The Perks of Research

No one like wasting their time. I don’t know a single person who starts their day hoping to waste their time. That being said, I don’t know why writers who after pouring their heart and soul into a novel, that may have taken years to complete, would fire off the first query letter that they’ve written to the first agent that they’ve found.

Research is important. Polishing rough drafts is important. Editing query letters and synopsis is important.

There is not one stage of the writing process whether it is plotting or sending off queries that is more important than another. But where most writers can get through the plotting, the writing, and the querying stage fine by themselves or with groups, there feels like a severe lack of emphasis on finding that perfect agent. For some, there is this idea that if they polish their manuscript and nail the query letter, that they can get any agent they want.

This could not be farther from the truth.

Not every agent is going to want your manuscript. I say this not to be mean or rude but to speak the truth. There are agents who will not want your manuscript because it may not be something that they actively or are currently looking to represent. Agents who work in New Adult or Adult don’t want Children centered books. Why waste their time and yours by querying to someone that will give you an automatic rejection letter? Newsflash! No one likes sending out a rejection letter! Not a single agent does. They don’t like handing out rejection, they want to send out those beautiful “Yes, I would love to represent you” emails that every writer dreams about.

This is why research is important. There feels like there is this huge misconception about agents and how they pick which projects they want to pursue – that agents live in this ivory tower where occasionally they grace writers with their heavenly presence. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Agents know what they want, what they can sell, and what the market is demanding. Look at it this way: Would you rather have an agent that can sell your book or not?

When an agent says that they handle certain genres and not others, it’s because they’ve got the experience and connections to make your book soar. They are passionate at what they do and they don’t want to waste their time or yours struggling to sell a book that they either don’t know the market for or have the knowledge to make it stand out in the market.

To help yourself make your book sell to an agent, and this is the only time I will ever say this, in this highly specific context, but stalk the agent. Go through their Twitter feed, find their page on Publisher’s Marketplace, see if they’ve got a #MSWL, and if they’re on the Association of Author Representatives. It’s not like a writer has to guess what an agent is interested in. They will quite plainly tell anyone who will listen what they want to see in a book or what they aren’t interested in.

A Middle Grade agent wants Middle Grade Books. A Murder-Mystery agent wants murder mystery. A Romance agent wants romance.

It’s not hard to figure out. Granted, there are agents who are looking for quirky and off-beat books and that’s harder to define and give examples of but generally speaking, if you look on the agent’s page, you will find what they’re looking for and what they can sell and have previously sold in the past. Being a writer is hard and there’s already a heavy workload attached to the title but not researching agents can be the death knell of your book. While wasting time with agents who are simply not interested, you could have been querying the right ones who would leap at the chance to represent you.

Treat yourself to an hour’s worth of research. An hour of your irreplaceable time to find an agent who will want to spend their irreplaceable time with your manuscript and you.

How to Deal with Questions about your Writing

When I tell people that I’m a writer, I instantly get a flurry of questions. “How many copies have you sold?”, “I’ve got a great idea for your next book!”, “You should write about me.”, “Are you a millionaire yet?”.

On the surface, some of these questions are flattering and then you have the completely annoying, bothersome, and inane questions. Usually, these come from well meaning people who are dazzled by the writer lifestyle and let’s face it, writing as both a profession and hobby has been glamourized. People’s minds are filled with scenes of writing the great American novel in a cabin in some secluded glade or agonizing the meaning of life while road-tripping and tripping or falling in love with complete strangers in a new and strange place.

The idea of writing is intoxicating. It’s that romanticized idea that fuels all those questions and curiosities about what you’re doing.  Which leads to those pesky questions that you either don’t want to answer, don’t have an answer to, or are desperately trying to figure out a way to politely let someone down when they ask you to write their life story. Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. Here’s how to avoid those painful questions about your writing.

“How many copies have you sold?”

While this question should be answered truthfully when asked by an agent, it’s okay to dodge it if you’re not comfortable sharing your numbers with friends or fellow writers.

“Enough to keep me happy!” is a great response. After all, it’s up to the writer to be satisfied with the number of copies sold.

“Are you a millionaire yet?”

I don’t know where people get the idea that writing a book will make them filthy rich but it’s one fantasy that I don’t have the heart to break. Sometimes people are joking when they ask you this and they are, more often than not, fellow writers. But when it’s someone new who is blissfully unaware of the struggles of writing, feel free to say, “I am in terms of character deaths and tear-jerkers.”

