Phases of Writing

Currently I have multiple projects I’m working on. Well, this is more of a thing that’s always going on, rather than just something that happened recently.

My projects go through a few phases.

Phase 1: Zero-Draft

This is the version of the story in which I do what I want, regardless of whether it makes any sense. This can happen during NANOWRIMO, or not, depending on whether I have ideas or not. In this draft, I write all the fun stuff I had the ideas to write about, skipping anything that may have been boring, and just enjoy the process of writing. This draft looks like crap thrown against the wall and includes not just the stuff that stuck, but whatever slid down and piled up in a stinking mess on the floor.

Phase 2: First Pass

In this phase, I begin by leaving my Zero Draft alone for a while, then coming back to it after a few months to do a reread. I figure out the parts I liked and mark them for keeping and ruthlessly delete whatever is just stupid. This is the version that actually sees the light of day. I’ve got a few people I allow to read this version and they give me feedback. At this time, I specifically ask my alpha-readers to ignore grammar and such, since if a scene is no good and needs to be cut, there’s no point in making sure the commas are in the right place.

Phase 3: First Draft

After some brainstorming, I’ll begin combing out tangles and adding more things to flesh out the setting and characters. Again, since this is a Drafting phase, I continue to write whatever makes me excited, rather than sticking entirely to what might or might not make sense for the story as a whole. This allows me to remain entertained and interested in the story, and to discover new things I might not have done otherwise. It’s this phase where my characters really start talking to me and taking over the story.

Phase 4: Second Pass

Hopefully by the end of First Draft, I have an ending. It may not be the perfect ending, but it’s an ending of some kind, making it a full draft that I can seriously start massaging into better shape. This is where I really take out the pruning shears and begin cutting stuff. At this point, anything can get removed, from characters, to entire plot lines. I also start cleaning up the flow of information that the characters get, making sure they don’t jump to the right answer before they’re supposed to. It’s here that I make sure that I challenge the characters and rewrite scenes to create more obstacles.

Phase 5: Second Draft

By now, I’m pretty set on what the story is going to be about, so I start editing for grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. I’m still on the look-out for scenes that could flow better if something were changed/added/removed. I go so far as to read each sentence out loud to see if it’s too long for the emotion I’m attempting to evoke in the scene. I’ll let my beta readers have a go at the manuscript at this point and make changes based on their feedback.

Phase 6: Chopping Block

I decide, roughly, how many words long I want this story to be. Then I reread the story again for the purpose of cutting words. Usually, my Second Draft is around 160,000 words. I try to keep my end products around 110,000 words. I find that’s long enough for me to get all my plot threads wrapped up sufficiently. Anything that I like but doesn’t belong, I’ve got a special file I put them in. Maybe those ideas will get used later (probably not but it makes me feel better about deleting the scene). I look for places where conversations can be combined, or information could be revealed elsewhere. Then I give it back to my beta readers and ask their thoughts.

Phase 7: Polishing

Now I dedicate an entire reread to looking for grammar and typos. Any changes I make at this point are usually small-scale, consisting of rewording things for clarity.

I do that a few more times until I’m sick of looking at the thing.

Blockages.

Writers frequently have them. I am no exception.

There are three types of writer’s block for me. First is the kind where I actually cannot think of anything to write. The second is the kind brought on by procrastination. The third is the kind brought on by listening too closely to my inner editor.

Can’t think of Anything to Write: This usually happens when there’s a problem with my story that needs to be figured out before I can proceed with it. Sometimes, I just need more input from other sources in order to put the pieces together in new and interesting ways. Other times, there’s a logistical problem that I need to work around; such as, my character is smarter than me and I have to come up with a complication or problem he wouldn’t see coming or easily find a way around. When I come across these things, I just set the project aside for a while and work on something else. I give my brain a little time to turn what I’ve got into slush and reconstitute it into something else. My next strategy is to find something I’m actually interested in writing… Instead of beating my head against a wall that isn’t moving, I’ll just do something fun. After all, if writing isn’t fun for me, then why am I doing it? I am the first person I aim to please when it comes to my stories. However, this form of blockage frequently devolves into the second type, Procrastination, if I don’t at least try to write something. Even if it’s garbage or not related to my preferred projects.

