Words Are Important

The importance of word choice is such a large topic that I can’t scratch the surface in one blog post. As I sit here, I have no idea where to begin or what, exactly, I want to say.

Two words can have the same basic definition, but we know their connotations are different even if said connotation is difficult to put into words. The words we choose to use say something important about our message and, by extension, us.

My belief in this concept is one of the reasons I get frustrated at the belief that we have a new “politically correct” culture that is ruining society, an argument that is typically used when someone disagrees with another’s language.

Word choice matters. It always has and it will continue to as long as we have language. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have multiple words with the same basic meaning. Which word you choose says something more than it’s basic definition, and though I never lived in an ancient civilization, I imagine that it was the same in the past in most (if not all) cultures. I’m also willing to bet that people always got angry at the words of others, even if that person had the freedom of speech to say them.

That’s nothing new. Why are some of us pretending like it is?

The Struggles of Creating an Entire World

When I first started this blog, I talked about The Society (a fantasy story I’m working on) quite frequently, and then I slowed down.  A quick search tells me that the last time I brought it up was in November 2016 (which is, admittedly, more recently than I first believed) when I discussed how the election had made me rethink the story. The last time before that was June 2016 when I discussed feeling like my own magical world would never measure up to those others had created. Ironically, that latter topic is very similar to what I wanted to discuss today without me realizing I’d already discussed it. I think I have a bit more to add though, so we’re doing this again.

Here’s the complete and honest truth: I’ve been struggling writing The Society.

This has been true for pretty much the entire five years or so that I’ve been working on this series. (Wow, actually saying that it’s been five years makes it feel even longer. In truth, I work on it on and off with more frequent “off” periods over the last several years, which is another big reason why it hasn’t been brought up recently.)

The entire basis of The Society was a short story I wrote in eighth grade, which I’ve written about before, so if we consider that the starting point, I’ve been developing this story for nearly a decade. However, absolutely nothing about that short story is in the current story except a couple absolute basics. There were three characters in that short story who all technically remain in the current version, but I can’t consider them the same characters. They don’t have the same names or personalities or anything else really. They are, however, the same types of magical beings (two witches and a werewolf). A “society” also existed in that story but is unrecognizable as the current one.

There was a roughly four year gap between writing that short story and starting The Society, and even in that first draft, very little of the short story remained. Over those four years, the short story had turned around in my head and morphed into something else.

It was when I started writing The Society that the basics of the world cemented for me, but it was only the basics. I had lots of ideas about how this world operated, but not all of it has remained the same over time.

Ultimately, it’s the world building that’s causing me so much trouble with this story.

This is why experienced authors recommend not writing a fantasy (and, while I typically see the advice directed towards fantasy, I’d say scifi as well) as your first novel. There’s so much involved in world building that you don’t have to worry about in other genres.

The Society isn’t the first novel I’ve written. When I began it five years ago, it was after I’d completed what was actually my first novel. (Okay. I had written a “novel” before that, which was a fanfiction that I wrote throughout middle and high school. Technically, that counts too.) By now, I’ve also written several others in between bouts of working on The Society. I can’t really consider it my first novel, but I am a young novelist who wouldn’t call herself experienced. I’m struggling with fantasy.

I see the advice about beginning novelists not writing fantasy, and trust me, I get it.

I still can’t bring myself to give up on The Society, especially when I see the progress I’ve made over the years.

That isn’t to say that I’ve just struggled with The Society and not accomplished anything else, though much of what else I’ve written has been fanfiction. As I’ve said, I’ve put it away repeatedly because I do recognize when I’m not getting anywhere at a particular time. But when I do that, the world continues to take up space in my brain. Eventually, I feel the need to come back to it.

Recently, I was working on The Society again. I wasn’t writing the novel itself. Instead, I was creating a list of possible subplots to add. It’s a step removed from all of the world building that was otherwise occupying my time over the past two years or so. It was nice and allowed me to return to a lot of the side characters who I hadn’t given much thought to recently.

