This Tuesday is our anniversary. Not our wedding anniversary, of course, but rather the first birthday of this blog. Our first post went up on Monday, Sept. 29, 2014. We had just returned from the now-sadly-defunct ConText conference, and we had decided that after many years of resisting the call of social media, we needed to develop an online presence. And that was the start of our author Facebook page, and S’s Twitter obsession, and of course this blog. So far, we’re enjoying ourselves, but looking back, we find that we’ve actually learned some things this year. Or, in some cases, we’ve relearned the importance of things we already knew, but had perhaps forgotten. Starting next week, we’ll be talking about what we’re doing to prepare for NaNoWriMo, but for now, here are the three main things we’ve learned—or relearned—from our blogging adventure.
Why on earth do people like certain characters, storylines, and ideas in their fiction? It’s a question we started asking as soon as we decided to start writing and had to choose which fantasy tropes we wanted to include in our novels, which we wanted to subvert, and which we wanted nothing to do with. But since we started blogging, and having to come up with something to say once a week, appeal has become an even more common topic of conversation, and not just when it comes to fantasy. Part of it surely has to do with becoming writers, but it’s also something that probably comes with age, that neither of us experience the knee-jerk reactions we once did to narrative that seems somehow lesser by our standards. Instead of asking, “Why would someone like that?” in a dismissive tone, we now ask in all earnestness, “Why would someone like that? And how can I steal whatever it is?”
For instance, our most read post is Mary Sue and the Boy Scout, S’s examination of the two lead characters on the CW TV show The 100. (Aside: It’s in large part our most read post thanks to the tireless love and retweeting of it by @skiku. Bless you and thank you!) The two of us have talked extensively about what the appeal is of what on the surface is just another post-apocalyptic story/teen drama on the CW, and yet it succeeds far beyond that to have a strong appeal to adults who are willing to give it a go. Having to write that blog made us spend a lot of time thinking about what makes good characters work, and if we hadn’t been blogging, would S have ever organized her ideas so completely? Probably not.
And then there’s S’s current obsession with smutty fanfic. If forced to select the blog that has had the greatest impact on her as a writer, she would probably choose #PelvicSorcery. Smutty fanfic is a genre that if you had told her when she wrote her first blog here that she would be reading and writing a year later, she would have thought you were crazy. Yet, there seems to be no genre that when well executed doesn’t have its appeal, and once you peel back those layers to see why someone would like a genre, fiction you previously would have never considered can become cherished reading.
Process is a topic that, perhaps, we have always loved a little too much. How you build characters, plot, and setting is something we can talk about for hours, and regularly do, between ourselves, to friends, to people who won’t be our friends if they have to listen to us talk about the topic ever again. And yet we learn something valuable every time we talk about the subject, and every time we blog about it.
Example, when S wrote about how she had to pseudo-pants The Queen’s Tower last November for NaNo, she realized how important two simple questions are for her understanding of character. (Those questions being: What does he want? and Why does he want it?) J is the family mapmaker, although S is getting better at pitching in on the process. And with each map he designs, he has a chance to discover a place, because a map to him is not a representation of something that is, but a blueprint to what he is creating.
And then there are the outlines. Yeah, we’re pretty sure we haven’t learned anything new about outlining by blogging about our extreme version of it. But there are few topics we love quite so much as outlining. Beginning next week, we’re going to be doing a series on how we do it and why we think it’s important. And why it is one of the most creative aspects of process.
The third thing we’ve learned from doing this blog is that sometimes you just have to make yourself write, even when you don’t particularly want to. Yes, there have been a few weeks when we forgot to put up a blog, but more often than not, we managed to put something together. If we’d only posted on our blog when we really, really felt like doing it, then there would have been whole months when we didn’t do anything. Now, granted, we’ve never exactly been slackers when it comes to getting writing done, but even so, it’s a valuable reminder that you can’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. It’s not just that you might be waiting a while. It’s that writing actually spurs ideas for further writing. Once we actually start writing, we almost invariably find that we have more to say on a given topic than we thought we did. Take our series of blogs on the Best Fantasy Characters of All Time. We kept putting off those posts again and again, but each time when we actually sat down and started working on them, we found they were easier to write than we imagined. That applies to fiction writing, too. Sometimes when we are writing, there are parts of the story—major plot points or dramatic moments—that we’re almost dreading writing. How can the scene live up to our expectations for it? What if we screw up and the scene falls flat and our readers think, “Oh, that should have been so much better than it was”? And yet, once we force ourselves to write those scenes, almost invariably we look back and think, “That wasn’t nearly as difficult as we thought it would be.”
So, that’s a bit of what we learned. If nothing else this blog has been, and we suspect will continue to be, a fascinating record of our tastes and obsessions. And hopefully of our growth as writers.
~J and S