Procrastination: This usually happens when I know I should be writing and I have some ideas, but just can’t find the time to make myself write it. It usually ends up sliding into the third type… I currently have it on my projects for Shaxia and Foreseen Champion. They’re supposed to be my next books in the Natan Fleet Show series but while I’ve had ideas on them, I haven’t been able to collect enough together that’s worth spending time writing. Instead, I’ve been working on another project. Procrastinating writing these projects until I have a better idea of what I want to do with them. I will also supplement with finding a good sound track that encapsulates the general feel of the piece I want to write. I listen to a lot of game sound tracks and game remixes.

The Inner Editor Rears it’s Ugly Head Again: This type is the worst. The first two can be gotten around by just finding something I AM interested in writing. However, when the Inner Editor crawls out from beneath its rock and begins spewing poisonous vitriol, it’s a bit harder to ignore. When this happens, I find I have to take better care of myself and take careful stock of what I’ve been allowing myself to think. There’s a time and a place for the Inner Editor. It helps make my stuff better, but not at the initial writing stage. Sure, that scene I just wrote is crap, but that doesn’t mean I should stop writing forever. My go-to strategy to deal with this is to put down the writing for the time being and take some time to myself. Focus on something I know I can accomplish, such as cleaning. Decluttering my surroundings helps remove the trash talk from my brain and gives me the strength to go back and look at my work with fresh eyes.

While I don’t write every day, like I probably should, I write often enough to make me happy.

..

For a chance to win a free physical copy of Playing the Hero, let me know how you get around blockages?

Three Cards Down

It was dark outside when he woke.

He didn’t feel as awful as he did earlier, which Vathion suspected meant that he had felt a lot worse than he thought.  Amazing how sitting in meetings all day could be so tiring. Getting his cane, he shuffled out of his room to find Scheerahis and Luth in the sitting area. The Varas sat on the other side of the tea table from Luth, frowning at the handful of cards. Next to him he had a fairly impressive stack, compared to Luth’s.

Vathion shuffled over and sat in a chair where he could watch them both.

“Want in?” Luth asked.

“What are you playing?”

“Three Cards Down. He’s surprisingly good at it?” Luth set down his cards dealt six for Vathion and handed them over.

Vathion fanned them out, sorted his cards, looked at what was on the table.

Luth said, “Though I wonder if he actually understands what’s going on.”

Amused, Vathion asked in Varas, “Having fun?”

Fun?” Scheerahis asked. “I don’t understand the point of this strategy exercise.”

Its a game,” Vathion said. “Its your turn.”

I know. The point of this is to collect these in my pile, yes?

Yes,” Vathion said.

Scheerahis selected three cards and placed them on the table.

The point of this game is to add the cards together to equal or get as close to the number on the face-down card in the middle,” Vathion said.

“Oh,” Scheerahis said and looked at the cards he had just laid down. “I was trying to get them to equal five.”

Good strategy,” Vathion said, “Really good strategists will keep track of what numbers have already shown up and plan their next three down based on the likelihood of what is left in the stack.”

The Varas squinted up at him. “Do you do that?

Yes.” Vathion selected three cards and set them down. Luth dropped his three down and flipped the card in the middle.

How are you supposed to get two?” Scheerahis asked, confused as Vathion was handed the target card.

Three of the same suit gets you a card with a two or one.” Vathion pointed out the markings in the center of the cards. “That also tips the scales in your favor if you and someone else at the table were on target or had the same number in your three-down.

But if you both have the same,” Scheerahis paused for a moment and made an attempt to pronounce the Gilon word, “Sut?” Scheerahis asked.

“Suit,” Vathon corrected, “Points are awarded based on the single card you each set out as a duel. If your number is higher than his, you get the point,” Vathion explained as he set down his three cards face-down this time. “Also, Luth has been being nice and letting you see the cards he’s picked to lay down. Its usually played with all cards face-down until the point is revealed.”

So I am not as good at this as I thought,” Scheerahis said in disgust and laid three cards face down.

