lupa08

I'm a writer and a perfectionist - not a very good combination if you wish to ever finish a project and get published. I tend to rewrite and edit my work once I'm halfway complete and then can't work on the second half because fixing the first half takes up all my time. And then I tend to take long breaks. Which is why I started this blog so that I may finish and get my stories out there. I dream to become a professional romance novelist someday. I've already professionally written for a couple of newspapers and magazines already but it's romance novels / chick-lit that I'm really passionate about. I've read Pride and Prejudice once-a-year since 1999. I have also reread the Harry Potter series numerous times. And the best part is I'm discovering new things about these books with every visit! I wish to be a member of Romance Writers of America one day and have the opportunity to build up that community by helping other talented writers fulfill their dreams. I want to work with Avon, Harlequin, Bantam, Times Warner, Minstrel, St. Martin's and whatnot and be loved like the way I love Jane Austen, Jennifer Crusie, Julia Quinn, J.K. Rowling, Sandra Brown, Debbie Macomber... Inspirational women's fiction writers. And, though Oprah doesn't do the chick-lit scene, I want to be able to someday have her tell me that she has read my works too and finds them warm and quirky (a girl can dream!)... These aren't too much to ask for, are they?

Homepage: https://theromanticquill.wordpress.com

WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #38: The Breadwinner

Via: Daily Prompt – Captivating, Grasp, & Noise

mv5bmwm2mzq4ytatmtbkzs00oda1lwfmntetmjewnzk3zgjizdc3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjm4ntm5ndy-_v1_Title     The Breadwinner

Starring     Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, and Noorin Gulamgaus

Director     Nora Twomey

Writer(s)    Anita Doron (screenplay), Deborah Ellis (screen story), and Deborah Ellis (book)

Genre     Animation | Drama | Family

Release Date     November 17, 2017

Filming Location     Ireland | Canada | Luxembourg

Parental Guidance     PG-13 for thematic elements including some violent images

IMDB Rating     7.6

Synopsis: It’s 2001 and the Taliban is at the height of its power in Afghanistan. Eleven-year-old Parvana’s (Saara Chaudry) father Nurullah Alisai (Ali Badshah), a former schoolmaster and now an amputee, makes ends meet for their small family by selling their possessions in the market and offering to read and write for the generally illiterate populace. Since Parvana is still considered a child at her age, she is able to assist Nurullah at the market while her mother, elder sister, and baby brother must stay at home and out of public sight. During these excursions, Nurullah tries to teach Parvana their people’s tradition of storytelling to help preserve the true history of their land. One day, Nurullah gets into an argument with a young hotheaded Taliban recruit Idrees (Noorin Gulamgaus) when the boy visits their kiosk and claims that Parvana is “drawing too much attention to herself”. Idrees was once Nurullah’s student when schools still operated in Afghanistan and Nurullah takes offense at Idrees’s, indeed, lascivious attention towards Parvana. Though Idrees’s supervisor Razaq (Kawa Ada) – rather a mild-mannered and sympathetic man by Taliban standards – settles the situation at the market, later that day, Idrees brings a gang of militia to the Alisais’ home and has Nurullah arrested. With the sole provider now removed, the family is on the verge of going hungry. However, Parvana takes matters into her own hands when she cuts her hair short and dons her deceased elder brother’s clothes to disguise herself as a boy and continue Nurullah’s work to become the breadwinner. Though not always successful, her spirit weathers each hurdle and, enjoying the newfound freedom and privileges the change of appearance gains her, she decides she will rescue Nurullah from prison – along the way making a few friends and encountering old enemies.

Experience: This story was right up my alley. Not only does it have a girl realizing victory over the verdict of an extremist regime, it places a central emphasis on storytelling.

I have already mentioned how I loved the way the father Nurullah explains the importance of storytelling that reaches beyond entertainment and self-gratification in my last week’s post. The movie in itself captures the story Deborah Ellis wrote with wonderful artistic expressions. I truly enjoyed how the animators created the visuals of the hustle and bustle of the marketplace, the dilapidation of the hovel in which the Alisai family lived, the barren landscape that poignantly reflected the dystopian nature of regime, and the charm of the industry of handmade and gloriously colorful candies that is bound to hold so much attraction to children even amidst such a hard life. In contrast, the portrayal of the imaginings of the story that Parvana tells her brother each night is full of mystery and sharp edges just as it should be. Action is insightfully weaved in with hardship. The movie does not aim at humor at any given point and is a drama through and through but it is inspiring to see how these people learned to adapt and find their own forms of joy in family and in childhood.

And while Parvana is the central character significant for her choice and effort to disguise herself as a boy to provide for her family as well as save for the bribe that might help rescue her father, she is not alone in this adventure. She quickly finds an ally, her old schoolmate Shauzia. Yet, while the two girls have chosen the same lot in life, their personalities differ night and day. Both are brave girls with indomitable spirits and a dare-to-dream attitude but while Parvana dreams for her family, Shauzia dreams for herself. It is such a minor detail that she carries a beachscape postcard in hopes of one day escaping her abusive father and see the ocean – she longs and saves to claim her independence. But she doesn’t understand Parvana’s desperation to save her father and reunite her family. Instead, she sees it as a possibility of losing her friend. Yet, she helps her friend despite her self-interest. I thought while Parvana’s character was selfless and rash, Shauzia’s was out of the ordinary and showed greater depths of heroics.

Thematically, the entire movie greatly captures the element of secrecy. Other than the obvious secrets that Parvana and Shauzia keep, I liked how the story plays on the idea that not everything is always as it seems. For one, the Taliban supervisor Razaq first helps maintain peace when Idrees picks a fight with Nurullah in the market and then again builds a bond with Parvana-the-boy and advises her on how to get her father out of prison. Idrees is self-serving and vindictive through-and-through and has that natural evil that some people demonstrate even in childhood. But even he, when being transported for war, shows fear towards his future. While the story had a generous plot, it truly is a character-driven narrative that manages to bring many sides of patriarchal extremism.

Recommendation: I highly recommend this movie, whether you have read the book or not. This insightful narrative resonates all the sad truths of what happens under extremist regimes without being wasteful with any diversions from its central objective.

 

And now for a little public announcement: I will not be writing for a while now; I’m taking time for some personal growth. But I do need a lot of prayers from anyone who is willing to put in a good word for me upstairs. Thank you in advance, all you good people! Love!

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WRITING CHRONICLE #36: cave walls and tapestries

Via: Daily Prompt – Fabric & Fact

I know I’m a couple of days late in submitting this post. My brain drew a complete blank this week when it came around to writing about… my writing experiences and learnings. This is probably due to not having written much over the last couple of weeks besides what you will find on this blog. There were few fresh experiences for me to draw from. As I waited for inspiration to hit me, I caught up on my Watchlist and, sure enough, my standard researching go-to pulled through.

stories

Image: Self

I saw The Breadwinner last night and, during Act I of the movie, the father kept insisting the protagonist retell the stories he had taught her. She was wary of the task and lacked confidence in her ability to remember the details or add spirit to her recitations that her father so naturally exhibited. I understood her anxiety; it is an anxiety we, all authors, become consumed by every once in a while. Will our stories be relevant, will they create an impact? Will we connect?

As the father continued to reiterate to the daughter that telling stories was their tradition and why it was important that she continue the tradition, I began to re-appreciate how selfless an act storytelling can be. Amidst the terror and oppression of the Taliban regime, it was the one tradition that they could uphold because it did not cost anything more than a conversation between two persons – however secret. It was the one way that the truth of a time before the Taliban reign could stay alive for future generations to look back on. As long as there were people telling the stories of their pasts, the Taliban couldn’t obliterate their identity. Storytelling was a risk they would just have to take.

But storytelling isn’t just the tradition of the people of Afghanistan; it is the one tradition that all of mankind has had in common since languages were invented. In Genius, Colin Firth’s enactment of the legendary book editor Max Perkins describes to the self-absorbed Tom Wolfe (Jude Law) in the movie how ancient a form of communication storytelling is. That when the cavemen sat around the campfire at night with nothing to do but worry about all the dangers lurking in the dark, they told each other stories. Stories kept the dread of the dark at bay while campfires became more than sanctuaries, they became a symbol of communion.

