You’re Not The Victim {APADO #28}

(apado yadda yadda yadda we get it)

(this post is extremely short but inspirational?)

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You’re not a victim.

I know you feel like you are.

Things come your way and push you down and you feel like there’s nothing you can do about it.

But there’s plenty you can do.

The first thing is to decide to not let life beat you.

You’re not the victim. You’re the master of the situation.

So go out and make your own future.

The power’s in your hands.

You are not the victim.

Sayonara for now,

{Tess}

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A Brief Rant-Review Of Great Expectations {APADO #15}

(this post marks the halfway mark of apado – the only blog series that I know of that involves posting once a day for the entire month of october and chocolate-covered cactus fruit.)
(okay tess, let’s not rant about this little booger of a book. focus on the calming piano music. the sun’s getting real low.)
(with that in mind, we’re going to keep this brief)

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Since I apparently have a knack for triggering people with my thoughts on critically acclaimed works, let’s talk about Great Expectations and everything I dislike about it everything it has taught me about storytelling.

If you like this book, I don’t mean you any offense. You’re totally allowed to like what you like and no one’s stopping you. In fact, I’d like to hear what it was that made this book worth it for you.

But for me?

I was done with it after about chapter four, but for some strange reason, I read the entire thing. Maybe it was a willpower issue.

At the end of everything, I thumped it closed, took a deep breath and said aloud – “I hated everyone and everything in that book and I’m so glad it’s over.” Of course, hate is a very strong word and I try to avoid overusing it…but this was not an overstatement.

Reading the first stage of Pip's Expectations
a little gif i animated during this nightmare of a reading process

There are a few reasons why I was so frustrated with it.

  • For starters, it’s very verbose. This is the least of its problems, but I kept on losing track of what I was reading because I was distracted by one of his incredibly long sentences. I read that the story was originally published in serial format – a little each week, paid by the word. It shows. The interruptions and rambling made me focus less on the actual story and more on his unorthodox way of saying things.
  • It also feels kind of creepy. In my opinion, the synopsis on the jacket doesn’t merit the spooky, crumbling-to-pieces setting and tone the book has. Everything is disturbed, off-kilter and missing the spark of vivacity and brightness that most classics have. I don’t like this feeling for the same reason that I don’t like Tim Burton – it creeps me out.

(Can we also talk about how Pip has this huge crush on Estella even though she treats him like a doormat and he knows it? I don’t think that’s flirtatious banter anymore, buddy. I think that’s abuse.)

Romance advice aside, though, the characters were the biggest problem in this story. I had to ponder as to why I was so indifferent toward them, seeing as one of the only good things about this book was the diverse cast. After a while, I finally cracked it.

  • I hated everything about this book because I didn’t care about any of the characters. Their goals, their ambitions, their expectations…all of it was lost on me because I couldn’t get over their whiny attitudes, intense revenge plots, and so on. There were barely any people in the book that I felt like I could stand behind, and this made everyone’s goals seem pointless.

I guess the thing with Great Expectations is (for me) that the cast fails to complete the goal of every character: to build a connection with the reader and get them hooked into the story. If no one cares about a character, they’re not going to care about their goals, the plot, or the point the novel is trying to make.

This is a really important point that I want to emphasize before I talk any more about character creation. The only way to keep a reader’s interest is to maintain that connection from the page to the real world.

Nothing is as important in storytelling as this.

tl;dr: I have to like your characters to care about your book.

Sayonara for now,

{Tess}

 

What Makes A Good Character? (Tess’s Character Theory, part I) {APADO #13}

(you’re reading APADO, my wittle one-post-a-day-for-a-whole-month series that i somehow haven’t failed yet.)
(a bunch of disclaimers: i’m not a master author, in fact i legit just called myself a fauxthor™ and it’s true. however, i’ve received a lot of praise for the characters i come up with. i’m going to try to ride the line between hoarding the knowledge i have and puffing myself up bigger than a wacky arm-waving inflatable tubeman. let’s hope i don’t step into either too much.)
(and now i’m like “isn’t it a bad thing to doubt myself? but isn’t it also a bad idea to think you know more than you actually do?” hello anxiety, i haven’t missed you but here you are.)
(now let’s turn this into a series)

APADO 13

Characters are an integral part of fiction. Actually, they’re more than half of what storytellers worry about. They can make or break a story, and they often do – which is what we’re going to take a look at today.

