Do your research, or why Google is your friend

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Obviously, if you want to avoid offending people, you have to know what they act like and go through. Here, research is your friend. To my mind there are actually two areas where you should do your research: common stereotypes, so you can avoid them, and actual behavior/effects so you can make an accurate portrayal. You do run the risk of finding reality to be unrealistic, but better that than offending a chunk of your audience. I’ll go into both, of course, using autism as an example, since I have Asperger’s, which seems to be a common form.

Finding stereotypes, and avoiding their usage

Googling autism stereotypes comes up with a wealth of information on the stereotypes of autism. For example, the extremely common stereotype that autistics lack a “theory of mind” AKA they don’t understand their own mind or the mind of others, is actually a stereotype that science is rejecting because the tests (which seem to be at fault for a lot of stereotypes, because so many of them rely on communication, which is a problem for many autistics.

Another stereotype that I don;t even need to do the research for but seriously needs to go die in a fire is the idea that vaccines cause autism. THis idea has been debunked three ways to sunday, and yet it keeps coming up! Stop it! *Ahem* Anyway, before I go off on a rant, I’ll just say that research is critical to ensuring you don’t use outdated or idiotic stereotypes, and stop there.

Research for accurate portrayals

Now, this will be much harder than researching to avoid stereotypes, simply because of all of the ways people can act, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, beliefs, or condition, so focus on being very general in your research. Find the basic ideas and flesh them out around your character. Make sure you don’t intrude on any stereotypes and you should be good to go.

And once again WordPress annoys me. It doesn’t recognize autistic.

Vanity publishers: They’ll take your money and get you nothing

Filed in general tips, publicationTags:

Let me jut get this out-of-the-way in big bold letters:

Never submit your work to a vanity publisher!!!


With that out-of-the-way, I’ll get into more detail. Vanity publishers request money before they’ll publish anything, and will often have the author pay for the books they print. This business model is what keeps them in business, but is far from profitable for the author, unless they’re a master of self-promotion.

A print-on-demand publisher will not charge the author anything to get their books printed but will still leave promotion to the author. A publishing house will pay the author for their work, instead of making the author pay them. If you encounter one of these steer well clear. If you find one advertising on my site, tell me, and I’ll see to it that the offending ads disappear.

Also, if you’re wondering why series 2 hasn’t appeared at the top of the page, it’s because I’m a bit burnt out on the basics. I want to write about anti-heroes and anti-villains, about villain protagonists and hero antagonists. I want to write my NaNoWriMo book and write about what I’m learning from writing that, but I’ve committed myself to this, and I’m forcing myself to see it through.

How to avoid offending your audience

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Obviously, unless you have a very limited audience united around hate (and if you do, get out), you’re going to want to avoid offending your audience. In this series, I give you strategies to ensure that you don’t offend the vast majority of people. It’s not always going to be easy, but it is possible.

Strategies I’ve thought up include doing the research, running completely against stereotypes, (this one is going to be somewhat problematic in and of itself, so only use it if you must) giving an alternate explanation for the stereotypical behavior, or, and this one is risky, having a character play up a stereotype to get something done as the only portrayal of stereotype x. You’re never going to  be able to avoid offending everyone but at least you can keep most people happy.

Self-publishing: the independent form of publishing

Filed in general tips, publication

Self-publishing, which is what e-book publishing and print-on-demand publishing fall under, is one of the oldest forms of publishing, and one of the simplest, though, until recently, generally not profitable, though, as time goes on, I expect it to become more profitable. It’s simply having a third-party publish your book for you.

It used to be that you paid for all copies yourself, because you would be the only one the publisher could sell to. This is changing due to the advent of the internet, as you can write a book and submit it to them. Without any approval process, they’ll generally accept it and, depending on the type of publisher and what the buyer requests, they’ll either create a physical copy for anyone that wants it, of send them a digital copy. More on both types in future posts. Also, before you submit to any independent publisher, and I can’t stress this enough, Do your research. There are publishers who will simply milk you for money. These are the vanity publishers. I’ll go in-depth on them tomorrow.

Mary sues, and how to avoid creatng them

Filed in Characters

A Mary Sue, or Gary Stu for the male version, is a much hated yet ill-defined character archetype. Ask twenty different people what a Mary Sue is and you’ll get 15 different definitions, but, from what I can tell is there are two widely accepted definitions out there: a character that is too perfect and can do no wrong, or a character that takes over the plot.

While they are far from mutually exclusive, I personally subscribe to the latter definition, simply because I believe that even a too perfect character doesn’t absolutely have to ruin the plot in and of him or herself, as long as they’re kept in the background, but a character that takes over the plot by him or herself can’t help but ruin it. I have several strategies for ensuring that this sort of Mary Sue never comes into existence.

Finding Mary Sues before you begin writing

Before you begin writing, ask yourself a few questions about your characters:

  1. Do I like this character enough to not want them hurt?
  2. Do I like this character that I would take it personally if someone criticized them?
  3. Do I like this character enough that everything in the plot is revolving around them?

 If you answer yes to one of those, tread very carefully. If you answer yes to two or all three of those characters, you likely have a Mary Sue, and you should consider retooling the character, so that they don’t become a Mary Sue.

Finding and eliminating Mary Sues while you’re writing

Now this is much harder, and much more subjective. Use your best judgment to see if one character is doing much more than their fair share of the heavy lifting, and much less than their fair share of anything bad or flawed. If so, focus on rewriting it so that other characters get their fair share of the limelight and the sueish character(s) show signs of being human, and flawed.

And on that note, we end the series on characters. Tomorrow, I start the series on avoiding offending your audience.

