Writing

My Reaction to an Article About Setting Stories Now and What I Think You Can Do About it

Ugh! This pandemic is killing me and us all. I want to get back to full straightforward life ASAP! Okay, I don’t blog about things like this.

However, I did come across an article on BookBaby about “the elephant in the room.” The article talked about setting your story now in 2020, despite the pandemic.

It gave an example from an old story, but twisted on it where a character had to practice social distancing and stay 6 feet apart from others. The post said that there are a lot of complications with setting your story this year. Your characters would have to follow pandemic guidelines, but that could interfere with your plot. The author also said that you shouldn’t have the characters live completely typical lives, such as dining out or partying.

The person advised against setting the stories in the future since no one knows what will happen. I agree with that one. But he or she also said that you shouldn’t set it in the past since it would be unsatisfactory. However, I don’t agree with that one, especially if you only backdate by one or two years. If contemporary settings matter so much, I would still consider 2019 and even 2018 to be pretty contemporary. I think setting your stories then should be totally fine. After all, if your characters need to live normal, typical lives, then setting it one or two years before now should be understandable and even important. That is when setting a story in a certain year plays a crucial part. But I think writers should get to set their stories whenever they want. I wrote another post about that, though.

So, unless your story is centered around Covid-19, or is set in a made-up world (i.e. a make-believe planet in science-fiction or a different magical land or world in fantasy), I think it is best to set it in 2019 or 2018. Or, you could wait until the pandemic is fully over, which should be by next year, or even sooner. This could work if you need to do a lot of research or plan more.

I read the comments on that article, and a lot of people said that books should take you into another world and shouldn’t necessarily be centered around current issues. That probably would work if your story is set in the US and is between January and March.

If your story is set in a made-up world, go ahead and set it now or in the future and keep Covid-19 out of it. Otherwise, set it one or two (or more) years earlier or wait till the sense of pre-pandemic normalcy starts to return.

Writing

Unpopular Writing Opinion: Why I Wish Readers Would Accept Any Time Setting in Stories, Regardless of Publication Date

When I say any time setting, I mean any time setting. I firmly believe that authors should get to set their stories whenever they want and readers should accept and deal with the time setting. I don’t agree with the ridiculous rules that authors should only set their books in contemporary settings or historical settings, but nothing in between.

It all started out when I wanted to update my book, “The Frights of Fiji,” then titled, “From Frights to Flaws,” and I sent it to an editor. Throughout the manuscript, the editor kept complaining about the years mentioned and the fact that the story was set in 2010, even though it was first published in 2013. They seemed to tell me to update the setting to 2018 since many middle grade readers then were babies or really little. I was very offended and told them I highly disliked someone telling me when I could or could not set my stories. Then the editor felt me and said that they supported my idea of setting my story whenever I wished and that they wouldn’t tell writers when they could or couldn’t set their stories. That year-change was merely a suggestion. Yet, they also pointed out how kids today wouldn’t be able to relate to pushing buttons on phones. Um…hello? They’re going to be reading books way more primitive than that. Definitely for school. They’ll read books where candles were used since electricity didn’t exist, horse-drawn wagons were the main means of transportation because there were no cars. They’re even going to read stories where pants didn’t exist and men wore robes and togas, like in ancient times, B.C.E.

Also, must I mention that it was not until the 7th “Harry Potter” book was published that I discovered that the characters were much older than I thought. I had grown up thinking “Harry Potter” was set in the 2000’s thanks to some hints from the movies, which I watched before the books. But when “The Deathly Hallows” was published, I discovered that the events of the series happened in the 90’s, from when before I was born up until I was 4 years old, excluding the epilogue. Yes, it was a shock and disappointment at first. But I eventually got past it and accepted it, especially since the first 3 books were published in the 90’s. And no, it wasn’t because J.K. Rowling was a very big-name author.

Even on a website, someone pointed out why “Harry Potter” was set in the 90’s, and said that it could’ve been set earlier, but no one would relate to it as easily. Once again, kids have to read books like that for school. And I’m sure there’s a reason why English curriculums often require stories set too early for students to relate to. It’s probably to learn the differences. Do you think a lot of school kids now or even 30 years ago could relate to characters, like Tom Sawyer or Romeo Montague? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy it, even if they have to read it. When I was in school, there were very few books set around times we students could relate to. One I remember was “Rabbit Hole”, which I read in 12th grade. There was a scene with a video cassette, which suggested that the story couldn’t be set later than the 90’s or early 2000’s. While it felt a little awkward, it didn’t keep me from enjoying the story. Plus, it was required, so I couldn’t stop. I still liked the story, as it was.

Another time, after I republished “The Frights of Fiji” in 2018, I sent my sequel to be edited, as well. Once again, the editor removed the year I stated in it, 2010, and said it would make the story outdated. Bull poo. I even told them why I stated the year it was set. The editor said that authors can set their books whenever they liked, however, it should only be stated if important, otherwise it’s distracting. Garbage! The first book had already been published and the year, 2010, was already written as its time setting. So, I had to say the year book 2 was set.

