Check out ‘How to Become an Author in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps‘ care of Cracked.com.
A great post that I know will be pertinent to a lot of people who regularly read my blog.
(Big thanks to my boyf for forwarding this on 🙂 )
Check out ‘How to Become an Author in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps‘ care of Cracked.com.
A great post that I know will be pertinent to a lot of people who regularly read my blog.
(Big thanks to my boyf for forwarding this on 🙂 )
Right … now that I’ve caught your eye 😉
No, I promise that actually is the topic of today’s post. Recently I’ve read a lot of different blog posts about the portrayal of sex in teenage fiction. Admittedly, most of these blog posts seem to have been written from a very religious standpoint. From my experiences of searching WordPress for fellow author bloggers, there appear to be a LOT of very Christian writers who blog. When I say very Christian, what I mean is that their religious beliefs colour almost everything that appears on their blog posts. Now, there are lots of blogs that I read and subscribe to, of which I know nothing of the author’s religious persuasions, and from my opinion I prefer this, because in my opinion an author’s religious beliefs should be kept separate from their fiction. Now, I realise I may well be opening up a large can of worms with that comment, but unless you are specifically writing a religious story, or the characters in that story clearly adhere to certain beliefs, then in my opinion your own personal religious beliefs should not colour the fiction. Because it is just that – fiction.
To better express myself, I’ll use Twilight as an example. Stephenie Meyer is a Mormon. And whilst none of the characters in the books are of that faith, the main criticism often hurled at the book is the unrealistic portrayal of teenage romance and sex, an aspect clearly affected by Meyer’s beliefs. In the books this attitude is explained away as a result of Edward having grown up in a very different era, however, as the high levels of criticism indicate, that explanation didn’t necessarily sit too well with the majority of readers.
This brings me on to an interesting issue of writing teenage fiction. And that issue is sex. Now, no matter what religion you adhere to. No matter what your personal views are on sex before marriage, the stark reality of today’s society is that the vast majority of teenagers ARE sexually active. Just to clarify – I’m from Britain, where the legal age of consent is 16, and where to my knowledge there is far less support from teenagers for chastity movements as there is in the United States. Now, that’s obviously not to say that everyone is doing it! But, from my experiences as a teenager growing up in the United Kingdom (and just to clarify, I went to a selective all girls’ school and grew up in a nice area of affluent South East of England), probably 95% of the people I grew up with lost their virginity before the age of 20. Those who didn’t, abstained mainly for religious reasons, or because they were extremely shy around the opposite sex.
In my opinion, teenagers have sex! Something I’m sure teenage pregnancy figures the globe over will support!
Now, I realise that as an author, you have certain responsibilities to your readers, and that particularly as a children’s author, those responsibilities can be rather profound. You and your characters can act as role models to the people reading your books, and obviously the teenage age bracket is a particularly impressionable. However, I think as an author, you have to tread a fine line with issues like sex, and swearing.
I guess for a start you have to decide how you personally see your role as an author, and ask yourself what you are trying to achieve with your books. Are you writing as a Christian for other Christians, are you trying to convert people to a religion, are you trying to be a teacher and teach moral values, or are you trying to be a realist? Are you trying to be a fantasist? And how far do you want to push the realism of your book?
They are all questions which you as a teenage bracket author need to decide where issues like sex and swearing are involved. Because lets be frank now – MOST teenagers are to some degree sexually active (and if they’re not, a fair few want to be!) and MOST teenagers swear.
So where do you draw the line, if you do want to include these things in your books?
Personally, I try to write realistically. And interestingly, when I first wrote ‘Flicker’, and a male friend of mine (who is 27, swears like a trooper and is not shy about sharing his sex life!) read it for the first time, one of his first comments was ‘do you think you should include a sex scene?’ and he also suggested I remove the swearing.
Now, just to clarify, when I admit to including sex and swearing in my books, I’m not writing porn, nor am I writing the script for Shameless! When characters get angry I might use the S or the F word, and if the plot requires someone to sleep with someone else, I might mention it happened, or if, as in Flicker, the reader needs to know a little bit more about the situation, expand it to a paragraph or two.
