Tag Archive: my thoughts

Clean Fantasy and Boring Cover Syndrome

Since recently subscribing to a number of clean fantasy authors’ newsletters, I’ve come across a disappointing trend. A lot of clean fantasy books have really unimpressive covers. You know the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and that’s great in principle, but when it comes to books, readers really do judge books by their covers. As a reader myself I can attest to this. Heck, it’s why I’m writing this post.

I love finding clean fantasy books. They’re rare, and thus they’re hard to find. *thinks of all of the fantasy books she’s read that have been almost clean, but not quite* We need more authors of clean fantasy (or clean anything, for that matter), and we need those authors to step into the reader’s shoes and think about whether or not the cover they’ve chosen will draw someone’s attention or if it will just be overlooked on the bookshelf or as a reader’s scrolling through Amazon or whatever. If your goal as a clean fantasy author is to bless your readers with something they can easily trust to not have sex scenes or language or whatever else we don’t want to read, bless them by making your book stand out on a shelf, too, so that they can actually find it to read it. Maybe these books are fabulously written, but I’ll never know because the cover doesn’t make me interested enough to even look.

Now, this is not to say that all clean fantasy books have boring covers. I know several authors who write clean books and have wonderful covers (Wayne Thomas Batson, Miranda Marie, Jonathan Rogers, Evan Angler…), but it appears that as a general rule, clean fantasy has dull covers.

As a reader and author of clean fantasy, I just want to ask a simple favor of any other clean fantasy authors out there: Please pay attention to your covers. Please put effort into them. The Book Cover Designer has fairly affordable pre-made covers, if you want to start there. Since I’ve only ever bought one cover I can’t attest to anywhere else, unfortunately, but look around. Find something pre-made or get something custom made, just give thought to your cover.

Why I Write

I write for my readers. I write to make them feel. I write to make them connect with my characters to the same extent that I have, to make them care about fictional people as much as other authors have made me connect with their fictional people. When I get to see those reactions – their laughter or screaming or crying – it tells me that I’ve done a good job and I’ve done what I intended to do.

That’s why I adore my little mini fandom so much. Three friends of mine are reading The Last Assassin as I write it, and it’s amazing to watch their reactions and hear my sister try to puzzle out the mysteries, and see them be head-over-heels for a ship that I’m still claiming is unofficial, and squeal with them over the little tiny adorable child that is Cor Claris.

I love sharing my excitement over my books with others. I love making them love the characters and feel at home in the setting and making them shudder because that villain is just. So. Creepy. It tells me that I’ve done a good job, and it tells me that they’re enjoying my stories, which is why I write in the first place. I write to give people the same escape and enjoyment and impact that other books have given me. That is my goal as a writer.

How To Write Likable Characters

I’ve decided that the key to writing likable characters is to make them complex and layered. Characters are what I – and I think most readers – connect to and come to love most in a book, so it’s important to write them well.

I will like pretty much any type of character – creepy psychopaths, classic villains, flirts, princesses, peasants, assassins, blacksmiths, con men – so long as they haven’t done anything utterly unforgivable… And so long as they’re deep and layered. Unless it’s a spoiled brat of a princess, in which case there’s a good chance I’m going to hate them no matter what. (Unless you’d like to take that on as a challenge to write a deep, layered spoiled brat princess that I can actually tolerate…) It’s hard to like a villain who’s nothing but an obstacle for the protagonist, and it’s hard to like a protagonist, no matter how “good” they are, if their only goal is to destroy the villain. There must be more to them than that. They must have goals and motivations and deeper personalities than what they show to the people around them. Give them layers. Give them facets.

Sometimes I worry for my mental health because some of my favorite characters are psychopaths and massively evil characters who literally scare me, and then I remember that I also have favorites who are the good guys who want to help people and keep the world functioning smoothly and will do just about anything to save someone they care about. When I look at all of my favorites – the good and the bad – I see one common thread: They’re complex. How do you make a complex character, you ask? Let me tell you what I think helps to make a layered, multi-faceted character.

Give them goals

I don’t just mean “save the princess” or “destroy the bad guy and save the world” or “destroy the protagonist and achieve world domination.” I mean short term goals, long term goals, complex goals that they’ll pursue whether or not it fits the overarching goal of “save the world” or “destroy the world.” A lot of times it’s good if these goals create conflict, whether between characters or within them. The main character of my planned NaNoWriMo project, The Shadow Raven, wants to gain power and get revenge on the person who hurt her. The second main character, on the other hand, wants only to do well in the role he’s been thrust into and doesn’t feel very confident in it. The main character is very confident in her goals, and thus she helps to encourage Character B, partially to help him and partially to further her own goal of power. On the other hand, the main character’s confidence is something that Character B isn’t very comfortable with and thus it causes tension between them.

