Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fantastical humans and creatures in writing

Ever since Twilight came out, there have been undercurrents of discussion in the unpublished writing world (and maybe the published one too, who knows?) about how effective supernatural or modified humans and creatures are in creating tension in a story. Unlike talking animal characters, supernatural and fantastical creatures are human enough for readers to relate to, but fantastic enough and with enough paranormal background to create an interesting fantasy (or romantic) world.

This is just a list of ones I see most often or would like to see more of, from most to least favorite.

Cyborgs: Ok, these aren’t really supernatural at all, but they are certainly on the fantastic side. A human, given robotic implants to make them, if I can borrow a phrase, stronger, better, faster. I love them-who doesn’t like an otherwise vulnerable guy with overwhelming physical strength? I’ve said this before, but I haven’t seen as many stories featuring cyborgs as I would like, and very few of them explore the effect that such modifications would have on a character’s humanity.

Faeries: Faeries are neat because of the variability with which they are portrayed. They can be tiny things with insect like wings, or human sized. They can be elements of nature or almost contemporary. They can be good, evil, or just like to play tricks. There is a ton of classic literature on fairies that is begging to be addressed in future work, and there is also a ton of recent novels that explore fairies and the fairy realm in interesting ways. For a quick read, check out War of the Flowers by Tad Williams.

Shifters/ Werewolves: Humans that can turn into animals, and of course, the classic werewolf. Shifter books are practically their own genre in a lot of romance, with the classic alpha pack leader serving as a status symbol for the hero/heroine to fall in love with. Werewolves are often a subset of shifter books, with many liberties taken on how shifter society works and which animals shifters turn into (it’s 99% of the time a large predator). Classic werewolf fiction has fallen off a little bit, however-being a werewolf is no longer the curse it once was in the literary world.

Animal Hybrids- If the characters are truly anthropomorphic animals, then it is probably furry fiction, but animal hybrids are a bit different. I classify animal hybrids as stories where a character looks mostly human, but has animal like traits or abilities-think catgirls from anime, or perhaps a human with wings or claws. Usually these stories have a society of animal people, or several different societies of people who have different species traits, who coexist with humans. Typically there is a romance subplot between two different “species.”  This is a huge genre in unpublished fiction, and I’m surprised it hasn’t taken off in the legit publishing world yet. Characters that are human enough to be attractive and yet have innate, cool abilities based on an animal, with no shifting required? That sounds interesting to me.

Aliens: UFOs, abductions, and creative takes on otherworldly species-Aliens can be a lot of fun. Most of the time, unfortunately, they aren’t put to good use, and are the ambiguous enemy that must be defeated or are mere background players in the human space opera. There is a lot of potential for aliens, though, and good science fiction takes advantage of the many intergalactic species humans may encounter. For a good MG book series with interesting aliens, check out Animorphs. For a great TV show with interesting alien races, check out Babylon 5.

Vampires: Blood totally skeeves me out. So do needles. Combine needle sharp teeth and sucking blood and just…ugh.  That said, vampires can be very interesting, and their lore is intriguing. The thinly veiled sexual innuendo of blood sucking can even titillate if done well. However, vampires are getting a lot of knocks, chief among them that lately, they are extremely overdone.

Elves: Can we please have elves in a story that aren’t stuck up assholes? Everyone steals Tolkien’s elves, who are always fair haired, long lived, wise nature loving creatures who look down on humans. I don’t like elves because they’re typically portrayed as misanthropic, and being human, I kind of love humans. Societal commentary is great in fantasy, but a writer doesn’t typically need an entire perfect race that exists just to make the humans in the story look bad. It’s not realistic.

That’s just a few of my opinions on fantastical character types I see in the publishing world. There are others that have been popular at some time or another-ghost stories are classic, and there are a few angel or demon stories out there that I’m not familiar with, I’m sure. Zombies have been big for quite a while, though I would be loathe to truly call them “characters.” If someone can make a sympathetic zombie character, I would love to see it.

Tips on Writing a Fiction Book Part 2-Keeping up Motivation

So you have a fantastic idea plot idea, and your muses are singing in your ears. So how do you actually get it down on paper?

