Monday, 25 February 2013


I've been a bad blogger recently - when I started this blog I intented to write every week, but I've only written one post this month, and it's already the 25th. But I have a legitimate excuse: I have been busy collaborating with some friends on a script for a modern day YouTube series of Les Mis. Whether or not we will ever finish this and convince anyone to film it aside, it is an awful lot of fun. So that other people can appreciate the fun of collaboration, I have made a list of hopefully helpful thoughts. Or perhaps even instructions. Really not sure.

  1. Find some people who are ridiculously enthusiastic about something you are ridiculously enthusiastic about.
    In our case this was Les Mis. And also shameless shipping. But it could be a genre, or a premise, or a character. If you're not all really excited about the idea one person will forever be dragging the others along, or nobody will care at all. If you are all really excited, basically, it will be really exciting.

  2. Choose a way to communicate and share your work.
    I loathe to say it, but Facebook groups are good. They have a file sharing function which allows you to upload revisions and make sure everyone is looking at the same version of things. Googledocs is probably better, because there's a lot less scrolling down and click 'Older Posts', and there is also a useful search function. There is, however, essentially no formatting, which can get awkward depending on what you're writing.
    Of course, you could just collaborate in person. But you still need a way to record what you've come up with, and make sure you all have access to it.

  3. Make sure everyone has the same copy of the work
    Like I said, this is easy to do on Facebook. It's also easy to do on Googledocs, beacuse what you're writing will all be in the one document, and you'll all see edits as they happen. But if you're e-mailing documents back and forth, you need to make sure that you're all working on the same thing, or people will end up wasting their time working on things that have already been written, or already been cut.

  4. Plan. Or at least plan how you're not going to plan.
    The first collaborative works I ever wrote were stories told in letters with my sister. The first person would write a letter - usually on the premise that they had to have a pen-pal as a school English assignment - and the second person would write a reply, knowing nothing other than what they'd read in the original letter. Basically, there was no planning required beyond deciding to write something together.
    If you don't have a format like this, you need to make a plan. That can mean laying out a full plot plan and delegating scenes, or it can just mean deciding who is going to write the next chapter, with no actually decisions about what will happen in the chapter. It really depends how much you want to be surprised by the plot, and how much control you each want to have over what happens. Either way, you need to have some idea of some combination what is being written, who's writing it, and when, or no writing will get done.

  5. Write down your ideas.
    This applies to all writing, not just collaboration, really. If you're having a conversation with your co-writers, or just come up with a brilliant idea by yourself, write it down. You might think you'll remember it, but you won't.
    The first comments in the Facebook group of our collaborative script at the moment go something like:
    Quick! Write down all the brilliant ideas we had before we forget them!"
    Um. Um. I DON'T REMEMBER. Probably I will remember once someone jogs my memory, but."
    And then there is a lot of frantically flailing while everyone remembers things. The moral of the story is, if you have a three-hour conversation about what you're writing, and nobody takes notes, then it will be bad.

  6. Share all your ideas
    Unless the premise of your collaboration relies of surprising your co-writers with plots, this is always a good idea. Before I started writing this collaborative script, I was working on something similar by myself. And basically, because I had the good ideas of one or two people, rather than five or six, it was comparitively mediocre. But now, even if I have what I think is a good but unworkable idea, rather than just disregarding it, I tell everyone, and they make it workable. This is the great thing about collaboration, and you should definitely appreciate it.

Thanks for reading! Do you have any tips for collaborating on writing projects?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

How to Write a Character

I've been sitting at my computer for the past hour, perusing Facebook, and Tumblr, and all the writing blogs I read, and generally putting off actually writing a blog post, because I had no idea what to write about. I was just beginning to say things like, "What if I don't write a blog post today, and then I never write a blog post again?!" when I came across this blog post, by Jaye Robin Brown. She talks about how although she's a white author, she doesn't only write white characters, because although she might get something wrong, and there's always a chance of offending someone:
  1. a story with only white characters would be incredibly unrealistic in almost all settings, and
  2. the basic human experience and emotions are the same no matter what your race or background.
I was inclined to wholeheartedly agree.

Reading this post, however, got me thinking about a kind-of-related issue that I've seen a lot of writers worry about: writing characters of the opposite gender or sex. The main characters in my current WIP are both boys and I've never actively thought about how I portray the opposite gender in fiction, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to do a little bit of googling on the topic.

What I found absolutely terrified me. I'm relunctant to name names (or blogs, rather) because I'm not actually going to say anything nice about the blog I was reading. What I will say is: scary things happen in the romance genre. To wit: this lady, whose name I will not name, aimed to give advice on writing male characters who seemed 'believable' and 'male'. Her list of the four things that detracted from a male lead most included crying (thankfully she later agreed to make an allowance for the deaths), and being unable to control the heroine.

And then I did some more googling, and I kind of just wanted to crawl in a hole and die. I have learnt:
  • If you're writing a male character, you should never, ever have them say, "I feel..."
  • There's no point in arguing that guys you know don't fit into the egotistical, lust-oriented stereotype, because it is the norm, and most guys do.
  • Men should never cry
  • If your male character isn't checking out your female characters it's unrealistic.
  • Men don't throw out off milk without someone else telling them it's off first. If your character does this, your reader will subconciously know that something is wrong with your writing.
The list goes on. It's really, really scary. In fact, I wish I'd never researched this issue at all.

Thankfully, there are also people out there on the interwebz with more balanced thoughts on the subject. It turns out - perhaps unsurprisingly, when you think about it - that they're just not the people writing articles called "How to Write Male Characters" because they've realised that male characters ought to have enough variation that they can't all be lumped into a How-To. So, to cheer me up - and hopefully my readers - here are some more useful thoughts and quotes on the subject:
  •  "...I suspect that the more anxiety with which you approach the project, the less likely you are to get it right. Male and female characters are people before they are gendered. That is, if you write any character with depth, you should be able to write any gender of character with that same depth." (Mette Ivie Harrison)
  • Your characters are people first, and genders second (or third, or somewhere further down the list). Rather than asking "How do I write a male character?" you should ask "How do I write this character?"
  •  I feel like not only men, but also women should be really offended by this shoe-boxing of male characters. By saying, for example, that male characters shouldn't talk about their feelings, you're also implying that female characters should. As well as being patently wrong, this squashes your scope for characterisation massively. And for people who read too much poorly-characterised fiction, it also makes them feel really awkward about whether or not they 'fit' into their gender, by perpetuating stereotypes that most people aren't going to fill.
  • A study by the German Society of Opthalmolgy shows men cry an average of 6-17 times a year. That's anywhere from once everyone couple of months to once every three weeks. I haven't been able to source the study itself, but it apparently combines the results of many studies done before, and leads me to the conclusion that if your novel spans more than two months, it's not only perfectly fine, but statistically probably for your male character to shed some tears.
  •  Judging from the people I know, I would say that the boys have no more in common with each other because they are boys than they have in common with the girls. As someone very wise on Nanowrimo said, "if I described their personalities to you, you wouldn't be able to tell what gender they were." (Catorrina, Nanowrimo) Gender is just one aspect of what defines your personality, and there are so many others that you may as well learn how to write the personality as a whole, rather than learning to write a stereotype of the gender, and then having characters deviate in different ways from a perceived 'norm'.
  • "As much as sitcoms and romantic comedies try to tell us otherwise, men and women are incredibly similar. We all have “feminine” and “masculine” traits within us." (Drink Me Read Me, Tumblr)
  • "everyone's a people" (Catorrina, Nanowrimo)