In my current project, The Last Assassin, the main character is looking for a place where she feels like she belongs. Unfortunately, she’s torn between several options and her indecision tends to leak into the rest of what she does. It also mingles with an insecurity encouraged by the villain of that story, which is caused because of his goal to destroy her. Conflicting goals can be really interesting and add a lot to a story. That said, goals don’t always have to conflict. Sometimes it’s better to have characters with goals that align well so that your character can have an ally they know they can trust. Or can they…

Give them motivation

Again, “I want to save the world because it’s the right thing to do and it’s my job as the protagonist” and “I want to destroy the world because I’m evil and it’s my job as the villain” are boring motivations. Try to come up with a deeper motivation for your characters. Backstory can be a gold mine of motivations. Maybe the main character wants to defeat the villain because they know he killed their mother, or maybe the villain has some deep-seated grudge against the protagonist’s ancestor. These are still fairly cliche motivations, but they’re better than the generic good guy and bad guy motivations given to begin with. And try to think outside the box a little. What if the villain’s grudge wasn’t with the protagonist’s ancestor, but the sidekick’s, so he’s actually after the sidekick? Or what if the main character only thinks that the villain killed their mother, and really it was someone else entirely; maybe the villain isn’t even the villain at all, and they’re now looking for someone they don’t know. There are a lot of possibilities for motivation.

Give them a flip side

If you’re working with a protagonist, give them a dark side. If you’re working with a villain, give them a redeeming quality of some kind, whether it’s an actual good side or just a fun trait. The massively evil villain in my book House of Mages has a few fun scenes near the end in which he’s calling out the protagonists on a bunch of cliches and making puns left and right. You still loathe him because of all of the awful things he’s done to the protagonists and he has no good qualities when it comes to good versus bad, but for those few scenes he’s enjoyable to read.

The main character of The Last Assassin has a rather dark past which over the course of the book she grows to believe is a defining feature of hers, despite her friends’ coaxing otherwise. The main character of The Shadow Raven has a side of her craving power.

Give them flaws

Perfect characters tend to be very annoying to read. They could be the most good, virtuous character on the planet, but if they’re too perfect it’s not likely I’ll enjoy reading them. So give your characters flaws. Give them weaknesses. It can be fun to give them weaknesses in their job. For instance, the main character of the third book in the Dark War Trilogy doesn’t feel like she’s ready for the job she’s given. She doesn’t feel like she can accomplish it, and this is her weakness. Her fear and insecurity are her flaws.

Villains need flaws, too. They may not be the same as your protagonists’ flaws – they may have more psychological flaws while your protagonists have more physical flaws or vice versa – but they need flaws. One of my villains is overly prideful. When his methods are turned on him he fumbles. Another villain of mine doesn’t understand compassion because she’s never seen it up close, and certainly not directed toward her. These are flaws that can be used to defeat your villain or to redeem them, as the case may be.

Don’t forget your villains

Hopefully it’s been evident in the rest of this post, but don’t neglect your villains. Don’t give your deep, interesting character a dull, flat villain to defeat. A well-written villain can add so much to a story, whether they’re seen “on screen” a lot or only in a few scenes. Never let them fall by the wayside. Now, this applies a little differently if you have an abstract villain like doubt or fear or the unfamiliar, as obviously those are developed rather differently. But always pay attention to your villains as much as your protagonists. They’re characters too, and they can accomplish just as much as the good characters in your story. Let them affect the protagonists throughout the course of the book in some way, and give them everything I’ve mentioned above just as much as the protagonists. Even a nearly pure evil villain can be enjoyable to read and we can love to hate him as the readers if he has the right ingredients.

 

Hopefully this post was helpful and you enjoyed reading it. Are there any other qualities you’d suggest for what makes a good character?

The Leibster Blog Award

I was just nominated for the Leibster Award by Kaylan over at No Two Paths. Her blog name was inspired by Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” and specifically these lines:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

That’s really cool.

Thanks for the nomination, Kaylan!

What is the Leibster Blog Award?

In short, it’s an award for small blogs that’s passed between bloggers to explore growing blogs. Those who accept the nomination answer a list of questions given to them by whoever nominated them, write a bit about their favorite blogger, nominate 5-11 other blogs that have fewer than 200 followers, and provide 10-11 random facts about themselves. The official rules can be found here.

Nominees:

Melody at Melody Jackson, Author

Val, Remi, and Spanner at Our Mind Palace (I’m actually a fourth collaborator over there, so I’m not sure if this counts and I’ll post a sixth nominee, but I’d love to see their responses.)

Vinnie at Scribbles Playground!!!

