Thursday, May 29, 2014

Perception Bias in Fiction and Real Life

Dan here. I'm the new guy, and and I'm thrilled to join the ranks of Caitlin, Lisa, and Karlie at Trouble the Write Way. I thought that for my first post here, I'd remind you that very little of the information we receive in modern media -- television, radio, internet -- is neutral.

This is particularly true for the big issues, the ones where the stakes are extremely high. Whether it's Amazon versus Hachette, Democrat versus Republican, or religion A versus religion B, there is little room for neutrality.

And every side has a story to tell. The same event told by two opposing parties could not sound more different. On CNN, it was a drone strike that killed one of the most dangerous terrorists in the world. On Al-Jazeera it was an unprovoked attack that took the lives of civilians. Words have never been more powerful than they are now. It's a good time to be a writer.

There May Be No Right and Wrong

I read and write epic fantasy, which has come a long way from Middle Earth. Don't get me wrong, I love The Lord of the Rings as much as anyone. But in those books, there were two clear sides. Good versus evil. Right versus wrong. In the real world, and in much of the modern epic fantasy I've come to enjoy, things are not so clear cut.

One of my favorite novels is The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. In it, the protagonist and his friends are essentially mafia. They make a living by taking the hard-earned wealth of others, either by theft or con artistry. The antagonist of that book -- the Gray King -- has legitimate reasons for wanting revenge on the leaders of the mafia (and the nobles with whom they've arranged a secret peace). At times, I wanted him to succeed.

Perspectives and Bias

In great books that reflect our modern world, the conflicts are multi-faceted, and complex. It's not always clear who we -- as readers -- should be rooting for.

Thus, the perspective of whoever's telling the story matters a great deal. It biases us toward or against certain characters and their agendas. In Harry Potter, we knew that the Slytherin house had produced more Death Eaters than any other. The narrative begins biasing us against Slytherin very early. Yet the sorting hat almost put Harry into that house. And the head of Slytherin, Severus Snape, would ultimately have a profound influence on Harry Potter. Those books told from another perspective, say that of Draco Malfoy, might have been a very different story.

Getting Unstuck with Multiple POVs

I love the sort of epic fiction that offers viewpoints from multiple characters. Robert Jordan and George RR Martin have done this particularly well. You've got these clever, ambitious characters who put a spin on everything -- or give deliberate misinformation -- to further their own agendas. You have rivals who all think they're doing the right thing. It makes for excellent fiction because it's close to what we see in everyday life.

The next time you're stuck writing a scene or chapter, try tackling it from another character's point of view. Ideally, a character who has a different take on things, a different goal. You might write something that won't make it into the final manuscript, but you'll probably learn something new about the characters. Your story will be better for it.

It's Your Turn

What about you, fellow writers? How do you use perception bias in your fiction?

Karlie: Great post, Dan! Lots of food for thought here. I love how you explained all this. The example from Harry Potter, especially, was right on.

Personally, I've found the multiple POV you mentioned works really well. In my book Forsaken, a hired assassin plays a huge part. From all other eyes, she's twisted and brutal, but from her own...we can start understanding who she is and how she got that way.

Also, from one character's viewpoint, his father is controlling and verbally abusive. But is Peter truly everything his son despises, or simply trying to protect him? Black and white have evolved into shades of gray. The reader has to weigh the motivations and goals of each character, from all sides, before making a judgment.

I completely agree with everything you've said here and I love the way you put it.

Caitlin:  Draco Malfoy is one of my husband's favorite characters, and we have had many discussions on what it must have been like for him to have all that family pressures and this kid (Harry) who just gets away with everything even though Draco rarely does. Poor guy! :)

I also love gray, and tend not to like books that paint the villain as 100% evil. It might be a pollyanish streak in me, but, mostly, I just think it's much more interesting if you have to concede that even evil actors sometimes have motives or driving thoughts that aren't so foreign from our own. I won't say what book (as to not give it away), but I recently read a scene where a character murders another character (who I liked much more, BTW) in cold blood. I was really sad for the dead character, and I didn't even much like the murderer before he went and killed the likable character. But the writer handles the buildup and reaction so deftly that even though I didn't agree with the murderer's actions, I could somewhat understand why he did it. I could feel the pain he felt in thinking that he had to do it to protect his family while, simultaneously feeling his loneliness and withdrawal when his wife rejected him when she found out. When, later, she forgives him in a subtle gesture, I almost cried.

