Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Behind the Scenes #2: Let's Talk Hair

I've never been one for blond hair. I grew tired long ago of the stereotypical heroine/hero with the luscious golden locks in traditional fairy tales and as the main character in kids' cartoon series. The blond guys and girls were everywhere! You knew when you reached their description or saw them for the first time that they were destined to be the protagonist. You also knew they'd be extremely kind to children, animals, and old people; full of spirit; ready for adventure; would be the ones to advise and gently chide their sidekicks; and would come through the story still looking beautiful.

A nice standard but very boring when everyone used it. And ... in real life, I knew blond people came in different personalities. Many of the places I moved to had large groups of fair haired denizens. Being blond was common, so why did it have to designate power and attractiveness in stories? I took pride in never using a blond haired person as a protagonist in my stories.

So what was I to do when I dreamed up the story of my novel Trefury and in the dream both POV characters were blond? They wouldn't be the same if I altered how I imagined them. Childish prejudices aside, I had to talk myself into accepting their blondness. After all, no one can really help what hair color they are born with, or - er - dreamed with.

That was several years ago. Since then I've developed a dislike for the overuse of redheads in fiction, but that's another story. When I picked up Trefury again to edit and polish it up I did a lot of research into my psyche back when I first wrote it, since the main character was a teenager and I wasn't one any more, still mystified by the fact that I couldn't change her appearance without feeling wrong about it. And in revisiting my younger self, I found the basis for her hair.

I had a youth leader, a woman in her late thirties/early forties who defied the middle age ideal. Instead of cropping it short and manageable she let it grow down her back, kept it in a braid, and it was blond. She was an adult I really looked up to, and I believe her hair crept into my dream.

I've grown my hair out several times, partially for method writing. It helps to know what it's like to have long, thick hair and what goes into maintaining it. You spend more time with a brush and use more shampoo and conditioner for starters. Long hair also gets in the way of the simplest activities, especially if unbound. Activities such as preparing food, stooping to clean up a mess, handling children, walking through trees and bushes, even buckling a seat belt - the hair can get in the way or pulled.

My character, Cortnee, has grown out her hair for two reasons: because she has very nice hair and wants it long, the second reason is that she was in a small power struggle with her mom over short hair versus long hair. When her mom is no longer around, Cortnee has the freedom to let it grow, and grow. It gets down to her knees and she usually keeps it tamed in a braid. Her hair also becomes symbolic when she gets to a place where no one grows their hair out, representing her alien background as well as her independent spirit.

I had fun researching hair styles. I knew even a long braid wouldn't work for some of the action Cortnee would go through. It would be too easy for an adversary to catch her by the braid or for it to get tangled up. I could go into every neat idea I came across, but why bore those of you who don't care? For those who do, here is a great YouTube channel that focuses on hair styles and how to do them.

Personally, I still prefer long hair to short, and I can write about it with confidence. As to hair color, even though red became the new blond for a long time and is now being replaced with black, I do know that trying to make your character look a certain way to fit a trope or current popular ideal can backfire. Cortnee wanted to be blond in countries where the predominant hair colors were darker. Delving into the story I now know staying true to my vision created layers of symbolism.

And deep down I can still smile knowing her personality's not like the stereotypical blonds I ran into when I was a kid.

If you write, have you ever had a character want to look a certain way, even if it wasn't something you liked?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Music to Write by #5: OCRemix Chrono Cross Another Inspiration

This piece, remixed by Scott Peeples, is gorgeous, lilting, and soothing. Don't think elevator music soothing, but rather inspirational, as the title suggests. Would work well in a writing soundtrack for a moment of realization, heading out into breathtaking new territory, a romantic moment, or perhaps a place emotionally abstract. Have a listen:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tongue-In-Cheek Fun

Everything seems to go into high gear as November transitions to December. The weather's gone crazy and so have some people. My family has been very sick for nearly three weeks and I'm worn out and tired. While anything is possible writing fodder (for those of us struggling to remember the bright side,) I wanted to share a couple of funny online sketches to lighten the mood.

