Reblog: 5 Ways to Subvert

Hi, frieeeeends! I am about neck deep in trouble this month, barely bobbing along with my head above water. I’m keeping up with the deadlines so far (which is good since I really want that desk plant), but a hiccup (or a cough, you might say, thanks COVID) at work means that instead of doing my job in September and October, I have to do it now now NOW RIGHT NOW to be ready for remote delivery in the fall instead of our regular in-person delivery, which is going to make for a cramped end of the month when Camp NaNo and my work are both due, with two book revisions hot on their heels in the two weeks that follow. Not to mention that things at my summer job have amped up, with three big orders coming in for the fall season and another six major orders due for next spring’s goods within the next two-and-a-half weeks, and my manager is going out of town for a week and has basically put me in charge of a horde of good-natured but highly distractable and benignly lazy teenagers. Send help now.

That said, instead of writing you more blog post, you get a reblog of 5 Ways to Subvert Character Cliches and Archetypes, from the ever fine Casimir Stone of Reedsy, writing for Now Novel. Enjoy!

5 ways to subvert character clichés and archetypes

Character clichés - 5 ways to subvert them | Now Novel

Creating the next Harry Potter or Holden Caulfield is no easy feat! When writing secondary characters in particular, it’s easy to fall back on clichéd archetypes and stock characters. Yet this isn’t necessarily bad. Embracing stock characters can be more effective than making your character over-complicated. You can turn common or overused character tropes on their head, too.

Here are five easy ways to inject life into familiar character types:

1. Subvert archetypes to avoid character clichés

The most common means of subversion, of making something other than what it first appears, is to introduce a cliché before revealing things aren’t what they appear.

In other words it’s still okay to introduce a valiant knight in the mold of Sir Lancelot… So long as he eventually reveals himself to be more than just an obvious symbol.

Lev Grossman — the author of The Magicians (often referred to as “Harry Potter for adults”) gives us an example.

Example of subverting a character cliché

In The Magicians, Grossman’s character Henry Fogg is a Master Magician and Dean of Students at a school for magic. The author surely knew his character’s type and function could invite comparisons to another fictional wizard: Dumbledore.

However, unlike the wise, benevolent leader of Hogwarts, Fogg quickly shows himself to be cowardly, selfish, and severe. He ultimately fills an adversarial role opposite Quentin, the protagonist, Fogg’s would-be mentee.

This serves a narrative purpose. It turns a secondary character into a source of conflict.

But it also works rhetorically, similarly to a ‘red herring’: it surprises the reader and makes them question their own intuition.

Subversion can also be used as a means of character or plot development.

In Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel series, the authors turn many superhero tropes on their heads. The character Ozymandias is set up as the typical “smartest man in the world”. This is a stock or clichéd comic book character who is overshadowed by brawnier counterparts in strength but not smarts.

However, Ozymandias’ non-threatening appearance makes him a ruthlessly efficient and undetectable villain. The revelation of the character’s malevolent power packs all the more punch since, up until this point in the story, readers may see him as little more than a forgotten sidekick. [Use the ‘Character’ section of the Now Novel dashboard to brainstorm characters and their purpose – Ed’s note.]

To subvert your own characters:

  1. Identify a list of character clichés usually associated with their type (e.g. ‘warrior’ equals ‘strong’).
  2. Think of how stock character types (such as “mentors”) have typical behavioural features. Dumbledore or Charlotte the Spider will always be wise and cautious.
  3. Then create a character to fit that mold perfectly… before revealing that, say, their “wisdom” is just stolen from a book of idioms. Subversion such as these add surprise complexity to your characters and story.

2. Parody the clichéd character archetype

If you prefer to introduce a character who isn’t any deeper than a cliché, there are ways to make this interesting too. It’s a classic approach of comedy. You can take this character and their development in the opposite direction to the first approach and parody this type…

Ready to read some more? Head on over to Novel Now for the full article! And until next week, happy writing!

Sample Chapter: Anathema, Chapter One

Hi! Here’s the first chapter of the project I’ll be working on for NaNoWriMo this month and then again in November. I’m hoping to write 40k this session, getting through a bit under half of the story, and then finishing it up this winter with another 50k. We’ll see how it goes!

