Tag Archives: Manifestation

Character Gender and Binary Norms

One of the most common questions I get, as a male writer, is “How do you write female characters?” Sometimes it’s asked as a compliment, by someone who thinks I write very believable female characters. Other times it’s asked with the implication that I don’t know what I’m doing and that my characters aren’t realistic. And sometimes it’s another writer who wants to write their own characters more effectively even if they’re a different gender.

My usual answer is that I focus on writing each character as an individual, rather than as a representation of their gender (or for that matter, their race, religion, or sexual orientation). If I tried to write a character to be what I think is a realistic, acceptable portrayal of a Caucasian/Italian teenage lesbian woman, I’d end up with a walking stereotype. But if I write Gabby Palladino, she is an individual, and if there are aspects of her that don’t fit with someone’s expectations, well, that’s life. Not everyone fits within the norm.

Which got me to thinking about how different a lot of my characters are when it comes to where they “fit” when it comes to masculinity/femininity, sexuality, their gender portrayal, and so on. And I realized that each of my main female leads is completely different, so much so that the question “How do you write female characters?” becomes completely irrelevant.

During the course of Manifestation and its upcoming sequel Contamination, there are five main female characters who get significant “screen time”: Gabby Palladino, Tock Zipporah, Dr. Patricia Caldwell, Maelyssa Southeby, and Minori Tsujino. And looking at them, I find it impossible to pin down a single common trait that all five share that could be used to define what makes them female.

Gabby is a feminine, shy, gentle person. She’s a lesbian. She wears feminine-style clothes, skirts, and so on. And she has conservative attitudes towards sex.

Tock is much more masculine, plus she’s a loudmouth and someone who doesn’t take shit from anyone. She’s bisexual. She dresses in practical clothes, jeans, flannel shirts. And she views sex as no big deal; if it feels good, do it.

Dr. Caldwell is classy and professional. She wears business-style clothes, but opts for skirt-suits rather than pants-suits to add a touch of femininity. She has no time for romance because she is a career-minded woman.

Mae is a punk rock skater girl. She wears cut-off denim, heavy metal t-shirts, dark makeup, and lots of (stolen) jewelry. She’s straight, but she hasn’t ever dated and she doesn’t really know much about sex.

Minori is a highly religious, spiritual, pure person. She dresses in conservative, simple, modest clothes. She’s asexual. She believes premarital sex is a sin.

These characters have almost nothing in common. Their personal styles, the way they portray their gender, their views towards sex and relationships, all of it is unique to each individual. And I didn’t make them like this on purpose. Each character simply developed with their own unique traits.

So maybe next time someone asks me, “How do you write female characters?” I should ask them, “Which kind of female characters?” Because no two are alike. Just like no two real people are quite alike. I don’t know what traits people are looking for in a “female character” that they think will define whether that character is believable or not. Or what it is that they think makes me, as a male, incapable of writing a female. Because it doesn’t matter if I write characters who fit into people’s normal perceptions of masculine or feminine traits. What matters is whether people like Gabby, Tock, and the others for who they are. None of them are defined by their gender. And I hope readers will look at them all with an open mind.


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Job Hunting

As you may know, I’m currently a student in Rowan University’s Master’s in Writing grad program. I’m graduating with my MA in about six weeks. At which time, you will all call me Master.

Because I’ll have my Master’s Degree? Get it?

*coughs*

Anyway. While I’ve been attending Rowan, I’ve also been employed by the Rowan University Writing Center. My duties there have included tutoring students on their writing, running small group workshops for Composition I classes, running fiction workshops including out #NaNoWriMo Write Ins, and assisting with various presentations and seminars.

I enjoy this job. A lot. I can say, hands down, that it’s the single best job I’ve ever had.

Unfortunately, the position is classified as a “student job,” which means that when I graduate in May, I’ll also be leaving my tutoring job.