Trigger warning: my preferences are weird. Even if you don’t agree with everything I say, please be nice about it.

I recently sat down and watched Interstellar.

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Let me first preface this by saying that I’m not a scientific person and only understood about 52% of this film’s dialogue. There was a lot of infodumping, which I’m not a fan of.

(quick, poorly-written plot rundown for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie: earth is dying and no one’s sure how to fix it. cooper, our main character, is alarmed that his daughter’s bedroom seems to be alive – there are morse code patterns in the dust in the floor, books falling off the shelf in morse code messages, etc. they say pretty much two things: a set of map coordinates and the word “stay”. visiting the map coordinates reveals the secret location of nasa’s last base and the main plot: earth is about to become really uninhabitable and cooper, due to his experience as a fighter pilot, will be needed to help execute one of the two plans. “plan a” is to relocate all of earth’s population to another planet. “plan b” is to leave the population to die and take 700 new embroyos to a new planet to start a new colony and save humanity. all the characters are on different sides of this ethical question. cooper and his team fly off into space to have a look at some planet prospects. long story short, nothing looks good and everything’s sad and we lose one of the crew members. they’re running out of fuel, too. in order to get to the last chance of a planet, cooper volunteers to go off into the black hole that’s messing with the time of everything and honestly i didn’t catch how all of this is working because infodumps. once in the blackhole (which somehow works as like a time sphere/way to communicate with the past and future?) cooper realizes that this was a horrible idea and he should never have come and tries to tell his past self to “stay” (books coming off the shelves and stuff). i have no idea what happened here. murph is grown up now and gets stuff going back on earth because he can also somehow communicate with her through this watch that he gave her. everyone evacuates, somehow they rescue cooper, cooper learns that his female friend went to start that embroyo colony on the last planet and that she’s all alone and vows to go rescue her. THE END.)

I was extremely disappointed at the end of it. I was expecting this movie to be amazing – it’s Christopher Nolan, for crying out loud. Though I will give it props for its amazing visual effects, terrific music, and interesting take on the “end-of-the-world” idea, it commits a sin that makes me never want to see it again: blank, thin characters.

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Now, I understand that I am not the target audience for this film (it’s very popular in the nerdy, scientific circles) but this is a problem that could have been fixed with just a little more time and a little less word salad.

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Yes, they have a few motivations and remotely memorable personalities, but they don’t seem to do anything. Things are happening all around them, and they react to them, but their reactions are the only thing they’re giving to the movie. The black hole, the space travel, the time discrepancies and the emergencies push out the characters and take over the plot.

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And we never answer the big ethical question this movie asks (save the living or start over?) because the characters don’t have enough screentime or enough depth to make a choice. They’re weak, passive, and almost forgettable.

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I could have loved this movie if the characters had been given more time of day. It was visually beautiful, sported terrific world-building, had a larger-than-life stake, and would have made an amazing point if they had gotten around to answering their ethical question. They didn’t answer the question because the characters were too weak to form a good opinion.

Interstellar was a frustrating movie because the characters weren’t allowed to lead the plot.

Now, an example of a horrible plot with terrific characters: Thor: The Dark World.

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(Please lower your stones.)

This is a hated movie. This is a weird movie. This is one of the “worst” Marvel movies in the entire franchise, and yet I enjoyed it way more than I should have. Its merit is with one thing and one thing only: the characters.

