Monthly Writing Update: February 2014

I’ve decided to do a writing update at the end of every month, just to give you guys a general idea of what I’m up to and how my writing is going. Since today is the last day of February (ALREADY?!), here I am to post my first update.

Unfortunately … there’s not much to report. This has been a rather terrible writing month for me. I’ve been keeping track of how many words I write each day, and during February I only wrote 3,584 words. Considering I wrote a little over 18,000 words during January … umm, that’s pretty bad. 

I know February is a short month, but I don’t have much of an excuse. Out of 28 days I only wrote on 8 of those days (and on those days I wrote, it was only somewhere between 100-500 words or so). I don’t think I’ve even made it through a whole chapter. 

So, what’s the problem? I think part of it is that I don’t have much of an established writing schedule. I kept trying to write right before I went to bed, but then I’d find that I was way too tired and I could only get out a few words at a time. I’ve been thinking I should start writing first thing in the morning instead, since I tend to wake up fairly early anyway. (I’d just have to get better at not staying up too late.) 

I think another problem is that I’m nearing the end of my first draft of I Chose the Monster. I’m at a point where things are kind of starting to unravel and everything goes to hell. And … I guess I’m kind of dreading it. Even though I’ve known how I was going to end it since I started it (more than a year ago), it’s still going to be painful. I’ve grown fond of all these characters and I feel bad for all the horrible shit they’ll have to go through towards the end, but … it must be done. *Cries* So I guess my point is that I don’t know if I feel ready to part with this story and its characters yet. Of course, it won’t really be over, since I’ll have to edit it over and over again forever. But still. 

Goals for Next Month:

I think for March I’m going to aim for a goal of 20,000 words. That means about 645 words per day, which isn’t too bad. Hopefully that will bring me to the end of my first draft. It’s already around 93k words right now, so I’m hoping this will wrap it up. (Yes I know, my rough drafts are always super long. But a lot of these words will be cut out later!)

So, dear readers:

How did your writing go this month? What are your goals for March?

Any tips for writing motivation?

Do You Get Story Ideas From Dreams?

I’ve always been fascinated with dreams, and I’ve had vivid dreams throughout my life. Sometimes they’re terrifying, sometimes they’re hilarious––but they’re always interesting to reflect upon.

As a writer, I find dreams important because they’re full of such unique imagery and ideas. The illogical nature of dreams is inspiring in some ways. When you’re dreaming, you often don’t stop to question what’s happening. If you suddenly turn into a chicken or the sky is rainbow you don’t stop and say, “Wait, this doesn’t make sense!” You just go along with it. (Well, sometimes you might question it and/or realize you’re dreaming, but … you get what I mean, hopefully.) Because of this, dreams can open up our imaginations in ways our conscious minds can’t.

I’ve actually had dreams before where I’ve stopped and thought, “Wait a minute … I should write a story about this!” The problem is that sometimes I wake up and don’t remember what the idea I had was. Either that, or when I wake up I realize my “bright idea” was actually incredibly stupid. (For example, one time I had a dream where I was convinced I should write a novel about zebras and it would be brilliant.)

I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a complete, full-fledged idea from a dream. However, there have been moments/images in my dreams that have worked their way into my stories.

I Chose the Monster probably wouldn’t have come into existence if it wasn’t for a dream. I had pieces of the idea already, but all I had in mind so far was a vague idea of the main character, Nina––a girl fighting to survive a zombie apocalypse even though she’s suffering from a horrible disease. But otherwise, I had no sense of the other characters or what the real story was.

Fortunately, around the time I was brainstorming for this story, I had a really crazy dream. I was in some kind of Hunger Games type scenario where me and a bunch of other teenagers all had to fight to the death in a forest. First, we had to get “prepared” and we all had to wear weird costumes. I had to wear a big yellow dress with buttons sewn randomly all over the front of it. I think I also had a parasol that converted into a sword or something (???).

Ah-hem, anyway … So, we were all getting ready in a big room. And then a girl came up to me, and even though she didn’t introduce herself I somehow knew her name was Juliet. (Because … dreams are like that.) She started talking to me and said something along the lines of, “Everyone who dies today will become a ghost. And the person who wins will be a monster.” And I was like, “Whoa. That’s deep, bro.”