Today, we discover scratch marks on cave walls and marvel at the presence of mind and resourcefulness of our ancestors to have preserved the evidence of their existence at a time when they didn’t have the comfort of the knowledge that archeologists would one day unearth their fossils and fittings even without the tips they thought to leave behind. But archeological findings only tell us what we may surmise ourselves; while cave arts communicate the rendition of the stories the Neanderthal themselves wanted to share with us. How much more personal the communication then becomes, how much more generous the act?

In junior high, we didn’t study English, we had Language Art classes. Because that is the form storytelling eventually took. It became more than a means of preserving history. It became methods of imparting ethics and morals, life lessons and standards. It made learning pleasurable and it glued those learnings to our memories. Go online and you will discover a hundred reasons why storytelling is important in everything from early childhood development to cultural constructs to the field of marketing. From reiterating facts of our past to inventing fictions based on our present or somewhere in between, storytelling can take on many forms and shapes from using words and symbols to threads and paints.

But, returning back to the lesson the father was trying to impart to our protagonist in The Breadwinner, the one thing we, authors, must remember is that storytelling is meant for more than our self-gratification in the ability to tell a story well, to impress; the true reason for telling stories lies in the “why”. Realize why you must tell a story and the hesitation will resolve itself.

Why do you tell your stories?

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #37: Genius starring Colin Firth

MV5BMjMwNzM3NzY0M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODMwMjQ1ODE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Title     Genius

Starring     Colin Firth, Jude Law, and Nicole Kidman

Director     Michael Grandage

Writer(s)    John Logan (screenplay) and A. Scott Berg (book ‘Max Perkins: Editor of Genius’)

Genre     Biography | Drama

Release Date     June 10, 2016

Filming Location     Paramount Studios, Hollywood, California, USA

Parental Guidance     PG-13 for thematic elements and suggestive content

IMDB Rating     6.5

Synopsis: When yet-to-be-published author Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) decides to keep his appointment with Scribner’s editor Max Perkins (Colin Firth), he assumes he is walking in for yet another rejection. Little does he know of Perkins’s penchant for discovering new writers, many of whom he has already raised from obscurity to award-winning success. Perkins informs Wolfe that his novel, which is eventually titled “Look Homeward, Angel”, has been selected for publication but under one condition – that the manuscript is trimmed down from its staggering 1,100 pages to something cost-effective and purchasable. Although initially reluctant to see the red-inked knife be taken to his poetic prose, Wolfe agrees to the bargain and Perkins, as per his MO, actively mentors Wolfe towards editing the story into its final form. Wolfe’s reward is a true friend in Perkins and critical acclaim for his debut novel. However, even as the bond between editor and author continues to grow stronger, one where it advances into the home of each, it does not traverse without contention, as Perkins continues to challenge Wolfe to forgo his grandiose and write with greater economy. Moreover, Perkins is warned time and again by his wife Louise (Laura Linney), other literary charges such as F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and Earnest Hemmingway (Dominic West), and even chief nemesis Wolfe’s mistress Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman) about Wolfe’s proclivity to use and dispose of those who help advance his career. Perkins, though, dismisses the assertions as an inability to endure Wolfe’s artistic temperament – until Wolfe himself begins to prove the assessment correct when the belligerent author starts resenting Perkins for his level contribution to his success.

Experience: It goes without saying that I was drawn to this movie due to Colin Firth’s presence. When I learned that it was a biographical drama on the editor who introduced authors such as Fitzgerald and Hemmingway to their readers, I was further intrigued. To date, I don’t know of any other movie that focuses on the life of a book editor and, as a writer, I felt I owed it to myself to watch it. Like some extra credit homework one does as a precaution for any potential failed test.

I didn’t even know about Max Perkins until this movie. Why would I? If a book does well, authors get all the glory, even though, once upon a time, any form of literature would not see the light of day without some editor signing its ticket. An editor doesn’t even get their contributions acknowledged in print unless the author does the honorable. On the copyright page, it’s the author’s name and publishing house that receives the billing. After all, the manuscript hits the desk of so many different editors for copy checks, proofreading, developmental upgrades, etc. on its way to the press that it would be an odd listing to feature everyone on that little space. But what about the person who discovers a particular work and backs it up against all arguments? Meet Max Perkins. [I’m not sure how faithful an account it is of the original man – though most history buffs claim the movie is principally the real deal – the Max Perkins on screen actually claimed it’s ideal for the editor to go unacknowledged; his words were to the effect that the reader should get an impression that they are reading the book in its original form.]

I’m not naïve enough to believe that all editors are the self-sacrificial heart-and-soul-gamblers that Perkins was. He had insight and was willing to wager his professional reputation for the unknown young writers he believed in and it obviously paid off in these amazing books – though, from the movie, we can see the time and psychological effort it cost him was exceptional. Yet, he seemed to revel in the demands of his undertakings in these temperamental wrecks of egos that he counseled into writing best-sellers. And I loved how Firth brought that out with the quiet grace and effusive sincerity of his acting. [BTW, I discovered he has the most elegant wrist through this movie. Me, bona fide bad-boy chaser go gaga every time over his understated charm and courtesy. And now the wrist?]

Back to his harnessed talent, as always, Firth managed to make the role he plays feel multidimensional, radiating off the screen with his subtle expressions and dialogue delivery. Despite spending most of the movie in quiet reflection, it is a pleasure just to watch the wheels churning behind those lambent eyes or the fleeting smirk that plays hide-and-seek on his firm mouth from self-deprecation or as a result of some study he is yet unwilling to make public. He makes Max Perkins’s skin his own, becoming a man who does not aim to impress but to simply do right by the talented writers he is responsible for.

Playing opposite him, Jude Law does a bang-on job of portraying a self-serving romantic engrossed in astounding everyone he comes into direct or indirect contact with simply because he is determined to rise above the meager upbringing he was afforded. [Disclaimer: I generally don’t like Law] Wolfe was notorious for writing gargantuan tomes that Perkins had to help chisel away to a fraction of their original size because Wolfe believed his writing was beyond criticism and undeserving of revisions. Thanks to Law, Wolfe once again crackles and pops in every breakthrough of his life, trying to overpower Perkins’s more diminutive disposition but finding a formidable challenger nevertheless. Together, they faithfully portray the almost resolute -father-prodigal-son combination that the original partnership was noted for. It’s not easy bringing movies on writing come to life like so many other art forms are accessible through visual representation but, by golly, Firth and Law made it.

Which bring me to the women in the mix. I really enjoyed watching the juxtaposition between the two couples, Max-Louise and Tom-Aline. On the one side, you have a married couple with a gaggle of daughters that have fostered a kind of understanding that allows each member of the pack to flourish in their own way, like the many limbs of a well-rooted tree that is sure of individual and collective fruition. They are ready to welcome other people into their fold just as a tree would provide shelter to strangers just because it can. On the other side, you have a live-in couple mired in an extra-marital affair who, at one point, forsook all family and friends to be with one another and, now, do not appreciate distractions in their personal agendas. If one strays far from the other, the other claws and cankers until he/she returns. Louise’s personality perfectly harmonizes that of Max’s as Aline’s personality pairs Tom’s. It’s selfless devotion vs. selfish passion. And so the Perkins’s generosity is reflected in how Max works with his authors and the Aline-Tom egocentricity spills onto how Tom greets Max’s ministrations. The conflict within the subplot effectively bolsters that of the main plot, and the following dialogue from Max Perkins perfectly encompasses the artistic partnership between the editor and author that was the heart of this biopic:

Maxwell Evarts Perkins: God help anyone who loves you, Tom. Because for all your talk and all your millions of beautiful words, you haven’t the slightest idea of what it means to be alive. To look into another person’s eyes and ache for him. I hope someday you will. And then maybe all your words will be worth five of Scott’s.

Recommendation: I wouldn’t say it is the best movie Colin Firth has acted in but his acting is as immaculate as ever, with great contribution from the rest of the cast. And knowing that the character sketches and plot respectfully tries to remain true to the original people and events, this is a good biopic to watch for all editors and authors. And quite enjoyable too.

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#AuthorToolbox 08: tangled in titles

Via: Daily Prompt – Compromise

 

book title

Media: LinkedIn

 

I first attempted to write a full-fledged novel when I had just completed my ‘O’ levels. While waiting for the results to see which junior colleges I qualified for, I drafted half a novel with the vigor of a hummingbird. Then I spent six years editing the chapters I had written, eventually suspending the project indeterminately with the hope that distance would help me solve how to fill the gaping plot hole that stared back at me every time I pulled up the file. But plot holes isn’t the topic of the day; it’s titles – something that I struggled with for eighteen years before learning to lock in place.