I’ve find that humor is the best way to avoid conversations and questions that one would rather not answer. With this reply, you’ve got the option to veer into new topics and to elaborate on the time honored tradition of killing off your characters and explaining writing lingo.

“I’ve got a great idea for your next book!”

More often than not, this question usually comes from someone who has dreams of being a writer. As a personal rule, I always let them explain their idea to me out of respect for a fellow creative mind. I’ve had days where I’ve had an idea but had no one to bounce it off to. It can hurt pretty bad when you feel like you don’t have a voice, so I always let someone explain their idea to me even if I may not like it or it’s something that I wouldn’t write about. The best way to handle a question of this nature is to convince them that they themselves should write their idea into a fully fleshed out book. It’s their idea and someone who has the guts to tell you about their idea has passion.

This is why I always say, “I like your idea but it’s your passion and your idea. Another writer wouldn’t be able to do the book justice. Why don’t you write it?”

A lot of people have excuses as to why they don’t sit down and write their book. Sometimes, it’s a time management issue, for some it’s a fantasy, and for others it’s just a chance to talk to someone about their idea without any intention of having you write it. They’re just trying to gauge whether their idea is a good one by your reaction. By saying the line above, you will be able to get them to focus on what’s important to them instead of burdening yourself with yet another story idea.

“You should write about me.”

Whenever I get this request, I never take it seriously. People are joking when they say this (most of the time) but for those instances where you get cornered by someone who wants you to write their biography, I respond with the classic but slightly morbid, “Sorry, I only do biographies after the subject has died.”

Mentioning death is a quick way to shut down any further conversation, especially when someone requests that you write about them. It’s a powerful but alienating move so be sure to have a graceful escape planned.

What are some of the craziest writing requests that you’ve received?

Top 10 Signs that You’re a Writer

There are trials and tribulations when it comes to being a writer. Between self-doubt and rejection, it can leave a person wondering ‘Am I really a writer?’. To put those doubts and fears to rest, I’ve created the Top Ten Signs that You’re a Writer.

Number 10

  • You constantly get new ideas for a book but you don’t write them down because “you’ll remember it”.

Number 9

  • You have a collection of journals and notebooks. You hoard them like they’re going out of style. Whether you use them is another issue entirely.

Number 8

  • You are picky about pens. You have a certain type that you like to use and you languish that no one else seems to care about the difference between Fine Point and Extra Fine like you do.

Number 7

  • You have drafts upon drafts of stories in various states of completion. Will you ever finish them? Only time will tell.

Number 6

  • You are a research master. Do you need to know a specific but highly obscure poison that only a 17th century historian would know? Give yourself five minutes and you’ll find the poison and calculate how fast it’ll take to kill your victim.

Number 5

  • You search engine looks like a murderers to do list. Various methods of body disposal, poisons that wouldn’t show up in a test, and how to remove fingerprints are just a few of the tabs that are opened right now.

Number 4

  • You narrate your surroundings. That guy on the bus? You’re creating an epic fantasy for him. The goth woman who’s got a pit-bull with her? She’s definitely a Persephone spending some time with mortals. That creepy looking kid in the back row who has a lifeless state and blood dripping from their hands? Actually, look away from that kid…there’s something not right there.

Number 3

  • You know your tropes. Bolivian Army Ending? You know how to apply that. Knight in Sour Armor. One of your favorite character types. Enemies to lovers? Ah, you know how to write that.

Number 2

  • Your friends and family members wonder when you’ll get a real job/don’t believe you when you tell them how hard it is to get published. No Aunt Sharon, I can’t submit my work to TIME. That’s not how it works.

Number 1

  • You know that you’re a writer because you WRITE! It doesn’t matter if you just picked up a pen now and wrote a series of sentences or if you’ve got a couple of books out on the shelf. Once you start writing, you are a writer. Congrats!

The Never Ending Quest for Originality

If you want an English murder mystery you have your pick, if you want a heart-warming story about dogs and people you won’t have to look far, if you want a kick-ass thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat then there are scores of books that will cater to your needs. Looking at every genre and how many new books come out each year, it’s easy for any writer to feel like whatever project they have has not only been done before but done to death.

I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to feel that way but it’s not okay to give up.

