Inspiration

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Inspiration is such a strange and essential force for an author, and we need to pull it from wherever we can find it. For me, inspiration can be like a patchwork quilt, a line from a song, a character from a book, a writing style, and a plot idea can come together and be woven into an original idea.

For The Order of the Key, the first seed came from watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The series was the first time I’d ever seen a television show that crossed genres, styles, and attitudes. Buffy could be funny in one episode and tragic in the next. Sometimes it was horror, sometimes it was paranormal. Sometimes it was episodic, sometimes it was arc-based. I loved the way the series mixed it up, and I saw that as a powerful way to tell a story. Life can be all of those things, and it’s fun to shine a light on that. So when I dealt with the new characters I was forming in my head, I tried not to conform them to one specific style, and let them just be people – which led to my Contemporary Fantasy, which has elements of horror, elements of comedy, elements of romance.

Now, I had never read a book that behaved the way Buffy did as a television series. And I also had fears of giving my characters flaws. I was concerned about making them far too unlikeable. And then I read The Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong. Reading Kelley’s books gave me both the courage to build unique systems of supernatural characters and to build complex characters with gray areas. I thought I always needed the good guys to be stalwart and true or I’d risk their likeability. Ms. Armstrong soundly corrected me.

The members of the Order are all trained at an Estate that doubles as a school and a living space. If I said anything but X-Men inspired me, I’d be lying.

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins inspired me to explore the harsh realities of war. The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime inspired me to take chances with the voice of the narration. My lead character, Jacklyn, has a very unique point of view, and we get the story from her. It never had the same magic when I tried to tell it third person.

I’m sure there are other things that linked together to create the idea for The Order of the Key. I can think of many times where I’d hear a turn of phrase, the lyrics of a song, or met a person that made me want to write something down. As artists, we spend our entire life fed ideas and inspiration, we internalize that, and when we’re ready to create something ourselves, these ideas mix together to create something truly unique. I hope you enjoy my unique creation.

Where do you find inspiration?

YA Romance: When Strong Doesn’t Have to Mean Single

Hey folks! I’m guest blogging today at All the Way YA, discussing romance in YA and what the potential implications are. See a preview below. For more, click here.

When the movie Tomorrowland was doing its press tour, an interview in Vulture with writers Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof (and also star George Clooney) in which Lindelof was quoted as saying the following when asked about rendering strong female characters. “What if she doesn’t get distracted by romantic entanglements? What if her “romance” is with the future?”

In my infinite insecurity (I am, after all, a writer. We’re all insecure.) I started to think about my story while panicking. Was there something wrong with romance in an adventure story? My story doesn’t involve a romance with the future! The relationship between my main character, Jacklyn, and her confused and confusing as hell potential love interest, Kyp, is a central part of the plot. It’s often the driving force. By not having my main character’s true love be adventure, or being a hero, or something more abstract, was I being somehow anti-feminist? Considering my strong feminist stance, I was genuinely concerned that I had miscommunicated my message.

Write Like a Fangirl

I was a fangirl before I knew anything about fandom. As early as I can remember, I would take an aspect of entertainment and fixate on it, imagining opportunities for stories that had yet to be told. If my favorite couple didn’t exchange a loving glance, my little girl heart would ache for them. I think that thirst for more than the story proper was what honed my writer’s curiosity.

I’ve discussed my fangirl status before here, but that topic was mainly about what fandom was able to teach me about how to view writing, how it gave me a better understanding of storytelling in general and how it helped me to comprehend myself as a “writer”. But another aspect of how fandom affects my writing is that I’m beginning to see my stories the way potential fans may – and I’m having a lot of fun with it.

