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Virtual Blog Tour Stop #5: Penny for Them

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Here’s our new blog tour stop for today. We join the ranks of Penny for Them. There’s a review upcoming so stay tuned!

Virtual Blog Tour Stop #4: Insane Ramblings of a Crazed Writer

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Here’s our next stop on the Black Parade’s virtual blog tour: Insane Ramblings of a Crazed Writer! 

There’s a short review and an all new excerpt from the book to enjoy. As always, you can enter to win a free copy of the book.

Don’t forget to spread the word by liking or sharing this post, or the post on the blog. Thanks for the support!

Virtual Blog Tour Stop #3: Creatively Green

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Here’s our third stop on the virtual blog tour: a spotlight with Creatively Green Write at Home Mom.

You’ve got another shot at winning a free copy of The Black Parade. Don’t miss out!

Virtual Blog Tour Stop #2: Happy Tails and Tales

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Our next stop on The Black Parade’s virtual blog tour is at Happy Tails and Tales! We’ve got an interview, excerpt, and short spoiler free review with the host.

Don’t forget: this is also another opportunity to win a free copy of The Black Parade. Read to your heart’s content and enter for the giveaway.

Stay tuned for Stop #3 tomorrow!

To the Starving Artists

To you, the one sitting in front of the keyboard. The one squinting at your bright-ass screen at three o’clock in the morning, wondering if you used the word ‘perfunctory’ in the right context. The one meticulously combing through your prose with your fingertip pressed against the somewhat smudged screen. The one determined to force another chapter out of your aching skull before you can finally drop to the pillow and go to sleep because your day job wants you there early the next morning. The one dragging yourself to something you’re good at, something you’ve probably always been good at, but isn’t your one true love like writing is, but you do it anyway because it pays the bills. The one who listens to conversations not because you want to be nosy, but because it might be something useful or interesting for your writing.

To you, the one searching desperately for a writing community, but your town is too small to have one. The one scrolling through Google trying to find a forum with other writers because you’re hungry for people talking and laughing and moaning about the same writer habits that you have. The one fretting over the fact that no one’s replied to your comment and you worry that you’re annoying everyone and you’ll never connect with them.

To you, the one who is doing well enough but not quite where you wanted to be with your writing. The one desperately hoping that you’re actually good at telling a story and it’s not just your friends and family humoring you. The one who quietly does the research, compiles lists and facts, calls people to ask them weird questions, and tries to compact it all into the story in a way that makes sense. The one scouring every inch of Tvtropes and Tumblr to make sure you’re not accidentally employing a cliche that will make future readers hate you. The one who diligently makes mental notes of things you love in films you watch, books you read, comics and graphic novels you flip through, and television shows you obsess over, and also marks the things you hate that they do.

To you, the one who secretly daydreams about being interviewed on the Colbert Report even though your book is fiction and would probably have nothing to do with political satire. The one sitting in the middle row at a comic book or anime convention wishing it were you up there with hundreds, or hell even dozens, of adoring fans all dying to hear any tiny anecdote of your life. The one sighing wistfully as you read adorable behind the scenes stories about your favorite actors, or watch their blooper reels, and praying that someday your book will help you climb out of your shell and become someone other people can root for.

To you, the one who finally makes it to the mountaintop, looks down at the world below you, and openly admits that you’re scared shitless. The one who bites your lip as you stare miserably at your rank on Amazon. The one who lays in bed listening to Aqualung and Dashboard Confessional and Death Cab for Cutie and worrying you’ll never amount to anything. The one who picks through your various social media personas and ponders why you seem unable to get through to anyone, or at least it seems that way, the way that others do. The one who is terrified of being mediocre, or worse, so terrible that you are instantly wiped from the memories of anyone who knew you because your work isn’t that good, it’s just okay, and okay only cuts it when it’s mass-produced by a corporation or the government. The one who sweats and bleeds writing and loves it to your core like a family member and couldn’t stop even if you were banned from the entire Internet itself.

You.

You are not alone.

