What “Death Mark” on the Nintendo Switch taught me about writing

What is Death Mark?

Nintendo Switch's Death Mark

Death Mark is described on the Nintendo store page as an adventure game, which it very much is. You play as a man with amnesia who finds himself drawn to a mansion he doesn’t recognize, with a mark, described as a dog bite, on your wrist. You don’t know how you got it, why you got it, how to get rid of it, or even who you are, but you do know that the answer is hidden somewhere in this mansion, and that is where our story begins.

Now, my opinions on Death Mark are pretty neutral. I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it. The Nintendo Switch title is pretty run-of-the-mill Japanese, adventure game. It’s text heavy, which isn’t a problem, usually, but the story really drags at points. The whole amnesia thing is pretty played out for me, but the horror is definitely present and well-done. So, it falls into my, “happy I played it, but probably won’t play again” pile. However, even if it wasn’t the best thing ever, there can still be a lot to learn about writing from this title, and here is what I learned:

Just because you can describe everything, doesn’t mean you always should

Death Mark, as I said before, is extremely text-heavy. Again, this isn’t unexpected of the genre, but, even so, the story just drags on and on. As a writer, just because your medium is based on words and the reader’s imagination, doesn’t mean you have to describe every minute detail. Concise descriptions can be just as powerful, if not more so, for a reader, and it allows the reader to fill in the blanks. If it doesn’t move the plot along, I would seriously question if it is necessary.

Horror can, and should, be subtle

The horror elements in Death Mark, I have to say, are excellent. There is a mechanic in the game where you have to point your flashlight around the room to reveal various things you can interact with. Often times I would be searching for something in a room, only to reveal a ghostly figure standing in the corner of the room. It never made a sound, not even when I exposed it. Even so, just knowing these silent figures could be haunting any corner of the room was enough to make me jump. The horror was pretty much all mental at that point. I was questioning myself, questioning how long it had been there, wondering how long it would wait to strike, etc. Just the presence of an unknown entity can be haunting, and not knowing if, or when, they may strike is even more so. It’s all about subtlety.

Amnesia is super played out

This could totally just be a “me” thing. I am super into anime, manga, J-RPGs, and the like, and I feel like this is more common in those mediums than any other: amnesiac main characters. I get it. It adds mystery. The person we are supposed to be relying on in the story is instantly unreliable, knows just as much as we do, and now we have to go exploring for the truth. I really hate this in most things and Death Mark is no exception.

I feel like it is a cop-out for a number of reasons, but the main one being that the main character almost always ends up being underdeveloped and the key to the entire mystery. So, I ultimately end up not learning very much about our main character, and the major reveal is typically super predictable. Now, I say all this, not to say that it can’t be done wonderfully, and I am sure there are plenty of examples out there where it is executed in an interesting way, but I feel that it is very easy to take the easy way out with amnesiac main character.

Characters can, and sometimes should, fail

Death Mark has the element of choice. During key points in the story, the character will be presented with options. Some options will lead to death, others will keep you alive for a while longer. I frequently fall into the trap of piling plot armor on my characters to the point they are untouchable. This is not something that happens to us in real life. Sure, there are such things as luck, chance, etc. However, don’t let that be an excuse. Your characters need to fail to grow, and sometimes they need to fail so hard that the consequences alter them permanently. This is how life works. Give them options, and make sure they make some bad choices.

People die, so if it is called for, don’t be afraid to kill your darlings

Sure, maybe you can’t or shouldn’t kill your main character. However, if the plot calls for it, don’t be afraid to kill people off. Death Mark is full of death. Depending on the decisions you make, you can kill everyone, or save everyone. Often times, I felt the death endings were more interesting than when everyone survived. I don’t know what that says about me. However, I do know that if I find it interesting, it is probably interesting to others. Just because you love a character, doesn’t mean you should keep them alive. Now, don’t just go killing every character all willy-nilly. Do try to keep in mind that this is something that happens in life. Would it also make sense in your story?

So that was Death Mark. Have you played Death Mark? If you have, what did you think of it? If you haven’t, will you now? What do you think of this list? Let me know, and comment below.

Lissy

Follow me on:

Advertisements

How to Deal with Hate Comments in Marketing and Writing

You Amongst the Hate Comments

So, I have been playing around with various ad managers out their (Facebook, Instagram, etc), to try and get more feedback on my blog, as well as just get more eyes on it. I tend to see pretty far reach, high impressions, a reasonable amount of clicks, but not very much engagement with either the ads or the blog post linked to the ad. So, I tried to go a bit more informal with my ad copy and just straight up asked people if they would be willing to check out something I wrote.

