Category Archives: random musings

Why I write my first drafts longhand.

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Several people on Twitter asked why I write all of my first drafts longhand since it’s so much quicker to type it directly into Scrivener. While I answered them, there is only so much you can fit in 140 characters. Plus, I think that this is a good topic for a blog post.

I have been a writer for almost two years now, so I think that I have pretty much found a routine that works best for me. I went through a long process of trial and error to get there, but I’m pretty happy with what I have now (though every process can be perfected indefinitely). So maybe my ramblings and explanations can help someone else who is struggling with their productivity and is still looking for the best way to put words on the page?

Anyway, here are some of the reasons why I write my first drafts longhand.

 

1. You can carry a notepad and pen anywhere you go.

 

I work full time as an Office Manager and writing happens on top of that. My writing time can happen any time I have a spare minute: it could be during a 15 minute coffee break, during lunch, in the bathroom (yes, I have been known to go to the loo with a notepad, shock!), or in bed when my husband is asleep. So with this erratic schedule, it’s much easier to carry a small notepad and a pen in my purse than a tablet / netbook.

Plus, I need a normal keyboard to type fast. I hate the touch screen keyboard on my iPad, plus it seems like it can be laggy. Nothing aggravates  me more than to type up a whole sentence and wait for it to show on screen… only to notice that I mistyped something halfway through and have to break the flow and go back to correct. GRR. I know that some people don’t pay attention to mistakes when they write down their first draft, and mostly I don’t either, but when I notice one, I can’t just press on without correcting it first.

Also, a small notepad is easier to fit on the table during lunch than a tablet / netbook, especially how small the tables in some restaurants are.  And if I spill a drink on it by accident (it’s been known to happen), I only wasted $4-5 instead of $500.

Blue blood on the page!
Blue blood on the page!

2. Keeps you focused on the task at hand.

 

Don’t know about you guys, but when I sit at the computer, I can find a million things to keep me from writing. I would start writing something, then decide to look up a word on google, then read an interesting article, then check on Twitter, oh and Facebook just buzzed me that there is a new post, and where did 3 hours of my life go? End result – almost nothing written and lots of time on stupid stuff.

When I am alone with my pen and paper, I HAVE to focus on what I’m writing instead of letting my brain flutter around like a butterfly on Red Bull (especially if I leave my cell in the purse and resist the temptation to check Twitter every 15 mins as well). So I get a lot more writing done in 1 hour with a pen and paper than sitting in front of my computer, even though my typing speed is much faster than my writing speed.

Usually, during my 1 hour lunch, I manage to write about 600-800 words (and eat something as well, most of the time). As an example, I’ve been trying to write this blog post for the past 3 hours and I barely got to the midpoint. Granted, it’s Monday and I have a lot of work to do as well, but I also spent a lot of time procrastinating on the internet instead of writing.

 

3. Helps organize your thoughts.

 

I don’t know about you, but I have noticed that writing longhand forces me to organize my thoughts better, which in turn results in a cleaner first draft that requires less editing afterwards. Writing longhand gives me the opportunity to think about the scene I’m working on, choose the right words and commit them to paper. While my hand finishes one sentence, my brain is already working on the best wording for the next one.

As I said, I can type really fast, but sometimes my fingers get ahead of my brain. So the resulting text is sometimes less than adequate. Don’t get me wrong, during NaNoWriMo, when I need to write 1666 words per day to get to 50k by the end of November, I usually bypass longhand and mostly write directly into my Scrivener file, but when I don’t have that time constraint, I prefer taking a much slower approach.

Plus, there is just something magical about seeing a pristine white page slowly getting covered with blue ink that motivates you to keep on writing. Seeing the words appear on a computer screen doesn’t quite have the same effect, maybe because the end result is not quite as immediately tangible (unless you print your work every day).

Creating new worlds.
Creating new worlds.

4. First round of editing when typing the text into Scrivener.

 

To me, that’s an added advantage of writing the first draft longhand. On the weekends, I usually try to type up everything I wrote during the week into my Scrivener file, which means that my text goes through a first round of edits almost on the spot. Sometimes I just change a word or two. Sometimes a  few sentences here and there. It also happened that I wasn’t entirely satisfied with a scene when I first put it on paper, but by the time I was typing it up, my brain had come up with a better version that ended up being a full rewrite of the original scene.

