Friday, June 24, 2016

How Gay Should I Make My Characters?

Sorry for the lack of updates recently. Been super busy preparing for The Significant to release and for my trip (I will be posting on that at a later date).

But, with The Significant releasing one week from today, I figured it was high time for a post!

So....

Let's talk about gay characters~

Actually, I'm not, but I have a ton of characters that are!

I feel like writers are scared to put gay characters in their stories as main characters unless it is a gay romance novel. Of course, there are the stereotypical gay characters--the sassy gay friend, the awkward teen trying to hide that he's gay, etc--but what if you want to make your gay character one that straight readers can relate with?

Well, it's a fine line to walk.


Allow me to share a story with you. 

In the Dimension Guardian Series (which you can read HERE!), there are two side characters that are a gay couple. When they first appear in the series, it is not revealed that they are a couple. Why? Because I did not want that to be the thing the readers focus on in the story, particularly when they first meet these phenomenal characters (yes, I am very proud of those two). Now, there is very little physical contact between them through all six books. They do not hold hands, they do not kiss, they tease one another, and they hug when one of them is in a particularly bad way. That is it. 

And before I continue this, I feel it is only fair to tell you that that is the dynamic of this couple's relationship. They are not very psychically affectionate with one another around other people. They just aren't. I did not restrain the interactions in fear of upsetting some of my readers (I am not afraid to offend readers. Read Inside if you don't believe me).

Now, here is what happened. 

After these characters are introduced, a book and a half passes before it is revealed that they are, in fact, a couple. 

I expected people to be shocked since, sadly, that is the world we live in. However, I never expected to be scolded for revealing that these characters were gay. 

I had someone send me a message that read something like this: "I am so disappointed that you took these two great characters and made them gay. They did not have to be gay, and I cannot read anything about gay characters, since it's against God's word. You ruined them. Kill these fags to save the story." 


I could only stare in shock at the message for several long seconds. 

Why am I sharing this story? It shows just how careful writers have to be with gay characters, and it's horrible. Unfortunately, most gay characters, if it is not a gay romance targeted toward a gay audience, or the gay characters are not stereotypical queens meant to be comic relief, and have no depth to them, tend to make readers uncomfortable. 

And this does not apply to only gay characters. It's also for other minority characters (there will be another post on minority characters). 

At first, when I read this message, I was upset because I was confused why the reveal of these characters as being gay made me lose a reader and why they felt that these two amazing characters needed to be killed to save the story. After about 5 seconds thinking about that, I realized I did not want one of those people to be my reader. I was totally fine with them dropping the story after that. 

There was no way I was going to force my characters to be straight to appease everyone. They are proudly gay (well, let's be honest, one of them is gay, the other is bisexual). Their relationship and their sexuality is part of who they are as characters. I did not make them that way for cheap shock value. They. Are. Gay. 

Anyone got a problem? Deal with it. 


So, if you have a gay character and you are worried about driving readers away, my advice to you is this: If your character is gay, then that is just another facet of who they are. If they're flamboyant, do them justice. If they are more reserved, but willing to joke, make your readers laugh. If they are transgender, identify them as their preferred sex unless the struggle for their identity is part of the story. My transgender character is always referred to and described as their preferred gender (good luck finding them!). 

**Side note for transgender characters: Please do not force them to reveal that they are transgender by having someone walk in on them changing or anything like that. It's an underhanded, cheap technique. Get your character to tell someone, in words, about it. It makes for a more emotional moment and pulls the reader into the depths of the story.  

So, allow your characters to be who they are. Do not hold them back in fear of offending readers. If your reader cannot handle some homosexuality, they are not the reader for you. 

Rant over. 

Now that this sounds sufficiently like a Tumblr rant, let's get back on topic.

My advice for the current market about writing gay characters is to keep their sexuality under-wraps at their introduction if you can (almost impossible to do with flamboyant gay characters).  The reason I suggest this is because sexuality for every character is assumed to be straight until otherwise noted. Because sex is such a secretive and embarrassing thing in most cultures, readers have a tendency to focus on that fact rather than all the other amazing things about your character. Even if you just introduce the fact that they're gay later in the chapter, that won't be the first thing your reader focuses on about that character.

Does it seem unfair to do that? A little. But we don't learn the sexuality of the people we meet at the offset unless they are very flamboyant. Make it the same with your character. Your readers don't need to know everything about the character immediately. Leave some for later. 