When I started a post about this on a writing forum, while a few took my side, others did the opposite. They saw the idea of a book being set in 2010 and published in recent years as a bug and being awkward. When I said that changing the year would mess up dates and events, they saw that as nonsense. They picked it up differently than I intended, though. In book 1, my MC’s 13th birthday plays an important role. It also has to fall on a Saturday, and in 2010, her birthday, April 17th, fell on a Saturday. Had I changed the year, I would have had to either change her birthday, or make it a different day. But between 2013 and 2018, hundreds of people have already read the book’s first edition, so it would have looked bad to change the year setting.

Another person on that forum said that unless a story is centered around a certain historical event, like 9/11, it should not be set post-2000. Bird poo. And some other writers agree. They said that it would be hard to market a book set many years in the past without a reason. One writer said that a book published today that is set in 2006 without a reason looks bad. Another said that authors shouldn’t date their stories. They should be contemporary all the time and that readers should get to fill in the year themselves. Bull poo again.  

Why can’t readers see older settings from this century as a chance to learn more about those years? Seriously, what’s wrong with learning about things like flip phones, DVD rental stores, and other “outdated” ways of life? It really shouldn’t hurt. Readers should see books like that chances to be educational in terms of learning the differences of life then versus now. A book set in 2006 and being published around now should be acceptable in mainstream publishing. There’s nothing wrong with learning anything. Of course, that is as long as it’s not harmful. After all, we do or did have to learn history in school. And that is to learn not just how life was different than, but also the mistakes or bad decisions people made so that we don’t do those ourselves.

To me, fiction is only outdated if it’s offensive, such as the use of racial slurs or the damsel-in-distress trope. Basically, anything that would be insensitive to people today shouldn’t be used in writing. But years? Big deal. Authors should get to date their stories, set it in whatever years they wish, and readers should be more open to that. I wish that’s how it would be.

TV show

Beware! It’s My Top Memorable Moments from “The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy”

A skeleton is friends with two children. There is Mandy, who has a dark attitude and hardly ever smiles, despite her blonde hair and pink top. Then there is Billy, who is enthusiastic and silly.

This show aired on Cartoon Network for a while in the 2000’s. It was a great show.

Now here are the top memorable moments from the show.

7: When Grim wore a bra

Okay, okay, I can guess what you’re probably thinking. But it’s true. There was one episode where his cloak was removed and he had a bra on. Really.

6: When Billy’s friend, Irwin, turned into a dog

Billy found a dog with glasses, not realizing that it was his friend, Irwin. He asked his parents if he could keep him. His mom said no, but his dad said yes. Then, at some point, Irwin turns back into a human in a stadium, naked in front of everybody.

5: When Grim and Billy switch personalities

Grim acts silly like Billy and Billy behaves like Grim. Eventually, their physical appearances switch, too.

4: When Billy loses his sight from a video game

Billy presses his eyes against the TV monitor while playing a video game, which could have ruined his eyes, according to Mandy. And it did. At some point later, Billy even thought Mandy held up 74 fingers.

3: When Billy and Mandy told stories

Mandy’s story was so inconsiderate and lazy. It went, “Once upon a time, the end.” Then she told a story about Humpty Dumpty where it ended where everybody had eggs for all three of their meals. However, Billy’s involved a villain who couldn’t defeat anyone because they were so happy. Even he became joyous, himself.

2: When Billy and Grim celebrated Mandy’s “birthday”

Billy has Grim help him plan a birthday bash for Mandy. When Mandy arrives, Grim and Billy go, “Happy birthday, happy birthday, it’s your happy day.” But Mandy reveals that her birthday isn’t for another 5 months.

1: The song, “Under the Ocean”

Ah, a parody of “Under the Sea” from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”. This was a great moment.

So, there you have it.

Writing

Focusing on Foreshadowing

If you’re a writer, or even a student, you should know what foreshadowing is. It is when clues are given in a story, visual or written, that something might happen later. While twists and surprises are important, too, foreshadowing is essential. After all, everything that happens in a story must be crucial to the plot—eventually.

That being said, I have witnessed some stories using too much foreshadowing, such as the Disney-animated movie, “Aladdin”. Don’t worry. “Aladdin” is a great movie and I enjoyed it very much. However, I still think it overdid it on the foreshadowing, and therefore, it was a bit too predictable for me.

That is another thing to watch out for—too much foreshadowing can displease the reader or audience. Notice how in most forms of storytelling, there is a balance of foreshadowing and unexpected plot twists? That is what people want. It makes a story more enjoyable. A little bit of both is what makes a book, movie, TV show, play, or anything else more pleasurable.

I, myself, have used some foreshadowing in my own books. For example, in one of them, the antagonist hears my main character’s dog bark, and then leaves. I won’t spoil anything beyond that. However, I will assure you that the specific moment foreshadows something that is bound to occur later and remains important.

In another novel of mine, there are characters that are introduced through the phone, but don’t appear in person until later. Once again, I won’t spoil anything. In fact, spoiling is another risk you run when you foreshadow too much.

Of course, it is not easy to use foreshadowing properly. But as you learn over time, it can be doable for 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.