So to me, writing longhand has some definite advantages, even if the process takes longer. I think that for those struggling with concentration or motivation, this method might be beneficial as well.

 

What about you, my fellow writers, what are your preferred methods of putting words on paper. What helps you get through that hard to do first draft and get to the end?

The songs that inspired my stories.

As writers, we are creative people, and everything and anything can nudge us towards the next story we absolutely have to tell. It can be a movie or TV series we saw, a video game we played, a book we just finished, or simply the way a flight of sparrows contrasted against a crimson sunset. To me, music plays a very big part in discovering new stories as well.

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Let me explain. Unlike a lot of writing friends I talked to, I CANNOT write with music. Absolutely not. I don’t mind some background noise, like in a café or restaurant, or I would never be able to write on my lunch break, but as soon as there is a song with lyrics playing – it’s game over. I get distracted. I lose my train of thought and my writing session gets irrevocably derailed. I don’t know why. I would say that I start listening to the lyrics instead of writing, but then songs in a language I don’t understand (Japanese or Korean for example), still break my concentration, so that’s probably not it. Strangely enough, TV as background noise doesn’t have the same effect. Go figure.

Anyway, I don’t listen to music when I write, at least not if I want to be productive. However, music plays a huge part in the creative process anyway. All the stories I wrote so far have a particular song attached to them which acts as the soundtrack and the embodiment of that story.

Sometimes that songs comes during the writing process – I would hear it on the radio and have that “aha!” moment that tells me this song fits my story to the T. Sometimes I would find that song early in the planning and outlining stages. And sometimes I would find a song that would resonate with me for no particular reason, that I would obsess over for days if not weeks before  a story comes, and I understand that this songs belongs to it.

So today I wanted to share the songs that inspired and helped me write the stories I have written so far (and the one I’m plotting right now).

 

Of Broken Things:

This was the first story I’ve ever finished and it’s also the only science fiction story I have written so far. So when I heard Radioactive by Imagine Dragons, I couldn’t help but feel that it captured the mood of my story and my world perfectly. This future world where Aiden and GMS798 live in might be peaceful and prosperous on the outside, but there is still something toxic and radioactive brewing in the shadows. Because people will always remain the same, and power has a tendency to corrupt even the best of us.

“We’ll paint it red to fit right in.” That’s something GMS798 could have thought several times when he discovered that nothing really changed in the 100 years he’d been in cryo-sleep.

 

The Choices we make:

This story was song less for a long while, probably because I wasn’t sure where it was going when I first started writing. This is probably why I put it away for over a year and finished Of Broken Things before I dusted it off and finally managed to do an outline.

While writing my first draft, two songs stayed with me and I came to associate them with this story. It’s  Dance with the Devil by Breaking Benjamin and Demons by Imagine Dragons.

These songs both show that the characters in this story have to face some downright frightening things and uneven odds and also face their own demons in order to emerge better people on the other side, or die trying.

Shadow Hunters:

This is the latest project I’m working on. The idea came to me after watching the Korean Drama City Hunter, but it also came with a song attached to it (a song that has nothing to do with Korean dramas by the way). It’s Shatter Me by Lindsay Stirling.

This song is so perfect for this story, because it’s about young adults who still have a lot of growing up to do. They have to find their own way in this world, which takes a lot of courage, especially if that first step on the road towards the future they want means breaking with tradition or family wishes. So the fear of change that Lindsay talks about in her song is very relevant to the story.

Plus one of the characters is a gifted violin player 🙂

 

Still unnamed plot bunny that might be a future story:

As you can see, any story I write ends up getting at least one song associated with it. So when I happen to hear a song and it just won’t let me go, I tend to stop and think about it. Is that a story that’s trying to get to me?

This happened 3 weeks ago,  when I first heard the song Monster by BigBang.