First up, a popular YA stereotype bites the dust:

And next, the tongue-in-cheek sketch that opens up questions about plagiarism and overused tropes:

Lastly, to help you get in the mood for writing a scene where a man and a woman are arguing:

Hopefully these brought a smile to your lips like they did to mine. No matter what the stress of the season, take time to breathe and laugh.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Final NaNo Stats

Hi everyone. I'll bet you're tired of hearing about National Novel Writing Month, since several people blogged about it during November. I always like to reflect on what I took away from the experience, so bear with me.

What I learned:
1. Sometimes jumping around out of order helps cut down unnecessary scenes, makes you think harder about how the characters got from Point A to Point C, and lets you avoid writer's block.

2. Having a music playlist going, tailored to the mood and themes of the story, helps keep you in the zone.

3. You really can carve out more time for writing. Why in the world did I think I had less time during the rest of the year? November's a busy month and yet look what I accomplished.

4. Putting the internal editor in the cooler frees your creative flow, lets you experiment and try out angles you wouldn't have otherwise. Knowing that you're constructing a first draft is also freeing because no one else has to see it yet. You can make mistakes, skip over things, not worry about the technical side, and just relax and have fun with telling a story.

5. Those around you have the opportunity to gain more respect for your writing and that you take it seriously.

6. In reality, it's not about the numbers. The numbers and the calendar are the motivators. If you didn't finish the story, keep going into the next month. Hopefully you'll have picked up some good work habits.

7. If what you planned to work on during NaNo isn't the story you think about waking up day 1, don't stress about keeping to your plan. I had planned on working on two new novels. Only one of them made it into the creative process in November, and only after I'd written a completely different story first.

8. I went on a trip of self-discovery, analyzing myself and my writing naturally rather than under the microscope of the internal editor or outside influences. I have a better idea of who my audience will be, learned to accept my writing style, and became disillusioned about many of the things touted online as absolutes. I realized I had wasted time trying to fit some preconceived mold, a mold that doesn't really exist. I'd tweaked, and ripped apart, and overdone previous work which hadn't needed that rough kind of treatment.

I realized that I don't write typical commercial/mainstream fiction. I'm a niche and knowing that lifted so much anxiety, pain, and self-doubt from my shoulders. Then I was able to embrace that knowledge and it fueled my passion for storytelling. No more trying to please everyone or force my story (or myself) to be something we're not.

So what came out of November for me?
1. A completed rough draft at 48,531 words, written in 9 days.
This one surprised me. Once every few years a story idea captures my imagination so well that I have no difficulty in getting it down on paper in record time. But this is rare. I'm not normally this fast.

2. A draft 2/3 completed for another novel, a sequel. The word count is a bit hazy on this one, since I had to incorporate bits and pieces of scenes I'd previously written into it. I spent 8 days on this one, it's currently at 52,172, and most of the words were new material. This novel slowed me down somewhat, as the trilogy it belongs to is layered, complex, and involves multiple POVs and plotlines. It's satisfying to write, but I had to stop and map out the chronology to make sure the nodes of conjunction I had to write would match up correctly.

3. Made headway into a third novel. I spent 4 days on it and the word count comes to 7,196. This one follows the sequel in the trilogy and oddly I spent my writing time on the last third of this story. And it made me cry! I never cry reading or writing books. I didn't realize I was crying at first either. The truly weird part was that the scene I was constructing was actually a happy scene, a huge climax, but uplifting. The other relieving circumstance in mapping out this third book was realizing it could be the last. I don't have to write a fourth! (Originally I had two books which turned out to be too large so I figured I'd have to break them in half to write four.)

How about you?
Did you realize anything about yourself? Make a breakthrough creatively? Reach your word count goals? What did you take away from NaNo this year?