Leading Ladies: Why you should have a female protagonist and how to write one

Strong female role models are everywhere today. Beyonce, whether you love her or hate her, is a powerful and strong feminine icon in the music industry; J. K. Rowling is an amazing example of a female author whose books are as popular as LotR or Narnia; the Olympics, which are just drawing to an end for 2016, are also full of amazing, strong women who represent their countries. With the increasing amount of real world heroines for kids to look up to, attention has been drawn by a lot of writers and bookworms to the literary world, where the female role model is often hard to find. I don’t doubt the sudden increase in articles on Writer Unboxed and The Guardian is in part due to the celebration of our amazing real life women, and it has brought up an interesting point – why are we lacking female protagonists?

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n-WOMAN-MAN-YELLING-628x314Jo Eberhardt in her article points out that over 70% of the leads in films at the moment are male, and even when women take the center stage it is often men who still speak more than the women do. Is it just the men we should lump the blame with, can they simply not relate to women or do they just want to shut us up? Or are women the issue, are we not able to relate to the female role models authors are providing us with? One that springs to mind is Bridget Jones. I’m in no rush to get married and children are definitely off of the table for me, so I wouldn’t say I could relate, exactly, to Jones, but I do enjoy her stories and I can agree that the only men I need in my life are named Ben and Jerries. Maybe writers are just scared to write a female character – look at how long it’s taken for someone to step up and make a Wonder Woman movie. There is a lot of pressure in modern society to create the ‘perfect woman’.

My issue is often that women, when they are cast as the main character in a story, are in a story I’m not interested in. Romances aren’t really my thing, which is where women prominently feature as the lead figure. Even in fantasy literature, books where women are the main character tend to get twisted into a romance – ahem, Twilight. Even Hunger Games to an extent, whilst talking about really interesting and complex political issues, often gets over ridden by the love triangle rearing its ugly head every time the plot starts to get interesting.

34190df835ccf64480169e94c70e4022.jpgOne of my favourite books with a female lead is Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. When I say this in conversation people often sit up and go ‘Oh, I forgot it was a girl who was the main character in that’. I think it’s because the story is so damn interesting and so lovable we just stop focusing on the gender. It isn’t repeatedly shoved down the readers throat with references to love or with the conversation mostly being centered on sighing over hunky men. Don’t get me wrong, I can dig a steamy romance book every now and then, but I know when I need my fix and where to get them from (check out Nahlini Singh). But when I want an action or adventure story, where are my female characters? Where are my books on female dragon riders, or about Queen’s riding into battle to save a kingdom?

Why should I have a female lead?

Why not? Would be how I countered such a ridiculous question. Do you not think young girls want to be warriors and have a magical talking pet that takes them to another world, too? If you think your book ‘wouldn’t work’ if it was a woman instead of a man I think you need to take a deep hard look at yourself. I once had a friend that said ‘well if my lead was a woman she’d just fall in love and that would be that.’

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My simple response to that was – if you don’t want to write a romance don’t write a romance. Having a female lead does not equal a romance.

Perhaps it would be easier to explain my own reasoning for having a female lead:

mage-dragon-rider-knight.jpgBecause I’m a girl and I wanted to do everything my main protagonist, Scarlet, could do. Have wings, magical powers that could move mountains, AND be a fantastic warrior? Who wouldn’t want that, male or female? I was also always fed up with it being a guy who got to do the ‘fun stuff’. In games at school the girls always had to be the damsel in distress, or the princess, or some other ridiculous boring thing which meant having to give the boys a kiss at the end. I wanted to be the one pretending to fight dragons and walk over lava. Girls need to be told more from a young age that they can do those things, we shouldn’t have it forced on us from the get go we’re a simple love interest to be shouted over by men.

We need more leading ladies for the girls like me who dreamed of being a Dragon Rider, or a warrior, or the next Indiana Jones. We also need these stories so others stop associating leading ladies with romances. So we don’t even need to have this conversation. So we can end every book and have to consciously think to recall the gender of that character, because the book was so damn fantastic who cared.

How do I write a leading lady?

Number One: Focuse on the plot of your story first. Don’t think that you’re writing a female character, especially when you’re in the planning stages. Just think of totally amazing things which you want to happen and instead of writing ‘he’ add an extra letter to the beginning and write ‘she’. It should still work. It WILL still work. Get rid of any idea that it wouldn’t work right here, right now.

