The Line Between Your Characters and You

Recently, I’ve been reading Limyaael’s old posts/rants on writing and they are extremely helpful. Her focus was the fantasy genre, but I think a lot of her advice applies across the board. The rants are fun to read, as well. I wish she was still around.

However, Limyaael seems to disagree with the idea of “working out your own issues” through your characters and your novel. She says that “therapy” and “diaries” are for dealing with your problems, not your characters.  She cites people who write about teenage heroines in awkward family situations, being yelled at by their parents to “clean up their rooms.” You know, characters dealing with modern drama in a fantasy context.

Yeah, this is annoying. I do dabble in YA (ashamedly…but also not, some of it’s good), and there are times where the heroine is obviously based on the author. Sa-rah is short and has long raven-black hair with blond tips because she’s magic, and is sick of her parents telling her to be a lady, so she fights with them and hates her miserable life (Sa-rah being some cheap attempt at making the name Sarah more “futuristic” and different).  We’ve probably all come across a character like this at some point (*CoughMarefromRedQueencough*). It’s an overdone trope in YA and appeals to the teenagers who, omg, have to do chores, thus selling books.

However, when it’s done right, I really don’t see a problem with using your characters to work through your issues. Writing is an opportunity to express your emotions and create characters that help you understand yourself and the people around you. It’s not always a conscious thing – I’ve created characters that are mirrors of some of my own internal struggles without meaning to. Stephen King has done it, as well. He said a lot of his characters unintentionally struggled with alcoholism because he himself was fighting that demon.

I’ve been through some hard times in my life, and writing helped me cope with them. In fact, one of the first epic stories I wrote was when I was 14 and dealing with a bad breakup (yes, I know, but I was an angst-ridden, hormonal teenager). Would I ever let anyone else read this story? Fuck no. But did it help me deal with my problems? It sure did. I recently re-read this story, and the dialogue and characters were pretty good (all obvious teenage-drama-inspired things considered). This is largely because I based them on real situations, real emotions I’d felt, real people I knew and real conversations I’d had.

There’s nothing wrong with letting out your emotions through your characters. People often feel like they’re the only ones going through a certain situation, feeling specific things, and that they are alone because of this. If you create characters who feel the same things you do, I believe that you’ll create someone that others can connect to. You might also create a character that helps your reader better understand themselves and the people around them. Personally, I’d rather read a book where the characters are realistic because they struggle than one where they are strong because a rape doesn’t affect them (see rant several posts below). I think most people agree, which is why series like A Song of Ice and Fire are so popular. We can relate to and understand the characters, even if they are assholes.

I think Limyaael was trying to help people avoid creating characters who are always based on themselves (otherwise they’ll all be the same), or characters who struggle with problems that don’t fit into your story. Or, more importantly, annoying characters who whine and complain about mundane crap everyone has to deal with. Or… characters who are strikingly beautiful with silver-green eyes and beat up the bully and everyone in their school of magic loves them and they are now super popular unlike me irl unlike before. I agree with Limyaeel on this entirely. But I don’t think anyone should feel bad about working out their issues through their stories, because I think a lot of times it adds more to your characters rather than taking away from them. And if your story does end up sucking because of this (which, unless your character is having a mental breakdown because their parents won’t let them stay out past 11, it probably won’t), keep it to yourself and use it for you. There’s no shame in that game.


I’m feeling a bit all over the place right now. I think I had too much coffee (no I definitely had too much). I can’t make a decision about what I want to do with my free time. I have so many projects I’m excited about and working on, and when I finally get time to do them, I sit down and can’t decide where to start.

Normally, I’m quite focused. I always have mental planner in my head with colour-coded blocks of times that I can devote to specific tasks. It’s basically an outlook calendar programmed into my mind. It’s great for managing my time and allows me to get the things done that I need to get done.

Except right now the calendar is triple and quadruple-booked with different priorities.

The best thing to do in this situation is just to pick one thing and do it. Like writing this blog post. Is it the blog post I imagined it would be? Not quite – it doesn’t really serve a purpose such as review, writing advice, etc. But it’s something.

For me, just sitting down and writing is the best way to feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s like Stephen King said in On Writing, I’m uncovering the fossil. The fossil isn’t going to be the star of the museum, though. It’s definitely not a dinosaur. No, it’s the dingy plant fossil every kid has unearthed at least once in their life. But it’s something, right?