The world is always hungry for new but it’s not always kind to new ideas. Falling back on tried and true plots is a safe and an easy way to test out your writing prowess. For example, a love story or Boy meets Girl is one of the most classic plots out there and the best ones, in my humble opinion, aren’t jammed pack with high risks or incredible violence. The best ones deal with the idea of losing or never having that special relationship with the love of your life. What could be worse than having the Main Character miss out on love in a love story?

But in all honesty, if you can add in high risks and violence that doesn’t make your audience roll their eyes, then go for it my friends. And if you don’t like romance, then there are other plots that work just as well.

Classic Plots

  • Be Yourself – The moral of the story is to be yourself and not some superficial and shallow cut-out of a popular person.
  • Becoming the Mask – The hero is usually a liar who claims to be someone they aren’t and they are forced to actually become the lie.
  • The Breakfast Club – A group of characters who have nothing in common but manage to come together
  • A Cinderella Story – It’s Cinderella. She’s abused and just wants a night off and to wear some nice clothes.
  • The Coming-Out Story – There is an audience for LGBT+ stories and they want to read about other people’s experiences. This one is more complicated than I’m making it seem but it can be done in a number of ways.
  • The Magic Comes Back – This is exactly what it says on the Tin Can. Your Main Character lives in a world where magic comes back. How does the world deal with it if they are capable of it?
  • End of An Age – Whether it’s the Wild West, The Victorian Era, or something that you’ve made up, this can be a powerful story. How do your characters deal with everything they’ve ever known changing?

These are classic plots that everyone of every age can enjoy. They’ve twisted, subverted, averted, played straight for years. There’s no shame in using them when your original ideas aren’t given the light of day. Your time in the sun will happen but until it does, play off the tropes and plots that audiences know. Take their expectations, add your mark to a story, and give them something new.

Have any questions? Need any answers? Feel free to leave a comment below.

On the Subject of Sex

At some point in your life, someone gave you “The Talk”. Your body starts to change, your hormones get kicked into high gear, and you start to notice how attractive other people are. Sex is a fairly important part of life and whether you handle it as something to be celebrated or a taboo subject, it will be a part of your life in one way or another.

This also includes your writing.

Needless to say, Erotica is a huge market. People like sex and they like to read about people having (hopefully) good sex. But there’s always an exception to the rule. Oh yes, there are bad writers out there and then there are bad erotica writers. They maim human biology, describe physical attributes as everything except what they actually are, and have the strangest sense of romance and what counts as good sex. In fact, there’s actually an award you can win for writing about bad sex. Of course, when someone sets out to write erotica, they never (hopefully) set out to write it poorly.

Bad sex should only exist in real life.

Erotica is meant to fulfill every fantasy, every desire, and make you feel as if you’re experiencing it for yourself. There’s no lack of communication or worse miscommunication on what each person needs or wants, they know exactly what to touch and how hard and fast to get a jolt out of each other, and best yet, everyone orgasms. I’ll be the first person to admit that writing good erotica is hard. This mainly stems from the fact that everyone has a different idea of what constitutes as good sex. Some people are incredibly vanilla, others are super kinky, and then you’ve got people who are turned on by the most bizarre things.

It’s for that reason alone that I don’t write erotica. It’s too subjective a topic to write a scene or more that will make everyone horny and happy. What may be dark kinky sex for one person will be the most juvenile thing ever for another. For example, when Fifty Shades of Grey came out, it was touted as the kinkiest sex novel to be written for this century. It was a public BDSM that got great acclaim and yet if you’ve ever bothered with a Google for the BDSM community then you would know that many of examples of BDSM portrayed in the book are not only wildly inaccurate but doesn’t exactly make for a healthy or a romantic relationship. If anything Fifty Shades of Grey reads more like a semi-rape fantasy where the main character gets an upgraded lifestyle and lives happily ever after.

Now, I take the stance that there’s nothing wrong with a little fantasy but my main issue comes from marketing something as a BDSM fantasy when it’s really a rape fantasy. Whatever kink you have is your own personal business and I’m not one to judge but I will judge and harshly judge if the writing is crap which Fifty Shades of Grey is. The sex is boring, the main characters are stale and feel more like cardboard cut-outs of actual people, and the author is an idiot who wouldn’t know what the BDSM community was like if she was bound and gagged. As the BDSM community already gets maimed by mainstream media, it’s hard to find a good erotic novel that not only shows off the community in a good light but has wonderfully written sex scenes.