Well, I got what I wanted. I received a comment not long after I started my campaign. The comment was poking fun at my ad copy and how if that was any indication of my writing ability, they most certainly would mind reading anything else I wrote. It was the sickest of burns, to be perfectly honest, and had it been directed at anyone else, I probably would have laughed. However, because it was pointed at me, it felt like the worst possible thing to be said. I wouldn’t call it a hate comment, personally, but I could see how others might see it as one. Now, in that vulnerable state, there were many things I could have done, but I think I did what was probably best, and I want to share that process with you today:

Step away for a bit

I had a notification on my phone about the comment. I read the comment, felt horrible, then closed my phone, and did other things. Did the comment go away? Of course, not. Was I still feeling horrible? Of course, but it would have only gotten worse if I sat there and stared at it. When faced with negative or harsh criticism, it’s very easy to dwell and lash out. When you encounter it for the first time, I implore you to shut it off and walk away. Now, I wouldn’t suggest this in every situation where you face criticism because, ultimately, it isn’t productive, but when you first see it, you’re feeling vulnerable, and those emotions are guiding your action, it’s definitely best to just look away. We can look at it again once you’ve had time to process.

Do not delete the comment or respond negatively

Your first instinct is probably going to be to delete the comment, which is totally understandable. You are on social media. People will read this comment. You don’t want to fan the flame by leaving it there, but in reality, by deleting it, you may just do the one thing you are trying to avoid. They won’t be notified when their comment is deleted, but if they are following your post, they will notice their comment is gone when they check again. You will just be giving them more ammo.

It’s the same thing when responding. Don’t give them anything to work with. If you can’t respond with kindness, then just don’t respond. It is easier said than done when you are in the moment. However, you have to remember that you are on social media. People have opinions, and they can express them however they choose, even if it hurts your feelings. If you respond negatively, it will make you look bad, not the person you are responding to.

Consider, is it really a hate comment?

It is very easy to say every criticism is a hate comment. However, that is not only counter-productive, but just not true. Just because it rubs you wrong doesn’t mean it’s a hate comment. Just because the comment isn’t in agreement with your own opinions doesn’t mean it is a hate comment. Just because it is pointing out flaws in your work doesn’t mean it is a hate comment. Can critical comments be harsh? Sure, but that does not make them hate comments. When you have taken some time away from the comment, try and ask yourself, “is this really a hate comment?”

If you can, respond with kindness

I think most people comment negatively on ads because they don’t think the person putting out the ad is an actual person. I felt that this time around. So, I responded by thanking them for their honesty and ended it there. As of writing this, I haven’t received a response. Maybe I have only enticed the person to respond negatively again; maybe they will appreciate that I responded and took their words into consideration; maybe they didn’t care one way or another, and I am just wasting my time dwelling on something so insignificant. Either way, I have not made myself the bad guy. So, if you feel compelled to respond, I recommend you respond kindly, above all else.C

If you find criticism to be too stressful, don’t market your work

This is the internet. You want people to read your work. You want to get published. You want to get better as a writer, then you have to be open to criticism. It sucks, but that’s the nature of the beast. You will be faced with hate, hate disguised as criticism, and criticism you feel is hate. You will experience it all, and, of course, it won’t all be bad. There will be good times. You will receive praise, but you should never go in thinking that the world is going to be kind to you. It probably won’t be, but it’s all in how you handle it that matters.

Everyone, stay safe, be as kind as you can be, but please keep writing.

-Lissy

Follow me on:

Entering a Writing Competition

I entered a writing competition.

Writing competitions aren’t that different from submitting your work for general publication, but it just feels different. I feel like there is more at stake (though it could be that I had to pay a submission fee, which I have also never done before), and I feel that if I fail to win or place that it will just prove all of those insecure, internal voices right. Ultimately, though, if I ever plan to do anything more with my writing than just publishing one piece a year, I need to start taking chances, dipping my toes in bigger pools, and putting myself in more uncomfortable situations.

So here I am, I have entered a writing competition, and I am scared to death. The process itself wasn’t very difficult. I did the same thing I have done anytime I have submitted anything to anyone, expect I had to put in my credit card info, which felt really weird and wrong. Ultimately though, I shouldn’t be as worried as I am right now. At this point, though, you are probably wondering why this matters to you:

You are probably nervous, too

And I am here to tell you that it is 100% okay. You are not alone when it comes to that feeling. You are probably also telling yourself, “Why am I entering these writing competitions? I am not a good writer. I can’t do it. The judges would make fun of me,” and probably many other things. I am also thinking that way, but whether you are doing this for the first time or the thirtieth time, you will always feel that twinge of nervousness getting prepared.