Chapter One

It didn’t look like the Wisps her grandmother had told her about. But as the eldest, Anathema didn’t have the luxury of choice. She swallowed hard and stepped off the trail after it.

Anathema knew what she was. The older children were always thrown as sacrifices into the wilds, in the hope that the younger ones found their fortunes. They couldn’t all marry royals or befriend fairies or kill dragons. Parents understood this. The first few children were the trial runs, to set off all the traps and curses so that their blessed younger siblings could have a clear path to greatness.

She picked her way through a bramble patch and followed the Wisp down through the trees to lower ground, wondering if it could sense her oldishness even if she tried to hide it. Could a Wisp just look at her and her youngest sister Prosper and know? Grandmother was never sure. Of course, as the youngest, Grandmother didn’t have to be. Anathema followed the bobbing light deeper into the woods and prayed to the gods of sun and soil to abandon her.

The Wisp paused, and then bobbed away to the side, and then turned south again. Or maybe it was east. Anathema wasn’t sure anymore. But still, she followed it. It would take her to be either married to or eaten by an ogre—or both—or maybe to a cursed treasure, or a witch’s hovel deep in a bog. Whatever it was, Anathema wanted it over quickly.

Poor Enigma. As the second daughter, nobody knew what would happen to her, good or bad. At least Anathema knew what to expect. Nothing made loss harder than thinking you might actually win. But still, Anathema could at least hope for the sister who would come after her. She might even find Anathema’s bones and avenge her. That happened sometimes too.

The Wisp hesitated again, its wan light dimming further. Anathema frowned. This wasn’t at all the way her grandmother had described the Wisps. They hadn’t come across so much as a puddle, let alone a swamp. And Wisps were supposed to be cold blue. This one was decidedly pinkish. Anathema wondered nervously if she’d gotten a bad Wisp. And what would happen to her poor sisters if she failed to fail?

Anathema crept closer to the maybe-not-Wisp. It stayed where it was, letting her nearer than any Wisp worth its weight would. And then it winked out altogether.

Ready to read the rest? Follow the link!

Reblog: 12 Ideas for Writing Through the Pandemic

Hi friends! Another NaNo month is upon us, and so are the reblogs! This article by Natalie Proulx seems to be geared a little toward people who aren’t already writers, but I had fun doing some of them with my kiddos. (We enjoyed #10 best- writing comics!) Hopefully you’ll find some good ways to keep creative while things are still crazy. Hang in there!

12 Ideas for Writing Through the Pandemic With The New York Times

A dozen writing projects — including journals, poems, comics and more — for students to try at home.

<img src="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/04/25/style/oakImage-1584969107780-LN/oakImage-1584969107780-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale&quot; alt="In Málaga, Spain, Marcos Moreno Maldonado makes drawings that weave around his words, keeping a diary that is botanical, beautiful and strange. Keeping a journal is just one of 12 writing projects we suggest for students. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/30/style/coronavirus-diaries-social-history.html">Related Article
In Málaga, Spain, Marcos Moreno Maldonado makes drawings that weave around his words, keeping a diary that is botanical, beautiful and strange. Keeping a journal is just one of 12 writing projects we suggest for students. Related ArticleCredit…Marcos Moreno Maldonado
Natalie Proulx

By Natalie Proulx

April 15, 2020

The coronavirus has transformed life as we know it. Schools are closed, we’re confined to our homes and the future feels very uncertain. Why write at a time like this?

For one, we are living through history. Future historians may look back on the journals, essays and art that ordinary people are creating now to tell the story of life during the coronavirus.

But writing can also be deeply therapeutic. It can be a way to express our fears, hopes and joys. It can help us make sense of the world and our place in it.

Plus, even though school buildings are shuttered, that doesn’t mean learning has stopped. Writing can help us reflect on what’s happening in our lives and form new ideas.

We want to help inspire your writing about the coronavirus while you learn from home. Below, we offer 12 projects for students, all based on pieces from The New York Times, including personal narrative essays, editorials, comic strips and podcasts. Each project features a Times text and prompts to inspire your writing, as well as related resources from The Learning Network to help you develop your craft. Some also offer opportunities to get your work published in The Times, on The Learning Network or elsewhere.

We know this list isn’t nearly complete. If you have ideas for other pandemic-related writing projects, please suggest them in the comments.