Stories like that make you question your own morality and what it means to live and die and, yes, even kill. And that, IMHO, is a good thing.

Lisa: I think Caitlin hit the nail on the head. Books and characters who makes us ask ourselves questions have done their job. It's a good thing to question the justice system, what your mamma always told you, what your teachers taught you. Stories, whether told from the pages of a book or from a cinema screen, should push the audience to think about ethics and morality. If the individual, in the end, sticks to their guns. Good. If the individual, in the end, changes or begins to change his/her perception. That's also good. The point is to perpetuate thought...of course, after thoroughly entertaining the audience. :)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Turn It Up Tuesday: Haunted

It's Karlie again, with yet another cheerful song about daisies and sunshine. No, actually it's pretty depressing. Hmm.

Haunted by Kelly Clarkson is a song I recently discovered (it's not country, Lisa) and the first time I heard it, two of my characters immediately came to mind. Shelly and Liam Brant - two trained spies whose only priority is to get the royal family to safety. If they complete this mission, they will receive full amnesty from past war crimes and be free to live their lives after fifteen years of serving the country they wronged.

But Liam has a secret - he's dying.

Mistaken, the sadness was hidden inside
Now all that's left are the pieces to find
The mystery you kept
The soul behind a guise

They successfully carry out their task, and while Shelly is planning their new life together, Liam is trying to find a way to tell her the truth. His time runs out faster than he thought it would.

Suddenly Shelly is left alone, reeling from a blow she never saw coming. A series of letters her husband left her reveals the truth. He lied. He spent months lying to her - he'd always known he wouldn't make it out alive.
  She doesn't remember how it feels to breathe without him.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mining Your Life - Details That Bring Life To Your Story

Karlie with you today!
We've all heard the adage repeated, time after time - Write what you know. People usually forget to add the last part - but not only what you know. If we did that, we'd be pretty boring authors.

However, you can enrich your books with those details you've picked up, those processes you have intimate knowledge of - it doesn't have to be professional. For example, I run a ranch in central Mississippi. Between the horse training and the cows and the fencing (and everything in between) I could write a slew of books set on a ranch. But my love is how to translate?

Can I use my experience with horses? What about the feeling of working in boiling/freezing temperatures - in the dark? Or even the business side of things?

Even in a fantasy novel, I can write what I know, even while using a completely different setting in a completely different world.

What about you? Can you use your experiences? Can you mine your life for both the detail and the firsthand knowledge that brings the life to your fiction?

Readers, can you tell when the author knows what he/she is talking about? Does it bring depth to your reading experience?

Caitlin:  I don't have any interesting ranch experience, sadly, but I definitely try to pull in the nitty gritty aspects of life to make my writing feel authentic. It doesn't even have to be some special expertise or experience. I try to take note of funny conversations with friends, or the way I know a coworker is uncomfortable or happy or nervous because of their body language. And then I also remember little things, like how great it feels to carve a pumpkin and be elbow deep in pumpkin guts, how my lungs burn and my body shakes in a good way after a race, or how I feel when I kiss my husband. These small, everyday experiences can add up, or at least I hope they do!

Lisa:  Jobs, trips, people...they're all fodder for stories. You know the actors who are so determined to get into character that they do what their character does? Like John Voit going around in a wheelchair for weeks before playing Franklin D. Roosevelt, or Demi Moore going to strip clubs. Even musicians: Ed Sheeran frequenting a homeless shelter then writing A-Team. That's me. My thinking is I don't ever know what sort of character I'm going to come up with, the setting of my next book, the job she might have. So I have an almost-never-say-no policy to experiencing new things or meeting new people. That's gotten me into a few tight spots (I ended up in the path of a tornado last time I didn't say no), but it always works out. I've put myself through hours of dad needed to go to Kentucky to make a delivery for his work last year and I had no idea what could be of interest to me in Kentucky, but I went just to see what I could see. The thing is, a writer can't be lazy in life and shouldn't be close-minded about possibilities. Like your ranch expertise, Karlie, you will use life experience whether you intend to or not.