That’s okay. Ultimately, though, you can’t let it get to you. You can’t let that fear stop you from putting yourself out there and reaching your dreams. If you enter the writing competition and you don’t win, at least you can say you tried. You can always regroup, rewrite, and submit again. The more lures you throw out there, the more likely you are to catch a fish (of course you should probably pick some decent bait, aka edit your work before you just start throwing it out there cause quality is king). So get to baiting, and throw those lures out there. I will be doing the same.

Once I hear back on my results from this writing competition, I will, of course, keep everyone updated. Regardless, though, thank you so much for reading. Have you entered any competitions? Are you interested in doing so? Let me know, and comment below.

-Lissy

Follow me on:

What “Terrace House” taught me about writing

Terrace House, if you haven’t heard of it, is a Japanese reality show for people who don’t like reality shows. When I first heard of the show, it was through a friend at work. They described it as six strangers, three men and three women, who live in a house together to seek out romance with each other. It sounded like a dramatic time sink, and I said as such. However, my friend assured it me it was so much more than that. So, I started watching it, and she was right.

Terrace House is focused on romance, but it goes so much deeper than that. Each person in the group has the goal of leaving the show in a relationship, but they also come in with goals for their lives. Some want to be models, others want to be pilots, chefs, hockey players, designers, etc. These strangers come together, forge friendships, and they cheer each other on. They take their new friend’s goals as seriously as their own. Often times they will have one-on-one sit downs where they will discuss, in-depth, how close they are to their goals, what they may be doing wrong, etc. There is drama, but it is a minor part of the show.

If there is drama, they almost always face the drama head-on. They discuss it constructively and will usually come away from the situation closer than they were before. It is really refreshing to see when we are often times surrounded by drama, pettiness, cattiness, etc. Now, you may be asking, what does a Japanese reality show have to do with writing? Well, here were some of my takeaways while watching the show:

Drama doesn’t have to be the focus

I feel, depending on the genre, that drama is typically the focus. Whether it be drama within a relationship, drama between family, drama in life, etc, I have found, after watching Terrace House that drama doesn’t always have to be the focus for it to be entertaining. Watching them sit around chatting about their day, watching them cheer at their friend’s concert. or watching them set up dinner and birthday decorations is often times just as fun as the drama, if not more so. Life is full of drama. Having a little reprieve is refreshing, and I think that can come through in literature, as well.

Romance isn’t all passion

Sure, romance novels with Fabio on the cover have their place in the world, but real romance isn’t always so passionate. It’s good to remember that small things can be just as romantic as large gestures, and it’s also worth remembering that just because there is a large gesture doesn’t mean the person is going to enjoy or love it. There is a major scene in Opening New Doors, this season of Terrace House, where someone has been courting a woman for a while. He has kissed her, taken her out on romantic dates, got her roses, and finally asked her to be his girlfriend. She said “no.” On the other hand, another romance took place. The guy went to dinner with the girl a few times, he went to her hockey games, and there really wasn’t anything past platonic time spent together. He asked her out, and she said, “yes.” Those small, friendly moments are just as romantic, if not more so, than the large, dramatic gestures.

There are rational people in the world

I know it doesn’t always seem like it, but there are people in this world that don’t just storm off at the first sign of conflict. There are people who are willing to sit down and talk things out in a constructive manner. There are people who can reflect on themselves and their actions and apologize when they know they have done wrong. Of course, there are people out there (myself, included) who haven’t reacted to things as appropriately as they should have. However, I’d like to think there are more rational people in the world than irrational. Not every disagreement has to end in a screaming match or in tears. It could simply lead to deeper character development or a new relationship to explore between two characters.

The characters are everything

Reading this post back to myself, I almost feel crazy. I ask myself, if there is no drama, no large romantic gestures, no arguments, what is there to enjoy? What is going to keep the readers reading? I don’t think I would enjoy a book without some of these elements, but then I think of Terrace House. While yes, it doesn’t have a ton of drama, the romantic gestures aren’t always grand, and there aren’t people fighting in the middle of the living room every night, there doesn’t have to be. The people are just so unique, they all have dreams, ambitions, and goals. They have lives outside of the show that you get to hear about daily. I feel like I am watching my friends or family, and I am cheering them on all the way. The characters, they are the main reason I keep watching. Good characters can make up for a lot. That is probably the most important thing to take away from all of this.

Have you seen Terrace House? What do you think? If you haven’t, are you interested? Let me know, and comment below!

Lissy

Follow me on:

Want to traditionally publish a fiction novel? Here are 10 things you need to know.

