Writing

Why I Differentiate My Characters from Myself

Image from Pixabay

Many authors base their characters off of people they know. A high percent of people also base their stories off of real-life experiences. However, I am different. I rarely or never do any of those things.

One: I find my life experiences too ordinary and straightforward. Two: I find it more exciting to make them very different from me.

For example, the MC of my novels is Irish Catholic, blonde, and has had a tragic life. I am Indian and Hindu, dark-haired, and has lived a typical life with hardly any tragedies. I lost my paternal grandpa when I was 2, so I don’t remember him. My maternal grandpa died when I was 22 but I didn’t cry. I only experienced shocking pain for a few hours. That’s really it for the sad moments in my life.

I could explain my MC’s tragic life. But that is within the novels. You can find them through reviews, excerpts, or if you choose to purchase the books.

Anyway, I find varying and differentiating things far more fun than making them like me. After all, the world would be a boring place if we all thought the same things, even if that meant little to no conflicts. I could be wrong, though.

Differentiating characters from myself also opens more room for growing knowledge, even if that means extra research. If I wrote about Hindu characters, I probably would not have to do as much research. But I would also get bored. And if it’s boring to write, it’s usually boring to read.

While I rarely make characters similar to myself, I never base them off people I know. But that will be for another post. That being said, I do give some similarities occasionally, such as food tastes. Overall, though, I differ from other writers.

Writing

Unintentional Symbolism and Messages I’ve Made in My Writing

Image from Pixabay

Have any of you wrote something and didn’t realize anything significant about your work until long after? I have. They are symbols and messages I didn’t discover until a lengthy time after writing the projects.

For instance, in my first book, “The Frights of Fiji” (formerly, “From Frights to Flaws”), there are mermaid-like women, but with dolphin tails, who sing certain songs as a way of informing others of their presences. Those songs ended up relating to the situations they were encountering or leaving.

In my second book, “The Uncontrollable Curse” (formerly “Wizardry Goes Wild”), my MC wants her dog to attack the antagonist, who is a skeleton. At the time I wrote the story, I tied that dog vs. skeleton situation with historical context—not because of the “dog-eating-bones” stereotype.

Another unintentional message I ended up making in that installment was about history repeating itself. I’m not going to spoil anything, of course (“The Uncontrollable Curse” hasn’t even come out yet), but the book does tie a lot of Puritan and Salem Witch Trials content. My MC is cursed with involuntary magic. When she does it, others misunderstand and become afraid of her. This ties to how people during Pilgrim and witch hunt times were miscomprehended and feared when they were just different. While people who were found guilty of witchcraft were hanged and/or burned, the “witch” (my MC) is penalized for her sorcery by getting detention at school, suspended, excluded from activities, and more (I won’t give away anything else).

I have yet to discover any accidental messages or symbols in my third book. But hey—it might happen.

Writing

Characters: When All of Their Flaws Are Too Hard to Apply

Image from Pixabay

Ah, characters: you’ve got to love or hate them—or have some opinion on them. They also shouldn’t be perfect. The hero should do wrong things and get disliked at times and the villain should get liked at times.

However, this is super-difficult—at least for me it is. I have a tendency to protect my main character in my novels. I like her a lot. I feel sorry for her. And because of those, I tend to make her hardly flawed. At most, she may do a few wrong things and at milder levels. The worst she has done in my book series was unauthorized filming and lying about not doing it. That’s actually a serious offense.

Anyway, I’m probably not the only writer who has trouble making certain characters flawed. Of course, there are characters who are unfriendly, but not evil. And obviously, there is conflict in my stories. But I think I know why I have difficulty getting my protagonist to misbehave.

One: it wasn’t until the plot of my first book’s first edition was nearly complete when I found out that protagonists should behave badly or do wrong things. When rewriting my first book after removing it from the market, I couldn’t make my main character more flawed as the major elements had already been established. Two: I have recently become very uncomfortable around conflict. Not just in real life, but also in fiction. Yes, I have stopped certain books and movies because I loathed how the characters were being treated. Now while writing my third book, I have no plans to make my MC do really bad things. Yes, she won’t be perfect. In fact, she will have trouble controlling her emotions. But I will stop there on that.