Anyway, that's all for my rant on gay characters. In closing, don't be afraid to have a gay character that is not a stereotype! As authors, we are artists, and we need to start pushing boundaries as artists do! Break some of the stereotypes!

Why am I writing about this? Because, if I haven't warned you enough, the main characters in The Significant are a lesbian couple. That ain't gonna change. 

Follow this blog, or my social media pages to stay up-to-date with this blog and the updates on the progress of The Significant, which I intend to release this summer! If you have a question about writing, publishing, or anything in general, feel free to post to my Facebook page, or tweet your question to me @kjamidon.

Don't forget to check out my own novels as well! Click the links below!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Trauma 101

Welcome to Trauma 101! I'll be your professor, Miss Sadi Stic.

tumblr_ni4x5nIXw81rpj04no1_500.gif (500×513)

This post is going to be about how to properly traumatize your characters.

Before everyone gets further along, I am going to put a a trigger warning on this. Obviously, this post is about horrible things that happen to people (even if they are fictional people). Just be aware that there will be topics that might not be suited for everyone.

Why am I doing this post?

Because it is very important to understand how horrible events change people (characters). It helps build a more realistic story and gives your characters more depth which allows your reader to be drawn even further into your clutches.

I have a feeling there will be a lot of Jack Nicholson gifs today...

But you may be asking why I want to put so much emphasis on it that I am dedicating post to it rather than just adding it to a character post. 

Here's why:


If you've followed this blog for a while, you might recall I said that Christian Grey's traumatic past was the thing that really got under my skin in this book (yes, I have read it). 

Try and set aside your views, whatever they are, on this book, and understand where my frustration came from. 

Christian Grey (if you don't know), is a young, attractive, wealthy man with a penchant for poorly-executed BDSM practices. Ana is constantly trying to figure out why he is the way he is and "fix" him (let's not even get into that). Finally, it is revealed that his mother was a drug addict/prostitute and her pimp was abusive to him, such as putting out cigarettes in his skin (the little scars he has and the reason he doesn't like to be touched). 

Okay, I have no real issue with the development of the character through this horrific story of his childhood. It's traumatic, and it's upsetting, and it makes sense for some of the character's actions. 

However...

Rule #1 about trauma - Trauma becomes generalized. 

This is the most important thing to remember when you put your characters through a traumatic event. If your character is shot one night by a teenager wearing a grey hoodie, your character will not wait until there is a teenager wearing a grey hoodie to stand menacingly in front of him before he has a flashback of being shot. 

Every time he sees someone wearing a grey hoodie, he's going to wonder if they're about to shoot him. 

Every time he sees a teenager, he's going to become weary, remembering what happened. 

Every time he sees someone reaching like they're going to pull out a gun, he's going to have a knee-jerk reaction thinking he's going to be shot again. 



What does this have to do with 50 Shades of Grey and Christian's trauma? 

Readers will know this: The lipstick scene. 

There is a scene where Ana draws on Christian's skin with lipstick to show where he can and cannot be touched. Basically, he could be touched on his arms, his legs, or his face, but not his torso.


There is no magical line when it comes to traumatic events like that. Now, if he got more nervous whenever her hands would go near his scars, that would make more sense, But just imagine that she's running her hand over his arm and up to his shoulder to cross that magical line and his face changes immediately. 

Trauma does not work like that. 

He would not like to be touched anywhere, regardless of if that was where he had been harmed. 

**Obviously, the author wanted to have a scene where Ana drew on Christian with lipstick and that was the best way she could get it to happen. Hey, she's the writer. She has that god-power.**

Anyway, if you are going to put your character through something traumatic, generalize it. 

Physical

Physical Traumas will generalize to the physical harm that occurred (the shooting example above). A sense of fear about anyone getting too close or touching the character will cause a reaction, even if that person is someone close to the character. 

When a sense of physical safety is violated, people will be overly-vigilant in keeping themselves physically safe. This can easily go into reams of unhealthy behavior where people become agoraphobic and refuse to leave their homes. 

If your character has had some sort of physical trauma, their entire body (regardless of where the injury occurred) will be a trigger for them. They will not want anyone touching them, or getting so close that they could touch them (so crowded subways and areas will be difficult for your character).

 

While it will be generalized to your character's entire body, it is possible that there might be some differences in their reactions to different genders, different ages, ect. While it might be uncomfortable for your character to be hugged by a young child after he survived a horrible physical trauma, it might be more tolerable than any physical contact from a grown woman, who was the one who caused the physical trauma. 