Night Writez

For me, I do my best writing at two times: first thing in the morning, or late at night. As you can probably guess, juggling a 9-5 makes optimizing this time difficult. On a normal Monday – Friday, I am rushing to get out of the house first thing in the morning, groggy and caffeine-deprived. I chug down a disgusting smoothie crammed full of all the things I hate (kale, banana, yogurt) and do my best not to taste it as I remind myself its full of good things like nutrients and protein and fibre and… yeah. Anyways, as I gag slightly during and after finishing said smoothie, I drive to work, doing my best not to vom up all the nutrients I’ve just forced myself to ingest. No time for writing.

So I get home, often exhausted. I find if I don’t exercise after work, I’m even more groggy and helpless. I eat my dinner (ravenous and ready to strangle anyone who gets too close). I decompress, and then, at around 8-9PM I am ready to write. And boy, do I write. I get so fired up and smash out a good 1k-3k words depending on how much of a roll I’m on.

I am a delicate little flower in that I need a solid 8 hours of sleep or I am a raging bitch for the whole day (or I’m not functional at all). I also am not a blessed individual that can fall asleep as soon as they shut their eyes. Really, those people have a gift from the gods, and if you are one of those people give yourself a pat on the back. After all is said and done, I need to be in bed, with my eyes shut, my teeth brushed, nightly-meditation and other chores complete, at 10PM stat. I am basically a middle-aged person in a mid-twenties body.

This is not the end of the world, and I am grateful that I have a good 9-5 that pays me well enough to invest money into my self-publishing goals. But damnit, I get so fired up when I’m writing. My brain explodes with ideas, I get excited, I want to keep going. Sometimes, after I write, I feel like I’m caught between two realities and can’t even have a conversation with people without grunting and forgetting what I was saying mid-sentence. I love this feeling, but right before bed, it sucks. All I want to do is keep going.

But such is life. Self-publishing is like starting your own business: if it was easy, we’d all do it but more importantly, we’d all succeed. I’m dedicated to my cause, I just wanted to write a little rant about how I wish I could stay up late all the time and write. Haha, I realize now I sound like a kid who wants to stay up and play video games, or drink, or whatever. Being an adult is laaammmee.

Anyone else want to rant about this type of problem (maybe you’re a morning writer who has to leave to work rather than go to sleep)? Feel free. My comments are a safe space to complain (wink wink).

Why I loved and hated “The Passage” triology


Saturday morning rant time!

Honestly, Justin Cronin’s The City of Mirrors and The Passage were amazing. The creepy ways in which the Twelve operated and enveloped their victims was haunting. Cronin’s version of the world falling apart was far too realistic for my comfort. And his character Fanning’s backstory? To me, that was the most powerful part of the whole series. Cronin did a great job of showing us how someone like Fanning was driven to create the destruction he did. It really moved me (I ugly-cried).

I’m pretty shocked that I haven’t come across an angry article about the use of rape in The Twelve and how it affects two out of three of his main female protagonists (actually, see here – Pamela says exactly what I’m thinking). For those of you who haven’t read it, Sara, Alicia and Amy are the main female characters throughout the trilogy, with the introduction of Lila in The Twelve. Sara is captured by and taken to some sick colony where she is abused and raped regularly. Alicia is a bad ass; probably one of my favourite characters. She goes into the colony to rescue her friends (or something like that, I can’t remember all the details) and gets captured and, shocker, raped. I’ll handle both of the rapes separately, because Sara and Alicia are two very different characters in terms of personality.

Sara, who is eventually saved, gets her family back and carries on like it never happened. She is “strong” in that she moves on from the horrors of her past, focuses on her family and becomes a successful doctor. She only mentions the rape to another person once, a child who is also a victim of sexual exploitation. Otherwise, Sara is just happy she has her family and is strong woman because she pushes aside her trauma and carries on.

You could argue in a post-apocalyptic society, you don’t really have much of a choice but to bury your trauma and carry on. You could also argue that Sara chose to see the good in her life after months/year of torture. Her near-death experience was so powerful that it made her appreciate what she had, and this was enough to heal her (gag). But to me, this just seems like a failed effort to create a female character who isn’t physically powerful, but strong in an emotional sense (a way which conveniently allows her not to let her rape affect her or anyone else around her). It makes me wonder what Cronin’s idea of a tough woman is? One who casts aside her trauma like a bag of dirty laundry and uses the love of her family to make everything OK? Yeah, suffice to say this pissed me off. Why couldn’t Sara’s strength be that she acknowledged what happened to her, spoke about it with others, suffered emotionally but eventually used this to motivate and push her further? Nope, she had to bury her trauma deep down, never talk about it, and that’s STRONG.