Your dreams are not empty. Your words are not poison. You are something special. Maybe you’re not Shakespeare or Stephen King or Dean Koontz but you are doing something worthwhile if only because you give a damn about your writing. Even if it doesn’t soar off the bookshelves, even if you never crack the Amazon 100 Bestsellers, even if you get no reviews, no ratings, no nothing, you are still worth something. You are an author. You tell stories. You breathe legends. You have power beyond measure, even if it’s only in your mind and your Word document.

To you, starving artists.

You deserve better than what you settle for. Don’t give up. The world will always need stories.

Tell them.

And tell them without permission, reluctance, or restraint.

-Kyoko

Things Supernatural Taught Me About Writing

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If you’ve never seen Supernatural, shame on you. Go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done. Now.

If you have seen Supernatural, then you are one tough son of a gun. Supernatural is known for a lot of things—creative monsters, the world’s hottest main cast, hilarious dialogue, unapologetic Fourth Wall breaking—but the reason it was recommended to me by my writing sensei was because it had a lot to teach me about writing. Plus, my angsty Winchesters and their emotionally constipated angel friend Castiel are returning to the airwaves tonight, so let’s get started, shall we?

  1. People love to be emotionally gut-punched. And boy, Supernatural does NOT pull its punches. It introduces you to an entire rainbow of interesting, three-dimensional characters, makes you care about them, makes you bond with them, and then snatches them right out of your hands like a bully grabbing a kid’s lunch money. The relationship between Sam and Dean is Emmy-worthy because there are so many layers to the boys’ personalities. They are constantly bickering, constantly arguing, constantly not trusting each other, and yet they will die for one another at the drop of a hat. Several times, mind you. Supernatural is addictive because it barges its way into the watchers’ hearts and then proceeds to detonate like an atom bomb. This is something that all writers should strive to do. Even if your main character is an unrepentant a-hole of epic proportions, the readers should still find themselves attached to them and want to know what happens to them down the road.
  2. You cannot please everyone. Supernatural is also infamous for its loyal but rabid fanbase. Half of said fanbase is hilarious, thoughtful, and creative. The other half is full of angry, petty, self-righteous jerks. The Supernatural writers have done a lot of things over the course of the show’s eight seasons to appease the fanbase, but it is still impossible to make all of them happy. There are several examples of the writers trying to keep their fans happy. It’s no secret that the fanbase and the writers favor Dean over Sam after season five. He gets the better storylines, the better girlfriends, the funnier lines of dialogue, and is usually characterized as being “right” when the two of them are having an argument. He is also inexplicably popular because majority of the fanbase insists that he’s madly in love with Castiel. The writers have been playing to this angle ever since season six, and while the fans clearly enjoy the Dean-heavy emphasis, they still complain unrepentantly about Dean/Castiel (dubbed “Destiel”) not being “canon.” If anything, this has taught me that no matter what I write, someone will have a problem with it. Even if I acknowledge things that the readers want to see happy, I will still piss someone off. The key is to find balance. Find a way to write that makes both me and the readers happy. It is hard to accomplish, but many novels and shows have proven it is possible.
  3. Variety is the spice of life. Supernatural gained its popularity largely through the first four seasons. Its premise captured the interest of the audience because it adopted the idea that almost all myths, legends, and monsters exist within the same universe. The writers did their homework and dug up literally dozens of types of mythical predators and brought them into the real world with fantastic results. This is something I have tried to take to heart with my own writing in terms of the setting, the imminent threat, and the villain of my stories. No one wants to read the same novel with a different name. Even if it’s in the same series, the plot and storyline should move, evolve, and develop over time.
  4. Know when to quit while you’re ahead. Okay, this is going to be controversial so let me just get it out of the way. I personally think Supernatural should have ended a couple seasons ago. God knows I love Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Jim Beaver, Misha Collins, Mark Sheppard and company, but in my opinion, the last two seasons have been rather poorly done. I feel this way because Supernatural has covered so many stories, so many monsters, and so many conflicts between the brothers that they have honestly run out of ideas. For instance, season eight had a lot of recycled plotlines and moments between the brothers, and it also ended up casting them in an unflattering light. Sam not looking for Dean because he wanted a boring girlfriend and a dog was absolutely idiotic writing and completely out of character. They didn’t even attempt to justify his actions. He just…didn’t look for him. The seasons prior showed Sam’s desire to eventually quit the life of a hunter, but this season made him look like a total jackass. It worked in the other seasons because Sam knew Dean could take care of himself. With Dean in Purgatory, Sam knew he’d be in constant danger and yet he still didn’t do anything about it with no true explanation as to why. Then when Dean found out, he lorded it over Sam and acted as if Sam hasn’t saved his life a hundred times and died for him at least twice. To make matters worse, he starts treating the generic vampire Benny like his actual brother because he’s “never disappointed him” and basically acts like a stuck up, self-righteous douchebag for most of the season. Granted, all of this is subjective and many people will disagree with me, but the concept is what has taught me a lesson. It has made me examine my writing and decide if certain stories are going to be one off, have a sequel, or have the potential to become an entire series. One should know ahead of time if they have the fuel to go the distance of Alex Cross, Harry Dresden, or Sherlock Holmes before they accidentally stall out and end up stranded.
  5. Don’t fear the fairer sex. There are a bunch of ladies in Supernatural whom I completely adore—Pamela, Meg, Ellen, the list goes on and on. Yet, have you noticed something? The show has been on for eight freaking seasons and there is no female main cast member. That chaps my Bat-briefs. I do not understand why Supernatural is so unwilling to have a female main character who is a regular. Granted, it took them eight seasons just to add Misha Collins as a main cast member (seriously, what the hell) but I don’t understand. They also have a bad habit of mistreating all recurring female characters by killing them off just to make the Winchesters feel bad, but it still makes the writers seem like they don’t quite care for the fairer sex even though they clearly can write them competently. Now, my current theory is that the fanbase has a hand in the lack of ladies sticking around. As I mentioned before, the Destiel fangirls will cry bloody murder on any of Dean’s love interests but this female lead wouldn’t need to be a love interest. She could just be another hunter, or if they were smart, they’d make her a monster with a heart of gold who wants to help them. I actually would have liked Meg to join the main cast because she is so entertaining and she was starting to turn a corner before season eight ruined everything. I keep this in mind when I write. The character of The Black Parade tends to have a lot of male counterparts because the story is loosely based off of Paradise Lost, but I still make sure to find time for other ladies in her life. The first novel is still male centric, but the second and third ones depart from that. It can be hard sometimes, but I think it’s important for every writer to portray both genders equally and with all three dimensions intact.