Mental

Mental trauma will, more often than not, destroy your character's sense of trust. The thing about mental trauma is that it is connected to physical and emotional trauma. The trauma could be physical or emotional, but it will automatically be a mental trauma as well, because it will tear apart the character's sense of self or sense of trust or sense of safety. 

This will affect the way your character interacts with other characters. They might have one or two people they trust, and let get close to them, but they will still be unable to break through some of the boundaries your character would likely set after their trauma. 

Depending on what you put your character through, you might want to do some research on how people who have been through similar traumas behave. But you can be sure that your character, no matter the trauma will not be able to trust others. 


Emotional

Emotional trauma will often change the reaction of your character in emotional situations. While this has the metal trauma component of being unable to trust others, it will change the way your character behaves in certain scenarios. 


If your character went through an intensely emotional falling out with an abusive romantic partner, it is likely that your character will have difficulties feeling joy, or possibly feeling sadness (depending on the type of person you want them to be). Their emotions will be either very difficult to ignite or they will be very volatile (again, depending on the trauma and the personality of the character). 

Emotional trauma comes from intense negative experiences, and any situation that will return the character to that high emotional state will be a trigger. The thing to remember in this is that, whatever the situation is, your character will respond in a way to protect themselves from being hurt again. It is generally not a sense of revenge against their aggressor (though that happens occasionally), but it is a reaction that is meant to keep them protected from what they experienced before. 


All of these types of traumas will affect your character's overall sense of safety and autonomy. They will have a difficult time feeling safe around other people (regardless of if they resemble their assailant or not) and they will have severe, sometimes destructive, methods of maintaining control over a situation--this comes into play most with villains in a story, sometimes their trauma makes them want to have a sense of control or revenge. 


Most often, the villains of stories have something horrific that happened to them that made them respond in a way that made them villains. The reason it is so important to understand how trauma changes people is to make your villain hyper-realistic. Everyone likes a hero, but everyone loves a good villain. 

Another big factor in trauma in characters is the amount of time that has passed between the trauma and where the story takes place. Depending on several factors, such as age and experience of the character, it is possible that the character has learned to live with the trauma and no longer reacts very violently to their triggers. Keep this in mind when developing and writing your traumatized character. 



Follow this blog, or my social media pages to stay up-to-date with this blog and the updates on the progress of The Significant, which I intend to release this summer! If you have a question about writing, publishing, or anything in general, feel free to post to my Facebook page, or tweet your question to me @kjamidon.

Don't forget to check out my own novels as well! Click the links below!



Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Pace Yourself!

I briefly touched on pacing in my Description Post, so here is the extended post just on pacing your novel.

The rhythm and pace of your novel help keep your reader interested in your story. So, what is part of pacing?

Everything from your sentence structures to the length of your chapters is pacing.


You have to think of story telling as it was in ancient times, when stories of great heroes and adventures were told orally or in an opera or play. There are slower parts of the story, building up to the great climax, and during the exciting parts, voices would raise and they'd speak faster, because it was part of the performance in bringing the story to life.

Well, great, how do we translate that onto paper?

Since we are not orally telling our stories, we have to mimic these performance techniques in our sentence structures, chapter lengths, and overall arc of the story.

Let's tackle these one at a time.


Sentence Structure


Your style as a writer and the way you keep the story moving through exposition and description is the resting heartbeat of your book. This is where the pretty, complex sentences should be used most. When you are just starting to build into the plot and you're setting the scene, your reader is reading at the pace that we're going to call the resting heartbeat.

Image result for heartbeat gif

This is where your style as a writer will be most visible. If you don't know what your style is, that's perfectly fine. Most writers do not know what style of writing they use (I don't). Just write these parts however feels most comfortable.

However, that being said, do not beat the dead horse. Do not say the same thing so many times in many different pretty ways. Pick your favorite pretty sentence and move on. Do not get so flowery with your language that you drag your story.

Now, if you are building to a big raid on a village, once you get to the raid, you are going to want to change your sentence structure.

From using those detailed complex sentences, you want to give the illusion of a fast-paced action scene by using short, sharp sentences. Think of your sentences as a cut to a different camera when filming a movie. Watch your favorite action movie and note how many cuts in the action scenes there are. To imitate the fast-pace, chaotic sense of a battle scene, they use a lot of different angles and fast cuts in the visuals. Short sentences give that sense in writing.



