Han Aloneguy: Unnecessary Backstory, and Other Delights (Spoilers Everywhere)

If you know me at all, you probably know I love Star Wars. Both extended universe AND new canon. You also probably know I sort of hated Rogue One and love the new trilogy, so going into Solo I figured it was about fifty-fifty; I might love it or I might hate it.

I hated it. Although hate is a very strong word, honestly – it was terribly tacked-together, badly written, too long, and so boring I had trouble keeping my eyes open, so basically it’s equal with Rogue One on my ‘if I’d had dreams this movie would have crushed them’ scale.

But instead of doing a long, rambly post I decided to write a list! A list of things about which I have questions. A list wherein I can make a remark or several about each different Thing.

NOTE: Are you shocked I hated Rogue One? Are you aghast that The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars movie? Do you want to pretend like I’m not a ‘real’ Star Wars fan because of these things? If so, this is not the place for you! I mean, feel free to comment these things but a) you really won’t change my mind, I promise and b) I’ll just delete the comment if I don’t make a sarcastic reply, so comment with those arguments at your own peril.

THE LIST

CHARACTERS

Han: Alden Reichenbach wasn’t terrible, although I loved how he started out obviously trying to channel Harrison Ford with his expressions and inflection and then just kind of gave up about 1/3 through the movie. Also his name? Solo? Was literally given to him by a guy at the airport? Because he was /alone/? Get it? Han Solo? So now you know, the iconic name that would have been perfectly fine without a terribly lame backstory was just tacked on by an exasperated TSA guy. I didn’t realize we were supposed to take his last name literally.

What does this mean for the other SW characters with a noun as their surname? Was Grievous named by some guy at the airport, too? Did he show up and cough his way through security and the TSA guy was just like ‘well, you’re really chapping my khakis; what’s your name? Oh never mind, ‘Grievous,’ because you’re a grievous guy. Here’s your stuff!” Or Anakin Skywalker, did he wake up one day in space, walking, and Shmi went ‘welp, guess I know HIS last name from now on!’ Why didn’t the airport guy call him Han Aloneguy? Or Han Byhimself? Or Han Single? How many people with no last name has this guy named ‘Solo’ since he started working? Does Han have thousands of unofficial relations running around the galaxy?

Am I nitpicking? Probably. But it was a really stupid way to give us his name. It could have just been…his name. Also I nitpick a lot so here’s something that ISN’T nitpicky –

Han ends up helping a rebellion in this movie because he’s got a heart of gold and is secretly a good guy. We know this because Emilia Clarke says so, and Han has basically spent the entire movie running around helping other people – so did he learn to be extra jaded later? Is that what this movie is supposed to set up? I felt like having Han go to all this trouble to help a mini-rebellion in this movie really undermined his character growth in the original trilogy since he basically just does the thing he’s already done. Sigh.

Qi’ra: I have mixed feelings about Qi’ra. Emilia Clarke is a fine actress and she’s cute and Qi’ras character was….okay, and wasn’t badly done or anything, but we have her zipping off at the end of the movie into what looks like a sequel (please no we don’t need it) and I just have a hard time seeing her being at all interesting apart from Han because…she has very little personality? And the only person she really interacts with with any meaning is Han? And aside from that storyline she’s just sort of there being pretty and wearing bomber jackets because the costume department had five hundred bucks and the nearest mall, I guess

Beckett: I usually like Woody Harrelson’s characters. They’re just very Woody Harrelson-ish. But Beckett was so full of plot holes and contradictions it’s just confusing. We have the obvious scene where he tells Han “Don’t trust ANYONE” at which point you know he’s going to stab Han in the back at the end of the movie. But then Han brings up Val, who I guess was basically Beckett’s wife? Practically? and Beckett’s just like //I trust NO ONE// but that doesn’t make sense because he trusted Val and Val apparently never did anything to betray that trust; she literally sacrificed her life so the team would get away and I just….okay, Beckett

Val: Literally served no purpose whatsoever. I don’t know whether this is due to all the cuts and reshoots or what, but she just…had no reason for being in this movie. Her death didn’t even really affect Beckett that much, and clearly his trust issues had nothing to do with her at all, so….sorry, Val

Rio: Oh boy. Rio was supposed to be a lot of the comic relief, I think, except every joke he made fell so flat I physically cringed with most of them. They were bad, folks. Here are a few examples of these ‘jokes.’ Ahem.