Overall, I’m actually happy my writing sensei talked me into partaking in Supernatural. Even though I have problems with the current seasons, it has definitely taught me a lot of do’s and don’ts, and I believe I am more rounded writer thanks to them. Here’s to you, Winchesters.

-Kyoko

On Death

So I spent about three hours last night on Skype having a debate with my writing sensei about major character death.

Occasionally, my sensei has enough time to drop in and give me advice about my novels–particularly brainstorming ideas on how to get the story unstuck, smoothing out character motivations and actions, or giving me a good kick in the seat of my pants to get me back on track with my word count. I honestly wish I weren’t a vagrant and could pay him for it. He’s a kick ass screenwriter and independent filmmaker so he knows a thing or two about damn good writing and how to whip a story into shape.

Still, we disagree on certain points and this was a huge hot button issue that neither of us had talked about before, hence the three hours. It got me thinking about myself, my writing, and my general philosophy about fiction. This post might be a long one so I pray that you’ll stick with me as I try to explain my position on major character death in fiction.

Disclaimer: I’m not against it.

I do, however, believe that it is overused and often simply a cheap trick to squeeze some tears out of your readers. Not always, mind you. I can name examples of fiction that did it correctly. By the way, BIG FAT STINKIN’ SPOILER ALERT FOR A BUNCH OF DIFFERENT BOOKS AND MOVIES SO PLEASE READ AT YOUR OWN PERIL.

Here are the examples of using major character death properly (in my opinion):

-Dumbledore from Harry Potter

-Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop

-Trinity from The Matrix Revolutions

-Susan Rodriguez from the Harry Dresden novels

-Kamina from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (*debatable, though, because I loved him so much I couldn’t continue watching the show after he died.)