Again, writing erotica is hard. It’s really fucking hard to write and it can be harder to enjoy if it’s written poorly. I encourage any writer who wants to delve into the dirty to thoroughly research the kink that they’re writing about. It’s not hard and at the bare minimum takes one google search. Here are some tips on writing erotica.

Tip One

  • Figure out which kink you’re writing about and do the necessary research needed in order to faithfully show off the kink and the community.

Tip Two

  • Decide if it’s humanly possible for the sex scene to actually happen. There are plenty of instances where human biology goes right out the window in favor of sex but honestly reading about how the male protagonist can cum again and again and again, doesn’t do anything for me. It makes me think that he should go to a hospital.

Tip Three

  • Tone down on the animal metaphors. Sweet Jesus, this one comes up a lot and not in a good way. I’ve heard of people fucking like rabbits but in some bad novels, people are going at it like snakes, tigers, birds, whales, horses. dogs…etc. You get the picture. Again, I don’t judge on what kink you’ve got but damn I would like a little warning if I was getting into bestiality.

Seven Basic Plots – Part Two

This article will take a in-depth look at Overcoming the Monster and what this plot entails. Overcoming the Monster is one of the most classic and used plots that humankind has invented. What does this plot mean? To be frank, there’s a monster and it is our hero’s job to kill it, defeat it, or imprison it. The actual monster itself can be real, personal, imaginary or the hero itself but for the sake of expediency, we’ll focus on an actual monster.

When people think of monsters, they can come in all shapes and sizes with every power imaginable. If the monster is animal, they usually have human attributes. In this case, they will be vicious on a human level and they will know of taunting and torture and kill not to eat but because they can. If the monster is human, they usually have animal attributes. In that case, they will lose their mind and for some, they will lose their humanity. There is a third kind of monster called like humanoid. Imagine Grendel and his mother from Beowulf. We’re never told exactly what kind of monster they is but he’s big enough to kill men easily and eat anyone who pisses him off and she’s big enough to need to live in a cave and has a sword crafted from giants hanging above her door.

They are definitely other in the case of monsters.

They feel no remorse in killing others (if anything, they feel justified), they are larger than the average person, live in strange places, and they can’t be killed by ordinary means. I would argue that Grendel and his dear old mother are archetypal monsters.

Monsters who follow the Overcoming the Monster style, have but three features. They either are either Predators, Guards, or Avengers. They can be a combination of the two or all three but par the course, they normally only take up one feature. In the case of Grendel, he’s a Predator. He attacks the kingdom because he can and that they constant celebrations annoy him. For his mother, she is an Avenger. Angered that Beowulf has killed her son, she thirsts for vengeance. The dragon on top of the hoard fulfills the second type of monster. He’s fairly lazy compared to previous monsters but it deadly all the same.

So, we’ve got our monsters, now we need our hero!

The hero doesn’t need to be very impressive or strong like Beowulf. Really, the hero just needs to be up to the task. After all, they are dealing the Monster – a creature that kills without fear and so far hasn’t been injured by anyone else. Introducing the hero and the monster can be done in a few ways. You can show the hero as a young child who is a wide-eyed idealist, unaware of the dangers that the world has or you can have them a little more experienced but have them disbelieve in the notion of monsters.

Personally, I like the wide-eyed idealist the most. A character that’s already experienced isn’t as fun and it’s most important to show the character’s growth. Adding onto the fact that a wide-eyed idealist having the star dust knocked out of their eyes can make for a great coming of age novel is just a plus. Of course, that’s just my humble opinion and as always you should write the novel that works for you and that you’re passionate about. Anyways, onward to the plot.

As the plot is Overcoming the Monster, the most important aspect of the plot is the monster and how fearsome he, she, it, they are. If the monster doesn’t send people running for the hills then what is the point and why does it need to be overcome? You’ve got your pick of the type of monster you can have. You can combine, mix and match, and best part describe the monster you want. Is it a traditional fire-breathing dragon? Is it a serial killer? Or is it the hero?

Once you’ve decided on the type of monster and the hero you want, think of the story in stages. Your hero is setting out, life is good, and nothing bad has happened yet. This is the prime time to do some world building. Set everything up for the audience but try not to bog down the story in favor of details. There’s time for that later. Right now, focus on your main character and the world that they live in. Are monsters something that are common? Or Otherwordly? Basically, is this more a Jaws situation or is this more Terminator? Both are monsters but one is from the future and the other is more “natural” but just as deadly.

