Monday, July 30, 2012

"Oh My God, They Killed Kenny!"

Character death. For some writers, the best part of the job. For others, one they dread the most. Personally, killing off characters holds a very special place in my heart. Not to say I get warm fuzzies whenever I hack someone to pieces, but I do get a profound sense of, "This is a very important moment." (If I wasn't a writer, I might have some explaining to do for that sentence. lol!)

I'm a combination of a pantser and a outliner. I outline to a degree, let my imagination fill in the rest, and deviate from my plan if my characters feel so inclined. However, the one thing that I have never gone off-track with in my writing is when I kill off characters. When I sit down to write chapter one, I know exactly who will die, when, and why.

My philosophy on character death is very simple. I love it when a great character gets a wonderful death scene, because it can really give that character one final hurrah before they leave the story. However, if a character death feels contrived or put in simply for dramatic effect, I get really angry.

Whenever you decide to kill off a character, at whatever stage you are in your story, you have to ask yourself a few important questions.

1) Why am I killing this character off? You need to know this answer. This should be the FIRST question you ask yourself when character death pops into your head. WHY are you doing this? Will their death progress the plot? Give your MC more motivation? Give them heartache? You can have a dozen reasons for this, so long as you have one. Using character death to eliminate someone whose become unnecessary to the story is NEVER okay. Find some way to work them out of your story, or back in, or get rid of that character all together.

2) What effect will this have on the story? This is a little different than why. Think of a ripple effect. Everything a character does in a story has consequences, and so should this. If this character is important to the MCs, or villians, or just a primary player, their death will change the dynamic of the story. This is also how the reader will get hit with that solid emotional punch. It's not just that the character's gone, but in their absence, everything has changed, either for the better or worse.

For example, in Shell, one of my main characters is killed off, and the dynamic of the group of friends vastly changes. They went from being very close friends to each drifting away and falling apart on their own. It was more than just killing someone off. It was how that affected those left behind.

3) What do I want the readers to feel? This is my favorite question, and the one I have the most fun with. When this character dies in the story, how do you want your reader to feel about it? If this is a traitor's death, you may want your reader to be happy that this evil person is gone. How do you do that? Set up the character as sympathetic, and then take away all the sympathy during the betrayal. When we get to the death scene, watch your dialogue, watch every detail. Think of how your character is feeling as they die. What are their regrets? Their wishes? Their last thoughts? Now combine that with what you want your readers to feel. If you want them to feel remorse for your traitor, highlight sympathetic traits as he's dying, or shortly beforehand. Maybe show regret, so that even when they're gone, your reader feels some pity for them. Or, you can elimate all symathy during the death scene, and have him go down snarling and screaming, which will leave a very different last impression for your reader.

This is a question you must ask yourself as you write all the way through. Every time this character comes into play, consider that they are going to die. Their screen time is limited, so you have to make the best of it. Amp up the sympathy, but don't make them into a whiny baby. Craft them into a hero, so their death has that extra punch.

If you need to think of a good example of this, Rue from the Hunger Games is a perfect example. Her character is extremely sympathic, and coupled with her gruesome death, it leaves a heartbreaking last impression on your reader that resonates with them.

Always remenber: Someday, somebody reading your book will fall in love with this character, and when they die, you need to make sure their death is justified, so that reader will put down the book and admit the story is so much better for it.



Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Let me Tell you a Story.

Gather round, kiddies. I know I've been flitting in and out of the internet world for the past like, what? Four? Six months? I think you all deserve a reason why.

Let me paint you a little picture. This last December I was not in a good place. I have crippling anxiety, but I had yet to realize it at the time. I'd just dropped out of university, was feeling horribly depressed and agoraphobic, and I had no job. Life was miserable. Finally, I managed to snag a job with a temp agency. After a few jobs serving plated dinners at big Christmas parties, I decided I needed something more stable. So I talked to my temp agency and they hooked me up with a seven month job at a child and family services agency.

I had no idea what I was getting into.

The first day I missed, because I was too terrified of the prospect of a new job with people I didn't know. The next day, I made it. I stepped into the tiny waiting room at quarter after eight, but there was no one to be found. I sat on the couch, incredibly nervous, when a lady stepped out of a door down the hallway. I watched her walk towards me, wearing her long skirt, glasses, her hair a pile of dark curls. She said to me, "Are you the new receptionist?"

"Yes," I said.

"Good, come on in. My name's Rinah."

"I'm Katie."

