Thursday, June 9, 2011

[Guys & Dolls]

On Nathan Bransford's Forums, there's a topic going right now on Female Characters and how some writers find themselves more difficult to write, even if they are themselves female. Let me begin this post by stating that I am fully in the camp of the female writers who find females more difficult to write then males. Whenever I make up a new character, there are overwhelming odds that the character will be male. This isn't because I'm sexist, or because I set out to have more male characters than I do female.

I'm not quite sure why I have more guy characters than I do girl characters, honestly. Most of the time, I chalk it up to attending an all-girls school for my entire life. From pre-school up until right now, I have attended the same school, and I have always been in all female classes. Whenever a guy comes onto campus that no one recognizes, people notice him, and word travels quickly.

Call us deprived, but we aren't exactly picky about who comes to our campus when they're a new face and possibly some new entertainment.

When I make a character, I try not to associate the character with anyone that I know. I can't knowingly give a character the same first name as someone that I know. Given that I hate naming characters on a good day, trying to name a girl character is, for me, one of the most difficult parts of writing. I know girls with almost every name imaginable. It's almost impossible for me to make a female character that I don't associate with someone from school or outside of it.

Beyond my own personal struggles to somehow separate my writing and non-writing lives (no matter what I do, it doesn't work, so I don't know why I try anymore), though, I think almost everyone is predisposed to write stronger male characters than they are females. And that is not because everyone inherently believes that women are weak, that we are less than capable of carrying a book as a heroine. Both The Icemark Chronicles by Staurt Hill and the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordian feature two of the strongest female leads I have ever read, and I love them for it.

Not to mention Katniss in The Hunger Games.

But there is always Harry Potter, Edward and Jacob, and Jay Gatsby. In classical literature, male characters are more powerful than female ones, because of the society in which and for which those books were written. When modern literature takes the classics for inspiration, those trends are proliferated, sometimes without authors or audiences noticing.

Until we take notice of it, and until we make a conscious attempt to change it, not only with characters like Katniss, Thirrin, and Annabeth who kick ass, but with characters who are more normalized, the trend won't change.

What I wonder, though, is if readers want the trend to be changed? Ultimately, what readers buy most has the most impact. Maybe with the Hunger Games and Olympians series being so popular, we'll soon see an influx of strong female leads, and I can't wait for it.

Until then, I'm happy with girls doing some unnoticed butt-kicking -- really, it's what we do all the time, anyway.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

[Writing on Command]

If someone ever looked at me, handed me a piece of paper, a pen, and a stopwatch with the command, “Okay, write!” I would look at them like they were crazy. I’d stare at them for a second or two before I would notice that the clock is ticking down and holy crap, I only have fifteen minutes to write something. 

I’d start to write, probably just a random drabble about a random character, and it probably wouldn’t be any good. But I would start to write. Even if I wouldn’t like doing it.

Writing on command is not one of my favorite things. Sometimes, how much I like or dislike it depends on my mood, but the thought of it gives me nerves. I was watching a video of the Kenyon Young Writers Workshop click the link, people. the YWP is awesome, which I’m attending in late July, and the whole video was just people writing — spontaneously writing.

It scared and excited me.

Most of what I write is not spontaneous, but it isn’t planned, either. Take this blog post: when I sat down five minutes ago, I knew basically what I was going to write it on. I was planning on writing it on how we, as writers, have to be able to write spontaneously, on command, no matter how we like it.

Now I’m writing about what I was planning on writing about, which I did not plan.

Most of the pieces I write are not strictly outlined. They’re sketched out in my head, and I tend to go with whatever I feel like in the moment. This results in some things that are great, and some things that are not so great.

Earlier today I wrote a three page essay on why Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon. There are plenty of reasons why he crossed the Rubicon, and I love history, so it should have been an easy essay to write, right? I’ve had the essay topic since last Thursday, and I hadn’t written it until earlier this afternoon, because it was hard. Because I couldn’t make myself do it.

Since it’s due tomorrow, I couldn’t procrastinate any more — I wrote it on command.

I’m not sure if I like it very much yet, but it’s written, and that’s a start. I’ll have time to edit it later.

Writers are a weird sort of people, and our “job” is ever weirder: to do it well, we have to plan to be spontaneous, and then command ourselves to be spontaneous when the time for spontaneity arrives. 
It confuses my little spontaneous writer head.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

[The Beauty of a Blank Page]

A blank page is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. 

My love of blank pages is equaled only by my love of books and pens. And maybe my love of all things Gerard Butler, but that’s another story. (Should I do a post on the art of fangirling sometime, and what it says about the objects of our fangirly obsessions?)

I love blank pages not because they are white, or because they are clean, though they are both of these things. One look at the constant, messy state of my room proves that I exist most contentedly not in a clean environment, but in one that is open and welcoming to mistakes. Papers are strewn all about my room on any given day, and all of these pages are written on.