So, I’m looking for a new job right now. Ideally, something involving writing, such as copywriting, working for a college writing department, publication layout and design at a magazine or journal, or anything in the publishing field.

If you happen to know of any openings in the South Jersey/Philadelphia/Wilmington area, I’d appreciate any leads. I’m attaching my resume here, in case anyone is interested.

Jason Cantrell Resume

Also, if you want to support my publishing career, you can check out my novel, Manifestation. It’s an urban fantasy adventure about a teenage girl caught in the rebirth of magical powers. I think you’ll love it. And if you do, it’ll help me make sure my rent gets paid.

In the meantime, between job hunting, I’ll be continuing work on Contamination, the sequel to Manifestation. I just finished Draft Two and I’m getting critiques and feedback right now. Expect to see more on the upcoming release later this year.


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You’re the First I’ve Ever Met

I had an interesting conversation with a coworker today.

I was at the Writing Center at Rowan University, where I tutor students and help them to (hopefully) become better writers. It’s an interesting job with some interesting people. As often happens at Rowan, the subject made its way around to the most common question you’ll ever hear as a college student: “What are you going to do when you graduate?”

I don’t have a good answer to that question. I don’t know what kind of day job I’m going to be getting. Though the real answer–the most honest one–is that I want to focus on being a professional writer.

Naturally, she asked, “So you want to publish books?”

And of course, I answered, “I’ve already published one.”

I’m a bit of a shy person, so I don’t go around shouting about my book to everyone I meet. So even though we’d worked together for some time, this was the first she’d heard about it. We had a short conversation about what the book is about (a girl with superpowers trying to survive in a world where magic is returning and going crazy), how long it took me to write (two years), and how the sales are going (an awkward question I avoid as much as I avoid telling people how much my day job pays). Once I got going, I got over my shyness and talked a bit about my book. Then my coworker said something that left me a bit speechless:

“You’re the first person I’ve ever known who published a book.”

I wasn’t sure how to react to that. I think I kind of blushed and stammered a bit. And I tried to think about who I knew that had written books.

The first that came to mind were my Rowan professors. Just listing the ones whose books I’ve actually read, there’s:

Red Dirt by Joe Samuel Starnes
Nothing But Blue by Lisa Jahn-Clough
Mimi Malloy, At Last! by Julia MacDonnell Chang
In the Shadows of a Fallen Wall by Sanford Tweedie

Then there’s a book written by one of my Rowan classmates, New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, edited by Joseph Berenato.

And that’s not counting people I know online, whether self- or traditionally-published.

It kind of makes me feel like I’ve joined some kind of elite club. Like a country club membership, only with less golf and rich old white men, and more awesome books for me to read. Which sounds like a really good deal to me.

And it’s not one of those “you can’t golf here if you’re not a member” clubs. Because people who read are totally a part of the club, or else there wouldn’t BE a club, right? So the only people who aren’t allowed in the club are people who don’t like books.

And they can join the club if they find a book they DO like, and they read it.

So that’s what you should do today. Read a book. Maybe one of the ones I just mentioned above. Or mine. Either way, you’ll be having more fun than playing country club golf.


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Revising for Patterns vs Revising for Story

I just finished some revisions on a section of Book Six, based on some feedback I’d received from one of my professors at Rowan University. But the changes I made were sporadic and spread out through the entire text, picking out individual errors and common patterns the feedback had pointed out. This led to a very different, and in some ways “incomplete” type of revision.

Most of the time, when I’m revising, I go line by line, chapter by chapter, reading the text through from beginning to end. This allows me to be immersed in the story as I’m going along, and in this way I can catch errors in the continuity. For example, I once caught a mistake where I had a character start a scene wearing a skirt, then suddenly I mentioned her putting something in her pants pocket, then later she was in a skirt again. Or other times I might mention the night sky, then later on mention the setting sun (this often happens when I rearrange chapter order, and one chapter is now later than the other). These kinds of errors wouldn’t be noticed by reading an individual page by itself. It takes a careful read through the entire manuscript to catch them.