For the longest time, this file was saved as ‘Book’ on my hard drive. After hitting the roadblock in my story, I decided it was finally time to give it a title – you know, for a little variety in occupation. Upon reflecting a great deal about my protagonist, I decided her prickly personality was key and came up with a name that makes me want to molt all the quills in my cap. I changed the file name to ‘Cactus’. No, it wasn’t a book on gardening; yes, it was indeed a romance novel. If ever there was a woodpecker trying to drill a hole in an iron skillet, it was I.

Avian metaphors aside, the title is one of the most versatile marketing tools for a book. Regardless of how brilliant a story is, with a generic title, it may be hard-pressed to attract readers. The title can raise curiosity about the content or suggest a solution to the type of materials a reader is already in search of. It may follow a textual motif that links to a series fiction or become a brand symbol for a product expansion.

 

Even more important than the cover illustration, it not only compels the reader to select a particular book from a pile, ut also becomes a point of reference and recommendation at a later time. The tweet on the right that recently blew up the Internet proves this point well. I think we have all been in the shoes of the reader who requested the red-jacket book. I still haven’t been able to track down this 90’s YA romance novel about makeover and student election and environmental politics that featured a boy, a girl, and a full-length mirror on the cover. I had bought the book through the old Scholastic Book Club order flyers but someone pilfered it from my shelves some twenty years ago. [Note my not-so-subtle cry for help, in case anyone is able to shed light on the title/author]

 

This is what happens when the title lacks one or more of the following CHARACTERISTICS:

Conspicuous – Before anyone gets around to reading a book, it must first pique reader’s interest enough to grab the book. Yes, an eye-catching cover may do the trick but think about it, the book cover may not be present during a discussion between readers when one person is recommending it to the other(s). Be it racy, divisive, over-the-top, or poignant, it must excite curiosity for the content. Meaning, it’s okay to get gimmicky here.

Memorable – Speaking of recommendations, name one item that is more dependent on end-user reviews than books. Word-of-mouth can move mountains [of books] for an author. However, for it to be effective, the book title must be easy to comprehend, quick to recall, and ready to roll off the recommender’s tongue, right? Similarly, the recipient of the recommendation will be more likely to give up the search for a book they can’t remember the title of because, after all, there is no dearth of reading materials out there.

Explanatory – The title should give the reader an idea of what the book is about. That is not to say it becomes a five-word summary of the story; rather the title should imply the genre, tone, and thematic subject of the book. Informative titles also make it stand out for relevant readers, i.e. readers who are specifically looking for literature that a book offers. Look at it this way, the only thing better than a #tag is the title!

Verbally Fluid – This links back to being memorable but it’s more than that. As already mentioned, the business of books is dependent on recommendations. Pack the title with words that have complex pronunciations or phrasing that plays tongue twister and the reader will be less inclined to passing on the good word to fellow book lovers.

Appealing – A provocative title may attract a lot of readers; even debatable titles gets a pass by inducing reader to engage and discover the other side of an argument. However, regardless of the stunt pulled to make the book title stand out, it must remain palatable. Maya Angelou’s insight “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” aptly applies to book titles. A title that makes a reader feel embarrassed or otherwise uncomfortable, whether due to difficulty in pronunciation or by presenting a socially unacceptable viewpoint, will probably not be brought up in public. It’s also how books get burned.

No short order but these attributes may pave the road to success. Yet, authors often give the title less thought than due. Honestly, having come up with and written down a story to completion provides me with such a sense of accomplishment, I often feel as though my job is done. However, some of my transgressions have been more reckless. I’m not alien to feeling impatient towards the end of a writing project, especially one that has consumed more time than originally expected. And since I almost always wait until the end of the composition to title my stories… Well, you see where I’m going with this.

If only there was a STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO CRAFTING A BOOK TITLE. Hold on a second, could this be it?

Step 1: Finish writing the story first. Despite what I mentioned about my impetuous nature, I still recommend waiting until the completion of your story before sitting down to crack that title. The reason is, regardless of how well you have planned and plotted your story when starting the project, there is always a chance that by the time you reach the end, you may gain new perspective towards your work. Writing is a time-consuming task that gives you ample opportunity to grow as a person as well as an author – make the most of that growth when devising the title.

Step 2: Decide the main purpose of your book. Once the book is written, the central message of the story should become much clearer. A good way to sift through the salient points in the story is to discuss them with friends, critique partners, editors, etc. Now is the time to talk about your thoughts and feelings regarding the story you have written. The aspects of your story that the sample audience is most responsive to is probably a good indicator of what will work with a wider pool of readers and provide great angles for stimulating titles.

Step 3: Brainstorm. Step 2 is really there to take inventory of all that the story has to offer. Keeping in mind the relevance of the book for the target audience as distinguished while deciding its purpose, brainstorming is when you finally let loose your creativity to come up with a title that meets all the desired attributes mentioned above. But first, a few suggestions for the brainstorming session:

Keep a title jar. While ideally brainstorming for titles should be kept aside till you finish writing your story, you may very well notice a phrase befitting your book or be struck by inspiration amidst your project. Write it down and put it in a jar to come back to later.

Be mindful of the narrative voice and POV. The tone the narrator assumes and the POV through which the whole or majority of the story is related should be reflected in the title, as it plays an important role in informing the reader what to expect.

Keep it relevant. For that matter, the title should match both the story told and the audience targeted. Whether you’re banking on the central theme, protagonist’s identity, contextual symbolism, or a famous quote, the title must provide meaning to the story. At the same time, it helps to share similarities with successful titles in the genre of the book.

Don’t give away the ending. While the title should pique the reader’s curiosity and provide an insight into the theme, don’t undermine the plot by revealing too much even before the book is read. Allow the title to raise questions but make sure to withhold the answers.

Add hidden layers. Titles with double meanings, i.e. which touch upon evident motifs in the story as well as underlying themes and morals, are great for wowing the reader. While this ploy may not contribute to the reader picking up the book initially, it can provide an overall satisfaction in the reading experience, which the reader may retain and refer to others.

Don’t limit your options. During the brainstorming session, fill your title jar with as many possibilities as you can think of. Feel free to use both short and long phrases and explore the various sources (more on that below) from which you can lift ideas for the title.

Step 4: Narrow down to your favorites and run a self-test. Sound out the words to your shortlisted titles. Could any title benefit from alliteration? Does it provide the prospect for coining a phrase or new word? Is it clumsy or pleasant? These are just some of the details to keep your ears out for. Some titles may profit from a little rephrasing to make them less awkward; some of the longer ones may need shortening. They say the ideal fiction titles are limited to five words. I’m not sure how true that is but I have come to realize that action words create more impact and that using precise nouns and active verbs give reader the sense of delving into the story from the get-go.

Step 5: Make sure the title hasn’t been run ragged. Check Amazon, Goodreads, Wikipedia. Google it and see what comes up. Try to remain in the fold of your genre but do not blend in like sheep.

Step 6: Recruit title reviewers. Take your list of favorite title options and ask people what they think. Ideally, these people should have read your manuscript first so they are aware of the pertinent points of the story. Listen to their feedback carefully but with a grain of salt, then reevaluate your options.

Step 7: Make your final selection. Revisit Step 2 and see if the final title you have chosen fits the goal of your book.

Sounds like a lot of work, huh? So is true about most things that reap great benefits. The good news is that most of these steps can be performed by rote. In fact, the true challenge is convincing yourself that your book is worth your reader’s time because it is only when you have found your book’s purpose that you will be motivated to go through all the nitty-gritty of discovering the perfect title. So…

WHERE DO YOU LOOK FOR BOOK TITLES?

Trending titles in the genre – Different genres take to different types of titles. Complex names often lend the right amount of gravitas to literary fictions but then may also require subtitles to provide context; historical romance novels tend to focus on the identity of the protagonist(s). Obviously, these titles are working with the targeted audiences in their respective genres. What’s not broke &c.

Thematic titles – In character-driven stories, thematic titles are used to present an idea of the protagonist’s journey. The focus is frequently on the conflict that adds to the MC’s struggles and injects mystery to the title by using metaphors or symbols associated with the said themes.

The MacGuffin – The MacGuffin, which represents the plot device or a desired objective for the protagonist, may also be a part of the title, as it also reflects upon the potential course of the story.