But even this can be seen by some to be overstepping a rather big line!
Obviously it depends on your target audience. Flicker and The Dream Navigator, are both written with 15+ year old readers in mind, and the central characters are 19 years old. 19 year olds have sex and swear, so these were things which I figure should feature in the plot just like all the other things 19 year old characters might do. But only where necessary. For this reason, Ellody, the main character in TDN doesn’t actually have sex, because, as anyone who has read the start of TDN will realise, she’s not a normal 19 year-old. She’s lived a really socially-repressed life because of her abilities, and struggles with her relationships with other people. The most the reader might see her do is kiss another character, because for her that’s a really big step.
What I’m trying to say, is that sex and swearing ARE everyday things. Particularly for older teenagers. And it seems a shame to censor them from an artform, if you are trying to be realistic. But, like all other events, actions and devices, they should only be used when necessary. If the situation and the story don’t merit it, or if you are writing for a younger audience – say the 11-14 year-old bracket – then don’t introduce those two things. Tailor your story to your audience and your purpose! There’s no need to turn a book into a swearing dictionary or a porno mag just for the sake of it! But equally, don’t patronise your audience! Don’t have a nineteen year-old burst into a tirade of ‘Oh fudge! Golly gosh I’m so angry!’ because you then you will lose your target audience! Your readers aren’t looking to you to be their religious leader, or their teacher – they already have those things. They are looking to you as a writer to entertain them, and to tell them about the real world …. or not, in a responsible but realistic manner. Or at least that’s my opinion!
So I guess it’s down to you to decide exactly what role you want to play!
I’ve been meaning to get around to this for some time now. The theme for ‘Elli Writes’ June contest is ‘A New Pair of Boots’ – writing in someone else’s shoes, and whilst I know the idea of the challenge is to force you to write from someone else’s perspective, the contest has inspired me to write a blog post on the subject of characters and perspectives.
For a start, I’ve discovered I write far quicker in the first person. Maybe that’s just because I’ve spent over half my life journalling. Or maybe it’s because you dwell less on description in the first person than you do in the third person (or at least I do!). The first person allows you to focus solely on one character’s thoughts and emotions, whilst the third person is obviously broader. There’s more to consider, both character-wise, and also from a lyrical standpoint. The reason third person writing takes longer, is because sentences written in the third person can normally include more elevated, creative description, and as such, every sentence requires careful thought. For me, first person writing often becomes a stream of thought. I don’t know if that means I write better in the first person, or that my writing is lazier in the first person, but that simple initial choice of perspective can completely and utterly change a book.
At the moment I’m writing a novel called ‘Mercury’s Child’, which I’ve now mentioned a couple of times. It’s my first stab at science fiction, and initially started as a far ‘younger’ project, as compared to my other novels. The two other ‘children’s’ works I’ve written are teenage fantasy novels. Teenagers with superpowers. However, because of the nature of the worlds, the timings of the characters lives, and the necessary naivete of the protagonist, Mercury’s Child is a book about an eleven year-old, and as such I decided to target the book at a younger audience – maybe 11-15 year-olds, as opposed to the 14-19 year-old bracket my other books has been designed primarily for.
Initially I decided to write the book in the first person. Because I find it easier, quicker … and possibly the lazy option 😉 However, the problem with writing about an 11 year-old in the first person, is that you then need to think like I’m an 11 year-old. Now, I like to think of myself as a bit of a big kid at heart, and I don’t think I have problems empathizing with teenagers, in fact, in a number of ways I probably still lead a rather teenage life. I live with my (friend’s) parents, drive someone else’s car, and a mortgage and marriage are both things which are still a long way off! For those reasons I enjoy writing teenage fiction, because in a lot of ways I simply write how I think.
And whilst I was obviously 11 years old at some point, if I’m honest, I don’t really remember it all too well! I definitely don’t think like an eleven year-old. And for that reason, I eventually decided to write the book in the third person. Because, whilst this perspective might require more careful crafting, and doesn’t allow for stream of thought writing, it also doesn’t require a detailed insight into the mind of your protagonist. It requires some, but not total empathy.