But a careful read through the entire manuscript might not catch some patterns and bad habits because they’re easy to overlook. For example, the feedback that I got pointed out that, among other things, I overuse the word “then.” Here’s a case of overuse that I just recently had to deal with:

Adrianna frowned and lowered her head. She pressed her palms down flat on the papers that covered the desk before her. “I’m not an invalid,” she said. “I’m perfectly capable of being out on my own.” She glanced over her shoulder at Dr. Pavari. “I don’t need to be babysat.”

Dr. Pavari pushed his glasses up his nose and said, “We’re giving it a trial run. I think it’s good for her to get out and try to get into some kind of normal routine.”

Adrianna pressed her hands down harder on the desk. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not here.”

“I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that,” Gabby said. “It’s okay.” She paused, chewing on her lip. Then she nodded to the papers. “So, what are you working on?”

Adrianna cast a glare up at Dr. Pavari, the turned back to Gabby. “Food inventory. I used to do this at the restaurant.” She patted the papers before her, then smoothed them out, then patted them again. “I know how to do this. I used to do it all the time.”

Three times in two paragraphs, something happens, then something else, then something else again. And page after page, this is a pattern, a bad habit I have. My professor suggested trimming out as many “then”s as possible, so I started to do just that:

I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that,” Gabby said. “It’s okay.” She paused, chewing on her lip. She nodded to the papers. “So, what are you working on?”

Adrianna cast a glare up at Dr. Pavari, the turned back to Gabby. “Food inventory. I used to do this at the restaurant.” She patted the papers before her, smoothed them out, then patted them again. “I know how to do this. I used to do it all the time.”

It’s a small change, but it seems to help the sentences flow better. Once I’d picked out a few instances of it, I did a Ctrl-F search for the word “then” and edited it out over and over and over again. I did the same for semicolons (another bad habit of mine). And when I was editing Manifestation, I had to do the same thing with the word “just.” Everything just happened. Gabby just nodded. Callia just sighed and shook her head. It seems to take some of the weight away from the actions. I took out 90% of my “just”s before Manifestation got published. I’ll probably need to search for those in the other books too.

Issues like these–the difference between careful line-by-line edits versus global patterns–are a big part of the reason why I go over a manuscript multiple times before I’m finished with it. The first set of edits I finished yesterday are just one pass through the document. There’ll be another, then another, then another (see what I did there?). I don’t know how long it’ll take, but I know these are things that can’t be rushed.

Thankfully, word processor tools make it a lot easier. I mean, can you imagine going through a 160,000 word document manually looking for repeated examples of your bad habits? It’s a wonder people ever had the patience to finish a book back before we had all this wonderful technology.


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All I Want For Christmas is a Revised Manuscript

Christmas and I don’t get along.

Christmas-Lights-11Okay, so Christmas doesn’t kidnap me, tie me up with sparkling lights, and lock me in the bathroom (though it could!). However, I do tend to have bad experiences with Christmas, and I don’t expect this one to be any better. I’m not on speaking terms with most of my family, my Dad is living on a tight budget so Christmas these days has no thrills, and I don’t expect anyone else in the world to get me anything. Beyond that, I can’t even get on board with the whole “Christmas should be about love and hope and etc etc, not presents!” thing because I’m not religious and I don’t really have the kind of hopeful, positive influences in my life that would make Christmas worthwhile. I have casual friends who I’m sure will text or tweet me some Christmas wishes, but I don’t really have the kind of deep personal relationships where you expect to bond with people over hot chocolate in front of the fireplace Christmas day.

All I want for Christmas is to finish this draft.

I think I’ve been suffering from #NaNoWriMo Burn Out, coupled with a touch of seasonal depression. Which happens every year. After writing 160,000 words on my NaNo novel, I’ve written . . . five blog posts in two weeks, and revised one chapter of Contamination. That’s not much. And I have no excuse. I just sit home all day anyway. It’s not like there’s a reason I can’t get the work done.