Protagonist’s name, role or traits – This is perhaps the more deliberate route taken to naming a character-driven story. Though simplistic and direct, the protagonist’s implied limitations can act as a strong stimulus for readers to identify with through the title and, thus, induce them to read the book to learn the protagonist’s fate.

A focus on fellowship – Some plot-driven stories revolve around the actions of a group of people that add to or reverse the course of the central conflict. In such cases, the contribution of no singular character is enough and, therefore, the title may feature a group of characters instead.

Unusual Setting – Where the major conflict or goal for the protagonist is presented in the form a place in the story, the title may assume the name of such a place.

Event – A significant event that starts or turns the course of a story is an excellent source for a title.

Famous words – Whether lifted from a song, a poem, or a quote, popular phrases seem to have a pleasant effect on titles, touching upon what the reader is already familiar with, and, hence, make such trendy titles.

From the manuscript – For that matter, why not list all your favorite lines in the book? Keywords or inspired phrases in the book that rightly express the essence of the story may just deserve their place in the spotlight.

A compelling story deserves a compelling title. It would be a sad state if after putting in all that work in writing a best-seller, the success is marred by a lackluster title. What do they say, in for a penny in for a pound? Well, having the perseverance to work on that title is well worth it.

So, how do you come up with your titles?

 

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2Finally, a word on the Author Toolbox Blog Hop:
#AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event, hosted by the gracious Raimey Gallant, featuring various resources and learnings for authors written by authors. It is open to writers at all stages of their careers and the rules of sign-up are available in the overhead link. Also, if you are just interested in connecting with actual authors and see what they have got to say, the sign-up page has a list of participants to direct you to their pages. Happy reading and writing, fellow authors!

 

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WRITING CHRONICLE #35: a conflicted constitution

Via: Daily Prompt – Conjure & Lecture

 

Those who visited my blog in the spring of last year may remember how I came about to publish my ebook Bad Daughter; since, in the greater scheme of things, this is rather a trifling detail, I can’t hold it against you if you do not. Still, for the purpose of this post, allow me to briefly recap the event that led to this mismanaged milestone in my writing career.

Around mid-April 2017, I came to learn about a fiction writing contest being hosted by Amazon UK for international authors old and new to win large in distinction as well as cash. The contest had been open for some time and there was just over a month left to the deadline, after which, the entered stories would be reviewed by a panel of renowned authors and publishing wizards assembled under the banner of, what is basically, the most influential book distributor of our time. A challenging feat, especially given the time constraint, but since the rules were fairly simple, I decided to give it a go. All I had to do was publish a story of above 5,000 words via KDP Select that was never before circulated in any form or medium. Right? Wrong.

My genius plan was that, even if I didn’t win first prize but my story was shortlisted, I could make some very important people in the industry sit up and take notice of my writing. Talk about being jacked up on confidence. What I missed was the inferred rule, i.e. the competition wouldn’t simply be on the storytelling aspect of each entry but will also factor in how much sales and positive reviews they generated before judges even took notice (because, obviously, any competition that commits £20,000 for the first prize would probably attract a hell lot of authors). But misconstruing the fine prints wasn’t my true inadequacy; it was my lack of vision and the inability to set my priorities in the correct order.

I had been toying with a story idea for some time for which I had just enough research materials to concoct a simplified plot with a justifiable character arc to produce a sizeable novella. At the time, I was convinced it was the perfect solution for this short order. Since the premise, too, was a notable departure from what I was used to writing, I felt this was a good opportunity to embark on something new without compromising too much of my time for the novel I was already working on.

It was still women’s literature but I knew even before I began writing that, for the sake of the central theme, the tone and style would have to differ substantially from my previous fictions. While I generally write contemporary romances with elements of chick lit for adults, the story I was planning to write was literary fiction banked on own voices appealing more to YAs and NAs. Yes, I was as confused about how to categorize my novella as this sounds. Already, I was beginning to wrinkle the fabric of my potential success. But I allayed my worries with the knowledge that this story would be published under a new pen name using my first and middle initials instead of the full name [not very original, I know].

As the first draft practically wrote itself, I finally began to comprehend how important a story I had to tell – one that was truly worthy of the public’s attention. Using fear of social stigma to silence victims of child sexual abuse too often begin from home and it needs to stop regardless of the source! Though my grasp of the subject was still not as extensive as my growing interest would have it, my opinion on the matter was decided. The route to fighting back abuse is through discussion, not silence, I felt. So I began to want to use my novella to get that discussion rolling. Perhaps, some vain part of me also egged me on with the notion that the subject may indeed get me past those thousands of entries into the top ten list, but I was also becoming uncomfortably aware that I could no longer play fast and loose with such a fundamental subject as this if I were to succeed.

Perhaps I should have stopped myself from publishing the novella then. Perhaps I should have forgone the contest and strived to write a full-sized novel with a stronger structure and clearer moral before making the ebook available to the public. Alas, I was too myopic to realize that stoking my pride because I had publically committed to entering the contest now could come back to bite my fulsome behind if my story was too inconsequential to impress the readers.

I pushed through and I was actually satisfied with what I had accomplished – over 37,000 words drafted and edited and compiled for publishing in less than a month! And the contest, too, was such a platform to get this story out on. It was like a fire had been lit under me and I had become desperate to get a book published under my name [albeit with only my initials]. The result? In my haste, I wrote my choppiest story to date and put it up for sale. What a stellar beginning to my career as a professional author.

If you are sneering at me, you are welcome to. Heaven knows I have directed enough sermons at me on the detriments of using shortcuts to achieve success. No sooner did I publish the ebook, I decided to rewrite it, to be shuffled entirely back to front. I thank my stars now that I didn’t go for print simultaneously and could sell only four copies of the ebook. Two of them were purchased by friends so I can always tell them when I upload the revised content but I feel sorry for the two schmucks who thought to give an unknown author an opportunity to prove herself. Hopefully, they will get the update notice that Amazon promises whenever an ebook content is updated.

You must be wondering why I have gone off the hinge berating myself on the eve of Valentine’s Day, confessing my most shamefully shoddy undertaking. Well, I know how authors are always chasing due dates; it is entirely easy to break down under pressure or be enticed by the opportunity of a publication, but don’t do it until you are absolutely sure your story is ready to be read by your audience. Not only will you be hampering the opportunity to write that compelling story within you, you will be doing your author self a disservice.

In other words, don’t be an impatient fool like me.

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS #36 – Roomies by Christina Lauren

Via: Daily Prompt – Bewildered

34466910Title     Roomies

Author     Christina Lauren

Genre     Contemporary Romance | New Adult | Realistic Fiction

Publisher      Gallery Books

Publication Date      December 5, 2017

Format      eBook

Setting     Broadway, Manhattan, New York

ISBN     1501165844

Synopsis: There’s nothing special about Holland Lina Bakkar; at least, that’s how she views her own existence. The last of six children, she was mostly left to her own devices by her parents before being semi-adopted by her uncle Jeff and his husband Robert who don’t have any children of their own to dote on. Her uncles helped procure her MFA in creative writing so that she may one day compose the Great American Novel, gave her a position as an archivist in the theater where Robert is the musical director for until such time when she writes said novel, and continue to subsidize her measly salary by paying the rent of her Manhattan apartment since inspiration for the novel remains ever elusive. In return, she merely assures them her unwavering love and loyalty and a brunch comprising of eggs Benedict every other weekend. To make matters worse, she has been crushing on the mysterious busker with the hypnotizing guitar-skills (who was already too sexy to be in her league) and passively prowls the Fiftieth Street station where he performs thrice-weekly (though it’s quite outside of her daily route). Then, on the one night she imbibes enough liquid courage to talk to him, she is attacked by a drunk bozo on the deserted platform and is accidentally thrown onto the subway tracks. And while Calvin [yes, she now knows his name] the Sexy Busker does phone in the police to prevent her being killed by the midnight train, she is disappointed to discover that he doesn’t stick around long enough to make sure she’s okay, which does nothing to boost her confidence. Just when Holland’s spirit reaches its all-time low, one of Robert’s star performers resign the ensemble with weeks to spare before the show’s revival and presents her with the opportunity to be the hero for a change. She introduces Calvin (who turns out to have received his music training from Juilliard) to the team and he is an instant hit with the theater’s board members – until they discover his student visa expired four years ago so any media limelight would lead to instant deportation to Ireland. So Holland does the only thing she could do to save the day: she marries Calvin McLoughlin so his dream of playing for Broadway can come true and Uncle Robert’s production can have its debut star. And she? She can be fake-married to the man she’s been secretly stalking for the last six months. No conflict of interests there at all…

Experience (with rudimentary spoilers): I liked this novel so much that I finished it cover-to-cover overnight and then went back to skimming it for notes the following week. The witty narration delivered in the first-person by the heroine charmed me from the get-go while her innocuous-stalker infatuation for the sexy busker made her immediately relatable [you haven’t lived on the edge until you’ve memorized your crush’s classroom schedule]. Moreover, with the international news in every nation running the gamut on a certain country’s immigration policies, this marriage-of-convenience “Green Card” romance couldn’t have found a more contemporary premise, which may have been Christina Lauren’s inspiration and intent. All in all, it made Roomies read very fast and quite effortlessly.

