard is because the default attitude of most people you deal with is, "We're not, like, going to pay you a lot. Or give you insurance benefits or anything. Because it's just, like, drawing, you know?" Leaving alone for the moment that more people are successful brain surgeons than successful artists, it echoes a larger sentiment: that Art is silly and fun and pretentious, not serious, and certainly not anything anyone should get paid for. In our highly visual culture, the pretty shiny has just become our due. It happens because it does, and we should get it for free.

A friend of mine related a lesson learned in one of her Illustration classes, where after a round of critiques, the teacher said, "Okay, which one would you pay money for?" And it entirely changed the perspective of the students. They were a little startled by the question, because suddenly the art wasn't just there for free. And suddenly the art was assigned a different kind of value aside from self-expression. A much more concrete value, that lets you eat and buy stuff. And it happens in every part of our culture. We pirate video games, and music, and movies. And become indignant when we can't. Also, angry when the creators ask for a little consideration. Case in point, the Hasbro thing. Another case in point is Deviantart itself. The points system is insulting to artists trying to pay their electric bill this month. Requests can also sometimes be insulting, doubly so for a professional artists who has no time to waste on projects that will not feed them. And believe me, when the most the average person is willing to give for a digital picture is maybe $35, breaking that down by hours becomes less than minimum wage most of the time.

I'm really trying not to get into another rant about fanworks, but it creates a disturbing trend for me. I feel it's kind of like corporate culture invading Art. First, you have this smoothly marketable thing, this character or concept, that is vetted in and out until it has broad, mainstream market appeal. (Apply this to anything: music, movies, whatever.) Then, part of that mainstream market starts doing Art of this highly vetted concept. It becomes free advertising. Free. Free for the corporation already making money off it. And then this weird line starts to blur, because on one side you have this corporate concept that's preempting other forms of self-expression because it's already got its vetting and appeal behind it, and on the other you have people who are willing to discount their own creative expression because it's just fanart. Then, this very same corporate culture can shut down anything in a legal sense, and it makes the creators of this Free Stuff howl in outrage. It's always okay to take Stuff For Free when it's Somebody Else's Stuff. We're all supposed to join hands in the Jungian space and agree that Art is all about expression, man, and when someone asks "Yeah, but how am I supposed to eat?" the question's disregarded as ludicrous.

This attitude towards Art is very pervasive. It discounts the original creators of content. It sneers at the idea that Art is valuable or meaningful (or original, in SO MANY cases). Art apparently belongs in the aether, an imaginary utopian hippie commune full of rainbows called Give Me My Free Shit, and if Art forgets itself and starts trying to wonder into the Real World where money and stuff is, it needs to be bitchslapped back into place. It's within the nature of an artist to share, but to ask for support like money and stuff? That's unforgivable. Then we're drama queens and selfish assholes, like Hasbro. Defending the thing that makes them money and shit; how dare they!? And the hypocrisy of it is nothing short of astounding. These people want to perpetuate the corporate elements of marketing and advertising appeal, and all the popularity it brings, but then gnash their teeth and wail when that very same corporate culture viciously puts them in their place. I don't even know where fake movie trailers and redubbed animations count on the Art spectrum, but I'm increasingly feeling that stuff like that is just an easy way out. Take somebody else's work and make it your own to bask in the praise. Harmless enough. It's just when stuff gets big, like Fighting is Magic, where people start ignoring the rights of the creators in order to feel like … I dunno, like they're artists without having any of the hard work that went into it, that it gets disturbing. (In the case of Fighting is Magic specifically it's tragically misguided, because these guys did work hard, they were just doomed from the start because they had no idea what the hell they were getting into and somebody should have told them so.) It sends a very clear message to creators: don't bother being original. Don't even bother trying. But if you become successful, Your Success will become Our Success and we don't have to pay you for it.

Take it from me: one of the worst, most condescending and insulting things in the world for an artist to suffer is the idea that Art Is Silly. That office jobs and mechanics and lawyers and stuff: they do real shit. Are deserving of dignity. Artists don't. Artists draw funny little doodles that are amusing, even when it's multi-billion dollar animated movies or video games. I have had the concept of my time scoffed at, belittled, and shamed because I draw for it, whereas something like a call center job or even fast food there's no question of being paid for your time. So yeah. When people slap something together and call it Art, especially Art that belongs to other people, it's a little aggravating. And if you think it's easy to do Art, you're not doing it.

And that's the vibe I'm getting from people who Don't Do Art. They discount it, take it for granted, and are even bold and stupid enough to think it belongs to them. Why nobody told the Fighting Is Magic development team that maybe they shouldn't waste two years of their life on something that was illegal in the first place is beyond me. It shows an amazing lack of knowledge about Intellectual Property laws, licensing, and copyright, which any artist who has been screwed by a contract (or a nonexistent one that leaves no recourse to not getting paid) knows backwards and forwards. The first time you get paid in shoestrings, gum, and the "privilege of being able to include it in your portfolio", you learn real quick that money talks and bullshit walks. And I'd honestly like to know what the original animators and designers think of their work being advertised while they're not seeing a dime of all that exposure. Someone else is, and it's probably profit margins.

I'm not saying the maze of corporate money, marketing, Art, and expression is an easy one to navigate. There's a lot of grey area and fog, and I don't want to equate some eleven-year-old who loves Pokemon and is inspired to draw a picture of it is the same as someone who thinks no artist anywhere deserves money for their creations. Or that all Art everywhere should be free because I Deserve Free Shit. But there's an unfortunate attitude that's extremely prevalent that I'm honestly getting tired of hearing. Especially when I hear "What do you mean you won't do it for free!?" for the umpteenth time. That phrase basically says "You and your skills are worthless!" for anyone looking for a translation. And don't tell me it doesn't exist. I've seen blogs and forum posts in the video game industry that encourage finding gullible people on Deviantart who will work for free or cheap, and specifically say you're better off avoiding more seasoned professionals because they'll cost you money. There's a saying: Amateurs make it hard for the professionals. And I have to say, the worst kind of amateur is the one that says "I worked hard on this thing that isn't mine totally for free!"

What the hell are the rest of us supposed to say to that?
  • Mood: Disgust
It's been a while since I dared to broach the subject of fanfiction, but some recent discussions about its merits have driven me to the keyboard yet again. Maybe I'm just a natural curmudgeon, who gets her jollies stomping on other people's idea about art. Maybe it's the indignant fire in me being banked by phrases like "Do NOT redistribute, claim, copy, edit or use it in any way" on fanworks and people saying things like "That's someone's creative work, man!" in reference to said fanworks. Maybe it's because I fiercely believe that we don't need new excuses to lower ourselves to ever greater levels of mediocrity. Or maybe it's just because I like making fun of people whose best contribution in the creative sense is somebody else's far more successful idea.

1. Fanworks are derivative works. This is the big one. Holy crap, no one anywhere on the Internet seems to have any idea what the hell this means. First of all, fanfiction and fanart are not "creative works." Creative work implies you are the creator. As in, the holder of the intellectual property and the idea (if you are licensed, such as Warner Brothers being the licensed to make the Harry Potter movies) or at least its progenitor in some sense (like Rowling being the original author of Harry Potter).  So yes. That Zelda painting or that My Little Pony fanfic you poured a hundred hours of your life into: it's not yours. Nope. Doesn't matter. I don't care: at the end of the day you have not created in a legal sense. And believe me, when it comes to creative ideas, legal is all that matters. And don't tell me that shit doesn't matter, because it does. I see it every single time some idiot tween posts "DO NOT STEAL" all over their fanart. I laugh every time. It's like the greatest joke ever. These people actually think they're Da Vinci or something, forging bold new pathways into something never seen before, when they're copying someone else's highly vetted, extremely marketable and already successful idea. Don't get me wrong. I like fanart, especially Pokemon, and it's been neat seeing some people's interpretation of My Little Pony. At the same time, it's just as freaking heartbreaking to see young artists slaving away at copying the exact Flash style of MLP:FiM instead of exploring digression and their own self-expression. But screw that, right? I mean, art, pfft, what's that about?

