Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Writer's Corner: Being Special...Or Not



Now that I've sent my MS out into the world to be critiqued by some truly awesome people, I'm turning my eye to other projects (or five) that have been bouncing around in my head for a while vying for attention.That's five YA ladies who are in need of worlds to be built for them, back stories to be created and most important of all personalities to be attributes to them.
       This is where I usually get stuck. My ideas seem to always start with a single thought or concept. For example, I want to write a steampunk novel involving dragons.Everything else is created to give life to that concept, including my MC. I'm not sure how other writers do it, but I somehow always end up asking the same question: How special/ordinary does my MC have to be for her to survive in this world I've created?
       Then I start with a blank slate and add layers from there. Kinda like when you play The Sims and you get a base characters and get to choose their gender/skin tone/hair color. If you haven't played Sims (You're missing out!) but imagine a store mannequin that you get to dress up however you want, give them a personality and have them come to life just the way you want.
       The problem I'm facing a the moment is that with five MCs to write, I'm not only finding it difficult to make them distinguishable but I'm worried that they're starting to get too special. Or too not special depending on the circumstances. I have this gripe with super beautiful heroines and heroes at the moment so I've deliberately made my MC in Seeder's Poison ordinary looking to the point of being facially scarred. I enjoy all things fantastical so my MC in Iron Willed is psychic and throws electricity. And did I mention the steampunk dragon thing?
       Despite enjoying books with strong heroines who have special powers, I'm also a great lover of the underdog. The mere human who doesn't have anything special about her except her humanity. And that's where I think I'm stuck. It's so easy to write a character and give them super special powers that can get them out of a jam. It's not so easy to write a character with no special abilities trying to survive in a paranormal world. The kind with fallen angels, vampires, werewolves etc. And yet my mind refuses to let go of this concept. So I keep imaging scenarios where her lack of powers would be advantageous and end up ripping out pages of my notebook in frustration.
      In this era of super heroes and larger than life characters, do you guys think it's possible to have a powerless heroine and not feel like she has to depend on others to get her out of a jam? Because I can't seem to think of anything and I'm supposed to be the writer. Well, I can think of one way out, but I seriously cannot write romance so that's not an option. If anyone can think of any books that do this well, I am all ears!
     

28 comments:

  1. You might like to try writing a superhero novel from the viewpoint of the ordinary cousin/sister/whatever. Ken Catran wrote a novel about the voyage of the Argonauts from the viewpoint of the cabin-boy equivalent, who does the cooking and cleaning for the heroes on the quest for the Golden Fleece. Up to you, really. I usually start with a story and slot in the characters, but everyone does it differently. Just make sure everyone isn't madly in love with your ordinary heroine.;-)

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    1. That's one thing I will most definitely be avoiding. Can't understand why it's so popular. I wanna say wish fulfillment. I'd love to write a story from the viewpoint of an ordinary person but I'm struggling to think of anything exciting that could happen to said person.

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  2. Hmmmm. Yea I dont know! I'm trying to think of a book that (successfully) does this and I cant think of one. Perhaps the Beautiful Creatures Series. It's told from the viewpoint of a guy (If I remember correctly. I havent read it in a while and all my books seem to get jumbled up unless I've read them in the last like week or so.). So In the book there's this guy who meets this girl and she's a witch or something dealing with weather and storms. She's like teased all her life for being weird and crazy. She hates him initially (of course) but then they start to fall in love and he's basically trying to hold on to the whole paranormal life stuff. I think in the end of one it's his humanity and love for her that keeps her grounded and from going completely off the deep end. The only issue though is I think he has these strange visions that make them connected or something. Cant quite remember what that is. But I dont think he's paranormal in any way. He saves her a lot though, from herself, and a couple times he almost died doing it.

    Maybe that could be your way. Have them be the one thing that keeps everything else grounded.

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    1. That's an idea I came up with as well. To have the MC be the thing which grounds the person she loves who might go off the deep end otherwise. I could give her a power but not have it be that useful in terms of action but very useful otherwise.

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  3. Hmmm. I think you bring up a good point. I think you can have a "non-special" heroine that can still do great things. To me, what sets apart the great heroines are not their fighting/superhero abilities, but their brains. I love a character that can think her way out of tough situations. Have you read Lindsay Buroker's Emperor's Edge books? Though her character does know how to fight, her true assest is her boundless optimism and her belief that she can think or talk her way out of any situation. Beyond that, she is very normal.

    Another book I really love is Lois McMaster Bujold's Curse of Chalion. The MC is a man in his thirites who is terribly scarred and permanently disabled from his time on a slave ship. Even without physicall prowess, he accomplishes great things . . . with his brain.