(quick plot rundown: there’s this creepy alien liquid virus called the aether, unleashed in some ancient battle, and it’s super gimmicky and the sole reason why this movie is weird. after the events of everything in all the movies leading up to this in the MCU, loki’s being imprisoned for invading earth, thor is trying to make peace in what’s going to be his new kingdom, and jane foster, his girlfriend, is really wishing he were around more often. there’s going to be a cool cosmic convergence thing happening, which will make people be able to travel between the nine realms and meet eachother, yay. a portal has already appeared in a warehouse. although jane and darcy don’t know where it leads to, it definitely takes things places. jane, without realizing it, follows a similar portal and gets infected with the aforementioned space virus, the aether…and it really doesn’t make sense. meanwhile, back on asgard, heimdall, everyone’s favorite gatekeeper/living nest camera tells thor that he can’t see where jane is anymore, prompting him to go to earth to find her. he finds her, she’s full of aether juice, and it’s not good. we learn that the aether is connected to this creepy pale dude named malekith who plans to take over the nine realms…or something. he wants the aether cuz it’s apparently able to be weaponized. he attacks asgard looking for it, because thor brought jane there, and frigga, thor’s mother, dies protecting her. malekith and his dudes are barely repulsed. thor has a plan, and it’s a hairbrained scheme, really, but it just might work and it’s all they can do. with the help of loki (who thor convinces to help him based on frigga’s death), the warriors three, sif (who’s causing tension because she’s romantically interested in thor), and jane, thor goes to try to find and stop malekith. which he sort of does. thor and loki trick him into getting the aether out of jane, but they fail to destroy it and loki dies (well, he doesn’t really, but we don’t know that yet). the aether isn’t in jane anymore (?) but it’s now roosting in malekith. the convergence is imminent. the warehouse portal apparently led to the place where they were, so thor and jane (minus loki and everyone else) go to earth to try to beat malekith, who’s planning to unleash the aether while the convergence thing is going on and so destroy all the worlds. they have a big fight, thor beats him up, he gets crushed by his own ship and dies, the aether is contained in an infinity stone and stashed away, problems have been solved and yay life is good until the next thor adventure, which i didn’t like but oh well. THE END.)

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Yes, we have a similar weird space-themed plot with confusing element (what exactly does the Aether do again?) and word salad. Yes, we have a movie almost devoid of anything good. It’s the exact opposite of Interstellar: the plot is horribly paced and confusing, yet… I liked it. And I certainly wasn’t the only one.

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It’s obvious now that the main difference between Interstellar and Thor: The Dark World lies in the characters. In T:TDW, the characters are actively driving the story, despite the Convergence-thing being out of their control. They’re going after the cosmic liquid space virus. They’re reluctantly teaming up.

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In fact, most of the conflict is character-centered, despite this movie’s overly-massive stakes. This doesn’t make it any less confusing, but it makes it infinitely more likable.

If the characters had been reactive, this movie would be utter trash. It still kind of is. But the characters bring it from a -70 to a 5/10.

The point:

yes, I just praised Thor: The Dark World and trashed Interstellar:

If your characters are flat, uncompelling, and make no choices of their own, they can take your A+ amazing plot and turn it into something without a soul.

If your characters are well-rounded, decisive, and bounce well off eachother, you can take something confusing and weird and make it mostly enjoyable (even if it’s still confusing and weird.)

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A story is only as good as the people who are making it happen. As an author, the very worst thing you can do is just make them react to what’s going on.

tl;dr: Good characters are proactive.

Sayonara for now,

{Tess}

(what have i done?)

 

 

 

Journalling {APADO #8}

(you’re reading APADO – a post a day, october – a self-inflicted blogging challenge that i’m kind of regretting but kind of not.)

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I think it’s safe to say that I’m a veteran journaller. I’ve been writing every single night since I was about ten. Even though I’ve thrown away my first eight journals (it was a horrible idea and I regret it so much), I keep count like I still have them, which puts me on working on #14.

I’ve often stopped and wondered what it is that keeps me journalling. I don’t write anything groundbreaking, it keeps me up for fifteen extra minutes, and I’m the only one who’s reading them. Isn’t that a waste of time and effort?

But if it’s such a waste, why am I still doing it?

After my most recent self-debate about this, I came up with some reasons – and some thoughts about journalling in general.

Why journal?

  • It’s therapuedic. There’s something relaxing about getting your thoughts out on paper – maybe it’s just that we humans love to write about ourselves. Whatever the reason is, I’ve found that it’s fun and soothing.
  • It helps create a healthy bedtime routine. I’m lucky to not have any sleep problems, even when I’m travelling. I think it has something to do with my journal. When I open it up, it triggers my brain to calm down. And calmness, especially with how busy my life is right now, is something I could use a whole lot more of.
  • They’re fun to go back and read later. Not only do they remind you of exactly what you were thinking back then, but it’s also hilarious to see what you used to think was cool – or abhorrent. Trust me, I know.