-Shepherd Book from Serenity

-Sam Winchester in Supernatural’s fourth season finale (I had to specify since he’s died at least three times in the show’s run, if not more. Yeah, it’s that kind of show.)

-Captain Roy Montgomery from Castle

-V from V for Vendetta

-Jason Todd from the Batman comics (granted, they brought him back, but whatever.)

-Rue from The Hunger Games

Each of the above deaths, to me, served definite, thematic purposes. These characters meant the world to the people they were supporting and their deaths caused major shifts in the narratives. It deeply affected the protagonists in various ways–motivating them to defeat the bad guy, to seek revenge, to end a conflict, to inspire greatness, or simply because there was no way for them to continue in the world they existed in. These are deaths that make sense on paper and naturally draw emotions out of the audience because we’ve come to know and love them, and have to say goodbye whether we like it or not. These are deaths that feel organic and not forced. To me, a good major character death doesn’t have to be one that you see coming, but it should be one that you can understand and justify in your head even through your hiccuping sobs (seriously, Capt. Montgomery and Spike’s death scenes made me sob like an infant.) They should die for a reason, and one that is more layered than “it’ll make your audience bawl like three year olds” because that is cheap emotional manipulation. I’m against that. Which brings me to my next point.

Here are the examples of using major character death improperly (in my opinion):

-90% of the characters who have died on Supernatural (but if you want to get specific, Meg, Gabriel, Balthazar, Jo, Ellen, and Pamela)

-Wash from Serenity

-Robert Neville from I Am Legend

-Captain Pike from Star Trek Into Darkness (I could be persuaded otherwise, but my initial reaction to this was that it was misused.)

-Majority of the characters who died in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

-Primrose from Mockingjay

-Irene Adler from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

-Billy from The Expendables II

-November 11 from Darker Than Black

The deaths of the characters listed above may be for one or more reasons that I disagree with from a writing standpoint. That is, using the death as a cheap trick to make your readers/audience cry, not wanting to develop the character further, using the death as a lazy method to make the hero worth harder for his/her end goal, using the death as an easy way into a revenge or hunt-for-the-killer plot, or trying to shock your audience with a high body count.

To illustrate my point, I’ll use the three examples that make me the most irritated: Sherlock Holmes, Supernatural, and Serenity. Irene Adler was literally the best thing ever in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. No disrespect to RDJ and Jude Law, I adored them, but she was the most bad ass woman I could remember seeing in recent films. She was smart, quick-witted, resourceful, manipulative, and brave. There was none of that sexist crap that you see in stuff like the new Riddick film. She was beautiful and dangerous and powerful and everything that a well-written female character should be. She showed all shades of being a woman. She was balanced. She was interesting. Above all, she was important to the plot. And they just killed her off in the first ten minutes of A Game of Shadows despite being the third biggest character in the first movie. And she doesn’t even get a meaningful death scene or a tear out of her lover. The movie just sweeps her under the rug like she was nothing. That is an injustice I simply cannot stand. Her death should have meant something more to Holmes. It should have enraged him, made him hunt for Moriarty even harder and want to kick the son of  bitch right off that waterfall at the end of the movie. Death needs to have an impact that resounds throughout the rest of the story, whether it’s a movie, a TV show, or literature. It’s not something to be taken lightly, which brings us to example numero dos.

Supernatural is by far the worst offender when it comes to death. It’s in season nine and they have killed over half of the recurring major and minor characters that have passed through the show. Think I’m joking? Google it. I’ll wait. Believe me now? In the first few seasons, we were devastated to lose major characters that we knew and loved and who were part of Sam and Dean Winchester’s lives. However, the writers seemed to think it was a good idea to kill literally everyone and guess what happened? I stopped caring. If you do the exact same thing with every single recurring character, what is the point of investing in them? They’ll be dead by their second appearance. Death has no sting when you use it over and over and over again to the point of accidental parody. It becomes dull when your audience is just checking their wristwatch to see when a character is going to bite it because they know this is your go-to move. The biggest disappointment in relying too heavily on death to get a response out of your audience is that it wastes the potential of the characters whom they barely got to know. In particular, Supernatural does not treat its female characters very kindly. They tend to die just because it will make the Winchesters feel guilty about being unable to save them, and it frustrates me because these women (especially Meg and Pamela) could have been welcome additions to the cast. They could have balanced out all that pouting, lying, and arguing that the Winchesters do all season long. It would’ve been a breath of fresh air to see Meg join Team Free Will, but instead, she got the shaft and now it’s back to the boring status quo.