Kpop is not something I usually listen to. First, I don’t understand the lyrics. Second, I don’t really like rap. But I kept obsessing over this particular song for some reason. I kept listening to it over and over. I even bought it on ITunes! I kept wondering why it touched me so much when I had to google the lyrics to even understand what the song was about. Then, last night, the miracle happened – the plot bunny finally hopped into my brain and made itself at home. Everything fell into place – the song and the story. So I guess I have my next project lined up after I am done with Shadow Hunters…

 

 

And now a question for my readers. Do you guys have songs that you associate with the stories you write or read? Is it just one or two songs or do you collect an entire playlist for each project?

What Korean dramas can teach us about storytelling.

I went on a Korean drama bilge watching spree lately and I have learned a few interesting and surprising things along the way that will, hopefully, make me a better writer.

I admit that I approached Korean dramas with a bit of a preconception at first – the few that I had seen in previous years had been cheesy, clichéd and badly acted. I had to be talked into watching the first one by several of my internet friends and I started it after much grumbling and dragging my feet. It was City Hunter and it blew my mind and you can see in this post and gifted me with a wonderful story idea that I’m developing now.

I have since watched several more series and two more grabbed my attention – The Master’s Sun  and I Hear your Voice.

I also finally managed to put my finger on why these shows resonate with me so much while some of the American and European series leave me indifferent, despite the fact that they have a bigger budget and better-known actors. It’s because all three series are have much more depth than first meets the eye.

City Hunter

On the surface, City Hunter  is a story of revenge, pure and simple. 28 years ago, a man watched helplessly as his brothers in arms died at the hands of their own soldiers and vowed to kill the five men who knew of the mission and gave the order to shoot. If the show had been just that, I doubt that it would have grabbed my heart and dragged it over hot coals for 24 episodes.

No, it manages to raise some very deep questions, like how far is going too far and at which point the good guys become so warped up in their revenge that they end up even worse than the bad guys? Can revenge justify stealing your best friend’s infant son and bringing him up as a killing machine, sacrificing his childhood and any hopes for a normal future to fuel the fire of your obsession?

It’s also about love in all its different manifestations: romantic love between a man and a woman, fatherly love and acceptance, the love of a mother for her lost child that she never gave up on, grudging respect that morphs into friendship between two strong men… It’s also about sacrifice and the hard decisions one has to make in order to keep the people he loves safe, even if that decision is to walk away from them.

Masters sun

The Master’s Sun masquerades at your typical romantic comedy: girl can see ghosts and is terrified by them, because they haunt her endlessly, not letting her live a normal life or even get a good night’s sleep. She meets a guy who can make those ghosts go poof the moment she touches him. Of course she would stick to him no matter what. Add to that that the guys is a total jerk and you would expect lots of laughs and shenanigans…

Well, this show gives you most of that, but also so much more. All the ghosts stories are touching and serve to teach the characters and the viewer something about themselves along the way. The romantic line is not as clear-cut and one-sided as it seems either.

But most importantly, this show is about healing. The healing of physical and psychological wounds that we all carry. All the characters have to go through a lot of trials but emerge stronger at the end, beginning to accept themselves as they are instead of being ashamed of it. And Gong Sil has the biggest character growth of them all: she goes from being terrified out of her mind and unable to take a step outside of her tiny apartment to firmly standing on her own two feet and not needing anyone else to make her ghosts disappear.

I Hear your voice

I Hear Your Voice looks like a procedural drama paired with a hopeless crush a young man has on a much older woman, but in reality is the most complex of the three shows. It’s about personal growth: a boy becomes a man. A rather jaded and selfish woman learns compassion and empathy. A naïve and earnest defense lawyer learns to stand up for his clients and his decisions…

But it’s also about people, and their stories, and all the big and small reasons that make them do the things they do. It’s about the difference having even one person who listens to you when you are in your darkest most desperate moment can make for the rest of your life. It is rather scary to see how close Pak Soo-ha comes to following in the footsteps of Min Joon-gook, the man who had murdered his father. Soo-ha wants to protect the woman he loves, even if it means becoming a murderer himself. It’s rather heartbreaking to learn that Min Joon-gook was faced with the same choice all those years ago and fell off that ledge of no return. Soo-ha is saved from this decision by the presence of Jang Hye-sung in his life and her conviction that if he goes through with his plan, he just becomes a murderer and all their reasons and justifications for hating Min Joon-gook would become moot… I must admit that this idea that having even one person by your side no matter what can become the light that guides you out of the darkness resonated very deeply with me.