Writers fall in love with their heroes. They become attached to them. So they may have trouble making them behave badly. However, someone told me that the best books have characters who misbehave a lot.

Now if you’re creating children’s stories, there are limits to how badly the characters can act. Of course, it would be acceptable (and would probably engage readers) if the protagonists started food fights at school, got sent to the principals’ offices, and were punished by their parents. However, you could not have them do something that would be inappropriate. Not just drugs or drinking, but also activities that could lead to death or serious injuries. Otherwise, parents won’t want their kids reading your books.

Do you notice that lack of perfectly behaved characters in fiction? Most likely. And that’s because people want flawed characters. In fact, sometimes that’s essential to the storylines.

I’ll give a few examples from Disney movies. In The Lion King, when Simba talks to Scar about that shadowed area that his father forbade him to go, Scar says that only the bravest lions would enter. “Brave” is the big, main keyword. That was what encouraged Simba to check it out, and, of course, that led to conflict crucial for the plot. If Scar had said that only the dumbest lions would go there, Simba might not have gone because he wouldn’t have said, “Well, I’m dumb.” He was in too good of a mood to say such a thing. And then, there would have been a lot less conflict. And without enough conflict, the story would’ve been dull, and the film would’ve drastically failed—or maybe not have even been green-lit.

In Beauty and the Beast, after the beast releases Belle from the dungeon tower, he leads her up to her new room and says that she can go anywhere, except the forbidden west wing. Later Belle is curious about the west wing and enters it, discovering the enchanted rose and the portrait of the beast when he was a person. The beast catches her and forces her out.

Spoiler:

At the end, when the beast transforms back into a human, Belle recognizes him from the painting. Then they live happily ever after.

If Belle had listened to the beast, or the beast had not prohibited her from going to the west wing, then the ending might’ve resulted in the prince re-explaining how he’d become a beast. Or—he might not have changed into a better character. Therefore, Belle wouldn’t loved him, and he would’ve failed to break the spell he and the servants had gone under.

So there you have it. Notice the pattern in both examples? Let that help you.

Writing

On Writing my Third “Magical Missions” Novel

This process has been SUPER difficult for me. I meant that. For two years, I couldn’t finish a single darn draft. Then, last year, I discovered that I needed to start shorter and sloppier. I realized that my progress differed from other writers. I needed to simplify things drastically. While others write 100,000 words and have to cut, I will have to write 10,000 words and then expand. But that’s another post.

Anyway, the first installment “The Frights of Fiji” and second installment, “The Unruly Curse” is available on Amazon as well as Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Apple. The third novel is currently titled “Enchanted for Eternity” (which might change) and still has a ways to go. I am writing a synopsis for the current draft. I’m hoping that plot can work for the final draft. Really—I just want this project to be done. About 3.25 years of this WIP have passed and I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to quit.

Yeah—finding an exciting plot was sooo hard. Even recently, long after I completed a full first draft from January to February last year (2018), I have gotten bored with some of my plots. However, the one I’m working on actually sounds pretty exciting, even though I’m not done with the synopsis.

But the idea has stayed the same. My main character, Alyssa, is cursed with magic that she needs to learn to control and keep permanently. I’ll release more information once the story’s pretty much done and nearing publication, which might be early fall, as of now.

fiction

Excerpt: The Frights of Fiji (Alyssa McCarthy’s Magical Missions Book 1)

The raindrops darkened into black, looking as if ink fell from the sky. Alyssa leaned closer to them. She squinted to determine the shapes they formed on the kitchen window… letters.

            No! That couldn’t happen. Yet, a message spelled out as more pigments plopped onto the glass. Alyssa gasped at what it said.

            Your life will never be the same again, Alyssa McCarthy, as magic will interfere.

            What? Magic didn’t exist—at least that’d been what others had told her when she was little. No one on Orion Street could possess enchanted abilities.

            Alyssa had lived here since she’d lost her parents in that car crash five years ago. She’d only been seven then. How would she tell her uncle, Bruce, about this? He’d consider her crazy. He’d already toughened up his attitude and rules. So he might consider it an excuse to escape this house.