Journal myths:

  • You have to write a bestseller every night. Absolutely not. A journal is an intimate, private thing. Since no one will be reading it but yourself anyways, it’s more important to write frequently and truthfully.
  • It has to look pretty. Pintrest and inspirational blogs make it easy to think that looks are a must. Yes, it’s nice to have an aesthetic journal, but it doesn’t have to look good to be important. In fact, I’ve found that trying to make my journal look nice tires me out instead of relaxing me.
  • You can’t write about stupid stuff. Um, yes you can. This is your personal book. There are no rules about what you can or can’t write about.

Tips for better entries:

  • Write about what happened, not what’s going to happen. Writing about future plans can make you sound like a Burma-shave sign. Ten more days until x! Nine more days until x! It’s best to stick to the present and write about things when they actually happen. (Y’all have no idea how much I struggle with this.)
  • If you’re stuck, write song lyrics. They’re a good reflection of your mood that day, and they don’t take much effort. Another bonus: later, you can see what music you liked back then.
  • Don’t be afraid to be a little crazy. Crazy is fun. In the mood to write a stupid poem? Do it. Feeling like writing the entire entry in Ubbi Dubbi? No one’s stopping you. The crazy stuff is the stuff you’re going to remember the most.
  • Try to get in the habit of writing an entire page a day. You’ll be surprised how much this improves your entries.

And NEVER:

  • Throw away journals. Ever. Trust me, you’ll regret it.

tl;dr: Journalling is fun and relaxing – especially if you let yourself be free with it.

Sayonara for now,

{Tess}

(i’m probably going to go write in my journal that today’s apado post was about journalling. and that will be really meta. and i will also write about how meta it is. now do you see why i’m slowly going insane?)

Things Writers Should Know About Horses {APADO #7}

(this is APADO, the ambitious, reckless blog series where I attempt to post once a day for the entire month of october. and really, i’ve only been succeeding by writing at night. for some reason, i am way more motivated at night.)

(and we’re back to information/advice posts. i’m tellin’ ya, life’s a steeplechase.)

(people are probably going to skip this one due to all the text. i tried, y’all.)

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One of the things that I had to get used to when I started working around horses was that things weren’t exactly like I’d seen in the movies. Pretty much every cliche about horses was dangerous, stupid, or just unrealistic.

And once I’d discovered this fact, it seemed that everywhere I looked, I saw an innacuracy. Movies, books, bucket lists…it was almost too much to handle, for a while.

Since then, I’ve come to terms with the fact that not everyone has thirty million horse books or the time to read all of them. More recently, I thought it might be a good idea to go over some basic tips for writing more realistic interactions with horses.

So let’s dive into it!

What, exactly, is a horse?

This seems like a stupid question. It’s not.

A horse isn’t like a motorbike. Yes, you can steer it and change its speed, but a horse is a living, thinking creature. It has a mind of its own, and unless it’s undergone some incredible obedience training, it’s not going to blindly follow your reins and legs. Like people, horses are imperfect and have personalities. So they’re going to be stubborn, lazy, or fearful at times.

What’s a horse capable of?

Since horses aren’t machines, even the strongest, hardiest breeds get tired and grouchy. They can’t be expected to work endlessly. They need frequent breaks, plenty of food, and lots of care to keep in top condition.

Another thing that’s easy to forget about horses is their endurance. Galloping is hardly ever practical. Yes, racehorses can reach incredible speeds, but only because they’re carrying a minimal weight over a short distance. And galloping is dangerous over uneven terrain – a slippery rock or a log in the path could trip a horse and possibly break his leg, which will shut down his travels for months.

Even though it’s not as beautiful, the most efficent gait is the trot. A well-conditioned horse will be able to keep up a trot for much longer than a gallop – not to mention that it’s easier on the rider, too.

What’s a rider capable of?

It’s hard to see this from the ground, but riding is not just sitting on a horse and letting him do his thing. It’s an exhausting sport, especially for a beginner or for someone who hasn’t ridden in a while. The faster you ride, the more quickly you’ll tire out. Riders need just as many breaks as horses, perhaps even more when you count in what people are usually thinking about when they make their horseback escape.

A few other notes:

The reins of a bridle, which are attached to a metal bit in the horse’s mouth, are not a substitute for a lead rope. Tying a horse up by the reins could mean a broken bridle or severe injury in a horse’s mouth if he spooked and tried to pull away from the hitching post.