And also, as cheesy as that sounds, about how love can be all-encompassing and unwavering and make both you and the person you love better. It’s shown the most with Soo-ha, who starts with this one-sided crush on a girl who testified against his father’s murderer 10 years ago and that he vowed to protect no matter what. Needless to say that this crush doesn’t stand a chance and shatters into pieces when he meets a grown up Hye-sung and discovers that she is nothing like the woman of his dreams… and progressively learns to love and accept her just as she is and never gives up. But all the other characters also undergo their own transformations and learn to love in their own ways. Hye-sung finally admits that she loves Soo-ha despite the age difference and her fear that he will come to his senses and leave her, and decides to embrace the relationship and be happy.

All of those shows bring to the viewer a lot more than promised and, more importantly, make us think about some very important topics. I love the fact that it’s also done with subtlety and tact, with a lot of things just hinted and left to interpretation. I also love how all the characters turn out to be complex and “real” so much so that you end up rooting for most of them, even some of the episodic characters. Heck, by the end of I Hear your Voice I almost felt sorry for Min Joon-gook, even after everything he’d done to our main characters.

 

After I watched these dramas, I realized that THAT’S what I want my stories to be like. I want them complex and layered. I want not only to entertain my readers but also make them think. I want to make all my characters “real” and if not lovable, at least relatable, even the antagonists. I don’t want simple stories. I want complex tales that challenge me and make me think and feel something. So thank you, Korean dramas, for making me want to become a better writer!

Korean drama and plot bunnies, or my mind works in mysterious ways.

Image courtesy Badgirlzwrite.com
Image courtesy Badgirlzwrite.com

So I have been merrily editing my way through Chapter 18 of Broken Things when I decided to take an hour break and watch City Hunter, a Korean drama that several of my friends highly recommended. Plus, I had a valid reason to watch it, I swear! Just like my novel Of Broken Things, it deals with revenge and how it alters people. It raises some important questions. How far would you go to get your revenge and still be able to live with yourself afterwards? Where is the line after which you lose your humanity? How can you survive when your quest backfires and hurts your loved ones? Does the goal really justify the means?

 

Anyway, I had just intended to watch the first episode before going back to editing, but it was just so gosh darn good that I decided to watch episode 2 as well… There went my three day weekend, my sleep and my sanity.

 

This show rocks, people! The story is solid and fast-paced. The characters are fully developed and believable (and lovable). The actors who play them did a wonderful job of showing us the tragedy of the situation without falling into cheap pathos. I rooted for them I was scared for them, and I cried when one of them died. I hadn’t been this engaged with the characters of a series since Buffy or Firefly, so that’s saying something. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the main male lead, Lee Min-ho should officially change his name to Lee Min-HOT. And boy, can he act.

 

But I digress. After watching 20 one hour episodes in less than three days, I woke up on Sunday morning with a rabid plot bunny gnawing on my brain. You would think that after City Hunter, the story idea would be about revenge… and you would be wrong. No revenge at all. Zilch. Nada. And it’s not even set up in our modern world. The only thing it took from the Korean drama is the Asian-inspired setting. Even then, the spirits in this new story have more similarity with Japanese mythology than Korean.

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And the biggest surprise is that this plot bunny jumped into my brain already half-grown and well-fed. Usually, I just get a scene, or a glimpse of a character or two, maybe a vague idea of the world. This time, I already have a pretty good grasp on the world structure, mythology and topography, and even a bit of historical background. I have two fully formed protagonists, each one with their own backstories already.

 

More importantly, I KNOW exactly what this story will be about. No, I don’t have a fully-formed plot just yet, though I do have a scene that I know will be pivotal in the story. But I know the MESSAGE this story will tell. This is a first for me. Usually, the actual message emerges somewhere in the last quarter of the first draft or even during editing. Here, I already know the message and I haven’t even started planning or outlining yet!

 

And another big surprise: it’s a Young Adult story. I’m floored. I don’t usually read YA, and I certainly don’t write it, at least not intentionally, because Mists of the Crossworlds turned out YA in the end, but was certainly not planned like that.