Number Two: Now we’ve got past the planning stage and the initial fear of writing about someone with a vagina, think about them as a person. This isn’t the 1800s – a woman’s only dream isn’t to fall in love and get married. Think about the strong women in the news we see, or the women in your life. What are your favourite traits in them? Is it their humour (dark, sarcastic), is it their ability to say ‘yes’ to everything no matter how crazy it is, is it how creative they are? Make a PERSON. Do not lose sight of this. Just because there is something different between the legs does not make them any less of a complex 3D character with hopes and dreams and characteristics – both good and bad.

header-power-girl.jpgNumber Three: Think about their appearance on your page. I don’t just mean how they look, but how you write their actions. Women in books tend to ‘pout’ a lot, or ‘sigh dreamily’, or ‘give a shy smile’. Screw that. Women snort when they laugh, they scrape their nails through dirt when they’re sitting in grass, and – cover your eyes those of a gentle spirit – they even fart. A warrior wouldn’t smile meekly, a warrior would lean against walls, or rest their hand on the hip of where their sword usually hangs, or wear a scowl, laugh loudly, joke, be scruffy and perhaps look as though they’ve been in a bit of a fight. It’s amazing how you can change a female character by simply changing an adjective or two from being a love-sick puppy to the saver of the world.

Number Four: Don’t forget they are a woman. There is a real risk to very blindly blunder into writing a female character as a man entirely, and you’ll get a lot of hate for that as much as you would writing another Bella Swan. Think of the problems a woman would face in your world. Maybe they wouldn’t face any problem? Matriarchies are probably in this category – when women rule it’s like a gender version of Noughts and Crosses. But if you are writing it based in this world for instance, think and RESEARCH the problems women face. It’s all very good a woman warrior sure, but unless your female species doesn’t carry the child (hey wouldn’t that be a fantastic idea) then they are going to have periods, they are going to face the pressure of carrying on a line (especially royals, even if they are the ruler), they are going to struggle at times. On this Earth, they are probably going to be harassed, and then there’s that fear of being attacked that looms over most girls heads as they walk home alone. None of this should scare you, it’s a person, there are risks to every person, and hopefully you do your research before writing a character. This is no different, if you’re writing a woman. Do a little research. Research. Research. Research.

Why-Joss-Whedon-Writes-Strong-Female-Characters.jpgNumber Five: Don’t be scared to write one. A lot of people hold back when writing about women, they stick to what has been given the nod of approval and stay in the safe end. But we don’t need safe, we need more. We need the female space cowboys and the female lion tamer. Gender should not put you off, and that is the best tip I can give to writing a strong female lead, otherwise there will always be something holding you – and your character – back from being the best they should and could be.

 

 

 

I hope that this has helped and given a lot of you courage to write some new and amazing female characters who take the center stage in books. As always, comments and questions are welcome.

Till next time, Ink-Slingers, keep writing!

 

Playing God: Creating your imaginary world.

The obsession with world building probably really started with Tolkein. With a rich history, individual languages and a carefully mapped out and thought through geography, the Lord of the Rings series was a great success that will spawn fans for generations to come. Writers who wish to create their own fantasy realm often strive for the success which Tolkein enjoys, and by doing so they try too hard, falter and end up in some way reverting back to the world they know. Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and Hunger Games, to name a few of the popular series of the 21st century, are all linked in some way to our own world – one we can experience: Game of Thrones, medieval Europe; Harry Potter and Hunger Games, our modern world. Few writers anymore seem to take the plunge and design their whole world from scratch. It can be a terrifying prospect after all, especially given that the bar is so high. Or at least it seem’s it.

The world in Lord of the Rings is not good because it is complicated. It is good because it appears natural and believable, at least as much as a fantasy world can be. Writers need to stop seeing world building as a daunting task – it is the best bit. This is the part where you can play God. Do you want red skies and green rivers? You go ahead. Do you want plants to eat humans? You go ahead. Do humans even inhabit your earth?