‘Have you ever tried to disinvite a wookie to anything? Not a good idea.’

‘I’m telling you, you’ll never have a deeper sleep than curled up in a wookie’s lap.’

And my personal favorite,

‘You’ve never been to a mynock roast on ardenia!  It’s nuts! Wakka wakka!’

I’m pretty sure that’s when my heart just kind of sank with the realization that all the reshoots and cutting had either taken out all of the good jokes from the original version or the reshoots had stuck in new bad ones by someone with no actual sense of humor trying to pass off these lines as being funny. It’s pretty sad when someone in a movie says something that’s clearly supposed to be humorous but it falls so flat that literally nobody laughs. On the bright side, I think adding ‘wakka wakka!’ pointlessly onto the end of anybody’s bad joke is going to make life ten times better.

Dryden Vos: Paul Bettany was (as usual) a breath of fresh air, even if he didn’t really have space to do much. Apparently he was one of the big changes from the original version to the reshoot; Dryden was originally going to be a CGI character played by Michael K Williams, but when schedules shifted he couldn’t make it so they cast Bettany in the role (hallelujah) as a romantic rival to Han which is the one part that doesn’t…translate? Really? I mean if they wanted some kind of legitimate love triangle they didn’t pull that through very well; Dryden was interesting but definitely more of a Master with Delusions of Mentorship while Qi’ra was either a slave or hanging around for a better opportunity (or both).

Also I thought it was hilarious that the scene with Vos, Qi’ra, and Han at the end was basically an exact echo of the throne room scene from The Last Jedi; you could almost take the exact lines and switch them over so Vos is like ‘I feel your hatred and rage turning your weapon toward your true enemy!’*

*lines obviously paraphrased because I don’t feel like looking them up

Lando: Donald Glover was to Lando what everybody hoped Alden Hackencough would be to Han Solo. Except for the lines that were just terrible (‘Mining colonies are the worst’) and clearly stuck in for a reshoot, he seemed to be having a wonderful time and did a great impression of the original Lando. Unfortunately we don’t really get more to his personality; the impression remains an impression of the character, rather than an expansion, but Glover was a delight anyway.

L3: Once again, we have a character who’s more like two characters at odds with each other thanks to the reshoots. L3 COULD have been funny –  I mean, even K2-SO was a worthy gem in a movie I can’t stand, but L3 was a confusing mess of personality traits. Most of her lines are cringeworthy SJW ideas supposed to be funny? I think? Except this line of ‘humor’ raises questions like ‘dO droids deserve equal rights as humans? Does that make every droid-owning character a slave master? Are we supposed to agree and sympathize with L3 or are we supposed to laugh her off?’ Whatever they were trying to do, it didn’t work. And sometimes it was so ham-fisted it was just truly terrible; there’s one scene where Lando asks L3 if she needs anything (she’s a droid piloting a ship, what’s she going to need?? A margarita??) and she goes “EQUAL RIGHTS?” and it’s just. I just.

Chewbacca: Chewbacca was Chewbacca, and the way he meets Han was pretty okay even if every ‘plot twist’ was so obvious it was sad.

‘Throw him in witH THE BEAST.’ ‘you have a bEAST?? oh NO’

Also there’s the scene where Han asks Chewbacca his name and Chewbacca’s like ‘Hrra2353948ghhhg’ and Han’s like ‘Chewbacca? I’m not calling you that every time! Chewie it is!’ like Chewbacca is some difficult-to-remember mouthful of a name, like Alden Anglerfish. Did we need backstory for his nickname? I mean I know that when I give someone a nickname I don’t usually go ‘Boy howdy, your name is hard to say I’m just going to shorten it!’ and then we look back on that time and laugh. Usually they just happen and we don’t really need backstory for it but it’s fine

(Why yes this post is longer than I expected but don’t worry we’re nearing the end)

The Kessel Run: Am I the only one who assumed the Kessel Run was some kind of space-race or maybe a difficult stretch of space that Han made in double-quick time or something at some point? Well, I was wrong, because apparently it’s a space-storm, called a ‘run’ just…kinda because, and there’s also a space monster! Except we can’t see a lot of it because it’s pretty dark and cloudy and it’s basically the star trek thing where they go ‘IF WE RELEASE X FUEL WE’LL EITHER PULL FREE OR EXPLODE’ and anyway. They don’t explode. Eh.

