Sunday, March 30, 2014

Questions For Matt

Connor Jessup who looks kind of like Matt
Next Saturday I'm going to be doing a character interview with one of my main characters from The Dome, Matt Layden and I want you guys to be the ones coming up with questions! Here's some information about him to get some ideas going.

Matt Layden is a seventeen year old, telekinetic citizen of the Dome: an underwater city at the heart of the Bermuda Triangle. Just like the other students in the city, Matt has grown up learning how to use his ability in both a general and defensive way. The city-wide mentality that abilities involving the mind are more important and influential than others, has cultivated his arrogant side. A strong competitor and team leader in the high school's semi-annual competition, Imprisonment, Matt possesses leadership qualities, knows how to work with a team and has a strategic mind.

Being an only child, Matt has struggled with the pressure of being the perfect son. Congratulations come from his father when he does well. Criticism comes when he does not. To cope, he hangs out with his best friend Ryan, and tinkers at his after school job at the mechanic's shop. His free time is filled with his secret obsession of discovering more about Up There and ultimately getting out. For years he's crept behind his parent's backs, collecting information about both the Dome and the world beyond his own, hoping to find a way out and experience it for himself. In the back of his mind are the nagging rules and warnings against escape. Getting caught means losing everything. But after a life ruled by others, it's about time he takes the risks and rules it himself.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below and he'll answer as many as he can this coming weekend! 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Nostalgia Blast!

A few weeks ago, I had a friend come over to go to a movie with me. While I was throwing my hair in a ponytail, she started going through some papers in my closet, writing papers. At first I panicked but then I saw what it was she was reading and I smiled. She had found a hard copy of a mystery screenplay that I wrote and finished when I was about thirteen or fourteen.
That night, I spent some time looking back at my stories I had both planned to write and started writing.

A snippet from the script
Mystery On Sand Dollar Street
This is the one my friend found in my closet. I had full intentions of using my neighborhood friends as actors, filming it and everything.

Plot: When two best friends, Kennedy and Sara, lose the triplets they're babysitting to an unknown kidnapper, Misty, Aubrey, Jessie and Amber join Detective Elsie in the hunt to find them and return them home. Jessie and Amber follow their own hunches and find clues that lead them to believe that Sara is the kidnapper. While Sara vacations in the Bahamas, Kennedy struggles with the idea that a close friend is a criminal.

When I read it over, I both wanted to hit myself in the face with the pages and applaud myself. I was actually humorous as a kid and there were tons of great lines that made both me and my friend laugh out loud. I made an effort to keep the kidnapper's identity hidden for as long as possible and also make all my characters different.
But the detective did nothing. She basically just showed up and told the girls what to do. She also kept ending the search to go to bed. So there's three little girls missing and you're sleeping...tell me again how you landed this job?

Quest Kids 
As a kid I was obsessed with planning series. The never ending kind. The kind that you can keep adding books too whenever you have a new plot. This is one of those.
I don't remember a lot about this one because I was seven when I came up with it and I never actually started writing it down. However, it was the first story that I would fall asleep thinking about.

General Idea: Two orphaned brother/sister duos discover that they're now the 'chosen ones' and must stop a mafia-like group from carrying out their plans. One girl's name was Jane and another girl's name was Megan...I don't really remember the guys names.

FIRE 303 
I have a special attachment to this one. I think I started it when I was eight and kept it in my head until eighth grade. I kind of miss it.
It started off as a game my sister and two neighbourhood friends played as kids. We threw coloured plastic balls at each other, pretending that the colour represented our power. We came up with names for each other and those names became my main protagonist characters.

Plot: A group of six friends discover an underground laboratory while camping and accidentally get themselves mixed up with a government project to create the ultimate defenders of the city. With watches that give them powers, Emily, Hazel, Melissa and James take on new identities as heroes while Star and Dante become villains.

Emily Seattle (Firegirl): My main character, a rebel/prankster at school and the leader of the FIRE squad. She has flaming red hair that is literally flaming when she's transformed into a super hero and the ability to control, create and be unaffected by fire.

Hazel (Icey): Emily's best friend, born Canadian North. She keeps Emily grounded is a good student and likes to think before acting. She can control ice in almost every way and when she's in superhero mode, the tips of her short blonde hair turn into icicles

Melissa (Raging Storm/Storm): She doesn't offer her opinion much but will support the group in any way she can. She can make hurricanes, tornadoes and any non-snow storm. She also has long brown wavy hair that flies around her face violently even when she's not making storms.

James (Electric Idiot/Electric Shock...where the first one came from I don't know): The goofball and incredibly clueless, he grew up in the city and brings light to their situations.  He has spiked blonde hair that crackles with static when he uses his electrical powers.

So there you have it. Those are just some of the stories I was working on as a kid.