Longer sentences allow your reader to slow down again. Complex sentences allow your reader to settle into the basic rhythm of your story once more--like a rocking chair. Changes to your resting heartbeat of the book will change your reader's reaction. Make sure to maintain the basic momentum and not slow the reader down by using longer sentences where short sentences would engage them more with the story.

Changing your sentence structure helps to keep your writing interesting and engaging, which keeps readers, which earns you money!

Chapter Length


Chapter Length is made up of three parts--one part personal preference, one part pacing of the story, and one part author intent.


Personal Preference

Some authors would rather have several small chapters because it can be easier to write and easier to move through the story. Maybe it's part of your style as a writer. Others like having long chapters that cover a long span of time in incredible detail.


There is nothing wrong with allowing personal preference as a writer to dictate the length of your chapters. It's part of your style as a writer, and knowing how long you want your chapters to be helps you establish a rhythm when writing the book and can help you push through some tougher parts of the manuscript.

My own preference is to have chapters be at least 5 pages (8.5" x 11") long. Chapters shorter than that feel incomplete to me (except in the case of an introduction or epilogue). But that is my personal preference for my writing. That is not a standard.

Story Pacing

This is a hard part to advise on because it does depend on the type of story you are writing and the scenes that are in the chapter. This advice is only broad strokes to give some frame work.

Certain aspects of a book deserve their own chapter. For instance, if you are building to a big battle showdown with the main villain of the book, that showdown deserves its very own chapter, beginning to end, no breaks in between. Breaking the chapter just because it's getting longer than your other chapters is going to hurt the overall impact of the story. It would be like telling someone a story from across a table and having them very interested and in the middle of it, just slapping them across the face, leaving them confused and pulled out of the story, only for you to have to try and pull them back in.


Now, if you are changing things by wrapping up one subplot to move on to another part of the story, you should absolutely stop the chapter and start a new one because it allows your readers to take a breath so they can move onto the next part. That is the best way to help your pacing in the story. 

Author Intent

Alright, this is another area that's hard to advise on, and it is important that, if you want to make a certain impact with the story, you know what that impact is so that you can properly format your chapters to serve that purpose. 


For instance,if you want to be short and to that point because you want to keep your reader's heart rate up, shorter chapters are going to serve you better, If you want to engross your reader in the intense details of your story, then longer chapters are going to help you more. Most readers use chapters as a place to stop and rest for the night or for a few hours before returning to reading, therefore, chapters are a great tool for authors. Having a page-turner means that you end a chapter on such a strong note that your readers will go to the next chapter immediately, and then they're with you for another entire chapter. 

This can, however, be a gamble. I took a big risk in Inside, Part 3 when it came to one particular chapter (BIG WARNING: Inside, Part 3 is extremely dark, and not for anyone under the age of 18).

There is a chapter in Inside, Part 3 (Start Inside HERE!) that is over 100 pages. There are breaks within the chapter, but considering the tone of the book, I wanted that chapter to be exhausting for readers. My intent was to have them limp through the horrors at the end of the story with Lily, and I felt that breaking the chapter apart would diminish the impact of what was happening. 

That is not something I recommend for everyone (or much of anyone). It's not only exhausting for readers, but it's exhausting to write, and even more so to edit. However, if it serves your intent as the author, use the pacing of chapters to make your impact. 

The Over-Arching Plot


The plot of the book can help you determine the pacing you need. If you're in a light-hearted romantic genre, you will want to put some dark, serious moments in the book to ground the story and make it memorable. If you are writing something dark and heavy, you need to put some comical, lighthearted moments or lines in the book, or you are going to stress your reader. 


Juxtaposing these opposing images can allow your reader to either dig deeper into the story to become more invested in it, or take a step back and breathe so that they do not get swallowed up by just how dark the story is. 

However, you do not want to be too liberal with tone shifts, particularly nearing the main point or climax of the book. You want to change the pace of your book every now and then, but when you get to where you've been meaning to go, you want to stay there and keep the pacing as it needs to be. 


Just a little bit of advice on pacing your novel. For some, pacing is very easy to do, and for others, it's very difficult. Again, reading it out loud will help immensely when it comes to discovering if you need to work on your pacing. As always, reading out loud is a must to see just how strong your story is. Also, as always, the beginning of the novel will have the most difficulty with pacing (and in general) and will need the most editing to smooth out.

 If you have a question about writing, publishing, or anything in general, feel free to post to my Facebook page, or tweet your question to me @kjamidon.

Don't forget to check out my own novels as well! Click the links below!