Necessary Backstory: The whole thing with Chewie’s nickname and the Kessel Run are only a few of the things we didn’t really need to see the Origins of in this movie. Included in the list of things nobody really cares about are a) how Han got his blaster! (Beckett hands it to him) b) how Chewie got his bandoleer! (Beckett gives it to him) c) How Han got the Millenium Falc – wait, we already knew how he got it. Oh well, we get to see it all play out exactly as you’d think it would. d) how Han got his last name! (I know we covered that already but it’s on the list and is probably the worst one) e) you know those droid brains supposedly fighting inside the Falcon causing it to be temperamental? Well one of those brains is L3, apparently! Which seems cruel and unusual since she hated being a slave and is now forever trapped inside the navigation system of a ship, unable to sass or anything. Yikes.)

The Plot in General: I’ll say this for Rogue One (words i never thought i would say ever), it had a straightforward plot. The plot for Solo is pretty all over the place with very little cohesion and a lot of action so useless it’s boring (I almost fell asleep during Rogue One three times and found my eyes glazing over after about ten minutes of Solo). Also Rogue One was way more visually interesting than Solo – Solo has a shockingly dull aesthetic. Even the costumes are boring. Qi’ra wears one neat outfit with a red cape and I liked Dreyden’s half-cape-suit-thing, but aside from that we’re back with 500 bucks at the mall and that’s what it looks like. The planets aren’t very distinctive, and it all just looks very…bland. It’s kind of the same beef I have with Agents of Shield – even during its good seasons, it has a very monochromatic boring ‘coulda bought that at Target’ aesthetic that’s just very uninteresting to look at.

Things I DID Actually Like: Speaking of Rogue One, remember that one guy I mentioned who I wanted to know more about? That one alien who worked for Saw Geurrera but had almost no lines and died almost immediately? He was in here! He was with Enfys Nests’s group in the background for like fifteen seconds; it was great.

Also I was happy to see Ray Park back as Darth Maul, even if they’re always dubbing over Ray’s voice because it’s not intimidating enough for anyone, apparently. Also I thought Boba Fett was in the movie for a second because there’s a suit of Mandalorian armor in Dreyden’s office and how great would it have been if it WAS actually Boba Fett, and as soon as Solo leaves the room she and Boba run dramatically into each other’s arms, ring up Darth Maul, and set sail on a life of passionate adventure? No?

Fine. Other things I liked….mmmm

OH there was one line where Han’s about to fly into the deadly storm cloud and he goes ‘I have a really good feeling about this’ and it was by far my favorite line in the movie.

TL;DR

Nothing worked tonally. I wish they had stuck with the Lord and Taylor comedy version because that would have solved nearly every issue with this movie, from the terribly lame half-jokes to the things that we were supposed to take seriously but came across as lame, and vice versa. This COULD have been the Thor: Ragnarok of the Star Wars universe, but I guess for some reason Disney is still afraid to take risks like that despite how well Thor: Ragnarok did in theaters. Also I’m even more scared for the Boba Fett movie now because I have very little faith in these prequel spinoffs

When can we get a solid non-prequel anthology spinoff? Because that would be cool. In the meantime, this is the easiest Star Wars movie to cosplay ever, just ask for a gift card to Forever 21 or something and you’re set!

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Three Things that Are Not Character Traits

Ah, characters. They can be difficult little hooligans sometimes, am I right? We all know this, and I sympathize. I stop sympathizing, however, when I pick up a book and discover the pages are full of one-dimensional cardboard cutouts standing in for REAL characters, who had other places to be (I guess). Authors like Cassandra Clare, Sarah J Maas, and Victoria Aveyard love to rely on the sort of character I like to call the Single Aspect, or SA character.

This is a character who has one Aspect the author has tried to build their entire personality around – and failed utterly, because nobody has just One Aspect from which to flesh out the rest their entire being.

Here are a few Aspects I have seen authors try to use in place of real character traits.