I want to start this review with the character Holland, who is, after all, the heroine and narrator of this story. Since, in my last month’s #AuthorToolboxBlogHop post, I discussed the many reasons and ways to avoid writing too-perfect protagonists, my mind was very much attuned to how the authors presented Holland’s flaws and challenges as I went through the book. I was not disappointed but I’d like to address how that could’ve been the case.

In romance stories, too often, the heroine’s flaws are limited to her appearance or some behavioral absurdity that’s really more-cute-than-not, as though she can have no greater aspiration than to charm her romantic interest with her form or demeanor. As if describing her as the hag who chews her hair when she’s nervous makes her somehow relatable to the reader. It’s the debutante ball all over again – there’s the belle and then there’s us.

What’s worse, once the heroine is presented at her worst state, the narrator can no longer remain committed to the image created, leaving the reader at a loss to understand who exactly is the character they are reading about. Big-boned turns out to be code for Amazon-beautiful, extra-padding is really Rubenesque-sexy, it’s really adorable and not dangerous when the heroine drunk-dives into the pool and loses consciousness bumping her head against the tiles on her way in… I have found this especially common among heroines written in the first-person. Gold star to anyone who can guess the multiple-personality romance heroine described by Adam Ellis in the following illustration:

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I understand the temptation of relying on the ugly duckling formula. If the endgame of the romance novel plot is the realization of true love, why not start by presenting the most obvious challenges to that goal – all the visible traits of the heroine that could make her unattractive to her romantic interest? But unless these visible imperfections come with some deep-seated wound or unless there are additional dilemmas that give the heroine’s journey true meaning, I feel that using physical and social flaws to “add dimensions to the character” is a cop-out.

In Roomies, while Holland’s flaws are introduced as her being an average-looking gal with a klutzy comportment that affects her confidence level, we eventually get to see that her self-derision really stems from her awareness that she’s freeloading on her uncles’ goodwill and has yet to discover the purpose of her life. Sure, she’s aware of her physical limitations when compared to the aesthetically varied and rich dating pool of NYC but she knows how to navigate that by playing with her assets. Rather, her real cause for dissatisfaction is that, in an arena surrounded by the creatively successful, she has yet to discover where she fits. That unwritten novel is never far from her mind and that is what I liked about how the authors focused on developing Holland’s character arc. Even through the sexy scenes, even through Holland’s consciousness of having her crush now married and living in close quarters with her, Holland continues to struggle and grow as an individual.

And I love how Holland approaches each setback, each humiliation as well as each realization and triumph with humor and humility. This made her more than the mundane romantic heroine, this made her capable and centered – it made her real and worth admiring. Going back to a heroine’s consciousness of her form and grace; of course, I think it reasonable that they worry about how they look. Every woman, even those living in the remotest locale untouched by media’s image of perfection, feel self-conscious about some physical trait that they would change. So if a romance heroine does grunt and groan over her nose, thighs, or even a pinky finger, it is perfectly acceptable. But I liked how Holland’s self-deprecation when comparing herself to potential female competitions for Calvin’s field of attraction begins with looks but she again re-centers her mind to the theory that she should focus on developing her career and honing her talent than waste time on aspects that she cannot control. That, my friends, is character growth.

Enough about character flaws; let’s discuss the story. As far as the plot goes, I actually felt the whole novel was very realistically written. As I mentioned before, I went through the novel really quickly and without at all skimming on the expositions, but that is not to say that the writing was hurried. In fact, the scenes were really well-paced and what made them so fluent was the wry hilarity with which Holland reflects on each incident in her life, past and present, happy and sad. Events in each scene reveal the changes in the dynamics of her relationships with others, which, in turn, gradually expose the reader to tiny details about these other characters to form a holistic perspective of Holland’s world. For example, I love how Holland picks up Calvin’s little indulgences when he moves in with her – regular use of Chap Stick, going around mostly unclothed around the apartment, being totally casual about reading notifications on each other’s devices, etc. It makes Calvin more human. I could absolutely feel Holland’s infatuation developing into a deeper and more sustainable attachment.

And it also made the romance sweeter and sexier. Holland is not a brash character. In fact, she habitually assesses risks before taking any step, and the one time she decides to jump in with both feet is when she proposes marriage to Calvin, and she is aware how far outside her depth she’s wading. So it’s good to see her return to her cautious self once she is married. She’s consistent and because of that, it is easier for Calvin to know how to behave around her. This is a couple who married for immigration purposes and is living in a small apartment, sleeping with only a door between them. The awkwardness is real. And we feel it. But we also feel how the proximity allows them to become more sexually alert to the advantage of their living situation and the hesitation that accompanies it as well as how they choose to give in anyway. So… the romance is real.

Recommendation: Although the novel isn’t listed under Realistic Romance, I have chosen to classify it as such because I felt that Christina Lauren did a great job in capturing the emotional struggles and perspectives of the contemporary woman in the process of falling in love, that too with a very plausible plot and setting. In a myriad of mediocre romance novels these days, this story puts no pressure on your suspension of disbelief.

 

And now, having learned that the book was written in collaboration between two authors, I’m left wondering how that is accomplished with such graceful management of character and plot development…

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WIRITING CHRONICLE #34: two shakes short to a swelled head

Via: Daily Prompt – Inkling

Remember this moment in cinema?

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Media: Tenor

I recently had a moment like this. Not that it suddenly dawned on me that I have been unwittingly in love with a person who has always been in my life. It was something much more worrisome.

I was discussing the love of Mr. Darcy with a former work associate when I found myself mentally sneering, “Yeah, everyone wants to be Elizabeth Bennet and find their own Mr. Darcy. What they don’t realize is that they are all Marianne Dashwood chasing after Willoughby.” Then I further added to myself, “Lately, it’s been an endless parade of Lydia Bennets complaining about how they have been completely had by Wickham. Well, what can I expect from a Millennial*?”

And then I became wholly ashamed of my less than charitable feelings towards others. Here was a young woman who has always looked up to me for advice like one does a sister and I was abusing her for her romantic aspirations instead of encouraging her to develop the kind of consistency shown by Austen’s heroines. Even the mild-mannered Jane Bennet would be disappointed in me. Shouldn’t the fact that the younger generation is once again picking up authors like Austen be a source of hope? So I proceeded to correct my stance and discuss with my friend all the reasons why the Elizabeth-Darcy relationship prospered.

Later that day, I was thinking about why everyone loved Mr. Darcy so much; why I loved him, actually. And I came up with the following list of traits:

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Media: Giphy

And also:

At heart, he is a noble beast though his pride hides it well

He does not love universally but when he loves, he is ardent and steadfast

He has difficulty delegating and whatever is to be done must be done by him so obviously very capable

He feels deeply, reflects greatly, and holds his own opinions at the highest esteem

He is honest and has no need to deny his feelings or actions

Though he is ill at ease in a crowd or among strangers, he feels no compunction in speaking his mind

He makes short order of assessing people and situations nor does he forgive easily when they fall short of his expectations

He has a superiority complex but only because his mind is so improved

His speech is eloquent, his manners are without art

His actions are made with conviction and confidence

He knows how to handle information with discretion, he approaches life with consistent gravitas

As I added more and more attributes to the list, I became struck by my own reality…

OH MY GOD! I AM MR. DARCY!

[Someone needs to write a fanfiction with that title, by the way]

Apart from the tall, dark, and sexy man thing, of course. But does this mean that all these years I have been in love with myself? Who would’ve thought? If so, how narcissistic is that? The more I mulled it over, the more convinced I became that I might be a borderline egomaniac in my appreciation of the characteristics attributed to Mr. Darcy. If I am ever dissatisfied with myself, I can will away whatever unease I feel with the self-possessed knowledge that should I apply myself to the task at hand, I will succeed.