Dan:  I think there's merit to this idea, because when you write while drawing something that you know about, it usually comes through. There's a certain subtle (or not so subtle) authenticity to it. For example, Michael Crichton's medical thrillers have that feel because he went to Harvard Medical School. Every writer that I've met has had some truly unique experiences -- working odd jobs, living abroad, joining the military, etc. -- that aren't very common. For my part, I'm a bowhunter, and I think spending all of that time in the woods becomes evident whenever my characters are in a forest. An author's experiences, even the mundane ones, are great fodder for writing. Having said that, I do think there's room for solid research to take the place of experience. Not all of us have done everything that we want to put in our novels. I haven't owned a horse, but I have ridden and researched them enough (I hope) to get some of the details right. If I haven't, I'm sure that Karlie will tell me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Turn It Up Tuesday - Eye of the Pyramid by Will Champlin

Burn dollar, dollar burn dollar, dollar burn.
When your pockets are feeling clean 
And the truth is obsolete
- Eye of the Pyramid by Will Champlin

My main character, Julian, from Moment(s) has known for a long time that he is only worth the money he can make for his manager and record label. However, their treatment of his relationship with Emilie is what really has him seeing red. Because all they see is green. His love is real, yet they act like they've conjured it up for their own purposes. Julian is determined that money won't sour something as pure as his feelings for Emilie. Will Champlin's high-energy song Julian's focus perfectly.


Thursday, May 15, 2014


Caitlin here. So, even the most happy-go-lucky writer would have to concede that sometimes, well, this is hard….

Sometimes you stare at the screen and wonder if you have any juice left in your brain. Sometimes you are very close to deciding that spending all this time hanging out with fictional characters isn’t worth it. Sometimes you scold yourself for being so presumptuous that you think you have something valuable to share with the world. Sometimes you do the math, crunching sales and royalties and even big advances and realize the likelihood of making any sort of living as a writer is damn near nonexistent.

Fortunately, I have a few go-to quotes that keep me sane when the writing, creative, and/or publishing process has got me down.

  • “Make the thrill of creation its own reward.” – Alan Watt
  • “Write for yourself, your deepest, darkest, truest self.” –Matthea Harvey (at a keynote at Conversations and Connections.)
  • “Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.” - Graham Greene
  •  “You think of the book you'd most like to be reading, and then you sit down and shamelessly write it.” – Salinger
  • (This quote needs some context. It’s a response to someone on Tumblr asking if Improvisational Theater is a road to nowhere for comedians because Neil Casey spent several years in improv before getting a job with Saturday Night Live (but not directly through his improv stuff). I encourage you to read the whole response if you have time.) When [Casey] was 20, . . . SNL was not on his mind. . . . If he never got a job, and now I can speak from experience, then he’d only have a life spent being happy behind him. . . . Spend your days in love with what you’re doing as much as fucking possible, and thank the stars for your chances to do that. Be nice and honest and brave and hopeful, and then let it go.”

When I’m in a funk, I read these and then I ask myself, “Would you rather be doing this or not be doing this?” If the answer is ever the latter, I’ll stop (or at least take a break). But so far, despite all the head-banging frustrations and dark doubts, I always answer that I’d rather be doing it. I’d rather be writing.  

What do you do when you hit a writing/publishing funk?

Karlie: I run into funks more often than I'd like to acknowledge. Keeping more than one project going at once usually helps with this - I can switch them out until I finally get excited about something again. But there are lots of days I just stare at the computer screen, wondering what the heck possessed me to think I could ever do this.

What really frustrates me is that I want to write, I want to get this story done, but the words refuse to come. I hate everything I churn out, or I simply have no clue what to do next, and my characters are starting to get on my nerves.

When this happens, my iPod and a very long walk usually helps. If I just forget about the paper for a little while, and mentally immerse myself into a scene, it will break the word block. Other times, watching a really great movie/ reading a brilliant book will get the creative juices flowing. And sometimes, I just have to start writing and ignore the crap flooding from my fingertips. Eventually I'll find my niche again.