Here is a list of things every writer should consider/do/attempt when going for traditional publication:

The book needs to be finished before you start thinking about publication.
With memoirs and some non-fiction, you don’t necessarily have to have the book completed before you start querying. This is not the case at all with fiction. You have to have a finished, edited manuscript before you start querying for publication. Get that novel done.

Don’t post your work online.
I made this mistake, and I see many others make this mistake. If you want to send your work out to agents and traditional publishers, don’t post it online! It is considered previously published if you do so, and this includes on your own blog, etc. Granted, every publisher and agent have their own opinion as to what “previously published” means, but I find it best to avoid posting it all together. Want critiques? It is best to go through private channels (i.e. email, beta groups with a private setting, etc.). Better yet, just pass around physical copies to people you know. *Edit* Of course, as my dear friend Ann pointed out in the comment section, there is a chance you can remedy this mistake. You can edit. Edit your work to the point where there is little connecting the two pieces, thus, you have created something new. I have done this with a lot of older pieces. It works especially well when recycling works. Keep this in mind if you find a lot of your work fits into the “previously published” category. However, also keep in mind, this isn’t always a sure fix. Don’t rely too much on recycling. It’s always best just to keep the work off the web from the start.

Read the submission guidelines thoroughly.
The number one reason for rejection is because people did not read the submission guidelines. Don’t make this careless mistake when it is so easily avoided. Most people assume that if they follow the standard manuscript format, they’re in the clear, but every publisher works differently. Don’t assume the standard can just be passed around everywhere. Just read the guidelines.

Most publishers require a writer to be represented.
Publishers feel a writer needs to have representation to be considered for publication, which protects them as well as you. Think of agents as the gatekeepers to the publishers. If you can impress an agent, then a publisher will be more likely to take you on. Find agents, submit to them, then they will help you submit to publishers. Remember, agents think like publishers. Agents aren’t going to take on just anybody, and they have rules just like publishers, so read the submission guidelines and you may save yourself from a rejection.

Simultaneous submissions – to do it, or not to do it.
Simultaneous submission – a submission which has been sent to multiple organizations at the same time. There aren’t many publications (of the novel variety) that accept simultaneous submissions. It sucks, but they do it so they’re not wasting time on a manuscript that could be picked up any minute. Think of it this way. Let’s say I send you a manuscript for publication consideration. You’re in the middle of it and you think it is hella sweet. This is quite possibly the best manuscript you have ever read in your life (this may be a bit exaggerated, but work with me here), and right before you can tell me how much you love it, I send you this email:
Sorry, not sorry, I signed a contract with someone else. Peace.
Yeah, not cool. I know it sucks waiting around for, quite possibly, a rejection when you could be submitting to other places and increasing your chances, but there is a reason they do it. Don’t burn bridges by not following the rules.

Don’t lie about simultaneously submitting a manuscript, or its status as being previously published.
The worst thing you can do is lie (other than not following the submission guidelines, but we’ve already talked about that). It only takes a second for a publisher to find out if you’re lying. A quick google search of your manuscript, boom, there is your story posted for all the world to see. Those are potential customers they are missing out on because you’re just giving the work away for free. Why would someone pay for something they can get for free? Not a publisher or an agent. Don’t get yourself stuck by lying about simultaneously submitting.

It can take months before you hear back. Don’t pester. Be patient.
With the rapid advancement of technology, publishers have become more accessible to a much wider base of writers than when most submissions were solely through the mail. This means they’re getting mass amounts of submissions daily and sifting through that slush pile takes a long time, especially when they must find something worth publishing. Unfortunately, unless your name is Stephen King, your manuscript will be somewhere in that slush pile. Don’t be offended, Stephen King was in the slush pile at one point. JK Rowling, too. Many great writers have been rejected and trudged through the slush pile. Just wait it out. Most publishers will give you a general wait period in their submission guidelines, as well as a time you can inquire about your manuscript if you haven’t heard back — just one more reason to read the submission guidelines.

Sometimes, you just won’t hear back.
The way things are now, with such a large slush pile, you may never hear back. If you’ve inquired on your query and they’ve rejected your work, at least you heard back. If you wrote them and they still haven’t responded, just move on. There’s no point in dwelling on it.

If you are rejected, do not argue with the publisher/agent.
Just move on. There have been way too many horror stories involving writers fighting with publishers over being rejected. They took the time to reject you. They don’t even have to do that. It sounds strange, but you should be thankful they took the time to reject you. Don’t become one of those horror stories that gets passed around.

You read the guidelines, but you still aren’t sure if everything is right.
Give the publisher or agent a call. It can’t hurt. If anything, they will probably be happier you did. Not many people take the time to contact them about their guidelines. You aren’t wasting their time, trying to elevator pitch them over the phone/email, and you are saving them the trouble of rejecting you over small, stupid things. This could also help with your query letter, when filling that out.

