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Not All Villains Think They’re Good

17 Apr

“Every villain is the hero in their own story” is a common, popular writing tip, and while I agree, I think it is sometimes confused with “Every villain thinks they’re the good guy.” There’s a difference between thinking you’re a hero and thinking you’re a good guy, and not every villain thinks they’re a good guy.

Though the word “hero” in itself has a positive connotation, I argue that villains can still be a “hero” in their own mind while also being aware they are doing something wrong or harmful. Take revenge plots as an example. Most often seen in thrillers, a protagonist could be solely out to seek revenge, whether or not that revenge is warranted. In fact, many believe revenge isn’t “justice” and therefore isn’t heroic. But, at the same time, a revenge-seeking protagonist will think of themselves as a hero without believing they are a good guy. A good example of this is Gerard Butler in Law Abiding Citizen. While he is seeking revenge for his family’s deaths, he kills many people who probably didn’t deserve to be hurt at all. And he’s aware of it. In fact, he uses it as a weapon against others. Therefore, he is a hero for his family, a villain to a lot of innocent people, and definitely the protagonist. But a good guy? I think he gave up that concept a long time ago.

Good guy? Bad guy? Who knows?

Granted, don’t get me wrong, I love a villain who thinks they’re the good guy. I love villains who tiptoe on the good/wrong line more. But I wish we saw more villains that were simply villains—bad guys doing bad things because they want to. Their psyche can be just as deep as someone who is doing bad things for “good reasons” or someone who thinks they’re doing good things when they’re in fact doing bad ones. But we’ve sort of obsessed over “bad guy thinks he’s good” recently…when I think we should be focused on making villains round characters.

Round someone who thinks they’re good all the time.

Round = character who does good and bad things based on many types of motivation.

People aren’t so black and white. No one is purely good or thinks they’re good, and no one is all bad either. One of my favorite, eerie quotes is that, yes, serial killers sometimes help grandma cross the street. In fact, serial killers are often some of the most charming people around. But if you study serial killers, (and you’re a True Crime junkie like I am), then you know serial killers are generally aware that what they’re doing is SUPER messed up…yet they do it anyway. And then, they go to work and school and raise families and so on and so forth. Aside from killers like Charles Cullen* (no relation to Twilight), they hardly ever think they’re being a good guy.

Villains can be bad guys who know they’re bad and do bad things regardless. Just make sure they’re 3D while they carry out those dastardly deeds.

Instead of “every villain thinks they’re the hero of their own story”, let’s change it to “every villain thinks they’re the protagonist of their own story—whatever that entails.” In fact, keep this is mind for every character. Your novel will love you for it.

*Charles Cullen, also known as ‘The Angel of Death’, was a nurse in a hospital who killed over 400 patients. He thought he was “mercy killing.” Keep in mind that many of his victims were in good health. He is currently considered the biggest serial killer in American History.

~SAT

My latest Bad Bloods book recently released! I hope you check it out. 

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What are readers saying? 

“I LOVE this! I am a sucker for great characters, and July Thunder has no short of them.” –The Book Forums

“From the start, Thompson grabs your attention. You’re sitting on the edge of your seat until the very last page.” – Infinite Lives, Infinite Stories

“Wonderful writing, captivating characters and a story that will reel you in until the last page, these Bad Bloods may have a tendency of breaking the rules, but their stories are way too good not to read!” – Babbling Books

If you haven’t started this series yet, don’t worry. Book 1 is FREE.

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Character Motivations vs Morals

3 Apr

Not going to lie, I recently binge-watched The 100 through Netflix. For those of you who don’t know, The 100 is a TV show based off a young adult series with the same name. The first season follows a group of 100 kids dropped off on earth after a nuclear disaster destroyed the planet 97 years prior. It’s currently airing season 4. (I’m only on season 3.) Granted, I’m not normally a TV person. In fact, I usually have to be extremely ill to watch a bunch of TV, but I made an exception for The 100. Why? Because I fell in love during episode one. What do I love about The 100? The character motivations. They are 100% believable, even when the plot gets crazy, and I feel like that’s pretty rare.