    Bujold also has another series about Miles Vorkosian, (I'm sure I'm spelling that wrong) a character who was deformed in the womb due to a bio weapon. He's got a steep hill to climb with his deformities, but Miles is full of spirit and accomplishes great things.

    So don't despair! It is possible to write about normal folks doing great things. :)

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    1. I've got the first in the Emperor's Edge series waiting to be read. Don't know why I haven't gotten around to it as yet. I love her Flash Gold series. I think half the reason I come up with all of these magical powers is because I haven't yet perfected the art of having my heroines really think about the bad situations they're in and then fix it using logic and initiative rather than using powers. How lazy am I?

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  4. Haha, I can totally see your point! Unfortunately I don't remember any main character without any special ability. It's very hard to make people excited to read about ordinary character. Hmm, I think we love books with characters we can connect with. Although the character might be ordinary, he/she would still be amazing if he has 'real' qualities. I remember reading a review on Sweet Evil by Wendy Higgins and the reviewer said that the main character might not be the strongest or bravest but she's still very likable. I haven't read the book yet but you may would like to check it out and see the truth about the main character. :)

    I'm hoping you all the best with your writing journey, Lan! x)

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    1. I agree that it's hard in YA paranormal to write an engaging ordinary characters. Especially ones that you can relate to. Let's face it, we read paranormal stuff for the special powers. I just keep trying to buck the trend and writing something ordinary. Sweet Evil sounds really cool. Will look it up.

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  5. Hmm... I'm not sure what kind of advice I could give. Most of my MC's are ordinary and in ordinary life, not any sort of fantasy or paranormal world. And the one I have that is semi-fantasy, my MC has a special ability.

    Maybe... your MC could have a special ability, but gets put in some situations where she can't rely on that ability to get out. Like, how Edward can read minds but he can't read Bella's. He has to observe her to get clues as to what is in her mind. Take your character's special ability and give her an enemy that can get around it. That way she'll need to rely on her mental and physical strengths, be forced to face her fears and not rely on the easy way out.

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    1. My ultimate goal is to one day write a contemporary with an ordinary girl in an ordinary world, but I don't think I'm up for that as yet. I've done exactly what you suggest in Iron Willed. My MC is strong but has many weaknesses which temper her abilities.

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  6. I think that a steampunk novel involving dragons would be SO COOL, Lan! We don't get a lot of either -- at least not as much as your average vamps and weres -- so both of them together in one book in bound to turn some heads! :)

    And I know exactly what you mean about wanting your MC to be strong and capable but not overly capable! It's one of those writing quirks that makes you want to pull your hair out LOL x) It's so rare in paranormal books to have the non-special character as the main character -- there's usually something about them that's special enough to MAKE them the MC. It's easier in contemporary -- like Preloved by Shirley Marr where the literal sidekick girl was the MC -- but with paranormal, the specialness is, like you said, what makes it easier to come up with a story!

    Still, that doesn't mean your average girl can't become a great voice! I actually love reading underdog books too because I find it so much easier to connect with the normalness of the heroine! I think it'd be so cool to maybe read a book through the villain's perspective? We really don't get that much in YA, so maybe you could try that! :D

    I hope you find your inspiration soon, Lan! <3 :)

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    1. I have to admit that if I picked up a book and the MC was an ordinary girl in a paranormal world, I'd put it back down! But I'm wracking my brain trying to come up with a way to make it happen. It's def much easier to connect with an ordinary MC, which is why I want mine to be very ordinary.

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  7. The easiest solution for the underdog is that everyone underestimates them. It's seems simple and unbelievable but it could work. Or they could die. ;)

    I personally like the special powerful MCs the best. It is hard to write them though because they have to have weaknesses too or they're boring. Good luck, I'm afraid I'm not much help.

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    1. You're always a bog help Jenny! I haven't even thought of the underestimated MC. That's a really great idea.

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  8. "In this era of super heroes and larger than life characters, do you guys think it's possible to have a powerless heroine and not feel like she has to depend on others to get her out of a jam?"

    YESSSS! Becca from Storm, by Brigid Kemmmerer, Nikki from Everneath, Mac, in the beginning of the Fever series (though that changes), and though he's not a heroine, Ethan from Beautiful Creatures (in the first book). I don't think it happens often enough, but when it DOES? It's amazing. It comes down to strength of character and grit, rather than deus ex machina, and I LOVE that! You know what? I think high/epic fantasy is a GREAT example. Arya Stark? That girl is AMAZING. And I don't know if you ever read David Eddings, but C'Nedra really comes into her own, and I loved that. Btu the character has to have grit. The fact that you THINK about this, though, I think means whatever you write will be BRILLIANT! xx

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    1. I haven't read any of those books. No wonder I can't see a light out of this tunnel. I love Arya and want nothing more than to write a character like her, but I'm afraid she wouldn't last in the arena with a vampire/fallen angel. Still, it makes me think about writing a book where no one has powers and the MC can just make it through sheer grit and determination. *shudder* C'Nedra. I can't even talk about her.

