Writer Quirks

You hear a lot about gamers or comic book enthusiasts being characterized and stereotyped based on some “strange” characteristics that they have. As far as I’m concerned, we all have quirks that make us individual. When you read those “relatable” posts, however, it’s scary how accurate some of them are – no matter the label. Here are a few writer quirks that I think fit the bill:

Strange conversations

No matter what genre you’re writing, getting together with other writers always leads to strange conversations. Some writers will argue that there is no such thing as a strange conversation in the writer community; no topic is abnormal, and overhearing a snippet at random can be equal parts entertaining and terrifying. For example:

If I kill off the crush too fast, she won’t be crushed enough, so he has to stick around for a few more chapters. Maybe I could, like, cut off his leg or something in the mean time…she’d have to fall in love with him then, right?

That’s one of the mild examples of ordinary conversations. Anyone else would be confused or perhaps freaked out, but us writers get it.

Scolding your characters out loud

When a chapter, intense scene, or plot twist just isn’t going well, it’s usually because a character isn’t behaving correctly. When we’ve re-written the same sentence five times and it still isn’t right, our characters tend to get yelled at or scolded, and sometimes just doing it in our heads isn’t good enough:

Just cooperate, will you?!”

“Stop complaining, I’m working on it!”

“Okay, that’s enough. Go to your room!

It doesn’t always work, but it makes us feel better most of the time.

Grief at saying goodbye to our characters when we finish the novel

These characters are our creations, children that we watch over as they grow up and get their fairy tale endings (or not). When the time comes to type “The End” on the last page, a real grief leaves us in a funk for a while. These characters are real people to us, so living without them can be really sad and hard, even when the time comes to move on to new characters and plots. Saying goodbye to our characters is the same as saying goodbye to family or close friends. It hurts!

These are some of the quirks I find to be universal amongst short story and novel writers, If you’ve got some of your own, feel free to share them in the “comments” section!

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Past and Present

When we start to write a novel, there are lots of things to think about: appropriate plot twists, rounded characters, and a snarky antagonist or two. Something many of us don’t tend to give much thought to is what tense to write in. Some writers believe it’s a personal choice, while others believe it should be decided based on what genre we’re writing it.

For the most part, writing in the past tense tends to be the preferred method. It’s familiar and comfortable, not to mention that it’s the most popular tense of all the big-shot writers out there. Writing in the past tense allows the reader to feel more connected to the narrator, listening to him/her tell the story as everyone sits around a campfire or a kitchen table. It helps you invest in the characters and plot in a gentle way so that you’re hooked before you know it.

As far as genre goes, writing in the past tense is best for those books that are plot driven (ex: action, mystery) rather than character-based (ex: romance, coming-of-age). As mentioned, the reader is able to connect with the narrator as s/he tells the story. So, the writer can slip comments and prejudices to the reader (overtly or otherwise) and make the mystery a little trickier, or give the action story an extra plot twist.

Writing in the present tense can be jarring and distracting for the writer as much as the reader and cause all sorts of problems. Its intention is pure enough, it works to help you get in the head of the character as the action is happening, but the truth of it is that it isn’t always effective. It can allows you to get in the mindset of the character and go on the journey with them as it happens, giving the reader the feeling of making the decisions along with the character. The reader will put stock in the character and form a strong, emotional connection that way. Present tense writing can do a lot in the slower, more emotional plots that require you to invest in the characters. You may be thinking “but, I know all sorts of romance novels that are written in the paste tense,” and you’d be right. Choosing the tense doesn’t have to involve anything but personal preference for many writers out there, despite what I’ve been saying.

Personally, I much prefer writing and reading in past tense. When I’m reading, I can focus on the story without getting distracted by the writing itself. When writing, I feel much more confident in the past tense. The several times I’ve written in present tense, everything was choppy and awkward, not to mention that I randomly switched from third person point of view to first person. The bottom line for me is that writing in the present tense is just plain distracting, no matter what genre I’m in or what story I’m trying to tell.

Does anyone else feel partial to the past tense? Or, maybe feel that writing in the present tense is more comfortable? Feel free to say it all below!


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Language, Writing

The Power of Language: Part III

Now for my final thoughts on language and the power it has. I’ve talked about how the power works and what it means, but I haven’t really explained how it applies to writers.