Upon first waking up, I didn’t think what this dream-character had said to me made much sense. But for some reason, it haunted me. I kept thinking about her and what she’d said. I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow it merged together with the idea I’d had already. And that’s when I realized what the story was missing: Juliet. Once that piece clicked, the whole story made more sense. I had to write a story about both Nina and Juliet––two young women trying to survive the zombie apocalypse together.

As for what Juliet told me in my dream, it did actually end up in the story––with some modification so that it actually made sense in context and whatnot, of course:

“It was either this or death. To kill or be killed. To give up, to fade away, to become a ghost. Or to come out here, to lose all humanity. To become like them. That was really the choice, wasn’t it? Become a ghost or become a monster. … And I chose the monster.”

As you can see, I also got my title from that quote. So, if I hadn’t had that dream, I probably would never have come up with this story or its title. Hooray for dreams!

So, how about you guys? Have you ever gotten an idea from a dream? I’d love to know!

Teaser Tuesday #4

Teaser Tuesday is upon us again! Wow … has it really been a week already? Well, here’s another little excerpt from I Chose the Monster. Also, hopefully I will have another post up very soon. Happy Tuesday!

———–

Juliet’s voice cuts calmly through his. “It’s not your fault.”

“But it is.” He stands up straight, gripping the rail, still not looking at either of us. “I was too caught up in … I don’t know. Fighting. Trying to survive. I should’ve been looking out for him, for everyone.”

“We’re all just trying to survive,” Juliet says, after a moment of silence. “Don’t blame yourself for wanting to stay alive.”

Gavin says nothing. Somehow, I doubt that Juliet will be able to get through to him. And she probably knows that. But what else is there to say?

“I said I’d keep us all alive,” he says at last, his voice so quiet I can barely hear what he’s saying. “I kept promising them …”

“And you really thought you could keep that promise forever?” Juliet cuts him off. “It’s impossible. Either the Morts get us first or the disease does. We can only do so much.”

“No,” Gavin says. Now he lets go of the railing, takes a step away from it and turns to face us. “I can’t––I can’t think like that.”

Juliet shrugs, crosses her arms. “That’s the way it is.”

“But I …” Gavin stops, shakes his head. “I need it to be … more. I need there to be some kind of reason for all of this. Maybe it’s stupid, but …” At that he trails off, looking off into the distance again.

Juliet keeps staring at him. “It’s not stupid,” she says.

The sincerity in her voice surprises me––not that I expected her to be cruel or anything, I just didn’t expect her to say anything at all, I guess.

“I think that’s what we’re all trying to do,” she goes on, although now she’s looking away from Gavin again. “Find some kind of reason. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here.”

Teaser Tuesday #3

Oops, I almost forgot about Teaser Tuesday. (And I realize it completely slipped my mind last week, silly me.) I admit, I still have been slacking off on my writing recently, but I’m trying to make more of an effort to set aside a “writing time” for every day. (I also keep writing too late at night and getting too tired to get anything done, uggh.)

Anyway, I’ll shut up now and post today’s teaser from I Chose the Monster. This is a little emotional moment between Nina and Juliet (the two main characters). Enjoy, and let me know what you think! (Censored a bit for language and for a minor spoiler):

———-

Now that I’m standing closer, I can see she has her forehead leaned against the bars, and her face is deathly pale in the morning light.

My heart plunges into my stomach. “Juliet?” I fall on my knees next to her, put a hand on her shoulder …

She’s saying something, I realize. Whispering something I can’t hear. “What? Juliet, what is it? Are you all right?”

“I thought she was you,” she says, her voice clearer now.

“You … what?” I move closer to her, so I’m sitting right next to her. “What are you talking about?”

She slowly lifts her head, opens her eyes. Her hands slip from the bars and fall onto her lap.

“It––It was dark. I saw her die, I saw it kill her … and I thought …” She stops.

“You thought …” It’s all piecing together now, and it’s making my skin feel cold. “Juliet … Oh, my God.”

She doesn’t sit up or even look at me. I still have my hand on her shoulder and I can feel her shaking. “I didn’t realize until I was trying to pull her away, until it was too late.”