Vathion laughed softly. “Considering you don’t understand a word he says and you’re winning? Be more proud of your accomplishments.

Luth set his cards down, then flipped them and the point card. Vathion revealed his. Scheerahis turned his cards over. Luth slid the point card over to him.

Why did I get it this time?” Scheerahis asked.

You put down the Emperor. That automatically makes your three equal the point. There are only two of those in the deck,” Vathion explained as he drew enough to replenish his hand.

“Deck,” Scheerahis pronounced carefully. “Is what all of these… Card are part of.

Yes.”

What are these suts?”

“Suits,” Vathion corrected again. As they turned over their cards, he pointed, “Fences, Wheel, Flower, and Sword.”

Scheerahis took a moment to look more closely at the Sword, then set it down. Luth took the point card then dealt out the last few cards to refill their hands.

They set out their cards and flipped. The point went to Scheerahis.

There’s no point left,” Scheerahis said, looking at the three cards he still held in his hand.

Whoever has the highest total gets the point,” Vathion said and laid his cards out the same time Luth did.

Scheerahis glowered at his cards and set them down, revealing a pitiful total of three.

“That’s where all the ones went,” Luth said and snorted. He started sweeping the cards together and shuffling them. “Another?” he asked Vathion.

“I suppose. Long as you don’t mind me drilling him on numbers.”

“Seems a good place to start,” Luth agreed and dealt again.

How does he do that with… Card?” Scheerahis asked and picked his cards up once he had all six.

You’ll have to ask him to teach you how to shuffle the deck later,” Vathion said and leaned forward to take his cards.

“Shuf. Deck,” Scheerahis muttered looking hardly pleased. He laid down his first three. Vathion finished sorting his cards and put down his selection then replenished his hand.

Luth turned the point and his cards over.

Vathion pointed at each card and said their value and suit. “Repeat,” he ordered Scheerahis. The Varas stumbled through pronouncing all the words and took the point when he was done.

Representation

I’m making more of a concentrated effort to include more kinds of people in my books. Beyond being aliens, I want to have disabled characters, Queer, non-binary genders etc. Mostly because for one, they’re aliens and why should they be exactly human? Two, why not?

Thus far in my representation:

  • Da’Itta, of the Natan Fleet ship Cinnamon Rolls, is a lesbian.
  • The Serfocile have a pronoun to call people whose gender you don’t know (Sheh).
  • Vathion has depression, is demisexual, and later has PTSD, and is disabled.
  • Farynn is disabled after being wounded in battle.
  • Scheerahis is bisexual (as are most of his people).
  • Hyphokos don’t actually have genders, they just let the Gilon call them whatever, or prefer to be called male or female on an individual basis. Admittedly this one hasn’t been made clear during the writing of the books.

But I feel like I need more, so I’m working on it. Suggestions?

should i even talk about this?

I have always struggled with depression. 

At this point, I don’t remember everything that was going through my head during the early years of my illness. Mostly it was an overwhelming sense of shame and jealousy. Everyone else was able to function in society on a daily basis, why couldn’t I? I felt like there was just something I was missing; some tool or way of thinking that I couldn’t grasp that would fix my problem. I remember it mostly starting in middle school. I was filled with rage; mostly at myself for being such a failure at life. I was a mess. I wanted to die. I was convinced I was worthless and had nothing to contribute. I was too scared of dying to actually try killing myself for real. I was afraid of the consequences of not succeeding, but in some small way, trying did make me feel better. 

Briefly in high school I was on medications. I wrote a note that landed me in the psychologists office. He read it out loud in front of my parents. He was mocking me. I wondered, why are you a psychiatrist if you hate your patients so much? 

The psychiatrist put me in group therapy. I hated that. The people there were just as depressed as me. I was never offered any solutions. We were just encouraged to talk about our bad days and I didn’t want to admit that all my garbage was self-inflicted; or I thought it was. Maybe some of it was. Mostly, though, I wanted attention. I wanted someone to look at me and tell me “you are valid, how you feel isn’t wrong, you’re just dealing with it wrong.” I wanted someone to actually take the time to show me how to change myself and become a better version of me.