So, are you trying your hand at traditional publication? Have you been successful? Have you experienced any of these things? Let me know, and comment below!

Thanks for reading.

Lissy

6 tips on writing query letters/cover letters for fiction novels

A Bad Cover Letter / Query Letter

If you’ve been looking to traditionally publish a novel, chances are you have heard the terms “query letter,” and/or “cover letter.” In case you haven’t, though, these two things are what you will typically send to either an agent or publisher to introduce your novel. You may ask yourself, “Why send a letter talking about my novel when I can just send the whole manuscript?” Well, here’s the thing: Imagine your job is to read manuscripts and judge whether or not your company is going to publish said manuscripts. Which is more efficient:

Receive thousands of manuscripts and read them to completion.

or

Get thousands of short, one page synopses and judge from those.

If it were my job, I definitely would go with the one page synopsis, and that is what a query or cover letter is. I have also found, after following some agent twitter accounts, that agents/publishers feel that individuals who are unable to write a succinct, exciting cover/query letter, typically, aren’t able to write decent novels. I don’t know how true that is, but that is definitely worth thinking about when you go to write your query letter. This is your one chance, so don’t waste it. After lots of pow-wows with published authors, and my own research/experiences, here are six tips on writing query letters:

You don’t like form letters, neither do they.

It’s, apparently, rare to receive a cover letter that isn’t the run-of-the-mill, “Dear Editors of Really Cool Books Publishing Company, LLC;” Agents and publishers seem to have grown accustom to this and find that opening as a sure sign they are either receiving a copy-paste form letter, or the person sending it didn’t take an extra few seconds to see who the editors actually are. I highly recommend you do some research, and see if there are specific editors/agents/people you can reference in the letter.

Of course, sometimes this information isn’t readily available, but if it is, make sure you take a moment to seek it out. It will show that you are making an effort in your cover letter, and that probably means you made the extra effort in your novel, too. Plus, if you’ve ever received a rejection letter, it’s pretty annoying to get a standard, copy-paste rejection. It probably feels the same on the agent/publisher end when they get query letters.

Don’t go overboard with the creativity.

Yes, you’re an artist. Yes, you’re probably up against a ton of stiff competition. Even so, you don’t want to stand out in a bad way. There are some standards when it comes to query letter formatting: 12-point font, Arial or Times New Roman font, black text color, your contact information, single-spaced at the top of the page, agent/publisher contact information under that, also single-spaced, left justified text overall, one page, boom. That’s pretty standard, and there are reasons this is the standard. The font choices tend to be the easiest to read, black text is easier to read on white paper, etc. Your creativity should be focused on the content of your query letter, not on the format.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS read their guidelines first.

Do not. DO. NOT. ever assume a publisher is going to follow the same standard as the last fifty you queried. There are standard formats, but there will always be someone who has a preference. Don’t get tossed out because of something as insignificant as font size or style. Always assume this new publisher/agent is going to want something different. Even if all fifty want the same thing, don’t assume that until you’ve read their guidelines. I cannot emphasize this enough.

Read them. There is a reason they have them, and while you may think it is silly or insignificant, you will only be hurting yourself in the long run if you don’t follow them. Of course, if something seems unclear, contact the person/group you are querying. Most places do provide some kind of email/phone number for queries other than publication. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so call, email, tweet, whatever. Make sure you are meeting all of their requirements. It can only help your chances.

It’s actually good to have a pre-written cover letter ready.

This may seem a bit contradictory to my first tip, but hear me out. It’s one thing to have a template, it’s another to have something you just copy and paste and send out to every single publisher you come across. I highly recommend creating a template for yourself, so you have something to go off of when you write your cover letters. They say the hardest part is starting, so if you have something you have already started on, it should be much easier to get done, and get it done right. This piece of advice actually came from one of my professors who was teaching us how to write personal statements. I actually feel personal statements are a lot like query letters. Don’t know what a personal statement is? I got you:

Write it like a personal statement.

What is a personal statement? It’s a statement about you. Your who, what, when, where, and how, in a paragraph or a page. It’s like your elevator pitch, but longer. What is an elevator pitch? For the sake of publishing, it’s like seeing your dream agent in an elevator, and you only have until the next floor to let them know why they should take you on and help publish your novel. You want to show them you’re a competent author and that you can tell a story with skill and creativity.

Most personal statements are actually narrative-based, which fits right in with what a query letter is. You want to think of this as your personal statement into the publishing world. However, instead of being all about you, this is all about your novel. If you have a personal statement that you used to get into a job or an education program, pull it out and have a look. If you don’t have one, there is someone out there who does. Get one from a friend, read some online that were successful, and pretend that statement is about your book, as opposed to yourself.