In the meantime, happy writing!

Want to keep reading? Follow the link to the full article!

Botanical Birch Sketch

Hello! Here’s an unfinished botanical sketch for Betula Neoalaskana, the paper birch, which I am currently working on the cookbook for. I don’t think I’ll quite finish the entire cookbook (or this sketch, for that matter) this month, but I’ll be awfully close. And, fun stuff, I currently have three birch trees tapped and am boiling sap down every day. All good research for the cookbook! There are only three days left in the month. Wish me luck!

NaNo Recap: Fiction v. Nonfiction

Okay, I know that I whine about how hard it was basically every session of NaNoWriMo, but for reals, guys, this one was hard. I was really worried I wasn’t going to make it there toward the end. I spent a significant chunk of the month feeling supremely uninspired and had to start counting words that maaaaaybe really shouldn’t count, but they counted enough and I was scared. But this month’s scrappy desperation felt a little different because, for the most part, I was writing nonfiction. I’ve never tried that before. And let me tell you, it was hard.

I went into this maybe a little underinformed. The closest I’ve come to writing nonfiction before was a creative nonfiction short story of which I ended up having to completely rewrite the ending—the ending where the guy is executed for that murder he was found guilty of—because it turns out the guy’s execution was stayed at the last minute and he was released and spent his final days as a barber in upstate New York or something. Truth is stranger than fiction, I guess. The point is, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. And that never ends well for me. (Except for in marriage. Happy anniversary, babe!)

As it turns out, writing nonfiction is a totally different beast than writing fiction. Here are just a few of the differences that made my life difficult last month:

Nonfiction requires citations and stuff. You can’t just claim that the magic crystal pumps out thirty kilosparkles per minute under a full moon. You gotta annotate that junk.

Nonfiction sticks to the facts. Can I prove it? No? Then get that corn outta my face. It doesn’t matter that I like to make things up when I have no idea what’s going on. I have to figure out what’s going on. Even if it takes forever. That said…

Nonfiction is way slower to write. Yeah, that not making things up thing? That means that I have to look up anything I don’t know. Not just look it up, but find it (preferably in two or three places), weigh the merit of the publication, reference it, and add it to my bibliography. Every ten words takes about thirty minutes. It burns us.

Nonfiction requires research. Again related to the above point, but seriously, if I don’t know it, I have to figure it out. And if someone hasn’t already done that research, then I have to. Doing the research takes even more time than compiling the research, which takes even more time than writing about the research. And a thirty-one day writing sprint is definitely not the time to be conducting research. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

And I’m sure there are way more issues out there. This is just what I managed to uncover in a month of dabbling. (Did you know there are people who write nonfiction all the time? For a living? Willingly? It’s true!)

That said, there are advantages to writing nonfiction as well (and probably way more than I’m listing because augh, it hurt so badlyyy).

Fiction is more elaborate than nonfiction. There is something very straightforward and clean about writing nonfiction. Is it a verifiable fact? Then yes, that can go in. If not, save it for the alternate history fanfic. Probably nobody wants to know what the butter’s thinking as it melts in the fry pan anyway. (Probably.)

Nonfiction takes less concentration. For me, at least. When writing fiction, I need absolute silence, stillness, twenty minutes of meditation, and a sacrificial unicorn heart. Since nonfiction only deals with what really exists, though, and I don’t have to go into that zen creative brain space reserved for crafting universes out of what ifs and bat farts.

Nonfiction teaches. You could argue that fiction can do that, too, but mostly fiction is for entertainment. Nonfiction imparts knowledge, and that’s really cool to think about. Rare is the situation in which more facts and truth is a bad thing. Knowledge is power, y’all.

All that said, I’d like to keep dabbling in nonfiction, but I don’t think I’ll try it again during a NaNo month. Most of my difficulty can probably be attributed to trying to rush a project that would have benefitted from more thought. Despite the grind, I still want to finish both of the nonfiction projects I was working on last month. But I’m enjoying the work more now that I’m not tallying every word that I write as I nervously watch the clock winding down. (I really wouldn’t have won at all if I hadn’t paused in my nonfiction to draft out a fictional short story and notes, which ended up being nearly a quarter of my total wordcount for the month. I justified it because I was already working on multiple projects during the month, so what’s one more? Yeah, rules get a little bendy when you’re thirty percent behind schedule and things are looking grim.)