Getting your story published

Filed in general tips, publication

Now, of course, if you’re writing a whole novel you will consider getting published, but if you don’t know where to start, you’re not going to get anywhere. THis sub-series to the general tips series is all about how to get published, and will focus on five different methods of publication: self-publishing, vanity publishing, on demand publishing, publishing house, and e-book publishing. I fully intend to dedicate an entire post to each of the five, before ending this series, and starting on my series on writer’s block.

Coming up with names for your characters

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One of the hardest parts of creating characters, in my experience, is naming them, and judging by the popularity of ”Name my” thread on the NaNoWriMo forums (Thread can be found here, for the record), I’m far from the only one. I do have some ideas that have worked for me, however, and I’ll share those to try to help you get a leg up on actually finding a name for your characters.

For non-meaningful names

Despite being about names that don’t hold any special meaning in themselves, I still find it easiest to go with association. For example I always think of someone named Nikki as being very extraverted and somewhat nice, whereas a name like Brett makes me think of a jock (no offense to the Bretts out there).

Of course, you can always go against your own expectations as well. For example, In my novel, I have a character named Anna. Now, normally I would think of someone named Anna as quiet and timid. However, this girl is hyper. One character describes her as a 13-year-old with ADHD trapped in a 19 year old’s body, and is largely correct. whatever you do, though, just make sure it makes sense to you.

Meaningful names

Now, here you should do some digging. Figure out what you want the name to mean, and find names that mean that. Try looking up websites that give you the meanings behind names, like

Of course, if you can’t find a name that means what you want your character’s name to mean, then you should either make one up, or fall back on association. Another alternative is to fall back on names that the things that bear the names have a certain symbolism, such as a very dark woman, who kills people for bearing slaves being called Raven, which is associated with darkness and death (I intend to use that one, by the way). I guess what ultimately matters is that you take your time and find names that fits with your intended symbolism, if you’re after meaningful names.

Is there a point where I should give up on a story?

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There is a point where you should give up on a story, but, as usual, it varies. That point should be where you’re unable to salvage the story from the issues that plague it, like it has one plot hole that you can’t get past no matter what you do, it’s absolutely riddled with inconsistencies, or the story’s not working out anywhere near as well as planned (the last one is why I’m considering giving up on my current project). Of course, whether or not a story has reached this point depends on the person, and the story. If you think you’ve reached this point, be realistic when you ask yourself, “Can I save my story, and if so how?” If you can’t give yourself an adequate answer, it may be time to give up.

Of course. other things could cause you to give up on your story, such as losing the will to work on it, or personal issues making it impossible to get past one or more scenes. If you can, you should try to find a way around these issues before giving up on the story as a whole, but, if they’re too much, it’s probably best if you just walk away from it, and start anew. Writing, after all, should be something you enjoy doing, and not a constant struggle against your own apathy or emotions.

I almost never vary from my 3am/3pm posting schedule, but, as a big fan of auto racing, I couldn’t help myself. Today, during the Indy World Championships, Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon was involved in a 15 car crash that killed him, when his car flew through the air, slammed top first into the SAFER barrier, and slide down the track on its side.

The injuries were described as unsurvivable.

Now, safety is something that has always fascinated and concerned me in auto racing, and I do wonder what could have been done to save Dan. One idea that does come to mind is getting rid of the open cockpit design. Sure it’s almost a fundamental part of the sport, especially in certain leagues, but it’s proven fatal before. Fatal incidents that might have been survivable that come to mind are the death of Marco Campos (Flew over a concrete wall and slammed his head against another part of said concrete wall) and was killed. The other was in the GP2 series, where a car crashed off the side, and lost a tire. The tire bounced on to the track and slammed into another driver’s head (I forget the name of the driver), and that driver ended up dying.

Hidden Depths, or why no one is who they seem to be

Filed in CharactersTags:

Now if only the masks we wore in public were this literal

If you wanna find out what’s behind these cold eyes
You’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise

In The Flesh? Pink Floyd, The Wall

Here’s a question for you: If you compared someone you got to know really well to when you met them, would you say acted the same way? Or do you act the same way in public that you do in private (ignoring bedroom shenanigans)? My answer to both is no, and my point is, when you get to know somebody you uncover a whole different side to them, the side that they don’t show the world. This is what I’m referring to when I talk about hidden depths.

Characters should be like that. Having a side that they hide from the world, but comes out in private, or in moments of extreme duress. After all, characters should not be simple automatons used to tell a story, as I have pointed out previously. They should seem like real people, with real issues, real emotions, and real depth.

Explain why the hidden depths are hidden

Of course, there has to be a reason why they’re hiding this dark side. An example that I created in three minutes of thinking is a character lives in a dog-eat-dog world, where any sign of weakness could get you killed, but se hates the constant violence and killing around her, even though she has to participate in it. She might have to hide that side of herself,  or else she could wind up dead, and those around her may be surprised if she ever shows frustration with the constant need for violence and a hard-edged persona.

Another effective way to apply hidden depths is to go with the negative character development idea I posted yesterday. Maybe a character has been wronged consistently, and seems to be giving into cynicism, but deep down they’re still as warm and kind-hearted as ever, and just waiting for the right person to crack their shell of brutal cynicism.

Another example, just for demonstrative purposes, My character, Cho, is very cold to strangers and those she doesn’t like, but to those she likes, she shows a genuinely warm side, which is actually another mask for the pain no one sees, except in short bursts when she can’t hold it in any longer, and she is far from unusual in this. Another character uses a facade of upbeat happiness to hide her pain and anger (over what I’m not quite sure yet, but she seems to respond badly to people standing aside when others need help).

Also, you’ll notice the quote at the top of the page. From now on, I’ll be using relevent quotes at the top of articles if I can think of any that would sum up or add to the article.

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