So, you’ve introduced the monster to your story and now someone has to kill it. If your Main Character is young then any chance of them helping out gets pushed to the side by the hopefully wiser adults who don’t think kids should go out killing creatures even if they are killing people. There are a few ways to remedy that and I’ll give my opinion on each method during a later post. Right now, we need to focus on why it’s the Main Character going after the monster instead of say the police or whatever group there is to protect people from things that go bump in the night. The best way to get your Main Character involved is to make it personal.

Why else would they care about a monster terrorizing the land or killing people unless it directly effects them?

The Main Character’s peaceful world is shaken by the intrusion of the monster and life as they know it will never be the same. Then comes the plan to capture or kill the monster. I’ve seen this stage play out in different ways and I’ve got to say I’m partial to the method that allows the Main Character to see the monster up close and personal. It’s a good way to set up the stakes and to show off the power imbalance between the two. Remember, the villain is a monster and the main character is (usually) a normal person. It’s not like they’ve got a missile hanging out in their garage to take down the guy.

At this point, the Main Character should be feeling way out of their capabilities. The monster is everything that they aren’t. The monster is big, bad, powerful and the Main Character is small, good, but weak. It’s a classic set-up. The Main Character may feel frustrated that the Monster is so powerful and that no one believe them when they try and alert the authorities that there is a monster out there killing people. Whatever the case, the Main Character resolves to defeat the monster and save the day because who else is going to do it but them? The next scenes prepare the Main Character for dealing with the monster by any means necessary or gathering up supplies that they believe will help them on their mission.

The Main Character will then set out to fight the monster. Again, I feel the need to point out that the fight doesn’t have to be purely physical. It can be emotional, spiritual, or mental. The battle is fought, the monster is killed either through the hero’s wits and skills or physical prowess, and the day is saved.

Depending on how you’ve handled the story so far, the Main Character can be celebrated for their heroics or outright ignored. If they’re celebrated, the Main Character will get treasure, a kingdom to rule, and the standard hero reward: the princess. Of course, with modern stories and a modern setting, treasure and kingdoms aren’t standard anymore and the idea of getting the gal or guy of your dreams goes away. They may get some minor recognition from those who know better but for the most part they’ll return to their normal lives forever changed but knowing better and more than they did previously.

Men Suck at Writing Women

This might feel like a call out post but I swear it isn’t. From what I’ve read and seen, men just suck at writing women. But how can this be? There are a lot of writers out there who are men! You mean to say that they are all incapable of writing female characters?!

No…not exactly. They’re able to write female…somethings but not characters. The people that they write about are less human and more like satire. Don’t believe me? Check out the examples below.

  1. Ernest Hemingway – “She was thinking about him hard and then Jim came out. His eyes were shining his hair was a little rumpled. She looked down at her book. Jim came over behind her chair and put his arms around her. Her breasts felt plump and firm and the nipples were erect under his hands.”
  2. Paul Auster – “Marina was on duty that day, looking terrific in a pair of tight-fitting jeans and an orange blouse. It was a delectable combination, since it gave me something to study and admire when she came towards us (the front view of her ample poignant breasts) and also when she walked away (the back view of her rounded, somewhat bulky rear end)
  3. John Updike – “But she was, for the bathroom door didn’t altogether close, due to the old frame of the house settling over the centuries, and she had to sit on the toilet some minutes waiting for the pee to come. Men, they were able to conjure it up immediately, that was one of their powers, that thunderous splashing as they stood lordly above the bowl. Everything about them was more direct, their insides weren’t the maze women’s were, for the pee to find it’s way through.”

There’s a lot to unpack with that nonsense and frankly, I don’t have the time or the brain cells to waste doing it. So, I’ll cut to the chase: NO WOMAN, DEAD OR ALIVE, FOCUSES ON THEIR BODILY FUNCTIONS THAT FUCKING MUCH.

Do women have breasts? Yes.

Do they sometimes think about them? Also yes but not in the way that you think. Breasts are weights on their chest and if you have large breasts then it’s back pain, not pleasure that they’re thinking of but I digress. Let’s say you have the same aim as every author out there right now. You want to become a published author and be able to make some money off your living. That won’t happen if you alienate about half of the population. So, here are some tips to write female characters!