 

This new story starts YA from the beginning. It’s a coming of age story. A story of self-discovery, self-improvement and even self-sacrifice. Oh, and it’s definitely a love story…

 

So after watching 20 hours of contemporary drama about revenge, my brain came up with an idea set up in a magical / steampunky world with not a single revenge plot in sight. Inspiration, you sure work in mysterious ways. Maybe I should cast Lee Min-ho as the male protagonist, just to pay tribute to the series that jolted my brain into overdrive?

 

Anyway, I spent most of my Sunday frantically typing all my shiny new ideas into Scrivener. Good news – I think I have my NaNoWriMo 2015 project pretty much locked down. Bad news – I haven’t done any editing at all this weekend.

 

What I mostly wanted to show with this story is that it’s good to expand your horizons sometimes, to venture out of your comfort zone. That’s where the best ideas lie in waiting. I was unfamiliar with Korean dramas and rather skeptical when I started watching City Hunter, yet it gave me a precious gift: the makings of what will become a wonderful story.

Image by Van Assche -Embarcadero
Image by Van Assche -Embarcadero

Memorial Day – Honoring our Heroes.

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Today is Memorial Day in the United States of America – a day to honor those who gave it all for this country, who died for our freedom. I think that this is a very important holiday and that other countries could benefit from having one of those as well, especially the country I was born in – Russia. Too often, the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers goes forgotten and our veterans die homeless and alone… So today I wanted to talk about the heroes in my family – my grandfather and my grandmother.

 

I was born in Russia and both of my parents are Russian. It so happens that all Russian families have had relatives who fought in World War II. Some came back, some didn’t, but all fought against the Nazis to protect their country and their family. Because all knew what fate would befall their loved ones if Hitler had won. Russians were on the same list as Jews as far as he was concerned after all – due for extermination.

 

My grandfather got conscripted into the Red Army paratroopers at the very beginning of the war, in 1940. He was in the radio and communications squadron. They were responsible for making sure all the other squadrons had radio contact between each other. Which often meant that they had to drive out into combat zones towards a squadron or platoon who had been in that location based on 2-3 days old intel to try and establish radio contact with them. Sometimes they were lucky and found the platoon still there and holding position. Sometimes they would arrive to late and have to chase the platoon down because they had advanced to their next location. And sometimes the platoon would have been forced to retreat and my grandfather’s squadron would ride into an ambush…

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My grandfather never talked about the war. If asked, he would try to change the subject and close off entirely if pressed. When I was little, I didn’t understand why. Everybody told me that my granddad was a hero, so why wouldn’t he talk about it? Now, I know. The things he saw and went through during the 5 years USSR was at war, they haunted him until the day he died at the old age of 89. He still relieved them in his nightmares. I used to spend most of my summers at my grandparents summer house outside Moscow when I was little, and may nights I would wake up, scared to death, to my grandfather shouting.

 

“Retreat! Retreat!”

 

“Where is the damn fire support?!”

 

Or he would talk to someone called Alexander. He talked to him a lot in his sleep. My grandmother told me later that Alexander had been his best friend and his combat brother through most of the 5 hellish years of the war. He was killed in combat right outside of Berlin. My grandfather got to come back home to my grandmother and my mother, but Alexander never did.

 

On days when he would have those nightmares, my grandfather would wake up before the first light and go work in the garden. He wouldn’t stop until he wore himself out enough to pass out from exhaustion and sleep without dreaming.

 

My grandmother didn’t fight during the war, but she did her best to help the war effort as well. She had been evacuated into Siberia at the beginning of WWII when German forces had made their first push into Russian territory and it had seemed that the Red Army wouldn’t be able to stop them. My grandmother and my uncle, then barely 7 years old, ended up in Magnitogorsk, where most of the steal foundries and military factories had been relocated. She had been 3 months pregnant with my mother then, but she still went to work on the assembly line that produced parts for the famous Katyusha Rocket Launchers, the famous anti-tank launchers that turned the tide of the war on Russian soil.