How about you guys? Any of my fine readers work in nonfiction? What are some of the pros and cons I may have missed in my quick splash in the shallow end? Let me know in the comments and, until next week, happy writing!

Cooking with Strange Ingredients of Questionable Origin

Ugh, I do not feel like I am winning this camp session so far. I don’t think I’m going to not win (yet) but it’s been a slog and I’m quite a bit behind. This nonfiction writing business is kind of a drag. I mean, it’s interesting and stuff, but I feel like I need to do about twenty or thirty minutes of research for every ten words that I write. I knew I would be writing few words this time around and that it would take more research and fact checking, but sheesh. I could really go for just a quick and stupid blitz through draftyville right now, you know?

That said, it hasn’t all been rainclouds and misery these last couple weeks. One of the two nonfiction projects I’m working on is a cookbook, and that means cooking! Furthermore, it means experimental cooking, which is probably the best kind of cooking that there is.

In the interest of keeping the cookbook accessible to normal humans, I can’t do anything too crazy-go-nuts, and that’s kept me reigned in reasonably well. After all the ingredient I’m showcasing here is a little wacky itself- birch syrup. (Who here has heard of birch syrup? Tried it? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to know what you think about it!)

Birch syrup is like the half-sibling between unrelated maple syrup and molasses. It’s got that maple treeishness, and molasses’ kind of minerally tang to it, but has a flavor profile all its own that varies quite a bit from batch to batch. I’ve been working on a series of recipes that bring out its uniqueness, but within the kinds of comfort foods that people already know and love.

Some of the recipes I’m working on are things like birch vinaigrette, birch baked black beans, and birch-infused profiteroles. There are birch caramel popcorn balls, and boreal bliss ice cream, and birch brined moose jerky. (These are my comfort foods, okay?)

My kids’ favorite so far, though, has to be the birch bacon mac and cheese. Sweet and salty and gooey and hot, that double batch I made didn’t stand a chance.

1/2 pound of bacon

1 lb chopped vegetables of choice (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, etc)

1 lb dry pasta

1/4 c unsalted butter

1/4 c all-purpose flour

2 c whole milk

1/4 c dark birch syrup

1 1/4 c mozzarella cheese

3/4 c cheddar cheese

1.  Boil pasta according to directions, cooking just slightly less than al dente. (I usually find the directions for al dente and then subtract one minute for every five. Bite a piece and if it feel just a bit undercooked, it’s ready.) Drain the pasta and set aside.

2.  Cook bacon in a frying pan over high heat until crisp, about eight minutes. While bacon is cooking, steam vegetables. I typically chop vegetables into chunks about the size of my curled forefinger and steam for five minutes, until they are just a tiny bit crunchier than al dente, like the pasta. Set aside vegetables. Drain bacon, and then chop into bite-sized chunks and set aside.

3.  Melt butter over medium-high heat in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. When the butter begins to boil, add flour and whisk until the mixture becomes fragrant and turns a light brown, about three minutes. (It’s better to undercook than overcook at this stage. Overcooking with make for a slightly lumpy cheese sauce while little brown flecks, while undercooking is easy to correct with a little extra cooking later. Either way, it will still taste fine.) Slowly whisk in the milk. It may be a little lumpy at first, but keep whisking as the milk comes up to heat and it will smooth out. Whisk constantly as the sauce thickens, taking care that the bottom does not scorch. Turn off heat, but keep pot over burner, and whisk in the birch syrup. The sauce should be a uniform light caramel color.

4.  Add cheese a half cup at a time, allowing it to melt completely and then whisking it in before adding more cheese. Sauce should be thick and gooey; if it is too thick, add two tablespoons of additional milk at a time until desire consistency. (I usually end up adding about an extra half cup of milk at this point, but my family likes a slightly thinner mac.)

5.  Pour the noodles, bacon, and vegetables into the cheese sauce, stirring gently until well coated. Cook over low heat until cheese sauce just begins to bubble and all ingredients are heated through, about five minutes. Serve hot.

Looking for a slightly lighter side dish? Omit the bacon and vegetables, instead adding one teaspoon of salt to the cheese sauce.