There’s no spoilers in this article for The 100. Don’t worry. But definitely check out a few episodes to see what I mean.

Character motivations are so important, but often dwindled down to right vs. wrong. But motivation can (and should) be more than that. As an example from The 100, Bellamy just wants to save his sister, no matter what it requires (right or wrong) and whether she wants it or not. In fact, he often does horrible things in order to achieve his goal. Therefore, he is driven by his motivation to save his sister, not his morals to be a good person. On top of that, though he believes saving his sister is his responsibility, he doesn’t lie to himself and think he is morally perfect because of it. He doesn’t have a “hero complex.” An older brother complex, sure. But not a heroic one. He is driven by motivation, not morals.

Why do I bring up morals? Because morals is sometimes the opposite of motivation in fiction. Though they can be synonymous, it’s easy to let a character slide one way or the other. Personally, I always prefer believable motivations to morally-driven characters. Why? Because completely morally-driven characters can be hard to relate to. I mean, let’s be real. Sometimes, that self-righteous hero trope gets a little…boring.

I would much rather watch a show or read a book where the characters’ motivations are believable, morals be damned. Let’s take villains, for instance. The most popular writing tip today is that every bad guy believes they are the good guy, and while I love that tip, I disagree. Not all bad guys think they’re good guys. Granted, I like a bad guy who thinks he’s good. I often prefer them that way. But it’s also fun to follow a character who knows they are selfish, who has reasons for their selfishness, and owns it.

Of course, it’s always best to have both worlds, right? Motivations and morals (and sometimes one fueling the other) can be fun and exciting and terrifying and interesting. But I would like to see more books with strong, sometimes twisted motivations that overcome morally-driven characters.

What about you? Do you prefer characters with motivations or morals or a mixture of both?

Discuss away! Just don’t be the evil one and post spoilers about The 100 in the comments below. (Or at least put a warning at the top of your post.)

Thank you,

~SAT

P.S. Bad Bloods: July Thunder releases next Monday! I also received my first review from Babbling Books! “Another fantastic addition to the Bad Bloods series and a marvelous start to a new duology. Wonderful writing, captivating characters and a story that will reel you in until the last page, these Bad Bloods may have a tendency of breaking the rules, but their stories are way too good not to read!”

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Podcasts for Writers, SFF, & More

20 Mar

I love podcasts. Since I spend most of my day on the computer, I’ve fallen in love with listening to podcasts while I’m off the computer. It helps me rest my eyes, while also giving me a chance to continue my research—whether it’s for publishing or writing in general. Below, I’m including my top three writing podcasts, which any writer could enjoy, along with my favorite inspirational podcasts for science fiction and fantasy. (Oh, and some extras.)

Writing Podcasts

Writing Excuses, PubCrawl, and The Manuscript Academy podcasts

Writing Excuses: This is my go-to podcast for writers. Every season has a specific focus—this year being structure—and the episodes are quick but informative. “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”

PubCrawl: Hosted by Kelly and S. Jae Jones, PubCrawl covers everything, from writing to social media to publishing promotion. I love how candid the hosts are, especially about life after publication. Their honesty is refreshing, as well as eye opening, and they’ve interviewed specific authors about certain books. Hearing about those authors’ inspiration is really interesting. My favorite recent episode was Author Life: Public vs. Private, which covered how to separate yourself from your public self.

The Manuscript Academy: A sister podcast for MSWL (manuscript wish list), this podcast is fairly new but totally awesome. From agent interviews to behind-the-scenes in publishing houses, The Manuscript Academy covers any and all topics that can help you navigate your publishing journey. Recently, they even allowed listeners to submit first pages to be reviewed. Definitely check out this podcast—and MSWL—if you’re hunting for an agent, but I’d recommend this podcast to any writer at any point in their journey.

SFF/Fantasy Inspiration

Lore, The Morbid Curiosity, and Myths & Legends podcast

These podcasts aren’t necessarily science fiction or fantasy, but I am OBSESSED with them. There’s nothing more inspiring than hearing spooky (and sometimes factual) tales from all over the world.