All I want for Christmas is some motivation.

I think that Author Fragile Ego Syndrome is keeping me from working on my novel because I’m afraid that it sucks. That no one is going to read it or buy it or like it. That people who praise my writing are just doing so to be nice. That one day soon I’m going to be back to working at a crappy restaurant for a sexist boss, Master’s Degree from Rowan University notwithstanding.

All I want for Christmas is some self-esteem.

What I said a moment ago, about Christmas not being about presents? It’s true. Christmas isn’t about presents. I don’t want material goods. I just want a Christmas where I can get out of this rut and get some work done. I want to be able to send my revised novel to my CPs as their Christmas present. I want to stop feeling like crap. I want to get through a Christmas without crying.

All I want for Christmas is to be successful with my writing. But that’s a gift no one else can give me. So I’ll have to do it myself.


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Superman and Vanity

superman-evolution2Look at the picture above, and tell me what you see.

Okay, yes, nine versions of Superman. Look closer.

Okay, they’ve all got variations of the same classic costume, except the one dressed all in black. They’ve all got a tall, muscular build. But look closer.

What do I see? Confidence. Shoulders set back. Chins held high. A few of them even have an almost cocky smirk. And why not? They’re Superman. Generally considered (by an average person, not necessarily a comic book buff) to be the most powerful superhero of all. And not only does he have more powers than you can shake your, err, kryptonite at, he’s also suave, charming, heroic, honest, and basically all around perfect.

And maybe that perfection will go to his head.

There’s a line in the original Christopher Reeve Superman movie, when Superman is talking to his father, Jor-El. Jor-El warns Superman not to succumb to his vanity:

Lastly, do not punish yourself for your feelings of vanity. Simply learn to control them. It is an affliction common to all, even on Krypton…Our destruction could have been avoided but for the vanity of some who considered us indestructible. Were it not for vanity, why, at this very moment… I could embrace you in my arms…my son…

Superman’s vanity, and through it, his overconfidence, are almost his undoing. He thinks he’s indestructible, so he doesn’t bother to take precautions. This is how Lex Luthor is able to trick him and expose him to kryptonite, which nearly kills him. (In turn, Luthor’s own vanity and overconfidence leads to him walking away and not watching Superman die, allowing Miss Teschmacher to save him.) I’ve seen this issue be Superman’s undoing in a number of different versions of the movies and TV shows. He underestimates his foes, he doesn’t consider the consequences of his actions, and he may even sometimes consider himself to be above the law.

Superman is just one example. Many other superheroes can have similar vanity issues; just look at all the ego being thrown around in The Avengers and you can see how each character’s pride is affecting their behavior. It’s been addressed in some comics from time to time, when people ask whether these heroes should be held accountable for their reckless behavior when they cause massive destruction while “saving” people.

One of the reasons I started thinking about the vanity of superheroes is because of a conversation I had with my academic adviser at Rowan University about my own writing projects. We were discussing one of the main characters from my novel, Manifestation, and I was describing some of the powers she has and the scale on which she’s able to affect the world in the later novels in the series (which gets bigger and stronger as the series goes on). After describing one particular scene at the end of the second book, Contamination, my adviser asked, “Would you describe her as godlike?”

Godlike characters can be a problem in a variety of ways. For one, there’s what I’ve called the Superman Dilemma, where a character is so powerful that it’s hard for there to be any suspense. But pride and vanity are definitely another issue. Vanity can be something that can actually add conflict, however, if it proves to be the character’s downfall. Vanity can lead to mistakes, it can make a character easy to manipulate, and it can alienate a character’s friends who think the character has gotten too big for their britches.

No wonder it’s the Devil’s favorite sin.