Within the next ten minutes, I would come to meet my other coworkers. In the weeks that followed, I would grow to get to know and love each of them. Mary, the lovable admin assistant who helped with the aboriginal department and was always willing to listen. Deb, the snarky second-in command with a die-hard love of penguins. And Stephen, the nerdy little gamer boss.

I'm kind of embarrassed to admit I had no idea what kind of place I was actually working at, but I found out fast. That first day, I read reports of what some of the kids were doing-- apparently, the previous day, when I'd been too anxious to come to work, one of the kids nearly jumped off a cottage roof. This was a residential treatment facility for children and teenagers who'd suffered through abuse, sexual exploitation, poverty, drugs, neglect, and a million other problems that would turn your stomach just thinking about it.

After that first week, I was in love. Everyone in this agency treated me with such love and care, compared to the horrible abuse I suffered at my last job (Before the temp agency) More than that, I was fascinated by these kids. I wanted to know more about them. I wanted to find out how they were being treated. I wanted to help them. I felt an extreme kinship to a lot of the kids. Each report I got was a new piece of a story unfolding before me. Every day I glimpsed into the lives of these troubled kids, most of which I've never met.

Now, as my contract came to a close, I knew I couldn't leave this agency. I'd grown to love everyone and everything about it, so I asked for a job as a relief staff in one of the Independent Living Programs, which is sort of like a group home. On my first day, I bonded with one of the boys there, who was incredibly smart, though he had some tics in which he blinked a lot and snapped his fingers. I was amazed by how easily he opened up to me. I've always been terrified of people, and yet this boy, who'd suffered through many traumas in his life, accepted me without a second thought.

In the weeks that followed, I eventually made it to shift leader, and spent two shifts by myself in the home. I was really honored to be trusted that much, as I have no certification, and little to no training. But it was incredible. Just like before, the kids accepted me. Maybe not always fully, but they watched movies with me, played games with me, and I managed to navigate the not-so-good times without losing my cool.

On one of my shifts in which I was working alone, a girl in the home was having a rough time, as she'd just broken up with her boyfriend. I went down and talked to her for a long time. All I had to do was show her I was willing to listen, and out poured all her secrets. She's been in the system for a number of years now, as she'd been taken away from her parents by the courts.

She showed me pictures of her family. "My brother and I are pack rats," she told me. "We store food everywhere. Sometimes, we'd find pizza behind the couch that my brother had left there and forgot about."

"Haha. Ew, that's nasty."

"Yeah, but we'd never know when we'd eat next, sometimes."

She told me about her experience with the cops, how she'd lost it and pulled a knife on them when they'd tried to apprehend her. "I was walking to my grandmother's house. I had a plan. I thought, if I could just get there, then everything would be okay. We'd live happily ever after."

She showed me all her art, but one piece in particular caught my eye. It was a photography poster with a bunch of different shots. They were all accompanied by short paragraphs of prose, explaining it. One picture was a phrase that had been carved into the door of one of the confinement rooms back on campus.

It read, "Show some compassion for the suffering soul."

It struck me hard, especially when the girl told me who had carved the message. It was a client I knew. A client still on campus. A client I had read so much about. Guys, the client who scratched those words, has literally been through HELL.

In that moment, I felt so connected to that client. She doesn't know it, but I love her, and so do a lot of other people. The world can be a cruel place. Sometimes people will hate you for no reason, but it works just the opposite, too. People can love you, without ever having met you.

So that's my story. These people changed my life. And you want to hear the best part? Once my contract expired, they offered me a permanent job at the front desk, where I've been working this whole time.

So kiddies, that's where I've been. I promise to be around more often now, and I may post more about my real life stuff now, as well as mental health. :) Learning about mental health is the best way to write better characters, anyway. Am I right? ;)



Sunday, July 15, 2012

Holy Giveaway, Batman!

Howdy howdy everybody!  This post is LONG overdue, and I apologize for the delay. Real life kicked me in the teeth, but things are finally starting to settle down. So I've decided to do a MASSIVE GIVEAWAY!!

Glitter Words
[ - *Glitter Words*]

Some of you may remember, back in May I did a walk for Kids Help Phone to raise money for at-risk kids and youth. Our single walk raised over $100 000! But I'm not stopping there. Today I want to switch my focus to an organization a little closer to home for a lot of my blog readers.

