Thursday, September 23, 2010


When I was in my creative writing classes back in high school, one of my favorite parts of literature was theme. I was that kid in the back of the class writing essays upon essays about hidden themes in different texts.

Theme is kind of ignored in the publishing world. Agents and editors don't care about themes and motifs and whatnot, they want to know if you can write a good story.

So, after delving into the publishing world, my favorite part of literature took a backseat. But as time goes on, I notice that similiar themes continue to pop up in my work. Things about slavery, racism, war, are almost always constant in everything I write.

I noticed this several months back and afterwards I began to ask myself: why are these themes prevelent in all my novels?

To do this, I had to take a loook at myself as both a writer and a person. Why do I constantly write about war?

Well, that one's easy. It's fascinating to me. It's such carnage and bloodshed that is almost always against the will of the people actually fighting it. It's avoidable, it's tragic. There's plenty of room for conflict. With everything I read and write on the subject of war, real or ficticious, I ask myself time and time again: what about humanity allows us to massacre each other so brutally, and on such wide scales? Why do we allow ourselves (as humans) to be dragged into these conflicts time and time again?

Slavery follows similiarly for me. There is a bit of superiority in this thought process, and it's interesting for me to play around with this in the form os supernatural creatures. What would define one race as being better than another? What situation leads to these slave trades? In SHELL, the slavery is brief, and is not about race superiority (okay, maybe a little) but more to fill a function. They need people to do these jobs, well, we can force these other people to do them for us because we're stronger than they are. End of story.

Racism is a trickier aspect for me. I am white living in a predominantly white community, so I don't really face a lot of racism. I don't see a lot of it, either, in the places where I work and live. A long time ago, a friend of mine who was Korean, who I had known for years beforehand, broke down before me. She was deeply upset about all the racism she faced in her every-day life. I felt like the world's worst friend; I had never seen any of this racism directed towards her. If I had, I might have beaten the snot out of them.

You can kind of see that these themes connect. They're part of the darker aspect of humanity, and I find it fascinating to find out what really spurs these things in reality and fiction.

I think it's crutially important to have some sort of understanding of the themes that run through your own writing. As the author, you need to understand 110% of what you're writing, and that often includes looking at what you're subconsciously adding to the piece as well. Why do you keep writing about what you do? If you can understand the underlying themes, you can find ways to strengthen them, and make your texts much, much greater than they are.

And if you've scoured your novels and stories and cannot find a single theme, perhaps it's time to ask yourself: Why is that?



Monday, September 20, 2010

I Wanna Hear Yours: Killing Characters-- Is There a Line?

If you want to be a writer, then you have to read a lot of books, and since we're all well read here, we have all come across a book in which an important character is killed off.

Death is a part of life, and since literature in all forms is really just analyzing life through the lens of fiction, death is a common occurrence in novels. But is there a point in which the writer should back off and let the damn characters have a happily ever after?

I've noticed an interesting trend. Sadists Writers tend to be a little more lenient towards character death. If they're reading a book in which an important character dies, even if they love that character, they're more willing to forgive the author if the death is justified and fits the story. Strictly readers, on the other hand, tend to protest to character death a bit more. Even if it is justified and fits the story, more often than not readers want their favorite character to live, have a happily ever after and die old in a bed somewhere surrounded by loved ones.

Now, my speculation is that writers have a subconscious distance from the books they read. It's much easier to pull a writer out of a story if they stumble across a tiny plot hole or badly shaped sentences. We spend all our time grooming ourselves to become aware of these things so that when we encounter them in other people's fiction, we're sensitive to it. We're able to step away from books and look at the craft.

So does that include character death? We can tell when a character's death fits the story, so is that why we're less sensitive and much better at being happy with a character killed off? We're able to take ourselves out of the story and say, "Yes, my favorite character died, but it really worked for the book."

Readers, I believe, don't have this kind of distance. They let themselves fall completely into the story, not worrying about craft or looking at how an author is trying to make them sympathize with the MC. They just get so involved in it that when their favorite character dies tragically, even if it is a beautiful death, they want to mail the book back to the author with big red pen scribbled across the page saying, "BRING HIM BACK TO LIFE, DAMNIT."