I’ve been building Sheinara for many years now (Sheinara of course is the kingdom in which Scarlet’s story is set), which is based in a whole new world. As I have got older my ideas for the world have matured and changed which yours will too as you write. Planning your world does not mean you have to rigidly stick to the design, but planning is where I would suggest starting. If anything, it will give your stories a much richer texture and more to talk about. Here are some areas to consider when world-building that many over look:

original.jpgGovernment:

Firstly, how the hell is your world run? Are there democracies or monarchies or communist states going on? Is it a mix, or do all countries appear to have a similar system in places? I say ‘appear’ because it may always look like a country is ruled by a monarch for instance, but there are varying degrees of power that monarch might be able to exercise etc. When thinking of your style of rule you need to think of the impact on your country that would have – dictatorships are going to be harsher just by nature, there might be revolutions brewing because of that, or perhaps people are enchanted with it because it is new. If there is a sole ruler remember it is IMPOSSIBLE for anyone one man or woman to run a country on their own – there will always be ministers or nobles or general helpers who keep order. Think of the different branches that might be involved in keeping your government stable. Even if your story has nothing to do with it, it will indirectly affect your characters in the background through taxes, or the police etc.

Monty-Python-monksReligion:

For the love of God do not have everyone believing in the same damn thing. If you are going to have different races in your world, which you should, there are going to be different belief systems. There might be one God, multiple Gods, no Gods – anything. Even if you wish for there to be a pantheon – like which exists in Sheinara – not every village is going to like the same Gods – some towns will value one over the other, some will be feared, some loved, some hardly talked about, depending on where your character goes. They may even be hated for it. Spartans often went to war with Athens simply because the Gods they had chosen were opposites and in mythology fought regularly. Also you may want to think about whether these Gods are ‘real’ – do they walk among your people at times?  This is entirely possible in your world. Beings that were seen as ‘gods’ in Sheinara for example did once upon a time visit the world they live in, but they moved on to their own world when they got bored. So they are actually another race entirely and the reader knows that, but to the people of Sheinara they are ‘God’ – for they gave them life. This is okay too!

1680x1050_discworld-terry-pratchett-wallpaper-e1367902680361.jpgGeography:

It is always good to get a rough idea of what your world looks like – it could be spaced out over one land mass (our Earth started off all joined together remember!) – or it could be separated by vast oceans or land bridges. There will be mountains and deserts and forests no doubt in different parts of your world. Think of the temperature. There is a cool feature Google now provides where you can create your own map and add in mountains, rivers, etc and maps will show you what these effects will have on your land and therefore the types of people who live there.

image7.jpgRace:

Which of course brings us on to race. DO NOT HAVE JUST ONE RACE. The amount of manuscripts I have read or online series where people have reduced their world to one singular species is actually painful. I am not quite sure where this idea has come from that a vast world will only produce one type of people. By having a varied geography, you are going to have different races. For instance – if your world has any variation in heat there will be different skin tones at least. Different languages because they are separated. It makes absolutely NO SENSE when a guy investigating a new world that has never been discovered can understand the natives and have the native’s look and act the same. Please don’t be one of those guys. You’re writing a fantasy – for all we care your guys could be purple or blue. Just vary it. For each race remember they will probably have their own belief system, language, culture, government, history – unless they are closely linked to the main country you are focusing on somehow. Even then there should be variations!

d9f23138ccae5ce3c36f834eec7e5c25.jpgHistory:

This seem’s like a really obvious one but there have been countless online stories and series’ where the history has clearly not been thought through. We don’t need the history on every other page like in Tolkein’s work – it was one of the most challenging aspects of reading his books for me – but it should be alluded to. Robin Hobb’s books are a great way to see the subtle ways history can be woven into a story so it is not shoved down the readers through but at the same time after finishing the novel they realise they have a surprisingly good understanding on how the characters ended up in the situations they did. In Sheinara, most of the history is told in visions or dropped into conversations so the history is built up into a reader’s mind over time. It is also a good way to keep a reader wanting more. Come on, who else is dying to really know more of the history in Game of Thrones? What exactly HAPPENED between Lyanna and Rhaegar?!

g1335152020623109464Animals:

I’ve mentioned races but animals are one that can often be disappointing in a story too. Don’t be afraid to make up your own little creatures for your new world – and think of their relationship to other races of being. Are they Gods? Can they communicate in a way that is understood by other races? Are they just beasts and mindless? Magical, normal? I am so bored of fantasy worlds with just horses in it – where are the damn unicorns?! Animals are such a fun thing and I have so many favourites in Sheinara I hope will be loved too. I think one of the best inspirations for coming up with new species is J. K’s Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them. Draw on mythology and legends – checking our medieval beasteries are a good shout too. So many weird and wonderful animals we’ve all forgotten about.

e54e0279ac772cef54db709c8cb97356.jpgTechnology and Magic:

The two are not mutually exclusive. I had a really fun seminar where we were discussing the boundaries between technology and magic – for example would you say broomsticks in Harry Potter were a piece of technology or simple a bit of magic? I opted for the idea that magic was in a sense our science and thus as a product of such, the broomstick would be a piece of technology made with science/magic. You can choose just to have one of the other – a lot of fantasy worlds will appear more medieval because they have magic and therefore may not need fancy trains or rockets and such – especially if the races can fly. I would think carefully about how you are going to justify either system and how exactly they are going to fit into your world. Good books do not just release all types of magic into their world and offer no explanation or restrictions – that gets boring. Perhaps certain races can only do magic and others rely on technology like my world? It will not only shape your characters and plot, but also the geography of the land so it is a good thing to bear in mind.

 

 

There are plenty of other things I could talk about but these are the major areas I would start with to begin your world building. At a later date I will post a refined world building post about the more nitty-gritty ideas that make a world what it is. For now, I hope I have wet your appetite for world building and that you are ready to begin playing God.

Happy writing, ink-slingers!

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“I’ll do it later”: The biggest white lie

“I’ve got this assignment to do.”

“Oh, I am just catching up with a friend.”

“I’ll just watch one more episode of Community.”

Writers are their own worst enemy and we tell the biggest lies to ourselves. As I recline on the sofa cuddling my cat who is desperately trying to escape my hold, I always lament to my mother how I cannot write for I am so, so busy with my every day life: she must wonder why my nose is not growing by the minute. Each new episode of Sex and the City I queue up on the TV to watch next, each time I decide to reorganise my bookshelf… they are all lies. These things do not need to be done in the time I have set aside for writing. Occasionally, there will be a legitimate reason for me not sticking to my writing time – such as The Block I talked about last week, or my appendix exploding (seriously). But most of the time it is Procrastination – that little devil that sits on a writer’s shoulder and whispers of the temptations outside the study room.

So how do you beat Procrastination?

Procrastination doesn’t just affect your writing life, but your academic work and sometimes actual work too. You always want to put off what seems like a daunting task. I’ve searched high and low for a miracle cure that will dispel this feeling and make me sit down and crack out my next chapter. Alas there is no such thing. It is all about training your mind, or finding little bursts of encouragement. Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to stop lying to myself.

92d811887351152e055e3e577d8a84595be75761e70383a3d7958449700a4c8aRemoving Distractions:

Isn’t the internet great? It’s how you are reading this article after all, how we chat to friends across the country, how we find out the latest news. But the internet is probably one of the biggest distractions, at least for me. When I am writing, Facebook is all too seductive as I sit staring at a blank page. One click and I could be there, whizzing through the exciting stories of my friends, and that cute cat that can skateboard. REMOVE THEM. After I found myself lost on youtube for over two hours, and my alarm started bleeping at me to let me know my writing time was up and I had to go to work, I realised I had a serious internet addiction issue. So I downloaded an extension you can get for free on Google Chrome (and I have been assured something similar is around for Safari). It’s called StayFocused. It’s a great little tool and you can put a time limit on how long the site is blocked for. When you try to access your blocked sites then you are told to get back to studying. It’s a great tool and one I would recommend for others with an internet addiction like me.

There is also a version for this for your phone if you are one of those people who find that more distracting. It’s called Forest and what you do is plant a tree for a certain amount of time and if you click on your phone and try to use it you can kill the poor helpless tree. This is again a free app, but you can download one for a bit of money (I think it’s 80p) and you can connect and compete with friends to battle for the best forest.

As for anything else, remove yourself from their harmful reach. I always find it best to work outside of my house where things of comfort and easy access are – such as food. I’m much less likely to stroll around a coffee shop umming and arring over food than I am at home where I stare aimlessly at a fridge despite not being hungry. Books, too, I cannot lug with me to the coffee shop. I am alone. And actually, usually without internet. Win win.

