Friday, July 28, 2017

Writing a Compelling Hero: 7 Tips With Examples

There is a serious lack of good good guys in books today. No, I didn't just accidentally type "good" twice. I just felt that "good guy" doesn't mean what it used to mean, so I have to add the extra good.

I'm not talking about "good guy" as in protagonist. As in main character. As in character-you're-supposed-to-root-for. Because these characters have recently taken on a darker tone: Protagonists are often no longer good people, main characters have lost their humanity, and I often find myself rooting for character-you're-supposed-to-root-for because he/she is slightly better than the antagonist.

Nope. I'm talking about the good guy. The upright hero. The character who you always know is going to try to do the right thing no matter what. I'm talking about Samwise the Brave, Captain America, Moana, Obi-Wan, Neville, Newt, Hiccup, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man (the Tom Holland one....The others don't qualify. At all).

Sure, I love anti-heroes. Crafting villains is one of my favorite pastimes. And dark stories? They're my jam.

But the world is a dark place and I think it's time we start reviving the light. We are always in need of a character we can look to and be inspired by. The type we can point to and say, "Yeah, I want to be like that!" The one that shows us we can be better, braver, stronger than we ever imagined.

Some say these character types are boring. I say that's because you're simply writing them wrong. Let's start with the basics:
Writing a Compelling Hero: 7 Tips With Examples - How to write characters that show us that we can be better, braver, stronger than we ever imagined.
1. Mix some interesting heroic traits. In this post, when I'm using the word "hero" I'm talking about goodness. Yes, your hero will be a good person. But what besides that? Is he extremely loyal? Does she have good manners? Is he selfless? Is she brave? Patient? Humble? Empathetic? Pick a few that you like. Then choose at least one other trait that can be positive, but may not be necessarily heroic (reckless, rule-breaker, sarcastic, etc). Write all of these chosen traits somewhere next to your hero's name. Refer to it whenever you're trying to decide how he/she will react to a situations.
  • Example: Obi-Wan. One of my personal favorite heroes. He, unlike me, is extremely cultured. He, unlike me, follows the rules. He, very much like me, is incredibly sarcastic. He is also very empathetic and loyal. He possesses many classic hero traits, but the sarcasm really brought it all together to make him both inspiring and relatable.
2. Decide what caused them to be good. Why are they so upright? Where did they gain their morals and why are they so determined to stick with them? No, the reason can't just be, "Naw, he was born that way." That's a good way to create a flat character.
  • Example: Spider-Man. He was raised by a loving Uncle and Aunt who worked hard to instill him with good morals. When his uncle died, he felt a responsibility to make his uncle proud and not stress out his aunt.
3. Decide why their goodness is important to the story. Like most overarching personality traits, it's a good idea for your character's heroic-ness to have a purpose to the plot. There needs to be at least one moment (hopefully multiple ones, though) where they come up against something difficult and their good qualities are what enable them to make it through. Show your readers that upright living is worth something. People like to know that the good guys do, in fact, win.
  • Example: Moana. She's brave, strong, and never gives up. She's willing to stand up for the little people (or, you know, baby turtles) and can see people for who they truly are. That's why the ocean chose her to take the heart back to Te Fiti. Her goodness is also a perfect foil to Maui, who's a bit rough, proud, and ready to give up. She keeps him going and thus keeps the story moving forward.
4. Decide why they think their goodness is important. Why are they so determined to stick to their morals? Why is it so important to them personally that they're never willing to budge when it comes to what they believe is right? It takes real courage and perseverance to be strong in who you are. Goodness doesn't come from nowhere, and it certainly doesn't stay without a person choosing to work hard to maintain it. Give your heroes a reason for fighting for their morals.
  • Example: Neville Longbottom.
    It was always important to him to be brave. Even if he was afraid, he always tried to do the right thing. And he was always loyal to his friends. Why? Because he knew that his parents had been brave. He knew that they had lost their minds rather than give up their friends. So, to him, loyalty and bravery were important because he wanted to uphold what he'd seen in his parents, who he was proud of.
5. Give them a struggle. Good people go through horrible things. It's a fact of life. An unfortunate one, yes. But there's nothing more inspiring than watching a good person come through a hard situation by sticking by who they are and what they believe.
  • Example: Wonder Woman. At first, she is eager to go to war. She wants to stop Ares and put an end to the world's suffering. But she soon learns that it's not that simple. She can't save everyone. In fact, some people refuse to be saved. She struggles with her frustration at the nature of humankind and finds her spirit crushed by experiencing the cruelty of the world. But, ultimately, she decides to continue to do what's right.
6. Give them a character arc. What, you think good characters can't have an arc? Don't be a dollophead. An arc doesn't always have to be a character fixing a negative trait (though yes, your hero can have flaws). The arc can be about how they deal with a conflict, how they interact with other characters, etc. But please, for the love of goodness, do not have their arc be how they slowly learn to let go of their morals. We have enough messed up characters in fiction (and enough bad people in the world). Show us the good guys and don't tear them down just for kicks.
  • Example: Captain America. I've heard some say Cap is a flat character. These people are wrong and I will fight them. Cap actually has several arcs. His first is deciding to go from "circus Cap" to "soldier Cap." His second is his struggle to figure out where he, the old-fashioned good guy, fits into the 21st century where Tony Starks and other such morally ambiguous "heroes" are beloved. His third is choosing between saving his friend Bucky over sticking with the rest of the Avengers. Three arcs, guys. Three. And there are more. Don't you try to tell me he has no depth.