Jumping on horses is not a good idea. It hurts their backs, makes them cranky, and usually ends with a crowhop or a buck.

Horses don’t have terrific vision. Their depth perception works a lot differently than a human’s. A horse will probably smell something coming before he sees it.

Horses have a lot of blind spots. They can’t see directly above or below them, under their neck, or behind their tails. If someone’s standing in one of these blind spots, there’s a good chance he’s going to get kicked.

And gentle horsepeople are smart horsepeople. No matter how heartless or cold a person is, he’ll take care of his horse because a horse is an investment. Mistreating it will not only hurt the horse, but the person’s pocketbook.

Wrapping up:

Horses are a lot like people. They’re unpredictable, they get tired, and they need proper care. They can’t be expected to gallop everywhere or jump huge jumps, no matter how urgent the situation is. Abusing horses isn’t just harmful to the horse, but also to the owner, because the horse is an investment that should be taken care of.

And please, please, please never tie a horse by just the reins.

tl;dr: Horses aren’t vehicles.

Sayonara for now,

{Tess}

Improvement: It Happens To The Best Of Us {APADO #1}

(Welcome to APADO, where I attempt to post once a day for all of October: A Post A Day – October, that is the last time I’m spelling that out. I’m making more rash promises than Josef Stalin but let’s see how far I can get.)

(also this post might be inspirational? how did that happen)

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I want you to go on a quick trip down memory lane. Remember the first time you tried to be creative? And how good it felt when you signed your first drawing, finished your first story, threw your first paint-dipped potato at the wall?

It felt good, didn’t it? You were proud of what you made, weren’t you? Even if it was pretty bad-looking, there was something about it that you liked. Maybe it was the excitment. The raw creativity. Or something similarly poetic that I don’t have the aptitude to make up.

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2016

Now, let’s flash forward a few weeks. Months. Years. If you’re anything like me, you’re discouraged, burnt out, and wishing you could do it better.

It’s normal to feel that way.

I struggle with self-confidence and patience. There are times when I want to just throw in the towel and be done with everything I do, just because it isn’t exactly the way I want it to be. I have to remind myself that I’m still learning. I’m always learning. And that I’m never going to go anywhere sitting around moping about it.

Big Secret No. 1: You have to want to improve.

In this day and age, we’re told quite often that we’re perfect just the way we are.

I’m not saying that we’re not, but that kind of thinking tends to trap us into never doing anything with our lives.

You are perfect. But what you do needs work.

If you want to be mediocre, you can give out half-polished work. You can “do what you can” and never want anything more. And spend the rest of your days as an amateur.

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2018

Or you can give it your 110% best. You can go the extra mile. You can keep going, even when it gets tough and when you don’t feel like it. That’s the big secret to getting better. And it comes from the place you’d least expect it – yourself.

Big Secret No. 2: Improving your skills takes time.

We live in an instant world – instant coffee, instant ramen. Instagram. It’s only natural to think that our skills will come quickly and easily (and that just one podcast or blog post will enable us to churn out a finished, polished novel.)

Honestly, if it were that easy, it wouldn’t be worth anything.

The cold hard fact is that becoming better at what you do takes a long time. You’re not going to be an expert overnight. And this is what makes pushing yourself difficult – it’s much easier to sprint down the block than to run a mile.

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2017? where are his appendages

Patience is a virtue. And an asset. And a challenge worth conquering.

Big Secret No. 3: Creative pursuits are subjective.

Why do we want to improve? So we can be better. Duh.

But what does better mean? Is it an end-all point where we can be done with what we’re doing?

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2018

Ha!

There shouldn’t ever be a point that you stop learning to do what you love. You might as well get used to the feeling of not knowing everything, because it’s going to follow you for as long as you’re creating great content.

If you’re doing it right, you should always be improving.

The point I’m trying to make with all this:

Improvement is tough. It feels like the more you know, the less you think of yourself.

But you have a fire burning inside you. Use it. You’ve got what it takes.

And you’ll never, ever, ever get anywhere by throwing in the towel, saying you’re not good enough, and leaving your dreams to turn to dust. Quitting is for losers.

Be patient. Keep working. You’re going to make it. You’re going to do this.

tl;dr: Don’t be a pushover. Keep your chin up and go make something great.

Sayonara for now,

{Tess}