And now, the kicker. Wash. I cannot think of a more polarizing death. Firefly was murdered in its crib and they finally managed to resurrect it and what does Joss Whedon do? He bumps off not one but two of the main characters. My writing sensei posted a quote where Whedon explained why he did it–to upset the norm, make the threat real, etc–but I disagree with the Whedon method of “kill everyone you love and in the most horrifying ways possible.” I think Book’s death served those purposes more than enough. It made everything hit home for the crew. It made them see even more than ever that time waits for no one, that the ‘verse is an ugly place, that some threats can come for you in the night and take everything you love. It was harsh and ugly and absolutely tear-jerking in every sense. But Wash’s death was just a suckerpunch. It felt like Whedon came up behind me and pantsed me and then kicked me and pointed and laughed after I fell. It was unnecessary. We already felt devastated at losing Book, and Wash died for the exact same purpose, so to me, it was an extraneous manipulative gesture. It just made us want to cry for the sake of crying, not for the sake of the story. I’m not saying Wash shouldn’t have died at all–I think he shouldn’t have died in Serenity. Wash’s death would have had more of a punch if there had been a second season of Firefly and he died at the end. The crew would have had time to come to terms with Book’s death and maybe they would have fought to be more cautious and then Wash’s death would come as a blindside to show them that they weren’t ready. But that’s a conversation for another day.

The main reason why I have no desire to bump off a major character in my own work is because of my personal philosophy about stories. It’s no secret that the world is an awful place. It’s just downright sickening sometimes. Ray Bradbury once said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” That is a quote that I live by, through and through. Books are an escape. They can be a safe haven for some people, myself included above all. I look to them for comfort, for inspiration, for solace, for love and brilliance and creativity. That is what books mean to me. I’m not saying it’s what anyone else believes–it’s just true for who I am as a person and as an author. That being said, I don’t want my books to turn into one of those bad examples up there. I don’t want to kill off one of my main characters just to make you cry. I want my readers to feel everything–anger, sadness, joy, comfort, hope–and I believe that there is a way to do that without killing off a major character in the final novel of the series. I feel like it’s something that many writers rely on too heavily in their story arcs. I think many writers do it because it is expected of them to “raise the stakes” by murdering one of their darlings. I have already pointed out that when it works, it really works, but when it doesn’t, you just end up with a bad taste in your mouth.

Many famous authors emphasize that one should write the story they would want to read. And that’s my biggest reason against killing off a major character in the final book. There are millions of trilogies out there that have survived and become legends without killing off main protagonist characters–Toy Story 3, Star Wars (Darth Vader doesn’t count because he’s a villain, leave me alone, nerds!), The Dark Knight Rises, Indiana Jones (THERE IS NO FOURTH FILM DAMMIT), and that’s just franchises off the top of my head. I’m in no way against killing protagonists because it is an effective storytelling method, but for me, it has to fit the story naturally and be for a good purpose because the world that I’ve built for people to read should be one that I would be satisfied with reading, and I don’t believe that it will improve the work or the message behind the work if I kill that particular character. I believe in second chances. I believe in rewarding people for their faith in a story and in the characters who make up that story. I don’t believe that everything should have a happy ending, but since life is a steaming pile of camel manure most of the time, I think the least I can do is create a world where sometimes there is a silver lining. Maybe there isn’t a leprechaun at the end of the rainbow, but I really don’t think there should be a homeless man waiting there to shank you after your hard and grueling journey.

But maybe that’s just me.

Thanks for reading, darlings.