Ultimately, I stopped taking the medication because I was embarrassed to need it for something so simple. I should be a capable, functioning person by now, I thought.

I got along for a while. It was difficult, but I finished college. Then tripped and landed right back into a situation of my own making that destroyed me for several years. You would think that having a boyfriend with a psychology degree would have helped. Apparently they just taught him how to tear me down further. (Seriously, why go into that field of study if you ultimately hate people and just want to see them destroyed?)

Two years ago, I hit rock bottom. I really was going to do something permanent to myself. I had no job and no insurance. I had a house that I loved, but if things continued, I would either have to sell it or rent it out. I felt like a failure. 

I finally went to the doctor. It was expensive and it was money I really didn’t have. Meds were like $40 for 30 pills a month. I’m glad I did it, though. I think back on that as my ultimate triumph over this sickness.

It was a gradual change. I had fewer bad days at first. Then more good than bad days. Now I can count the bad days as once or twice a month. I’m not as jealous of other people being able to keep their lives together now. I still have anxiety issues from time to time, but they don’t ruin my whole day. I can finally extract myself from the situation and recognize what triggered it. The best part, though, is that I finally have control of my life. I am capable of behaving appropriately 99% of the time and disappointments aren’t the end of the world. 

What I’m trying to say with all this, I suppose, is that there’s no magical fix for depression, but there’s no shame in needing medications for it. Much like needing glasses to correct vision, or insulin to treat diabetes, or medications to prevent seizures, anti-depressants can help treat the imbalance in the brain. While it was expensive, treating my illness was worth the money in the long run. The time I spent in bed unable to do basic things like feed myself were hours I could have spent writing or advertising my books. That was time I could have spent generating an income doing something I loved. Now I can afford my meds, because I’m able to get up in the mornings and go to work and do the things I need to during the day.

In a way, I’m glad I hit bottom, because its hard to find solid footing when you’re in a haphazard tumble down the mountain. Turned out this mountain wasn’t so difficult to climb after all. I just needed the right gear. 

Incomplete Memories

When I was little I really liked the Carebears. I don’t remember much of this; mostly scattered bits and pieces. I remember Lionheart. and the yellow one? Shrieky was my favorite, but I don’t remember why other than her terrible noise.

However, despite it having been nearly 30 years since I’ve seen the Carebears, there is one episode that I recall most of the details of. Mostly because it bothered me even as a 4yr old. 

The episode was about a boy, Peter(?), who was at summer camp. The details I remember are:

  • He had red hair.
  • He was acting like a brat and no one liked him.
  • There was something about red light flashing out the windows of his cabin at night.
  • He could fly, I think.

I don’t remember who called in the Carebears on this kid, but I remember that I was most disturbed by the fact that they Carebear Stared the devil out of him.

They, literally, blasted Satan out of him with the power of rainbows.

Come read and riot at READER RIOT!

April 28-29 is a reading festival out in Florence Alabama called Reader Riot! Its going to have a bunch of people there like Amber D. Tran with her book Moon River, and Kristina Chess with her multiple books and me, with book 3 of the Natan Fleet Show! and a whole BUNCH MORE PEOPLE with cool books. So come check it out! They have other activities and food too.

Seraph of the End

in other news, I’m inconsistent about updating this page…

but anyway. I have an anime review to post!

Seraph of the End

I haven’t done one of these in a while – apologies and such, but also I haven’t had an anime that really grabbed my attention until just recently.

It’s a world where the apacolypse happened and most of the adults died. Unless you’re counting the vampires. This anime is like if someone took Evangelion, Trinity Blood, and Fullmetal Alchemist and smashed them together.

Normally I don’t go for the whole Vampires genre, but I feel like in this case there are enough original elements involved that it works.