            Although Alyssa’s parents had designated her godfather as the first priority guardian, Uncle Bruce forbade her to try and contact him. He’d hidden the phone number and other information about him.

            Since Alyssa’s aunt, Laura, had died three years ago, Uncle Bruce had required fun to be earned. And that took more effort than Alyssa could often accomplish.

            Turning around, she spotted her babysitter, Mrs. Hutchinson, examining the kitchen floor. Alyssa’s eleven-year-old cousin, Hailey, watched the progress. Hailey had mopped the floor. Would she earn a break now? Ever since her uncle, Bruce, had hired Mrs. Hutchinson, Mrs. Hutchinson had admired the way Hailey had done her chores more than Alyssa.

            “Hailey, you can take a break until your next chore,” said Mrs. Hutchinson. “Alyssa, get back to work. You’ve been staring at the rain for too long.”

            “Okay.” Alyssa turned back—only to see the message gone and the rain back to its normal transparency.

            “What did I say?” asked Mrs. Hutchinson.

            Alyssa sighed. “Fine, I’ll finish washing the dishes.”

She scrubbed her dish and glass with soap under warm running water. Her eyes focused on just those. No way would she want Mrs. Hutchinson to catch her looking out the window again. Mrs. Hutchinson was only in her sixties, but she’d sometimes seem to forget that was 2010 and not 1960 with her guidelines. Yet, it had taken Alyssa a while to realize that she wouldn’t even tolerate the mildest kind of nonsense, such as getting distracted by a windowpane when having to perform chores.

            Now that she finished washing her dishes, Alyssa put them to the side and grabbed some paper towels to dry them.

            “What do you think you’re doing?” Mrs. Hutchinson asked.

Alyssa stopped. “I’m just—”

            “The last few times I was here, you left little bits of food on your dishes.”

            “But they were stuck.”

            “Let me inspect them. Also, if something is rubbery, you have to wash it again.”

            “Why?”

            “Because clean dishes aren’t supposed to be rubbery. And boy, did you do such a sloppy job. Look at that stain on your sweater.”

            Alyssa looked down.

            “That looks like chocolate.”

            Alyssa blushed and arched her eyebrows.  “Hey—it’s just water.” She covered the stain at the bottom of her sweater’s V-neck.

            But Mrs. Hutchinson waved her index finger. “Don’t you ‘hey’ me, Alyssa. That’s rude. In my days, kids respected their elders. We never would dare talk to them that way unless we didn’t mind them smacking our bottoms.”

            “Things change.”

            “Not when I’m here, they don’t. Now let me do my inspection.”

            Great—an inspection! How long would Mrs. Hutchinson take? She might spend a couple minutes or maybe twenty. Alyssa crossed her arms and tapped her foot. She wanted her break now. She wished to read, rest, do a small craft, like lanyards—anything but wait for Mrs. Hutchinson to finish her task.

            “Mrs. Hutchinson?” Alyssa asked.

            “Whatever you need to say, wait till I’m done,” she said.

            Alyssa sighed. She continued to watch Mrs. Hutchinson run her finger down the middle of the front of the dish. She then rubbed it back and forth. When she put it down and nodded, Alyssa figured out that the dish had nothing on it.

            Mrs. Hutchinson spent a few minutes of running her finger down the glass. She put it down and turned to Alyssa. “You’re good. Now what did you want to tell me?”

            “Um . . . if I tell you, can you not give me a hard time?”

            “Okay.”

            “There was writing on the window.”

            Mrs. Hutchinson pursed her lips and tilted her head. “Really?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Nonsense.”

            “No, really, it was there.”

            “There was nothing there when I came, and there’s nothing there right now. So don’t tell me stories.”

            “But it’s not a story.”

            “I don’t want to hear any more. Now it’s time for your next chore.”

            “Aw, but I wanted my break.”

            “Too bad. You have to go vacuum the living room.”

            Alyssa dragged her feet toward the living room and took the vacuum from the corner. She cleaned and thought about that writing as well as how Mrs. Hutchinson wouldn’t believe her. Would a nicer babysitter have believed her? Mrs. Hutchinson had watched her and Hailey for three years, and not once had she smiled or assisted with anything.