Lore: Lore is my all-time favorite podcast. It explores the darker side of history, including the paranormal. But sometimes, reality is scarier than the paranormal. Trust me, this one is worth it. Aaron Mahnke, the host, is also an author. He also just signed a book deal with Penguin Random House! And he has a TV show releasing. Both will be based on this podcast, and I cannot wait.

Morbid Curiosity: I just started listening to this podcast, and I cannot stop. Also, it’s just as it sounds. This podcast covers topics for the morbidly curious. Think serial killers or medieval torture devices or the wendigo. Anything really. My favorite part is the various topics—and how the host points listeners to places where they can get additional information.

Myths & Legends: This is the first podcast I ever binge listened to. If you love Greek and Norse mythology, King Arthur, and tales from other cultures, this podcast is for you. My favorite episodes are the ones that cover stories from other cultures. (Though I’m in love with Greek mythology.) Each episode also includes a creature of the week.

Other Podcasts

True Crime Podcasts

If you’re a podcast junkie like I am, I thought I’d cover a couple others I love. Truthfully, I mainly listen to true crime. My favorite is Generation Why, which is actually based out of KC where I am! Something I didn’t even know when I started listening to them. They cover famous (and often strange) criminal cases. I also love Court Junkie, Criminal, Serial, Detective, and The Vanished. (Told you I was a true crime junkie.) Court Junkie covers crazy court cases. Criminal is any topic dealing with crime. Serial is the famous podcast that covered the cases of Adnan Syed and Bowe Bergdahl. I preferred Adnan’s case, but they’re both interesting. Detective interviews a new detective every season, and The Vanished covers cases involving currently missing people.

Guilty Feminist podcast

Lastly, I recommend The Guilty Feminist for everyone. Just as it sounds, The Guilty Feminist covers feminism but from a no-pressure standpoint. The hosts are comedians, and there are also guest comedians who come on to talk about certain topics. I find it both informative, safe, and fun. It’s a great podcast for anyone, and I recommend it to everyone I know all the time.

Podcasts can help writers continue their research and inspiration while off the computer. I hope you love them as much as I do.

What are your favorite podcasts?

~SAT

P.S. BOOK BLOGGERS, you can now sign up for the July Lightning book blitz. Click the link for more info. (There’s also a book blitz for July Thunder.) You’ll receive exclusive excerpts, ARCS, and more.

#MondayBlogs Making More Time To Write

19 Dec

I wish I had more time to write.

Am I right?

But seriously, every writer I know wishes they had more time to write, and most writers also know it’s a matter of making more time to write. (You know, unless you managed to get your hands on Hermione Granger’s Time-Turner, in which case, lucky you.)

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But how does someone make more time to write?

1. Study your schedule

2. See what you can adjust

3. Set a new schedule and stick with it

Sounds simple, right? But we all know it isn’t.

We have schedules for a reason. They work. We’ve figured out how much time we need each morning to make breakfast and get ready for work. We know how much energy we have to expend throughout the day, and we know that we HAVE to watch that new KDrama releasing this month. (I mean, we all need to satisfy our vices every now and then, right?)

But here’s the truth: You CAN change your schedule…and it might be a little uncomfortable at first. You also might have to change it more than once to find that extra timeslot that works for you.

Want an example?

Recently, I wanted to meet a deadline early, but I knew I didn’t have enough time in my day to do so. In fact, I rarely write every day. My full-time job on the computer often leaves me exhausted and, quite frankly, sick of staring at a computer screen. Add carpal tunnel, and, well, it gets easy to say no to writing after work. But I knew that was my weak point, so I started there.

I set my goal: Wake up an hour early every day just to write. Before emails. Before social media. Before work. Before everything. Just an hour to write.

The first three days were awesome. Granted, I started my goal on a weekend. That way, I was still rewarded with a little extra sleep. But then the workweek came.

Holy hell. The first day wasn’t bad, but the second? UGH. The fifth day was probably the worst day, though the sixth day had me wondering if I really wanted to do this. At one point, I actually wrote less than my usual amount, because I was too tired to concentrate. Then, the seventh day came, and I adjusted much faster that morning. Now, it’s routine.

