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Discussions on writing

Had an interesting discussion with the daughter-unit at dinner this evening. She's got some drawing chops and she's also developing her own characters for stories. Not sure if she'd thinking about doing web comics with her characters or writing stories or what she's going to do with them, but we got into a discussion of fiction, fan fiction, Mary Sues and Original Characters in fan fic.

One of the things we discussed was how to make your stories more unique, especially when you're young and can't just travel all around the world soaking up experiences. (Hell, I'm old and have only been out of the country a few times - and for the record, getting assigned to a war zone does not count.) I suggested people make Mary Sues many times because they haven't read enough, both fiction and non-fiction to create realistic characters. This feels especially true in fan fic - if you don't have anything else to base characters on, or like in Harry Potter, are only familiar with the movie versions, you don't have the depth to really make the characters come alive. So, you write about what you do know well, which tends to be yourself or at least an idealized version of yourself.

Now, self-insertion is not bad in and of itself. It can be handled very adroitly - I think about how Stan Lee and Jack Kirby wrote themselves into various Marvel comics all the time, (Spider-Man's wedding for example). However, they never made themselves the focus of the story.

The problem is, inexperienced writers don't see how they're shoving the main characters off to the side with their idealized selves handling the problem while juggling six chainsaws and balancing on a bomb at the same time. I don't think people intentionally set out to write Mary Sues (well, outside of the parodies where it's obvious the author knows exactly what they're doing). I think they're just making beginner mistakes and many will progress beyond that and move on.

Daughter-Unit wasn't thrilled about the concept of "non-fiction" because she sees non-fiction in the same category as the textbooks she has to read for school. However, I pointed her toward a couple of my favorite non-fiction books and hope she'll make some time to read them. One is the Pulitzer Prize winning The Rising Sun by John Toland, which tells the story of WWII from the Japanese point of view. Toland and his wife (I believe she was Nisei, but I could be off here) were granted access to Japanese military papers, prisoner, ex-soldiers, civilians as well as letters and diaries that were collected right after the war. It 's a nice counter-balance to the standard retelling of the war with several anecdotes that in turn amused and aggravated me. I read this back in 1974 and I remember finishing both books in one sitting. I was very pleased to find a set of first editions in a used book store a few years ago still in their dust covers. *geeky grin*

The other favorite non-fiction book is Under a Black Flag by David Cordingly, which is a rather unromantic, yet still highly readable book about the Golden Age of Piracy. Anyone writing pirate or privateer stories needs to have this book in their arsenal.

As wishweaver and I pointed out, telling a story is basically telling a lie with enough truth in it to make people believe it could have happened. The more the author learns about their subject, the easier it is to work the lies (the story) into the truth (the setting for the story) without people spotting where the seams are. The more you read, the more you see how other authors weave their magic and create their characters.

Perhaps not your typical dinner conversation, but it was fun listening to her dissecting her favorite fan-fics (especially the Twilight ones) and listening to why she thought various ones worked or didn't. I guess growing up with two writers in the family, she's doomed. *grin*

OH, yeah, I did do some writing of my own tonight. I'm almost through with Chapter Nine for Childhood's Tears, adding another 1419 words to it. I've almost made up for slacking off this weekend. *huzzah!*

Words for tonight

1419 / 1000 words. 142%♦

Progress on Childhood's Tears

35841 / 90000 words. 40%

Words for 2008

124816 / 366000 words. 34%

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