7. Remember that they don't have to be the main character. People often think of "hero" with a capital h. But sometimes the best heroes are the ones that aren't front and center. They absolutely can be a main character, but they don't have to. In fact, a secondary character as the hero can be excellent if he/she is playing across from a less-upright main character. Secondary hero characters are also perfect for the darker stories that need a strong light to keep things from going into the land of Death and Despair.
  • Example: Samwise the Brave. Possibly my absolute favorite hero: Kind, compassionate, perserverant, strong, and a warrior to be reckoned with. He sticks by Frodo no matter what. His bravery saves his friends multiple times. His goodness inspires those around him and gives strength to Frodo when he needs it most. He's not technically the main character, but he's the hero. 
It's time for more heroes, people. We need good guys to cheer for. Characters that fill us with courage and inspiration and hope. Let's work hard to craft stories and characters that uphold heroic qualities and showcase the strength and beauty of integrity.

Who are some of your favorite heroes? Tell me a bit about the hero that you have in your book. If you don't have one, do you think your story would benefit from one? Why or why not? Let's discuss!

Related articles:
8 Different Kinds of Strengths to Give Your Characters
7 New and Improved Versions of the Chosen One Trope
The Do's and Don'ts of Writing Strong Female Characters

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Friday, July 21, 2017

12 Writing Myths You Need to Stop Believing

Writers are an odd group of people who have odd ideas about the writing life. We only write if we have a cup of coffee in that black mug with the chip in it, but claim not to be superstitious. We believe it's important to be open-minded, but some of us are willing to go to war over whether or not ebooks are the end of the reading community. We claim to love being writers, but spend a large portion of our time avoiding writing like Superman avoids kryptonite.

No, we're not crazy. We're just steeped in a writing world that clings to writing myths without even knowing it. And, as fun as it can be, it also causes a lot of problems.

So, today, I'm here to dispel several writing myths. You may not like it, but it's time to unlearn what you have learned.
Hannah Heath: 12 Writing Myths You Need to Stop Believing
1. You need to be "inspired" to write. Pffft. Please. Do you know how much I felt like writing this post today? I didn't. But I knew I needed a post for this Friday and this topic was one of ten topics I have on my whiteboard. So I chose it at random and here I am, even though I'm a bit stressed and not at all inspired. Why? Because writing is important to me. I have set times each week that I write whether I feel like it or not. And you know what? My writing isn't a complete disaster. In fact, there are days I consider it to be very passable. So if I can write with zero inspiration at the drop of a hat, then so can you. Writing is serious business. Being an author is a job. Treat it like one.

2. Writing is a secluded activity. Do you have any idea how much networking it takes to become a published author these days? You need to be on social media to sell your books. You need an email list. Blogs are super helpful, as are writing conventions. You need to be willing to hand business cards to complete strangers without having a heart attack. Writing is not just an excuse to be a hermit.

3. Writing is just a hobby. No, bro. No. Just because you enjoy something or are passionate about it doesn't make it a hobby. Hobbies don't require dedication. Hobbies don't make money. Writing is a job.

4. You aren't a "real" writer until you've published something. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If you write something down but nobody else has read it, are you actually a writer? Yes and yes. There's no such thing as an "aspiring writer." Can you put letters on paper to form words? Do you do it? Then you are a writer. Own it.

5. You need a bunch of fancy tools. Scrivner. Digital whiteboards. Word count apps. Are these helpful? Maybe. Do you need them? No. How do you think Hemingway wrote his books? He didn't do it using the Hemingway app, I can tell you that. You really don't need anything other than a computer or paper and pen to write. I'm not saying you can't use them. Do what works for you. But don't for one moment believe that you can't write without them.

6. Writing comes naturally. Heh. That's cute. Writing isn't easy. There are day when we writers forget how to spell or don't use proper sentence structure. There are days we can't for the life of us write anything that doesn't make us feel like crying, then burning it. Good writing takes work and practice.

7. Writers are crazy, sleep-deprived, and addicted to caffeine. Writers are not crazy. In fact, the argument could be made that we're not even the weird ones. And, as mentioned before, writing is a true job and, as such, does not benefit from lack of sleep or being addicted to anything. Don't go ruining your health so you can look like a "real" writer.

8. You need to "know" something before you can write about it. I wrote an entire post about why this isn't true.

9. You need to be any English major. Uh. No. You really don't. I'm not saying an English major is a bad idea. If that is what's calling you, go for it. However, if you want to be an author but don't want to major in English or anything along those lines, that's fine too.

10. Your characters and book are in control. While writers like to joke about "Oh no, my character ran off in the wrong direction," it is in no way true that you don't have the power to grab them by the ear and put them back on the right path. You created this book and these characters. You da boss.

11. Social media isn't necessary. Dude. How do you plan on marketing your book? By going door-to-door? You really didn't think this through. If you need help, read this post.

12. You'll never make it in the writing world. Don't listen to this one! You can make it. How? Dream hard. Work harder. Never give up. Never surrender.

These are just 12 of many writing myths that you really, really shouldn't be believing. Which is your favorite? What are some good ones that you don't see mentioned? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Related articles:
10 Things Nobody Tells You About Being A Writer (Until It's Too Late)
Inside the Creative's Mind: 9 Things You Should Know
5 Steps to Fighting Off Writer's Insecurity

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Friday, July 14, 2017

9 Tips for Handling Violence in Your Stories

I don't like Hallmark movies. Pure romance is not a genre I tend to read. Me deciding what type of movie to watch or book to read looks something like this:

Are there swords?

Do things blow up?

Will there be multiple action sequences?

I like "yes" to be the answer to at least one of these questions. Preferably all of them.

But I also ask other questions, too. Like these:

Is there gore?

Is human life devalued?

Do the action sequences pose no purpose?

I do not like "yes" to be the answer to any of these questions.