Lisa: Great question! I have different levels and different versions of funk. Sometimes I have too many thoughts about my scenes or characters. Imagine a kid in a toy store with $500 in her hand. That's me. The possibilities overwhelm me sometimes. It's a happy "Oh my God, Oh my God" but it's not a very productive one. I have to step outside and let fresh air, the sight of my oak trees, the waving grass... work their magic. Calm stuff calms me down. Other times I simply don't want to write my story. I want it written still; I just don't want to write it. Those times I step away, watch a movie, treat myself to a new book. Those times don't happen very often but when they do, I start planning a weekend out of town. These times help me decompress. Thankfully we have one of those handy-dandy campers in Florida. :)

Dan: This is a great topic, because I don't know of any writers who haven't faced this problem. I'm dealing with a bit of a funk right now, actually, on a short story where I can't seem to make the middle meet the ending. Usually, I tackle it in one of three ways. The first way is to let it sit, and use the down time that modern society provides (driving, waiting in line, etc.) to sort of mull it over, until I figure out what I need to do next. I like this method because it lets the work percolate a little bit in the subconscious, and usually it delivers the best solution. In the meantime I can spend active writing time on a different project.

But life is short, and sometimes we don't have the luxury of letting projects sit forever. When I have to get it done, I shut off my internal editor and drop into NaNoWriMo mode. That means butt in chair, fingers on the keyboard, and start typing. It may be utter drivel, but sometimes you have to move on with the comfort that you can always go back later to improve things (or if a better idea strikes). Crappy words are better than no words. 

The third way to get out of a funk is to find motivation again. Inspirational quotes aren't much use for me; tapping into my competitive nature tends to work better. I think about some of those books or stories that I couldn't even finish, but managed to make it to publication in a big market. I tell myself that I can do better than that. And I go for it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Turn It Up Tuesday - What I Wouldn't Give

Hi all! It's Karlie on the mic today.

My song today is What I Wouldn't Give by Blake Shelton. In the aftermath of Eric's betrayal, Aria Rinehart finally realizes the truth about Logan.

But Logan is tired of being used.

If they had known it was all part of a twisted plan, if they had known someone was playing with their thoughts, maybe they wouldn't have been so quick to say goodbye. But now Aria has been taken by someone she thought was her friend, and they want to use her clairvoyant abilities for their own purposes.

She's had plenty of time to look back and realize exactly what she did to Logan, during all those months of belittling and pushing him away. And there's nothing she wouldn't give to go back in time and fix it.

(There's not a video available of him singing it live)

Thursday, May 8, 2014


Hey, everybody. Lisa speaking.

Us writers are a curious bunch, meaning we peruse, browse and nose around a lot. With the invention of the internet, we've turned a lot of our curiosity global: online writing communities, blogs, sites for research, ie, geography, psychology, astronomy and almost all things ending in y, Twitter, Facebook, contests (normally blogs as well but deserves a slot by itself), and Youtube (also research, shshsh, I'm still in denial).

What's my point, you ask. I want to know where you spend your time. Why do you spend time there? Do you spend too much time there or is every second well-spent? Have a favorite blog/most informative blog you visit? Plug it.

WHY? you're still asking. Because we/you might want to go there too. Let's share sites. Sharing is caring. :)

I'll start. I spend a lot of time on a writing community called Hexbound. Regular members read and review your work. Trained editors read entire books (sometimes five a month) and review them. I do something called word wars on the threads which pushed me to write two books in six weeks. This is also a great site to garner readers of your genre and make connections with fellow authors. I love this site obviously. Any second I spend on there is a second well spent. And Twitter. Sometimes I spend a lot of time on Twitter. It comes by phases. This is good for meeting fellow authors and readers in your genre, though not as good for finding "fans" as Hexbound for me. One of the blogs I visit regularly is The Kill Zone. This is a site where a group of published authors commiserate and discuss writing. They are mostly thriller, mystery and horror writers, but a lot of what they have to offer goes across the board for genres, and they've been in the business a really long time. Somewhere I spend too much time and a lot of that time isn't productive is Youtube. I wish I could steal back some of the time that place has stole from me. But it's so entertaining!

What about you? Tell us what's on your computer screen a lot of the time...or too much of the time.

Karlie: Without a doubt, Hexbound takes up huge amounts of my time on the net. I echo everything you said about it, Lisa! It's the greatest website on the planet.

I also stalk twitter, more than is healthy. ;) Writer's Digest is an awesome resource, and the NaNo forums get a lot of my attention. I have been known to read fan fiction. *hangs head in shame*.