1. Their Accent

Generally a British accent of some kind, this character exists to have an accent. Other characters will mention this character’s accent frequently. Often this character is a villain or ‘bad-boy’ type, and the single draw to their character will be how ‘sexy’ or ‘exotic’ they sound while speaking. Everything they say and do is crafted around how they sound and they fall into the stereotypes that come along with said accent or supposed nationality (because all English people are either bad-boys or villains, everybody knows that). Of course, we can’t restrict this to only British accents – characters with Spanish accents are generally suave and flirtatious! Characters with Australian accents are usually buff, tough, and punch sharks in the face for fun. (Well, okay. That example might be accurate, but use it sparingly.)

2. Their Appearance

The way someone looks isn’t a character trait. I don’t care if they have gold eyes or silver skin or maroon hair; I don’t care if they’re an albino or have scales. I don’t care if they have a perfect hourglass figure or a twelve-pack. Their appearance is not a stand-in for a well-rounded character. This is something at which Cassie Clare excels – can’t think of anything interesting for a character to say? That’s all right; they can just talk about their appearance. Or someone else can talk about their appearance. Or you can just spend another paragraph describing it. You know, when in doubt.

3. Their Intellect

Intellect is not a character trait. LET ME REPEAT: Intellect is NOT a character trait. We’ve all seen this example – whether as a sidekick in a book or (often) a TV show. This character is incredibly brainy and knows everything – so much, in fact, that they don’t have much of a voice to call their own. They’re always willing to share a fact or a piece of history or something about science, but is there anything to them beyond their intellect? Sometimes…no. This is lazy writing. Having a character around for no reason other than to provide exposition and explain things to the reader (or viewer) is no reason at all; this character provides a crutch for a writer who doesn’t want to take the time to explain things in a more organic way. Also, the kind of Intellectual Character often seen in villains is a cop-out. A character who has no real depth or emotion aside from Their Cold, Calculating Intelligence isn’t a character. It’s an uninteresting structure. Like most modern art sculptures.

AND there we have it; three aspects that are not personality traits. Can you think of any more? If so, I’d love to hear them; we can rant about them in the comments. Until then, happy writing (with three-dimensional characters)!

A Staff, a Sling, and Five Rocks

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Who else takes pride in their individuality? I know I do. Being something Other, going against the flow, has always been important to me for reasons I’ve never been able to put my finger on. Being unique is important to me, although it used to be moreso. Nowadays I don’t think about it nearly as much; I don’t feel the need to let other people know when I have a specific Quirk. It’s not urgent for me to let anyone know.

That said, the Christian community often has a problem with individuality. Not everyone is ‘out to get anyone different,’ but there’s a common mindset that claims things like You must do everything like X Great Person or, You must have these habits or, You must walk/talk/eat/dress like/sound a certain way.

These ways aren’t usually bad, of course; that’s not what I’m saying. They’re perfectly fine – for some people. But not for everyone. ‘God wants Unity in his children,’ I hear, and that’s true. It’s a common theme throughout the New Testament. One thing I don’t read, however, is ‘God wants all his children to be the same.’

How do I know this? Because He created us all in vastly different ways. He made us individuals. He made us unique; and the beauty of unity doesn’t lie in a bunch of perfectly cookie-cutter people being perfectly cookie-cutter, but in unique and multi-faceted individuals coming together because their goal is God. Their reason is God. Their work is God.

My favorite illustration of this is in 1 Samuel 17.

David, after he goes up to give his brothers lunch, finds a Philistine giant laughing at the terrified Israelites. David decides hey, nobody else is killing him, so I will; and then one of my favorite things happens – Saul puts his own armor on David. He gives him his own sword. Both are honors; but David walks around in them for a minute and says, “I can’t wear these; I’m not used to them.” And he takes the king’s armor off. He picks up a staff and a sling and some rocks – because he’s used to those. He’s grown up with those.

You all know how the story ends; David defeats Goliath with the first stone. He does it without armor and without a sword, with no real protection except God and the tools he already had. God wants us to do things our own unique ways. He doesn’t want us sitting around trying to mimic someone else; putting on their armor. He wants you to use your staffs and slings and pens and pencils and music and crafting and whatever it is you are called to do; the things you love doing, the things you’re good at. God doesn’t want you wielding someone else’s weapon.

Saul said to David, Go; and the Lord be with you.

A Villain’s Mind: The Pain in the Neck

Remember that A Villain’s Mind series introduction? It’s ba-ack; and ironically we aren’t starting with a full-on villain (per se). Let’s get to it.