Alicia. She’s a bad ass, she can use swords and fight really well, and saves the male character’s asses quite a few times. She’s also a pretty redhead. You know, the usual female character men write and fantasize about. That aside, Cronin did an interesting job creating a woman who, after being traumatized as a child, suffers from a lack of emotions and uses this to make her a better fighter. But then she gets raped. And low and behold, this breaks Alicia. She wanders off, gives birth to a dead baby named (second gag) Rose, and ends up succumbing to the darkness inside of her and doing Fanning’s bidding for a bit.

Of all the things that could have made Alicia break and go to Fanning, Cronin chose rape and a dead baby. Why not make it that she accidentally kills someone she cares about? Or she gets a taste of the power Fanning can give her, and wants more? Nope, it has to be about rape and a dead baby.  Because that’s what would drive her to breaking point. I guess in a way, it was a juxtaposition to Sara who is much physically weaker than Alicia. Sara, who is strong, doesn’t let the rape break her, even if she can’t cut through virals with a sword. But even though Alicia is almost unbeatable in battle, big bad ol’ rape gets her. My eyes are rolling so far off into my skull I might not be able to see after writing this.

You can probably tell that I found both of these rapes highly unnecessary. To me, it’s a cheap way to push female characters and to demonstrate “strength” or even “weakness” (which really, why is Alicia being destroyed by that weak?). I’d like to see a novel where a female character is broken not by the actions of a man, but by her own mistakes or lust for power. Or, if rape absolutely has to be part of the novel, the female character doesn’t just brush it aside because that’s strong but acknowledges it, suffers through it, and gets better in doing so. Because to me, that’s real strength: facing your problems (not burying them), talking about them, and getting through them. Cronin, while his trilogy is still amazing, disappointed me in his failure to do either of these things with Alicia and Sara.


My IR’s Reaction – Part 2

Part 1 was getting over my fear of giving my manuscript to my IR. Part 2 is about his reactions to it.

Like I mentioned in Part 1, I was scared to hand over my manuscript to my partner/IR, Lewis. He’s a great guy, super nice, and probably the last person who would say “lol wat shit” to me. He would, however, tell me if it needed work…or if I should abandon all hope and start something fresh, because the ideas weren’t that great. A bitter-sweet situation, because you want the feedback, but you’re a bit scared to hear it. That’s how I felt, at least. Interesting aside: A Japanese substitute for the expression “bitter-sweet” is a “double-edged sword.” I think that phrase is a bit more suited to how I felt, in that this situation had the potential to both help and hurt me.

Lewis started to read my manuscript, and he couldn’t put it down! This was not what I was expecting at all. I honestly thought he’d get bored of it and I’d find it sitting on his desk buried under some old bills and a couple grocery receipts, a few stray notes lingering here and there on the pages. The fact that this alone didn’t happen is great, and a huge confidence boost (a confidence boost which realistically could be snatched away once the manuscript it handed over to the masses, but I’ll get into that some other time).

I kept asking Lewis how he felt about certain characters and their actions/reactions. Lewis’ feedback was generally positive and he liked the characters. The protagonist is a teenage girl who is pretty open about her feelings. You know, the opposite of a stoic man in his late twenties. I feared that he would be annoyed by her personality, inner monologue and snap-decision making. But nope, he liked her, and understood her reactions and motivations better than I did. Again, a huge plus.

The ending of my book has two cliffhangers: the last two chapters end with two big things happening. Lewis was sitting in bed reading the end of the book, next to me (I let him this time). After he read the second-to-last chapter, he shouted, “HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT!! I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU DID THAT!” Man, I couldn’t stop smiling. This was exactly what I wanted. It was a great feeling.

But for me, the real holy shit moment was the last chapter. This blew my mind while I was plugging away the keyboard writing it, giving me goosebumps. I said to him “oh just wait until you read the last chapter!” I couldn’t wait to see what he was going to say and how he was going to react. He’ll lose it completely, I thought, grin on my face.

His reaction was disappointing. He said “oh, ok.” No enthusiasm. No reaction. Just “oh, ok.” Yeah, turns out the last chapter actually hurt the real cliffhanger, which ended up being the second-to-last chapter. The last chapter spoiled the shock of the one before it, because it revealed too much and gave my reader a sense of the inevitable outcome. Ouch.

