Chase Them Up A Tree…

Howdy, howdy!  I was recently talking to a friend about putting our characters through hell (whether literally or figuratively).  He was a little worried that people would be upset and accuse him of torturing his young female characters simply as a catalyst to turn them into “strong, empowered women,” as if that’s a bad thing (the torture as a catalyst thing, not the strong women thing).  We talked about the story and that certainly doesn’t sound like the case, but so what if it is?  What’s wrong with strong female characters having a tragic background?  A lot of male characters have it pretty rough before becoming heroes, so why should female characters be any different?  It got me thinking about some of the most common writing advice I’ve heard: chase your characters up a tree, then throw rocks at them/make them walk through the fire/etc.

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What does that even mean, chasing them up a tree?  Well, it means that you should put your character in a bad situation, then pile on some more trouble.  Nobody wants to read about a person who goes to the beach, where it starts raining, and they immediately find shelter in a dingy little restaurant where they have a nice meal, then they go home.  For genre readers, make the restaurant haunted or infested with pixies or run by some super attractive person who seduces the protagonist.  If you’re more into literary fiction, throw in some existential angst or a discovery of some lost love or an awkward conversation with a guy who knows the protagonist but the protagonist can’t remember him or whatever.  In other words, it means you need to keep things interesting.

Another piece of advice to new writers, usually used as an explanation for running characters up a tree, is to make them walk through the fire.  This kind of thing is especially easy to understand if you’re into genre fiction, because the Hero’s Journey often requires entering an unknown world (sometimes actually made of fire) and having the hero traverse the treacherous land.  Whether they come out unscathed or not is really up to you.  Either way, they’re forced to face numerous obstacles or trials along their journey and it transforms them into the people they become.

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In my humble opinion, I don’t think we should really worry about whether or not people will approve of our stories.  If your character needs to be tortured physically or mentally to move the plot along and help them develop into who they need to become, whether male or female, go for it.  That’s not to say that something so drastic is always needed.  Maybe your character grows up in a loving home and stumbles upon an adventure randomly.  After all, one of my own characters is surrounded by supportive and caring family throughout her adventures.  That’s great too.  Trust your story to tell you what it needs, not judgmental people who think violence has no place in literature.

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Disclaimer: I am by no means endorsing gratuitous violence or anything that’s done “just because.”  It has to move things forward and serve some sort of purpose.  That being said, don’t worry so much about what people might think and just write your stories.  If things feel a little excessive, that’s what revision is for!  You can always change things up later on.

What about you?  Do you find yourself worrying about things like this or are you all about running characters up trees and pelting them with rocks?  Share your thoughts here or on my social media pages!

One Step Forward

Howdy, howdy!  Yesterday, after numerous rejections from agents (all of which were form rejections or close to it), I received my first full manuscript request.  I won’t say from where or who, because I understand that this is by no means an offer of representation, but it’s one step closer and that makes me super excited.  Even if I end up with a rejection at the end of this, at least I can say someone who is a complete stranger to me was interested in my work, which is a huge deal since I always wonder if people are only supportive of me because I’m cripple (it’s happened before).  Anyway, I’m getting off track.  Today, I want to talk about how the little steps are just as exciting and deserving of celebration as the ultimate goal you’re working towards.

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Kitty has the right idea.  One step at a time.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I honestly needed a reminder of it myself: the little successes are still successes.  I admit that I’ve been down lately with all of the rejections.  I let the feelings of being a failure and an imposter get to me.  It’s made writing hard and submitting things less than appealing.  I forgot that submitting things and writing words were little steps on the writing journey in their own right, whether they end well or not.   With all of the rejection writers (and artists of all kinds) face on a daily basis, we have to remember to celebrate the little things as well as the endgame.

Did you finish that short story or chapter today?  Treat yourself!  Is that your tenth (or hundredth) form rejection?  Take pride in the fact that you submitted that many times.  Did you get a lovely personal rejection?  That deserves a toast!  Without all of these little steps, some of which feel more like stumbles, we wouldn’t be moving forward.  And as long as we’re pushing on, we’re trying, and that’s all that matters.

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This applies to life way more than it should.

Sometimes, we go so far down the rabbit hole of imposter syndrome that we need a hand getting back to a point where we can see the little steps.  This boost could come as a surprise acceptance or a request for more, but more often than not, it comes from the support of people in the same situation.  We aren’t alone in these feelings.  If you can’t celebrate your own steps forward, help someone else to celebrate theirs.  Most of the time, it’s easier to notice other people’s achievements, so you’ll cheer them on and tell them that rejection is just one step closer to an acceptance, then eventually you’ll realize these are the things you should also be celebrating for yourself.  Help each other and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.  Celebrate your successes together!

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Support each other like these puppies support this baby!

So yeah, even though it’s easy to get distracted by the big endgame, don’t forget the little things that get you there.  It might take longer than you want, but if you stop trying, you’ll definitely never get to where you want to end up.  Keep moving forward.  Keep supporting each other.  But most importantly, keep celebrating all the little steps as well as the leaps and bounds.

Form Rejections

Hello, hello!  Last Thursday, I sent out a few of the queries I was talking about in my last post.  Friday morning, I woke up to a form rejection from one of the companies that declare a no from one agent is a no from all of them.  They didn’t even take the time to personalize it with my name or the title of my “material,”  and the signature wasn’t from the agent I addressed my query to, but instead from an associate agent.  It had been sent at 8:04 in the morning.  I thought my first agent rejection would be devastating, that it would be so much harder to take than all of the other writerly rejections I’ve received.  I was wrong.  A form rejection that basic was pretty much the best first agent rejection I could have asked for.

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Cute animal memes help.

First, I suppose I should explain what a form rejection is for people who might not be sure.  It’s basically a vague letter turning you down.  Most of the ones I’ve gotten have an “it’s not you, it’s us” vibe.  They start with a firm no, usually followed up by explaining that your story doesn’t mesh with what they’re looking for, and ending with something along the lines of “feel free to submit to us in the future.”  Most of them are polite enough to include your name and the title of your story, at least in the realm of magazine/ezine rejections (not sure about agent rejections yet).

What do form rejections mean to me?  Honestly, they tend to be an indication that my story didn’t even make it out of the slush pile, that it probably didn’t even make it to human eyes (and I might be entirely wrong, but it’s what I like to think).  The places I submit to get hundreds of submissions a week.  There’s no way they can read each piece and give them the attention they deserve.  Slush readers weed through the ever-expanding piles and do their best to pick pieces the editors will enjoy or grab names that will bring in more readers.  I’m guessing a similar process occurs in the agencies.  I might not appreciate the whole process, but I understand it.  As writers, rejection is a part of the game and we can’t question each one we get.

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Okay, but only for a little while, then back to work.

So, yeah.  A barebones form rejection from an associate agent was exactly the kind of rejection I needed.  It doesn’t mean that Garnets and Guardians is unwanted trash.  It doesn’t reflect on my writing in any way.  It simply means the agency wasn’t hooked by my query, if they even read it at all.  And that’s okay.  I’m more worried about when the rejections get personal, because then I’ll know it’s my fault.  I might start getting really discouraged at that point.  Until then, I’ll just keep writing and submitting and collecting my rejections.  That’s all I can do.

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Don’t let the rejections get you down!

How do you feel about form rejections?  If they get you down, do you have any kind of ritual to help improve your mood again?  Feel free to share any thoughts, stories, questions, or whatever here or on my social media pages!