Tip 1

  • Do NOT Write about breasts. This might seem strange and maybe even hurtful but trust me on this one. Women do not think or write about their breasts the same way a guy does. If you put all of your focus into how “sexy” your female character is, you’re going to lose your audience. Why? Because she becomes less of a character and more of a blow-up doll. You’re a better writer than that.

Tip 2

  • When writing a female character describe what she looks like i.e. does she have brown eyes? Does she have brown hair? Does she have scars and tattoos? These are important things that people notice. They rarely pay attention to the legs, arms, and stomach that a person has. To make it clear, unless it comes up again later in the story and in a very important way, I wouldn’t recommend putting it in when we are describing looks.

Tip 3

  • Tip 3 is a complete cheat and one that I recommend any writer struggling with female characters to take advantage of. Here’s what you do: Write out the entire story as is without using a single she or her. Then when you finish, change the pronouns.

Now, you’re probably wondering ‘What if I like the way that I describe my female characters like the example above? There’s nothing wrong with doing that and it is MY story so I could write them any way I wanted to”.

Let me just say that you are right. You can write female characters any way you want to and as good or as bad as you want to but do you really want to go for the lowest description possible? Women readers will be paying attention to what you write. If you dare to remind them that men at large only see them as a piece of ass or a set of breasts, you will not earn their admiration but their damnation.

Seven Basic Plots – Part One

Anyone who’s ever scratched the surface of Plots knows of Christopher Booker’s “The Seven Basic Plots”. To save you the reading expense, Christopher Books states that there are only Seven Basic plots. The plots are as follows.

  1. Overcoming the Monster – This is exactly what it says on the tin can. There is a monster or a dark force threatening lives or everyone’s general happiness and it is up to the Hero to defeat it.
  2. Rags to Riches – Started out life as a nobody without a dollar to their name and now, they are the richest and most celebrated person in all the land!
  3. The Quest – There’s a mystical crystal, a healing spring, or some magical item that can heal, fix, or cure everything. The hero and his company sets off to find it.
  4. Voyage and Return – The Hero goes off on an adventure, has a great/terrible time, fights some villains, achieves their goal, and then goes home hopefully a mature and better person than they were before.
  5. Comedy – Not what it says on the tin can. This isn’t a pie in the face, stand up routine that may come to your mind. Comedy is many thing and it can come from anywhere but it is funny. However, for Booker, Comedy in this case is miscommunication paired with misunderstanding. The results could be Happily Ever After or Everyone is Dead.
  6. Tragedy – Whether you’re think of Shakespeare or the opera, one thing is for certain: someone will be suffering. Maybe they were once heroes with high ideals and have suffered a break in confidence or maybe their ideas for the world don’t work out for everyone. Whatever the case, a downward spiral is assured.
  7. Rebirth – This is a personal favorite of mine and it goes hand in hand with Tragedy. When a character has gone down the wrong path, they reach the precipice where their character/self could be lost forever if they commit one/final act of evil. The character in this case will choose to stay true to their own self, stay on the straight and narrow, and rejoin their friends.

To read examples that follow Christopher Booker’s “The Seven Plots”, check out the titles below.

  1. Overcoming the Monster – Beowulf & Jaws
  2. Rags to Riches – Cinderella & A Little Princess
  3. The Quest – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade & Fullmetal Alchemist
  4. The Voyage and Return – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz & Coraline
  5. Comedy – Pride and Prejudice & Much Ado about Nothing
  6. Tragedy – Hamlet & Citizen Kane
  7. Rebirth – A Christmas Carol & Undertale

Pop Culture References Kill Your Work

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

“One does not simply walk into Mordor.”

“Luke, I am your father.”

“You’re a wizard, Harry.”

The sentences are short but they are memorable. They come from some of the greatest books and movies of all time and have withstood the test of time. People remember “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Lord of the Rings”, “Star Wars”, and “Harry Potter”. They are classics that are quoted endlessly. They are Pop Culture Icons.

But what is Pop Culture?

Pop Culture defined is “…cultural activities or commercial products reflecting, suited to, or aimed at the tastes of the general masses of the people.” Put plainly, pop culture are moments in history that the people remember, that they’ll be inspired by, and will mimic and discuss for years to come. The examples listed above are classics and Pop Culture Icons. The examples listed below are simply Pop Culture moments.