There’s a sudden lump in my throat. I drop my hand from her shoulder, and turn away so I’m facing the row of black metal bars in front of us. “It wasn’t your fault,” I say at last. I don’t know what else to say.

“I felt relieved,” Juliet says, as if she didn’t hear me. “When I realized it was her, and not you. How f***ing sick is that?” She sits up very suddenly, turning to look at me. Her eyes are ablaze, filled with some kind of expectation like she wants me to give her an answer. But I don’t know what to say.

“What kind of person does that make me?” she says, when I just stare at her. As abruptly as she looked at me, she looks away again, out to the sunrise-painted sky. “I mean, I … I’m not saying I was glad she wad dead, because of course I’m not. It’s horrible. I was just … Damn it.” She rubs the heel of one hand against one eye and then the other. “This wasn’t supposed to happen. I wasn’t supposed to …”

Juliet falls silent again, as she stares fiercely out at the dawn.

“You weren’t supposed to what?” I ask.

I hear her take in a deep breath and let it out again.

“I wasn’t supposed to start caring about you.”

I am a writer, and I am a feminist.

As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I am a writer.

I am also a feminist. I believe women should have equal rights to men and that they shouldn’t be unfairly judged for how they dress/act/etc. (I admit, there was a dark age where I thought feminism meant you had to hate men and burn all your bras and refuse to shave your legs. But … luckily I have learned the error of my ways.)

Especially over the past couple of years, as I’ve become more educated about feminism, these two aspects of my life have started to merge together more and more. Spending time on Goodreads has helped me discover a lot of reviewers who are concerned with how female characters are portrayed in books. The more I’ve read about these concerns, the more I’ve noticed them myself.

(A brief side note: This is mostly concerning YA books because that’s mostly what I read, but I’m sure these problems are present in a lot of adult books as well.)

I think there are two major problematic female archetypes. Obviously I’m generalizing a bit here, but I feel like a lot of heroines fall into either category:

1. The Mary Sue: This is a female character who is basically flawless. (The male equivalent is a Gary Stu.) She may have a few “quirks” that are passed off as character flaws––for example, being awkward and/or clumsy. But she doesn’t have a true personality or any actual, consequential faults. She is often very beautiful––even if she doesn’t realize it––and practically everyone falls in love with her. She is kind of an empty vessel in which the author (and the readers) can insert themselves and fantasize that they are living her life. It’s a bit more complex than that, but that’s the gist of it. To find out more about typical Mary Sue traits, I suggest checking out the Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test.

2. The “Badass”: Technically, I think this type of character could also fall under the Mary Sue umbrella. But, it’s a slight variation. After there was a huge paranormal romance craze in YA literature plagued by Mary Sues, it was followed by an apparent backlash in which a lot of weapon-wielding heroines started showing up. It seemed that a lot of authors interpreted the demand for more “strong” female characters as physically strong characters. The misunderstanding seems to be that you can take a boring female character, give her a weapon and some kickass fighting skills, and that automatically makes her more compelling. But … that’s not how it works. The “badass” female lead is often just as flawless and dull as a Mary Sue. She may at least take action more than a Mary Sue would––but she’s often unrealistically good at kicking ass, and can get through countless fights without getting a single scratch on her body.

Either case, I think, is due to laziness on the part of the author. The problem with either archetype is that they’re boring and unrealistic. But I think what’s the biggest problem is that they have no true flaws and they don’t suffer the consequences of their actions.

Regardless of gender, characters should not be flawless. When asked how he’s able to write female characters so well, Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin said, “You know … I’ve always considered women to be people.”

As obvious as it may seem, that’s a good point. Women are people. People are not perfect. Real people:

– Have faults. They have weaknesses––either physical or personality-wise.
– They are sometimes selfish and/or unkind to others.
– They are not perfectly beautiful and they don’t make everyone fall in love with them.
– They sometimes lose fights.
– They suffer phobias and traumas from their experiences.
– They question their actions and sometimes realize that they were wrong to do something.
– They have to face the consequences of their actions.

Of course, this applies to characters of any gender. And don’t get me wrong––there are plenty of horribly-crafted male characters out there as well. But I think we should be especially concerned with how we portray women in literature and how we should make them compelling.

