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Thursday, April 16, 2009


FlagHag asks: How can I overcome procrastination?

There are many good sites on the internet that have ideas on this. I’d search for them for a few hours.

Cjdriscoll asks: How do you deal with the pressures of deadlines when writing a book?

Like this.

Andrea asks: What's the best way to answer interview questions?


Miss May asks: I seem to spend a huge amount of time googling incredibly random and inane subjects. I spent all of yesterday researching the history of the leap year. How much time, spent googling a day, do you think is normal?

Six hours.

Khyrinthia asks: What should I do over spring break?

How about THIS?

Anonymous asks: Why do writers portray guys/girls as perfect people?

I think by this you are asking about love interests—that’s what I interpreted “guys/girls” to mean.

And first, I’m not sure that they (we) do. When you write a character, they should really imbue them with some problems and flaws. Not only is that more realistic, but it’s also more interesting to read. “Perfect” characters are really boring.

Love interests are often . . . not perfect, but idealized. There’s a logical reason for this. The love interest is a goal—something the protagonist wants. So that something has to seem like a something worth working for and getting. Think Lord of the Rings. Everyone wants the one true ring, because it’s the one true ring. You can understand why the characters would go through every form of hell for it. You’d be baffled if Frodo went to all that effort for the “kind of okay ring,” or “the one true blender.”

Likewise, the love interest (if the story is about someone trying to get the love interest) has to be somebody worth going through some trouble for. At the very least, you have to understand why the protagonist is even interested. Otherwise, the story seems stupid and pointless. So they have to be WORTH IT. But WORTH IT and perfect are different things. No one’s perfect, yet in romance, everyone becomes WORTH IT. And that’s the trick.

A “perfect” love interest is just ridiculous. Really “perfect” characters who do absolutely everything right become unintentionally funny, because we instinctively know that things don’t work that way. They’re predictable. And, WE LIKE FLAWS. We do. Flaws make people unique, relatable, and challenging. What do you do with a character who just does the right thing, all the time? You never have to WONDER what they’re going to do. There’s no mystery.

ALSO, you have to remember that you’re usually seeing the love interest through the eyes of the protagonist, and the protagonist (being in love) is looking through rose-colored glasses. And a lot of the interest in the story comes from what they go through to achieve their goal.

Think about the romantic characters that work best for you. Are they REALLY perfect? Really? Some of the great romantic characters out there are among the most messed up. Mr. Darcy? He’s got problems. Heathcliff? Don’t even go there. Rhett Butler? He’s a #$%^#head. Othello, Petruchio and Katherine (from Taming of the Shrew), Benedict and Beatrice (from Much Ado About Nothing) . . . all of Shakespeare’s love interests had problems. Big ones. Edward? Is a self-loathing, temperamental, controlling dead guy. Princess Buttercup? Kind of annoying. Want a smattering of TV and film examples? Spike from Buffy. Logan from Veronica Mars, Rick from Casablanca. Han Solo and Princess Leia. Anyone Katherine Hepburn every played.

I could sit here and list people all day . . . but I CAN’T! I have BEDA Buddies to match! But you get the idea, hopefully. The point is . . . we LIKE it when $%$holes find love.

And if the character is too perfect, well, the story’s probably kind of boring.

Anonymous asks: What's better when writing a YA novel? Funny/clever or serious/dramatic?

Those things aren’t mutually exclusive. Think: Paper Towns, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, City of Glass (or Bones or Ashes), The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, King Dork, Nevermind the Goldbergs, Ready or Not, Lost It . . . I’m missing about a million. It’s also something I try to do, but whether or not I succeed is up to YOU, dear reader.*

Kayli asks: Weirdest subjected class you ever took?

I had to take Marriage as a major subject in senior year of high school. It was taught by a nun. No one should be subjected to that.

Nuwon Wearspants: How did you decide on where you went to college? How did you afford it?

First of all, Nuwon, I want to compliment you on your pants-free name. I applaud it. No pants, no peace!

You know, I based my college decision pretty heavily on money. I didn’t even apply to many schools because I thought there was just no way I’d be able to afford them. So I restricted my search entirely to schools where I thought I’d have a viable option of getting a purely academic scholarship. Looking back, that was a mistake. What I didn’t know at the time is that many schools have ways of working with you, financially—ways that aren’t always clear in their literature. I know now there were LOADS of places I could have gone. So it certainly doesn’t hurt to APPLY everywhere and see what you can work out.

I paid for college through a combination of money my family had saved up, part time jobs, and academic scholarships (because we couldn’t get any need-based money). When it was time to apply to grad school, I’d figured out that I shouldn’t restrict my search based on perceptions of what I could afford. I decided I was ONLY going to go where I truly wanted to go, and where I truly wanted to go was Columbia. So that’s where I went. I won several scholarships and fellowships, and I worked, and I signed my life away on some mind-crushing loans. But you know? I was happy when I signed those loan papers, because I said to myself, “Now you HAVE to make this work. You’re signing on the dotted line and saying you will never give up.” And that’s how I viewed it. I was going to have to make my writing work.

Yes, I think it’s criminal that in the U.S. this is often what it comes down to. When I was explaining to some of my English friends how much money I regularly shell out on loan repayments and health insurance, they went pale. But since that’s the system we have here, I think you have to go after it with a fighting spirit.

Or, you could just steal the money.

Just remember . . . tomorrow’s post will be a listing of BEDA BUDDIES. If you want one, you have until midnight tonight to register!

* (bats eyelashes)

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Blogger Khy said...

That is an excellent suggestion about what I should do on spring break.

-goes to find a piano-

11:55 PM  
Blogger Margo said...

when i looked at Nuwon Wearspants i thought, what a cool name... then i read the next little paragraph, looked at it again and laughed so hard juice came out my nose. that made my day.

xoxo margo

1:28 AM  
Blogger Nadia Murti said...

I hope I don't have to base my college on price (Economy, get better!). I'd rather do it on location and academics.

Yay! BEDA Buddies! Can't wait for mine!

1:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn how the bloody-hell are we?

3:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it true that you have to pass a swimming test to graduate from Columbia?

4:45 AM  
Anonymous Madison said...

Do I spy with my little eye a "La Vie en Rose" reference?

7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering my YA question. I feel better now about my characters' random mood jumps. They still look like crap but it's a first draft (the one excuse I will forever hold on to).

8:10 AM  
Anonymous Caitlin said...

For the blog after BEDA buddies: I just finished reading 13 Little Blue Envelopes and in the extras is says that you have a named laptop. First, I was pleased to know that someone else names imanimate objects. I have named my house, my mother's car, my laptop (Gypsy) and other miscellaneous items. So, i was curious. . .have you named anything else? And why did you name your laptop in the first place?

1:06 PM  
Blogger Julia(: RAWRRRR(; said...

I really enjoyed reading your blog and I think it was really smart of you to make Charlie do BEDA(:

2:42 PM  
Blogger Miss May said...

Thanks so much for answering my question, even though it was a silly one.

I'm so excited for BEDA buddies, so...thanks again for organising it all XD

4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maureen, I have to ask...what was the wierdest question you were ever asked?

8:25 PM  
OpenID whatsaesays said...

Which colleges have the best writing programs? My parents were both math majors, so neither of them have a clue.

2:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found something at my local bookstore that I think you would really like:


I would send you mine, but I don't know if it would make it through the mail.

4:55 AM  
Blogger Mina said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gosh MJ, reading over some of your previous posts that I missed these last couple of days,I realized I never really noticed how POSITIVE you are. You just tackle life as it comes. I really admire that about you! ;)

5:44 AM  

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