Monday, July 7, 2014

Stereotypes: The Nerd

One of the biggest stereotypes when it comes to characters is the nerd. Picture a person with glasses, a pocket protector, weird style, and random knowledge, and you have a stereotypical nerd. But nerdsreal nerds, that isare so much more and so much different than that.

Let's start off by saying that not all nerds are the same. There are many different kinds of nerds, and they're not all shown that much in literature, so using different types of nerds is a good way to stray from the stereotype.

  • Knowledge Nerd - This is the nerd who knows all kinds of random facts relating to math, science, history, English, or another field (and in some cases, all of these fields) and tells them to everyone, regardless of if the other person cares or not. Obviously, this kind of nerd can be a bit more annoying. 
    • History Nerd - Under the spectrum of knowledge nerds, there are many different types of nerds, one of which is the history nerd. A history nerd knows practically everything there is to know about wars, colonization, and anything else they can find under the broad spectrum of history. 
    • Science/Math Nerd - Most nerds who are interested heavily in science or math, are interested in both of the two studies due to how related they can be in many cases. This is the nerd who researches color-blindness for two hours just because they can. This is the nerd who does extra math worksheets out of sheer boredom. 
    • English Nerd - This is the type of nerd that writers fall into more often than not. We know our lie from our lay and are sometime referred to as "Grammar Nazis" because of how much these things irritate us when done incorrectly. 
  • Book Nerd - Similar to the above mentioned English nerd, a book nerd is into books and reading with a passion. If they get a book, expect them to be finished with it within a week or two, that is, unless it goes at the bottom of their stack of books they still need to read (or reread). 
  • Science Fiction Nerd - A science fiction nerd can be similar to a knowledge nerd, in that they know a lot about something in the same way. But science fiction nerds are more interested in the latest episode of Doctor Who, rather than who first designed the light bulb. 
    • Note - There are some science fiction nerds who, instead of being interested in science fiction in general, are interested in one specific part of science fiction, such as a specific television show, or movie franchise. Examples of these include Whovians (fans of Doctor Who) and Trekkies (fans of any/all of the television shows and movies included in the Star Trek franchise). Of course, there are many other specific franchises that science fiction nerds follow in the same way. 
  • Comic Book/Superhero Nerd - This kind of nerd watches all of the superhero movies not just to see their favourite superhero in action, but also to pick out any and all inaccuracies with the comic books which they own. They are usually passionate over why either Marvel, or DC Comics wins out, and have a compelling argument as to why. 
  • Band Nerd (or Band Geek) - The terms band nerd and band geek both refer to the nerds who focus on instruments intensely. These are the kids who come to school early every day in the fall for marching band practice and are busy practicing at home.
One thing you might be thinking after reading those is that they sound almost like they're stereotypes themselves (and even if you weren't thinking that, pretend you were so the next paragraph makes sense). And, in thinking that, you'd probably be right. The way you keep it from being too stereotypical is to have one character be multiple types of nerds, or be one of these types of nerds, and an athlete or a drama queen. If you have an athletic science fiction and history nerd, you're completely out of the stereotypical nerd.

I know that sometimes, though, you have one character who doesn't fit into any of the other characteristics other than the nerdy things. And that's okay, too, just as long as all of your characters aren't like that. Does that mean you should right a nerd who's the exact stereotype? Absolutely not. Make them a band and comic book nerd, or a book and science fiction nerd.

Did I miss any types of nerds? Do you have any advice on how to make a more well-rounded, yet still nerdy character? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Stereotypical Charactes

This is going to be my first in a series of posts about common stereotypes in characters and in plots.

The nerd. The jock. The queen bee. These are all stereotypes that you've probably seen beforewhether it be in books, movies, television, or real life. And in writing (especially young adult fiction), it can be easy to add in a few of these, but that usually isn't the right thing to do.

Now I'm not saying that you shouldn't have a nerd or a jock in your writing. That's fine as long as all your nerds don't have glasses, pocket protectors, constant bullying issues, a heaping collection of comic books, and awkward social ability.

Am I saying you shouldn't write a character who loves comic books? No, but you shouldn't write a character who fits the exact nerd mold in every aspect. The same applies for all the other stereotypes.

Sometimes this can be tricky, so the the way to fix a stereotypical character is to add in different nerdy aspects, maybe some athletic aspects, or some other personality traits. Writing a smart athlete or an outgoing nerd easily differentiates the character from others.

So does having stereotypical characters in your writing mean your a terrible writer? Absolutely not. It just means you might have some issues to work out. I'd be lying if I said I don't have any of them in my current work in progress.

Do you have ways of changing stereotypical characters? Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Liebster Awards

I just got back after being away for a while and found that I've been nominated for the Liebster Awards by Amanda Wikoff at Ramblings of a Wayward Author, and this sounds really cool! Thanks for nominating me!