Read other query letters, or read the back cover of some books.

There are loads of blogs out there from agents and publishers with successful and unsuccessful query letters (one of my faves is Query Shark). Check them out. Read what worked and what didn’t work. I would also recommend going to a book store, find whatever genre your novel fits in, and read some of the back covers or the inner-sleeves. You know those book descriptions on Goodreads? Read some of those, too.

Those were written to sell the book to consumers. Your agent/publisher is your first consumer. You want them to think they can sell this book, so read some book descriptions in books that you love or that are successful in your genre. Take notes on what they are doing, and take that back to your own query letter. Sell your book.

There you have it, my six tips and tricks on writing query letters. What do you think? Was this useful? Have you written any query letters? Please feel free to share your own tips, tricks, and experiences. Comment below, and let me know.

Thanks for reading.

Lissy

Follow me on:

Where is “The End”

I’m at this point in my life where I am constantly looking back. Back at old videos, back at old photos, back at old posts, etc. So here I am, back at this post. This was the first post I ever wrote and published on my blog. How ironic is it that the beginning was about the end? Want to know what is even more ironic? I preached, repeatedly, in that old post that there is an end. You shouldn’t feel obligated to change things, to keep going, etc. Yet, here I am, going back to posts I thought were at one time finished, and keeping them going.

The reason I chose this post? I changed my mind. Simple as that.

There is an end, but it can always be changed, and here is why I changed my mind:

Fall of 2016, the last semester of my undergraduate degree. I only had my credit hour requirement to fill, so I had a chance to take classes I wanted, rather than classes I needed. I took an advanced creative writing class where the theme was “Ghosts.” Super cool, right? Anyway, we had one-on-one sessions with the professor. We were instructed to bring in a piece we wanted him to look over, and we’d spend the time talking about it. It was super generative and very helpful.

I brought an older piece that I’ve been working on, on-and-off, for the past year or two. He read it over, silent, for a good fifteen to twenty minutes. He stopped and said “It was fun.” I was pleased. I thought the story was done. I was ready to start writing cover letters and send it off to publications. Then, he asked me, “Why did you bring it?” I sat there for a while, mulling that question over. Why? Why not? I wanted someone with experience to look it over? I wanted someone to say “yay” or “nay,” to it? I wanted a lot of things, but I didn’t know how to respond. He clarified, “There’s a reason you’re still looking this over. If it was done, you wouldn’t bring it.”

That was so true. I wouldn’t keep looking at it if I didn’t feel there was something more. If I didn’t feel there was something I was missing, why wait to send it off? I didn’t have a good answer. Then, I remembered this old post I wrote, this post where I said there comes a time that you just need to stop. There is an end, and sometimes you have to force yourself to put it away. While I do think there comes a point where you start over-editing, over-writing, etc. I also think you shouldn’t settle. If you feel like something isn’t right, don’t stop writing. Don’t stop editing. Keep going because you may eventually find a better end than you had ever imagined.

So, I’m going to keep working on this piece. I am also going to go back and edit some of these posts because, let’s face it, they are definitely not done.

Be proud. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Be writers.

Lissy

6 ways to make your writing pack an emotional punch

I’m reading a book right now that is making me feel things. This, from a writer’s perspective, is an awesome accomplishment. He, the author, has created characters that make me hurt. He has put me in scenarios that scare me, all despite it being based in a fantasy world that couldn’t possibly exist. Even so, it moves me, and carries real world weight for me as a reader. How cool is that?

Pretty flipping cool from the view of a writer, but super inconvenient for me, the reader. I am an emotional sponge. If I am already upset, knowing others are upset (even for completely unrelated reasons) will only intensify my emotions. On the flip side, if I am in a depressive mood, but surrounded by happy people, I will easily perk up. One of the worst situations, though, is when I am in a good mood, then a character’s emotions drag me into depression with them.

I wanted to take a moment and figure out what made this character real to me, and gave him enough emotional weight to drag me down with him:

The character wasn’t built on negativity
Any time I recall a “mary-sue” or “gary-stu” character, I can’t think of a time their character wasn’t enduring some tragic event. There are plenty of compelling stories where real people have lived mostly tragic lives, but the key there is “mostly.” There must be highs to know how low the lows go. If we are always wallowing in the valley, we don’t really know how far down we are. If we start at the top of the mountain, then we can see how far we have fallen and how much there is to lose. This is the key to developing a real character.