So if you find that your characters are too powerful, too unstoppable, too perfect, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. As long as their power and perfection becomes a foil for them in the story. One way to address this is to put the character up against something that all their power isn’t enough to defeat. This is something I try to do later in my books. A character who has gotten used to solving every problem by throwing her unstoppable, godlike powers at it full force suddenly finds herself faces with an obstacle that can’t be beaten this way. She has to step back from the situation and consider other angles. She has to think. She has to realize that, just maybe, all of her powers don’t amount to all that much sometimes. It’s a hard lesson to learn. But once she learns she has to think outside the box instead of trying to overpower her foes, she ends up being that much stronger.

And hopefully, not too many cities will get destroyed in the meantime.


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Scavengers

I just finished #NaNoWriMo last week. My currently untitled novel is sitting at 160,484 words of magic, mystery, sex, love, telepathy, golems, lesbians, teddy bears, and maybe a giant mutated monster or two. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, though I know it’ll need plenty of revisions and work just like all the others. That work is for later, however, and now it’s time to turn my mind to other things.

On the writing front, there’s two main projects on my mind right now. Both of them have something in common: scavengers (did the title of the post give that away?). I’d like to talk a bit about the concept of scavengers first, then discuss how it relates to my upcoming projects.

A scavenger-based society can develop in a variety of ways. In real life, it can happen when some groups of people live in the slums or run-down neighborhoods of otherwise wealthy cities. I read a book earlier this year, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which told the real-life story of people living in such conditions in Mumbai, India. The people in the story live in tin shacks in a muddy, rancid slum, where they deal with crime, pollution from the city, poverty, poor education, and the struggle to survive and feed their families each day. One of the main characters is a boy who collects scrap. Plastic bottles, wire coat hangers, tin foil . . . anything he can haul down to the recycling center to sell in order to earn what he can to help feed his family. Parts of the story follow this boy and others like him as they scrounge in the dumpsters behind hotels, gathering plastic straws and lids to be sold as scrap to the recycling center. Sometimes they have to fight off gangs of larger boys who will beat them up to steal their garbage and sell it themselves. And no one in the city cares, except when it comes to shooing them away so the rich tourists at the hotels don’t have to see the street urchins digging through the trash.

More extreme examples can be seen in some post-apocalyptic stories, where society has collapsed and industry no longer exists. I’m reading a fiction novel right now called The Drowned Cities, set in a post-apocalyptic future where global warming has flooded the coasts, war has torn the country apart, and people struggle to survive amidst ongoing fighting between rival factions that try to claim their own piece of the broken world. People use whatever they can get their hands on, and the author describes things like plastic antifreeze bottles now being used as water bottles, ruined buildings being torn apart for scrap to rebuild elsewhere, and old medicine that is “only a year past its expiration date.” These details do a good job setting the scene and showing the reader just how desperate people are for whatever resources they can get their hands on.

The idea of a society with limited resources will be helpful research for my current and future projects. One of those project, my seventh novel, is currently only in the planning stages. I’ve got about ten pages of notes so far on what I plan to do with it, though I don’t intend to start writing this one until next year, maybe during #JuNoWriMo. Some of these notes are based on ideas I got from books like The Drowned Cities, relating to the idea of where people get the resources they need to survive. Food and other resources can be scarce. People might be having to improvise items to use them for something other than their original purpose. Gabby Palladino, my main character (who is also a poet) may have trouble finding simple things like pens and paper to write her journals and poems. Though I’ve already written things in the past that involve looting old, abandoned stores, so I’m sure she could find an abandoned office supply store with plenty of useful goods.

My more immediate project right now is continuing revisions on my second book, Contamination, which is the sequel to Manifestation. I won’t go into too much detail so as not to spoil some of the events of Manifestation, but suffice to say, some of the characters in Contamination can end up in some difficult situations where food and supplies are scarce. The scene I’m currently revising involves a gang of thugs with magic powers fighting for control over a grocery store, since controlling the store means controlling the food supplies left inside. When you’re desperate and hungry, that’s a higher priority than anything else. There are also other scenes of people doing things like smashing open an old vending machine to steal the stale snack foods inside. People will do what it takes when it comes to staying fed.