After I adjusted, I definitely reached my goals and wrote more than I expected. (I added an extra hour of writing time, after all.) I’m still getting up an hour early every day, and so far, so good. I don’t feel any more tired than I used to, and I’m more productive than I was before. I mainly attribute this to the fact that I start my day with writing. Even though I’m not a morning person, it’s easy to get bogged down by the day, but if I start writing before all of that pressure puts me down, I can write without worry, without distraction, and without the world of work life. Granted, I’m not telling everyone to do what I did. Your goals are going to be different than mine, because your life is different than mine. But I promise you, you can find more time without a Time-Turner.

So, here are three additional tips.

1. Consider what is actually holding you back. For me, it was work exhaustion, so I knew I had to find time before work. But I was hesitant. I’m not a morning person. I’m a monster in the mornings. And this fact terrified me before I even started. I was sure I would fail, but I didn’t. Don’t let your limitations set you back. Many limitations are like your schedule: You set them. You can also change them. (Though I still don’t consider myself a morning person.)

2. Make smaller goals within your larger ones. Having a goal beyond “I just want to write more” helped me push myself to reach expectations. I had a deadline. This smaller goal helped me stay focused on something specific and attainable. If you go in thinking you’re changing your life, it might make you feel overwhelmed, but if you go in thinking you’re trying to change your week, it will feel reachable.

3. Tough out your new schedule. As you saw above, I had ups and downs. I had mornings I questioned myself, and plenty of times I wanted to stay in bed, but I didn’t. I forced myself to get up again and again, and eventually, I adjusted. Personally, I suggest toughing out your schedule for at least two weeks to see if you can adjust to it. If you can’t, try another adjustment.

Changing anything in your life isn’t easy, but having more time to write?

Now, that’s worth it.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs Writers, Should You Get Scrivener?

14 Nov

I’m a writer. Nowadays that means spending a lot of time on a computer, typing away word after word until the glorious moment of THE END is reached. Granted, I don’t always type. My favorite two tools remain a pen and paper. Oh! And Sticky Notes. But I’m also open-minded. I love trying new technologies like Dragon Speak or Character Planner on my Android. Recently—and I know I’m super late to this writing party—I downloaded Scrivener.

For those of you who don’t know, Scrivener is a writing software. It claims to help organize the chaos in your mind by supporting numerous ways to view, edit, and write in your manuscripts. It’s available for Windows and Mac, it’s $45, and there’s a free download to try out.

Let me start out by saying I went into this skeptical as hell. I love, love, love Microsoft Word, and I’ve lived on Word since…Well, as long as I’ve been alive. (Literally.) In Word, I have a system. I have files. I know what to click on when I need it. Word is my first and only love…right?

Well, it’s safe to say I learned a lesson.

I love Scrivener, too.

Why? Honestly, there are quite a few reasons, but I don’t plan on keeping you on here forever, so I’ll only name my top three. One thing that’s super popular, for instance, is the corkboard, but I won’t list it here since it’s not in my top three. Definitely check out their website to see other features, since these are only a few.

1. The Layout

In the screenshot below, from left to right, you can see my book’s outline and notes in what’s called the “Binder”, the synopsis notecard, the chapter I’m drafting, the current status, and my character inspiration. I love being able to have everything in one place all the time—AND I can change whatever I’m seeing whenever I want. I love being able to look at two documents and a photo at once. This saves me so much time. In Word, I kept flipping back and forth between documents, forgetting things, and having to flip back all over again. Yes, I can get one or two documents on my screen in Word, but Scrivener makes it much easier to adjust size and visibility, all while accessing whatever I need without leaving the program.

Scrivener Double Screen

Scrivener Double Screen

2. Character Board

For me, I love having my characters photos and notes in one place. I often use Pinterest to find inspiration, but this can be a deadly game when writing. If I need something, I might end up on my Pinterest for an hour before I realize I’m not working. In Scrivener, I can keep my photos (and notes) right next to my manuscript without going down the Internet rabbit holes to find something. And Scrivener also comes with Character Profiles that ask for basic descriptions, background info, and more. 