So, I began writing a book for 11 to 15 year-olds in the third person. And within a few chapters I noticed something else. I write way too old for that age-group! As an author, I genuinely think it’s hard to hide your own voice. Some might argue that’s all part of the craft, and obviously it is to some degree. You don’t want to write an autobiography, you want to write fiction. But fiction, as I’ve said before, is also writing about what you know. Writing about what you understand. And as Mercury’s Child took shape in the third person, I realised I wasn’t writing a book for 11 to 15 year-olds. I was writing about an eleven year old girl and her family, for readers in their late teens and adulthood. And whilst that might seem like a failure for some, for me, I think it just means I know my target audience. I know where my talents lie. And rather than try to force a story into a form I think it ought to take, I’d prefer to leave it in its natural form, and see if it works that way.
Because this is the thing I’ve found about walking in someone else’s shoes … it only really works within certain parameters. The shoes don’t necessarily have to be your own, but they have to be a reasonably good fit! Whether you’re writing in the third person, or even more specifically in the first person, you need to know your character. You need to understand your character. And you need to understand your reader. And whilst no one wants to read an autobiography where the names have simply been changed to call it fiction (apart from maybe The Devil Reads Prada!) that doesnt mean people want to read something completely foreign to a writer. Good writing comes from the heart. Your heart. Not someone else’s. And so you need to understand your own story. You need to live your own story.
That’s why Mercury’s Child, in my opinion, works best pitched at older children and adults, and in the third person. Because, whilst I understand my characters and the worlds I’ve created, I best represent those characters and those worlds in the voice of a teenager/adult. In a voice rather similar to my own. That isn’t to say adults can’t write for younger children – as is obvious from almost all children’s literature! – I just know where my voice is strongest.
Following on from this idea of knowledge and understanding, I really struggle with the idea, as a female writer, of writing about a male protagonist. Ok, from a distanced third person perspective, I might be able to do it. (It’s something J.K. Rowling obviously nailed!). But it’s not something I would choose, because I understand girls. I know them, because I am one! I don’t think I would ever excel at writing from a male first person standpoint, because, quite simply I don’t know how men think! Men and women are really different creatures, and I don’t think I could ever be confident enough to establish a credible enough male voice. Even in the third person, I’ve struggled to write male dialogue, and had male friends criticise the realism of my male-on-male conversations, because quite simply, I don’t know how men converse with one another when they’re on their own.
And so for that reason, whilst obviously, as fiction writers, we are always walking in someone else’s shoes, I think those shoes have to be a reasonable fit. For me, I’d say my current literary fit is a woman’s shoe, aged 15 to 35 years-old in the first person protagonist. Where the third person is concerned, those requirements are a little bit looser.
What do you guys think? Can male writers write in a convincing female voice, and vice-versa? How big are the writing shoes you feel confident filling? Or am I being too conservative with my writing? Should I step into less comfortable shoes?
I’ve just been catching up on my Subscription reading, and came across a lovely mention on Trainee Writer. Thank you Kriss!
Anyway, as regular readers of the blog will know, I’ve recently been trying to step out of my comfort zone by entering writing competitions in genres and styles that I’m not used to. Whilst this is definitely something I would recommend, my experience has come with one caveat – be careful what you publish!
One of the main reasons I started a blog was to get feedback on my writing from people who I don’t know personally – feedback like that lovely comment on The Trainee Writer. However, the main problem nowadays with putting chapters of your work up on the net is not necessarily what you would expect it to be. I for one thought the only potential problem with posting writing on the internet was plagiarism, however there is another more legal consideration.
Posting something on the internet can count as publishing, full stop. It might seem temporary, but it is out there for good, the moment you click on that ‘Publish’ button. And there could be implications on the future of that piece. For example, almost every competition I’ve entered this month has insisted that the writing I’m submitting has not been previously published ANYWHERE, and that specifically includes the internet.