I plan to read some more books in war-ravaged post-apocalyptic settings in the near future in order to see how other authors have addressed the scavenger lifestyle. I find it an interesting one, and I think there’s a lot of potential character development to be found in writing a character who has to dig through the rubble to find the things they need to survive.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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When Thanksgiving Doesn’t Exist in your Books

turkeyI write in a fictional world. This is a common trope seen in fantasy writing, where a writer wants to create a fictional history, geography, government, and so on for their world. It allows for a lot more freedom to do things that couldn’t happen in the real world. This is especially true if you want to add some detail to the geography that would otherwise be impossible, like floating continents, the ruins of a super-advanced ancient civilization, or magical physics that show the world functions in a very different way. It can also be used in science fiction with alien civilizations (such as how Star Wars takes place in a galaxy far, far away, as opposed to Star Trek which still has the real Earth, just far in the future).

A few complications arise when writing in an entirely fictional world. Even though Manifestation is set in a modern-day setting that is very similar to the real world, there are some key differences. One key example is holidays. There’s no “America” in the fictional world I created; the people live in a country called the Northern Union, which is loosely modeled after America but very different in some ways. Since there’s no America, there’s no Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, or any other national holiday that is specific to real life. Likewise, there’s no Christmas, because there’s no Christianity. Religion plays a heavy role in the books, and the religion is loosely modeled after Christianity (I make references to the seven deadly sins, for example). But in these books, there was no Jesus Christ, so therefore there’s no Christmas or Easter or anything like that.

Sometimes this makes me stumble in my writing. For example, there’s a scene near the end of Manifestation when I refer to “holiday decorations” on the house. I never say which holiday, since real-life holidays don’t exist in that world. But the scene takes place in winter, around the time of what would have been Christmas in real life, so holiday decorations become part of the setting. Some books I’ve read address such topics by having a “Winter Festival” as the winter holiday celebration. If the holiday were of specific relevance to the plot, I could even develop a fictional set of customs and traditions around it, in order to flesh it out more. But in my case, it’s more of a minor background detail.

Another related thing that pops up from time to time is brand names, and this becomes more complicated. I can’t, for example, have my characters eat Jell-O or Cheetos. Those brands don’t exist in the fictional world, so I have to say gelatin or cheesy puffs. My characters have to use tissues, not Kleenex, and take aspirin, not Tylenol.

Some brand names become harder to avoid. There’s a lot of fighting in some of my books, so naturally there’s guns. In some action-oriented books I’ve read, people will refer to a specific model of gun, like a Glock or a Luger. I can only say “pistol.” Though I fudge some of these rules when people drive a jeep or wear a kevlar vest, because really, there aren’t a lot of better names to use for that. Kevlar is technically a brand name but it’s in many ways seen as a name for the material itself. A jeep is technically a vehicle produced by Jeep, but it also brings to mind a very specific type of vehicle that the phrase “off-road vehicle” doesn’t quite capture.

This can be difficult, and sometimes it seems like it would be easier to just write in the real world. But on the other hand, I’m sometimes able to create fictional brands and companies that become a part of the personality of the world. For example, on multiple occasions I refer to places like the Donovan Grant Hotel, Donovan Financial Trust, and buildings sponsored by that company like the Donovan Financial Field where the local sports team plays. The Donovan family that owns these businesses remains mostly in the background (though there’s an easter egg in there for people who pay attention), but this remains a personalized detail that is part of the structure of this world.

Maybe in the future books, some new holidays will be formed commemorating the disasters that strike. Perhaps the people will start holding barbecues and/or memorials on Arcana Day. And they could hang decorations and hold services in remembrance of the people who lost their lives when magic was reborn.


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What I Learned From #NaNoWriMo

Winner-2014-Web-BannerAs I mentioned, I recently won #NaNoWriMo 2014. It was a long haul. I had quite a few nights where I was up until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. My back is killing me. I spent several days in a daze, barely able to focus on anything else.

