Sunday, January 26, 2014

On the Diversity of Fictional Characters

A few days ago I came across this amazing video about the effects stories have on the world and the people in it. Adichie's is a powerful story of growing up in Africa reading only British and American literature and how those stories affected the way she perceived the world. I highly encourage everyone to take the time to watch this. Go on; I'll wait.

For those of you who don't have time I'll give you a few highlights, but I really hope you will save this and go back and watch it when you can.

Adichie tells us that she started reading at a very young age, that she would read anything available to her, which for the most part was British and American literature. She also started writing at a young age. She says she always wrote about white protagonists who ate apples even though she was black and in her country they ate mangoes. The stories she read had taught her what she believed a story is supposed to look like, and what a story is not supposed to look like.

Later on she went to college in the United States where her roommate was surprised that she knew how to use a stove. She wrote a story about living in Africa and was told by her professor that her story was not authentically African because the characters drove cars and did not lead impoverished lives.

Her story is testimony to just how powerful fictional stories are in our society. This is something that I feel we as writers need to be aware of. We have a responsibility to do better than previous generations have to write stories that represent the beautiful diversity of the real world.

Take a moment to think about the last 5 books you read. How many of them featured people of color?? People of the LGBTQA community? Women? If there were characters featured, how were they depicted? Were they major or minor characters? What sort of agency was given to them? Did they comply with or break common stereotypes about the group they belong to? Now ask yourself the same questions about your own writings.

"Well, when I was nine years old, Star Trek came on, I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, 'Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there's a black lady on television and she ain't no maid!' I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.”

— Whoopi Goldberg

Representation matters and we as writers play a crucial role. I know how unlikely it is that anything I write will ever become hugely popular or make any major waves in any of the movements. However, if even one person reads them I have the opportunity to make a difference in the mind of that one person. And on the off chance that something I write does take off, I want it to be something that everyone who reads it can relate to regardless of their gender, race, or sexuality.

It is easy to say that characters write themselves and it just so happens that none of them fit these images or that they just so happened to fit a particular stereotype, but all that does is reveal a writer's own prejudices. By writing stories without these types of characters, or with stereotypical versions of them, writers help- intentionally or not- to reaffirm oppressive ideologies that are very present in our society. And it needs to stop.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

WIP: Character Teasers!

One of my 2014 Resolutions was to post to the Diaries at least twice a week. I'm finding this to be more difficult than I was expecting. I just don't feel like I have much to post about right now! As a result this post is going to be pretty short. I thought I'd share a little bit about my current work in progress! As I mentioned in my last post, I'm not planning anything out ahead of time so even I don't really know where the story will go. I know its being slightly influenced by Game of Thrones. I really love the way those books follow multiple characters and that is something I'd like to integrate into my story. So far I've only met three of my characters and I've decided to share a small glimpse into two of their stories with you!

Tegan has been hidden away in the woods with her father for as long as she can remember. She's dying to see the world she's been kept away from, until Ari, a sassy girl with a mysterious backstory, happens upon their cabin and gives Tegan her chance to escape the trees. But when she finally does, she discovers a darkness in the world and a secret about her past that changes everything and makes her wonder if she should have just listened to her father and stayed inside.

Far to the north of Tegan's cabin lies the town of Arinwood where Ashik has lived with and trained under an exceptionally strong Starling master for almost ten years. One night, after Ashik returns home from a day in town, his master announces that he will be leaving in the morning. He offers no explanation as to where he is going or why. Weeks pass with no word of his master. Meanwhile a shadow falls over Arinwood, and with the master gone the people turn to Ashik for guidance...

That's all I have for now! I haven't written far enough to have a good grasp on where Ari comes from just yet. I have a few ideas, but nothing definite. I can't wait to learn more about these characters and see where their paths take them!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Writing without a Roadmap

In general I have always been the type of writer to focus on details from the very beginning. I want to know my main character's life story, their favorite color, the foods they hate more than anything in the world. I want to have in-depth understanding of the history of the world I'm writing about, its culture, its people, its mysteries. I want to have a plot sketched out before I ever type the first words of the first chapter. This, I have decided, is detrimental to me as a writer.

Over the past year or so I have started numerous projects. I would start off very excited, as we all do when a new idea hits us, and would eagerly work to plan out major plot points and flesh out my main characters. I'd spend weeks in this planning stage trying to decide exactly who I wanted the characters to be and what story they would tell. Finally, I would start writing, but suddenly this project that seemed so amazing and interesting would lose all appeal to me. I'd write a few thousand words before giving up and leaving yet another word document to gather pixelated cobwebs on my computer's hard drive.

I grew extremely frustrated. Why oh why couldn't I keep myself interested in any of my ideas! Why couldn't I come up with anything worth writing about? Then, an idea.

What if it wasn't about the stories at all? What if the problem was in my process? I was spending so much time planning out characters and elaborate plots that by time I started actually writing the stories all the fun of discovering the world of my story was gone. I already knew who my characters were and I already knew what happened to them. I couldn't stay interested because writing was becoming a point A to point B exercise for me. I needed to make a change.