Whilst this ought not be a problem for book deals, (I presume provided you don’t post too much of a book?) if you are thinking of using a novel or a short story in a competition, I would suggest erring on the side of caution and not posting it online. With that in mind I just posted my entry to the Grazia competition as, alas, I didn’t win the £1,000 jackpot!
Kate Mosse started the story (below in italics) and the task was to finish it … My effort is below 🙂 C-C xx
She stood looking up at the house. At the blank grey walls, the shuttered windows with empty boxes on the concrete sills, the stern front door. The house said nothing about what it was or what took place inside, it was unassuming and nondescript and uninviting. She’d come here several times before, but never got the courage to go in. Now, there was no choice. The deadline was today, no last chance of a reprieve or change of heart. If she was going to do it, it had to be now. She shivered, chill from the sudden drop in temperature now the light was fading, or from excitement or from fear, she didn’t know. Also, the sense of possibility that, by pressing this suburban doorbell, her life could – would – alter for good. But still she lingered on the unwashed step, picking at a thread of wool come loose from her glove, caught between the girl she was and the woman she might be. A deadline she never thought she would face…
It was nine am. Which meant she had just fifteen hours. Fifteen hours to convince a man, who all the world thought was dead, to return to the living.
She gritted her teeth, reminding herself for the hundredth time, that this wasn’t her deadline. It was his. She had nothing to lose from the situation and everything to gain. As if to acknowledge the fact, she yanked at the errant thread, ripping it clean off the glove, but leaving a gaping hole in the wool. She frowned down at her palm and without further thought stabbed angrily at the doorbell. Taken aback by her own decisiveness, she held her breath and waited for the sound of footsteps behind the front door. She checked her watch again, all too aware that every moment mattered. Why hadn’t she done this sooner? Why had she started down the garden path so many times, but never made it all the way to the front door before?
She knew the answer. Because knocking on the door was to speak the unspoken. To shatter the glass of the snow-globe, in which they had been so happily living all this time.
The house was silent. Aware she’d been holding her breath too long she inhaled sharply, so that when the door swung open all of a sudden, she happened to be gasping.
Henry’s eyes were wide with surprise. Flawless sapphires twinkling out from the dark fuzz of unkempt facial hair, which he wore so well. He was right to sound startled. In almost two years, their cosy relationship had never once strayed beyond the acceptable confines of barmaid and patron. And here she was turning up on his doorstep unannounced. A doorstep, which she shouldn’t even know belonged to him!
Speechless, and desperately wanting something to focus on away from those eyes, Evie rummaged through the contents of her handbag. Hands trembling, she gestured for him to take the old newspaper.
Henry frowned but freed her from his gaze as he turned the paper silently over in his hands. The photograph on the front page was unmistakeable. H.R.H. Prince Theodore. Younger, clean-shaven, and far more naïve than the man stood before Evie. But there was no doubting that they were one and the same.
‘It’s you …’ Evie croaked finally.
Henry frown dissolved into an expression which Evie didn’t understand.
‘I guess you’d better come in,’ he sighed.
As he led her through the empty hall and into the living room, Evie couldn’t help wondering where everything was. Henry had lived in Pembroke for two years, and yet the house looked as if it hadn’t been occupied for more than two days.
He still hadn’t turned to acknowledge her and so Evie shifted awkwardly, trying to take in as much of her surroundings as possible without making it obvious that she was looking. The living room contained just one piece of furniture. A threadbare red sofa, with a simple sleeping bag rolled up at one end. Hardly a bed fit for a future king!
In one corner of the room lay an upturned backpack; the universal emblem of the traveller. Surely he hadn’t been living out of it the entire time? Or was it his way of ensuring he could flee at any time? A ready-made escape route…
Finally Henry turned, though his ambiguous expression remained unchanged.
‘Nice place!’ Evie offered weakly.