The novel is complete. At 160,484 words, it’s both the biggest NaNoWriMo victory I’ve ever had and the longest novel I’ve written in the series. As you can see by the progress meters on the sidebar to the right, it’s 28,000 words more than the previous novel. This was more-or-less what I expected, and the reason why is the first “thing I learned” from NaNoWriMo:

I learned to better estimate word counts

When I first wrote Manifestation, I had no idea how long it would be. I also didn’t know how the story would shift away from any original plans I had. These shifts can lead to longer word counts on some drafts, since the story expands in places I didn’t expect, then shorter word counts in revisions, when I cut scenes that end up not fitting the new direction the story went in. One of the consequences of these unexpected turns is that the structure of the novel can change.

For example, when I first started the series, I already knew where the third volume, Collapse, would end. I had a scene in mind for the climax and what consequences it would bring. I started writing with that goal in mind from early on, always trying to move Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah, the two main characters, in that direction. But at the time that I started writing, I thought that would be the end of volume two, not volume three.

I had originally planned Manifestation to stop in a place that is now somewhere around the middle of the second book, Contamination. I had a story arc planned out for Gabby that would take her through various family dramas, build on her romantic relationship with her main love interest, Callia Gainsborough, and help her grow from the introverted teenage girl we see at the beginning into, well, you’ll have to wait and see what she becomes. But when I was moving past the 100,000 word mark on Manifestation, I realized I needed a lot more time to get Gabby to the point I wanted to take her in. So I devised a new climax for Manifestation, finished the first book, and started the second one.

Then, when I was near the end of Contamination, the same thing happened again. I had a point where Gabby’s relationship with Callia was really just getting off the ground, where Gabby’s understanding of the supernatural changes to the world around her are finally coming together, and where Gabby’s growth as a character was reaching a major turning point. But a turning point isn’t a climax, and I realized I needed another 50,000 words or more to get Gabby the rest of the way down that path. Like with the first book, had I not come up with a different ending, the total length of the book would have been over 170,000 words. Instead, I started the third book, and about halfway through Gabby reached the point of character development I’d originally planned. It was mostly smooth sailing after that to finish the third book, reaching the climax that had originally been planned for book two.

This year, I went into my writing expecting and planning for a length of 150,000. I came up with this number by considering the various story arcs of the previous books, how many main characters had leading roles in each, and how much world building had to be done. When I crossed the 130,000 word mark, I reanalyzed based on the number of scenes left, and adjusted my word count estimate to 160,000. The final total word count was only a few hundred off of that second estimate.

I plan to consider these variables when working on future books as well, so that I’ll have a better idea of how much will “fit” in one book. That way I’ll be able to avoid major restructuring like I went through in the early books.

I learned the difference between a “romance” and a “love story”

As you may have seen by recent blog posts, I’ve been studying romance novels lately. I have a few serious problems with the common romance tropes I’ve seen. Examples include characters who seem to constantly profess their love in the narration without me seeing love in their actions, characters who are too perfect (perfect bodies, perfect hair, flawless morals, etc), characters who fall in love too quickly without enough development of their relationships, and the unrealistic nature of the “happily ever after” ending. I’ve been trying to avoid abusing these tropes in my own writing, by either breaking them entirely, or at least approaching them from different angles in order to avoid being cliche.

However, a new variable was recently brought to my attention. I recently wrote a post about exploring infidelity in romance stories, where I considered the possible roles cheating might play in the development of a story. In particular, I cited novels like The Notebook, where the female lead started off in a relationship then cheated on her fiance with the male lead, who she eventually ended up with. After writing this post, however, one of my romance writer friends directed me to the rules of the Romance Writers of America, and I learned there are some things you can’t do if you want the story to be considered an official “romance.”