Things Castle Taught Me About Writing

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Monday is usually everyone’s least favorite day  of the week, but it isn’t for me thanks to a wonderful cop procedural dramedy known as Castle. It hit the airwaves in 2009 and has been kicking ass ever since with the help of geek god Nathan Fillion and the delicious Stana Katic.

Honestly, I wouldn’t be the same person I am now without this show—both as a writer and as a fangirl. In honor of its sixth season premiere, I’d like to share what this wonderful show has taught me over the years.

Unresolved sexual tension exists for a reason. Sexual tension. It’s a tale as old as time. Song as old as rhyme…wait, no, sorry, wrong story. The titular Castle and his muse, Detective Kate Beckett, wasted no time in sharing steamy chemistry by introducing it literally in the first episode. The first words out of his mouth upon meeting her (at a book release party where dozens of women gathered to drool over him) was, “Where would you like it?” while holding up a Sharpie to presumably sign her chest. Ever since then, it’s been a tango between the two. Castle fancied her from the second he laid eyes on her while Beckett remained unamused and uninterested for most of the first season, but she eventually warmed up to him. One of the most admirable things this show has done is taking the stigma out of the “Will They or Won’t They” trope, which is commonplace in all types of fiction. Castle was able to successfully introduce, explore, and resolve the sexual tension between the characters because the creator, Andrew W. Marlowe, and the cast actively disagree with the “Moonlighting Curse.” For any of you whippersnappers out there, Moonlighting was a 1980’s TV show with starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd as a dynamic duo of sorts who solved cases and had massive amounts of lust between them. However, after the two finally hooked up, the show immediately lost the audience’s interest and got canceled.

The relationship between Castle and Beckett worked because it developed naturally instead of being corralled by the writers. Their actions stayed true to the characters. They constantly made each other better and strengthened their bond before they took a tumble into the bedroom. Many writers struggle with this concept by making several rookie mistakes: resolving the tension too quickly (ex. Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood), dragging the tension along for too long (ex. Ross and Rachel), creating a pointless love triangle where one love interest is clearly the winner and the other gets strung along (Katniss Everdeen and Gale), etc. We’ve all seen this happen in shows/movies/anime/books we love. Castle taught me to fight the urge to force characters together too late or too soon. Allow each character to grow first and then worry about when and how they’ll connect. That will keep things steamy as well as preventing the reader from losing interest or becoming frustrated with the couple.

Supporting characters are the cream in the coffee. If for some bizarre reason you don’t fall in love with Castle and Beckett at first sight, the show has a fantastic spread of supporting protagonists to keep you happy. It is also one of the few shows that found a way to balance these people in Castle and Beckett’s lives, as in no one character steals the spotlight all the time.

More importantly, the secondary characters often provide the subplots that can help enhance the enjoyment of the main storyline. It has become a joke in the fandom that Castle’s daughter Alexis and his mother Martha have helped him solve as many murders as Beckett has due to their troublesome personal lives. It can be difficult building one’s own “cast” in a novel or short story, but it’s ultimately worth it because of diversity. Having more than just one or two characters allows comparisons to be drawn among them. It can highlight implicit and explicit conflict. It can give the character someone to antagonize or sympathize with. Supporting characters are just what their namesake says: they help hold the weight of the story and distribute it evenly.

Themes can be important and juicy tidbits to add to the story. There are a lot of themes in Castle—from overarching concepts like justice vs. revenge or lust vs. love, all the way down to the coffee that the two constantly share and their repeated phrase “Always” in favor of saying, “I love you” before the two became a couple. It has been one of the most enjoyable things about the series over the years. The writers of Castle know their stuff. They are careful to weave the threads throughout the series and create delightful parallels to entice the viewers and make them feel even more connected with the characters.