2. Copyright is largely defined by what makes money. Name a webcomic artist you like. All the work they do largely goes into posting their stuff for free and hoping that the idea takes off. I'm amazed at the number of people who draw Balto-ripoff wolf characters, then froth at the mouth when someone "steals their pose" or their "character design." Sure, man. Sure. Your crap knockoff thing is the next Harry Potter. But, ahem, let someone actually start making money at knocking off Harry Potter, like that guy a few years back, and watch how fast the lawyers show up. And oh my God, do not even get me started on what the value of art even is in this society. If you are anybody who has actually tried to make money drawing and freelancing, you have probably been paid in "exposure." Seriously, there needs to be a tax break for that. Fanworks, more than anything, should be all about digression and self-expression with no strings attached, but it doesn't. No, it becomes this horrible bitchfest battlefield where people are allowed, somehow, to say that their Rainbow Dash is theirs and only theirs, and no one else is allowed to say anything. It just goes right back to how laughable the idea is in the first place. It's this engorged, misplaced sense of self-importance, when you did jack squat to make that idea happen. Seriously, the definition of derivative works includes the phrase "lacked any original expression." We're through the looking glass here, people.

3. Parody and educational uses are Fair Use. I did a thing a while ago about how too many DA artists design horrible wolf characters. And found some horrible wolf characters and posted them as part of the tutorial. And had several people scold me for "not asking the original artist's permission." Fair Use is this wonderful, magical law in Internetland, that basically means when it's yours, people need to ask and pay, but if it's not, it had better be free and if it isn't you're going to pirate the shit out of it. Ahem. Fair Use actually says (among other things) that for the purposes of critiquing something by making fun of it (parody) or for educational purposes, you don't need the original creator's permission. Yes. Weird Al likes to ask the original artists out of a sense of propriety. It doesn't mean that there would be legal precedent for those poor wolf artists to legitimately sue me. This is yet again why the "DON'T STEAL" thing is hilarious to me. Because trust me, if Hasbro decided to throw their weight behind any kind of legal complaint, they'd have precedence. They just don't, because it would alienate fans and they'd lose money (see Rule #2.) But trust me, the moment somebody starts making an enormous amount of money off their intellectual property, they so will. If you have any doubt, look up interviews with the creators of My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic and how much they've sweat over how easily they could lose an entire year and then some's worth of work for bald-faced, legally defined copyright infringement. (Another thing people don't seem to know the definition of.)

4. Fanfiction has never been lauded.  I think the thing I love the most about fanfiction especially, but all fanwork, is that it seems to enjoy this weird sort of limbo according to its biggest proponents. It is above reproach, yet rails against how unfair it is that it's not regarded with the same kind of legitimacy as, you know, real art. I've said many a time that fanfiction fosters a malformed environment, giving its purveyors a bloated sense of ego when all they're getting critique from is other fanfiction writers. (Most of which, I gotta say, if the general writing skill is anything to go by, have never read a decent book or developed a literary aesthetic of any kind. Most of which.) However, fanfiction insists it's a real boy, not a puppet, despite proving time and time again that as a medium or art movement or whatever the hell it thinks it is, it lacks the maturity to suffer the sling and arrows of critics (mainstream or otherwise). Letting alone the "God forbid you actually tell someone they suck" idea, even its criticism is skewed. Fanfiction is highly incestuous and highly closed off. Only certain people move in certain circles; i.e. the fans of that one thing. Maybe Zelda fans are going to check out Balto fanfiction, but in the end, it's still just fans of that something. And hell yes, I will tell you that is not as legitimate as someone like Stephen King or Shakespeare writing stuff that people didn't know they liked until they read it. In a heartbeat. Fanfiction loves the equilibrium legitimacy argument, because it absolves it of any and all flaws without sacrifice. Egotism of the worst kind.

5. Entitlement does not equal good ideas. This is big thing for me, mostly because of the This Is Why The Fandom Can't Have Nice things deal. You didn't create it. Any of it. Not any of the stuff you love and are fans of. Yeah. You love it. It comforted you, provided an escape, helped make the hard times a little easier, made you resonate with humanity as a whole, maybe even helped form a part of your identity. It still ain't yours. And what I love the most is this idea that art is somehow easy. That the writers of Mass Effect 3 were somehow dumber than the multitude of fans who screamed about the ending. That Snakes on a Plane wasn't some god-awful mess of a movie because the Internet wrote it. That you, or your forum buddies, or your circles are like, profound visionaries, man, cause you understand what it means to be real fans. And! And! I love how this dovetails so neatly with the simultaneous attitude of fanworks that they're not allowed to be critiqued. Legitimate, real, profound, and successful art is not easy. And to all the people out there putting yourself into a box and saying "I'm successful because I draw fanart!": screw you. You are not for one second as legitimate as the original nobody with no pageviews. The creator has ultimate vision, and yeah, licensing screws up good ideas (ask Bill Watterson.) You want to do something about it? Go be an artist. Go find out how easy it is to be creative, not derivative. But don't mistake being a fan with being a creator. Because once you step over that line, you're deluding yourself into thinking that what you have to say is the same thing as being popular and highly marketable.
  • Mood: Disgust
I ran across this post today here on Deviantart:  tompreston.deviantart.com/jour… . Some of the videos and links invoked inspired me to discuss the creative process. And negativity.
From time to time, I think I am very lucky in that my existence is caught up in what I do. I write, because I can't not write. And I draw for the same reason. Other people, apparently, are not this lucky. So I guess this journal is for them. Anyone who has ever doubted, anyone who believes they are a hack, anyone who believes that creativity done right flows all the time and never, ever stops (that's crap, by the way.) And, perhaps most importantly, that the Internet is the end, all be all of Art.
I personally have a difficult time doing everything the Internet demands. I have difficulty with Twitter, I'm lousy at my Facebook, and my account here on DA is probably the only thing that I check consistently. But, that's because I have a life. I have a project that I'm working on pretty much all the time, a dog that has to be walked, and most of my down time I choose to be focused on what I want to do, rather than the latest bit of Internet. The Internet is the most powerful tool of communication we've ever created. It also shows the worst of humanity way more often than it should.
I heard a parable once about living a life: that your life is an empty jar, and you can choose to fill it with rocks or sand. The rocks are the major, important things: your goals, your dreams, your relationships, your career. The sand is all the other minutiae: day to day crap, drama, going to the grocery store, and so on. You can fill a jar with sand, but if you do there's no room for the rocks. That's why you put the rocks in first. The sand fills up the spaces and the cracks in between.
So, when I see people talk about being afraid to create new content, because they are afraid of what the howling mobs on the Internet will think of them: all I can think of is that these people have filled their jars with sand.
I've noticed a phenomenon that suggests that art is meant to be social. It's a social event. You draw with friends, so you don't get bored. You draw with an audience, so your self-confidence can be propped up. You draw with a class so you can stick to a schedule. Art, for whatever reason, has become about less about focus, about introspection, about the journey to the truth that lies at the core of every human life.  Art seems to be moving away from its traditional role of criticizing and critiquing society, breaking new roads and giving new insights to its culture, and moving in to the mainstream cry of "Please accept me!"
I've got news for you, folks. Artists have always been lonely. We might make connections, but we belong to a world that demands us as individuals, more alone than regular people. Because if we're not alone, the process suffers. Art suffers. Art is not about being accepted. It's about creating something new, something that hasn't been there before.  A new voice, a new perspective, even a new emotion or a new awareness. And, yeah, we're damn brave for what we do. Because we do it more alone than anyone else. We're more alone then athletes, surgeons, engineers, and the idiots who do nothing with their lives but watch reality TV and post mean comments about your painting.
A lot of what these people seem to be whining about is that the Internet is a toxic place for feedback.
At the risk of sounding facetious: well, duh.
Philistines have always been the bane of the artist. Marcel Duchampe's Nude Descending Staircase was unveiled to scathing ridicule. Michelangelo's health was ruined by the Sistine Chapel. Art is easier and more accessible than ever, and these people want to complain when Michelangelo painted 5000 square feet of frescos? If Art is not worth sacrificing for, it's less meaningful than you think it is.
And, yes, that means suffering the slings and arrows of people who 'just don't get it'. Who the hell cares?
I can assure you that Da Vinci was not asking the peasants on the street what they thought of his work. If he was asking anybody, he was asking other master painters. I don't care what the latest angry 11-year-old has to say about my critique of how to design wolf characters. A) They don't know what they're talking about because they're laughably lacking in experience, and B) they don't have to listen to anything I have to say.
I draw for myself. I write for myself. And anytime I feel like I'm getting a little bit too big for my britches, I go to a used bookstore, and look at how many other novelists ended up there. Because odds are, I will, too. I'm probably not going to be the next J. K. Rowling. But, at the end of the day, I'll be satisfied with myself, what I had to say, and how I chose to say it. On my own terms. Because that's what being an artist is about.
We might be more alone, but we have the most freedom of any other existence. Our identity is the envy of everyone else in their most secret hearts. Cherish that. Especially the next time somebody tries to shit all over your creation. Yeah, yeah, we all want to be accepted and all that, but no matter what, we are all "unutterably alone."  You might as well have fun with it while you're here.
To everyone too scared to create: go back to the center. Go back to being alone. The Internet will be waiting for you when you get back. In all its stupid, burping, loud, obnoxious glory. The Internet should not define you. Your artistic vision should. And if you've lost sight of that, that's why your fear has gotten the better of you.
Art. What else matters?
  • Mood: Tired
  • Reading: Clan Apis
  • Watching: My Little Pony
I know I can't be the only one out there who soundtracks for her stories and characters. If Youtube is anything to go by, people see music videos for everything. I am constantly on the hunt for new music, because music opens up creative doors for my process. I see things for my characters and story that I could not otherwise do on my own. Movies and books provide  inspiration, but music is in a class all its own.
In celebration of that, I invite my watchers and fellow writing enthusiasts to try a creative exercise: offer up the soundtrack to your own writing. You never know, you might just give someone else the perfect song to complete their own soundtrack's story. It's my hope that people will post a musical narrative that evokes the journey of their characters and story.
Creativity on DeviantArt is far too often seen as a commodity, something to be selfishly hoarded instead of shared. The best sort of creativity is the kind that inspires.
In the spirit of that, since it's the holidays and all, let inspiration ring.
Check out the comments, take a listen, and be sure to leave comments for other people if they leave a song that you like. Especially if it sparks your interest in their story.
I'm not one to be left out,  so I will kick things off by offering the first fifteen songs from my dinosaur novel Mark of the Conifer:

1. The Beginning - Two Steps From Hell - Unfolding Armies www.youtube.com/watch?v=79eFPo…
2. Sunstrike's Clan - Two Steps From Hell - Adventures of Enchantment www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlARmS…
3. Sol's Theme - Immediate Music - Serenata Immortale
www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pOtOB…
4. Song of the Sauris - Corner Stone Cues - Madokara Mieru www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIu8rI…
5. Song of the Droemar - E.S. Posthumus - Arise
www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJWgUU…
6. Song of the Hadrei - Chouwa Oto - With Reflection www.youtube.com/watch?v=SoJ9dT…
7. Song of the Theros - Corner Stone Cues - Ten Years Kashmir (Film Percussion Mix) www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAbQMN…
8. Leaf's Escape - Two Steps From Hell - Black Blade www.youtube.com/watch?v=z28lwy…
9. The Sea Gods - Two Steps From Hell - Atlantis www.youtube.com/watch?v=apjjwi…
10. Facing the Fire - Two Steps From Hell - To Glory www.youtube.com/watch?v=abjE9Q…
11. Courtship - E.S Posthumus - Manju www.youtube.com/watch?v=nk3GRK…
12. At the End - Two Steps From Hell - Crimson Death www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xq3soY…
13. Legend - E.S Posthumus - Oraanu Pi www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcCmti…
14. Told In Stone - Switchfoot - The Shadows Prove The Sunshine www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDM2QR…
15. The Pact - Angels And Airwaves- The Gift
www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4kMkv…
  • Mood: Tired
  • Reading: The Artist's Way
  • Watching: My Little Pony
1. Seeking validation on the outside and getting shocked when you get critique. Validation comes from within, folks. Hard life lesson, but there you are. First of all, every artist of any kind has to learn to tell themselves they've done good work even in the face of their detractors. (One just hopes they balance it out with taking valid critique into consideration so they improve.) If you can't, you're not going to accomplish much. Second, I'm not saying that encouragement and fans and book deals aren't very nice things, but to the creative process they can be massive distractions. I read recently that a core of stillness is necessary to the creative process, and the more distracted I get, the more I understand it. I have seen entirely too many writers (and by this I mean full-grown adults who should be emotionally mature and everything) seek validation in a desperate and pathetic way, and get outraged when — gasp — someone tells them their writing could improve. I have seen people (mostly women) backbite, backstab, cold-shoulder, ostracize, and instill hierarchies of "published" and "not-published" that resemble cliques a high school would envy. And these cliques ain't got a decent writer among them. What they do is flock together so they can all preen and stroke and tell each other how wonderful they are. And those that aren't published latch onto those that are, as if attaching oneself to these people will give up the great secret on How To Get Published. (Psst. The answer is: BE A BETTER WRITER, STUPID.) If your self-esteem is low where your writing is concerned, it can be so, so easy to seek comfort. Especially if your Real Life at large is littered with terrible choices and even worse consequences. But if you fall into that hole, the best you can hope for is writing the kind of stuff in Rule #5 that makes me hate you.

2. Trying to make writing a social event. I don't understand why people do this. From the get-go, I heard the phrase "writing is the loneliest profession." And pretty much accepted that as my lot. But I watch people in Real Life and online constantly avoid the reality that the only way to write is to sit your ass in a chair and hit the keys. Mostly by trying to see if someone'll do it with them. NaNoWriMo is not the worst offender, but it's a good example. Classes and writing conventions can be helpful, but I have seen people pay good money for years on end and never get anywhere. Because they're not writing on their own. They might scribble a few things, but for the most part they want to talk to you about all these great ideas they have. One of the few hard and fast rules of writing I've discovered is: if someone's talking to you about what they're writing, they are not writing it. I guarantee you. I will bet you anything that the babbling ideamonger in the center of the room has barely written a word, while the surly introvert in the corner logged a hundred thousand words last novel. Writing is lonely, people. We explore worlds and journeys and emotions entirely on our own. Because if someone else were there with us, it would screw up the process. Leaving alone the whole "stillness is necessary to the process thing": I don't know if you've experienced the fresh hell that is collaboration, but believe me when I say it's one of the worst things I've seen people try to do. They are ready to kill each other by the end of it. People who collaborate well most of the time can do it because they've completed independent projects on their own in the first place, and bring a certain level of self-discipline to the table. Do not think that there is a magic feather. Writers write. And nobody's gonna make you do it but you.