As a fan of action movies and a writer of Fantasy that centers around assassins, I like my action scenes and, clearly, violence plays a large factor in these portions of the story. But how much violence is too much? How are we, as writers, supposed to portray death, battles, and bodily harm? These are questions I'm constantly asking myself, and one that, hopefully, other writers are, too.

I have the answers, but they're classified. I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

Just kidding. Here are some good tips to keep your violence from crossing over from realistic to harmful:
Hannah Heath: 9 Tips for Handling Violence in Your Stories
Note: This post is not touching on sexual or domestic violence. These very serious issues deserve their own posts.

1. Gore isn't a good idea. There is a difference between violence and gore. Violence is saying that somebody got sliced across the stomach with a sword. Gore is detailing how the...er...insides look as a result of the slicing. Violence often has a purpose in the story. Gore is usually gawking at (or, at worst, reveling in) brutality. Gore is not something you should be using for two main reasons: 1) Gore will alienate a large portion of your audience. And, more importantly: 2) It indicates that you feel the need to rely on something other than your own writing style to convey fear, capture your readers, and show the ramifications of violence. Yes, gore is realistic, but you can find other less harmful (and gross) ways to convey realism. If you need blood and guts to hold your audience's attention or impact your reader, then you need to go back and evaluate your story.

2. The violence needs a point. Did you get that? Needs. NEEDS. NEEDS. NEEDS. NEEDS. Don't make me say it again. Any violence needs to either be moving the plot forward or impacting the character arc. Preferably both. Inigo Montoya's hunt for (and consequential fight with) the six-fingered man is a perfect example of this.

Yes, the point can be to show the horrors of an event (war, genocide, murder, etc). It is to make this point that bloody violence can sometimes be appropriate. But use it to provoke thought. Use it to invoke disgust. Use it to encourage right-thinking. Use it for the correct audience. And use this technique sparingly. 

And, in case you're wondering: No, "raising the stakes" isn't always a good reason for violence. Can it be used to raise the stakes? Sure. Should it be your go-to? Nope. Why? Because every time you use violence in your book, it has less and less meaning. The eighth character death will mean almost nothing compared to the first. A character getting into a fight at every turn will become expected, thus lowering the emotional investment of your readers. While your violence does need a point, that point shouldn't always be to raise the stakes. If you need ideas on how to raise them without stabbing being involved, read this excellent post.

3. Know your audience. Know who you are writing for and judge how much violence you should be using. Marvel does an excellent job of this. They know families go to watch their PG-13 films, so while there is a lot of action and some intense scenes, there is very little blood. Be like Marvel.

4. Remember that violence is "louder" on paper than on screen. Seriously. Tone it down. I'm sure you've heard about desensitization. Don't add to the problem.

5. Don't forget about perspective. A disaster survivor may block out the gore around them because they become fixated on a missing shoe that looks like their brother's. A person on a battlefield may notice their friend bleeding heavily, but will not take the time to take detailed notes on the way the corpses around them look. A first responder may take a more clinical view of a bloody situation. Show violence in fragments, not whole pictures. Not only is it more tasteful, but it's more realistic and more powerful.

6. Watch the body count. Tons of nameless characters getting hacked to bits? Congratulations. Your massive body count has simultaneously devalued human life and decreased the impact of your writing. I hope you're proud. Seriously. I'm tired to reading books and thinking:
If people need to die, fine. If your book centers around war, then yes, there will be pain. But don't have your characters killing faceless people right and left without touching on the fact that, "Hey, those were people with lives and families and maybe their deaths should be taken more seriously."

7. Your characters need morals. Don't let your characters kill without purpose or thought or remorse (unless it's a villain...and even then, maybe think about deepening the character). Don't let your characters lash out as a sign of strength or "coolness." Violence is not a good behavior, though it is a real (and sometimes necessary) one. Please give your characters morals, checks and balances, lines they will not cross. Otherwise your violence means nothing. And thus your story stands for nothing.

8. Don't glorify violence. Just don't, okay? Nothing good comes out of that. Depict violence, sure. But show the ugliness of it. The severity. Don't play it off as funny. Don't make it look cool.

9. Don't forget to show the ramifications. So many stories ignore this. They show the acts of violence, but not what comes after. Show the painful treatments and long recoveries after brutal fights. Show the negative mental and emotional effects of having to go through a traumatic experience. Show the personality changes that comes from constantly engaging in violence.

Hopefully these tips help you when it comes to writing violence into your stories. If you have questions about anything I said...or comments about anything you think I got wrong, leave them below. If not: Have fun storming the castle!

Related articles:
Using Context and Subtext to Raise the Stakes in Your Story: A Guest Post by Malcolm Tolman
Darkness in Fiction: 7 Tips for Writing Dark Stories
Keeping it Classy: When is it OK to Use Profanity In Your Fiction Writing?

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Friday, July 7, 2017

"Write What You Know:" What This Advice Means And How to Apply it

"Write what you know."

It's a phrase that every writer has heard at some point or another. And it scares most of us because we're honest enough to admit to ourselves:

"I don't know anything."

How are we supposed to write orphaned characters if we're not orphans ourselves? How are we supposed to write about Paris when we've only seen pictures of it? How can we capture the essence of the Roman era when we do not, in fact, own a TARDIS? How? How???

That phrase "Write what you know"? It doesn't mean what you think it means. If it did mean what you think it means, it would be absolutely terrible advice that you should not follow, no matter which smart writer may or may not have said it.

I see so many writers worrying about and being limited by this phrase. So if you've ever thought about this rule and screamed, "But I know nothing!!!" this post is for you.
Hannah Heath: Write What You Know: What This Advice Means and How to Apply It - So you think you don't know enough about anything to write about it? Not true. Let me tell you why.
Note: Some sections of this post are copied from different conversations I've had with various writers via email and social media. So if any of it sounds familiar, it's because I'm plagiarizing my past self. 