Hopeline is a non-profit group focused on suicide prevention, awareness and education. Too many people suffer through depression, anxiety and mental illness, and too often they feel as though they can't reach out. Show them there's a way out. Show them there's an end to the darkness. For these organizations, every penny counts. I work in a non-profit treatment facility for at-risk youth, and trust me when I say, EVERY donation is important. That couple minutes to fill out the form, even if you're only donating a dollar, or five, is worth it. That little bit of money means they might be able to afford one more counselor, one more phone line, and maybe, it means they can save just one more life.

Suicide is 100% preventable. So let's stand together so no more families suffer the pain of losing a loved one like this.

For this contest, we have so many prizes, it's ridiculious.

First place prize!

See that? SEE THAT? Do you know what that is? First Prize is a signed copy of Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton, Fat Kid Rules the world by K.L. Going, Bumped and Thumped by Megan McCafferty, as well as some Blood Magic postcards.

Second Prize!

Second prize is a copy of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Lani Taylor and Immortal City by Scott Speer, as well as some Blood Magic postcards.

There will be a few runner up prizes, where a few people will receive some Blood Magic postcards. These are all AMAZING books. Trust me, you want these suckers. And all for free? C'mon people, get in on this while you can!


1) Go to and click on the Donation button. Fill out the form and donate however much you want. The amount you donate will NOT affect this contest. If you donate $1000 or $1, you will be entered.

2) When you get to the confirmation page, hit print screen. Email me the screenshot at, and I will enter you into my list of contestants. (Note: Hopeline will also give out wristbands for donating $10, and playing cards for donating $50. That's double the prizes, man!)

3) One you've emailed me your screenshot, you will be entered into the contest ONCE. Once you've donated, you may also get more entries in the following ways:

-- Tweet this contest. Just make sure to mention me in the tweet @katieEcarson This will get you one entry for every tweet. Tweet it 50 times? Get entered 50 times.

-- Follow me on Twitter. (@katieEcarson) This will give you an extra entry.

-- Blog about this contest, mental illness, or suicide. Share a personal experience, and get the conversation going. For one blog post, I'll give you 5 entries. But please leave the link to the post in the comments, because I would love to read them!

-- Follow this blog, and you will receive another entry.

-- Anything that spreads the word will get you another entry. Tumblr post, facebook post, goodreads-- I don't care. Spread the word about this conest, mental illness or suicide, leave the link in the comments, and you'll receive another entry.

The contest will end on July 31st.

Seriously, what do you have to lose? Donate a dollar, win a million books, help out a great organization. YOU CAN'T LOSE. GET TO IT, PEEPS!



Friday, July 13, 2012

What's In A Joke?

So I've been following the debate concerning an incident at the Laugh Factory where comedian Daniel Tosh "joked" about rape. Full story here. Essentially, after a female audience member voiced her objection to Tosh's commentary on how rape jokes were funny, Daniel Tosh responded with, "Wouldn't it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now?"

 I've been watching the back and forth exchange between those who believe Daniel Tosh should be flayed alive, and those defending his jokes and his act. I've watched Tosh's show on Comedy Central titled Tosh.0, and I will admit, I laugh sometimes. His show is crude, his act is crude, and sometimes downright offensive. Sometimes as I watch, I cringe at his jokes, because, as some have said, this is not the first time Daniel Tosh has made rape jokes. There have been numerous times while watching his show that I thought, "Ooh... Daniel, no." And that was the same response I had when I read about this incident. I cringed inside, knowing EXACTLY that this huge debate would follow. It's like seeing your friend step on a landmine, hear the tiny click, and know they are absolutely screwed.

 To me, the debate comes down to some simple questions that we, as a society, must ask ourselves.

 1) Is it appropriate to make jokes about rape?

 2) Was Daniel Tosh's joke harmless, or did it transcend a comedian's job from making people laugh to inflicting mental anguish?

 3) What happens now?

Humour, to me, seems like such a delicate subject in general, simply because a person's sense of humour is very personal, and yet, if done well, even those who take offense to a subject can admit a comedian has made it laughable. That's what comedy is. We take these sometimes touchy subjects, or the unspoken subjects, and we make light of them. We make it OKAY to laugh at them. We look our demons of divorce, death, family issues, racial problems, prejudice, and laugh at them. In this sense, comedy can be very powerful. But there's a difference between effectively creating a joke about a sensitive subject, and insulting someone and adding at the end, "What? You're upset? GOD, I was just KIDDING."

Our first question remains: Is it appropriate to make jokes about rape?

My answer: Yes.

