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Monday, April 27, 2015

Coping Constructively Vs. Destructively




Over the last couple of years, I've been thinking a lot about coping and how to cope better. We are all going to have difficult times in our lives, but how we cope has a huge impact on the quality of our lives.

I used to have bit of a problem with the concept that we can choose to be happy. I believed it, to an extent, but I've had some depressing moments in my life, and I wasn't sure I bought the idea that we could just choose to be happy and we would be. Whenever I heard the phrase "Choose to be happy," I pictured it like turning on a light by flipping a switch. You make the decision, and voila! You're happy!

Through experience and observation, I came to the conclusion that "light-switch" happiness is more like faking happiness. It's like that adage, "Fake it till you make it!" And while I think that can help on some level to some extent, I feel like that perspective is more like putting on a mask of happiness rather than being genuinely happy. It's like burying your other emotions and problems by slapping on a false smile. Not only can it be unhealthy, but it doesn't solve the source of your unhappiness.

I have since learned that the phrase "Choose to be happy," isn't actually anything like flipping a light switch. Choosing to be happy means choosing how to react. Really, it's about choosing how to cope. We can choose to cope in constructive ways or destructive ways.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Making Unlikeable People into Likeable Characters


Unlikeable people can be a pain to write if they're a main character. After all, our audience needs to like them enough to be around them for the course of the story. If our readers can't stand them, they won't want to read about them. But sometimes our protagonists are meant to be bad. They need to be bad. Heck, sometimes even the likeable people in our stories have jerk-qualities.

So how do we render their bad-qualities without driving our readers to throw our books across the room?

We turn our unlikeable people into likeable characters.

We make them such likeable characters, that the audience forgives, accepts, or overlooks that they are unlikeable people.

Here are six ways to do that.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Making Strengths into Weaknesses (and Vice Versa) through Context



Basics—


When we create characters, we give them strengths and weaknesses to make them more realistic. Let’s say we create a character named Erin. We give her some strengths—she is a great teacher, productive, and focused—and also weaknesses—she’s prideful and a complainer. Just by giving her these strengths and weaknesses, we’ve already made Erin interesting. But you can play with this even more. I’m going to show you how strengths can become weaknesses and weaknesses can become strengths through a shift in context. This can add complexity to your story (and characters).


Taking it Further—


Most people generally agree on what is categorized as a strength or a weakness. If I gave a list of character traits to a class and asked them to separate them into strengths and weaknesses, they would probably all agree on what goes where. If I said “liar” they would probably say “weakness.” If I said “peacemaker,” they would probably say “strength.” But sometimes when we switch the traits’ context, we (if only temporarily) switch their category in the story.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Deviating the Reader's Experience from the Character's



In my last post I talked about how subtext works and how to (not) write it. I mentioned that in some places, in some stories, you may want to make your reader's experience deviate from your character's experience.

Uh oh.

Does that not break a writing rule? Don't we want to write our stories so our readers feel like they are experiencing what our characters are? After all, I wrote that whole post about writing empathetically instead of sympathetically and sentimentally, and before that I wrote this post about putting the emotional tension in your reader, instead of writing about it on the page.

So what gives?

There are some situations where making your reader experience something different (and sometimes the opposite) of your viewpoint character is exactly what you want and need to do. So let's talk about how to break this writing rule properly.