But, is that a good thing? Is it a good thing that the readers feel so much for our characters that they can't stand to see them go? And if it is a good thing, do we push the envelope a little too much?

Of course, there are readers who love character death and writers who want to hold onto their babies. Every person and every novel is different.

Which brings me to my next question: can we overdo death, or is that simply a tool we can use as often as we please? What's wrong if we kill off fifteen side characters, if that helps us build tension? Or should we not kill anyone off and find different ways to build tension?

I really think this comes down to what genre you're writing. If you're writing a mystery, then I think it's a little hard not to kill somebody off. If it's a teenage contemporary romance, then gratuitous amounts of death may be out of place. And of course, every novel is different. The Child Thief had so much gore and death which I thought was well-worth it while Three Days to Dead had significantly fewer deaths but I still felt there were too many. Both of these are adult fantasy, but they do have slightly different markets. Does that make the difference then? Do your readers define how much death you should include?

And here’s one I would really like to know, straight from you guys: How do you know where to draw the line? When do you stop and say, "I don't/do need to kill off more characters?"

You've heard my ramblings, now I Wanna Hear Yours!

Fire away my fast-fingered friends.



Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why I Hate The Word "Hobby"

If you've been following my blog for a while now, you may know I have certain words that I absolutely despise, as many of us do. What you may not know, is "hobby" would be one of them.

Let's put aside that it's a hideously ugly word (Yes, I am not an equal-oppertunity wordsmith). Hobby is a casual word, it's what you do for fun, it's breezy, easy, beautiful, Cover Girl. I do not have hobbies. I have interests, passtimes, things I enjoy doing, but I do not have a hobby.

I become absolutely infuriated when people call my writing a hobby. Seriously, try it. My eyes will go red and lightning will shoot out of my fingertips. It's quite entertaining.

Writing is not a hobby for me. It's not even a passtime. It's a job. I may not be published yet, I may not be making any money from these manuscripts that I'm pumping out, but this is my profession. I am a writer. When my friends or family want to go out and I have a date with my protagonist, I say "Can't, I'm working." It took a while, but the people around me started to realize that means I'm writing.

This is why I don't understand writers who call their writing a "hobby."

I understand that for some it is. Just like for some making short films is a hobby, or video editing is a hobby. It's not something they want to pursue a career in, it's just something they do for fun.

Which is fine. But, if you're reading this blog, I'm going to assume you're either my mother or you're a writer trying to get published (or maybe you're already published. Whatever.) If you're my mother, you need to stop stalking me. If you're a writer seeking publication, then writing is not a hobby for you.

That may seem a bit harsh, but let's face facts. If you are trying to publish a book, you are probably going to publish more than one (If not, self-publish. All the bragging rights, none of the rejection.) Which means that you probably want to set yourself up as a writer and keep writing for as long as you can. Which means you're trying to build a career. Get my drift? A hobby is not a career.

You would never hear Steven Speildberg say, "Oh yeah, making movies is a hobby of mine." So why are writers who want to be published saying that what they do is a hobby?

"Oh Katie, I will be an author someday. But right now I haven't found an agent/editor and I haven't seen publication, so it's still a hobby."


Let me repeat that:


All those crappy books that you've shelved? All that hard work? If you intend to see publication, then those pieces are you building your portfolio. You're perfecting your craft, you're working on becoming a better writer so that when you do see publication, you won't be humiliated and wonder "God, why did I write that?"

Why should it matter? What's a word anyway?

I'm a firm believer in definitive thinking. People who say "I'll try to become a published writer" will NEVER see publication, because a) the drive isn't there, and if it isn't b) the confidence is not there. You need to have that confidence if you want to get anywhere.

It's just like setting a goal. If you sit down and say, "This week, I will do this and this and this" you are more likely to complete your to-do list. However, if you just do it with the thought of, "I'll just get as much done as I can" you won't be as productive.

If you want writing to be a hobby for you, great, make it a hobby. But if you're serious about your craft, if you want to see publication, it's work.

Treat your writing professionally, and you will recieve professional results. Treat is like a hobby and well... you get what you put in.