For me, writing isn't about following a map with scheduled bathroom breaks and hotel reservations made in advance. Writing is a sporadic road trip where you stop when you get hungry and pray you have enough gas money to get you home at the end of the week. The fun is in the journey, in the discovering of a new world of my own creation. Obviously planning will come later in the process when I have a finished draft ready for (extensive) revisions, but for now, for the first draft, I just want to discover things as I go. There will be plenty of time to fix plot holes and flesh out characters later.

So far this new plan has been working pretty well. As per my 2014 resolutions, I have taken at least a half hour to write every single day and so far have about 6400 words written. This might not be much, but it is a start. I still love the concept I'm working with and I can't wait to see where it takes me next!

How about you? Do you write with a roadmap or do you, like me, prefer to just type and see what happens?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Resolutions 2014!

Happy New Year everyone!

I hope the holiday season treated you all well and that you are all staying warm wherever you may be! I personally am starting the New Year off with a blizzard. Gotta love Michigan, eh?

Every year I decide on a number of resolutions and every year I fail to follow any of them more than a few weeks. This year, however, will be different. This year my resolutions are based on a new found understanding of myself and my priorities, and what I need to do in order to continue moving always towards my dreams.

Without further ado, here are my New Year's Resolutions for 2014!

 1. Write for at least 30 minutes every day.
Writing is my art and it needs constant practicing just like anything else. This year I will be making a point to incorporate writing into my daily life, giving it the importance and priority in my life that it needs and deserves. I am using the Don't Break the Chain calendar to help motivate me to stick to this goal!
2. Journal at least 3 times a week.
I learn more about myself through journaling than anything else. So often there are things I didn't realize I was thinking or feeling until I've written it. I need to make it a priority because it helps me keep track of where I've been and where I'm going, and also is unbelievably helpful in managing my anxiety and stress levels.
3. Take a day (or half a day) to recharge every week.
Speaking of stress levels, I've found that most of mine come from not taking enough time to myself. This year I will make a point to set time aside every week to relax and recharge.
4. Have a manuscript ready for #Pitchmas 2014
I was so sad when #Pitchmas was going on this year because I once again couldn't participate. I am so excited about the story I'm working on write now and by the end of the year I want a draft I feel confident enough about to pitch!
5. Read 20 new books.
I'm hoping this will go well with number 3. I didn't read nearly enough in 2013. I also plan to make a point to write reviews for every book I read and post them here.
6. Remember: Let it go
This resolution was inspired by the song is Disney's new movie, Frozen. To me, it means remembering that I love who I am and that is all that matters, no matter what anyone else has to say about it, t hat I will never hide who I am and anyplace I feel like I need to is a place I do not want to be.
7. Post to the Diaries at least twice a week.
I have some awesome ideas for the Diaries this year. I have been the worst blogger ever for the past 2 years, but I am changing that this year. This means I will be writing lots of queued posts, because I know some weeks will get hectic. I need a writing community, a place where I can share goals and failures and successes with other people who understand and love writing the way I do.
8. Stay positive as much as possible.
I let things overwhelm me. I know this is partially because of my anxiety so I can't control it completely, but I want to try to manage it better. It is not a bad day; it is a good day with a few set backs. Smile until you believe it <3
9. Do something crazy!
I don't know exactly what this means. I just want to do something this year without holding back or worrying about it going wrong. I have no idea what it will be, but I can't wait to find out.
10. Work on getting up earlier in the morning. Make the most of every day.
Obviously I'm not going to completely switch my sleeping schedule over night and start getting up at 5am tomorrow, but I want to work towards the habit of getting up earlier in the morning. My 830am class this semester should help.
11. Be selfless.
I get caught up in my own head a lot. This year I want to make it a point to make other people smile daily, even if just in little ways.
12. Don't be afraid to be selfish sometimes. 
I also tend to sometimes sacrifice my own wants/needs to make other people happy, which is okay, but sometimes I need to remember that it is okay to say no. I need to remember to take care of myself too.
This also means I don't want to be afraid to treat myself from time to time. I generally over-think anything I want to buy/do for myself. Its good to be conscious and thoughtful, especially when spending money, but it won't hurt to just treat myself once in awhile.
13. Work on speaking with confidence.
I've found that I often qualify my sentences with endings like "maybe" or "I don't know..something like that." For some reason I tack these phrases on in order to make them less concrete, just in case someone disagrees with me. I don't want to do this anymore. My voice and opinions and ideas deserve to be heard.
14. Take care of the small things.
My high school band director used to say "take care of the small things and the big  things will take care of themselves." I've recently decided that this is applicable to my daily life. I often get very overwhelmed by the world and all of the terrible things that happen every day. I want to change everything and save everyone and it kills me that I can't. While I might not be able to fix the world or help everyone in it, I can do little things, and if everyone in the world took the time to do little things, I think there would be less big things in the world that need fixing.

And that's it! What are your New Year's Resolutions? I'd love to know!