I have a favorite type of antagonist. He’s not the over-arching villain (usually) – generally he’s a secondary character, someone with whom the MC clashes frequently. They’re kind of a ‘bad guy,’ but not necessarily evil and they usually exist to create extra conflict and danger for the MC.

My favorite example of this character – we’ll call him the PIN, or Pain in the Neck – is Eric from Divergent. (I’m NOT talking about the books, only the movies; as the two characters are almost totally different and I don’t have any liking for book!Eric as a character.) When we first meet him it’s obvious he’s arrogant, tough, and merciless. Literally every time we see him it’s in a negative light because the movie frames it that way.

But ah, there’s the rub – because I have always liked movie!Eric as a character. What’s more, I usually agree with him. We’re supposed to view his words and actions as negative because he does not like the main character, Tris, whom we’re supposed to see as positive. But let’s flip it around and look at it this way –

You’re Eric. One of the new recruits is from Abnegation – the exact opposite of a warrior. She’s a skinny teenage girl with exactly no personality, and there’s very little promise there. Sure, she jumped off some stuff, but that doesn’t make her a good recruit. It just means she, like everyone else, was afraid of failing. Training continues; she mouths off to her instructors, is less-than-stellar at almost everything she does, and still dislikes the idea of hurting people – in which case, she should never have joined the militant Dauntless faction. She routinely breaks rules, ignores orders, and mouths off – but everyone sees her as a hero because she stands up for people sometimes.

I don’t know about you, but if I were Eric, I wouldn’t like Tris either. In fact, I’d want her out of Dauntless. Throughout the movie, Eric is shown in a negative light because he’s ruthless. He’s efficient. He doesn’t stand for back-talk. Of course he possesses negative qualities – he’s unnecessarily harsh, he enjoys watching good recruits climb through the ranks at the expense of the less-talented, and he gives no quarter even when he should lighten up.

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And yet there are moments, too, where he isn’t so bad. When Tris runs in order to catch the train that was leaving without her, he’s even willing to show he’s impressed. Because when Tris acts like she belongs in Dauntless, Eric is okay with her.
He’s a soldier. He follows orders, he does what he’s told – to the point where he’s apparently willing to shoot a young Divergent girl in the head. But before his execution, he tells Four in a moment of candor,

“Listen. I’ve found a way to live with the blood on my hands. But can you?”

Those aren’t the words of a villain. They’re the words of a soldier – and beyond that, Eric was born and raised Erudite – the faction now calling all the shots over his head. He believes in what he’s doing.

So like I said, I’ve always liked Eric. He’s my favorite character in an entirely stupid movie series, and the only thing that kept me watching it – because Eric, for all his terrible flaws, was quite possibly the most well-rounded character in the whole series.

He’s an antagonist, true, but he’s my favorite kind – the sort with whom, if you look just a little closer, you just might agree with. These characters are tricky to write and I’ve often seen it fail – I even think the Divergent movies failed Eric because they painted his every action as that of a Bad Guy and his dimension happens almost in spite of it – but it can be done. Here are a few questions to ask when writing your PIN character:

Give them a strong set of beliefs. We don’t want a character who’s annoying just for the sake of being annoying; then we get Peter from the Divergent movies and he’s just – well, you don’t want that. Eric’s beliefs are a solid mix of his firmly Erudite upbringing and his Dauntless adult life; making him someone who believes Erudite should rule and is generally able to enforce those rules.

Give them likeable moments. Eric actually has a few, believe it or not. He’s impressed with Tris’s initiative in chasing down the train; he’s impressed with her bravery in standing up for her friend. He has a brief moment where he pauses to pet a horse – all these little things add dimension to a PIN character, making them something more than merely an Antagonistic Force. It keeps you wondering whether he might change his mind and join the good guys.

Show them interacting with people. Often in a book it will feel like the PIN character exists in this nebulous vacuum of space-time, existing only to pop out and taunt the main character whenever the plot starts to lag. Establish this character firmly within the world, or they won’t feel believable. Eric has history with one of the main characters and we see how he interacts with the other initiates, not just Tris.

You don’t need a lot to write a PIN character – they’re interesting; they often live in a gray area that’s fun to write, and they keep the reader guessing; so go forth and conquer!

Do you have a favorite PIN character?