3. Asking people or conventions to hold your hand. I recall talking to a group of ladies at SCBWI that were talking about a rather elite writer's program (the name of which escapes me) that had resulted in several people getting published. There was quite a bit of clucking and patting of feathers as these ladies assured themselves that such a pedigree ensured success. One of them turned to me and said, "Don't you think that would help you be a better writer?" I was unaware I was part of the conversation and happened to be doodling ponies at the time, so looked anything but the picture of literary aplomb. I replied by paraphrasing Stephen King: "The grit of sand is what makes a pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters." Proverbial pin drop. (I later found out that many people who graduated from that writer's program were still struggling to break into print.) Conventions are good for the uninitiated: if you don't know anything about the marketing side of writing, they're valuable. If you don't know anything about writing: they are less valuable, but still valuable. If you know both, conventions become maddening events in which you shell out several hundred dollars to hear the exact same stuff you've heard before, spend ten minutes with an agent, then get to stand around in a mixer trying to talk over everyone else's ten-second pitch line before you realize all the literary agents are hiding in their hotel rooms because this crap is insane. Conventions and writer's retreats are inspiring. I will give them that. Going to one, it's impossible not to come home fired with new zeal. Therein lies most of their value. But the shine is off the apple in about a day. You're back to the realization: you've still got to sit down by yourself and type things out. And really, talking to some "writers", that's more than they can handle. So they just sign up for the next convention with all their friends to keep that high going.

4. Strangling an idea to death. I've only personally experienced one person who couldn't let go of an idea. I joined SCBWI about four years ago, and met a lady from England who had an idea for a book that was a feel-good romp with five children who travel the world solving mysteries. She kept insisting it was a middle-grade, but it read like a chapter book. I dutifully did my critique, saw her at meetings, and life went on. Four years later: she's still hocking that book. Still going to the same old conventions over and over and trying to pitch the thing. My writing group consists of far more sociable writers than myself, and they assure me this happens all the time. That elite writer's program I mentioned? Apparently one luckless woman in SCBWI has taken the exact same book there three times in a row, year after year. And this is $3k a pop deal. I have also seen people write total staleness into their first chapter. After changing one line and asking me to critique it again, and again, paring down the spontaneity of the writing the same way someone chews their fingernails bloody. Digression is important. You have to know when to let an idea go, when to let it incubate, when to realize when it just ain't gonna work and you need let it die, and when its time to try something new. There are books that have taken decades to write. Your new project could teach you something that will give you a totally new insight into how to solve a problem in your old one. Creativity is about growth. The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

5. Writing what's popular, not what you have to say. Uuuuugh. I hate this one. I hate it hate it hate it. This leads me to encountering cookie-cutter Hollywood-model books that are the same thing over and over, and drives me to write scathing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I cannot believe how unoriginal so much YA literature is, or how spineless so much of it is. Between the books that copy the latest bestseller, and the books that copy waning bestsellers, the books that are retellings of fairy tales and myths, and the demand of publishers to publish what's marketable and not necessarily aesthetically valuable: there's not much room for originality. Granted, the ebook market has created an outlet for this, but it doesn't soothe my pain. More than this, I hate meeting writers I want to punch in the face because they think they're being clever by writing Twilight-but-seriously-not-Twilight-nudge-nudge-wink-wink. I swear to god, the worst of them are people who read one book and decide they can be a writer. And odds are it's not even a good book, it's just what's popular at the moment. I'm not saying populist literature is bad (Dickens and King qualify), but a lot of it can be. I loathe writers who have so much timidity they feel the only way they're ever going to say something meaningful is by treading the path of someone bolder or luckier. That their own experiences, however humble and true, aren't as important as something flashy and hollow. And don't give me that crap about "all stories have been done before", because there is a distinct line between stories inspired by inherent structure, and stories that rip off every cliché' known to the genre without even attempting originality. You're writing to express a truth. Be brave. Step out somewhere new and show us the way.
  • Mood: Tired
  • Listening to: Big Macintosh's Fighting Theme
  • Reading: The Artist's Way
  • Watching: My Little Pony
I'm not looking for a religious discussion. If someone starts one, I will rip your face off and block your comments.

1. How involved a deity is affects religion. At least in fantasy, anyway.  Now of course there are plenty of fantasy religions that don't bother to clear up whether a god actually exists, and the driving elements of the story or more about religion and power rather than spirituality. So considering whether god or gods actually really do exist at all in your story is a perfectly cromulent question. However, if a god does exist, and is constantly involved in the lives and well-being of its worshipers, enemies or non-believers might think twice before some serious smiting ensues.  For that matter, followers of an attentive god might watch their mouths.  (Look at the Greek Gods and what they did for slights!) A god may be protective, but that doesn't necessarily mean benevolent.  In fact, a god or gods may have the attitude of "No one messes with my people but me!" Ancestors and spirits may replace a full-on deity, but how involved they are with the real world still needs to be addressed.  (I think that Starclan from the Warriors cat series might as well not be there at all, since they are never helpful and at times downright deliberately confusing and obstructive. The overthrow of them would make for the best Japanese RPG ever, though. Get on that, Warrior fanfiction people, I'm throwing you a bone, here.)   If a god is distant, and never involved, it obviously leaves more room for interpretations, like popes and priests.  Often there are magical quotas for gods, that by worshiping a god one gains particular magics or some other boon.  If this is so, pay attention to what that god likes and what it wouldn't tolerate.  (If a god likes babies, for example, and your character accidentally kills one, I'm going to take issue when the god pats him on the shoulder and says, "Eh, that's okay, buddy.") Very few people like the full-on attention of gods.  Heroes tend to have miserable lives, ditto prophets and martyrs.  A god nitpicking all the time creates a tyrannical heaven, especially if they're petty. The angle of gods sneering at poor, pathetic humanity has kind of been done to death; sometimes I wonder how people would behave towards a god that could care less if it was worshiped, or even gods that are at mercy of mankind like in Princess Mononoke. That also begs the question of whether a god or supernatural being needs worshipers in the first place, because that at least can give mankind some pull.  Gods may well operate on their own level of rules, and be forbidden from directly interfering with the mortal realm because it creates chaos.  Indirect contact from the gods is another grey area that can be misinterpreted, even usurped by false prophets.  Of course, the definition of what a god even is opens up all kinds of thematic ruminations (again, Japanese RPGs might kill god all the time, but the argument could be made that the god killed is not God god or what have you, just a super-powerful denizen.) Either way, the role of gods as watchers, judges, or directors of fates needs to be established, even if they don't play a major role in the story.

2. What is exchanged for religion needs to be addressed. Religion either forms or is an extension of morals and ethics, especially in primitive societies. It is often the first attempt of mankind to make sense of that which makes no sense.  While myths are the first science, often attempting to explain phenomenon as-yet undiscovered, religion and spirituality attempts to answer the questions science never can. Do people pray just to exalt their god or gods, and obey heavenly laws in the hopes of being granted a reward?  Or do characters pray for power, for magic, or other favors?  And which ones do the gods agree to?  Why does the religion exist in the first place?  Many times, religion strikes a chord by addressing the major problems people have. If you are a warrior whose livelihood depends on not dying in battle, you're probably not going to be thrilled at praying to some namby-pamby god of peace. You've got to get the attention of the not-dying-in-war god! Honoring one's ancestors might be important for obtaining past histories, or even so one can be welcomed as a proper family member when one dies and joins the spirits on the other side.  Note that the reality of these things existing is not as important as the beliefs they instill: odds are, to your characters, the god or gods exist. I also have to point out that if miracles like smiting and the like occur, that's gonna do an awful lot for convincing people the god or gods are real (provided the miracle is specific enough, but again: false prophets can jump all over that.)  If there are multiple gods fighting over worshipers, things would definitely get interesting. People usually embrace religion because it fulfills a need.  Note that this is not necessarily the presence of a comforting deity, but may well be allowing one to become a part of the community surrounding that religion.  You might all be headed to be circumcised and dance in a drum circle, but damn, you're part of something bigger than yourself!