Elyra at Two Roads Diverged (I highly suspect the name was derived from that same Robert Frost poem…)

Mandy at Jumping In the Puddles

Ruby at The Sea Calls Us Home

My Favorite Blogger

I follow quite a few writing blogs, but I think my favorite is Well-Storied (formerly known as She’s Novel). The author, Kristen Kieffer, does an excellent job of giving helpful writing advice in a number of areas. She has posts on publishing, editing, planning, writing, character development, etc. I think Well-Storied was the first blog I followed, and I’ve found Kristen’s posts helpful on numerous occasions, particularly as I get deeper into the writing process and am working on marketing. Marketing is something I know nothing about, and it’s really nice to have somewhere to go to find guidance in that.

11 Random Facts About Me

  1. I’ve been homeschooled my whole life.
  2. Autumn has been my screen name since September of 2015. I started using it when I joined the forums on the NaNoWriMo site and needed a nickname.
  3. I derived my pen name, R.M. Archer, from my initials.
  4. I’ve been in choir for nine years.
  5. I have yet to read Harry Potter. But I just checked it out from the library, so soon I can finally answer yes to the incessant question of “Have you read Harry Potter?”
  6. The question “Have you read Harry Potter?” kind of grates on my nerves at this point.
  7. My favorite author is Wayne Thomas Batson.
  8. I have about a dozen writing notebooks, and only three of them are full. Why? Because when I first started writing I would leave space between the current end of one story and the beginning of another so that I could finish the first one later. And then… I never finished any of them.
  9. I have finished about nine first drafts, two second drafts, and one third draft.
  10. My “pending” writing folder holds 375 files. My “archives” folder holds 171.
  11. My favorite villain is Loki.

Kaylan’s Questions

What’s your claim to fame? (It can literally be anything. Star of the class play in kindergarten? Go for it!)

I was one of the fastest runners at camp this year.

How do you relax after a hard day of school or work?

I read, write, or listen to music.

What could you give a 30-minute presentation on with no preparation? (In other words, what is something you totally geek out about?)

As my best friend can attest, I can rant on for half an hour at least about the Eragon movie or about The Maze Runner. She can also tell you that I repeat myself a lot when I’m ranting, so it would be half an hour long, but it would only be about ten minutes worth of information.

What city would you most like to live in?

Hmm. Is this real or fictional? For a real city… London? I don’t know, honestly. I’m pretty happy where I am, I think. And it has my choir and my youth group and some of my extended family. As for a fictional city, probably Minas Tirith. That place is just cool. But then again, so is the Shire, and it’s more peaceful, so maybe a home in one of the Shire’s cities would be a better fit. I’m almost short enough to fit in a hobbit-hole, too. ;)

What fictional place would you most like to travel to?

Middle Earth, The Seven Kingdoms, Erilea, The Four Lands… Probably most The Four Lands, since I’ve been immersed there so much through the dozens of Shannara books. But then again, maybe that’s a reason to choose a different one. I don’t know. Shannara is almost home for all the times I’ve visited, and I’d kind of like to know more about The Seven Kingdoms, so… I guess either one.

What job would you be terrible at?

Um… Pretty much anything… Sort of kidding. Um… I guess I’d be particularly bad at cooking. I can’t cook without totally going into panic mode. It’s really sad. So I guess I’m going with that.

What takes up too much of your time? (Sleeping? TV? Staring at a wall?)

Procrastinating. Browsing social media even when I know there’s nothing interesting going on. It’s awful. A friend of mine said she can’t imagine me wasting time, but oh man do I waste so much time.

What’s your favourite type of physical activity? (Sports? Hiking? Walking? Sitting outside in the sun?)

I like running, but I can only do it for a little while. “We dwarves are natural sprinters.” ;) Another one is swimming, even though that one tires me out pretty quickly, too. Call me cliche, but I love pretending to be a mermaid.

What’s your favourite Bible verse or quote, and why? (Your explanation can be brief, this is not an interrogation)

Acts 17:16-32. The altar to the unknown god. I don’t know exactly why, but that story always just fascinates me. I guess because Paul was able to use something pagan to point to God and the truth, and it’s always cool to me to find things that aren’t Christian, but yet still point to Christ, and maybe are even against Christianity but still point to it in some way. I made that observation with Wonder Woman, and when my little sister read it I thought her response was really deep: “This is how we know God exists; He’s reflected even in secular stories.”

I have to throw this one in here: what’s your favourite book? (I can never answer that question when I’m asked, but just name the latest one you read that you loved)

Well, it’s not the latest one I read and loved, but Heartless by Marissa Meyer. That one was so good!

What movie can you watch over and over without getting tired of it?

The Princess Bride. No contest.