Right now, sitting before me is a packet of 150 pages of lined, college-rule, notebook paper. I fished it out of our den last night under the impression that I would need the paper to write my Latin essay on why Caesar crossed the Rubicon River. I never ended up opening that packet of paper, and my essay on Caesar remains unwritten.

But I found the paper last night because I wasn’t able to write the essay on a word processor. My computer was fine, and we had power, but I couldn’t bring myself to write in my Word program. I love blank, physical pages, lined or un-lined, but I could care less about open word documents.

Sure, they’re easy. Sure, they’re convenient. Yes, I use one every single day. Next to iTunes and Google Chrome, Word is my most-used program. My problem with word documents, though, is that I can’t feel them. I can’t physically touch them until they’re printed out, but then the page is wrecked by the type. It’s too official, sometimes, for me to connect to it. 

Sometimes, I just need to scribble with my favorite pen on a piece of actual paper, and see what happens. A piece of paper can serve anyone who wishes to write as a portal into another world. It is landmark to which you can cling when you’re lost somewhere between inspiration and that black hole all words fall into whenever you’re blocked.

A blank page does not judge; you can write on it whatever you want. If I could, I would frame a piece of paper. I would hang it in a nice, classic frame right next to my posters of The Phantom of the Opera and Michael Phelps holding his eight gold medals. But then my parents would ask me why I was bothering to hang a frame holding a blank piece of paper, and sometimes I don’t particularly want to explain how I feel most at home staring at an empty page, or tapping my pen against my cheek, rather than sitting on our couch watching a NASCAR race.

NASCAR is big in my family. You guys will have to forgive any future NASCAR references. I make them without thinking about it.

A blank page can be anything, which is why, I think, I love it so much. It can become any world, or any character. All you need to do is trust yourself to begin scribbling or scratching away, and the world will appear on its own — sometimes, I don’t even notice it’s happening until it’s happened.

And that’s the beauty of it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

[The Books I Read]

With summer drawing near, I’m composing a list of all the books I want to read over the summer. Some of them are required reading, and some of them are books that I started but didn’t have time to finish over the summer. All of them are great books, and I hope to post reviews of at least some of them when I finish them.

Books I’m Reading Right Now:
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • On Writing by Stephen King
Books I’m Planning on Reading:
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  • The Things they Carried by Tim O’Brien
  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • Possession by A.S. Bryatt
  • One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  • Room by Emma Donoghue
  • The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel by Aimee Bender
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • The Girl with the Glass Feet by Ali Shaw
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
  • The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

That’s just the list I have running right now, and summer hasn’t even started yet. None of the books (except forBird by Bird and On Writing) that I’m reading for my GG research are included — that’s a whole other bookshelf in my room. 

Right now, the list is seventeen books long. I have two and a half months to read all of them, plus some more. Ten weeks, seventeen books, most of which are pretty long. 

Can’t wait for summer to get started.

If any of you have any more suggestions for me, tell me!

[Not Quite an Independent Study]

Whenever I need to explain to someone why, exactly, I’m writing a 80-100,000 word manuscript in a year for school, I always end up telling them that “it’s like an independent study”. 

And it is.

Sort of.

At my school, there is a program for juniors (and possibly sophomores, depending on the project) called theStrnad Fellowship in Creativity. It is in honor of an alum of my school, whose family wished to provide students with an opportunity to explore their creative interests independently, outside of the classroom.

I’ll post the official description of the Strnad program in its own page, but basically, I applied to the program in order to write my novel. I’d already written Gunmetal Gray twice, but I wanted to make it more official — I wanted another impetus to actually finish what I started. 

Through the Strnad program, I was connected with an out-of-school mentor, Sarah Willis. She’s a local, published author where I live, and a friend of one of my favorite teachers. She’s pretty awesome. In addition to my out-of-school mentor, I’m also partnered with an in-school mentor, and they will both help me through the writing and polishing process all next year.

Come next May, I will have a novel manuscript written, all because of the Strnad Fellowship Program, for which I cannot be more grateful. I will graduate with 19 of my friends as a Strnad Fellow.

While the Strnad program does not count for a class, and requires an incredible amount of time outside of school, it’s pretty awesome to finally be recognized in school for what I love outside of school.

The official description of what a Strnad project is, and why it’s epic, can be found on the Strnad page on your left. =D

[An Introduction]

I never know how to start blogs. I never know what to say. It’s like starting a journal, except everyone can read what I’m writing, so I always think I have to be smart or witty. It’s like writing a letter to someone you don’t know.

Actually, it’s exactly like writing a letter to someone you don’t know — I’ve done that before, and it’s just as strange.

That person never wrote me back.

I’m hoping that won’t happen here, because that would be even more awkward over the internet than it is just in a random letter.

ANYWAY, I’m Hannah. I’m going to be a senior in high school next year. I’m seventeen — eighteen in a few months. I’m writing a novel. Partially for school. Mostly because I love it.

This is my blog about that novel, about books, and about writing in general. It’s about why I love words, and why I’m a little bit crazy.

It’s going to be fun.