3. Environment and cultural values affects religion. People in the desert might worship rain.  But then again, people in a river valley might, too, because the annual river flooding means their crops are good this year. However, in the desert, I bet the storm god is always a good guy, while in the river valley, the storm god has a reputation for being wrathful if he's not appeased. An abundant agricultural society might put gods of fertility and crops first, while a nomadic warrior tribe might value a god of war. What the society values as ethical is influenced by AND influences religion. When mankind is living-hand-to-mouth, expect to see a lot of tribal totems, polytheism, and morals that make no scruples about killing. The less time spent worrying about a full belly is more time to contemplate one's navel.  To put it another way, civilization and morality only goes as far as one's ability to eat.  Talk to anyone who has known real hunger. Day three, you might be willing to steal and break a law you'd never conceived of breaking.  Day five, you might be willing to kill.  A society facing this constantly would have a god, a belief system, or a set of mores that are okay with this.  Conversely, a society where hand-to-mouth is not a reality for the majority would shake a finger at such primitive behavior.  Having said all that, there's nothing worse than a slap-dash religion that makes no sense within the context of the established civilization.  I have to invoke Paolini's "Religion of Ebul" here for a second, with the priests cutting their limbs off just cause. I don't wanna say no one would join that religion, because there's always someone desperate and sad enough to joint the most obvious idiot-cult, but cutting one's limbs off serves no purpose in the world as Paolini has presented it.  You'd be useless to your society in just about every sense of the word, and religion, largely, is about making connections within society.  Please realize that while belief systems can influence and control society, they can't utterly gum up the works of society's operations, because when they do, people tend to do two things: rebel (Henry the 8th, Lutherans, Protestants, Puritans) or become fundamental (the Spanish Inquisition). The medieval churches of Europe grew crops and bred dogs and had a lot of economic power.  They were useful in other ways to society aside from just the whole "Yay God!" thing, and a believable fantasy religion takes this into account.

4. The role of ritual is one of the most important. Ritual is a huge, huge thing in human lives.  Lack of ritual almost always guarantees a lack of civilization. Rituals reflect or symbolize what the society holds as important, what a culture values.  That is why judges wear black robes, why there are ceremonies for inaugurations or military awards, and why we have funerals. For example, a society that promotes death as the most meaningful act ever, one more meaningful than birth or marriage or anything else, is probably going to have warriors sculpted in ritual to believe that with every ounce of their being (and will probably make you wet yourself.)  If you like life, but it's meaningless to them, would you wanna face a warrior of theirs?  How about a thousand of them?  Rituals of birth, coming of age, courtship, bonding, and death exist in just about every culture.  Disregarding a ritual or doing it wrong can be quite the faux pas, especially if cultures are colliding.  (Throw vengeful opposing gods into the mix and watch the sparks fly.) Depending on how stringent that culture is, it could mean exile or even death (blasphemy laws in Pakistan carry the death sentence, for example.) Modern day disregarding of ritual in say, dating (courtship) might not be that big a deal.  But try spitting on a coffin at a funeral, and someone's head is gonna roll. A friend told me once  that the surest sign of a society on the brink of collapse is a society that tolerates everything.  Rituals dictate what society tolerates. As creatures of habit, we like rituals.  They are comforting, and can be personal habits or hugely communal events.  Ritual gives significance to the insignificant. They are the infrastructure of a society, the software of our brains; they can change, but if they crumble altogether, everyone's in trouble. Ritual is heavily tied to what defines a culture's values and morals, and surest way to become outcast or insult someone is to screw with their rituals. If a god is involved, and says "Do these rituals right or I'll smite you" the pressure gets even worse. For more on the role of ritual and its resonation in religion and culture, I highly recommend The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell.

5. Religion is highly structured, so don't be stupid about it. Fantasy religions can kind of say anything; you just have to be consistent about the message.  If you've taken the time to establish that the Sky God says don't touch a woman until she's married to you, and you have rituals that constantly reinforce this message, and everyone who considers themselves upright moral citizens agrees that not touching women is the fair and right thing to do: don't have an ethically-minded hero touch an unmarried woman and not think twice about it. Or, have an unscrupulous bastard do it and not get in trouble when someone catches him. There'd better be some punishment on the way. Otherwise, why'd you bother telling us Sky God no likee the touching? Also be aware of iterations within the taboo.  Is an accidental touch or the brushing of fingertips just as bad as full on canoodling? Because if so, that tells us a lot about the society, especially if it involves a rich noblewoman/chief's daughter versus a peasant girl.  Conversely, if a guy kisses a girl and is subjected to three days blackballing, that says a lot, too.  (Blackballing is one of the most incredibly hurtful and powerful tools a primitive culture has at its disposal.) Taboos within religion trickle into secular life as well.  The biggest offense fantasy religion tends to do is take all this time to establish religion, and then not make it matter one bit outside of the church/synagogue/mosque walls. Religion and spirituality are powerful, powerful forces, because they affect beliefs. If people in the real world can blow themselves up or set themselves on fire because they believe a spiritual text, what the hell do you think could happen in a fantasy world where magic and dragons and gods might have the same spirit of conviction?
  • Mood: Tired
  • Listening to: Brand New Day from the Lie to Me soundtrack
  • Reading: Stephen King's newest book
  • Watching: Lie to Me
  • Playing: `Xenogears
I just read a pretty interesting book about the healthy emotional development of young girls called The Triple Bind.  In a nutshell, it says that three contradictory rules are causing self-destruction among young teenage girls.

Rule#1: Fulfill the traditional "girl" expectations -- look pretty, be nice, get a boyfriend -- while excelling at "girl skills": empathy, cooperation, nurturing, relationship building, and family foundation.

Rule#2: Succeed at "boy goals" -- get straight A's, be a super athlete, be aggressive, be competitive, win acceptance to Ivy League, etc.

Rule#3: Be 100 perfect, 100 percent of the time and make it look effortless.  Alternative roles that previously offered escape like beatnik, tomboy, intellectual, hippie, punk, or goth have been co-opted, consumerized, and forced into a single narrow definition of what a woman should be.

I realize this is a far cry from what I usually write about, but one chapter of the book was dedicated to how YA champions like Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries and the popular Gossip Girls series were actually reinforcing this unfair rule set.

A decent example was actually the movie Enchanted, where the author pointed out that even the deconstruction and subversion of the "traditional princess role" still played into the Triple Bind. At the end of the movie, Giselle is supposed to run her own business, provide financial security, raise a child, and do all her hair and makeup every day so she pleases the eye. And the entire time, she's got to be cheerful, nurturing, and sweet (despite that scene where she actually expressed anger.)

Probably the best example was America's Next Top Model, which has been defended to me by those who claim it's progressive because, among other things, a plus-sized model won the competition some time back. Nonetheless, it seemed to perfectly sum up the Triple Bind. The show's press release says "Participants are asked to demonstrate both inner and outer beauty as they learn to master complicated catwalks, intense physical fitness, fashion photo shoots, and perfect publicity skills."  The models are pressured to make it all seem effortless; they must both fit the mold and break the mold, and no one can ever tell her when she must do which (this includes Tyra Banks and the judges). A voluptuous girl is told by the judges to both glory in her unusual body but also compensate for it. The show's own theme song, "Wanna be on top?" encourages aggression, but when girls are scathingly cat-like to each other they can be kicked out for lacking "inner beauty". Conversely, no matter how unique the girls attempt to be, they ultimately must be obedient to the highly commercialized and sexualized desires of the client.