About the Liebster Awards: Bloggers choose other bloggers that they like who have 200 followers or less. It helps get the blogs more followers and communicate with other bloggers. the chain keeps going, and if people don't stop, it just keeps going!

If/when nominated, create a post that includes:
  • Thanking and linking back to the person who nominated you,
  • Eleven facts about yourself,
  • Answers to the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you,
  • Nine bloggers (if you can't find nine, that's okay) who you want to nominate have fewer than 200 followers (the blogger who nominated you can't be one of them), and
  • Eleven questions for your nominees
Let your nominees know about their nomination.

Eleven things about me:

  1. My favourite author, Jerry Spinelli, writes books mainly meant for kids in elementary school.
  2. I love Doctor Who and Sherlock. 
  3. My favourite Doctor in Doctor Who is Ten.
  4. My Myer's-Briggs personality type is INTJ, even though I'm very talkative and most people at first sight would not label me as an introvert.  
  5. I like researching random things for fun. 
  6. I used to make PowerPoints for fun. 
  7. I'm a Christian. 
  8. I'm in my school band. 
  9. I'm bad at rembering facts about myself. 
  10. I first thought about writing a book when I was nine. It was supposed to be a children's book, and I'd written it for a school story competition. 
  11. The first novel I tried to write was about a girl who started questioning reality. I started it when I was eleven.

Questions from Amanda:

  1. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? The United Kingdom. I'm a bit of an Anglophile.  
  2. Favorite music? Christian, especially Matthew West
  3. Favorite movie? Either God's Not Dead or Star Trek: Into Darkness
  4. Cats or dogs? Dogs. 
  5. Longest time spent on a plane? I honestly have no clue. I think it's probably between four and seven hours.
  6. Favorite cheese? Colby Jack
  7. Apple or Android? Android
  8. Facebook or Instagram? Facebook
  9. How soon did you run out of questions to ask? Question seven.
  10. How many pets do you have? Two
  11. Which of these questions was hardest to answer? This one. None of the questions were particularly hard for me to answer, really. 
I nominate Stori Tori's Blog, Of Pencils and Dragons, Summer Snowflakes, Pen Pals of Peculiar Personalities, and Imogen Elvis: Gossiping with Dragons.

Questions for my nominees:
  1. When did you first start writing?
  2. Why did you start your blog?
  3. How often do you write?
  4. What's your favourite colour?
  5. Do you prefer British or American spellings?
  6. What's your favourite animal?
  7. What's your favourite word?
  8. What's your favourite book?
  9. Who's your favourite author?
  10. When did you first decide to write a novel?
  11. Are you tired of answering all of these questions?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Using Dialect Properly

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I've been a bit busy with the end of the school year and band events. I probably won't be posting too much over the summer either because I'll be gone or busy with band events. Anyway, time to actually post.

Dialect is something I've always struggled to use well. You want to make sure you're making it clear where your characters are from, but in doing this, you can easily cross the line into overuse. Reading a book where every other word was "yer" or "yar" or "ahnt." (I found these examples from The Dialect Dictionary.)

So the problem is, when is it too much? And honestly, I don't have a definitive answer for this. Personally, I think if you have one or two characters who always say a certain word in a distinct dialect, that's okay, but if they pronounce twenty-eight common words differently than the norm, that might be a stretch. One other way to keep from overusing dialect in your dialogue is to mention the dialect in some type of tag or prose surrounding the speech, such as "'What's up?' A deep southern accent was obvious in his voice."

Another problem that can arise with dialect happens when you write a story set in a place or area you've never been to. (That is, if you're writing in the real world; this applies less with other-world fantasy and science fiction.)

If you don't know how they'd say something in northeast Connecticut and you're trying to say that thing, the easiest way out is to just use the lingo that you would use. And in a first draft, that's okay. But once you get into the editing process, you should probably start to work on using correct dialect.

Some resources for finding how certain things are said in different areas are The Dialect Dictionary, these dialect maps that show the answers to certain dialect-related questions in different areas with percentages, and by going on Google and searching the word or phrase and the general area.

Also, just for fun, here's a dialect quiz (which you could use on your characters if you wanted to) that tries to find  out where your from based off of your answers to a series of dialect-related questions paired with the same survey results used to make the dialect maps I talked about above.

Do you like to use dialect in your stories? How do you keep from overusing it? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Hooking Your Readers

The hook is one of the most important parts of your novel. It's what gets the readers interested in your story. A bad hook disinterests readers and also makes it tough to get an agent interested. A good hook, on the other hand, can captivates your readers and makes them want to keep reading.

But how do you write a good hook? It can be challenging, and usually you'll have to rewrite it many times to make it just perfect, but it is possible.

Just to get this out of the way, don't start with the weather. As easy as it is to describe the weather in beautiful words, it doesn't get the reader's attention.