            After vacuuming the carpet for about five minutes, Alyssa decided that she had tidied the floor enough. So she stopped and put the vacuum away.

            “Hailey, you and Alyssa need to go get the mail now!” Mrs. Hutchinson called, facing the staircase.            

“Coming!” cried Hailey.

Another rule Uncle Bruce had placed on Alyssa and Hailey was they could only go outside together. He worried about people taking them or something, even though Alyssa would turn thirteen next month. But that rule had been placed because a few months ago, Uncle Bruce had heard about a seventeen-year-old boy who had been shot while skateboarding in his neighborhood. Violence could even happen here in Bursnell, New Jersey.

            Hailey and Alyssa headed to the closet and put their raincoats on until Mrs. Hutchinson said, “It stopped raining outside.”

            “Already?” asked Alyssa.

            “Yes.” Mrs. Hutchinson went to the bathroom.

            The girls walked outside toward the mailbox. Alyssa pulled the mail and headed back toward the door. But mud bubbled from the ground near the house. It piled up, looking like horse manure, and grew as more soil emerged. Alyssa dropped her jaw and stared at it.

            “Alyssa, what’s going on?” Hailey asked.

            “No idea,” said Alyssa.

            The dirt stopped piling up, but it continued to bubble, and the effects spread throughout the whole pile. The bubbles stopped popping up and down. Alyssa and Hailey gasped as they expanded. They kept their mouths open as the bubbles merged together, each one attached to another, forming a single bigger shape. Alyssa and Hailey stepped back as the now giant bubble swelled. And it . . . popped! Particles of exploding mud landed on the girls. They shrieked.

The front door opened to reveal a glowering Mrs. Hutchinson. “What the heck have you two been doing?”

            “T-the mud . . . it e-exploded,” said Hailey.

            “Nonsense!” growled Mrs. Hutchinson. “Get inside!”

            The girls returned inside, pulling and wiping the mud out of their hair. Alyssa could spot the mud in her straight pale-blonde tresses, unlike Hailey, who likely needed more patience to search for globs in her elbow-length red locks. But Alyssa’s hair fell a few inches past her hips, so cleaning out the mud would take longer, even with the shorter layers in the front.

            “How could dirt explode?” Mrs. Hutchinson stomped.

            “I-I think it was magic!” exclaimed Alyssa.

            “There’s no such thing as magic!” screamed Mrs. Hutchinson. “Alyssa, you’re twelve years old. You’re too old to say things like that!”

            “But nothing else can make mud explode!” Alyssa said.

            “Mrs. Hutchinson, we swear it did!” whined Hailey.

            “Enough!” snapped Mrs. Hutchinson. “You and Hailey—go upstairs and take showers!”

            Alyssa followed Hailey up the stairs and heaved a sigh. How else would the mud have splattered all over them? Mrs. Hutchinson couldn’t have thought they’d play in the mud like small children.

            “Alyssa, can I shower first?” asked Hailey.

            “Sure,” said Alyssa.

            As Hailey strode into the bathroom, Alyssa walked into her room. She scratched more mud off her skinny jeans (the only jeans she’d worn ever since they’d come into style) and the back of her hand. She stood by her bed since she wanted to keep it clean.

She considered the writing on the window and the exploding mud. Someone wanted magic to interfere with her life, but who, and how come?

            Also, why hadn’t she ever seen wizardry before? Why would her parents and others tell her that it hadn’t existed? Did sorcery just start on earth? Had it hidden somewhere? There had to be some reason why no one had ever believed in it.

Enjoyed the excerpt? Click here to purchase the book.

Writing

How I Wish I Could Write Several Novels at Once

Image from Pixabay

I’m an author and authors constantly write. However, I am weak at multi-tasking, even with writing. For years, I could only work on one novel at a time. But that meant only one publication every few years. And that is not very fair to fans or readers.

I’ve been doing research on writing more than one story at a time. Many writers can do it. Some do it because they have too many ideas floating in their heads. Others do it because they want to meet deadlines sooner, especially if they have agents.