Out of nowhere Henry chuckled. Evie squinted across at him in disbelief. Was he really laughing? His laughter grew louder and louder, echoing through the empty house. Evie shifted her weight from one foot to the other until finally Henry stopped laughing. He fixed her with his bright blue gaze, and once he had her locked there, he raised his delicate hands in surrender. ‘You caught me!’ He grinned weakly before shaking his head. ‘I knew I’d stayed here too long ….’ He muttered to himself.
She eyed him curiously. It was only now that her suspicions had been confirmed that she allowed herself to properly piece together the things she’d read about Prince Theodore over the years, with what she knew about Henry, her friend.
Prince Theodore had been missing for seven years. Or rather six years, three hundred and sixty-four days, and nine hours. And Henry had lived in her village for just two of those years. Where else had he been? How often had he moved?
She eyed the backpack again … How many homes had it seen in those seven years? And why, if he’d really remained on the run all the time, had Henry chosen Pembroke as his home for twenty-four long months? What was it keeping him here all this time?
‘Hen?’ she said weakly, the uncertainty in her voice not just because she no longer knew what to call him.
Despite her uncertain futility, it was evident that Evie had picked the right thing to say. Henry’s face quickly softened, and he finally remembered social propriety.
‘Oh dear, please excuse my manners, Evangeline. You took me rather by surprise. Here, please do take a seat.’ He gestured to the sofa, noticing the sleeping bag at the last moment and sweeping it onto the floor. ‘May I offer you a drink?’
Evie automatically followed his request and sank down onto the sofa, and yet she couldn’t help grinning up at Henry and his ingrained civility. Her Henry. The man she had known for years. The man who without fail ordered some combination of ale, cider and black, pork scratching, and steak, egg and chips whenever he came into The Bird in Hand.
She shook her head in disbelief. ‘Oh Henry!’ she exclaimed, unable to hide the emotion in her voice. ‘Hen … you’re a prince! And you die in fifteen hours time!’
Last week I hit a bit of a brick wall with the book I’m writing. I’ve realised that, rather ironically considering how much I enjoy travelling, I really don’t enjoy writing the ‘travel’ sections of stories – how characters A and B get to C. Something which you can in some circumstances simply skip altogether. However, when the story is one about a series of interlinked worlds, it seems rather important to describe those links. I just get rather impatient and can’t wait to get to the main story again … and that leads me to a bout of good old Writer’s Block.
However, I think I found a solution … or at least it did in my case! Two week’s (of unemployment!) in, and I’ve now hit 30,000 words. Obviously, their calibre is still to be decided, but they are words, on a page, and for that I’m proud/
In fact, it was actually words on a page which got me past the infamous Block, because I decided to change my approach to writing for a few days.
I write in Word documents. Each chapter is a simple Word document, and then sections are compiled as folders on my laptop. I spent my life writing on a computer screen. And so I mixed it up a bit. I printed out my chapters.
For a start, actually being able to physically touch the pages of my work reminded me of what I had achieved. 30,000 words is about 76 pages of print. That’s a pretty hefty weight in your palms … even more so if you print it out double-spaced (which is actually something I would recommend if you have a lot of editing to do!)
But also, seeing the writing in a different way – as printed pages, as opposed to a never-ending scrolling computer screen really helped me look at it in a fresh light. I ended up editing everything I had written, and being inspired enough to go straight to writing another three chapters.
So if you’re struggling with a writing hurdle of some kind – whether it’s a travel section of your novel, or just simply a scene that you still can’t get to sound quite right – why don’t you try looking at it in a different way? Print it out, type it up, or simply copy it out again … You never know what the results might be!
If you’re worried about your Word Count, and umming and ahing over whether your first novel is long enough to seriously catch the eye of a publisher, this blog post is definitely work a check. Compare your word count with a selection of the ‘great novels’, and make your own conclusions about the perfect length of a novel.
A brilliant resource of information, all in one place!
Word count is one of those things new writers worry about but deny worrying about because we're not supposed to be worrying about it. According to Wikipedia's entry on word count, the typical word count of a novel is at least 80,000 words. I've heard through the publishing world grapevine than most agents and editors will generally take a query for a first novel more seriously if the word count is between 80,000 and 100,000. Instead of sleeping, … Read More