Character Board in Scrivener

Character Board in Scrivener

3. Cancel Out Feature (Compose)

As an editor and a writer, I spend my workweek and my free time on the exact same laptop. This can cause a lot of distractions for me. As an example? In Word, I might minimize my manuscript to open up another document…only to see my work folder and recall something I need to do. It also opens up the Internet for me…and then, my ADD is in full swing. But Scrivener saved me. Scrivener allows me to fill up my screen (as does Word), but Scrivener allows me to flip back and forth through numerous documents, photos, and screenshots of websites without having to actually exit or risk getting distracted. If I use another tool known as Quick Reference, too, I can have numerous documents open while in this mode as well. Below is a Quick Reference note next to my current chapter in Compose mode. This mode can also be modified to show pictures, themes, and other fun scenarios.

Quick Reference in Compose Mode on Scrivener

Quick Reference in Compose Mode on Scrivener

In all honestly? The free download sold me. I loved that they allowed me to open it 30 times—rather than put a time limit of 30 days on it—and the tutorials paved the rest of the way. Listen, when you open it, it might be overwhelming. (It freaked me out.) But I took the tutorials, figured out all the tools, and got to work. I will confess to one thing. The tutorial took me about 3 hours. Granted, I was taking the time to log off of the tutorial to try everything out with a novel rather than work through the tutorial videos. Anddddd I’m still learning new capabilities. (For instance, while writing this piece, I figured out how to move my notecards around on my corkboard. So far, the corkboard isn’t something I personally use. I prefer my Sticky Notes on my office wall. But it’s a great tool.) My latest new discovery was the Simple Notes app, which is a syncing tool that allows me to take my Scrivener files wherever I want through my phone. I have a feeling I’ll be using that way too often.

Now, I will give Word its dues. I still work on Word. I always transfer my drafts to Word, because I find Word’s editing software—specifically Track Changes—more universal with my clients and easier to handle, even for myself. So, as an editor, I use Word and only Word. That being said, Scrivener has an editing tool, specifically screenshots that will save numerous versions as you work through your book, but I haven’t been sold on that yet. It seems too complicated and a bit confusing and disorganized. However, that could be me and just the way my brain works. Maybe one day I’ll love editing on it, too. In fact, Simple Notes (the app stated above) is forcing me to embrace it as I type this. (And Word has a syncing app as well.) For now, though, I transfer everything to Word in the end.

So what about transferring files? One of the best parts is the ability to transfer a Scrivener file into a Word file. It also formats your manuscript for querying or publishing. If you’re like me—and struggle way too hard to get page 1 on page 5—you will love that feature.

But why take my word on it?

Download the free sample (a sample that doesn’t require a credit card for once!) and check it out. Here’s their website.

I wish I had tried it earlier.

~SAT

 

#WW Help! My Female Character Is Flat

14 Sep

I’m guilty! Oh, so guilty.

While writing my latest manuscript for my publisher, I hit a snag 38,000 words in, and could not—for the life of me—figure out what was wrong with it. Then, I realized what happened.

My female protagonist was flat.

Allow me to back track for a little bit.

I never used to have this problem. When I first set out to write books, I honestly feel like I was a better writer than I am now. At least, in regards to the first draft. I would simply let my work be what it needed to be. Now, I’m bombarded with so many rules and expectations (some awesome, some not-so-awesome) that I end up worrying about what I should be writing instead of worrying about what my book actually is, who my characters truly are, and how things will happen naturally.

Example? Well, let’s go back to where I started. My flat female character. Why was she flat? Because she wasn’t flawed. So, why wasn’t she flawed? Because I was afraid. I kept thinking about all the things readers want (and don’t want) a female character to be. Tough but not too tough. Girly but not too girly. A good friend, a completely independent lover, a strong-minded leader, a determined dreamer, and someone who never faints from total exhaustion from all that perfect-ness.