Questions for My Nominees

  1. Who (other than God, of course) do you look up to?
  2. How long would you survive the apocalypse? Justify your answer! (Credit to somebody else for this question (who credited someone else) ’cause it sounded cool)?
  3. Would you rather have a book signed by your favorite author or an album signed by your favorite singer/band?
  4. Do you like writing prompts or would you rather not use them?
  5. Who is your favorite superhero and why?
  6. What is your favorite era? (Medieval, colonial, Civil War, WWI, WWII, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, etc.)
  7. What is your favorite play?
  8. Give a brief description of an old project you cringe at now.
  9. What is your favorite character name? (An existing one, and not one of your own.)
  10. What would your reaction be if your favorite author read and reviewed your current novel?
  11. What would your ideal playlist look like?

You know what’s annoying? When I make these lists of questions I then want to answer them. XD

Thanks for reading! Go check out the blogs I nominated, ’cause they’re awesome, their authors are awesome, just overall awesomeness. And if you have your own blog, link to it in the comments so I can check it out!

The “Boxes” I Put My Characters In

People say it’s bad to put people in boxes, and the same applies to characters. I say that if you know they won’t fit neatly in the box it can help you get to know your character to put them in it. It can help you understand their values and flaws and strengths better. Here are the boxes I’m mostly talking about:

Harry Potter Houses: Yep. I’m a nerd. Although, not a Harry Potter nerd. I have yet to read it. (Long story short: It’s on my tablet and my tablet broke.) However, Pinterest and just HP’s overall popularity have pulled me into the fandom without reading it. I probably have a full mental list of every character who dies, and I am well-acquainted with the houses. I can accurately match my characters to a house, in most cases, and get backed up by a quiz.

Divergent Factions: Yep, more nerdiness. What can I say? I’m a bookworm, of course. I know few writers who aren’t. Anyway… I have read this one, and though I wasn’t a fan of the books I was fascinated by the faction system. This one helps me a lot in getting to know my characters, and it’s another that I can usually accurately match myself and then back up with a quiz.

MBTI: Meyers-Briggs is a sixteen-type system that measures your ratio of introvert-extrovert, intuitive-sensing, thinking-feeling, and judging-perceiving. This is one I can’t successfully assign my characters on my own because there are a lot of them and there are four pieces. I can almost always tell you whether a character is I or E (introvert or extrovert), but beyond that I entrust typing to the test.

Alignment: This is a new one that I haven’t used much yet, but is interesting. It’s a test that sets you in one of eight types: lawful good, neutral good, chaotic good, true neutral, lawful evil, neutral evil, or chaotic evil. This is another one that’s fairly easy for me to gauge myself, but I still go to the test to know for sure. (Not that tests are the be-all and end-all, but you know what I mean.)

As an example, I’ll use my character Livi Brooklyn and put her into each box.

HP: Prediction: Hufflepuff, through and through. Quiz reaction: Hufflepuff.

Faction: Prediction: Amity. Quiz reaction: Amity (Divergent, officially, but every answer is Divergent and Amity scored a lot higher than anything else.)

MBTI: Guess: ESFJ. Quiz answer: ENFP (I told you I’m not as good at predicting that one.) Ooh, and this slogan fits her perfectly: “What do you mean ‘life is boring’? Are we living on the same planet?”

Alignment: Guess: Chaotic good? Quiz answer: Lawful Good (with a lot of answers in neutral). Livi? Lawful? Huh.

I know that no one ever fits in one particular box, and characters shouldn’t be an exception, but if I know that she’s a Hufflepuff and Amity I know she’ll do anything for anyone. If I know that she’s an ENFP I know that she sees everything as fun (and if you search on Pinterest for “{insert MBTI type here}” it’ll pull up things that relate to that type. I have a character who’s board is currently dominated by these, if you’d like to see what I mean.) Looking over these gives me more of a feel for the character, too. Lawful Good tells me that she’s good (duh) and that she respects some authority, be that official authority or her own set of standards. These “boxes” all help me get to know the character better. (Fun fact: Livi’s first three are the same as my character Cordain’s, from The Heart of the Baenor, and the fourth might be too but I haven’t taken the test for him yet.) Boxes can be restricting, but when used properly they can actually have the opposite effect and help unleash the character.

Just for fun, here are the “boxes” I belong in. ;)

HP: Ravenclaw (tests have given me Ravenclaw and Gryffindor multiple times each.)

Faction: Divergent (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, and Erudite are all really close in the results.)

MBTI: INFP (This one has actually been steadily the same.)

Alignment: Lawful Neutral (a lot of mixed answers. I seem to truly be Divergent. ;))

How do you feel about “boxes” for character development? What HP house/Faction/MBTI type are you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. :)

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