This phrase is about personal knowledge. For instance: Maybe, unlike your hero, you've never had to watch your entire village burn down. You have, however, known what if feels like to lose something or somebody important to you. You've experienced the emotion of having your world turned upside down, whether because you moved to a different state, watched your parents get divorced, started a new and challenging job, had somebody close to you get sick. You know fear and you know pain because you are human. You were, unfortunately, raised with the knowledge of such things. That is personal knowledge. And that is what you know. It is what you use to write about your hero's loss of a village.

It's about knowing your characters. So you're worried that you won't be able to accurately describe what it's like to live in Singapore because you've never been there? You've seen pictures, but you don't really know what it looks like. You've read descriptions, but you're not positive about the sounds of the city, the mood of the people, the smell of the food. That's fine. Why? Because everyone has a different experience. If we all went to Singapore right now, we'd all come back with different impressions. We'd have noticed different things because we're different people and because people don't generally "know" things. They feel them, see them through their own special lens.

Ultimately, a story is about how events and settings affects the character: How it makes them feel, act, believe. Not what they know. And certainly not what you know.

So find out who your character is. Collect a few of the big facts about Singapore. Now drop her into that new setting and show us how she feels.

It isn't about making you doubt yourself. So how do you write what you know if you don't know anything? Well, first of all: You'd be surprised at how much you actually do know. It doesn't matter how old you are. It doesn't matter if you've lived in the same place your entire life. It doesn't matter if you feel times have changed and left you behind. You do have knowledge. Maybe not big facts or grand histories. But you know emotions because you are alive. You know creativity and love and hope and sadness and beauty and fear.

You know enough.

Don't ever let the idea of not knowing anything stop you. If you ask any honest person, they'll admit that they don't know what they're doing, either. I know I don't. We only come to know things by simply being alive. It's how we learn. We writers have our minds and our imagination. Knowledge is secondary.

It's about being willing to admit when you need help. So maybe there's something you know nothing about. Maybe you're writing a story set in ancient Egypt even though you only ever saw a clip about ancient Egypt on the History channel that one time. Maybe you're writing a character with Down Syndrome though you don't have and don't know anybody who does. Maybe you're writing hardcore science fiction and the only science you know is from Star Trek and you think it possibly isn't a very reliable source (good instinct, by the way). 

That's totally fine. Go read up on ancient Egypt. Talk to people with Down Syndrome, along with their family members. Crack open a science textbook (or go ask your nerdy friends some questions). Explore (but do not implicitly trust) Wikipedia. 

There will be times when you're going to write about things that you know nothing about, but need some knowledge of so that you can give your story a realistic feel. Don't let that scare you off. Read some books, watch some documentaries. Go up to people who you know have knowledge in the correct area and say "Help me, you are my only hope." 

You can do this. 

So yes. Write what you know. Write about what it is to be human, to be alive, to know so little and so much at the same time. If you get stuck, as for help. Just don't be afraid. And never give up. 

What are your thoughts on this phrase? When are some times when you've been afraid of your lack of knowledge and how did you work through it? Let's discuss!

Related articles:
Challenging Writers to Write Honestly 
Why There's No Such Thing as "Just A Story" 
Write What You Want to Write: Why You Shouldn't Follow Current Writing Trends

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

3 Year Blogiversary: Announcements and Youtube Channel Launching

Today is my blog's 3 year anniversary! That's right, people. 3 years ago today, my blog went live.

It has grown a lot since then, something I credit to you guys and your amazing support....And the healthy lifestyle I've been teaching it: Nerd references (for the nerds), good writing tips (for the writers), gifs (for the followers with attention span issues). I also like to think that my sweat and curses have also contributed (HTML and I do not get along). 

Yep. This blog has gone from crawling to toddling to walking and I am very proud. I also want to take a moment to applaud you all and say:
Thank you to all of my original followers: You clearly have a high tolerance for sarcasm and nerd references, which puts you way up high on my "People who are actually pretty cool and not as annoying as most other humans" list. I appreciate you sticking with me for this long. 

Thank you to all of my new followers: You are very brave for joining the club. You also obviously have very good taste. I'm excited to get to know you, so leave a comment and say hello! 

Thank you to my regular commenters: Yes, you. The people who always leave comments on each post. Don't think I hadn't noticed you. You're awesome and I love reading your thoughts. Keep it up! 

Thank you to my regular social-media sharers: You always share my posts around social media and help me link up with other amazing people. I appreciate this to no end. 

Thank you to the lurkers: I know you're there. You show up and read posts every week, but never say anything. Just silently support....Or judge? I'm not really sure because you never say anything. Either way, I appreciate you taking the time to read my articles. And don't be afraid to say hello! I don't bite. Not usually, anyway.

I love writing this blog and am excited for all of the new things that are coming. What are the new things that are coming? you ask. Let me show you....
Hannah Heath: 3 Year Blogiversary: Announcements and Youtube Channel Launching

Reader's Corner

As you can see, after an epic battle with HTML and CSS, I redesigned my blog. This new design includes a left sidebar called "Reader's Corner." And yes, I realize it's not technically a corner, but we're all just going to pretend that it is. 

What's the point? Reader's Corner is a place for indie authors to advertise their amazing books. It's also a place for readers to find their next awesome read. 

For those of you who are concerned that I'm "selling out:" Pffft. Please. Don't be such a clotpole. 