Obviously, there are the given tropes- “Just write!” “Set aside time everyday!” But these don't work for everybody, and if you don't feel motivated at all, then doing those things becomes hard. It may be more helpful to try to figure out what kind of writer you are, and then understand what motivates you. From my observation, there are two major styles of writing.

First, there are the “Seat of the Pants” writers. I classify myself as one of these. These are people who do no revising as they write and don't plan out the course of the story when they begin much further than the setting, the characters, and the overall plot. Often, their story can get away from them, and they will add things as they get inspired. It is very difficult for them to write a synopsis without referring back to the original story because they don't remember exactly how they got where they did.

The drawbacks to this type of writing are many-you end up with a very unorganized mess of what may be loosely connected scenes that need to be divided into chapter chunks after the fact, or you may have scenes that just don't belong at all. Editing is a huge pain for this type of writer.

The plus side is that this type of writing is very easy to continue. Your momentum snowballs on itself. It doesn't feel like a chore, or an English writing assignment (now I must write the scene where Bob buys some staples). You're driving a very fast, very hard to control car, but it never really stops.

Of course, it's not all easy. The car can slow down. Seat of the Pants writers can write themselves into a corner and not realize it until they end up having to delete a good portion of their progress. When this happens, they feel the urge to give up. Also, if you end up writing too many scenes on a whim that don't fit the story, your desire to write can get choked.

If you're this type of writer, it's usually easy to start writing, but finishing can be hard. If you notice you have to struggle to keep writing, it may be because of the reasons above. Make sure you like where you story is going, and keep your characters the way you prefer them. A lack of enthusiasm may signify that you wrote something that doesn't really fit your story.

Also, Seat of the Pants writers often have several ideas that are in their head at once. As a result, they often don't finish anything. If this describes you, then really try to apply those basic tropes-write something every day. Have a schedule of a certain number of words per day, or at the very least a schedule of when you want to finish your novel. I solved this problem by specifying that I wanted a 75k novel done in a certain time. As a result I had to write 400 words a day. I let myself take breaks, however, and sometimes would write four times that amount in a day when the inspiration struck so I could take a break when I needed to. All the while I did battle other ideas that screamed to be worked on, but the urge wasn't as strong when I was focused so intently on the one story.

Another problem this type of writer has-often your idea stemmed from one really cool scene, or one really cool idea. If you really want to write that exciting scene in your head but you have to slog through a bunch of boring stuff first, don't just write the exciting scene and leave yourself with nothing but boring ones-lead up to it! Go in order. Don't let your excitement control you completely. Make that exciting scene something to strive toward, and reward yourself by writing it.

Now for the second type of writer-the organized writer. I am not one of these, so my advice to you guys may not be as helpful, but I'll try.

Organized writers tend to plan out their story in advance. They may write out a synopsis beforehand, or a chapter by chapter plan. Even if they don't, they know each twist and turn before they start. They often write out extensive character backgrounds so they know the reasoning behind every character choice. They think over every sentence. Their finished product typically requires less editing.
However, as a result of planning out everything, nothing new is left by the time they sit down to write. This kills motivation.

How to fix this? Some organized writers try to see the joy in the actual craft of writing. The fun is not in discovering the story, the fun is finding the best way to tell it. If you are having trouble staying motivated, try to think that way. Enjoy the craft, and keep the progress steady.

The set schedule for writing often works best for these guys too, and by that I mean sitting down at a specified time each day and writing for a certain duration. You already have your story planned, so there's no need to take advantage of bursts of inspiration.

Sometimes, though, those bursts of inspiration are needed, and it can be daunting to change a thoroughly planned idea. Look on those as a way to fit new ideas in a story, as a puzzle on how to make them fit. Control is good, but don't control the story so much that there is no wiggle room.

In sum, it is best to incorporate both elements of the two types of writing. Don't fly ahead with no plan at all and then give up when it's too hard, but on the flip side, don't over plan to the point that it's no longer fun anymore. Writing is a process, and it is by nature flexible. But it is also a structured art. Keeping that in mind will help your writing process, and knowing when to pull back and when to apply some needed control is important to maintaining that desire to write.