According to the RWA, a story is only a “romance” if it has A Central Love Story and An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending. That is, the love story can’t be a subplot, and it can’t have an ending that isn’t in the “happily ever after” category.

A happy ending, according to my friend, means things like no cheating. You can’t do anything to betray the relationship or make the reader stop rooting for the characters to get together. If the reader reaches a point where they wish the characters would break up, it’s not a “romance.”

An interview with Nicholas Sparks has another quote that I found interesting in relation to this idea. He responds to the question:

Q: You once said the difference between a love story and a romance is that “love stories must use universal characters and settings.” What did you mean by that?

“Universal” means you feel as if they are real. You feel like you can know them. I don’t write stories about astronauts or CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or millionaires or movie stars. These are stories of everyday people put into extraordinary events that are also very real in ordinary people’s lives: accidents, a past you want to get away from, a husband that got violent.

Now, I don’t necessarily agree with his entire view here, but what he’s basically saying sounds like “romance novels have unrealistic characters but love stories have ordinary people.” I wouldn’t call this a 100% accurate statement, but it touches on what I mentioned above. Most romance novels I read have people who are too perfect. They’re rich, famous, gorgeous, and flawless. Now, I think you can have a traditional romance novel that has believable, down-to-earth characters (just many of the ones I’ve recently read don’t). But if you go by Sparks’s views, romances are fantasies, while love stories are more realistic.

Even if you disagree with how sparks describes this difference, I do think that the distinction is related to the “no cheating” rule I already mentioned. Characters who cheat on each other would spoil the perfect fantasy of the ideal relationship. But characters who have to struggle to heal and forgive after an affair might better represent the kinds of people we see in real life.

I’ll probably follow up with some more things I learned in a future post. It was definitely a long and educational experience.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

Quick #NaNoWriMo Update

NaNoWriMo.org
NaNoWriMo.org

As you may know, I’m participating in #NaNoWriMo this year. If you didn’t know that, you haven’t peen paying attention for the last 19 days. I’ve been chugging along at a pretty crazy pace, and so far, I’ve written 117,349 words.

But to put that in a little perspective, here’s some pictures of my sticker calendar.

First, here’s what I wrote in September, before I started working on this novel:

20141026_204137Every sticker is either 1000 words or 1 blog post (I get a sticker for writing this blog post you’re reading right now). As you can see, I had a shitty month. Busy with work and school, I went days at a time without writing. I had a nice surge of energy at the end of the month, which was mostly revisions for Contamination, the sequel to Manifestation.

Next, here’s how October went:

20141026_204146A lot better, all said and done. The stars are for new chapters I wrote in Contamination, and the “Wow!” and “Great!” stickers are for every chapter I revised. I made pretty good progress . . . but I still had long stretches of inactivity. I maybe managed a sticker or two per day some days, and there were a few days at the end of the month I only got three per day. After the big rush at the beginning, I was starting to slow down.

Now, here’s my #NaNoWriMo calendar so far:

20141119_124920I know, right?

I had a few days in there where I managed between 10,000-12,000 words per day. Which is really killer on the back. My average goal has been 5,000 per day. I’ve hit that . . . most days. I’ve got a few days with only one or two stars (the round star stickers are still the same, one sticker for 1000 words written, but I ran out of the shiny stars on Sunday and had to switch to new ones). But as you can tell, the last week or so has been a lot slower than the beginning. I only managed two stickers yesterday, one last Friday, two last Wednesday. I’m losing a bit of steam, but I’m almost done.

My goal is still 150,000 for the month, give or take. I’m almost done the novel itself (which is still untitled because I can’t think of a title). The main characters, led by Gabby Palladino, are marching off to the epic final battle right now. Some of them will live, some will die, and some will kiss. Though I don’t plan on anyone kissing someone who died, cause, eww, that’s some creepy Disney stuff right there.

funny-memes-finds-random-corpse-in-the-woodsAnyway, that’s all for now. Wish me luck. I may break something before the end.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook