Fiction Blog, Guest Posts

Guest Post: More Than One Kind of Woman Can Be a Hero by Samantha Bryant

flash_dalePortrayals of women in speculative fiction have come a long way. When my parents were children, (the fifties), female characters were there to be rescued or objectified (or both if possible).  Think Flash Gordon or George Reeve’s Superman. Very few female characters, and all of them in peril. Lots of skimpy lamé costuming, and hysterical responses to danger. It got a little better into the sixties, with Star Trek and Lost in Space, where women at least were part of the crew and not just a liability to male heroes.

charlies_angelsIn my childhood (the seventies), female characters had more agency, and even took the lead role in some settings. Think Charlie’s Angels and Wonder Woman.  The Six Million Dollar Man (and the Bionic Woman).  In the years following “separate but equal” policies of race in the United States at large, television seems to have taken that to heart for gender as well in writing shows that featured women who were successful and competent in their own circles, though usually not alongside and equal to men.

In my own children’s childhoods (the 2000s) entire television programs and book series center around a seriously kick-butt woman and even the male-dominated groups have at least one strong female character in the bunch.  Alias, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hunger Games, the Avengers, Orphan Black. These women are intimidating and highly skilled. They are tough and dangerous.

That progression is exciting and inspiring. It gives me hope as we move forward. Where might we be in three more generations?

clonesBut the work is not done. There’s been a lot of discussion about what a strong, female character really is. In contemporary representation, largely she is some kind of paragon of physical prowess. Quite literally, a strong woman. I like this kind of character way better than I liked the doormats of the past, but she’s still not often a fully-developed, well-rounded and interesting person yet. In my view, a strong female character isn’t really any different than a strong male character: she just needs to be fully developed, allowed to have flaws, history, motivations and doubts.

I wonder if the one-note nature of some of these strong female characters comes about because our heroines are all so young. They are young adults, just finding their way in the world and getting to know themselves. They don’t have history and experience to pull on. They don’t yet know what they don’t know.

That’s why I wrote Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel. I wanted to consider the idea of a woman hero, someone who was already established in herself before the strange new life-changing element (in this case: superpowers) comes in. My women range in age from thirty-two to sixty-seven.  They’ve made a variety of life choices and are at very different stages in life.

Banner by Charles C. Dowd

Linda Alvarez is a grandmother who was always a stay-at-home mother, until she develops super-strength and other life-altering changes. Patricia O’Neill is career-oriented and prides herself on independence, but finds she needs help to deal with her new alter ego. Jessica Roark is the mother of young children, dealing with depression and a feeling is disconnection with her life, until she develops a more immediate problem with gravity. Helen Braeburn has a grown daughter and has thrown her efforts into advancing her career after the dissolution of her marriage, but things heat up after she develops the ability to wield fire. They’re all bound together by a mad scientist, Cindy Liu, determined to prove to the world that a woman is worth more than just an incubation system for babies.

As I’ve continued to write in this universe, I’ve found it a great backdrop for exploring issues surrounding being female in the early twenty-first century.  It’s what I’ve always loved about speculative fiction. Done right, it can be fun, and it can make you think. That’s what I’m hoping for.

going through the changeGoing Through the Change is going through a change in price for a couple of days in early August. On August 5th and 6th you can get the Kindle edition for free on Amazon. Check it out at:

Samantha Bryant is a middle school Spanish teacher by day and a mom and novelist by night. That makes her a superhero all the time. Her debut novel, Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel is now for sale by Curiosity Quills. You can find her online on her blog,  Twitter, on Facebook, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on the Curiosity Quills page, or on Google+.

Guest Posts, Writing & Publishing Articles

Guest Post: Goals, Emotions, and Body Language: How to Create Realistic Characters by Kara Jorgensen

One of the most important processes while writing a story is creating realistic characters. Characters can sink or carry a book, and what readers often complain about is a story with “cardboard cut-out” characters. There is a very simple way to do this: from the start, think of them as real people and not characters. By thinking of them as “humans” (whether they’re elves, dwarves, werewolves, etc.), we avoid the cartoon “cut-out” character that lacks dimension. There are certain things to keep in mind while writing a character:

goal1. Humans always have goals whether they know it or not. Some goals are subconscious, but everyone is looking to attain something (fame, money, love, stability, a material goal). People always have short-term and long-term goals, and the ultimate goal humans move towards is happiness/contentment. The arc of your story should focus on at least one but probably several of these goals. Keep in mind that other characters (even side/minor characters should have goals of their own, which can be incorporated into subplots). Some questions to ask: What will make my character happy now? Do they know what they want? What will make them happy in the future? How does the conflict affect their goals and how do they feel about it? This brings me to my next point—

2. Humans have more than two emotions. When I have come across “cut-out” characters, one of the issues I noticed was that the characters tended to either be in love or angry for 90% of the book. While love and anger are two rather large emotions, people also experience joy, sorrow, confusion, apathy, panic, frustration. To keep a character’s emotions from seeming hollow, it’s important to keep in mind why the character feels this way. What circumstances in their lives have led to them feeling this way? Does a character constantly doubt themselves because they were bullied by a classmate or micromanaged by a family member? Your readers don’t need to know every detail of their lives, but you should at least have an idea of their back story. If you are uncertain about that back story, try working backwards. What could have happened to make them react that way? One thing you often hear from therapists is that anger is really the manifestation of hurt, frustration, or fear. Knowing which one your character is experiencing can allow you to create a more nuanced portrayal of their emotions and stay away from the stereotype of the raging alpha male/female without a cause. If you find yourself struggling to think of emotions, I would suggest googling “emotional thesaurus” for more help.

3. Body language is key to emotional characterizations and creates a greater depth of character. We all have a “tell” when we’re upset or angry. Think about when you’re upset, what do you do? Do your lips twitch? Do you get hot or itchy? Instead of simply having a character express that they are mad or upset or having the narrative voice say it, show it. Body language can be a hard thing to master because we do it automatically. People watching can be the best way to figure this out. Out in public how do they act? More importantly, how do they act in private when their guard is down? Some characters have nervous habits that can set them apart from others, and once you have established that a character does this when they feel a certain way, the reader will automatically know they are nervous/scared/upset. Pay attention to what you do when you’re experiencing different emotions. Even describing how a character smiles or how their brows move adds complexity to their portrayal. For more help with this, I would check a book on body language out from the library or study people without them knowing (that way they act natural). Just keep in mind that not everyone acts the same and some people purposely mask their body language.

Some of this advice my seem daunting and leave you asking, “How am I supposed to know what my character feels or why they act a certain way?” Certain characters reveal themselves immediately while others must be drawn from the shadows. If your character has gone into hiding, some things you can do to get to know them better are: fill-out character info sheets, write random scenes using prompts to see how your character reacts outside the story, build a Pinterest inspiration board for them, or meditate on them. An oddly helpful way to do this is to imagine them before going to sleep. Often dreams are the best way to draw them out. Just remember, your characters are people too and will react as such, so give them room to be human beings and express themselves.

Kara Jorgensen is an author of fiction and professional student from New Jersey who will probably die slumped over a Victorian novel. An anachronistic oddball from birth, she has always had an obsession with the Victorian era, especially the 1890s. Midway through a dissection in a college anatomy class, Kara realized her true passion was writing and decided to marry her love of literature and science through science fiction or, more specifically, steampunk. She has published two historical-fantasy novels, The Earl of Brass and The Winter Garden, and plans to release her third, The Earl and the Artificer, in 2016. You can find her at:





Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

NaNoWriMo Prep: Gathering Inspiration

Once I have a basic idea for a novel, I like to start gathering inspiration and references. As I’ve described before, for me, the theme and message of my novel tend to be the first aspects to emerge, with plot following shortly after. However, even before I flesh out the story line, I like to have a solid idea of what my characters and their world are like. I realize this may seem a bit counterintuitive to some writers. However, I prefer to do world building before plot mapping for the following reasons:

Setting inspiration for NaNoWriMo
Setting inspiration for NaNoWriMo

Setting and characters define mood and morality. Because theme and message are the most important aspects of a novel to me, I want the world and its people to be built to best convey these elements.