That being said, I still view the world building as my biggest problem, and my biggest hang up might be the great fantasy worlds I’ve experienced over the years. I have a particular soft spot for the world of The Society as I created it, but I don’t expect others to have that bias. I am very much aware that I have to sell the world as much as I do anything else.

This isn’t a world where I expect people to want to escape to; it’s quite flawed, which is an important aspect of the novel. Still, it needs to be believable and hold a certain type of wonder for the book to be successful. I think of it somewhat like The Hunger Games or Brave New World. I don’t want to escape to either of those worlds, but I’m endlessly fascinated with why those societies are the way they are and how they work.

I don’t believe that I’ll be satisfied with The Society until I feel like its world is all that it can be. I have high expectations for fantasy worlds, after all I grew up with Harry Potter, so who knows if I’ll ever feel like my own world can stack up.

I’ll keep trying though. Some would probably say that I’ve reached a point where I should push it aside, if not trash it, but I have this strong aversion to giving up on writing projects. (The entirely abandoned ones I have still haunt me to be honest.) I don’t want to do so unless I truly have no hope for it, and I can’t say I’ve reached that point with The Society.

Maybe someday I will; maybe I won’t. I can’t tell you at this point. All I know is that I’m still trying.

Dear Azula,

Note: It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these letters. This one is to Azula, who’s a character in Avatar: The Last Airbender. This is a result of recently reading the Avatar comic The Search and contains spoilers for that comic trilogy as well as the TV show. It was difficult to write because it was impossible for me to put into words what I’ve been thinking.

I can’t say that I ever expected to write this letter. Throughout the television series, you’re characterized as someone who cares only about power. You did things that were inexcusable, but by the end of the series, it was clear that you needed more help than you received.

Your brother, Zuko, wished for a closer relationship with you and struggled to see why that wasn’t possible. Despite loving Zuko dearly, I do wish he had shown more initiative in getting you help after he was crowned Fire Lord. Maybe he did somehow, but if he did, it was unseen.

You’re convinced that your mother didn’t love you. I have to say that I didn’t believe that for a long time, but then I read The Search and was disappointed. It didn’t entirely change my belief. I do think your mother loved you, but I think she failed both you and Zuko in greater ways than I had believed before.

Throughout your life, you have desperately needed someone, though you couldn’t see that yourself, and there has never been anyone willing to make the effort needed to help you. The only bright side I see is that Zuko and Ursa do seem to want to help, even as they remain completely oblivious as to how. I understand running away from them, but I can’t stop hoping that one day you will speak to them again. Maybe, just maybe, that could be the beginning of bringing you peace.

Sincerely,

Haley

Characterization in Fanfiction

I’ve been writing fanfiction for more than ten years. One aspect of fanfiction writing that’s different from other fiction writing is characterization. While characterization is important in any fiction writing, the majority of the time you work with characters others have created when you’re writing fanfiction instead of creating your own characters. It might seem like creating characters from scratch would be more difficult, but there are challenges to writing the characters of others as well.

From the time I first started writing fanfiction, I have worried if my characterization is off. Every story I’ve posted, I’ve asked myself if the characters were acting like themselves, and I was never confident of the answer. While it took me a while to realize it, I think I always had this worry that my interpretation of the character was different from the more common interpretation others must have, which would mean my story was bad.

I’ve gotten constructive criticism (and some not-so-constructive criticism) on my fanfiction over the years but little to none of it has focused on characterization. I can’t tell you if that’s because I’ve accurately portrayed the characters or because people just don’t comment on it.

Sometimes I still wonder, though, how accurate my characterization is. I think I question it because it’s not an aspect of storytelling that I feel that I’ve improved on like I have many others, and it feels too good to be true that I’d just naturally be good at it.

