When I was still in the single digits, I wrote with pencil and paper. I soon graduated to pen and notebook. When technology afforded me other means, I began clicking away on keys. Words appeared, amber text on a black screen, then as computer systems evolved, white text on blue. The days before I Macified my life, I had my trusty Commodore Amiga and saved my words on a floppy disk.
Look how far we’ve come.
I’ve mentioned before how lucky we are in this technological age. It’s a great time to be a writer.
Beyond the technology, I’ve certainly seen an evolution in my writing. From research, pre-writing, technique down to word choice, all have improved over the years. When I had the chance to decompress from all the 2013 NaNo frenzy, I went over my stories, some dating back over a decade. I began to notice similar themes and tropes. Whether consciously or unconsciously, these observations are too frequent to ignore and are important to the WHAT YOU KNOW Series.
This week on FRIDAY FORAGE, we take a deeper look at my brain spills, the ones I consider my literary babies, and examine certain observations I’ve made in my writing.
1) HAVEN’T WE MET SOMEWHERE BEFORE?
I’ve found recurring tropes in stories that span different genres: fractured fairytale YA fantasy, MG time travel adventure, and a crime thriller, to name a few. In Aaralyn’s Song, Aaralyn and her brother grow up as wards of a woman who used to be their father’s nanny. He hasn’t been living with them and their mother inexplicably left the family when Aaralyn was younger.
I wrote the other two stories over a decade ago. in the time travel adventure, Heath’s mother has passed away at the start of the story and he lives with his stepfather (who adopted him shortly after he and Heath’s mom married). The crime thriller has Mel Vargas in a good relationship with a man she’s always known to be her dad but discovers her real father might actually be a crime lord. Her mother died some years prior to the start of the story but some of her secrets did not stay buried.
Not sure what it means exactly when I’ve got characters that have father figures, proxies, mentors, but the presence of their real parents in their lives are hazy.
2) I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR
Regardless of a female character’s role in the story, they’re usually strong-willed. There’s Aaralyn, Mother Hubbard, Sabine, Vargas, Ava (sister to protag of another MG Adventure). Heck, even Chanterelle, I’m learning, isn’t as daft as she lets on in the early pages of Greatest Hits.
I’d say that’s a good thing. I think it’s important not to have helpless damsels, but to also show despite their strength, these women are beautifully flawed. It makes them relatable, at least in my mind, as a reader.
3) MAKING A FUNNY
I don’t recall a story where humor wasn’t injected in some form. Comic relief is good, especially when diffusing tension, but it isn’t always there for the sake of being funny. Often times, it comes off as a character’s observation or comment that seems funny but it’s more of how those around them react to the situation. Also, the funniest characters tend to have the saddest or darkest backstories.
I also like using humor when younger characters are involved. They see things differently. Which brings me to
4) THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
Even in stories not aimed at MG and YA audiences, I found I’ve written children into the story somehow. I myself have an innate fondness for children. Perhaps it’s making its way onto the page. However, there are brilliant insights that can only be relayed through the eyes of a child. Oftentimes, it’s through them that adults find the truth they seek. Mel Vargas is introduced in Few Are Chosen. The second book in the series, The Darwin Conspiracy, has her reluctantly taking custody of an eight year old girl, the only survivor of an intended triple homicide. Though darker in theme, I find it interesting to see how children deal with being thrust into serious situations and having to grow up faster than necessary; maturity gained, innocence lost.
A page out of my own history, I grew up faster than I’d have liked and turned to humor when things went sideways. Deaths in the family at a young age make you see the world differently.
5) SECOND STRINGS
I love my secondary characters. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there are moments when I think they’re starting to take over the entire plot. What I will say is after revisiting these old friends, I’m proud at how these unsung heroes grew and developed both in my mind and on the page. They definitely hold their own and some have since gone on to being the protagonists in their own books within their respective series.
These are just a handful of observations I’ve noticed in the past few years. Other patterns? The search for truth, whether in a literal investigative sense or in a character’s self-discovery. There’s always the classic hero’s journey and/or quest story that can morph accordingly when you add a little bit of this and a little bit of that to the mix.
It’s not always the case for writers, but for me, I found I like to write what I read. That isn’t to say that I automatically excel in all genres, but I do like to give them a try and see if my love for storytelling can fit within the given parameters of a particular genre.
For the moment, I still have strong love for MG/YA adventures, thrillers of all kinds, and am branching out into science fiction and fantasy. World building ain’t easy, but it’s so much fun. This year I also tried my hand at contemporary romance. I never disliked reading the genre, so I went with my gut and told the story I wanted to tell. After that, the genre tends to find itself.
What have you seen in your own work?
Next week on FRIDAY FORAGE, WHAT YOU KNOW… AND WHAT YOU DON’T. To finish off this month’s series, I’ll share some tips and tricks that have provided me with plenty of a-ha moments and a new way to look at and appreciate the art and journey of writing. See you then. 🙂