In fact, the only thing I have truly ever feared in my life is failing to become a revered author. It is the one place where I am not absolutely convinced that were I to practice and push, I would become a best-selling novelist. No matter how much effort I put into the craft or to the purpose of building my author platform, it may all still come to naught. Writing keeps me grounded. It probably even prevents me from using means of manipulation and coercion on others to create little replicas of my personality.

WHEW! Close call, huh?

 

*Dear Millennial, I don’t really think I’m superior to you. Any harsh feelings I may harbor towards you probably stems from a jealous resentment that you have greater social stamina and enthusiasm for life than I do – and so, the fault is actually mine. With all candor, I actually admire your pluck and ability to discover adventure and entertainment in every task that you set yourself to. XOXO

 

Back to the topic at hand, why do you love Mr. Darcy?

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Wednesday Reflections #35 – Bewitching the Duke by Christie Kelly

Via: Daily Prompt – Tardy & Dominant

15746024Title     Bewitching the Duke

Series     Wise Woman #01

Author     Christie Kelly

Genre     Historical Fiction | Regency Romance

Publisher      eKensington

Publication Date      December 6, 2016

Format      eBook

Setting     Regency England

ISBN     1601830289

Synopsis: It’s 1814 and while the upper crust English “Society” has come to consult certified physicians for their medical needs, plebeians continue to depend on the local wise women to take care of everything from delivering babies and setting bones to cleansing homes by burning sage and ensuring a good harvest for the season. Selina White, the wise woman at the Duke of Northrop’s country seat, takes her role in the community seriously, upholding generations of tradition passed down through the female line in her family. Her efforts are appreciated by one and all in the region except the Duke himself, who has deigned to grace his estate after having abandoned it to decline for nearly a decade. Colin Barrett’s disparage of wise women stems less from the growing belief that medicine should be administered only by university-trained male physicians and more from his history with Selina’s mother, the former wise woman of his land whom he blames for the death of his wife and baby during childbirth. So when he unwillingly returns to his ancestral home that holds so many tortured memories to arrange a wedding, only to discover Selina very much active in practicing her craft not only among his tenants but also within his household, he is incensed. First, he throws her out of his home and then he banishes her from his land. However, he miscalculates her determination to do her duty by his people as well as the loyalty said people harbor towards her in return. Pretty soon his servants are sneaking her back into Northrop, hiding her right under his nose in the unoccupied wing of his house, and business recommences as usual. To further complicate the matter, with every chance encounter, the instantaneous attraction that sparked between Colin and Selina when they first met continues to grow – an attraction that begins to transcend their individual prejudices and encounters that become less and less chance on both sides.

Experience: In all honesty, I’m a snob when it comes to book covers. The illustration absolutely plays a part in whether I’ll invest in the book because, to me, it shows that no effort was spared from start to finish. And this book’s cover instinctively warned me to not pick it up. Nevertheless, when I read the blurb and learned the premise of the book, I was intrigued and decided to risk it. It so happens that Bewitching the Duke confirmed both my earlier misgivings as well as my latter anticipations. The premise of the story does manage to uphold the originality it promised and the cover of the book accurately portends its poor execution. However, that is not to say this book was a total loss.

Let’s discuss the premise first, which after all helped me move past my superciliousness. Immediately, we are informed how the advent of modern medicine threatened both the livelihood and the tradition of wise women in the English society even as the poor continued to depend on them because male physicians were more expensive as well as due to the somewhat retained superstitions that surrounded these women’s healing capabilities. We are introduced – though it is kept in the background for most of the novel – the transferal of the role of the “caretaker” of people’s wellbeing from the female to the male, bringing into sentience yet another instance of how the culture of gender inequality became more dominant as the old religions receded further into obscurity. [I should acknowledge here that I love a story that makes me dive into a little history research of my own!] In Bewitching the Duke, the change comes in the form of the Duke of Northrop who openly declares Selina a hack upon his return to the country and uses her mother’s role in the fatal childbirth that prematurely terminated his domestic happiness as evidence. While his tenants and servants continue to store their faith in her powers, he does not make it easy for them to access her services.

This premise also neatly proceeds to generate not only the romantic conflict in the plot, i.e. a man who blames a wise woman for the death of his wife and child cannot fall in love with her daughter who also is a wise woman and vice versa, as well as the character arcs for both the hero and heroine, given that Colin is unable to move past the memories of his loss to allow himself to love again while Selina herself harbors a guilty secret surrounding the said loss. The trajectory of the story is set with ease and since romance novels generally promise happily-ever-after, we know that somehow the two main characters will have to get over their individual issues and the “wise woman” must rise to the occasion to reign supreme. Yay!

Except, maybe the historical accuracy is completely forsaken to keep the premise of novel adjustable to its length and, thus, the level of effort required, i.e. to say, the story was set a century or three too late. By the nineteenth century, wise women had largely receded into the background of society, most of them having suffered enough horrors related to being labeled “witches” to justly hide their abilities from the public. If these women still dared practice medicine, it was in secret. Say, for the sake of the plot, we, as readers, accept that wise women continued to openly practice their crafts in some remote corners of England where people were optimistically more open-minded, the novel completely avoids any mention of the religious persecution and social ostracism “alternative healers” suffered in the historical period immediately preceding the time in which the novel is set. For me, that was a no-no. Even if the author wished to have none of that “cloaked in the danger of religious persecution” mystery hanging ominously over the characters’ heads, why avoid any mention of what had once happened to Selina’s kind when her knowledge and powers still carried the same mysticism as witches? Alas, a lovely premise was thus unhappily stifled for the convenience of the narration and the result was a loss of intrigue and integrity that encompassed the true history of the subject.

The characters themselves were simple enough to follow. I felt, while they lacked depth, the romance between them brewed in a forthright fashion that I could appreciate. They were obviously each meant to grow out of their attractions and dilemmas towards one another rather than alone, which is always appreciated in a romance novel. It cries true of the notion that true love takes precedence over past conflicts. Yet, the characters were put upon more as plot devices than entities in and of themselves and kept switching foot on one another to add more twists that the story could have just as easily have done without.

There was one particular part of the novel where I could not reconcile with Selina’s character. When Colin confesses to her that he thought he saw the ghost of his dead wife in the unoccupied third floor window of his house, Selina does not set his mind at ease even though she realizes he had mistaken her passing the window for his wife’s ghost; instead, she enjoys a private bit of joke at his expense. This does not present a raving endorsement of her character as a human being, does it, especially when considering how tortured Colin has always been about losing his duchess?

I did enjoy a glimpse of the country life in the story though, which retained the essence of the hypothesis the author was aiming for, i.e. the continued importance of the wise woman in a country neighborhood where people can barter for her services and believe in the influences of pagan rituals without fear of ridicule. This is nicely reinforced with a scene in a fortuneteller’s tent at the traveling fair that all the primary romantic characters of the series attended. The fact the fortuneteller’s words are taken more seriously than a simple diversion shows the reader that here is a society that is not entirely jumping to relinquish the old ways. This I found refreshing and reason enough to keep reading.

Recommendation: Despite some flaws, the story is actually an original one and may be appreciated by readers who are suckers for historical romance and mysticism. Just remember, “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down!”

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#AuthorToolbox 07: avoiding perfection

Via: Daily Prompt – Study & Loophole

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about sainted characters. It all started when I sat down to watch John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher success Halloween for the first time [yes, truly]. After a month-long Christmas movie binge, I was ready to shake things up a bit and, although fully prepared to be blown away by the cult classic that apparently gave birth to so many of my favorite horror movies from the 90’s, twenty minutes in, it had me rolling my eyes and sighing in exasperation. Jamie Lee Curtis is Mary Sue:

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Media: Giphy

The Virginal Barbie: Despite being all shiny and blonde with a great body, Curtis’s character Laurie is the shy girl-next-door who can’t bring herself to divulge her feelings to the boy she likes, making her the unattached dream girl who won’t give a man any lip.

The Sharpest Tool in the Shed: Not only is she at the top of every class, she’s probably also psychic. She is the first to notice the man-in-the-mask watching her and her friends as well as the only one who continues to sense his foreboding proximity throughout the movie.

A Goody-Two-Shoes: She can’t break rules properly even when she tries. The one time she allows herself to be peer-pressured into smoking a little pot, she ends up right in front of the sheriff. Though her transgression goes unnoticed, she chooses to walk the straight and narrow for the rest of the movie.