Here's how it works: 

Ad spaces are sold to indie authors (very cheaply, I might add). That being said, not every applicant is guaranteed a spot. There are requirements: 
  1. I need to have read the book and verified that it follows the ideals of this blog. Why? Because I'm not about to let people advertise bad books to my precious followers. I want you all to feel that you can safely read any of the books on Reader's Corner without encountering inappropriate content. The "ideals" of this blog are fairly obvious if you've been following it for a few months, but the full rules are laid out here
  2. The book needs to have a minimum of 3-stars. If I've read it and it wasn't good enough to garner a 3-star rating, it doesn't get a spot. Why? Because, again, Reader's Corner is a place for you all to find good reads. Not sub-par ones. 
If you are an indie author who is interested in buying a spot (or simply a reader who wants to know more about exactly how this will work), you can check out the guidelines here

I love the indie publishing community and want to be able to boost their readership. I also love my fellow readers and want to help them find some good books. I'm really excited to see Reader's Corner grow and help both causes. 

Youtube Channel 

That's right. I'm finally taking the leap. Youtube is an absolute unknown to me. After all, I'm a writer, not a speaker. But, as of today, I've jumped into the world of Youtubing and now have a channel that you can subscribe to. I feel like Jasmine: 
Now, the problem with feeling like Jasmine is that if Jasmine is me, then the flying carpet is Youtube. And, as you can see, the flying carpet has no railings. And, unlike Jasmine, I don't have another person sitting next to me who has flown before. But I'm not going to worry because, like Newt Scamander, my philosophy is that worrying only means you suffer twice. 

Okay. I'll stop comparing myself to fictional characters now. 

The point is: I don't know what I'm doing. But I'm pretty sure we're all going to have a lot of fun. 

The Youtube Channel is #ChatWithHannah and its first video can be found here. In this video, I explain what the channel is. The first "official" video will be out July 19th, so subscribe now and change your settings so that you'll get a notification when each monthly video comes out.  

Videos will come out the 3rd Wednesday of each month. Why Wednesday? Because the first Monday of each month is when my Newsletter goes out. And Friday is reserved for my weekly blog posts. I felt that having any of my content come out back-to-back would be too much for you to handle. You're welcome. 

And those are the two new pieces of content that are coming into the Hannah Heath Blogosphere.  Though I guess now I can't call it a blogosphere....? Universe sounds a bit too flamboyant. Eh. Who cares? The Hannah Heath Universe it is. 

I'm really looking forward to these new changes and I hope you are, too. Thank you all for your amazing support! I'm excited to spend yet another year blogging. Let's make it a good one! 

Do you have any questions? Just ask! And, of course, use #ChatWithHannah if you have a question you'd like answered on the Youtube channel!

Related articles:
Reader's Corner Explained
My 2 Year Blogiversary! + A Survey

Enjoy this post? Take a look around. If you like what you see, please don't forget to subscribe by email for a new post every Friday!

Reader's Corner Explained

I see you're interested in Reader's Corner. Pull up a chair. Let me explain it to you.

Reader's Corner is a place where indie authors can advertise their amazing novels to equally amazing readers who are looking for their next good story.

Now, not just any book can have a spot in Reader's Corner. Why? Because this is my blog and I do what I want.

Just kidding. I actually have a more professional reason: I love my blog and I love my readers. Because of this, I do not want ads on my blog that do not align with the ideals held on this blog. Nor do I want ads that harm my followers.

So how do I keep this from happening? Rules. They are as follow:

Rule #1: The books needs to be indie published. This means: It was self-published or published through an indie publishing house. Reader's Corner is meant to promote authors who don't have the marketing power that comes with being backed by a large publishing house.

Rule #2: I need to read the book that is being advertised. As a potential advertiser, you'll need to send me a copy of your story (ebook or physical...whichever is most convenient for you). I will then read it and, if it aligns with the ideals of this blog, it will be approved for a spot on my site. You can contact me here if you want to submit a book.

      Not sure if your book aligns with this blog's ideals? Here are the general guidelines:

  1. No sexual content. Romance is fine. Kissing is fine. Sexual content is not. This means no sex scenes, foreplay, etc. If it would qualify for a PG-13 rating due to sex, it won't be allowed here. If you have something in your story that makes you question whether it qualifies as sexual content: It probably does. But you can absolutely double check with me just in case. 
  2. Unnecessary language. To learn about this blog's view on profanity in literature, click here. PG language is preferred, but it's understood that sometimes brief strong language is needed to set the mood for a story. That is acceptable. As a guideline: Think about the language used in The Avengers movies. Anything that goes above that in intensity and frequency will probably be rejected. Again, if you're unsure, just contact me and give me the foul language count. We'll go from there. 
  3. Unnecessary darkness. To read about how darkness in fiction is viewed on this blog, read this article and play special attention to tips 1, 2, and 4. As long as the darkness in your story has a purpose and isn't just depraved, it should be fine. 
If your book violates any of these, please don't bother contacting me and asking me to read your book. You don't want to spend resources sending me a copy of a book that won't be approved. 

Rule #3: I need to give the book a minimum of 3 stars. This is for my followers. It allows them to know that, if a book is showing up in the Reader's Corner, buying it and reading it isn't a waste of time and money. It also benefits you as an author because, if my readers trust that the books advertised here are good, they're more likely to purchase your story. 

      Not sure what earns 3 stars? That's okay. It differs from reviewer to reviewer. For me, it means this: This story had some problems. Maybe the writing style isn't great. Maybe there are some plot holes, problems with character development, or pacing issues. Maybe the editing isn't super thorough. However, there were at least a few things that this story was doing correctly: Maybe one particular concept (plot, characters, writing) is excellent. Maybe the message is good. Maybe the characters, world-building, series, or author has potential. It had enough upside to it that I would read more by the author. 

Rule #4: You need to be okay with not being approved. I really don't see this being a problem because I don't see myself having to reject a lot of books. However, if yours is rejected, please don't take it personally. 

And that's it. Just 4 rules. Not so bad, right? If you want to see your book in Reader's Corner, read on: 

All ads are sold through Beacon Ads. This means you'll need to set up a Beacon Ads account. It's easy and free, so don't be afraid. 