Writing

When You Unconsciously Use the Plot Structure in Any Story You Write

I’ve been studying the writing craft for years. It was seven and a half years ago when I learned the right rules of creative writing. It took about that long to hone my skills and mature my creative writing abilities to what they are now.

However, before I studied the craft, I wrote a bad novel that I was dying to publish and convinced my parents to let me do so. When it was published, there was no positive feedback. However, I do realize now that I still included the classic plot structure, which I wasn’t aware at during that time. I continued to use that structure in later novels where I studied the craft.

What is the structure, you may ask? It starts of with the inciting incident, where something greatly changes your main character’s situation and sets him or her up on a rough road to achieve his or her goal. Then there is a call to action, and the main character often refuses it at first. Then he or she will accept it.

Next comes the first plot pinch, which sets your main character up for failure. Then there is the midpoint, which can be a major defeat or loss. That will push the protagonist’s struggle to achieve his or her goal even further. There will be complications and higher stakes, which will lead to an all-is-lost moment, where the antagonist wins at that time.

Then comes the climax, where something prepares the protagonist for the final battle (not always literally, though). There may be a ticking clock too, where the protagonist’s time starts running out. Finally, there is the resolution of denouement, where the main character has come somewhere satisfying. He or she may achieve his or her goal. If not, he or she may realize that the goal was not something he or she had wanted all along or something not right for him or her.

And no matter what story I write, usually novels, this plot structures comes out into my writing unintentionally. I don’t know why, though. It’s like my brain has somehow inserted the plot structure into its subconscious or something. But that’s probably a good thing.

No matter where you are in the writing process, whether you are new or experienced, it’s important to know the plot structure. Any successful work, written or visual, needs to follow this structure.

Writing

Plot Hole Problems: Why They Bother Me (and Others)

Plot holes happen everywhere: movies, TV shows, books, and so forth. Even the top writers end up making plot holes, either as inconsistencies or unanswered questions.

Of course, no one ever means it—at least not usually. Even when they are being reviewed by agents or anyone before the works get released to the general public, plot holes are missed. It often isn’t until after the works are available to the public that the plot holes are pointed out. Sometimes, shortly after, and other times, not till several years later.

Obviously, no work is perfect nor do any please everybody. But some plot holes bother certain people a lot. There are examples in some of my movie critique posts, like “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”. The ones where I spend a lot of time expressing my thoughts are the ones that bother me the most.

A plot hole I have not addressed here before is from the book, “Being Julia”. It’s not a super-big bestseller. But it was good and engaging up to a certain point. Julia gets grounded and has her computer confiscated. She tries to convince her dad to give it back to her shortly after, even though he won’t. When she is no longer grounded, the reader doesn’t get to see her getting her computer back. Another situation is happening. Then the next chapter takes place months later, when Julia is getting ready for college. Um… hello? When did she get her laptop back? This unanswered question plagued me so much that I wrote to the author and asked when Julia got her laptop back. Sadly, the author didn’t answer. So I moved on.

Some people will address plot holes later or separately. A good example is J.K. Rowling. These days she has been answering so many questions about plot holes in “Harry Potter”. Some folks, like me, enjoy that. Others, however, find it amateurish and lazy. I could see why.

While there are some plot holes in works that don’t bother me or I don’t care about, there are still some that will plague me for a while. A YouTube channel, called Cinemasins, is known for pointing out flaws in movies, such as plot holes. Because I watch movies with a critical eye, I enjoy this channel. I discover issues that I didn’t realize before.

Remember that nobody is perfect. Pretty much all works will have plot holes. Some may be addressed in sequels or on separate sources. Others will remain unanswered forever.

Writing

Story Too Complex to Tell? Don’t Sweat it—I’ve Got Tips

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Stories come in all forms, sizes, moods, and so forth. No two plots are alike. Some are similar. Some differ drastically. Some are short or long. And some are simple or complex.

Of course, each story will depend on audience, trends, and so on. Here, I am going to discuss tips for handling a complex story.

Obviously, your book will be short and sweet as well as very basic if it’s a picture book. As the audience gets older, the stories will lengthen and become more complex. And that doesn’t only apply to writing and plot, but also subplots.

Subplots are secondary storylines in a book that weave into the main plot and they all are important for the tale. If you’re writing for middle-grade children (about 8-11), you may only need one or two subplots at most. If you’re writing for teens (aka the young adult readers) or adults, you might need more subplots. Depending on your skill-level and storyline, up to four subplots might be enough.

However, if you feel you are getting too overwhelmed with subplots or storyline complexity, or readers aren’t receiving the right message you’re trying to communicate, don’t be afraid to remove content that doesn’t add or is not crucial. That includes subplots. Depending on your readers’ ages and levels, you can simplify your plot. If you feel you can’t remove a subplot or two, however, that’s okay. Sometimes, complex material is too important to be scrapped. If it takes you years, especially if you’re just starting out as a writer, don’t worry. Some authors have taken ten or more years to work on a story. One of my works took nearly three years to complete.

Remember, write from your gut as well as what you are passionate about. That is how you will improve and have fun.