Getting Organised:

Stop allowing yourself to have an excuse. If you have genuinely left your assignment too late, or have other work to do, and you are in any way like me, you have done it in part because you would rather have a good excuse not to be writing. Get yourself organised. Get your work done during your non-writing days, or simply spend less time writing, but do NOT let yourself bypass the writing day simply because you had too much on today. This is no excuse. I have a diary and my writing days/hours are blocked out entirely so I have to try to fit my assignments around it. I’ve done it for three years of university, so don’t tell me it’s impossible. If you are determined to get this thing written then it is definitely possible.

Just Start Writing:journalist-with-typewriter

I find that sometimes I have worked myself up into such a state about not wanting to write, that I turn it into some demon type task in my head. Almost akin to cleaning the oven out. So I hate it and tell myself, well I shouldn’t write if I am going to hate doing it. But really this is some concoction the devil on your shoulder had laid in your mind. It’s not true, you love writing, you love your main character, and despite your differences you really want to do your best by your book. I find the best way to counter this type of procrastination is by simply writing. There is no Block, though you have convinced yourself this thing IS The Block. It’s not. You’re Procrastinating. You’re probably about to throw a mini tantrum because you don’t want to believe it. If this is the case, I am probably right.. Even if it’s not the story you are working on, or not the part of the book you wanted to next tackle, you need to start writing and remembering why you love writing so much. Soon you’ll be back in nonsense land and wishing you didn’t have to stop again.

Find a Procrasto-Buddy:

This is not someone you procrastinate with, rather someone who you give authority to give you a slap every now and then. Mine alternates between my mother, and my housemate. The odd slaps usually come after a continuous hour of having to listen to me whine about not having time to write but wanting too. These buddies are what you really need to kick you into gear with a stern talk. It needs to be someone who won’t take your bullshit. Who knows that you don’t have anything else to do. Who know’s that your plan is actually to curl up in bed and watch Netflix. So they frog march you to your desk and sit you down and don’t leave until they see you start typing. They are the best friends for a writer.

DO NOT PANIC

Working yourself up into a state is a serious threat and a danger to your writing. I’ve seen people break in the libraries and my writing group with the sheer pressure of trying to beat this demon. When you start to feel that anger mixed with hatred mixed with tears, take a moment to breathe and go for a walk. Sometimes you just need to clear your head and get away from what is distracting you to help you realise you are actually procrastinating. It is an issue not many realise they are having until the time window you’ve set aside for yourself is gone. This is when the PB comes in handy too, to give you a slap when you are laying curled up on their bed crying about not being able to write.

You are letting yourself down:

I have this message typed out on my ‘snooze’ for the alarm I set for writing. My phone judges me, but the slogan works to spur me into action. At the end of the day nobody else is going to care whether or not you have written a book. It is only going to matter to you. By procrastinating you are letting yourself down, nobody else, and that is the worst feeling in the world aside from stepping on your pets tail. Remind yourself of that the next time you find yourself lying on the sofa in a pool of crisp crumbs. Who is really going to care if your book is never written?

You.

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Sadly, this demon cannot be fought easily. It is going to be hard and I am not going to lie and tell you that hey you open your laptop and you are good to go. It is a long war we fight. But I find these methods are the best for me when procrastinating. Some of the methods I spoke about in my how to deal with The Block can also help. Hopefully, I have given you some weapons and armour in dealing with it, but please as always feel free to share your own tips of the trade.

That’s it for this week, happy writing Ink-Slingers!

 

A Writer’s Nightmare

I have just finished my History degree at the University of York. This year alone I wrote over 20,000 words about a mixture of twelfth-century court life, sixteenth-century science, magic and tried to justify to myself and my tutor why exactly one should study history. Most of my time at university is spent either reading dusty books in our archives, or writing academic papers. When I drag myself out of the library at 6 pm in the evening and after propping myself up enough to cook a semi acceptable meal, it is hardly surprising that what I want to do is curl up on the sofa and watch Community and not spend time on my writing projects.