For example, (spoiler alert!) there’s the line that convinced Castle to begin shadowing Beckett for “research purposes” was after he offered to take her out on a date (and debrief her, ha-ha) and he tells her that it was too bad because it would have been great. The normally no-nonsense Beckett then bites her lip and whispers in his ear, “You have no idea.” Guess what happens the morning after the pair finally sleep together? Castle says, “You were right. I had no idea.” And that’s a distance of five seasons from the pilot to the season five opener. Keeping themes, lines, gags, and ideas like that is what makes the show so much fun to watch. Giving the fiction a definite continuity can further involve your readers and make them a part of what they’re seeing. Furthermore, they can end up hungering for more, like how us Marvel fans eagerly watch the Marvel Universe movies to see small shout outs to other heroes, and the always delightful cameo of Stan “The Man” Lee. Themes, when done properly, are just one more thing to love about a good book.

Keep an eye on your fans. This concept is dangerous, but also well worth the trouble if it works out just right. The Castle writers, creators, and actors are all connected to their audience through social media. Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion both live tweeted the season six premiere, and have done it more than once. They answer questions, post Behind-the-Scenes pics, and generally goof off just like their fans do. They make us feel welcome and tease us with all kinds of interesting things that the show is involved in.

As a writer, it’s important to stay connected to the readers for several reasons: (1) to gauge the general reception of your work (2) to find new readers (3) to catch flaws, criticism, or accidental plotholes that their eyes were good enough to catch (4) to discover new avenues that your work can travel that you may not have considered. For instance, the portmanteau couple name for Castle and Beckett in the fandom is “Caskett” (adorable, right?) and the show’s creators were so tickled by it that they snuck it into a season five episode. This caused a huge uproar of pure glee from the fandom to know that we had influenced our own show. It is a bit harder to integrate something like that into fiction, but it can result in further engrossing the readers when they know that they have your attention. They may even spread your fanbase by telling their friends what they helped create on their favorite show.

Castle’s sixth season has a lot left to show me and I can’t thank the writers/actors enough for giving us such an incredible run over the years. If you’re curious, tune in Monday nights at 10pm EST on ABC to see more of the lovable mystery novelist and his sexy detective. Maybe you’ll learn a little something too.

Kyoko

Things The Legend of Korra Taught Me About Writing

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Do you hear that? It’s the sound of The Legend of Korra being back on the air with new episodes. And, subsequently, my high-pitched fangirl screaming.

So to celebrate my favorite hard-headed Avatar returning to the air waves, here’s some things that LoK has taught me about writing.

1. You can’t please everyone. Well, if you follow me on Tumblr, you know what I’m about to dive into. After the hour long premiere of Korra last Friday, I excitedly hopped onto Tumblr and entered the Legend of Korra tag in order to reblog my guts out in excitement. However, when I arrived, I found that nearly the entire tag was filled to the brim with negative comments. I was stupefied. In my opinion, it was a fair premiere–nothing more, nothing less. I couldn’t understand how it seemed like half the fandom absolutely hated it, and for some pretty petty and perhaps trigger-happy reasons. It kept getting worse the more and more I scrolled down until I finally got pissed off and did something I soon regretted. I made a post saying that the premiere was better than no premiere at all. Albeit, I was being sarcastic. Boy, howdy. The post reached over 1,000 notes within an hour. Half of them agreed with me. The other half vehemently did not. I received at least five angry Anon messages in my Inbox. I lost eight followers overnight. So. What did I learn?

 
Writing is subjective. If you wanted to get down to bare bones, there probably is not definitive way to decide what is “good” and “bad” writing. All we can do is weigh in and see what the general consensus is. As a result, it’s impossible to write something that makes literally everyone happy. You could ask every single person on this planet what they like and try to incorporate that into the end all, be all novel…and someone would still hate it. Because we’re human. Because we’re flawed.

 
Did the Korra premiere have issues? Hell yeah. All over the place. But it’s clear–at least to me, if no one else–that the writers/animators/directors actually care about the characters and the storyline and they made the best story they felt they could based on the direction the series is going. In order for Korra not to be a retread of ATLA, they are taking more risks and diverting from the source material. In some ways, it works. In others, it doesn’t. This is something that every writer–myself included–will face whenever they put ink on the paper. Someone’s going to disagree with you. Someone’s going to hate you and your work. But it’s part of the job. We aren’t here to be liked. We’re here to art, and art hard.