Caitlin:  Karlie, you should read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, it definitely had me thinking differently about fan fiction. As for sites that take up a lot of my time, Twitter is probably the worst offender. I'll go on there just to check one itsy bitsy thing and 45 minutes later I'm still tweeting... whoops! I read Writer Unboxed pretty regularly. I also really like flash fiction. The Wigleaf top 50 is a great place to start, but I also read Smokelong Quarterly almost every week.

DanHello, I'm the new guy at Trouble the Write Way. For querying authors, I recommend the author blogs of Brenda DrakeMichelle Hauck, and Amy Trueblood. They're all prolific bloggers and run regular pitching contests designed to help new authors find an agent. For general querying and submissions advice, I highly recommend the Author! Author! blog by Anne Mini; her posts are LONG, but full of good information. As for author communities, I love the online writers workshop at Members agree to critique one piece of short fiction per week, and in return get to submit their own stories into the queue. There's also a mechanism for workshopping novels a couple of chapters at a time. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Turn It Up Tuesday - Angus and Julia Stone

Angus And Julia Stone by Draw Your Swords

For my song post today, I have to be vague or else I give away too much of my book. I have a character who loves this girl, but he doesn't have time for playing sly, flirting, or regular relationship protocalls. He could die soon and he doesn't want to waste a minute.

[Warning: language]

So come on Love, draw your swords
Shoot me to the ground
You are mine, I am yours
Lets not fuck around

I like how desperate this song sounds and how it matches my character's mentality perfectly. Angus's voice is haunting and vulnerable, and so is my main character.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Purely Platonic? Male and Female Protagonists Without The Romance

It's Karlie with you this Thursday! I've just finished looking over my overflowing bookshelf, and realized that in just about every single story, romance either takes center stage or waits in the wings. So what's up with that? Sure, we all love to see it, but have we gotten to the point that we can't do without it?

Even when we have two strong protagonists - male and female, working together - it seems the sparks MUST fly. 

Opposite personalities? They clash until suddenly they're making out, with no clue how that happened but they really like it.

Complementing personalities? Well, it's obvious they were made for each other.

I have just realized I really want to see a story in which the guy and girl remain friends. As in, they finish out the novel trying to set each other up on a date with someone else, friends. Know what I mean? 

One of my good friends is writing a novel like this, and I love it. I hadn't realized how much of my reading material is curtained in romance. In fact, I'm going to try it in my next novel. Let's see what happens when love takes a rain check!

What are your opinions on this? Do you believe romance should be the focus point, the background, or fade away completely?

Readers, do you want to see more books with purely platonic relationships?

Caitlin: So, one of my guy friends actually graciously reads my books even though he hates the romantic aspects. I don't take it personally because he hates all romance (and he has very thoughtful commentary on the other aspects). But it got me thinking that, for me, a book has to be really amazing for me to get caught up in it without having a romantic subplot (or main plot). But it can happen! Some recent reads that I loved, despite not getting that fun pitter patter in my heart, include The Road by Cormac MacCarthy (though my husband says you can argue that's a bromance) and Montana 1943. Another recent example, slightly more in line with what you are asking for (including a platonic heterosexual male-female relationship) is Charm & Strange, which I've mentioned before. There is a love interest for the MC, but that love interest turns into just a good friend in a very satisfying way.

So I definitely still enjoy a good non-romance. However, all three of those books are rather dark and deep. I wonder if there's something to that? Perhaps I would not enjoy a light romp of a book without at least some kissing.

Lisa: I do have a story where there is just a really strong friendship between two of the three main characters. In fact, in the prequel it really looks like these two might get together. But they don't, and there is no love triangle. However, she ends up with someone else, so there is romance somewhere in there. Platonic love (on both thier parts), check. Romantic love, check again. How does that fit into your question, Karlie? :)
I do like many stories without romantic love. But it's also easy to tell when an author is skirting around what would've happened in real life. I can just about hear the puppet-master between the words: I will not have romance.
When it looks like it should happen, then it should happen. When it still doesn't happen, the author intrusion is apparent. But that doesn't mean that a romance-less book isn't realistic, nor does it mean that it wouldn't be good. Just let the characters tell the story; you butt out.