I’ve tried many times but have failed… until now. I am working on two works at this time. Well, technically three as I am having one project edited. But this is a huge milestone for me. It’s not easy. I am glad that I started with a small step of only adding one extra project. There is a technique I read about somewhere called drafting. That is when you work on one story draft at a time with different projects. For example, you write a draft of story a. After you finish that draft, you do a draft for story b. Basically, you work on one story at a time, but go to another one after finishing a certain draft rather than spending a long time on just one story.

I am not really doing that, though. I have been working on my third novel for over three years, although the first two years were spent trying to figure out the story. I am now working on the third book and the first draft of my fourth book at the same time. Sometimes I am designating certain days for one story. Other times I am working on whichever I feel like.

If you want to work on more than one story at a time, I would definitely recommend you go for it. In fact, many big authors work on more than one book at a time. If you’re serious about publishing, then I would emphasize on this even more. If it’s traditional publishing, depending on the contract you have with an agent or publisher, it may work. However, traditional publishing takes longer, and you have no control over the process or time. If you’re self-publishing, you have total control over your projects, when you publish them, and the time it takes to publish. If you do Amazon KDP, you can choose a release date up to three months (I think) ahead if you choose the pre-order option.

The reason I want to work on more than one novel at a time and write faster is because I don’t want to keep people waiting. Plus, I don’t want my final installment to be ready when I’m, like, 40. Not that I have anything against publishing at that age (many authors are, at least, that age). Plus, my writing will likely be more mature by then. I just don’t know where I will be in life then. I’m only 25 after all.

My goal is to have my entire series published by my 30th birthday. No, I am not looking to become the youngest author with a full series. I just want to keep readers up to date more often. Plus, I have a better idea of where I’ll be in five years versus fifteen. I know I can make this work.

Writing

The Struggle with Sequels Standing on Their Own

How many of you have written a full-length novel? If so, congrats! What about a series? Extra congrats times a million! Now can your sequels stand on their own?

I don’t know about others, but for me, getting a sequel to stand on its own was the biggest challenge for me. It ended up connecting to my first book too much. Maybe because of how I ended my first book (don’t worry, I won’t say how)?

To get a sequel to stand on its own, you need just enough backstories to get the reader caught up with what happened in the first or previous installment. It’s going to be a bit hard, depending on your story.

It took me nearly three years to complete my sequel (which is temporarily off the market, but will return as a second edition soon). And the biggest reason is probably because I had trouble making it stand in its own.

Depending on your storyline, you will need to include backstory that is relevant but also makes the sequel stand on its own. My problem was that I hadn’t included enough. But with the help of editors, it worked. And many readers said that the sequel was able to easily stand on its own.

It may also be necessary to summarize your first book in one or two paragraphs in your sequel. Obviously, do it when relevant and don’t get too hooked on certain details.

The best way to test if your sequel can stand on its own is to have editors or beta readers look at it and give you honest feedback. You won’t be able to judge by yourself.

Anyway, thanks for reading. In the meantime, you can check out my novel, “From Frights to Flaws, 2nd Edition” right on Amazon.

Writing

Pick Your Publisher Wisely

Image from Pixabay

Have you written a book? If so, good. Can it please strangers? If yes, great. Will it sell? That depends on who you publish with.

Traditional publishing is difficult to get into. You can get rejected, even if your book is a master piece. If you do get accepted, you have to give up control and wait for your book to be published, which can take months or years.

Self-publishing is easier and quicker. You keep all control and can have a book within hours.

Then there is hybrid publishing. They accept and reject authors, may let them keep their book’s right, and do other things that combine traditional and self-publishing. It’s not exactly the most encouraging, though.

And lastly, there is vanity publishing, which is often called self-publishing by many. They let you keep all the control, but they charge you for publishing (between hundreds to even thousands of dollars) and other services, like press releases, revisions, and more. Despite that, books from those companies usually don’t sell too well, even if they’re well written. I did so much marketing and promotion with them when my books were first published. And even though the books pleased strangers, they only sold an average of 25 copies a year.

I believe it’s because people do not trust vanity publishers. I regret using them. One was fine and I got along with the company. Another, however, constantly forced me to buy services, even if I couldn’t afford them. They wouldn’t let me out of anything. I got mad at them at least a few times.