What were the stories that you wrote or planned when you were younger? 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ice Climbers and Deep Chasms

Back in February, our family had some American guests stay with us for about a week. They insisted on having the full 'Canadian experience' and we took them to Jasper in the Rocky Mountains.
After a long car ride, we escaped the polluted city and could finally breath mountain air.
I've always said that one of my favourite things about winter is the way it smells, even in the city. I find it refreshing. The mountains though, take that smell to a whole new level. 
The sounds were the next thing that caught my attention. It was quiet but totally alive.
We had driven up the mountain to a point where the horns of the logging trains that clattered by every two hours couldn't be heard and where there was no evidence that cars even existed. I guess living in the city has made me forget how much I love being in the wilderness. 

Before we even started the hike, a snowball fight broke out. The sun had warmed the air to a glorious -2°C, making the powder perfect for snowballs. It was girls against guys excluding myself; I was taking the pictures. 
After everyone had cold, wet hands we took to the trails. A lot of other people seemed to have the same idea as us because the paths weren't exactly empty. I mean they weren't crowded but if you couldn't see another group of people on the path around you, you were probably in the trees or lost or something. 
The trail was divided into five bridges as you hike down. Each one has something really neat beyond or below. The first one was a deep chasm. It was so deep that we couldn't see the bottom in places, it was just black. The ledges were covered with heavy, untouched snow. Even the animals had left it alone. It was almost too perfect to look at.
Capturing the beauty of everything around me was hard. The camera didn't seem to be doing it's job and I was a little rushed since my family didn't stop for me to take the photos. I usually lined up, snapped a few, changed positions, snapped some more, changed my settings and took a few more then ran to catch up with my group.

Just before the third bridge we heard the sound of ice being chipped away in the canyon to our left. I kept stopping to see if I could find the source of the sound but after awhile, I couldn't see my group anymore so I gave up and ran as fast as I could on the slick ground.
When I rounded the corner I saw them standing at the railing, looking down. The ice chipping was loudest here and now I was able to pick out voices of other people too. Ice climbers.
On a frozen waterfall over the cliff into the canyon, two people wore spiked shoes and held an ice pickaxe in each hand.
As I took pictures of the girl right in front of me, I kept thinking: how cool would it be to be the one scaling the waterfall? To sit at the top and know that you used your own physical (and mental) strength to get to there.
It was official, ice climbing was on my bucket list at the very moment.
Even better, it's probably going to be something I can check off my list! My mom expressed interest in it as well on the drive home so we decided that next winter we'd make it happen. Then maybe That ice climber will be me.

At the third bridge, now halfway down the mountain, the glacier river was frozen solid. Ice climbers heading to the waterfall trekked on below us.
To my left, one of our guests slipped through a wooden guard rail and started down a steep slope to the river. My love for adrenaline kicked in and I ditched everything but my camera before following his lead.
I half-slid, half-walked down the slope before jumping off a ledge and onto the frozen river.
It was the weirdest thing to walk on. The rapids had froze bumps into the ice making walking uneven in places and the warm weather had melted certain spots into a blue slush. It wasn't all that slippery either like I thought it would be.
I got some really cool pictures on that river and generally just enjoyed being at the bottom of the chasm looking up rather than the other way around.
I just wish that I could have had more time down there so that I could take more time composing my shots and explore for longer.

After climbing back up to the path he continued down the mountain where we were lead to a trickling waterfall.
Group photos were a must but apparently I missed out while I was finding the best angle to get the shot that was imagined in my head—I have it posted below.

Even further down, the mountain, things were melting like crazy. The river was now a glassy, crystal clear stream. The sky reflected off the mirror-like surface. If I hadn't known better, I may have walked right out onto it.

More Pictures I Took That Day

Me (middle) with two of our guests

So there's a look at some of my photography and I guess a little bit into the adventures I have while taking photos. It's interesting because while I was going, there was part of me that was annoyed that I brought a camera in there first place. All I wanted to do was experience it and not feel rushed. But looking back at the shots I got, I'm more than glad that I had the camera. If I didn't have it, I couldn't re-experience it all. 
Hindsight really is 20/20.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Five Things Writers Can Learn From Wattpad

A couple years ago, I looked over the shoulder of one of my friends and observed that she was reading a book on her phone. "Oh you can get kindle apps for androids too?"
She looked up. "This isn't kindle, this is Wattpad."
And thus began the journey that lead me to create the world of The Dome but also learn a lot about a side of the writing world I didn't even know existed until then.
For those of you don't know what Wattpad is, it's an ebook community where anybody can post their original stories, chapter at a time and put them under genres for readers to find, free of charge. Readers can vote (the equivalent of liking something on Facebook), comment and add to the story's read gauge. They can follow their favourite authors to get notifications about when new chapters come out and when they start a new story.
Through about a year of reading stories on the site and another year of writing on it, I took mental notes that to this day have helped me become a better writer.