Setting influences plot. Most writers dream up their plot and then shape their world to best facilitate the action. While I do this, too, I like to start with a rough map of where my action takes place. After all, the novel’s world and its people will determine the reality of the novel, the parameters of the fictional world, which give a writer guidelines on what the plot can and cannot do within this world.

Characters influence plot. If I know my characters fairly well before I begin plotting, I have a good idea about what they will and will not do. This prevents me from taking the plot in a direction that does not seem authentic to my characters.

Now, while all this sounds hunky-dory, sometimes it is difficult to find inspiration. Or, even if you breathe inspiration with every air particle, it is sometimes difficult to find the right inspirational references for your particular setting and characters — especially if your idea is in a genre or part of a theme you haven’t worked with before. The latter has been my case for this year’s NaNoWriMo preparation. I have lots of ideas, but the setting and characters I have chosen to execute my plot are unlike anything or anyone I’ve crafted before. Therefore, I couldn’t rely on past knowledge. I had to actively go out and seek inspiration. In case you are in the same boat, here are some time-tested ways to gather inspiration and references:

Character inspiration for NaNoWriMo
Character inspiration for NaNoWriMo

Research, research, research. No matter how familiar you are with your writing material, even if you have chosen to “write what you know,” there is always more to learn. Scan some Wikipedia pages, search Google images, go to the library, visit a location or group of people, if you can. Just get knowledgeable. This Wikipedia page was a good starting place for me.

Read books and watch movies. Absorb other media in which a similar setting or character types can be found. By seeing what others have done, you will know the hallmarks of your chosen world and people. This is good, because it allows you to align yourself with certain genres and themes and make your book more marketable. On the other hand, it also allows you to see what’s already been done, so you don’t repeat history.

Write what you know (almost). I have an intense love-hate relationship with this advice. On one hand, it’s true — writing about what you know makes writing easier, as you have less research to do and more confidence in your material. It can also be really boring. Therefore, if you decide to place your novel in a familiar setting or base your characters on familiar people, make sure to mix it up for yourself. Give your hometown a mysterious abandoned warehouse or beautiful sunflower field, give your well-known characters an unknown disease or occupation. There’s lots of ways to take a familiar home base and turn it into exciting new territory.

Get on PinterestPinterest (and other image websites) are full of visual inspiration. You can start with one search, which will yield hundreds of images, and then take suggestions and follow them down new rabbit holes. Also, you can keep all of your references in one place and see how different elements work together. For an example, you can check out my NaNoWriMo 2014 Pinterest board and the board for another project idea.

20141019_195816Keep a journal. You never know when inspiration will strike. Keep an electronic or paper journal handy and photograph or write down every little thing that catches your fancy. (After all, we can’t spend all day on Pinterest and Instagram.) At first, these random snapshots will seem relatively insignificant. Over time, you’ll have an overflowing well of inspiration. The journals on the right are mine – gray for fiction and red for nonfiction.

Okay, so now you’ve researched your ideas and gathered your inspirational references. You know what settings like yours look like and what characters like yours look and act like. You have used what you know as a gateway into a larger fiction world. You have spent time applying your knowledge to find visual representations of your setting and characters and continued mapping daily inspirations for the future. Now what?

Well, of course, you’re the inspired one! You know what to do — get writing!

However, if you want some more Kate advice, tune in tomorrow for my biggest rule on putting inspiration into action: The Puffin Rule.

And as always, NaNoWriMo participants can check me out and add me as a writing buddy here.

How do you compile inspirational references? How important is seeking out inspiration for your writing process? Let me know!