The contestants struggle with the Triple Bind: look sexy -- don't be a slut. Be yourself -- but please others.  Radiate confidence -- but don't be arrogant. Be ambitious -- but don't be a bitch.

At first, I was like "Okay, come on, that's a reality show."  Then I got to a chapter on self-erasing identities that examined YA adult literature trends.  And I quote from the protagonist's journal of Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries:

STARTING TODAY I WILL
1. Be nice to everyone, whether I like him/her or not.
2. Stop lying all the time about my feelings.
3. Stop forgetting my algebra notebook.
4. Keep my comments to myself …

And I had to admit, as harmless as that list looks, rule number 3 is the only rule that doesn't contradict one of the others. Triple Bind.

The book said that girls in my generation are kind of past this Triple Bind idea, because it wasn't as highly commercialized as it is now. And believe me, the book went over everything: television, business, books, cyberculture, and school. The freaking Triple Bind is everywhere, and is heavily reinforced even in supposedly pro-feminism things like Grey's Anatomy, Ugly Betty, or Juno..  Regardless of other steps forward, women are still marginalized in many ways, and far too often it's by themselves. After recently reading the latest Twilight YA ripoff, I discovered major themes of "Girls, don't be smart around your man. Girls, all you want is shiny things and riches. Girls, you can't make assertive decisions without being cruel to those you care about, so don't do it. Girls, you have to always nurture, always; women nurture, that's what we do. Girls, you're super empowered even when you're playing within the accepted parameters defined by a patriarchal society. No really, you are!" 70% of literature is by women for women, so why are we telling ourselves this!?

I feel like I've largely escaped the Triple Bind: I in no way feel pressured to be an idealism because of what gender I am. But the idea that these three rules are largely accepted and enforced rules as far as society is concerned is rather astonishing to me. Really, the biggest one I've run up against is that when a women tries to assert herself, she's seen as a bitch.  And while I realize that reaction may have power over other people, it doesn't over me.  It's just the reaction I've experienced myself (and really, not very often, and only in extremely isolated incidents.) But I've seen women stigmatized by the workforce for having children: when the company knows your children will always come first, they will look to someone else to promote. A single mother is considered less competent and less dedicated than a man of the same age who runs marathons every morning. I encourage everyone to read this fantastic article by Anne-Marie Slaughter that I found incredibly eye-opening called Why Women Still Can't Have It All www.theatlantic.com/magazine/a… which basically points out that until women aren't forced to choose between family and career, we will not achieve equal opportunity among gender.

But I guess I gotta ask: what about you, my watchers?  Do you feel like these rules are accurate? That they encompass your own experiences?  That you are trapped to be someone who because she can have it all, she must have it all? And that if you have to struggle doing it all you're some kind of failure? That you can't be kind without being seen as weak and can't be assertive without being seen as mean? That you can't be a mother without being condemned for a lack of ambition and you can't have a career without being condemned for neglecting your family?
  • Mood: Neglect
  • Listening to: Rising blossom - Fighting Theme of Lotus and Aloe
  • Playing: `
1. Start with a concept. This is how most of my characters start, and they usually begin with two or three word descriptors. "Demon stallion" or "spoiled dragon prince" or "psychic dolphin". Characters as this stage are more anima than anything; they are forces at play in the primordial soup of story. When an idea is this new, I try not to focus on it too much. Ideas need time to germinate, and I've found myself disappointed in times past when the potential of the character was so much more exciting than the concrete reality of what they became. Since during this time I'm developing plot and main conflict, I try to move characters around and see who I gravitate towards. This helps story and character grow organically. It's during this time that I try and determine what the character struggles with, the yin and yang of their internal difficulty. For example, I was recently asked to come up with a character for an urban fantasy roleplay, with no real details about the world other than it would be similar to Buffy: contemporary setting, high-schoolers fight evil, etc. My only other bit of information was that each character could have a magical or supernatural element if they wanted. I immediately came up with the idea of an extremely stoic, gentle, laid-back hippie type that had strong values in helping people and being a pacifist. But he would have some kind of curse on him, something that would wipe away his conscious mind and turn him into something monstrous and out-of-control. Regardless of the trappings of this character (i.e., whether be became a vampire or a werewolf or possessed by a demon), at his core he had a fantastic conflict going. His concept was peaceful-guy-cursed-to-violence, and I was quite excited to see how he would cope, what his journey would be. (Too bad that roleplay never materialized, but whatever.)

2. Determine role and archetype. This is an important next step to figure out your ensemble. I've heard it said that sometimes writers can try to cram too many characters into a story when really they have a character who belongs somewhere else. Studying story structure like Hero's Journey and 20 Master Plots and TvTropes comes in handy here. If you've got two Lancers, or two The Hearts, or everyone is a The Stoic, maybe your characters need some mixing up. Character concepts are a lot easier to abandon or change at this stage. Also, creating characters for a novel is not as willy-nilly and full of wild abandon as creating one for RP (or it shouldn't be). Characters should have a point, and major ones have important roles to play in plot and in developing believably. Believe me when I say that telling yourself "Eh, this'll work itself out later" will run you facefirst into difficulty. This is more of a "homework" stage than any other, because it requires knowledge of literature and story structure. (At least for me.)  Knowing plot elements can sometimes develop your characters, too: "A baby-killer might be interesting … ooh! What if one of the characters failed to save a baby in the past?" And so on.

3. World-build for the character.At this point, I've unusually figured out major tectonic plates in story and world. Countries, races, politics, race relations, relationships between countries, cultures, beliefs, and so on all influence my characters. Of course plot and world can affect character and vice versa, so don't think any of this is some kind of one-way thing. For example, my "spoiled dragon prince" concept. I started asking questions. "Why is he spoiled? Why's he a dragon? What kind of royalty rules?" I eventually figured out that my prince was as spoiled because his people's ability to transform into dragons made them demi-gods, and that they were worshiped by a strict caste system. The power of the regency and their caste system created ripple effects in the world-building: their country was highly xenophobic, with heavily controlled borders, and countries on the outside saw the dragon people as crazy powerful and not someone you'd want to mess with. Then I thought "What if someone did want to mess with them? What if they decided 'You know what my army could use? Dragon soldiers.'" My first major piece of plot arose out of world-building for the character.

4. Create an arc for the character. By this point, I'm filling out a character sheet. Likes, dislikes, flaws, fears, things that will help me figure out the why of what the character values and sees as important. These ideally provide story stakes. This is also when I have to figure out the change that will occur in the characters and (hopefully, but not always, damn you, Tokotsi) how it comes about. Plot by this point is usually fairly figured out; I keep an outline in a text document that can be changed if the need arises. But I keep my outline vague enough to keep room for organic changes; you never know when things will develop and surprise you during your actual writing. My characters need to be pretty concrete, but not necessarily the story. I usually don't name my characters until this point, because I like to keep them as forces for as long as possible. Naming a character brings them to life, and it's kind of a point of no return for me. Almost all of my characters have secret meanings in their names, and I'll spend hours looking up things just so I can feel clever. But that's a writing quirk of mine, not a hard and fast rule. None of these are.