Main characters Yuichiro Hyakuya and Mikaela Hayakuya are orphans, Yuu being the latest addition to the pack of amazingly happy children for kids whose parents were like “Hmmm. Nah.” While at first Yuu is very much the angsty anti-social jerk, it actually turns out that his attitude is %90 front to keep himself from getting emotionally hurt. The other ten percent being cocky little shithead kid that has a chip on his shoulder. Also it’s pretty easy to get past his barriers and to top it off, he is about as tenacious as a tick to remove once you’ve gotten his loyalty. I find this to be a refreshing change from the usual Lone Wolf type main character that runs about these days. He isn’t after girls and he doesn’t have a harem despite his general obliviousness to the virtues of the female form. The girls around him do love him, but its more a focus on ‘my stupid derpy brother is at it again’ type of love.

Mika obviously has been with the orphanage a bit longer than Yuu before all hell breaks loose and the whole lot of them get swept into captivity under ground by the vampires. Despite being treated like cattle, he does his best to survive and make sure his little family survives while Yuu plots and schemes to Kill All Vampires (now where have I heard that before? Ohhh Titans…). Mika is not above pretending obedience to get what he wants. He is fully capable and willing to grovel and beg if he needs to. It is his shrewd cunning that gets their little orphan family to the door to freedom.

Here’s where things took a turn for the expected. Of course Mika ends up as a vampire, but it isn’t a matter of “NOOO RIKU COME BACK TO THE LIGHT!” He was not willing, is still not willing, and will forever plot and scheme to bring about the demise of the vampire regime, and the humans if he has to. His only concern is for Yuu.

Yuu, on the other hand, has been taken in by the Demon Army, the largest and strongest force of humans that have begun resisting the vampires’ total domination. Their organization is not perfect either, which is a delightful turn of events in my book. Rife with corruption, bloated with self-importance and full of hot-headed youngsters that were barely young enough to survive the purge of adults, the Demon Army is out to take over the world for themselves. The vampires just happen to be in the way.

Meanwhile, two young boys who barely know what having a biological family is like are tearing through everyone and everything in their way of reuniting.

Supporting these star-crossed boy-loves is a whole cast of highly engaging, flawed, and amazing characters on both the vampire and human sides. In another surprising turn, the female characters equal the number of male characters. They’re not all being used as props to further the male characters plotlines. In fact, Yuu is frequently called ‘princess’ and is often the one who gets himself into distress and needs saving. His female teammates are arguably more badass than he is, considering that their weapons supposedly aren’t as strong as his. There is another boy whose personality is very feminine, and he too bends the norm by being both soft and strong in ways unexpected in our – the viewer’s – society. He’s an archer, he’s not the healer, he’s back-line fighter, but not because he isn’t strong enough to be up front, but because that’s just not what he’s best at.

On the vampires side is the Queen who knew what Yuu and Mika were and chose to spare their lives despite her orders otherwise. She knows exactly how dangerous the pair of them are, and appears to be on their side, if only for her own reasons. What those are, I’m not sure, but the danger that Yuu and Mika present to the world is clearly demonstrated in a fairly early episode. Even demons fear the power these boys contain, for it isn’t even in their control.

Over all, this anime is a wonderful exploration of the hubris of humanity, and how children are far more open minded about things than adults are. With some really flipping awesome fight scenes thrown in.

From the technical side, the animation is amazing. The quality is very high and they don’t skimp on the fight scenes either. They use some computer rendering, I bet, but I can’t easily pick it out. The voice acting in the Japanese version is superb. I’ve not heard the dub, but Funimation has the rights to it, so… Whatever that ends up meaning to you.

I give this anime a 7 of 5 stars. I’m looking forward to it coming out on DVD. I even went so far as to buy the manga I like it that much.

 

WanderVerse Chapter 1

Chapter 1

 

9x+14/56=4

Solve for x

Kam rubbed his eraser against the edge of the page, cutting away clumps of pink rubber with the paper. Math was one of his favorite subjects, but this sort of rudimentary equation was too boring to even try to solve. Boredom wasn’t his only problem, though. Kam felt out of place.

Being unceremoniously shoved into the body of a teenager was now at the top of his list of “Disturbing and Traumatic Experiences.” In fact, he would have given this round an award for being the most awkward as well. What was he supposed to tell a fifteen year old girl when she gave him love letters? ‘Sorry babe, I’m actually thirty. I’ve had at least three long term relationships, a college degree, and four failed careers.’