 

Those were tough times, with food often in short supply, especially food needed for a baby, like milk or formula. My grandmother said that often all they had were old freezer-burned potatoes and they ground the skins and scraps into fine powder and brewed it with hot water to feed my mother, because there simply wasn’t anything else to eat.

 

For three long years, my grandmother didn’t even know if my grandfather was still alive, and my grandfather had no idea where his family had been relocated to. He just knew that the town they had lived in had been invaded and destroyed. They had finally reunited in 1944, when my mother was 3 years old. Granddad used to joke that my mother had been absolutely terrified of him the first time she saw him and refused to call him “dad”.

 

Miraculously, they both survived the war and lived a long and happy life together after that and I’m thankful for their sacrifices, because without men and women like my grandparents, I wouldn’t be here, and the map of Europe would have been completely different.

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This is the story of my heroes. What about yours? Do you have a family member or a friend who fought in a war? Who gave their lives so that we can live free and happy? Tell your stories. Let’s honor them today.

 

The new Avengers or the importance of laughter even in dire situations.

Laughter can keep darkness at bay, even if you are laughing through tears.
Laughter can keep darkness at bay, even if you are laughing through tears.

I went to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron this weekend and I absolutely loved it! But this blog post is not a movie review, even though I would love to write one of those. No, this movie made me remember why I love Joss Whedon’s work so much. It’s because no matter how grim things get, or how uneven the odds the protagonists face, they never lose their sense of humor.

 

So that is what I would like to talk about today – the importance of laughter when writing stories, even the dark and dreary ones… especially the dark and dreary ones. Because laughter provides much needed respite and a ray of light in the otherwise total darkness. It also often serves to amplify the impact of that darkness much better than bucket-loads of angst would.

 

Now, I need to point out that by laughter I don’t mean below the belt jokes, fart noises and other “comic relief” efforts like the introduction of Jar Jar Binks to the Star Wars universe (shudders, Jar Jar deserves a long and painful death). I’m not saying that this kind of humor doesn’t have its place, but I’m not a fan or the intended audience it seems.

 

However, Buffy the Vampire Slayer still remains one of my favorite TV Series of all times, because it addressed so many difficult, dark and sometimes controversial issues, and it did that with respect, finesse and yes, humor. Did the humor diminish the show somehow? Lessen the impact of the often horrible things that followed? Not in the least. Yes, Buffy can joke and say, “Apocalypse? We’ve all been there,” but that doesn’t lessen her sacrifice at the end of Season 5, or the depth of her despair after she is brought back to life in Season 6. The fact that all those characters can still joke about their life and smile after the horrible things all of them went through in this show actually makes them seem much more human and endearing.

Spike and his dry humor.
Spike and his dry humor.

 

And I think that’s the trend in all of Joss Whedon projects: his characters try to cheer each other up and joke about their circumstances no matter how bleak they are, because it beats curling up in a ball and weeping. Joss Whedon creates strong and memorable characters. They face danger square on, they fight it, they get bruised and bent out of shape, but they never ever break. And humor has a big part in that.

 

The Firefly episode when Mal and Wash are tortured and Mal tries to keep Wash’s mind off the pain by making him jealous of his relationship with Zoe is still one of my favorites (though I love all of them dearly). Yes, the banter between the two of them is hilarious, but it also serves to underline the horror they are going through, as well as showing us exactly how far Mal would go to protect his people. Do I love Mal less for joking about something like this? No, I love him even more for ignoring his pain and trying to make sure Wash pulls through the ordeal.

mal and wash

This is also why the scene in the new Avengers where Tony Stark cracks jokes while trying to pound the Hulk unconscious before he levels a city resonated more with me than most of the scenes with Katniss in Mokingjay. And I still remember Loki’s speech just before the Hulk pounds him into the floor in the first Avengers, but I forgot most of what happened in the Hunger Games…

 

Maybe I’m just wired that way, but humor works much better for me than all the doom and gloom in the world ever could. Not to mention that even “humorous” books can address some pretty darn important themes and dark problems. Just read most of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books if you don’t believe me.