The supporting characters are well-developed and matter
This is probably super obvious, but it is worth mentioning. While it is of utmost importance to focus on and develop the main character, don’t let those supporting characters fall to the wayside. Relationships are hella important in both life and in your writing.  Relationships can bring your character down, as well as help build them back up.

How others react to your character can be just as powerful
There is a point in this novel where a supporting character reacted in such a gentle and kind manner to the main character that it made the main character’s emotions much more real to me. So just like you don’t want to have an underdeveloped supporting cast, you also don’t want to forget who is in the room with your character when something is happening. If the main character is in a bar and hears word of his mother passing, how does he react? When he reacts, how do those closest to him react? I don’t even mean how do his friends or relatives react. I mean within reasonable proximity to your character when they get the news. How do they react to the character’s reaction? This can create a wonderful reflection of your character, as well as help intensify that emotion.

There is more than just sadness
I think a lot of writers forget about other emotions. Sadness is so powerful and is very easy to visually represent in writing. However, some of my favorite novels explore many layers of emotion. Anger, jealousy, happiness, etc. All these emotions are powerful. Of course, don’t hesitate to give me some sadness, but that sadness is so much more poignant when we know how the character acts while feeling all the other layers of emotion.

Don’t discount the small stuff
Of course a character’s parents dying is going to be painful for a reader. Of course, the birth of a baby is probably going to be a joyous moment for the reader. These are major, life-altering events that many people can probably empathize with in some way, but you know what else a reader may empathize with? The feeling of finishing a really good book, the feeling after hearing your supposed friend make fun of you, the feeling of stubbing your toe on your bed post, the feeling when a close friend moves away. etc. These small events may not illicit strong emotions, but it creates different levels of emotion for your character. It’s easy to show a baseline, content character, and it is nearly as easy to show a character reach a deep level of any particular emotion. It is just as important, though, to show varying levels of these emotions, so the character is real to the reader.

Life isn’t convenient, don’t make the bad stuff convenient
How many times have you heard of people getting into car wrecks on their way to their last final for the semester? There has been so much build up, so much riding on this, and the person is either super confident or super terrified, but all that changes in an instant when they get into a fender bender on the road. Now they are worried about paying to have their car fixed. Now they must make up the final. Now they must worry about insurance going up. Suddenly, the anxiety from before seems much more insignificant than it did when it was the person’s only focus. That’s how life works. I feel the bad stuff almost always happens when we are already dealing with a lot. It is shocking in real life, and it will be just as shocking on the page, but, again, you don’t have to always focus on the negative. Maybe something wonderful happens during a tragedy. Surprise us!

Just based on what I’ve read so far in this book, these are some of the key elements in making an emotional sponge like me a sloppy mess. What do you think? Let me know, and comment below!

Lissy

The Benefit of Joining a Book Club, for Writers

Stack of Books for Book ClubOne of the first pieces of advice you will ever receive as a writer is to read. Subconsciously, reading helps you learn to write in a variety of ways: you pick up grammar skills, you learn a variety of writing styles, you learn about story structure, character development, etc. All these are wonderful skills that every writer needs to develop. However, reading is a solo activity in most cases, and completely internal. Two writers could read the same novel, and each come away with totally different opinions, skills, thoughts, etc.

One piece of advice I wish I received when I began to pursue writing is to read… and join a book club. Join a book club, start one, whatever… then suggest a book you have enjoyed, or maybe a book from a genre you are interested in writing, etc. Then go into the meetings and take notes. Take note of what people enjoyed, but especially what the majority disliked. Did it line up with what you thought? If it did, great. If not, even better. Regardless, here’s a list of things to learn from book clubs and why:

If they like a book, listen and learn why

Did they like a character? How was he/she developed? Did they like the end? Was it satisfying? What led up to it to, to make it so satisfying? Take notes on what they liked, then figure out why they liked it. Then you can take those elements and apply them to your own writing.

If they dislike a book, listen and learn *harder*

Did they hate the character they were supposed to root for? Was it because he/she was underdeveloped? Did they even finish the book? Why not? Pacing? Were they a fan of the genre to begin with? That last question is probably one of the most important to consider. I am not a big fan of crime novels, so, of course, I am not going to look favorably on it. However, I am a huge fan of fantasy novels. It’s rare for me to dislike a fantasy novel. There must be a pretty good reason for me not to enjoy a fantasy novel, even on a superficial level. Keep that in mind.

Try some new genres

I think every writer kind of falls into a niche. I love writing in the fantasy genre. I love reading fantasy, but I am kind of stuck in a fantastical loop. Of course, there is nothing wrong with having a favorite genre, but I do think there can be a lot to learn from other genres. Use the book club as a chance to explore. Try on a new genre. What makes it different from your favorite genre? Can you use some of the new elements in your own writing? Heck, maybe you’ll end up loving the new genre! Explore and have fun.