5. Play with the characters. One of my favorite moments in starting a novel is the chance to get to write a character defining moment. The first time the character shows up, they behave immediately in a way that establishes them. A lot of writers seem to struggle with this, and I suspect its because they forget to play with their characters. Roleplay taught me how valuable it is to just put a situation in front of a character and see how they'll react. I tend to talk to myself in the car or when I'm cleaning, acting out characters. And just letting them interact with each other, or with problems. I've gotten quite a few good scenes and pieces of dialogue by doing this. Other writers say they interview their characters or act as a therapist for them. Whatever you're doing, do it a lot. You have to know your characters inside and out, so that their behavior is believable and heartfelt. Strong characterization is one of the most important things in writing, and you need to practice the skill of characterizing as much as possible.
  • Mood: Joy
  • Listening to: Trip the Light - Alicia Lemke
  • Playing: `
I'm not exactly sure why there appears to be such a warzone where characters are concerned.  Maybe it's just because I don't swim in the soup of fandom or fanfiction (and in a roleplay sense, have only returned recently), but I guess I just find the whole thing entirely baffling.  Roleplay and fanfiction become these massive tiers of Serious Business that are destructive to the creative process. They stagnate and shame while simultaneously churning out high emotion, all the while distracting anyone who wants to learn from shit that will actually be useful to them if they want to write.

I feel the need to give a disclaimer that A) I think fandoms can be incredibly stupid even at their best, B) fanfiction that is "not horribly written" is usually being labeled as such by people who don't and can't know better because their point of reference and experiences are so lacking, and C) even as a writer, I don't understand how character becomes such Serious Business.

I suspect in part it's due to so many youngsters on this site searching for a sense of identity, and things like roleplay and fanfiction allow exploration of other identities. In a sense, we can see what it's like to be someone else and if we like it or not. But I think the big disconnect, especially when it comes to being a good writer, comes from when there are no repercussions in the world the character inhabits. If the rule becomes "My character, in character, right or wrong", this threatens everything and eclipses a fundamental element in character: growth.

I role-played a lot when I was younger, and found it to be one of the best things a young writer can do to explore character.  But roleplay taught me how to have characters that deferred to power (which translates to deferring to plot) and deferred to other characters (which translates to character arc or growth), two things that you absolutely have to understand and grasp in order to write a good story. If you have characters that never suffer setbacks, disappointments, challenges to their worldviews and preconceptions, or what have you, you're on a one way track to disappointing your reader. I was very lucky as a teen to have a roleplay group made up of people who wanted to be actors, and understood that the first rule of improv is the first rule of the creative process "Say yes."

Say yes to tension, say yes to your character being pushed around, being in the wrong, being unfair, humiliated, defied, and denied. Say yes to struggle, to difficulty, to being cruel, to being sorry, to bad ideas, stupid mistakes, and apologies. Say yes to the character hurting and being hurt, say yes to growth, to driving your character beyond their capacities. If you can't say yes to these things happening in roleplay or in fanfiction: you are wasting your time. You will never write convincing, sympathetic characters.

And maybe that's another point of disconnect: the reader is all that matters in writing.  In fanfiction, that should be the rule, but it rarely is. And most writing suffers for it, either because the "My character, in character, right or wrong" terrifies anyone who might want to write that character (how many flame wars in fanfic communities start because Sonic was OOC?) In roleplay, too often social rules get in the way, and it becomes a contest of whose character can posture the most  Ultimately,  "getting a character right" means that you check off the requisite boxes to make sure you get the character's so-called details right. Which is not as important as "characterizing": making sure your reader gives a shit. Your OC and your ego do not matter in writing. I always approach things from the point of "How can this character win over a reader? How can they still be sympathetic even though he/she is doing bad, selfish things? How can they be hurt and learn from that hurt?"  I have to wonder what the thought process for others is. It must be like "How can I look the most awesome? How can my character come across as the coolest guy ever? How can I posture better than my roleplaying partners or that idiot who wrote that fanfiction that portrayed Link so bad?"

I mean, for starters, for all the screaming about not stealing characters, no one blinks at stealing a copywritten character. I think I saw a stamp that was like "All fan characters are original characters!" and it was like "You poor, deluded bastard." I take issue with the standing-on-the-shoulders-of-giants problem inherent to fanfiction, but I've already ranted about that. I will say that fanfiction tends to cripple character as an element, either because it offers a colorful candy shell for the less confident to convince themselves that their ideas don't suck, or because the fandom as a whole wants more of what was in the video game, movie, TV show, or book and doesn't want to see any originality outside of that. (Or an extremely limited amount of originality, hence my use of the term 'crippling'.) This comes back to "My character, in character, right or wrong", which falsely expostulates that it is more important that a character be "true" or "pure' rather than make a journey.

Playing around in someone else's world is sort of a grey area, but that brings me to what I cannot understand. If you're writing in someone else's literary world to learn how to write: stop it. Make your own world and learn how to convey its rules; stop leaning on the collective consciousness of a fandom. You're better off, just trust me on that, and better you start early.

If you're playing around to explore character, as any decent roleplayer should, than remember the golden rule of role-play: it's a freaking game. Awesome or idiotic, at the end of the day, you've got a roleplay post to show for it. Your roleplay character is no more important than a character in a book. They're simply efforts at expression and communication. If your character is bad at expression or communication, they should suffer the slings and arrows inherent to that. Don't real people suffer them in Real Life? Don't you think that makes them sympathetic to a reader who knows that selfsame suffering? Good roleplay drives a character to explore what will make them break and rebuild. (I also don't understand how it's okay to write about Harry Potter's eighth adventure or roleplay in Tolkien's world, but if people steal your theft, you're going to flip your lid.)

Maybe for some it's identity theft. I guess that's about the only way I can explain it. Most teenagers are searching for identities. People using character as a coping mechanism will shoot you in the face, and since most of them around here are angsty teens in the first place … they're probably coping. I guess I'm just astonished at the length people will go to assert their right to be unoriginal power-players, which serves as a direct counterpoint to the fervor with which they will go after someone else for being unoriginal or a power player.

Perhaps most of all, this definition distorts the purpose of good character so badly I'd be hard pressed to articulate it. (I'm kind of all over the place with this entry, in case you haven't noticed.) Character is not something you use to tell the world how great you are. When that happens, you get crappy story and probably accusations of either Mary Sueism or of soapboxing on an issue. Character is not gold to be hoarded by you, in order for you to say "I did it!  I made it!  It's all mine and you can't have it!" Character is something meant to be shared with others. Characters inhabit psychological and mythological archetypes in order to teach. Character is not something meant to be immovable or uncompromising. Character is more than the sum of its parts: not a collection of idiosyncrasies like collecting toast and kittens, and god help you if the character isn't collecting toast and kittens every time they show up. At its heart character is story and struggle, and struggle is more important than whether the character says or does the "right" thing in the "My character, in character, right or wrong" rule.

And ultimately, character is unique. No amount of theft changes that. No one can write Harry Potter like Rowling did. He's hers, and he can never be taken from her. God knows there are enough fanfic writers out there who have tried. The person "stealing" your totally awesome character can't steal the experiences that you've breathed into them. Your STRUGGLE. Your viewpoint is (one hopes) entirely unique. The story you tell will be yours and yours alone, should you ever get around to writing it.

Whether it'll be any good, or a story worth the telling is something entirely different.
  • Mood: Confused
  • Listening to: Savior - Rise Against
  • Reading: Fear
  • Playing: `
EDIT: If you like this journal entry, check out The Sarcastic Guide to Writing ebook www.amazon.com/The-Sarcastic-G… for exclusive content on world-building, character, and dialogue!