Our job is to tell the stories that we care about, be it through short stories or novels. No matter what language we’re writing in, words are critical to doing that job. We can have the best characters and the most exciting plot ever seen, but if we use the wrong words to tell the story, no one is going to read it. As you can imagine, that puts a lot of pressure on us.

We spend years writing books, rejecting draft after draft because something just doesn’t “feel right”. There is a craft to writing, sure, a necessity in learning what makes a good story, strong characters, etc. But, a lot of the “real skills” of writing come from trusting your gut. You’ll get this niggling somewhere inside that something in that chapter isn’t working. Or, maybe you’ll get the sense that the last sentence you just wrote isn’t quite right.

These are frustrating moments because we are the only ones that can get that chapter/sentence just right. Other writers may be able to offer a word or two of advice, but they have their own nigglings to take care of. The entire perfection of the novel is sitting on our shoulders alone, and it is no fun what-so-ever. In fact, not being able to perfect that one sentence is a huge contributor to the terrifying writers block. Sometimes that niggling even gets so bad that we scrap the novel entirely. So, you see, using the right word could save a character’s life, maybe even a whole world.

There is a silver lining, though. It’s that instant when we finish a perfectly executed cliffhanger, or create the best scathing line of dialogue. Those little shivers that zap down our spines and leave us with the thought, “Yes, that’s it. Perfect!” These moments may be rare, but they’re powerful and leave us on a high for hours after. These are the moments where we feel like real writers, the moments where we feel as though we’ve conquered language and its power, even if it’s just for a little bit.

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Each writer uses words differently; each spins a different tale, telling stories of their own characters in their own worlds. The power of language – of the written word – unites us all, though, in a quest to construct the perfect sentence and novel. Having an appreciation and understanding of the language and the power it wields makes us better writers.

Learning another language, as I mentioned way back in Part I, has helped me understand and respect the power of language a lot more, making me a much better and more confident writer.

While writing gives me as much trouble as the next person, I trust that the words will lead me to the right place when the time is right and all will be right with the world.


Part of my World

Writing involves many exciting jobs in preparation, like reading or researching, memorizing a thesaurus, or maybe even travelling. The best task, though, is the people watching. We all do it, whether we want to admit it or not. As writers, we have an excuse; to find new characters!

Image Credit: blog.shareaholic.com (Google)
Image Credit: blog.shareaholic.com (Google)

Characters can either make or break a story, do you have to make sure they’re great ones. The only way to do that realistically is by basing them off of ear leak people, am I right? What are some of the places that you go to in order to get interesting people to watch? I love going to the mall to do it, but unless you sit in the food court, you don’t get to see people for longer than 20 seconds.

The most important part of people watching is to get a variety, and the food court is a great place for that. Also, you can overhear conversations and not down some great pieces of dialogue. The quick turn over always offers lots of people to eavesdrop on and makers you inconspicuous because no one I will notice you sitting there for extended periods of time.

When I’m hunting for a good character, I tend to watch for big groups of people. The best thing about a large group is that it holds the most options for the perfect character. If you’re starting from scratch, the different options are endless in a group of just four people. If you’re starting from a few characteristics – shy, loud, gentle, brave – then that makes a group fun in the sense that you can take characteristics that match the personality that you want, and create a strong, round character.

Finding your protagonist in a crowd isn’t hard, but one character that can be hard (and a lot of fun) to find, is your antagonist. Usually, they’re loners that are obsessed with revenge, or maybe they’re the popular “it” girl with identical drones giggling at everything they say and do. Regardless, essentially every person exists at the mall, and with the right skills and knowledge, can be found.

Antagonists can typically be found in stores, particularly in long lines that are moving at a snail’s pace. Those bring out the ugly in just about everyone, so you’ll find the bad and shady characteristics there. The same thing goes for the ones arguing with the cashiers. They have all the traits you can want for a kick-butt antagonist.

The mall works in finding new characters so well because people tend to relax, they figure that there are too many people to worry about being watched. At first, the “prim and proper” personality is up in front of the real personality and everything is correct and polite. By the time they’re ready to leave the food court or the store, though, they have started to let their guard down and their real personality shine through, allowing you to get to the good stuff.