 

So, what does this loooooong love letter to Joss Whedon has to do with writing better stories, you might ask? The lesson I learned from Whedon’s work is that laughter can help get even the most serious message across much easier than angst. Unfortunately, it’s also so very hard to do just right, without falling into cheap laughs and fart jokes. It’s also a skill that today’s TV series, movies and books sorely miss, so when I find someone who can wield laughter like a surgical scalpel, I cherish every single thing they create like so many gems.

Protagonists I don’t want to read about – Part 2.

This is a continuation of last week’s post where I talked about some of the protagonists I don’t want to read about. After that post, I had an interesting discussion both on Twitter and Facebook about the different tropes that rub the readers the wrong way, so I decided to continue the series.

 

  1. Miss Perfection.

 

This protagonist is absolutely perfect. She has the perfect looks, and usually through no particular effort of her own. She has the perfect family. She has the perfect job, which she is very good at (even it this job is just being an administrative assistant). She has no flaws, of the author gives her a quirky but rather endearing flaw.

 

For example, I read a book a few years ago about one of those perfect heroines. I think the author realized that she had made her protagonist a bit too perfect and decided to compensate this by making her clumsy. It would have worked too, except her clumsiness never manifested itself during moments where it could become a handicap or add tension to the story. She could trip and fall walking down the stairs every time she was with her love interest and the poor guy had no choice but to dive and catch her, but God forbid her fumbling with her gun or tripping an alarm during a critical action scene. This made her clumsiness seem very tacky and unnecessary.

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My problem with perfect protagonists is that they are extremely boring to read about. Perfection leaves no room for character growth. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I find it extremely difficult to relate to perfect people. Not mention that they just don’t feel “real,” because perfection doesn’t exist in the real world.

 

I much rather read about flawed and broken characters that feel like real people than perfect cutouts from the glamor magazine covers.

 

  1. The Chosen One.

 

There is a legend, or a prophecy, or the ravings of a mad fool foretelling the coming of the Chosen One and our protagonist fits the bill. Or everyone around her thinks that she fits the bill.

 

Now I have no problem with the concept of the Chosen One per se, but I do have a problem with the execution. Most authors feel like if their protagonist is the Chosen One, they don’t need to work that hard to make her a unique and fleshed out character anymore, because hey, she will still save the world (prevent a war, marry the prince, bring peace and prosperity, underline whatever fits the current story).

Chosen_One

Often it leaves the reader with a very boring protagonist who just floats with the current towards their inevitable fate, and we don’t understand why all the supporting characters fawn over this non-entity. The protagonist makes no decisions or mistakes, doesn’t grow as a character, but relies on everyone else to get her where she is supposed to go.

 

Ironically enough, these books have a lot of secondary characters that are much more interesting and fleshed out than the protagonist, probably because the author actually had to think about their backstory and behavior since they weren’t the Chosen Ones. Those characters I wouldn’t mind reading a book about.

 

  1. Mature professionals behaving like hormonal teenagers.

 

You see these protagonists a lot in fanfiction, but I’ve encountered a few specimens in actual published book as well, much to my amazement.

 

These protagonists are positioned as thirty-something professionals who are very good at their job and who have seen and done everything under the sun, and are supposed to be hardened if not jaded. Yet their behavior does not add up. They throw tantrums like a five year old that had been sent to bed without ice cream. They go into full blown hysterics or spend a good part of the story moaning about the horrors they saw or did, the unfairness of life, their scared past and other angsty stuff.

 

In some extreme cases they lash out without thinking or get extremely jealous or disparaging of other female characters, especially if they dare even look at their love interest. And my absolute “favorite” – start suddenly admiring the masculine physique or their companions / antagonists right in the middle of the action. Really? If you are in the middle of sword fight and your brain is busy undressing your opponent, chances are very good that you’re gonna end up with a sword in your stomach.  In other words, they behave like hormonal teenagers, not mature women.

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Now I am usually more tolerant of that in fanfiction because most authors are teenagers, so that’s how they think and how their peers behave. They simply don’t know any better yet. But to see this in a professionally published book? Even if it’s targeted for the young adult market, the author does her audience a great disservice by presenting them with such protagonists as role models.

 

So there are some more of the protagonists that drive me up the wall. What are your thoughts about this? Do you agree or disagree? Any other particular tropes set your teeth on edge? I want to  hear from you.