1) How not to write 

I hate to sound pessimistic or critical but there's a lot of not so great writing on this site. Because anyone can post their stories and gain a fan base for free, a lot of the stories aren't all that great. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely some gems on the site but you might have to do some digging to find them.
Some of the characters aren't very deep, villains are introduced too late, romances happen too quickly, the plot has holes and/or generally doesn't work etc. Even some of the better stories have a few minor issues that I've taken note of.
I also caught common cliques. It seemed like certain plot, character and setting elements were repeating themselves. Even the way describing was done didn't have a lot of originality at points. Many writers, for example, described eye colour like this, "He looked into my deep blue eyes with his own brown ones."
During my time on Wattpad, I read a lot of so-so stories and mentally critiqued it as I went. This, to my astonishment, improved my writing drastically. I found myself both subconsciously and consciously more aware of things that would hinder my writing. A lot of people say that critiquing helps your writing and I totally agree. To me, reading stories like these was a type of critique.

2) What readers like to read

It's easy to know what stories are most popular on Wattpad. Simply look at the votes, reads and comments of any given story. By looking more into these stories, you can see what attracts people to the them. Is it the cover? Characters? Fast pace? Unexpected twists?
And what about these elements? What makes them stand out from the others? Why are they unique? You know they have to be different from other stories to become popular so what attracts a crowd? Some stories get popular for no good reason at all in my opinion, but I took a lot away from the exceptional ones–especially by reading comments. What were the things in each chapter that stirred the emotions of the readers?
And then I compare these things to my own opinion; what did I like about the story? Does it match what others are saying?
This is one of the ways I came up with the idea for The Dome.  I noticed that a lot of stories that involved superhuman abilities were getting popular. But–going back to my first point–I knew that a ton of them were being done the same way. They all had similar setting, followed a similar basic plot line, and all the main characters seemed to have the same powers and/or multiple powers. For me, it was getting old.
Readers like fresh stuff. Any unique, well done idea on Wattpad was getting a lot of positive feedback.
So I took the superhuman ability idea and said to myself. "Where can my characters be and what can I do to their goal to make it unique. Then I found the picture above that sparked the official idea and knew I had something special.

3) Good summaries 
Speaking of what attracts people to stories, one of the things that I noticed that pulled me into a story was the summaries. A lot of well-known books on the site have great summaries to pull the readers in.
To this day the best summery I came across was one for the story Frost by Erin Latimer. It started out like this, "I froze the first boy I ever kissed. And I don't mean he got cold feet..."
That line itself drew me into the novel and I didn't regret it.
Summaries are hard. Personally, I think they're one of the hardest things about writing. If you want to get published though, you need a great one.
When I started practicing summaries, I went to Wattpad and just read a bunch. I took notes on which ones are good, which ones aren't and tried to figure out why.
Just like the actual story, I found that the first sentence is incredibly important. The best ones make me ask a question. They also give me a bit of an idea about what the book would be about, even if it's something as simple as who the main character is or where the story will be taking place.

4) Spontaneous writing 
Stories on Wattpad are posted chapter at a time. A lot of the time, writers will get hit with a blast of inspiration and just starting writing chapters, posting them as they go.
Now, this can be a bad thing. What if you decide you want to change the beginning or that a certain character actually has no use? What if a character you killed actually needs to be alive? Since you probably have readers following the novel, you can't just bring them back to life, make people disappear or suddenly change major plot details.
The thing I do like about this though, is the idea of spontaneous writing. A lot of successful authors talk about it. There's something special about reading writing that doesn't sound like writing.
While the stories on Wattpad may not be the greatest of quality, spontaneity is still present. You can almost learn something about the writer just by reading what they wrote.
This is a lesson I like to apply to my first draft. It's been said so many times over again but it's so true. Just write. Don't worry about continuity or anything, that's for editing. Focus on telling the story you want to tell. When you go back to edit, try not to take away that spontaneous sound that makes your writing unique to you.

5) Connecting with readers                                                                                                                  
A lot of wattpaders, just like youtubers, become attached to there fans. You hear the phrase "I have the best fans ever" quite often from either group.
I wondered for a long time what made fans so special. I always sort of wanted some myself but I wasn't sure why. One day struck me like lightning. Having fans is like having a huge group of people who love and support what you do. So then I thought, "Why haven't I tried to get a reader base sooner?"
This is something I didn't expect I'd learn while on Wattpad. I kind of sat at my computer in a little bubble for a long time. Isolating myself wasn't something that would help me get published and while putting myself out there may not either, it certainly wouldn't hurt me.
Some of the authors on Wattpad actually get published after they finish their books. And then guess what they get to do? Tell their hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of fans and they all rush to get themselves a hardcopy of the book they loved so much in ebook format.
So how so you get fans? Well, you can make a Facebook page, a blog, a Pinterest account, a Twitter feed, Instagram, Wattpad if you'd like, or even just join a writing community. If the whole point of fans is to have a group of supportive people, than other writers can be those people too.

Well that was longer than I expected but I hope you got something out of it.

Have you learned anything by observing other books, good or bad?