Ships ahoy!: I am a Daniel/Vala shipper. Oh, and John/Aeryn. And Angel/Fred, Katniss/Peeta, Jamie/Jeremy, Derek/Chloe, Magnus/Alec, and Tris/Four. What the hell does this mean? It means that I am a fan of that particular relationship. Being a shipper means writing 100 pages of fanfiction about how Daniel and Vala should have gotten together. It means throwing things at my TV when the series ends with John and Aeryn being blown to bits (THANK THE HEAVENS FOR FARSCAPE: PEACEKEEPER WARS!). It means you quote the things they say to each other, scramble to find more about their relationship, squee when they get together and die when they break apart. When you’ve got a more unconventional ship, you eat up all interactions they share like they are tiny bits of candy from the heavens. When Fred kissed Angel to hide him from Jasmine’s followers, the squeak that came out of my mouth could’ve broken glass.

This love for relationships and enough time in fandom has taught me to spot even the most odd (or crackiest, as we fandom people say) potential for ships. If I can spot them in my own story, that means that I can try to give something to each of those potential sections of the fandom for my stories – something that will hook them in. I don’t rewrite stories for that purpose or anything, but if I see the opportunity to have two characters interact, I work it into the tale. And I’m hoping this helps add a richness I wouldn’t have otherwise achieved.

Canon vs Fanon: My sister, Megan, is also a fangirl. Allow me to give you a peek into a recent conversation between us.

Me: Rereading Order and I mentioned this part that took place way before the actual story. I wished I could have told it. So I wrote it as a side short story.

Megan: Awesome. Isn’t that, like, the third time you’ve done that?

Me: Fourth.

Megan: LOL – You write your own fanfiction.

Me: LMAO – I would not have thought of it that way. What if I write all of the fanfiction and there’s no more fanfiction left to write? Don’t you love how I assume I’m going to have this crazy fandom?

Megan: LOL – You will! But seriously – you think fandom will run out of stories to write about anything? Trust me, you have not thought about all possible stories. Someone’s gonna come out of nowhere and write the crackiest of all AU [alternate universe] fics out there. Just wait.

Fandom is an interesting place. As a writer, you create a world, and you think you know the ins and outs of it. That is the Canon story. But Fandom digs out some obscure quote that you made in the beginning of Chapter 3 of your 1st book and creates something that gives it so much more meaning. This is Fanon. And suddenly, you want to see what was going on during that one line throwaway where two of your characters were off doing something other than the main plot.

Being a fangirl has helped me to see little instances where I can write outside of the box, little moments that I may not be able to flesh out through the course of the main story, but should I ever have a use for them, my little side shorts are there, waiting to see publication, who knows where. Even if they never see the light of day, that story I wrote about the moment Kyp is abandoned by his father figure, the tale of how good friends Austin and Zane met, that story of why a character betrayed their best friend – they inform the main story. I’ve found myself making edits in the main tale because of things I revealed to myself about my characters in these little backstory exercises.

In that way, writing your own fanfiction can help. Maybe one day, if the series gets successful, I’ll publish an anthology of these. Or, maybe, one day, I’ll pretend I’m more successful than I am by sadly publishing these as fanfiction, pretending I’m somebody else. Can you see it now? “Look! I have a fandom! That Jennine Mantaro keeps writing fanfiction of my work!”

Enthusiasm: The key aspect of being a fangirl is enthusiasm about the work. The best thing you can use when writing like a fan, would be to approach all of your work with a deliberate enthusiasm. Be excited! Know what your characters would think in any situation. Picture them in your head. Build stories of adventures they go on even when they aren’t worth writing about. Create fanmixes, then decide why each song reminds you of your characters or your world. Immerse yourself in your story, the way a true fan immerses themselves in what they love.

I pray my enthusiasm for my stories will be contagious. Will yours?

How Fandom Made Me A Better Writer

A fangirl or fanboy is somebody who has an intense love for a book/movie/tv show/actor and shows it by congregating with others and discussing it, researching every single thing related to it (watching all of an actor’s movies no matter how bad, finding all behind the scenes info available about a movie), and creating ‘fanworks’ (fanfiction, fanvids, photoshop edits).  I am guilty of doing every one of these things.  First it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer or anything Joss Whedon related.  Then, it was Stargate SG-1 or anything Michael Shanks related (i.e. his latest series, Saving Hope).  Author Kelley Armstrong is my main book obsession.  The Hunger Games is another one.  When a fan finds a group of like-minded individuals either at a Convention or on the web, they have become part of a fandom.