Ways to Grow Your Writing

Here’s the deal. There are many new, budding writers out there who have no idea what they’re doing. They’re fragile – they’re newborn writers and they’re flying blind, wanting to create all sorts of cool things with no idea how to do it. They can be easy to make fun of; I see the cliches and tropes they’re writing with gleeful abandon, I see the mistakes they make with everything from grammar to romance to characterization and I think ‘Oh honey. Ohhh honey.’

But me thinking ‘Ohhh honey’ and sipping my coffee with a Sage Expression on my face doesn’t really help anybody, and here’s the thing – I was that fragile, newborn, budding writer with no clue what she was doing. I took ideas from everything I read and was so ‘influenced’ by some authors that I was practically plagiarizing them. I had the Stereotypical Fantasy Characters – the brooding hero with the tragic backstory (and YES I still lOVE HIM leave me alone), the Feisty Independent Heroine (who was actually just a bitch, honestly, pardon my French. She was) and the sarcastic, hapless comedic character who didn’t….really further the plot in any way. Obviously the FMC needed a brother, so….there we are, I guess? Oh, and it was an ALLEGORY, PEOPLE, because Intellectualism™ a la the Door Within series. (Also I’m fine with allegory; I like a certain amount of allegory. We’ll get to that in another post.)

The point is, I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I’ve been writing since I was twelve, I’ve completed over ten novels and started + shelved a dozen others. I’ve tried just about everything. So here are some tips to help move your writing out of the….I don’t even know what to call that space. The Bad Place. These will help move you from The Bad Place to The Good Place; let’s call it that.

ONE: GRAMMAR IS ACTUALLY IMPORTANT

‘That’s what editors are for.’ I see this one a lot, even from writers who aren’t necessarily newbies. But here’s the thing – if you don’t have a good grasp on grammar, your writing will lack a certain amount of depth, description, and sophistication. (I don’t mean you need to be Arthur Conan Doyle or quirk your pinkie; it’s not that kind of sophistication.) Your writing will not be as good as it could be. That’s just the way it is, and it doesn’t have to do with typos. If you don’t know how to use grammar, you will not know how to write as well as you could. You can write passable things, sure, but there will be a childish quality to the writing that people will notice. (And I say they will because I do, every time. Every single time.)

Is grammar hard for you? Don’t despair! I didn’t even realize indentations were a thing until a year into my writing and my mom pointed out they were supposed to exist in a manuscript, and I realized – I’d been reading since I was a few years old, but hadn’t been paying attention to structure. Pick up a book (a good book, a book you know to be well-written and not just your average YA fantasy novel. Not that one. But not Jane Austen; that’s another load of…well, structure wasn’t much of a thing then, either). Pick up a Charles de Lint book, or a Patricia McKillip or an Allison Croggon book or even Brandon Sanderson. Pay attention to things like indentations. Pay attention to spacing and structure and pacing; pay attention to turns of phrase, the difference in each character’s speech and sound. Grammar can be fun and it doesn’t mean you need to sit down and take a course from beginning to end (unless you have a real issue with it in which case, you might have to).

TWO: SHARE YOUR WRITING

This one is hard. It still is hard, actually, although it’s gotten significantly easier over the past decade. But you have to do it. You cannot – I repeat, YOU CANNOT – reach your fullest potential as a writer if you don’t have feedback. And this means all kinds of feedback. It means finding some people who will tell you the truth. Do NOT share your writing with someone who tells you how MAGNIFICENT and MARVELOUS your writing is each time, without any critique. You know why? Because they’re lying, and they don’t want to hurt your feelings. If you’ve sent out ten chapters in a row with no constructive criticism from someone, they aren’t helping you. You want truly constructive criticism? Find a family member. Generally I don’t give manuscripts to my mom until they’ve been revised, edited, and proofread because I want it to be as good as I can make it, but once she reads it there’s nobody more helpful because she’ll tell me what’s wrong with it. ‘This doesn’t make sense.’ ‘There’s too much of X element.’ ‘Did you mean to do this here?’ But when she comes to me and says, ‘I need more,’ or proceeds to bring up her favorite characters for the next few weeks, there’s nothing more encouraging.