I’ve learned the (kind of) hard way to not use vanity presses. People apparently judge books by their publishers. Books that may be worthy of becoming bestsellers may hardly sell if published by a vanity press.

Traditionally-published books sell the best. Self-publishing is fine too. In fact, the author is responsible for marketing on their own with either route. Commercial publishers might only market for top authors these days.

If you self-publish, I’d recommend using companies like Amazon’s KDP program. It’s free to publish. People trust books from them more. And books from there tend to sell much better than vanity-published ones. How do you tell if a company is a vanity press? Look for things like publishing packages. So choose your route wisely. I would avoid vanity presses at all costs. It’s better to get traditionally published or self-publish through Amazon KDP or even Ingram Spark.

movie

Why I Often Like the Movies More than the Books

book vs movie pic final

“The books are always better than the movies,” say everyone, but me. Of course, if I have neither read the book nor seen the movie, I would not have a say. But at least with, “Harry Potter”, “Lord of the Flies”, “Aladdin”, and “The Little Mermaid”, I like the movies a lot more.

Now all these opinions are my own, so everyone can still prefer the books over the movies. A lot of people get disappointed when something they liked in a book was cut from the film adaptation or changed. I totally understand that. With me, though, there are sometimes moments in books that I didn’t like, and if removed or altered, I appreciated. The “Harry Potter” franchise is actually one of the biggest of these. You can read that on another post, though.

“Lord of the Flies” was a required book when I attended high school. I found it boring, but the movie engaging. “Aladdin” and “The Little Mermaid”, like many other Disney movies, were based off fairytales. And the original stories were pretty R-rated. I don’t know if they were all told to children, but, of course, Disney had to drastically clean them up to make them appropriate for all ages. There are several moments from Disney classics that would not be acceptable today (i.e. a damsel-in-distress or a guy kissing a strange unconscious girl to wake her up). There are also several moments that aren’t historically accurate, and if they were, the movies would not have been rated G or PG.

Films usually have a time-limit to their productions as well as budgets. So that is why many exciting content, unfortunately, has to be cut. I actually am trying to get myself to read more. I enjoyed reading fiction for fun until fourth grade. I would only read fiction if forced to. Then right before eighth grade, I read the “Harry Potter” books. I would only read for fun if it was a “Harry Potter” novel.

Anyway, I tend to view book-to-film adaptations differently. There actually are rare occasions when I like something in the books more than the films. But, generally, the opposite is more like me.

Writing

Want to Publish a Book? Here’s What I Learned

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We all dream of being published authors with people enjoying our books and getting the same popularity and attention that big authors, such as J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, have received.

However, it is not easy to become just a decently well-known author, even for those like Alice Hoffman or Gail Carson Levine. What I wished I had done before publishing two books (which, unfortunately, are temporarily going off the market), was building a platform. No matter what route you take, whether it’s traditional, hybrid, or self-publishing, you need to establish a fan base before.

Even if you get accepted by a big publishing house (which is extremely difficult), they want to see how many people have heard of you and admire what you do. That excludes people you know personally. Think the publishing house will market your book for you? Think again. These days, regardless of what publishing route you select, you need to market your book on your own.

I self-published my novels without building a platform prior and knowing that children’s self-published books are among the hardest to sell. While I did a free promotion for five days, and got 1662 free downloads during that time, my sales were only around 25 a year, even after the free promotion ended.

I am working on a non-fiction book and am considering hybrid publishing it. Hybrid publishing is a mix of traditional and self-publishing. They accept and reject books, but let you keep some control. They are not all alike though. Some lean toward the commercial method, where if they do accept your story, they have all the control for its production, cover design, title, and even content, and some lean toward self-publishing, where they let the author keep the control, but might not care much about the content, title, or design.

If the non-fiction book is successful after release, then I will re-publish my novels. But having a platform (Facebook fans, Twitter followers, etc.) is absolutely important. I have done a ton of promotion and marketing techniques for my novels. I could go on and on with a list, but everything I have done has gotten me little to nowhere. People don’t usually like to buy books from unknown authors, because they worry about wasting their money. That is why every aspiring writer or any kind of creator needs a platform.

**Update** I have self-published my non-fiction novel through Amazon KDP instead.