But, once I got over my huffy moment, I realized that his feedback was an opportunity. “What if I made the last chapter the first chapter of the second book?” I asked. Lewis got excited again, saying, “Yeah, that’s a great idea! Let it end on the second-last one. That chapter and cliffhanger was great.” Woop wooooop. Like a double-edged sword, it hurt and helped me. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Do I have any more clichés to chuck at you? No, but if I think of some, I’ll add them in later (just kidding).

Anyone else encountered a situation like this? I’m interested to hear. It was exciting for me, as this is the first time I’ve let someone read my manuscript. It stung at times, but was definitely worth it to see him lose his shit over a cliffhanger (even if it wasn’t the one I was hoping for) and to get some ideas on how to move forward.

My IR’s Reaction – Part 1

So, I’ve established that I am an aspiring self-published author. However, what I didn’t mention anywhere on this website is that I am a very shy, terrified (you will see this word a lot in this article), aspiring self-published author. Terrified about letting people see my work, terrified about what they will say about my work, and like the vast majority of the population, terrified of failure.

I’ve had my manuscript ready to be reviewed and read by others since February, 2017. So yeah, over a year. I’ve been talking about it for that long, too. Driving my partner insane, telling him I can’t let him read it because it’s “not ready,” more so worried that if he read it before I rewrote 600 times and checked it for errors 213,322 times, he would hate it and never want to finish it. Hell, even while I traveled for 4.5 months as a backpacker, I carried that tome with me despite only have 7kg and a 25L backpack to live out of, determined to “finish it up so my partner could read it!”

Then I read Stephen King’s highly-acclaimed On Writing, and he said something along the lines of “just give whatever you have to your IR and let them read it, because if you don’t, you might end up changing things that are actually good and losing them forever.” He probably didn’t put it like that, he’s much more eloquent (obviously). But yeah, you get the idea.

With this horrifying idea in mind, I said to myself, “if I don’t give him my manuscript now, I will never do it.” So I told my partner, “You’re getting it Saturday. I’m printing it, and you’re getting it. Just know that I need to change some things and I’m aware of the mistakes that need to be fixed.” He was thrilled. He really is lovely, my partner, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

“Saturday” turned out to be a few weeks later, but he got the manuscript. The terror boiled up inside me as I handed it over, and like the dramatic girl I am, I ran and hid in my room under my blankets for about an hour after I gave it to him. Thankfully, he finds this odd and often immature behaviour endearing.

For a while, he wasn’t allowed to be in the same room as me when he read it, because I experienced bad anxiety knowing he was looking at it. But as he got further into the manuscript, my partner (Lewis) couldn’t put it down. He sat and read it for 6 hours straight once. I’ve never seen Lewis read anything for that long, except for when he was forced to on a plane for lack of anything better to do. Lewis stayed up late during the week to the point where he had to tell himself “No, put it down, I need to go to bed or I’ll be exhausted tomorrow.”

Lewis noted some mistakes, but there were ones I was aware of. But every time he came to talk to me about, I felt the wall of terror rise up inside me and I started to shut down. The only way I was able to surpass it was to tell myself, “Ava, if you can’t handle your partner talking about it, how the hell are you going to publish it and have people you barely know rip it apart?” Telling myself this was how I managed to get through the initial anxiety. Eventually, I came to enjoy discussing the manuscript with Lewis. Every morning on our drive to work, we’d talk about it. I’d get excited, and I was finally able to ask someone, “Hey, what do you think about this character? Do you like them?” or “Does this idea work?” or “Does this annoy you? Because it’s supposed to.”

My advice: Yes, it’s terrifying. Yes, you might need to hide under your blankets and you might need to tell your IR to go away while they read it for the first little bit. But it will get easier. And guess what – you get to talk about your book, your characters and the world you created, with someone you can trust, too.

But more importantly, I think the advice I gave myself is what you need to consider. If you are serious about getting your book published, one day you are going to have to face the music, which will come in the form of your critics. And having an IR you can trust do an initial read-through will be your first step towards facing said music. But it will also help you make your book better, which should be your primary focus. Haters gonna hate, no matter what you write. Haters are just waiting, hoping, DREAMING that something new will pop up so they can say, “wow lol wat shit” even if it is the furthest thing from shit. So focus on your book, your goal, and moving forward, and ignore the imaginary haters in your mind.