As I’ve already touched upon, giving a female character a weapon isn’t going to automatically make her a better character. Could she be a great character? Absolutely! But is she “better” than another female character who prefers trying on dresses at the mall over shooting people? Well … she could be, but not necessarily.

To quote Sophia McDougall, from her article “I hate Strong Female Characters”:

“What do I want instead of a Strong Female Character? I want a male:female character ratio of 1:1 instead of 3:1 on our screens. I want a wealth of complex female protagonists who can be either strong or weak or both or neither, because they are more than strength or weakness. Badass gunslingers and martial artists sure, but also interesting women who are shy and quiet and do, sometimes, put up with others’ shit because in real life there’s often no practical alternative.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Women who kick people in the face can certainly be interesting, but the shy and timid women can be interesting, too. As McDougall points out, female characters are often judged based on how “strong” they are, whereas people aren’t generally as concerned with how “strong” male characters are as much as how interesting they are. So, shouldn’t we have the same standards for female characters? Shouldn’t we focus more on making female characters driven and complex than just on making them “badasses”?

McDougall also goes on to say that compelling heroines aren’t enough; “I want to see women in as many and varied secondary and character roles as men: female sidekicks, mentors, comic relief, rivals, villains.” And that brings up another excellent point, which I think often gets overlooked: It’s not just a matter of making the main heroines interesting, but also the secondary female characters.

In my opinion, one of the more troubling things about the portrayal of female characters is the relationships between them––that is, the relationships between women. There are plenty of “bromances” out there, but how many books truly focus on a friendship between two women?

In a lot of YA books I’ve read, there seems to be this disturbing tendency to set the female characters against each other. They’re not friends; they’re competitors. The main character strives to be better than all the other girls and constantly bashes her female peers for being shallow, for being “slutty”, for putting on too much make-up or not enough clothing. Sure, a lot of female main characters have “quirky best friends” who make an occasional appearance, but they’re usually not central to the plot.

A little over a year ago, I picked up Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein––which is a wonderful book about the friendship between two teenage girls during WWII. No competition, no romance. Just friendship. And that felt so new to me. I couldn’t think of a time I’d read a YA book that focused on a friendship between two young women that way.

Reading Wein’s book really inspired me to pick up I Chose the Monster again. It was a project I’d started months ago, and I had originally intended for it to just be a short story, but the idea continued to haunt me even after I had “finished” it. I’d wanted to write a more atypical zombie apocalypse story where the main characters were two heroines rather than the usual hero-and-heroine duo. To be honest, I don’t think I’d ever worked on a novel before that didn’t have some kind of romance in it––even though I’d always wanted to try it at some point. And I’m really glad I finally gave it a shot and that I decided to continue with the story. I’ve found that writing about platonic friendship between women can be just as complex and exciting as writing about romance. To steal a quote from Code Name Verity: “It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.” And I think that’s absolutely true––that friendship can be just as intense and emotional as romance is, and I wish it was something that was explored in books more often.

I’m sure I could go on and on about this forever, but this post is getting a bit long so I think I’ll cut it off here. But this is definitely a conversation I’d love to continue in the comments, and I’m sure you all have a lot to say about it as well.

So … tell me what you think. Are you concerned with how women are portrayed in books (and the media in general)? How do you go about developing your female characters vs. your male characters? What are some of your favorite female characters? What are some of your favorite fictional friendships between women?

I met my favorite author!

So, this post is a little delayed because I’ve been super lazy about posting but just a couple of weeks ago I met … *DRUM ROLL* …

Patrick Ness!

Here we are. I know I look terrible, shhhh.

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For those of you who don’t know, Patrick Ness is the author of several incredible books. He wrote my favorite series of all time, Chaos Walking. In addition he has written A Monster Calls and More Than This which are also totally amazing.

Anyway, Mr. Ness is one of my biggest writing idols. I adore his style and his characters, his stories are so powerful and unique, and all of the aforementioned books have brought me to tears. (And I don’t cry easily, so that’s saying something.)

So of course, when I found out he was going to be visiting a bookstore very close to my college, I just about peed myself. (Just kidding. Maybe.) I’ve been wanting to meet him since I first picked up one of his books five years ago, so … was I excited? Um, yes.