Find somebody who will tell you the truth. Will it hurt your feelings? Yes. Especially if you’re just starting out and don’t have a good grasp on things, because there will be more negative than positive for a while – but if this person loves you and wants to see you succeed, listen to them. Take their advice. Take a deep breath, strap on your helmet, and dive in. It’s more comfortable to believe your writing is just fine. But comfort won’t get you anywhere.

THREE: TREAT YOUR WRITING SERIOUSLY

Obviously writing should be fun. Writing is incredible. But let me show you a few phrases that might sound familiar to you – “Haha yeah, gotta follow the plot bunnies!” “My poor charries!!” “I know this doesn’t really FIT but it was so CUTE.” “Yeah I know this isn’t perfect, but I mean…”

No. Stop. Stop making excuses for your writing, and stop treating your book like it’s some kind of over-excited Pomeranian puppy. Remember, I did all these things and my writing never got better because of it. THAT I can promise you. (Nor have I ever seen anyone else’s writing get better because of it.) Plot bunnies? They’re an excuse to be lazy and not have to come up with any actual solid plot. Your poor charries? Oh honey. Ohhh honey. It doesn’t FIT but it was so CUTE? Yeah, it sucks, but cut it out. Cute or otherwise, if it doesn’t move the story forward it has no place. I don’t care how adorable it was, and neither will your reader once they finish the book and go, ‘You know…there were a bunch of scenes in there that made no sense, though.’ And as for ‘Yeah, this isn’t perfect, but’ – no ‘buts.’ No. If you know something you wrote was lazy, sloppy, or unresearched, then you have no excuse. Fix it. Make it better. I don’t care if this is just a first draft, your first draft should be as good as you can possibly make it. If you get halfway through a first draft and realize you don’t like it, or you already know the whole plot but that it needs massive revisions, then stop! Start another book, or shelve this one for later. Be flexible.

And just….please don’t call your characters ‘charries.’ It really does encourage you to not take them seriously, which you should. People don’t connect with Charries. They connect with characters.

FOUR: TORTURE IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR DRAMA

I mean sure, torture is dramatic and my books have a fair amount of it in different ways, but one thing I see amateur writers do c o n s t a n t l y (and I did this myself) is substitute physical pain for other kinds of drama. I mean I know – it’s hard to write genuine, believable pain, drama, and angst when you’re new at it, but don’t settle for just torturing your characters. It’s an amateur mistake and I’ve seen some new writers rely on it so heavily that they honestly creep me out a little so…tone down on the torture. Here’s a tip – try embarrassment instead. We all HATE to be embarrassed and most of us suffer from secondhand embarrassment, too – which is why it’s an important element to write. In The Last Samurai (one of those historically horrendous movies I will still watch) one of the characters is subjected to having his hair cut by enemy soldiers. It may not sound like much, but to him, it’s an abject humiliation. They don’t torture him – they just cut his hair, and the impact is far more powerful than if they’d stood around kicking or punching him.

FIVE: DON’T FOLLOW THE LIGHTS

I’ve seen new writers (and accomplished writers – looking at you, YA section in the library) do a Thing. This Thing is to have more character than they know what to do with, and try to give each character their Very Own Spotlight. This is absolutely fine if you’re an experienced writer – I love huge casts and weaving their storylines together. But it’s painful when I see someone who can barely write one character’s point of view try to write seventeen. The result is that each POV sounds relatively the same, gives nothing new to the plot, and winds up frustrating to the reader (this is one reason why, terrible plot aside, I never could get into the Divergent books. Everyone sounded exactly the same – but this is very common in young adult novels). Focus on writing one point of view. Focus on keeping it simple. Discover your strengths as a writer and pursue those – work those up so that eventually you can start turning your weaknesses into strengths, too. But don’t pile your plate three feet high in an over-ambitions attempt to Do All the Things. I have to remind myself of this even now, after almost fourteen years of writing. If you have an overload of ideas for one novel, step back and take a look at them. Maybe you actually have TWO SEPARATE books here! (I know I often do.)

So there we are – the five top tips I could think of off the top of my head. The point of this post was not to be discouraging, but to tell you I’ve been exactly where you are and made all the mistakes new writers make, and if someone had been able to point me in the right direction my literary life would have progressed faster than it did. If you LIKED this and have your own questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll answer them in another blog post!

Oh, and here’s my last tip – don’t stop. Keep writing. Keep writing through both the gold and the trash. Keep it up.