The Character Made Me Do It

There’s a habit authors have of talking about and viewing their characters as living, breathing people. And in a way, they are. Most authors know firsthand the experience of having a character show up in their mind one day, fully formed and ready to tell their story, or of writing and wanting a character to do something specific, but watching helplessly as they drag the plot off in a different direction. Often that can be a really cool writing experience, and can help make the story better. But sometimes it can also be a problem.

I’m not going to point out specific examples, but there seems to be a trend lately of authors writing offensive storylines, and then defending themselves by saying that it wasn’t their fault; the characters (or story) “made them do it.” This can apply to, say, a “love story” actually reading more like horrific abuse, POC (or other minority characters) being sidelined or killed off more regularly than their white counterparts, or even something less offensive but still quite disrespectful to readers like marketing a book as a romance but then having the main characters break up or die at the end.

And here’s the thing. When I was younger I really was quite fond of the “characters have their own minds and you can’t control them!” way of thinking. It was cool, and it made me feel special. Plus there really is some truth to the fact that trying to make your characters do something they don’t want to do can lead to a writing block. But the truth is, characters are not real. They’re not living, breathing people who behave independently of their authors. The author creates them, and the author creates the story, and if the character is doing something that they shouldn’t, either because it doesn’t work for the story, or because it’s leading the book in a direction the author doesn’t want to go, the author has the ability to change that character, so that they will make the decision to have the story go in the direction the author wants it to.

We live in a culture that’s steeped in things like misogyny, racism and abuse. Whether we want to admit it or not, those things have crept into our subconscious and effect the way we write stories. As authors, we have to be critical of the ideas that come out of our subconscious, because like it or not, those ideas, characters, storylines, are going to be effected by the problematic media and stories we have been exposed to. To treat every character that walks into our mind unbidden, every storyline that we come up with in a moment of shining intuition as flawless and without bias, is to risk continuing to pump out those flawed, offensive narratives. So I’m extremely critical when an author tries to defend their problematic narrative by saying that “they didn’t have any control over the story” and “it just happened that way,” as if that excuses the story from all flaws and criticism.

Stories are never just stories. They effect us deeply, and shape the way we see the world. And authors are never off the hook for writing offensive content simply because “that’s the way the story wanted to be.” We are there for every step of the story’s development, and it’s our responsibility to watch it with a keen eye, to do our best to create works that contribute to making the world a better place, even if it means we have to give up a little of that “writing magic.” Sometimes writing is hard work, and that’s the way it should be. Just because it’s easy to write a story the way your subconscious wants it to be written, doesn’t mean it’s right. You are in control of your stories. Use them to make the world a better place.


Less Than Three Press is celebrating their sixth anniversary! All their books are currently 20% off, and every purchase in the month of April gets you an entrance into a raffle. Additionally, every day is a new surprise flash sale where one book is 50% off! Stop by on April 12th to pick up To Summon Nightmares for only $2.99!

Thanks for reading!

IMG_3340

Look at all the cat hair on that chair. That’s my life.

Editing As You Write

So lately I’ve been seeing a lot of writing advice that seems to be suggesting that if your first draft isn’t a steaming pile of absolute crap that you wouldn’t show to your dog, you’re not doing it right. “Write with abandon!” they say. “Don’t worry about the writing quality, or whether everything makes sense, or whether your grammar is any good! Just get the words down, and you can go back and fix everything later.”

Which is great if that’s what works for you. I know a lot of people have problems with staying motivated and getting through their first draft without stopping and nitpicking forever. But the problem, for me, is that I absolutely hate having to go back and fix everything later. When I’m done a first draft, I want it to be something resembling a book. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t do developmental and line edits, because I absolutely do. But by editing as I go, I mange to reduce my line edits humongously, and bring my developmental edits down from what would be catastrophically awful need-to-rewrite-three-quarters-of-the-book edits, to oh, okay, I can change this and add this and the book will be much better kind of edits.

What I’m saying is, it is absolutely possible to edit a book as you write it, and come out with something fairly clean that you’re not incredibly ashamed of. The actual process of writing the book will be harder. It will take longer, and it will be very frustrating at times. But in return, your editing after the fact will be much diminished, and you can focus on making the book even better, instead of just focusing on making it good.

So, without further ado, here are my tips of editing as you go.

1. Set measurable goals for yourself.

Obviously the number one issue with this method is the temptation to just keep editing and picking at the first chapter forever, and never move forward with the story. I’m usually incredibly impatient to get the story down anyway (“I don’t like writing, I like having written”) so I don’t have too much of a problem with this, but I do have a wordcount that I try my hardest to achieve whenever I sit down to write. Sometimes I’ll write 800 words that don’t work for the story, and in that case, I’ll scrap them, but I’ll still count those 800 words towards my daily wordcount. And then I’ll write another 1200 words. Even if it’s two steps forward, one step back, you’re still moving.

2. Edit every session.

This one is simple. Every time you sit down to write, read through what you wrote last time. Fix any grammar mistakes, awkward phrasing, etc that you see as you’re reading. Try to get a feel for how the story is flowing, what kind of pace it’s moving at, what direction it’s going, and what your instincts and/or outline (don’t be afraid to pit those two against each other either) tell you should be happening next. Then start writing, and keep going until you hit your wordcount.

3. Develop your ability to sense when something isn’t working.

I’m still working on this myself. Sometimes I’ll write up to 2000 words, the whole time completely ignoring that little nagging voice in my head that’s telling me: This isn’t right. This isn’t how the story is supposed to go. Then I’ll finish and wonder why I’m not satisfied with the day’s writing. For me, it’s essential that I listen to that voice. If I don’t, everything I write after that will be flawed. Pushing on with the knowledge that that one scene is wrong will colour everything else in the story, and when I do have to inevitably go back and fix it during edits, there will be a million other little things in the story that I’ll have to fix in order for everything to line up. Sometimes it will have changed the whole course of the story! Instead, I prefer to stop and rewrite before continuing, so that my path is clear. Unfortunately, this requires you to be really in tune with your story. It also requires a lot of patience, and a touch of perfectionism. But if you can do it, you’re saving yourself a lot of time and frustration later.

4. Don’t think this gets you out of editing later.

I know, I said it already, but I mean it. Writing like this will keep you from having to spend too much time getting your story submission-ready after you’ve finished the first draft. But you should be prepared and willing to make it even better with the help of a professional editor. And that’s a good thing. Having a professional editor is a great privilege, and listening to them and being willing to rip your book apart and put it back together for the sake of the story is incredibly rewarding. Going through and fixing all the typos and grammar mistakes you made the first time around? Not so much.

So there you have it, a peek into my writing/editing style. Let me know in the comments if you write like this too. Or if you’re the type to write without doing any editing until after, let me know how that works for you! It’s fascinating how different writing styles can be, and what works for some authors and doesn’t for others.

Thanks for reading! Oh, and have a picture of my cat. She loves to sit like this. It’s the weirdest thing.

IMG_3393