  1. Gangam Style
  2. Lady Gaga’s Meat Dress
  3. Pepsi’s idiotic move to cash in on protesting and civil unrest
  4. Call Me Maybe

People remember these moments but they aren’t at the forefront of their mind. Why? Because Pop Culture moments are a flash in the pan. They come as quickly as they go. What may be memorable for a short time, a week or so, is gone as soon as it loses it’s buzz. I’ll use memes to prove my point. In the early 2010s, the Trollface meme was all the rage. Now? They are an outdated meme and memes and every aspect of social media change quickly. Take a look at the chart below.

Image result for memes by month

In a little over a year, these memes are still in use but no means as often as they were. That’s the way Pop Culture works. I’ve noticed a trend that for some authors, in order to show that they’re hip and cool and whatever cliched word comes to mind, use an excesses of movie, book, and music references to fully set the time and date of their novel. This doesn’t work out. Let’s say that it takes you a year to finish writing your novel with all of your references, and then let’s say that it takes two years to get an agent followed by another year of cleaning up your book and getting it ready to publish. By the time your novel comes out, it’s already out of date.

Instead of forcing pop culture and other buzz worthy references into your work, stick to what people will be interested in the most: THE STORY. If you want to stick references and pop culture in, make it up. You’ve already created your own universe, how hard can it be to make a your own inside jokes, your own celebrities, and scandals?

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Inside every person, there is a story.

That story is inspired by what they’ve gone through, what they hope to achieve, and what they wish to tell the world….there’s also a host of psychological issues, desires, and ideals. They bubble up and seeped through into your writing. This is not an inherently bad thing nor a good thing but it is something that every writer should be aware of. For example, when “Twilight” hit the shelves and became a pop culture icon for a short time, more than a few eagle-eyed readers were able to find a few similarities between Bella Swan, the series’ Main Character, and Stephenie Myer the series’ creator despite the fact that Mrs. Myer has gone record stating that Bella is meant to be blank as a character so that readers may slip themselves into the fantasy better.

But while Mrs. Myer holds onto that claim, it doesn’t quite ring true. In an interview, she gave a detailed description of what Bella looks like – “In my head, Bella is very fair-skinned, with long, straight, dark brown hair and chocolate brown eyes. Her face is heart-shaped—a wide forehead with a widow’s peak, large, wide-spaced eyes, prominent cheekbones, and then a thin nose and a narrow jaw with a pointed chin. Her lips are a little out of proportion, a bit too full for her jaw line. Her eyebrows are darker than her hair and more straight than they are arched. She’s five foot four inches tall, slender but not at all muscular, and weighs about 115 pounds. She has stubby fingernails because she has a nervous habit of biting them.”

Bella has the same physical (granted ideal) version as Mrs. Myer and certain parts of the book are based on her real life move to college after high school. It’s one thing to write about your own personal experiences (which many writers do) but when you combine that with an ideal physical appearance and lifestyle, then you have created what is called a Mary Sue but more on that later. What can be said now is that Bella Swan is little more than a self-insert for Stephenie Myer.

The Twilight Series is based on Bella’s perspective on the events or lack thereof that happen to her. Since a reasonable claim could be made that Bella is essentially Mrs. Myer, the events in the book take a darker turn. To cut to the chase, Bella isn’t a good or even a nice person. She degrades, lies, mocks, uses, and manipulates people to achieve her own ends and consequences be damned. If Bella was a character who wasn’t based off of her creator, then her actions could be deemed acceptable and even heroic if she was using them to achieve her goals that were aligned to her own morality and ethics.

But they weren’t.

Instead, readers, movie-goers, and fans got insight to Mrs. Myer’s mind. It’s not pretty and it paints an awful image for her. There are others who put themselves into their own novels. Stephen King shows up in “Dark Towers“, J.K. Rowling has often said that Hermione was based off of how she was in school when she was younger, and Oscar Wilde has himself as not one but three characters in his novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray“. He once said,
“Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be — in other ages, perhaps.”

Inserting yourself, even a small part of yourself, into your story is common and having an Author Avatar in story can be fun but it can also create a funny story with a unique twist on things. But when you show the world your deepest personal thoughts for anyone and everyone to see, there’s going to be some backlash, criticism, and a host of people analyzing you. So, before you put down that racy sentence or that scandals love affair, take a minute to think how deep it resonates with you.