Your ad will be your book cover. The dimensions are 180 x 288 pixels. That's an aspect ratio of 8:5, which means that height of the image is 1.6 times the width. This is the golden ratio for book sizes, so your cover image is probably already in that dimension and shouldn't be too difficult to shrink it down, like so:
As for the pricing: Click here to see how much each space is sold for. Currently, I'm selling each space for a fixed 30-day rate rather than charging per 1,000 impressions*. This may change in a few months, which could result in a slight price hike, so it would be smart to jump in now. 

*Note: The estimated monthly impressions that you see are still in the process of being calculated by Beacon Ads, so don't pay too much attention to them. Translation: My blog gets a lot more views than what is currently showing, so those numbers will be larger by the end of the month. Which is good for you because it means your book will be seen by a lot of people. 

There are currently 5 spots available, but I may open up more spots depending on how things work out.

What do you think? Do you want your book in Reader's Corner? Yes? Well then:

If I have already read your book and given it 3 stars or more: Get started! Sign up with Beacon Ads and buy a spot.

If I haven't read your book yet, but you're interested in a spot: Yay! Contact me and we'll get this ball rolling!

Friday, June 23, 2017

12 Manga and Comic Books Worth Reading (Part 1)

You like to read, right? Yes? I thought so. People don't generally read this blog unless they're fans of the written word.

I'm a firm believer in reading across multiple genres: It improves the mind and will immensely increase your writing skills. So it's only natural that on my shelf sits classic literature, fantasy, sci-fi, gothic literature (which I still can't bring myself to like, but I'll keep trying), satire, mystery, British and Russian and American literature, historical fiction, and nonfiction spanning world religions, pro-life apologetics, English grammar, and American government.

Chances are you've read some books in at least one of these categories. And if you've read books in all of these categories: You are awesome. And also probably need to get a life.

Aside from your standard (or, maybe, not-so-standard) novels, I also have several shelves dedicated to comic books and manga. And it always makes me sad that not very many people (specifically writers) seem to be familiar with this form of story-telling.

Some consider the images distracting. Some consider them childish (there's a difference between comics and picture-books. Just to be clear). But 90% of the time it comes down to the fact that people simply don't know where to start.

Well, that's where I come in. Allow me to drag you into the world of comic books and manga....Or introduce you to some new titles if you're already a native. I've only been reading these story formats for about a year and a half, but I'm in deep, deep love and am pretty confident that at least a handful of the books listed below will be something you'll enjoy.

I feel the need to mention to my hardcore fans: I'm not recommending purely classic comics/manga and yes, I'm aware that the below list is not encompassing some very excellent stories. This is Part 1 in a very long series of posts I'll be publishing over the years and it is put together using an incredibly complex system that goes something like this:

*stares at wall* *tries to remember all the comics and manga I've read* *remembers random ones in no particular order* *writes them down*

Got it? Okay. Let's go:
Hannah Heath: 12 Manga and Comic Books Worth Reading (Part 1)
But first, two quick notes:

1) Each book cover is clickable, so if one catches your fancy you can read more about it on Amazon. You're welcome.

2) If you see a manga you like and decide to read it, remember: You open them "backwards." This is important. You don't want to open it the wrong way and have the end spoiled for you.

1. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns: Comic Book. 
Obviously, the very first book I'm mentioning is about Batman. Why? Because he's Batman. Frank Miller is credited for taking the goofier version of Batman (think Adam West) and turning him into a darker, grittier character (think Christian Bale). This one is my favorite Batman comic, so if you like darker stories, symbolic imagery, and great characters, this is for you. Miller's Batman: Year One is also good....But we don't speak of The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Ever.

2. Naoshi Arakawa's Your Lie in April: Manga. 
This is an absolutely beautiful story. And I'm not just talking about the artwork. I discovered this manga by watching the anime (which is equally stunning). It's centered around a boy's struggle to find himself in his music and is the perfect story for all of us creatives. Read it. You must. Just keep a box of tissue nearby. And I say that as somebody cries about as much as a rock.

3. Ryan Smith's The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 1: Comic book. 
For those of you who want the exact opposite of Frank Miller's Batman. This is goofy, hilarious, and endearing. It's slightly juvenile and the artwork is very cartoonish, but that just adds to the quirkiness.

4. Jun Mochizuki's Pandora Hearts: Manga. 
This is by far the most intricate series I have ever read in any story format. There's intense world-building, time-travel, and about 20+ characters who are all excellently developed. Also, the artwork is gorgeous. In my opinion, Jun Mochizuki is the gold standard when it comes to manga authors. So yes. Try some of her stuff.

5. Jeff Lemire's Descender Vol 1: Comic book. 
Don't want to read any superhero comics? Well, you're totally wrong, but I'll humor you. This is a good place to start. It's sci-fi with stunning (STUNNING) watercolor artwork, endearing android characters, and great world-building. Also, here's a good rule of thumb: Pretty much any comic book you read by Jeff Lemire will be amazing.

6. Kei Sanbe's Erased: Manga.
Only the first two volumes have been released in English and I'm eagerly awaiting the next volume. This is a heart-rending series. It's a mixture of time-travel, mystery, and thriller. It's a dark story that deals with issues such as child abuse, so I suggest reading my full review first so you can be sure you'll want to read it. But, for those of you who can handle hard topics when they are written well (which Sanbe does), I absolutely recommend this.

7. Jody Houser's Faith: Hollywood & The Vine: Comic book. 
Allow me to introduce you to my favorite non-Marvel, non-DC superhero: Faith Herbert. She's hilarious, sweet, and throws around nerd-references that make me jealous. I love her and I think you will, too. I review her comic books frequently on Constant Collectible, so you can check those out here (The titles with "First Look" and "Hannah's Novel Notions" are my reviews).