As I write this post, I’m planning two new fanfictions as well as posting chapters of one I’ve already written, and with all three I have characterization on my mind. One of them is a Harry Potter and the Cursed Child fanfiction. In it, I’ve disregarded Cursed Child, and because of that, have taken some liberties with the personalities of the characters that we only got to know in that play. It’s created some interesting conversations with readers about their characterization.

For the other two stories, I intend for the characters to be fully in character based on their personalities in the books they are from. Will I do a good job? I’m honestly not sure how to tell at this point. I suppose I’ll just keep doing what feels right and hope that I’m doing a good job.

Dear 2016,

Judging by the state of my Twitter feed and Tumblr dashboard, you’ve been rather universally loathed. That seems to be a trend year after year. We reach December, and I become inundated with “this year was terrible” remarks everywhere I look. In years past, I rolled my eyes. Yes, terrible things happened each of those years, but I always struggled to believe that any of them were worse than the years that had come before. They all seemed rather equal in their terribleness. We were never going to have a year where something bad didn’t happen.

You, though, did seem different. I have to admit. Things seemed to reach a new level of awful, and I don’t think I was the only one broad on board to the “this was the worst year ever” sentiment who may not have indulged in the past.

However, you also weren’t all bad. I saw a tweet the other day about reconciling personal great moments with the less than stellar moments of the world. It resonated with me. I mean, I graduated college this year, and while that’s been terrifying, it’s also rather important. Maybe I would have been more excited about it if the overall tone of the year had been different, but I’m too preoccupied by everything else to give it much thought.

It wasn’t your fault really, 2016, even if you’ve become a great scapegoat. There are a lot of people at fault for a lot of different things, which means 2017 won’t be inherently better, but I do hope that it does get better.

Sincerely,

Haley Keller

The Spill

It’s been a long time since I’ve written something this short and without planning. We’ll see how it goes. I watched a documentary on the BP oil spill recently called After the Spill. That’s what this is based on.

For decades her family had lived on this land; Angie hadn’t expected that to change. Since childhood her ambitions had been to stay here and take care of it herself once her parents had passed. She’d broken up with a boyfriend over it. He’d had dreams of living in New York. Last she’d heard, he’d made it there.

Maybe she should have followed him, she thought forlornly as she struggled to pull her boot from the ground. Tar coated them–the boots, the ground, all of it. The oil was everywhere now, engulfing much of the land that had already been disappearing. That was what she owned, oil. It was supposed to make people rich. She laughed bitterly. It had ruined what little she had.

She stooped down, taking a handful of the oil and mud in her hand. She wasn’t sure why she did this to herself, came out here day after day and scooped up another handful. She’d given up long ago at actually clearing the oil from the land. That was a hopeless mission. The land was gone along with her dreams.

Pseudonyms and the Internet

Pseudonyms fascinate me. There are a number of reasons why people use them. From women writing under male names in order to get published (or sell more copies) to authors using pseudonyms two reach different markets to the various other reasons one wouldn’t write under their own name.

One thing that I find interesting about pseudonyms is that we use them all the time these days without connecting them to the pseudonyms often used by authors. These days, you can find people with pseudonyms just about everywhere, especially if you’re searching for them online.

The Internet is perfect for pseudonyms, although this is changing in many areas of the Internet. It used to be that you only had a Youtube username. Now you can have your real name if you so choose. Sites like Twitter list your real name (should you choose to use it) right alongside your username. But there are still sites where your only name is the username that you create. It creates a sense of anonymity or, if not that, at least the sense that you’re someone else, not quite the person you are in real life.

I don’t have any large revelation as to what that means. It’s just something that I find interesting to think about. No doubt there are countless people who have said things on the Internet that they never would have without the anonymity that pseudonyms have provided, but there are also countless better reasons to use them. The reasons people use pseudonyms on the Internet don’t exactly line up with all of the reasons authors would choose to use a pseudonym, but when it comes down to it, they’re both the same thing.