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To counter this I set aside a certain amount of time each week which I dedicated as my writing time. Wednesdays I had no classes, I had my writers group, and it was just early enough in the week to not be a comatose mess. So there I would be, sitting in my favourite coffee shop, tunes on point, document in front of me and… The Block.

For those of you who have not experienced The Block have not yet encountered a writers worst nightmare. The Block is a sinking feeling deep inside of your stomach as it dawns on you that despite having created the perfect setting for writing, and being in the mood to write, your brain has betrayed you. As you try to force yourself to write, the more wound up you become until you are so angry you have to shut everything down and change your venue from coffee shop to pub to drown your sorrows (and trust me, it’s quite hard to find a pub serving alcohol at 10 am).

Many of us have suffered at the hands of The Block, but not all of us have found methods of breaking that block (yes, it is possible!)

Prompts:

My favourite method of Block Breaking is to use Prompts. A lot of you will already be familiar with the concept, but for those who are not, a Prompt is the start of a story, or a scenario, or it could even be a picture, that you have to write a story based on. For example, if I said the colour red was your prompt, you would have to think of a story to do with the colour red. This might inspire ideas of roses, blood, or a sunset. Go with it. It’s a great way to start stimulating the brain. Blocks are usually caused through a lot of pent-up expectation and pressure, by removing some of that by distracting your brain with smaller and less challenging tasks, it eases The Block. Often I will have to do several prompts to get the creativity flowing again, but I have always had success when using this.

finished-exercising-feels-much-betterExercise:

Now, I’m not a sporty person myself so before you click the tiny cross at the top of the browser and declare me a lunatic for even suggesting so, please give me a minute to explain. Exercise is a great way to release happy chemicals into your brain, and The Block is often a cause of stress and pressure. Going for a walk around the park, a swim, or horse riding in my case, releases those endorphins and allows you a bit of clarity. Such clarity allows you to once again be in control of your brain and what you want to do. After a good swim I always find myself itching to get back to the paper and pen with a new story line or idea.

Change the story:

Sometimes you just can’t get yourself to focus on the story line you are currently working on and the first step to defeating this kind of block is to simply change the story line. A good novel will have a lot of subplots going on as well as the main story, and when The Block hits, it is a good opportunity to work on one of the more underdeveloped plot lines. It might just be the change of scene so to speak that helps you ease back into the creative mindset. This tactic can be quite challenging if like me you want to work on chapters in order. What I tend to do is work either on the other novel series altogether, or I will start planning and researching one of the other plot lines and writing little snippets of what I want to happen.

cxOTWSERole-Play:

D&D is great, sure, but the type of role-play which is great for stimulating your creativity is called Writing Role-play. All you need it one other writer friend to do this with you, and you simply write large blocks of text to one another on One Drive of your characters interacting with one another. Anything goes, and the most wonderful, fun and original ideas come out of writing only half a story and having to react on instinct. If there’s nobody around to help you out when The Block hits, there are plenty of forums which are full of other writers like you searching to beat The Block. Vampires, Werewolves, School High-school, alternative realities, space … You name it, there is a forum out there for you.

 

 

I hope this helps you on the path to recovery and you are soon scribbling away again. As always, if you have any questions or tips of your own feel free to comment or email me.

Happy Writing, Ink-Slingers*!

*Credit to Katherine for inspiring this little phrase.

Eavesdroping, Sword Fighting and Friends: Finding Your Inspiration

 

I was always told by my English teacher that you couldn’t force inspiration: it would come to you in a dream, or a flash of genius. I have very vivid dreams so that was not a problem for me – both of my trilogies are based off of dreams I had when I was younger and had scribbled on a notepad in the middle of the night. But that type of inspiration only gets you so far. Have you ever tried to remember a dream? It’s like viewing an old movie through the thick cigarette smoke of those massive cigars your grandfather lights up every 5 minutes. You can remember the beginning, perhaps an exciting part in the middle and, you somehow miss the ‘real’ ending because you were rudely awoken by an alarm clock. On top of that the colours, if you are lucky enough to dream in colour, are faded, you can’t really remember what the characters faces look like and, you’re pretty sure half of the plot is from that movie you watched before you went to bed. So, if you are lucky enough to get a flash of genius, or come up with your best seller in a dream, you’re stuck with what can barely pass as a skeleton of a story. You need to pad it out, add the subplots, develop your characters further, think of the twist that will leave your readers wanting more.