I take issue with too much expectation, especially in young adult fiction where characters are coming of age and still trying to figure out who they are, what they want, and how they’re going to achieve it. But I get it. I do. As a reader myself, I know readers are harder on female characters, because the world is harder on females in general. I have my moments, too! It’s ingrained into us, after all. But I hadn’t realized how much it was affecting books until my paranormal romance trilogy released last year. Spoiler warning now, I was shocked that my male protagonist could take a two-ton car, throw a hissy fit, and crash it at 100 mph without so much as a blink of judgment, while my female character was called all kinds of nasty names because she went underage drinking with her friends and got into some trouble. Personally, I think his choice was much more destructive considering how he could’ve killed someone else—or an entire car full of innocent people—while her reckless decision really only put herself in danger. (And she was with friends she should’ve been able to trust.) All that aside, though, only one of them was judged. And she was judged harshly. (Shameless plug: I’m talking about Seconds Before Sunrise.)

As much as I wish I could say this didn’t affect me, I think it did.

Now, when I approach my female characters, I’m hesitant to let them make any mistakes at all. I’m afraid to let them cry (because they’ll be deemed whiny), but I never hesitate to let my male characters cry (because when they cry, they are somehow seen as deep and approachable and need to be comforted).

It’s extremely frustrating, because I am also a female, and I know these judgments extend far beyond the pages of my books. It’s also why I fight my own fears to keep my female characters round. In a world that is constantly trying to flatten female characters, I will fight to keep them round. I will even fight myself—my own misconceptions and…well, flaws.

Before, I held myself back, and therefore, I held my female character back, and I apologize for that.

She is not someone I should hold back. She is strong and weak and happy and sad. She’s dealing with trauma and dreaming about the future and falling in and out of what she thinks might be love (but she isn’t sure), and she is reckless for all kinds of reasons. She also cares deeply about those around her…and sometimes she forgets to care about herself, too. But she will do her best and she will make mistakes, and the combination of both is what matters, because that is who she is.

I will not worry whether or not readers will hate or love or judge her, because she is her, and that is who she is supposed to be. And this is her story to tell, not mine.

~SAT

#WW Writing Quicksand

7 Sep

Writing quicksand is a term I like to use to describe when writing is doing more damage than good. You know, the more you move, the faster you sink? It can happen in writing, too. Of course, writers should write all time. Whenever they can, really. But sometimes, it’s best to walk away for a little while, too, especially in regards to specific projects.

I found myself in writing quicksand the other day.

While working on a certain sequel, I hit a snag, but I didn’t back down. I pulled out my Sticky Notes. I displayed my plan. I switched it up. I rewrote Chapter One, and then, I edited Chapter Two and Three. From there, I redesigned a few characters…and then, I face-planted.

It was all wrong. Everything was worse. The “issues” I thought I was fixing were only multiplying in numbers.

I tore it all down, and I stubbornly tried again…and again…and again.

And every time, I only sank further into despair.

Writing quicksand.

But sand is so pretty, right? Wrong.

But sand is so pretty, right? Wrong.

It’s a dangerous trap, and when you’re stuck in it, you can start doubting everything you’ve ever written—in the past, in the current, and even in the future. You can start thinking every project is silly or useless or mundane. But then, you tell yourself it’s just writer’s block, and you try to power your way through it…only to hurt the project again.

It’s okay to walk away.

It’s okay to take a break for a little while and clear your head elsewhere.

Personally, when I realize I’m in writing quicksand, I put the laptop away, find an awesome read, and try to write something else completely unrelated to anything else I’ve worked on recently. I listen to a podcast, I research some history, I challenge myself with some ridiculously hard crosswords. (I still need a 10-letter word for Koussevitzky’s wardrobe.) But taking a break lets me enjoy writing without the deadlines or pressure or worries that come along with any writer’s career. And sure enough, within a day or two, I was back on dry land.

My project even continued forward.

One article I LOVE LOVE LOVE is When to Put the Baby (Your Book) to Bed by Stacey Lee on Publishing Crawl. (If you haven’t read Stacey Lee’s YA historical novel, Outrun the Moon, do so now. It’s amazing. Here’s my 5-star review.) But her article about when to walk away from a manuscript is a fantastic, honest read about how to know when to give up. (And why it’s okay.)

For now, I’m continuing forward with the project I sunk into the quicksand with, but there has been numerous books I had to walk away from, too, and that’s okay.

As long as you keep writing—and keep trying—all the adventures are worth it, even the ones with quicksand.

~SAT

 

 

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