Listen to how your book club peers describe a book

This is how the average reader will review your work. Every writer should be a reader, but not every reader will be a writer. I have found there is a distinct difference in how readers talk about books, versus how writers talk about books. Take in that language. Remember how the negative and the positive sounds. If you are serious about writing, you are going to hear those voices a lot. Enjoy it, and learn from it. Heck, use it! Enjoy being a reader. It’s easy to forget that’s how most of us started.

Learn to make friends, lots of them!

Reading is a lonely activity and writing even more so. Use this time to enjoy literature with others. Laugh, talk, read, and write. Enjoy the moment of being in a group. It isn’t often we get to do that.

In closing:

Of course, book clubs will help you grow as a writer, but they can really help you grow as a person, too. I encourage anyone to try one at least once. If nothing else, you may just make new friends and find new books to enjoy!

Thanks so much for reading! What do you think? Have you been in a book club? Did you enjoy it? Comment below and let me know.

Lissy

What I’m Reading: “Gyo,” “Uzumaki,” and “Tomie” by Junji Ito [part 3]

The Junji Ito Special Edition Trio: Gyo, Uzumaki, and Tomie

Warning: There *might* be spoilers ahead.

Tomie
Of the Ito-trio, this was the most… meh, for me. It certainly started with the worst art, though by the end, it was just as beautiful as the art in Uzumaki (my fave). The story also follows a pattern, like Uzumaki. Each chapter follows a structure, and almost always ends the same, which made this manga boring and predictable for me. This one also took me the longest to finish, which I blame on the lack of diversity in each chapter’s plot. Speaking of plot, let’s go over how this starts.

Tomie begins at a school where a young, female student (that we never see again past the school portion of the story) tells us that her friend Tomie Kawakami was murdered, chopped into pieces, and scattered about the town. Who could do such a thing? Well, Tomie is quite the looker, though her bully attitude leaves much to be desired. She entertains the affection of a particularly jealous boy but maintains an intimate relationship with her teacher. On a field trip, she confesses to her teacher, to get him to marry her, that she is pregnant with his child. The jealous boy overhears, becomes enraged, and goes after the teacher. The teach, on the other hand, becomes enrage, and pushes Tomie off a rocky precipice.

Believing she is dead, the teacher encourages all the male students to remove their uniforms and help chop her into pieces. They all comply while the girls watch in horror. Much to their surprise, Tomie is still alive, but the teacher has already started, and he won’t stop. Hesitantly, the other boys follow.

Once she is separated into pieces (and the teacher perversely confirms the pregnancy was a lie), everyone takes a piece of her and hides it. With the deed done and the murder unsolved, life goes on… including for Tomie. Soon after she is brutally murdered, she returns to school, acting as if nothing has happened. From there, she guilts her murderers to turn themselves in, kill themselves in various ways, commit themselves to mental hospitals, or encourages them to kill her again in places and situations where they will be caught.

The story starts off as ghostly, revenge narrative, but quickly devolves into something much less interesting. Tomie goes from getting revenge on her killers to just ruining the lives of strangers. Of course, some people deserve the Tomie curse for various reasons, but there are some that are just randomly cursed by Tomie. When Tomie is the reanimated victim, despite her garbage personality, I am still rooting for her. Yas queen, slay your killers (literally). Once she started hurting the lives of strangers, she was more of an annoying catalyst for the various plots.

In a lot of ways, Tomie’s role becomes more figurative. She becomes a representation of various sins, vices, and obsessions. There is a story involving Tomie being dissolved in alcohol. It is quite clear Tomie represents or is the catalyst for alcoholism as the men find themselves unable to keep themselves from drinking the alcohol.

One thing I was happy to see, though, was that the way the original Tomie died made a constant occurrence throughout each story. It was a nice reminder of the ghost-revenge narrative from the beginning, and it really helped tie all the stories together in a morbid way. Men are uncontrollably drawn to Tomie. They become so enamored with her beauty that they, quite literally, want to cut her to pieces, only to find she can regenerate and multiply as a result. I found this super clever since the men were the only ones who took part in tearing her apart. Thankfully, the women aren’t spared either, but are usually tortured because of the men in their lives being tortured.

Overall, Tomie was super fun in the beginning, dragged in the middle, and left me kinda unsatisfied at the end. Still would recommend for any Junji Ito fan, because I can see elements of his other works, but I probably would not recommend this to every horror/body-horror manga fan.

Thanks so much for reading! Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Comment below, and let me know! Want to know what I am reading next? Join the book club: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/565422-lissywrites-book-club

Lissy