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  9. Well, I think of my character Mindy as an ordinary YA heroine who ends up killing shape-shifting robots in her spare time, and she only learns how to do this with real world abilities. All of my characters are humans, except for a couple of shape-shifters, but they all otherwise had to learn to do stuff that seems superhuman. Mindy is at a huge disadvantage compared tp the other characters because she never grew up learning all the wushu, qi gong, parkour, etc. I'm making sure she stays very real world and ordinary.

    She gets to still be the heroine because she uses her brain to solve problems. She's clever in a way that doesn't always occur to the others because they rely on their abilities and a bit of magic they learned to wield.

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    1. I'm beginning to think the problem is more my story telling ability than anything else. I've never been good at thinking myself out of a situation so it's hard for me to imagine my heroine doing the same. Def something to mull over.

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  10. Interesting post. I too have so many great ideas, but I'm not a writer in that sense, and when I attempt tp write, I too also get stuck. I'm not a fan of steampunk, but to answer your question, I don't think an MC has to be all that special to survive in the world you've created. She could be totally normal, and it'd still be awesome to see her kick a** without any special powers. Hope that answers your question.

    Thanks for stopping by,
    @ Livin' Life Through Books

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    1. I didn't think I would be a fan of steampunk either until I read it and fell in love. Thanks for your thoughts. I'm going to try and write an MC who is amazing but without powers.

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  11. I like Sara's comment about Arya Stark in Game of Thrones. She really is a super cool character.And I know youre going to puke when I say...BELLA in Twilight, LOL. For most of the series she doesnt have any special powers of any kind and is surrounded by creepy paranormal people. (yeah yeah I know youre gagging Lan...*smile*)

    My all time fave series is the Empire series - and nice I cant remember who wrote em. Anyway, the MC is female and has no special powers and has to negotiate her way thru a male dominated world thats got lots of magic etc in it too. Servant of the Empire and etc.
    Love the idea of strong MC who is not super powered and making her way in super-powered world. Do it Lan.

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    1. I love Arya too but she lives in a world without magic (unless you count the dragons). Ah you know me so well Lani. Bella had to be saved, a lot, in Twilight so I can't really count her as a strong heroine. I've read Feist's Riftwar series and can't remember a single strong female. That's really bad...

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    2. Actually there is more magic in that series than Dragons.

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    3. I confess I haven't read the books :( but based on the TV series, besides the dragons and white walkers and the dire wolf telepathy, I haven't seen much flashy magic. Subtle magic yes. I understand that Arya has a psychic link with her wolf doesn't she?

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  12. Intelligence goes along way! And a lot of female characters might have sass, but they are for my usually not very smart. In fact if you are going for steampunk maybe she is a genius? Crazy smart who can make or fix anything? Just being smart can get characters out of a lot of jams.

    Beth ^_^

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  13. Steampunk with dragons? Well, Quillblade, sort of. It has airships in a world not quite ours and the dragons are Asian-style, not fire breathing. Miles Vorkosigan's special ability is his brain and his bullshit skills. At the age of seventeen, for example, he manages to persuade a bunch of space mercenaries that he's an admiral and takeover the whole fleet! :)

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  14. She would have to be smart. You cannot be an idiot and win against people who have a serious physical advantage over you. I cannot tell you of any real books that hold this idea but give her a mind. If you think about it, most underdogs have to have some sort of vantage point. Whatever you give her to make her the hero would have to be something she was quite serious about.

    For example: if she used gadgets (like he guy in the movie "The Incredibles" she would have had to work on the since childhood. Something that was not just a thing she picked up. Whatever reason she chose to pick it ip is on you, but she would have to stick with it. Writing about a person who is passionate about something can be difficult because you would, for a time, have to make yourself semi-passionate as well. You would have to learn about that thing to make it seem as interesting as it is to her.

    Think about it.

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  15. Like Cathy, Camille, Beth, and Trish have said before, it would be fantastic if your MC could make it up with her intelligence. Maybe she could figure out how to make an enemy's power their weakness. She has to be able to take care of herself despite her lack of special abilities. Take Sydney from Bloodlines, for instance. She's the human in her vampire crowd, yet I never judge her to be weaker than them.

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