That all being said, the best dialogue, plot twists, or personality traits can hit at anytime, so, like all writers advise, always have a pen and paper on you for just such an occasion. Characters are crucial, so don’t use the stock ones because you can’t think of anything else. Possibilities are all around you, so there is no excuse not to have a great character.

What do you see as the most important element in a story? Do you prefer to read about stock or original characters? What are some examples of strong characters?


Performing on a Daily Basis

I’ve discovered in the past several years, that performing has given me a unique kind of joy that I have never felt from anything else. I took a Theatre Arts class in Grade 11, and even now, it is still the best class I have ever taken. I learned about the technical elements of the theatre, and the language, but my favourite part was learning how to be a good performer. We learned how to write a monologue, and how to write partner scripts, and most importantly, how to act on stage. The first couple of performances were terrifying and awkward, but when I look back, I could feel the start of something incredible even in those first shaky steps as a performer.

It didn’t take long before I started to learn the craft of performing, what made a good monologue, how to throw away my serious and shy personality and act the part of a dumb blonde or, my personal favourite, the rich, mean snot. There was a high that came after stepping off stage, too, that I quickly learned to love. It was an excitement that came from knowing I had done a good job at entertaining the audience.

I did well in the class, which made me feel great, but the most important thing that I took away from the whole experience, was that I could be the person that I had always envied. I was so used to being the quiet girl that sat in the corner with a book and missed out on experiencing life with the rest of the kids. Now, though, after seeing the confidence that I displayed on the stage, I could take some of that and put it into my real life and become the person that I wanted to be. It comes back to the expression:

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At first, I did have to fake it, because I didn’t know how to bring that courageous actor out in me when I didn’t have a character to act as, or an audience to draw energy from. I made up my own character and pretended that I was acting a part in a TV show. Eventually, I realized, I was just being myself. I had learned how to use that confidence from acting, and let it help my interact with my everyday life.

My Theatre Arts class gave me the confidence to be a better version of myself, and even though I have no chance to act on stage, I’ll act in my everyday life as a jokester or a a clown. I enjoy bringing other people joy by simply acting the part of a “happy-go-lucky” kid. Finding the joy of performing was the best thing that could have happened for me, and I’m grateful for the experience.

Are there any fellow performers that would like to share there thoughts? Are there any life-changing classes or experiences that you’d like to share?


The Characters Rule the World

When I was getting into writing, the thing that fascinated me most was creating characters. When I was a little kid, I would create characters in my head and they would be my imaginary friends, but they never did impossible things like flying or anything like that. Instead, they were ordinary people like me, only they were my own creations. When I learned about creating my own characters, it was like I had developed that childhood tendency of creating my own friends.

Whenever I finish a short story, or I decide to kill a novella, I always feel this kind of loss, like I’ve let go of my friends. Months after I’ve put them to rest, I miss them and contemplate bringing them back to life through another story, just because they were so much fun to write.

The most important elements of writing are the plot, setting, conflict, theme, and characters, as told to us by Flocabulary in this catchy video:

I agree that all of these are crucial, but the most important one is the characters, in my point of view. They control the entire story and the author is swept along on the ride. What do I mean by that? Well, it is essentially exactly what I just said, the characters control the story. I can start a short story with a specific idea in my head about what I want to happen, but after I get going, the characters decide they don’t like the idea and are going to create their own plot. That may sound crazy, but it’s the truth!

For example, I had these two characters, one male and one female, who had this incredible relationship with each other. I had created them with the intention of making them into a couple, but once I started working with them, it was clear it wasn’t going to work. They had this incredible chemistry, but not the romantic kind. They would bicker in every scene, and the things that they would argue about were hilarious! I found myself laughing at their dialogue as I wrote it. I could see them in my head, like a movie scene, and I didn’t really feel like I was in control of it. They were doing their own thing, and all I was doing was writing it down for them.

See, for all of us writers, the characters are real, breathing people with real emotions and lives. Some of us see them in a crowd, or in a classroom or workplace. Some of us have them on our shoulders and as we go throughout our day, we can hear them voicing their opinions on what is going on around us. They aren’t just cardboard and paper stuck together, like the paper dolls we would make as kids.

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For us, our characters are real people and part of our family. I think all fellow writers will agree when I say that the characters rule the world, end of story!