Which of these sentences would you rather read?
"The wind rustled the trees' leaves as the sun lowered beyond the horizon." OR
"A hand muzzled my scream as I began to fade into blackness."

Personally, I prefer the second. It leaves you wanting more. Whose hand muzzled the scream? Who's screaming? Why are they screaming? The first, on the other hand, doesn't make you question anything. Sure, it sounds nice, but it doesn't grab the reader's attention.

There are many different ways you can start to interest your reader. One of them is with action and danger, as I did above. Readers want to know what's going on with the character and why it is going on.

Another way is to start with a short and sweet sentence that leaves you wondering what's going on. See something similar with this one and the action? They both leave the reader wondering.

You don't want to tell your reader everything, and the key to a good hook is to leave them with a question in their mind. Readers are curious, and if they have a question, they'll want to find the answer.

So whatever you write for your hook, make sure your reader has a question in their mind. If they do, it will make them more likely to keep reading.

How do you grab your reader's attention? Was this helpful? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Creating Diverse Characters

Creating diversity in characters draws readers in. It makes them appeal to different audiences. And frankly, it's hard to do.

One problem I always had with this is that to know what someone is going to do, you have to be in their head, and the only person whose head you are fully in is my own. Even my friends who I know well still surprise me, so anticipating actions of people different than yourself can be challenging.

The easy way out of this would be to write characters just like yourself. The problem with that, though, is that no one wants to read a book about twelve people who all act the same. And no one wants to read one.

So how do you write characters not like yourself? One thing that helps is to look at the behavior of those around you. Look at how everyone in your environment lives, act, and reacts to everything and make notes of anything that surprises you.

Another process that helps is to mentally (or in a journal) interview your characters. If you find a lot of similar answers from different characters, that means you probably need to find ways to make them different. Similar to this process is using character journals, in which you write journal entries from the perspective of different characters. This can help you develop different voices for the other characters and get into their heads more.

One thing that I've used to evaluate my characters is a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It is similar to many personality tests, but I find it gives good information and things to think about for characters. Many different sites have this type of test, and a good amount of them work well. A website I have used in the past is If you're not familiar with MBTI, I recommend looking at it.

Using the MBTI, I recommend that your main characters aren't overly similar in their type, usually no more than two of the classifications being the same with two characters (i.e. an INTJ and an ISFJ are okay, but not an INTP). Now, in some cases I know there are characters who are similar, even to the point that they receive the same classification on an MBTI. This isn't always a bad thing, but make sure it doesn't happen too much.

Lastly, I recommend that at least as a starting point you use a part of yourself as the basis of characters. I've found this very helpful because I can use multiple different aspects of my personality to create different characters and from that point the characters grow and develop different personalities. I even use this method for creating my antagonists.

And as always, creating diversity in characters is a process that takes time to get used to. In my first few projects, all of my characters seemed mostly the same.  Now, my characters can be polar opposites of myself sometimes and more similar to me at others. After lots of practice, I've learned to get in the head of my characters.

How do you create diverse characters? Was this post helpful? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Passive Versus Active Voice

Passive and active voice is something I see spoken about constantly by writers, and the big problem is a lot of them don't know what it actually is. If you said, "She was walking down the street," you would not be using passive voice.

This is one of the most commonly seen mistakes that I see people thinking is passive voice. This could be written stronger by changing "was walking" to "walked," but that doesn't mean it's passive.

Writing is only actually passive voice when you make the object of a sentence (what the action is happening to) into the subject. So saying something like "The ground was walked on by Elizabeth," would constitute passive voice.

I know that was a fairly obvious example, but it isn't always that clear. "The city was filled with tourists," may look fine, but it's passive and could be said better as "Tourists filled the city." Not only does this use fewer words, it also makes those doing the action (tourists) the subject in the sentence.

You can directly identify passive voice by the use of a form of “to be” plus a past participle.

Another problem that arises with use of passive voice is a lack of clarity in the text. Let me give an example: "The news station was informed that a twelve-year-old boy was murdered." Who informed the news station of the murder? Based off of this sentence, we have no clue whatsoever.

A better way to state this would be to say "The police informed the news station that a twelve-year-old boy was murdered." Now if you look at the end of this sentence, you'll see I still use the phrase "was murdered" which is passive voice, but in this instance, it is acceptable. This is because you don't know who was responsible for the boy's murder, so it's okay to use passive instead of having to say something like "The police informed the news station that someone murdered a twelve-year-old boy." This sounds weak and would sound better in the passive form.

As you can see, there are exceptions over not using passive voice. The above example is one, as well as if whoever completed the action is not at all relevant to the sentence, such as if you're talking about a baby's delivery, you could use the passive voice to avoid mentioning the doctor's name. For example, "The baby was delivered at 3:21 A.M."

There can be other exceptions, and if you have any questions feel free to comment, and I'll do my best to answer.  

Do you struggle with passive voice? Did this post help? Let me know in the comments.