But how do you get inspired? Inspiration doesn’t have to be something you wait around for: go out and find it. These are the ways through which I find myself itching to write:

Eavesdropping: Do you ever just look at someone and wonder what their story is? If so then this game is going to be perfect for you and all you have to do is sit in a coffee shop, park or somewhere you will be surrounded by different types of people. You can use your notebook or laptop, whichever you feel better with, and you can put in headphones (but obviously don’t play music), or go without. I prefer going without. So, what you do in your chosen location is simply sit and listen to the people around you. Don’t listen to their full conversation or anything like that, but try to catch a word, or a sentence and then write it down. Then, try and make a story that fits with what you have written down. So many things are going on around you in people’s lives, and you need to bear that in mind when you are writing your stories – even your background characters have lives and layers you may not have thought about. Watching people over coffee with a friend, or playing with their child in the park are precious and useful insights into a variety of different lives. Snippets which are useful for your character development.

Your Life: You have a WE11922952_10153350719642529_656483814220741773_oALTH of experience that you can draw on in your writing. All that pain, all that happiness, all that love that lives inside of you should come out on your page. It doesn’t have to be something big like the death of a loved one, it can simply be how seeing your friend smile makes you feel. Your characters are people with dreams, who have friends, who may have had a family – how do you feel about your dreams, your friends and family, your hobbies even? I think one of the biggest influences on me has been re-enactment. One of my books is a medieval-esq fantasy and so doing historical re-enactment is perfect for me to see how it would feel to ride horses in armour, use a sword, and see a man with a daneaxe running towards you. There are so many hobbies and aspects of your life you should reflect on and draw upon for your work.

Do something new: If you don’t feel as though you have something exciting enough or appropriate enough for your stories find something that could help you that you could go and do. Is your character a reporter? Why not go and ask for some work experience at a local paper or join the one at your school/university? Is your character a doctor? Then why not go and do a first aid course? Does your character have magic powers and has to reveal them to someone? Tell someone a deep secret of yours – THINK about what experiences would help you and what you need to experience not just know to write your book.

20113714026398876_20.jpgHistory: History has the word ‘story’ in it and it is FULL of them. If you think of an interesting turn of events you can bet that it has almost definitely happened somewhere in the world at some point in time. G. R. R. Martin is a perfect example of how the use of history has helped pad out his books and give it that rich and believable quality the fans love so much. See how others reacted to something in the past. For instance – if you want your country to go through a revolution how about looking up the French, American and Haiti revolutions? They are three very different and very interesting situations which will give you an idea of how your characters might perhaps handle such an event and the challenges they would perhaps face.

Friends and Family: I guess it doesn’t have to be family and friends, but I think they are the people you know the best and thus will probably work the best for this exercise. Looking at your friends and family is a good way of finding qualities you want in your character. Everyone has flaws, and everyone has good parts of them. Thinking about what you like and dislike on a friend will help you make a well-rounded character. I really like to combine personality traits from different people and put them into one of my characters, then throw in a few traits I really despise. Even with the villains, I will combine the bad traits of people I know into one person and throw in a few good bits. Nobody is truly bad or good and characters that are completely good or bad get boring. You want your readers to hate that they love a villain, or doubt whether they really do like your main character. Plus I feel like a witch making some sort of potion when I do it!

yorkshire-middleham-hall-1600x9002-1600x900.jpgVisiting Places: I’ve mostly discussed ways to get inspired about characters or events, but when trying to think of how you want a place to look the best thing I can advice is to go and visit places. Today I went to Bolton Castle which is a beautiful places in North Yorkshire. I know that Bolton isn’t perhaps the castle shape I would like but driving through the Dales has given me a few ideas for the geography of the Northern territories of my land – those loping hills look FANTASTIC for epic horse chases.

I hope these ideas help you find some inspiration when you’re stuck in a rut or are just tired of waiting for that famous flash of genius. Remember, writing isn’t just about sitting in front of a computer or reading lots of books – do things. The best way for you to write a story about someone’s life is to live your own.

As always, feel free to reply with your own best tips to getting inspired and keep writing Inkslingers!