8. Kafka Asagiri's Bungo Stray Dogs: Manga. 
Supernatural agency protecting their city. Nothing super unique there. But wait. There's a twist: All of the agents are based off of literary figures: From classic Japanese authors to classic English authors. It's amazing. Also, the character arcs, humor, and artwork are excellent....So far, at least. Only 3 volumes are currently in English, so I'm waiting on the rest. I feel I should just learn Japanese at this point. Would that be faster? Probably not...?

9. Jason Aaron's Vader Down: Comic book. 
Darth Vader in all of his badass-ness. That's really all I have to say on the matter.

10. Hiromu Arakawa's Fullmetal Alchemist: Manga. 
Okay, so I haven't read the entire series. But the volumes I have read I've really enjoyed: The brother relationship is sweet, the alchemy system intriguing, and the plot is neat. If you like alchemy stories, this is a definite go.

11. Madeleine Holly-Rosing's Boston Metaphysical Society: Comic Book. 
Steampunk. Alternate 1800's history. Ghost and demon hunting. Yep. This comic is great. It also delves into interesting points such as the class system in 1800's America. I discovered this series at Stan Lee's Comic Con, 2016 and I am so glad I did. Full review is here.

12. Tsukumizu's Girls' Last Tour, Vol 1: Manga. 
Once again, the rest of the volumes are yet to be translated into English. But I really loved the uniqueness of volume 1. It's a hilarious mixture of post-apocalyptic and slice-of-life. You'd think those two wouldn't go together, but you'd be wrong. The setting is great, the characters are funny, and the artwork is quirky. Give it a shot.

I have SO many more to recommend (which is why the title reads "Part 1"), but I'll stop with 12, even though it hurts my heart to not be able to tell you about all of the other amazing reads.

If you haven't read this story format yet, I'd love to hear why. And, more importantly, whether or not you think you'll now venture out and try some comic books and manga. If you didn't see any storylines you liked, just leave a comment telling me what you're looking for and I'll see if I can recommend something.

Already a comic book and manga fan? I'd love some recommendations from you! I'm always reading, so send me your top picks and I'll try to check them out!

Related articles:
A List of Great Self-Published Books You Should Read (Part 1)
9 Ways to Use Reading to Improve Your Writing

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Some links are Amazon affiliate. Thank you for your support!

Friday, June 16, 2017

10 Tips for Writing Socially Awkward Characters

"Hey there! What's up?"

"Oh, uh. Good, thanks!"

"...."

Oh dear. It looks like Socially Awkward Character has done it again. He was going to be so careful about not being awkward today. He even came up with standard responses to small talk. But he overthought it and now it looks like he has yet another event to add to his list of Awkward Moments that he'll be losing sleep over.

Socially Awkward Character is a favorite of mine. He/She shows up in many novels, floundering his way through life with a level of awkwardness that should be unknown to man, but actually isn't because we are all awkward people and gosh, this character's inevitable success is so darn encouraging.

Unfortunately, just like Social Awkward Human in real life, Socially Awkward Character is often misunderstood, misinterpreted, and miswritten in fiction. But he's too nervous to bring the topic up and point this out to us authors, so I'm going to speak on his behalf. Ready? Okay. Let me explain some pointers to make your Socially Awkward Character realistic.
Hannah Heath: 10 Tips for Writing Socially Awkward Characters
First off, a socially awkward person is a person who has a difficult time with social interactions because they don't seem to have/know how to use/even know that they are missing the correct responses to social cues. This is sometimes due to anxiety, but not always.

1. They don't need a reason to be socially awkward. No, they don't need to have been dropped on their heads as children. They don't need to have been former extroverts who went through a traumatic event and slunk into a shell of social awkwardness. You know that one amazingly lucky person you know who was just born naturally charismatic? Well, the same goes for socially awkward people, and, thus, for socially awkward characters.

2. There's a difference between awkward and socially awkward. We all have awkward moments. In fact, many of your characters probably have more than one. Socially awkward characters, however, are in an almost constant state of awkwardness.

3. There's a difference between autism and socially awkward. Many autistic people are socially awkward, but not all socially awkward people are autistic. Got it? You sure? Because this is an important point. Writing an autistic character is a whole different ball game. Please don't confuse your character portrayal.

4. Pick a list of awkward things your character does. Every socially awkward character should react differently. Here are various struggles that socially awkward characters have.
  • They have a hard time making or keeping eye contact. 
  • They constantly stumble over their words and mumble. 
  • They fidget during conversations....Or hold themselves in incredibly stiff positions.
  • They don't talk often because they're afraid of stumbling over their words....Or they talk too much because they're nervous. 
  • They don't understand context or appropriateness. 
  • They don't know how to enter a group conversation....Or a group anything, honestly.
I would too, man. It's okay. *pats on back, awkwardly shuffles away*
  • They try to shrink down when they're in a group setting in a desperate attempt to become invisible and, thus, left alone. 
  • They blush or turn pale when talked to. 
  • They are awful at small talk and thus plan out conversations ahead of time, but then get confused when the other party doesn't follow the script. 
  • They apologize frequently, even when something isn't their fault. 
  • They don't like to correct other people in public. Even when the person is clearly wrong. Sometimes even when the person specifically asks for correction. 
  • They get part way into a sentence, then kind of trail off because people aren't listening and, you know, it's probably not super important and maybe dumb and....you know....So yeah. 
  • They talk to themselves. A lot.
Aaaaand I just realized that I fit quite a few of these examples. *sheepish grin* *runs off to take a Social Awkwardness levels quiz* Well. BuzzFeed says I'm "Moderately Socially Awkward." So kind of them. I feel much better now. 