1. No one cared that I wrote. I say this in kind of the sin of omission sort of way. Looking back on growing up, no one in my family paid attention to the hours I spent in front of a keyboard. My mom never picked my brain about plots, my siblings were more likely to mock my prose than be curious about it. My pursuit was ignored, treated with apathy, as opposed to being actively cast down as "stupid" or "a waste of time". While I'm sure I used this "meh" reaction to self-flagellate and feel bad about myself, especially as a teen, in hindsight it provided a remarkable amount of focus. Not only that, if my murder-mystery mother and historical nonfiction father had read my wild tales of fantasy and provided feedback, it would have been either the empty encouragement of a parent or off-target, crushing criticism that (for the most part) wouldn't have been valid because they're neither writers nor Ideal Readers. Silence was my encouragement. It was a place where I could listen to what I was trying to say and do without distraction, said distraction including the "You're so wonderful because you put words on a page, you smarty you!"  That's not to say that receiving encouragement as a child to write is a bad thing; I had to have received a certain amount of it or I never would have pursued it. But let's face facts: I was a terrible writer for most of my existence (I'm slightly less so now), and if the terrible flaws within had been encouraged, I might have been taught something wrong for writing was right to do. By well-meaning folks who loved me. I never wrote to satisfy anyone but myself and my sense of what makes good story. If I'd grown up in a different environment, I might have ended up writing for someone else's validation. Learning how to work alone taught me self-sufficiency and, eventually, confidence.

2. I lived in the middle of nowhere before the Internet. We got dial-up in my house right around the time I was 11 or 12 years old. I was immediately distracted by the fact that The Lion King had gobs of fanart and roleplay forums, and by the grace of God missed the fanfiction bus. Nonetheless, rural Texas doesn't offer a lot in the way of writing groups or even writing enthusiasts. When I say my parents ignored my writing, that includes not reading what I begged them to. My friends also liked me, but not to the extent that they were willing to slog through 100,000 words of awful writing. And as well neither of them should have. I didn't learn to start rewriting until around 18 or 19. With no rewrites as recourse, I just wrote new stuff. Loads of it. My first real grasp of rewriting came in revamping worlds and plots, as opposed to line edits or reworked scenes. I started big at first; it wasn't until later I learned that the real miracles occur at a sentence level. But because I was in a vacuum, I had to learn to teach myself. And really, time at the keyboard is the most valuable time you will ever spend as a writer. Hearing what others have to say can be valuable, but never as valuable as the act of writing. Even now, I definitely understand that critique is a double-edged sword, and if you're not discerning enough, it can wreck the heart of your truth. A young, callow youth with no point of reference may well be streamrolled by a friend or a writing group telling them "you can't write about dragons; dragons are boring" or "this is cheap knockoff crap". I was at my most vulnerable as a teen; a bad experience could have shifted a tectonic plate in my skill. Instead, I was isolated and cocooned, left alone until I grew wings. After writing 500,000 some-odd words, there was no way I couldn't, and my experience gave me armor for inevitable criticism.

3. I roleplayed in Real Life. I started real-life roleplaying when I was probably 9 or so. I remember suffering the slings and arrows of my older bother's GURPS group (a bunch of teenage boys who were, I'm sure, just thrilled to have a bratty girl-child in their midst). I played just about everything, Dungeons and Dragons, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Vampire: The Masquerade, Mage: The Ascension, and so on.  Roleplay taught me the value of story elements like characterization, pacing, tension, and plot, without any of the recourse that would have been tied to my soul on the page. It was, in short, a place of total safety that never got above itself. You were not a badass when you steamrolled everyone else in the scene. Instead, if scenes were memorable, or worth reviewing, it was usually with mutual enthusiasm akin to fangirling from everyone who was involved in the story. While there was the typical one-upsmanship and anti-social, angsty Mary Sues, eventually (around 19 or so) I learned that the best scenes occurred when everyone was in sync. When everyone wanted the story to happen, and it stopped being about individual forces. It taught me my most valuable lesson: the relationship between reader and writer. And that a writer owes, above all else, story. When I wanted my characters to do this or do that and look awesome and cool, the session got boring, often tedious and always frustrating. I learned that there wasn't any such thing as "winning", there was just character and story. Once I let go of that, things opened up for me. Roleplay certainly offers some negative problems, usually within the realm of power-playing and one-upsmanship, but finding someone or someones that don't pull that crap can be the best thing ever. Especially when you find yourself willing to humiliate and degrade and set back your most beloved character. That's great training for plot and empathy, as well as character arcs.

4. I roleplayed on forums. Hands down, roleplay was the best thing that ever happened to me. And despite the incredibly inherent stupidity of it, I look back very fondly on my Lion King roleplay. Forum roleplay is unique in that it has all the perks of regular roleplay with the added ability to mess with prose. It's up to you to paint the scene or reaction for other people. If you do it wrong, the poor communication fails the situation. Again, it doesn't become about one's crappy writing; it becomes a rebuke in how to effectively communicate. (Having said that, I cannot read the word "oculars" without pissing my pants laughing, because no one who uses that word ever uses it correctly, and it always means someone's trying too hard.) Another thing I often noticed was that way, way too many roleplay scenes started on forums involved a character aimlessly wandering around, not doing anything, and definitely offering anything but conflict.(I called this the "Wanna chase butterflies?" setup.) I was incredibly bored by this, and created villains and tricksters who wanted to cause trouble. Who liked seeing a rise out of other characters, were willing to be mean, or at the very least, willing to yell at aimless character that they were getting in the way of their super-important task. It taught me the value of characters needing to be proactive, to have goals, and the value of a catalyst. A catalyst is what drives characters to go beyond their means. And I was surprised to find that a lot of people were delighted when their resident badass got put down and had to deal with being helpless for the first time, or when the world's friendliest leopard (I feel the need to reiterate this was Lion King roleplay) was driven to fury and outrage when faced with terrible cruelty. That's not to say some people weren't outraged that their Best Character Evar was being humiliated or forced to, gasp, compromise, but those people didn't last long. They were ousted by more cooperative people or straight up black-balled when it became clear they weren't worth the trouble. I think a lot of people were looking for a way for their character to face the best and worst of themselves, but they didn't know how because of societal pressures (no one wants to be That Guy). Cooperation is a necessary part of roleplay, and it translates to how the elements of plot and character cooperate to tell story. And just like a story where the characters refuse to do anything and the plot goes nowhere as a result, dealing with belligerent players who are only interested in showing you how totally awesome and badass they are, you learn real quick why Mary Sues are annoying and loathsome no matter where they show up.

5. I wrote terrible stories. That's not to say I still don't, but I can at least say there's a marked improvement. But yes, of course I wrote shit. I wrote it for ten years. Maybe more. But it was the mountain I had to climb, and aside from the terrible writing aspect of it, I'm glad I did. Actually, proud that I did. Not proud enough to show you a bunch of manuscripts that will never see the light of day, but proud enough to call myself a writer. And this might be the biggest lesson anyone learns: that it's okay to write crap. Now, it might not be okay to write it and show it to other people, write it and brag that you are pure genius, write and claim that you've achieved a Herculean task just by getting words on the page. And definitely it's not okay to write it when the world and characters aren't yours and claim 99.9% of the work belongs to you because you're subtle, dammit. But I've run in to too many people who want to know what it takes to be a good writer and look like they're doing it for all the wrong reasons. Because they want love, fame, affection, praise, or validation. They can't write because if they don't get those things after the excruciating effort of writing, they'll just die. I am always, always baffled by people who want to show a rough draft. It gets me every time. Because my own rule is "When it's good enough for me, then you get to see it." Too many people write what is marketable, not necessarily what is true. Their exposure to other literature and whys and how are anemic at best, and even nonfanfiction can be pale imitations of overly rehashed ideas. But for the life of me, people, it's fine to write crap as long as you're writing. And yes, God save me, I guess that includes fanfiction (but good luck with that; my biggest objection to fanfiction is it's environment, see #1-4.) A writer is someone who has written today. No one says you have to show it to anyone.
  • Mood: Confused
  • Listening to: Mumford And Sons - The Cave
  • Reading: Maggie Stiefvater's books. All of them.
  • Watching: Tremors
  • Playing: `