Some of you may be looking at me a little oddly. Let me explain. I'm a huge fan of South Park. Those two words probably conjure images of fart jokes, obscene images, and low-brow humour, but South Park is so much more than that. Every subject Matt Stone and Trey Parker address in their show rides a fine line. Often their subjects are controversial, and something we wouldn't speak about, but they always search for the truth in those subjects. What is the truth about bullying? Well, simply that it's everywhere. South Park addressed this by showing that while the kids made a video to stop bullying in schools, bullies exist everywhere, not just with children. Before we can hope to teach our children to stop bullying, we, as adults, have to show a good example and stop bullying each other.

Can rape jokes be done? Yes, and they can be done well. The problem is, this is such a sensitive subject. 1 in 5 women are raped, sometimes by a stranger, but most often by someone they love and trust. Let me paint a picture for you: They've been violated in the worst way possible. They've been beaten, used as an object, and most often seriously hurt physically and mentally. Meanwhile, we live in a society which shows sex as something to be desired. It's something fun. You WANT to have sex, because it's pleasurable, it's a connection with another person, it's love, ect. ect. Sex is everywhere in our society. And this can add so much confusion to the whole mess. Rape victims have survived a horrible abuse, and everywhere they go, they're reminded that sex is good, sex is awesome. Since rape is reminiscent of sex, the victim often hears that their rape is good, their rape was awesome, ect. Not to mention our rape culture, in which victims often are attacked for the rape "being their fault", "they wanted it", "they shouldn't have worn those clothes or flirted with him that much," ect. Everywhere they go, this victim is hearing that their most traumatic experience is right, and in fact, IT'S THEIR FAULT. This is more than just a simple mugging or getting beaten up by someone at the bar. Rape causes serious, long-lasting effects on the individuals.

Because of this, comedians must tread very carefully, just as writers, actors, and anyone else that is representing a subject that could cause serious pain to someone. A great comedian can take a controversial subject and make those who have lived through the pain see the light at the end of the tunnel. Just as easily, comedians can poorly represent a subject and, instead of admitting their own faults, insist the person just "Didn't get the joke."

Which brings us to our next question. Is this what Daniel Tosh did? Did he take a sensitive subject and create a joke that lets us laugh at our demons?

My answer: No.

Daniel Tosh didn't make a joke. I'm not a comedian, and I'm not even a comedy writer, but saying "Wouldn't it be funny if that girl got raped right now?" is no different from me saying "Wouldn't it be funny if my cat chased a dog up a tree?" Admit it, a little kitten chase a dog up a tree would be entertaining to SEE, but my question is not funny, BECAUSE IT IS NOT A JOKE. It is only suggesting that some abstract situation is funny. There was no set-up, no punch-line, no bit of insight to the truth about rape in Tosh's "Joke."

Bottom line: No, Daniel Tosh, your rape joke was not funny simply because it was not a joke.

Daniel Tosh's apology, as well, was complete rubbish. He shows no remorse for what he did to a person, but that doesn't surprise me. He's been in the mind-set of "rape is funny" so long that, apparently, just the mention of it will send him into giggles. Of course he doesn't realize what simply talking about the subject brings up for some people. So, no, I'm not angry at Tosh for his crappy apology. I'm just saddened that he doesn't realize what effect he has.

This brings us to our final question: What happens now?

Some people have begun a petition to get Tosh.0 off the air. So far, it has received 29 000 signatures. Is this the answer? To try and destroy this man's career because of something he said? Sorry people, this isn't the way. Why? Because taking one person off the air who perpetrates rape culture will not stop others from doing it. This is a truly sad fact. If we take Tosh.0 off the air, those comedians and others who support Tosh, who believes his "joke" was actually funny, those people will only believe in their cause more fully. They'll believe that Tosh is a victim, that he is being punished unfairly by people who "oppose free speech." This will not show them that the jokes and rape culture pose a serious problem.

I believe in being kind to my enemies. Tosh.0 should stay on the air, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do anything. What Daniel Tosh has done, in a way, is actually a good thing. I love it when someone in the public eye says something really dumb, because it opens up so many avenues to TALK about these things, instead of letting them remain in the shadows.

We can't let Daniel Tosh, or anyone else who wants to perpetrate rape culture, think we will allow them to say these things without speaking up. Daniel Tosh has no doubt seen the backlash from this, and perhaps next time he will consider what comes out of his mouth. Even if he doesn't understand why people are getting so upset about his little joke, at least he can understand that continuing down that road will put him in some serious trouble.

The best thing we can do is talk about the issue, explore our feelings, and realize AS A SOCIETY that this is something we shouldn't do. Straight punishment will not change the rape culture. Only education, compassion, and a hell of a lot of conversation can fix that.