The Fear of Failure

 

I’ve had this site set up since Christmas. I spent ages choosing my layout, the exact shade of colour I wanted as my background, my header and tag line. The next six months I stared at a blank page and thought to myself “Ah, well I don’t have time this week. There’s that important paper I have to write… and that book I’ve been meaning to read… maybe next week.”

It’s quite scary getting your writing out on the big wide web, where it can be criticised and talked about. What if I’m not as good as I thought I was? What if it doesn’t get any views? What if I’m a failure? I think the fear of failure is one of the biggest challenges to over come, even overcoming the fear to start an introduction blog post to a community who probably won’t find it until I’m several, more confident, posts down the line. So I thought failure would be a good topic to start with discussing.

My Top Tips:

You probably think I am not the best person to be coming to for advice on over coming fear on publishing your writing. It took me six months after all. However, maybe it is someone like me you should be seeking advice from because, you are probably me six months ago. Scared? Nervous? Putting it off simply so you don’t have your confidence shattered? Yeah, I thought so. So here’s how I got over it:

  1. Just hit send: It sounds stupid, but if you don’t hit send now, how are you going to get anywhere? If you don’t send in your manuscript to a publishers how will you ever get published? You would say the same if your friend complained about not having a job but refused to apply to any, wouldn’t you? So perhaps my top tip, would be to just hit send. So what if it’s a bit rough around the edges if it’s your first post? At least you posted. If this means stuffing your face with chocolate or having a glass of wine to get your courage up to do so then that’s fine, you are doing better than I was for the past six months!
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  2. You tumblr_loww8aUF4N1qhmhdfo1_500won’t succeed the first time. At the beginning of my third year of university, I thought I was going to fail my degree. I had had a few bad marks, and everyone’s confidence gets knocked when you really enjoyed writing a paper only to have your tutor tell you in truth you were awful. So I made myself a little sticky note that is pinned to my wall and says: Failure means FIRST ATTEMPT AT LEARNING. And it is something we forget. We’re not going to be awesome to begin with, we need to learn through our mistakes. And that is OK. Nobody is expecting you to wake up and write the next best-selling novel. It takes blood, sweat, tears and a lot of coffee. Telling yourself that the first draft is going to be bad, and that it is OK for it to be bad is the first step to overcoming your fear of failure.
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  3. Learn from your mistakes: The only time failing is really a failure is if you don’t learn from what you have done wrong. If someone gives you some feedback don’t just discard it and convince yourself you know best: READ what they have said. If they are telling you you repeat a word too often, go through and think of other words you could use instead of ‘sigh’ or ‘said’. It is broadening your vocabulary, it is making it more interesting to read, developing your character! All these amazing things from one little piece of advice. Do take on board criticisms. They shouldn’t be viewed as bad things, rather little gifts of wisdom.
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  4. It’s OK to feel upset: I think one of the biggest problems I have had is being annoyed with myself for feeling upset. I like to act very cool and confident, tell everyone I know I’m not going to get the role I applied for. For a while I can believe in the lie too, but when the rejection letter comes through I’mimage always surprised as to how upset I am about it. It is OK to feel upset! It sucks. You wanted that job, you could have probably done a better job than whoever they chose instead. The key to allowing yourself to be upset and letting those feelings getting in the way is the power you let it have over you. Yeah it sucks, but there’s a thousand other opportunities out there. Take a minute, process your annoyance by going for a walk or ranting to your mum, and then get back on that horse, soldier!
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  5. Keep Writing: If you get rejected the first time, whether it’s from a job in publishing that you wanted, or whether your manuscript “Isn’t quite what they are looking for” for the love of God do not stop writing. Don’t let that friend with the steady job at John Lewis tell you a managerial scheme is better for you. This is your dream – are you going to let someone else tell you to give up on it? Failing is learning, and to get better you need to keep writing. Whenever I get a refusal from somewhere the first thing I like to do is one of my prompts to get the creative juices flowing again and remind myself why I am torturing myself so much. Because I love writing.

 

So here I am, following my top tips on failure, and am about to press send. It may have taken me a while to come to terms with the fact that failing is OK, and just another way to learn, but I got there. I hope you do too.

That’s all for now, happy writing Ink-slingers!

 

If you have any tips on over coming the fear of failure, or dealing with failure, please feel free to comment and share!