Note: While any pasta would taste good with this sauce, different pastas hold sauces differently. When choosing a good mac-and-cheese pasta, pick a “short” pasta, rather than a strand or ribbon pasta, that would cup the sauce and transfer little reservoirs of it into your mouth. Medium-to-large sized tubes or shells (such as penne, conchiglie, or rotini) about the same size as your vegetable and bacon chunks would be about right for this recipe. Alternatively, if omitting the bacon and veggies, you can go for a smaller pasta such as macaroni or campanelle.

PS- If you can’t get your hands on birch syrup (like most of the world outside of extreme northern latitudes), don’t sweat it. This recipe will still be tasty if you use maple syrup or molasses instead. Just, while you’re eating it, you are legally required to think of how much nummier it would be if you had the real deal. Legal truth. *nods*

Until next week, happy writing cooking!

Reblog: How to Become a Successful Writer and Work-Full Time

Hi friends! As you well know, it’s a NaNo month, and that means reblogging my way to a murky victory by reserving every iota of brain power for spitting out garbage first drafts! Hooray!

One of those distracting brain power sinks is my job. I work two or three part time jobs in the winter, but in the summer, I work one part time and one full time, leaving me little time or thought for writing. This summer has had the added complication of doing freelance writing work for three different operations all at the same time. So while I don’t have the time to do any fiction work right now, I am still writing, with a bonus of contractually obligated deadlines (which for me is a very good thing).

That said, this week, I’ll be reblogging a guest article from The Creative Penn, Ron Vitale’s How to Become a Successful Writer and Work Full-Time at a Day Job, which is a really long title. Later in the month, I’ll probably post a snippet from one of my projects, which I’ll tell you more about then. Until then, happy writing, and enjoy the article!

How to Become a Successful Writer and Work Full-Time at a Day Job

Back in 2008, I made a decision that changed my life. I decided to write a novel.

Yes, I worked full-time at a day job and had two small children, but realized that if I wanted my life to change, I needed to either make a move, or let go of my dream. Having my big “four-oh” birthday on the horizon proved to be the kick in the pants that pushed me to act. I thought long and hard, but decided to take a leap of faith and try. I now have 7 novels on sale on various platforms and am working on my next.

I went from “wanting to be a novelist” to “being one.”

How? I did the following:

  • Made a public commitment to my family and friends, holding myself accountable.
  • Created a schedule that worked for my busy career.
  • Chunked the work into bite-sized pieces.

Believe in Yourself

All my life I had waited for someone to validate me as an author. To change that unhealthy behavior, I started doing. I wrote in the morning before work, read “how to” articles and started listening to podcasts on writing and publishing. I reframed my goals by choosing to invest in myself and my dream.

No longer would I wait for someone to discover me, I would discover myself. 

Ready to read some more? Find the full article here!

Miss Frizzle, Colored at Last!

Thank you for your patience last week. And look, I finally colored the thing! Whee!

And just a heads up- today is the first day of another session of Camp Nanowrimo, so this month I will be lazy and stupid while I direct my brain power in other directions. We’ll have lame art and reblogs and who knows what else. Should be fun times!

Happy writing!

Prince Ilvarin Short Story

I’m feeling pretty heartbroken about Notre Dame today. It has family significance as well as being a beautiful piece of human history. My heart is in Paris tonight.

Oddly enough, what I had planned to post today is about fire and destruction and death (although thankfully, nobody died in the Notre Dame fire). This is a legend one of the characters tells in my Camp NaNoWriMo story that will almost be cut from the final product in its entirety, but I liked it anyway. Hope you do too.

Prince Ilvarin and the Death God

Before the people came north, before our blood mingled with that of the humans, before the stars were written in the sky, there was an ancient prince. Prince Ilvarin was wise and clever, and he loved his people more than his own life.

One year, the world passed too close to the sun and even Fenthal could not ward it back. The world began to burn. Smoke filled the skies and the trees and plants withered. The elves lay in what shadows were left and drank until the water was gone and hope was fled.

Prince Ilvarin could not bear to see his people suffer so. He was the strongest among them, least burdened by heat and thirst, and feared he alone would survive this disaster. And so he decided to seek out Death and trade his life for that of his people. Taking only his cloak and his sword, Prince Ilvarin set off north for the sylvan homes of the gods.

Want to read the whole story? Click here.