The Old Reliable: She always picks up the slack. She can be counted on to drop off keys to a real estate client for her father, make popcorn for her babysitting charge, and relieve her best friend from babysitting duty while the said best friend spends the night doing the dirty.

It’s Lonely at the Top: Early on in the movie, we see her experiencing all the teen angst that accompanies an austere lifestyle and become sympathetic to her plight.

A Badass Martyr: Even when the killer slices open her arm, her first lookout is to make sure the kids are safe, maternal instinct in guerilla warfare mode. And she’s pretty resourceful with a knitting needle too. Who doesn’t love a girl who can simultaneously knit and kick butt when called to action?

DIE, FEMINISM, DIE! But, even aside from the misogynistic rigmarole, that is a tall order for any character. And while I accept that, in horror movies, death following sex is expected, by the end of the movie, I was convinced that the only reason Laurie survived was that she didn’t show any skin. By the end of the movie, I wanted to throw her out the bedroom window. Sadly, while I believe the makers of Halloween intended Laurie to be The-Li’l-Lady-That-Could, fiction writers are equally prone to creating accidental Mary Sues. I would have to say, tar me with the same brush.

MY TOO-PERFECT CHARACTER

Only, mine was a Gary Stu. When I first started writing I’ll Be True in 2012, I understood little about structuring plots, developing characters, weaving conflicts, or building tension, etc. I was confident I had a voice and was often praised for my diction, which was good enough to publish the first draft of my story on a public platform, a.k.a. this blog. Besides, I was too hopeful that having an actual audience would cure me of my habit of abandoning stories before they were finished being written. Embarrassing as it is to admit, it wasn’t until I wrote the entire novel and read back all twenty-six chapters to myself that I realized my protagonist’s romantic interest, who also happened to be the second MC, was insufferably unspoiled.

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Media: Tenor

Matthew Halls was a wish-fulfilling Mr. Perfect I had written when I was going through a rough patch in my longstanding relationship. He looked good on paper, was always the voice of reason, and had the luck of Indiana Jones with a heart the size of a blimp, talent oozing out of his pores, and sexual appeal enough to melt the staunchest woman’s core (which he promptly did). He had little in the way of challenges other than to convince the heroine that she loved him enough to call for a change in her attitude towards relationships. In other words, he was unreal, he had no character arc, and I was, literally, driven to tears of frustration. Worse, in the process of creating the perfect man, I committed the cardinal sin of treating my hero like a plot device. [His hideous magnificence remains unedited in my posts should anyone care to torture themselves]

WHY AVOID TOO-PERFECT CHARACTERS?

If the above examples of Mary Sue and Gary Stu do not convince, here’s how too-perfect protagonists may lead to bad fictions:

saintToo perfect to be human. Readers are everyday flawed people so a character who is free of flaws becomes unrealistic and one that is hard to relate to. Besides, it is very hard to sympathize with a holier-than-thou character in peril because they make us feel less than our best selves, so a reader would not feel as vested in seeing the character through to triumph.

No challenge too great. Too-perfect protagonists come with broad skillsets that make accomplishing goals and overcoming obstacles very easy for them and their one-dimensional quality boring for the readers. Plots are driven by conflicts and, with a Johnny-On-The-Spot, the tension never quite gets the opportunity to build up properly, which can cause the reader to disconnect too early.

Well, what’s there left to hope for? People want to read about ordinary characters persevere in extraordinary ways. A character in a similar or slightly better circumstances than the reader can motivate the reader’s aspirations towards life; conversely, a character who has all the assets one can desire to lead the perfect life might make a reader want to go to sleep and never wake up. After all, who can compete against Batman?

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Media: Me.Me.

To be fair to us, authors, it’s too tempting to write the too-perfect character. Even if we, ourselves, do not fit the mold of our ideal person [because, really, who does?], we wish to see it come alive somewhere – live [vicariously] a little. Writing heroes is also more comfortable than writing anti-heroes or villains because subconsciously we are worried how that might reflect on us as human beings. If we do remember to sand the edges by inserting a couple of character flaws, we are just as quick to make excuses for them. Should we write them real challenges, as creators, it is in our nature to mother them into victory.

At our worst self, we’re lazy and don’t want to sweat by putting in the level of thought and work hours necessary to clean up after a messy character: Stories are made of struggles; struggles need solving; someone’s gotta do it; why not Mary Sue? But every time we throw miracles in our character’s path, we are chiseling away at the compelling story we could be writing. As an outsider looking in, readers tend to discover conflicts sooner and notice opportunities for resolution faster than the characters themselves, which may prompt vexation in the reader but also cause them to hold on.

 

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Think about it, how often have you groaned during the stairwell chase scene when the protagonist runs up the stairs to get away from the predator? It seems their gut instinct should be to run down and let gravity do most of the work as they look for the quickest exit from hell. Unless, of course, the character is Batman, in which case he wouldn’t be running or, if he did, he has probably already sent out a signal and the Batplane is waiting for him by the rooftop. As a kid, I had promised myself that I would learn to drive, ride a motorbike as well as a horse, and hotwire a car, just so if I ever needed to escape a villain, I would be all set. I haven’t yet learned to do any of that, am clinically overweight that I’m too lazy to remedy, and have low stamina that I blame on my intellectually-inclined personality. If my life was a novel and I a Girl Scout, I’d be the first to be eaten by a bear during camp. So… obviously not the protagonist of my own story.

 

HOW TO AVOID WRITING TOO-PERFECT CHARACTERS?

The good news is, if caught in time, an author can put a flawless character back in his box. It requires careful examination and takes a few nips and tucks to fix perfection but it can be done:

Give. Them. Flaws. Well, that’s obvious, but here are a few tips to remember as you do –

  • It’s best not to depend on flaws that are superficial or an in indirect praise such as a crooked nose (who’re you kidding; you know that’s sexy) or being a total klutz (wasn’t Meg Ryan absolutely adorable in French Kiss). The surest way to make the flaw compelling for the readers is to ensure that it is mired in the character’s past and has had time to fester to become a real problem.
  • The flaw shouldn’t be too blatant or exaggerated. Flaws lose credibility when demonstrated in absolute so they should never be dealt as such, unless the intention is to mock. Most people work in gray areas and so should the character’s flaws. Only sociopaths are completely sure of themselves all the time.
  • The flaw needs to be persistent until the character learns to reign it in, which should happen at approximately the same time as the plot reaches resolution. The last thing the story needs is the narrator telling the reader about the character’s flaw but when the time comes to show, the character works in an opposite manner.
  • A flaw that connects back to the central conflict in the plot is a great flaw. Flaws bear significance to the story when they cause the character to take a misstep that challenges their goals.

For that matter, stop fixating on their endowments. Yeah, yeah, he’s hot-stuff but must she swoon every time he walks into the room? The more words are spent describing the protagonist’s pros, the less time is used to show their cons.

Turn their strengths into a source of weakness. Shakespeare was a genius in romanticizing flaws. The same qualities that would establish a character as a hero in the beginning of a play would cause their tragic demise by the end. E.g. the bravery and determination that returns Macbeth victorious from war transforms into unchecked ambition where he kills the king he swore to serve before turning mad with guilt and paranoia, which eventually leads to a bloodbath under his tyrannical rule and then his death.

Make them do something you find truly objectionable. This may even be out of character where the one time they do something wrong, they get caught and then are left picking up the pieces for the rest of the story.

Put them back in the real world. The universe, even one existing in a fantasy, is governed by its own laws, which no character is above. As such, when the character defies the rules of this universe, there should be repercussions for the character to deal with. Their actions will have an effect on other characters just as they must be affected by it.

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Avoid deus ex machinas. Remember that one time when we were driving down the I-10 and were almost abducted by aliens but then a pterodactyl swooped in and ate the aliens before flying off into the sunset? Yeah, never happened. Not even on The X-Files. Sudden supreme forces that step in without preamble to save the day for the protagonist just make the plot ridiculous.

Pass some of your character’s skills to others. The protagonist can’t be an expert on everything or be everywhere at the same time – nor should you ask them of it. Instead, insert other characters into the story who are able to take over some of the protagonist’s responsibilities. Even Harry had Ron and Hermione; and Dumbledore and the Order of Phoenix and the DA and Snape and a bunch of other dead guys, etc.