 
2. Pacing can make or break you. Now it’s time to travel back through time to the first season of Korra. I liked the first season. It had some truly gorgeous fight scenes, one hell of a creepy villain, and some excellent characters to explore. However, the one complaint that nearly everyone has brought up is the pacing. Sadly, LoK started out as just a mini-series. They had absolutely no indication or promise that it would make it past twelve episodes. As a result, the writers had to cram an entire season’s worth of story into half a season’s worth of episodes. This meant taking huge shortcuts with plot elements, character interactions, and overall story arcs.

 
This unfortunate drawback imparted an important detail to me: know the length and duration of your story beforehand, if at all possible. Some writers do this very well. Jim Butcher, for instance, does an excellent job with stringing together elements from the first Harry Dresden novel all the way to the latest one. Some writers struggle with it. The writers of Supernatural, for instance, are great at bringing back certain minor characters, but they massively abuse it by simply bringing them back to bump them off, or completely forgetting a major recurring character entirely because of whatever reason. (*cough* ADAM *cough, hacks up a bloody lung and cries because at least it’s not burning in hell like Adam*)
Pacing is just as important as any other threads that hold a story together. It’s important that things happen naturally, even if their nature is something irregular or bold. The story needs to have plot points that are organic, and the characters’ actions should reflect such accordingly, or you’ll give your audience a massive case of whiplash. You don’t want to do that. Medical bills are expensive.

 
3. Memorable characters can make your story soar. Okay, so it’s no secret that I like Korra. She’s ballsy and awkward and headstrong. I also like Mako, despite the fact that over half the fandom hates his guts. Whatever. But you know who will always stick out in my mind as a great character? Lin frickin ‘ Bei Fong. This is yet another aspect that the writers of ATLA and LoK are really good at–developing side characters and making you love them. As a reader, you usually expect to like or want to follow your main protagonist, but I’ve noticed that good writers can also write great supportive characters. I’ll give two examples for science reasons: Waldo Butters from the Dresden Files and Jason Schulyer from the Anita Blake novels.

 

Alright, shut up, it’s time to talk about the Dresden Files. If you’re not reading them, hold out your hand so I can smack the back of it. If you are, please email me with all your feelings about Cold Days. I need to share. Anyway, Waldo Butters is by far one of my favorite characters in the novel series, and that’s saying a lot considering I am 1000% head-over-heels in love with Harry. Butters was introduced in Death Masks and later received supportive character status in Dead Beat. This was easily one of the best decisions Butcher made. He is a wonderful offbeat character who started out as an awkward dorky guy who didn’t have much courage, and then turned into this hilarious, quirky friend of Harry’s. There is nothing I love more than to trip over a character and fall in love with them like a cheesy rom-com.

 

Jason Schulyer, however, won me over basically the first time he was introduced in The Lunatic Cafe. I mean, let me describe his character: he’s a male stripper whose stage name is Ripley (yes, as in Ripley from the Alien movies), he’s a werewolf who spends his nights feeding his blood to his vampire master, he’s bisexual, and he’s a total lecherous pervert with a noble streak. I mean, come on. Doesn’t he sound like he should be the actual protagonist of the novel series? The point I want to make about Jason is that he is so entertaining that I actually kept reading the Anita Blake novels specifically for him after the series went in the crapper after the infamous Narcissus in Chains. It is completely absurd that I liked him so much that I would put up with the purple prose, horrible sex scenes, misogyny, and general unpleasantness that is Cerulean Sins and Blood Noir, but it still happened anyway.

 

To circle back around to my point, The Legend of Korra did exactly that–it gave me an extra reason to tune back into the story for season two. Anytime a reader finds more help to love your series, that’s an achievement. For example, my editor told me that a minor character from The Black Parade made her laugh so hard that she hopes he reappears someday. I had no intention of ever bringing him back, as he was just a one-off villain, but thanks to her, he might show his face again. Details like a well-rounded cast of characters can be that boost to an author’s reputation that they never knew they needed.

Well, I think I’ve gushed enough. If you’re curious, The Legend of Korra premieres Fridays at 7:00pm EST on Nickelodeon. Join us. WE ARE LEGION.

*waves hands, whispers* Water tribe.