Some things stayed the same when everything else changed. He glanced across the classroom to find that Freya had her head tucked down, busily scribbling on her paper. For the first time in two days she wasn’t making what she thought was flirty eyes at him.

Putting down his pencil, Kam massaged his temples in an attempt to force himself to concentrate on the test. What was the point of trying, though? Did this world really exist or was it just a crazy dream?

Squeezing his eyes shut, Kam tried to block a blooming headache; the result of tense shoulders and hunched posture. ‘How did I even end up like this?’ he wondered. Sweat trickled down the center of his back. It was uncomfortably hot.

The scent of burning plastic filled his sinuses as he drew a deep breath. Shifting his crouch to ease a cramp in his foot, Kam opened his eyes to the noise of something metallic hitting the floor beside him. The cylinder rolled to a stop against his foot. He gripped his riffle to his armored chest as the word ‘Grenade’ flashed through his mind. Instinctively, he struck boot leather to pavement, breaking cover from behind a marble tiled pillar, away from a bank of desks and wall of melting Plexiglas. Kam ran left as bullets hit the marble tiles behind him, chipping sharp shards into the air electricity crackling off the edges. Continue reading “WanderVerse Chapter 1”

Breaking Character

I got asked once if I base my characters off people I know in real life. I don’t, but not because people I know aren’t worth writing about. I have lots of people in my life that are great people, but I would never include them in one of my stories. There are two reasons:

1) There’s a curse. Writing your friends or loved ones into a story will make them leave you! You think I’m kidding? I wrote a self insert back in high school and ended up losing every friend that appeared in it. Not that I really needed some of those people in my life, but it was still slightly traumatic at the time. Perhaps it’s the fact that the writer is scrutinizing their friends or acquaintances, filtering them through the writer’s perception and creating a mirror for those people to see “So this is what people think when I do that thing?” It’s a little embarrassing to realize that “That thing I was always shy about is actually what people admire me for?” But regardless, I do not recommend including people you like in your books, regardless of what you write. Or at least if you do want to include people you like in your books, hide your sources better. After all, creativity is just a bunch of combining of other people’s thoughts and hiding where you stole it from.

2) I have enough voices in my head as it is.

I always take it as a challenge to come up with characters that are unlike me as often as possible even though they are all in a way, reflections of me. While I know most people think the Zodiac signs and personality traits are BS, if you read the description of Gemini personality, that’s me: a talkative introvert, uncomfortable with deeper emotions but loyal as hell, and most of all flighty and easily distracted, constantly confused by the conflicting emotions and thoughts going on in my head and always moving even when I’m sitting still. In short, Geminis are crazy and really good at hiding it. So when I say I have enough voices in my head, I mean it, and thus I use them for my stories in order to quiet the noise and distract myself from over thinking about that one time I did a thing in 8th grade.

Even though I have lots of ideas for characters, this doesn’t translate into being able to easily write them. The most difficult ones are the ones with intelligence that doesn’t match mine, such as someone incredibly smart or someone generally slow. But the ones I have the most fun with are the bad guys and my protagonists that I put through absolute hell. Being mean to characters gives me great joy, which is another reason why I don’t put my friends into my books. If you were dating me, would you REALLY want to be a protagonist in my story? It would mean losing everything you loved, climbing out of the depths of despair only to be kicked back in by sudden betrayal. Some of the things I put my characters through I wouldn’t wish on my enemies.

In addition to having to think that much about my enemies and figure out their motivations would make me stop hating them and usually if I hate a person its for a very good reason. This would also be why I hate very few people. I’m too good at seeing things from both sides.

However, on to the general topic of making characters and breaking them; I used to have a lot of trouble with putting together good plots for books because I couldn’t bring myself to be mean to my babies. Unfortunately, that’s what you have to do in order to make a good story. There’s really no getting around it. The secret to being able to do it isn’t even because I hate my characters now, either, but because my priorities for why I am writing have changed. When I used to be nice to my characters my reason for writing was because I wanted to entertain myself and escape from my own head by pretending to be someone else for a while. Now, I want to entertain others and over time I’ve discovered that happy characters are boring and conflict is needed in order to create a compelling story that people want to see end well.