The bookstore was easily accessible by bus, which was convenient. So one of my best friends (who is also a big fan) and I went together and arrived just in time.

First of all, the talk Patrick gave was amazing. He was friendly and interactive with the crowd, he was very funny, and he also gave a lot of terrific advice for fellow writers. What stuck with me the most was when he said, “If you’re going to write something, write it with joy.” He went on to explain that what he thinks is the most important part of writing is working on something that excites you and makes you happy. Even if the final product isn’t the best book in the world, what’s important is that your enthusiasm is evident in the writing.

Then came the book-signing portion of the evening. So my friend and I got in line and had to wait for a few minutes. At this point, I was kind of freaking out because I was about to meet my favorite author in the world and had no idea what I was going to say. But before I knew it, we were up next in line.

Patrick was super nice in person. He asked my friend and I a bit about where we were from and where we went to school, and then he signed our books. When I handed him my (very well-loved) copy of Monsters of Men he noticed that I had the UK version (which I had ordered when it first came out because the US version wasn’t released until like six months later), and he jokingly accused me of “destroying it” (the front flap of the cover has ripped off, ah haha). But then he said he was just kidding and that he takes it as a compliment to see one of his books so worn out. He asked me what I wanted him to write in my book and I said I didn’t know (because I’m no good under pressure), so he wrote, “To Brigid, who left it up to me … (as is only proper).”

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(I know it’s a blurry picture, sorry!)

Anyway, it was so lovely to meet him and it’s something I’ll never forget.

So, how about you guys? Have you met any amazing authors? And/or if you could meet any author in the world, who would it be?

WIPMarathon Final Check-In

I realize I was supposed to post this update like a week ago, but I’ve been really stressed out lately and it totally slipped my mind (plus I haven’t been doing much writing … acck). But I will post it now anyway!

Last Word Count & Chapter Count:

WC: 90,211

CC: 31

Current WC & CC (or SC):

WC: 90,384

CC: 31

(Aggh I know, only a little over 100 words in two weeks. I’m terrible.)

WIP issues this week:

I really wanted to “cheat” on I Chose the Monster this week. That is, I’ve been really tempted lately to start something else. I’m not even sure why. I think it’s just been depressing me and so it’s been hard for me to write. But I’m feeling a bit better now, so hopefully I can keep resisting that temptation.

What I learned this week in writing:

Considering I haven’t really written anything in a couple of weeks … umm, I haven’t learned much. Haha. But I guess I’ve learned that I always reach a part of a manuscript where––even if I’ve gotten really far into it––I want to just toss it aside and start something new. I easily lose faith in my own work. But I just have to accept that my first draft isn’t going to be amazing and try to get it done.

What distracted me this week while writing:

I’m still trying to get into the swing of things, since my semester started not too long ago. Things aren’t too bad at the moment, though. I’ve also had some health problems these past couple of weeks which were stressing me out, but I’m feeling a little better now. *Knocks on wood*

Last 200 words [Censored for language, ah haha]:

“Then go without me.”

“Absolutely not. I’d never leave you behind. You know that.” He reaches down to gently place a hand on her head.

Audrey smacks his arm away. “Stop it.” She lurches to her feet. “Just … stop. Please. I––I can’t …” More tears streak down her face. She has her arms wrapped around herself, and even from where I’m standing I can see how hard she’s shaking.

Now Sadie is standing up, too. The expression on her face is grim, her eyes dull with grief. “Audrey …”

“What’s the point?” Audrey says, cutting her off. There’s a sudden venom in her voice, a harsh darkness in her gaze. “Really, what’s the f***ing point? The hunting, the fighting … It doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t––”

“Hey,” Gavin says gently. “Listen …”

“No!” she cries out, and the sharp sound of that one word echoes through the stillness. She’s breathing hard now, slowly taking steps backwards. “No, I––I can’t take this. All this bullsh**. I can’t, I can’t.”

Her voice has risen in pitch until it’s almost a scream. This time, no one reaches for her or says her name. Audrey stands on her own, in a square patch of light.

Plans after #WIPMarathon:

I’m going to be continuing with I Chose the Monster and hopefully I’ll be finished with the first draft in the next couple of months. I may keep doing weekly writing updates just to let you guys know how it’s going.