So, how did a time-consuming activity like fandom help me as a writer?

1) Characters – Being part of a fandom exposes you to new people.  Meeting people with similar interests does not mean meeting people who are similar to you.  Among my closest online friends, you’ll find: an archaeology major from Florida, a brilliant woman who goes under the name of an infectious bacterium, and a librarian with Asperger’s.  I’ve learned so much about differences in people from them, and so many others.  Conversations with them have spawned fresh story ideas and that archaeology major inspired one of the characters in an upcoming story.

2) Learning social networking – I used to be a lurker.  I would go on sites like Twitter, Tumblr and Fanfiction.net and sift through them without ever bothering to participate in them.  Then one day, my little sister made me sign up for a Tumblr, proclaiming me a secret fangirl who needed a “place to flail.”  She wasn’t wrong.  Not long after joining Tumblr, I became a full-fledged fangirl, writing fanfiction and posting thoughtful analyses of my favorite television shows.  This, eventually, led to the building of a Twitter writing network and to this very blog.

3) Deep Discussions – The perception of a fangirl is mostly the picture of a girl who shrieks like a banshee when her favorite singer blows a kiss into a crowd of thousands and proclaims proudly, “That was for me!”  Most of us are a tad more mature than that.  I’ve had significant discussions on the full character arc of Stargate’s Daniel Jackson, read essay length writing pieces on why Clary Fray from The Mortal Instruments Series is a Mary Sue (aka, a perfect character with no flaws and special characteristics that nobody else has – a literary no-no), poked holes in the entire plot of Buffy Season 7, expounded at length on how you can tell something’s a Joss Whedon piece without reading the credits, and played strange games like “Place the characters from The Hunger Games into Hogwarts houses” (thanks for the that one, Pip).  That’s character development, how to create strong characters, spot and correct plot holes, tie loose ends, and have a distinct and strong voice – all essential writing skills.

4) A book idea – I was goofing off with my favorite online crew of friends, discussing Stargate character, Daniel Jackson.  Somebody said, “Wouldn’t it be great if you had a Daniel on your shoulder, telling you what to do?”  And someone else said, “Wouldn’t it be more fun if it was Jack O’Neill?”  (Daniel is brilliant, but calm and peaceful.  Jack is a tough as nails bad ass.)  And I thought, how would one truly react if they had their favorite character from their favorite television show trying to direct their lives?  Last post I referred to the story of the divorcee with the imaginary friend, remember?  And thus, a story was born…

5) Fanfiction – Fanfiction is when you take characters you love from a piece that you love and write a story about a previously unrecorded adventure.  This is strictly for fun, not profit, and can be a powerful exercise.  For somebody who is serious and respectful of the original work, it can be a bit like writing for television if you were sitting in the writer’s room with the series creator.

Shortly after joining Tumblr, I got my first fanfic idea.  This was after six months of a stress-induced writing drought.  With some trepidation, I pursued it – a short story length tale.  I posted it and spent the next couple of hours obsessively waiting to see what people thought about it.  It got good reviews.  Reviews that asked me to keep writing for the characters.  My peers, people who loved the same television show I did, thought I did a good job with their world.  So I tried another one, a longer one: about 100 pages broken into 10 chapters.  I posted chapters once a week and was prodded constantly by people that now considered themselves my fans to post more.  I’d received useful constructive criticism and compliments.  Eventually, I won fan-voted awards for both stories.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  The entire time I’d been working on these pieces, I had been cringing, thinking I should be hard at work at the original thing that I couldn’t write.  It didn’t occur to me until I was posting thank yous for my fan awards that this was just as important a step as if I had taken a writing class.  Writing fanfiction returned my confidence to me.  It reminded me that I was a good writer and asked me for more and it gave me the kick in the pants I needed to start writing my own work.  People genuinely liked my ideas.  They liked the way I handled characters.  And maybe, they would like my plots and my voice in a brand new world of my own creating.

I started writing in earnest once again less than a month after I published that first fic.  By the time the fan awards came in, I had begun seriously considering myself a writer.