What I’m trying to say is, in case you lost the plot in that circuitous ramble, unless you have decided that a Mary Sue/Gary Stu works for your story, they best be avoided. But, hey! as the original Mary Sue was written as a satire to parody the unrealistic heroines in some of the early Star Trek fanfictions, sometimes they can be the key ingredient to a successful story.

Whew! My obvious flaw is the inability to edit because this has gone on for long enough. But I would love to read about what are your thoughts on too-perfect characters.

Perhaps there is a Mary Sue that you feel spoiled a story for you or one that worked out really well? Or, like me, maybe you once wrote a Gary Stu who you eventually had to kill but who imparted you with great insight before his death?

 

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2Finally, a word on the Author Toolbox Blog Hop:
#AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event, hosted by the gracious Raimey Gallant, featuring various resources and learnings for authors written by authors. It is open to writers at all stages of their careers and the rules of sign-up are available in the overhead link. Also, if you are just interested in connecting with actual authors and see what they have got to say, the sign-up page has a list of participants to direct you to their pages. Happy reading and writing, fellow authors!

 

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Wednesday Reflections #34 – The Christmas Wife by Elizabeth Kelly

Via: Daily Prompt – Brilliant & Undulate

28028105Title     The Christmas Wife

Author     Elizabeth Kelly

Genre     Contemporary Romance | Holiday Romance | Christmas

Publisher      Elizabeth Kelly

Publication Date      November 29, 2015

Format      eBook

Setting     USA

ISBN     9781926483528

Synopsis: Deacon Stone, CEO extraordinaire of one of the world’s largest independent toy making companies, is in big trouble. His dear grandmother has finally lost her marbles and threatened to bequeath her controlling shares of the family business – the same toy company that Deacon worked his buns off for over the last decade to rescue from certain bankruptcy – to his greedy ill-equipped cousin if he doesn’t marry before Christmas. Not only does Deacon have an aversion to tying the proverbial noose around his neck but the real challenge is that he has less than a week to do the deed. When his best friend suggests he hires an escort to be his wife for the month, he brushes the idea off as incomprehensible. Then six-years-old Hattie, the daughter of his weekly maid Claire Brooks, glides into his living room, breaks a priceless figurine, and hands him the answer. As single mom Claire gets fired from the cleaning company for the damage caused, Deacon pays an apology visit to the Brookses’ dilapidated apartment to find them living in a state of destitution. Furthermore, he discovers their eviction notice, threatening to render the mother-daughter duo homeless, and suddenly a wife-for-hire doesn’t sound implausible. He realizes that Claire being a dedicated mom in dire straits would never reveal the duplicity of their marriage to anyone for fear of psychological repercussion on Hattie and promptly offers the family shelter in exchange of a marriage of convenience. He even sweetens the pot by offering Claire a hundred thousand dollars as long as they can maintain the charade until New Year’s Day when his grandmother would sign the shares over to him. For Claire, there really is no contest when given a choice between defending her dignity and securing a comfortable future for her daughter. And as long as she can put up a convincing act where everyone believes her marriage to Deacon is real but Hattie doesn’t get too emotionally drawn in, everyone can leave the marriage unscathed come new year. Except once married, the volatile sexual chemistry between Deacon and Claire begins to take precedence over a promise to remain detached and when Hattie and Deacon begin to form new bonds, fake family starts to look dangerously close to the real deal.

Experience: I rated this book 5* on Goodreads – not because I found it “amazing” (as the site’s rating system defines) or even because it was technically flawless. But because, having tried and failed to enjoy the works of a series of newly discovered [by me] authors in 2017, I was tearfully relieved to see that Elizabeth Kelly remembered to dot her i’s and cross her t’s before publishing the novel. And it seems this work was self-published too so bravo!

The book itself banks on an evergreen plot structure in the romance genre – a marriage of convenience – that it liberally peppers with lots of sensual scenes between the newly married couple and then honeys up with the beautiful formation of parent-child bond between a reluctant stepfather and a guileless child. It’s not an ingenious story arc but it guarantees success. I don’t think Kelly aimed to wow her readers with this but rather tried to provide them a homey romance to snuggle up with during the holidays – at least that is how it came across to me and, for once, I’m grateful for the salute to simplicity. Whereas recently I have read too many novels desperately gunning to discombobulate readers by adding an inordinate and unnecessary number of plot twists, The Christmas Wife chose to remain old-school and I found that refreshing. I fell in love with romance novels while reading the early cozy romances written by Sandra Brown and this was sort of a throwback to the sensations they aroused – The Hallmark Channel with a crackling fire smoking up the pages.

Another groan factor for me in 2017 was reading how comfortable so many authors are about treating their characters like plot devices, randomly called to action or left to collect dust as the scene of the moment requires. As though everyone but the main characters is afterthoughts. I have read an actual scene where the hero and heroine – secretly in love with each other – are arguing over something absolutely mundane that the heroine’s roommate is helping to moderate, when because the heroine ingenuously trips and the hero gallantly catches her, they become wholly engrossed in discovering adorable freckles on one’s nose and golden flecks in the other’s eyes, having a conversation that would consume minimum ten minutes in real life while the roommate is floating in the background like a ghost stuck in time without any occupation or even objection to being ignored. While the interaction between the hero-heroine was certainly titillating, the roles of the other characters felt insignificant and implausible. This actually was approved by a notable publishing house and then went on to becoming a YA bestseller. And no, the book didn’t get better after that; rest of it was just as inane.

In a happy contrast, Hattie received a salient role in this novel, despite being a child character in an adult romance. Usually, one would find a novel featuring a single mom/dad using the kid(s) to simply cutesy up the plot – like a pet. They may be part of the conflict or the charm but mostly inactive other than when required to either foil or foster the romantic plot. Not Hattie. She got as much downtime with Deacon as her mom and actively contributed to selling the beauty of “fam-dom” to the resolutely-single hero. And not only did she build bonds with the stepdad but also charmed a shrewd grandmother and formed an alliance with a member of the opposition (the son of that inept cousin trying to weasel away Deacon’s company). This novel was not about only the romantic characters. Kelly did not forget the little people – or rather, the little people had large parts to play.

Meanwhile, the adults behaved like adults and not hapless props acted upon for the sake and break of the romance. Here, the hero and heroine made informed decisions unlike a lot of recent romances where the main characters take rash decisions in the beginning of the novel and for the rest, are juggling the pieces of their lives while they choose to remain blind to the changing dynamics in the said romance or become easily misled due process of salvaging their egos. Conflicts invariably equal to secrets and miscommunications. Again, Kelly broke the mold when neither Deacon nor Claire is relegated to such star-crossed roles. Throughout the novel, both characters had an active hand in how their marriage would be upheld, in its catch or release, whether tightening the hold over their congealing relationship or letting go. They weighed their options as well their constraints before entering the marriage, they chose to become sexually involved letting the other know their individual limits in the relationship, and, when necessary, they each backed off and allowed the other enough space to get their bearings sorted. I felt it was their understanding of each other’s wants that made the ebbs and flows of tension so well-paced and believable. Despite the odds that brought them together and despite the fact that they entered a fake marriage, they always remain a truthful ally to one another. In this lie, they are a unit and that makes each partner a strong support system for the other – in a way, a much healthier foundation for marriage. And it was a relief that the tension was not dependent on yet another incident of “forgot to pass the message” or “didn’t reach the venue quickly enough to stop the villain from gaining center-stage”.

The only objection I had to the novel, though, was that there was no concrete foundation to build the romantic arc upon. What I mean is, while there was oodles of lust between our romantic couple and all, there was no other reason for one individual to fall in love with the other individual. Perhaps I felt this way because there was no real character development in either Deacon or Claire but only the outlook of the “ideal family” they created and fell into character with. Throughout the novel, the most we see of each character as individuals is that one is a hardworking bloke while the other a dedicated mom but everything else they undergo is purely circumstantial. Thrown in such close quarters, any set of individuals would form these bonds, an adult unless heartless would melt towards a precocious child, a married couple with the opportunity and license to initiate a sexual relationship may take advantage of their conjugal rights. And in the process, these people may develop soft corners for each other but it seemed that it could be any rich rescuer or any mother-daughter act that would have done the job. I think it was here, in the enriching of the characters, where simplicity took away rather than added to the novel. But then again, since the novel was no race to becoming the next great American romance, this deficiency is easily overlooked.

Recommendation: If you’re ever in need of an uncomplicated and soothing romance with a little heat, look no further. And you know as well as I that Christmas romances are good to read all year round.

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