The depths to which the characters need to be tortured vary depending on what kind of plot you’re aiming for, but there are several different types of torture you can use ranging from emotional to physical and things in between. I’ve found that emotional is the silent killer and is great for piling on the little things until the character collapses after appearing to be fine for most of the story. Physical is a delicate thing that needs to be handled with an extreme lack of description. Less is More in the case of physical torture, since your reader is a smart individual and doesn’t need to be told in great detail how the drill tore through flesh, slinging blood around the room. Unless you’re going for that kind of gore. But I believe seeing the aftermath is more traumatizing; it lets the reader fill in the blanks and wonder what happened and keeps your story on a slightly more PG-13 rating.

However, even in physical torture, there’s an element of emotional and mental. Your character has to deal with the fact that they were hurt, helpless, and scared. The big strong barbarian isn’t going to take it well that someone managed to keep him tied down long enough to carve their name into his chest with a butter knife. Or your smart tactician is going to have to come to terms with the fact that she didn’t foresee getting captured and couldn’t think her way out of the situation she now finds herself in. Water-boarding is more of a mental torture than physical, though the main component is physically being strapped down and forced to endure water dripping on your forehead. The torture is the helplessness and lack of power to change the situation, which, when you get down to it, is the base cause for trauma, not so much the physically being wounded parts though that too should have a lasting impact on your character, even if you can magically heal him after he’s rescued.

Emotional torture depends upon the character. Anyone can be tied down and forced to endure Seinfeld reruns for days, but truly hurting your characters emotionally requires knowing them inside and out. The cliche is for female characters to be kidnapped and raped as a form of emotional scaring to both the male and female characters involved, but this is so over done that it’s completely lost its meaning – as well as trivializing rape in the real world as little more than a device to advance the boyfriend’s story which is harmful to society in general and weakens your plot in specific. I normally begin by looking at the good things the characters have in their lives and ask what do they rely on to be happy? Take those away. Ruin them so that every time the character looks at it, they’re reminded of what they used to have and how it’s gone now. For example, one of my characters only had two people she loved in her tiny ass end of nowhere town. One of them is conscripted by the king and the other dies during a magical battle and his corpse eaten by a bird-dragon thing in the magic forest. Now, even while she is out on the adventure she always wanted, her father-figure has been ruined, even if she should meet him again due to time travel, she still knows how he died horribly. This image will haunt her every time she looks at him or thinks about what she used to have with him.

The trick is to give your characters well-rounded personalities with handles and triggers and buttons that you can push, pull, and tweak as needed. Say a character is the shy second daughter, the eldest is bossy and always good at everything she does. Logical conclusion is that the second daughter will feel inferior if constantly compared to her perfect elder sister. She might have a secret wild side, or fold in on herself further, berating herself for everything she perceives she has failed at. Outwardly, she might appear to be solid and immovable, great at everything she does because she’s secretly practiced becoming perfect in order to never be seen messing up, but one wrong word or betrayed trust could shatter what little worth she’s managed to convince herself she has and send her on a destructive cycle that puts her into the path of the plot.

There’s a big stink about Mary Sue characters, usually implied as an insult and I think this is destructive to all writers. “Mary Sue” fears cause people to end up writing female characters as weak and inept; little more than plot devices to be captured and raped. Or, they are turned the other direction and a “Strong female character” is created, which usually ends up being a male character they tacked boobs onto. Women of both types exist. Men of both types exist. Trans and non-binary gender people exist. Don’t be afraid to make your characters whatever you want them to be, so long as you never treat them as the “token” anything. They’re the people whose stories are populating the world you’re creating and you should respect them as you would respect yourself. Give them hopes, dreams, aspirations, and goals because the fun part is breaking them and forging them better.

A line that occurred in one of my stories lately was another take on “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Humans are the strongest substance in the world. Iron rusts, steel can be broken, and to mend these things doesn’t make them better for the breaking. Only humans can heal from a wound and become stronger for having been hurt.

So hurt your characters and learn how powerful they can become.