5. They overanalyze everything. Like, everything. No, you don't understand. EVERYTHING. Let me show you how their mind words: Driving in the rain? Gotta make sure the windshield wipers are going the same speed as everyone else's. Teacher taking roll call? Gotta make sure to say "here" in the exact same way as everyone else. Got a funny look from an acquaintance? Well, now there's no chance of making friends with that person because something has gone horribly wrong, but what was it?? Socially Awkward Character overanalyzes everything. And keeps overanalyzing events years after they've taken place. This can lead to your socially awkward character believing that he's more socially awkward than he really is, but being so wound up about it that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Poor guy. 

6. Your socially awkward character doesn't need to be introverted. It should also be noted that social awkwardness is not exclusive to introverts. Extroverts can be socially awkward, too, it just looks slightly different. Extroverts will talk too much, laugh too loud, and just generally try too hard. While introverted socially awkward characters try to fit in by making themselves smaller, extroverts can try to fit in either by making themselves larger...or by attempting to tone themselves down and thus coming across as stiff or creepy. Read this post on how to write extroverts if you're confused.

7. Socially awkward characters have a lot of upside. They really do, though they may not believe it. Give your poor character a break and recognize him/her for all the things they do right. Maybe he's refreshingly candid (a side-effect of not being good at small talk). Maybe she's an excellent listener and very observant because she chooses to talk very little. Maybe he's persistent because he's had a lot of practice from failing socially and still continuing to try to make friends. Maybe, though she doesn't have a ton of friends, the ones she does have she's very loyal to. Maybe his awkwardness is just incredibly precious and lovable. 

8. You don't need to cure your socially awkward character. Social awkwardness is not a disease. Newt Scamander is an excellent example in this area. He is undeniably awkward around people. He has a hard time making eye contact, he hunches, he's not particularly good at carrying a conversation. But he's very intelligent, a gifted Magizoologist, and though he's not a conversationalist, he has very strong opinions and will voice them if pushed. 
The movie never apologizes for his social awkwardness. In fact, one of the things that makes him such an excellent character is his layered, awkward personality. Learn from J.K. Rowling. You don't need to fix your socially awkward character. While he/she may need to overcome his awkwardness to get through certain circumstances, that doesn't mean that he/she needs to go through a complete personality change. 

9. They don't always need to have low self-esteem. How about some more socially awkward characters who know they're awkward and have a good sense of humor about it? Or ones who see it as a flaw, but don't really mind because they know they're good at other, more important things? 

10. Read up on other socially awkward characters. Obviously, I think Newt Scamander is an excellent example. Others include: Charlie Brown, Piglet, Hiccup, Lilo, Neville, Mr. Darcy, Mary Bennett, Merlin (kind of), and Sue Heck. Awesome people on twitter had more to add, so click here to read their thoughts! Notice that they exist in all genres (not just contemporary) and can absolutely be main characters, not just secondary comic-relief characters.

Tell me a little bit about the socially awkward character you're writing (or your favorite fictional awkward character!). Do you have tips to add? Please leave them in the comments below!

Related articles:
Writing Introverted Characters: 8 Things You Should Know
Writing Characters With Depression: What You're Doing Wrong

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Friday, June 9, 2017

6 Problems with "Edgy" YA Fiction (And How to Fix Them)

So.

I read a lot. In all types of genres. I've seen some pretty sad things when it comes to messed up messages, damaging plots, and horrible characters. They aren't exclusive to one particular genre.

But they do tend to be very popular in YA fiction.

Now calm down. I'm not hating on YA. I love YA. I write it, I read it. Some of my favorite books are YA. In short: I care about YA fiction. And, because I care about YA, I have no problem with saying this:

Something has gone horribly wrong with this genre. Specifically that dark, shadowy section referred to as Edgy YA Fiction.

Edgy YA fiction (sometimes called gritty YA fiction) is pretty much what the term indicates: Young adult fiction that takes on what are considered edgy subjects: Sex, drugs, swearing, abuse, self-harm, bullying, suicide, violence, etc. Generally several of these topics (or all of them) are encompassed in a single novel.

Now, I'm not saying these topics are things that should not be addressed in fiction. What I am saying is that Edgy YA fiction tends to handle itself and its topics in all of the wrong ways. Let me point some of them out:
Hannah Heath: 6 Problems with "Edgy" YA Fiction (And How to Fix Them)
Problem #1: Hard topics are romanticized, dramatized, and made entertaining. Life is full of very difficult things: Suicide. Eating disorders. Self-harm. Abusive relationships. They are hard, damaging, and sad. But do you know what they aren't? They aren't cool. They should never be depicted as such. Ever. Too many times I've seen YA books take horrible situations and make it look like an adventure: Suffering is turned into something that makes a character more interesting, depravity (in the instance of abusive relationships) is an engrossing, thrilling plot point. It needs to stop. There is nothing romantic about suicide. Nothing entertaining about abuse. To depict these things as something other than what they are is incredibly hurtful to people who suffer through them...and damaging to people who are on the brink. Think very hard and very carefully about the way it is that you are choosing to portray "edgy" topics. If you aren't showing anything other than the exact truth, then you are only making things worse.

Problem #2: There is a massive lack of nice characters. I have a mind-blowing fact for you: Teenagers are not demonic. Crazy, right? Do you know what teenagers actually are? People. I'll pause for a second while that sinks in. We wouldn't want your brain to explode. Got it? Okay. So, if teenagers are people, then why do "edgy" YA books depict them as caustic, angry, base beings that run around ruining everybody's lives? Also, why are these characters often excused for their incredibly wrong behavior because of their age? Yeah, teenagers can be unruly, but that does not make their behavior acceptable or cool, nor does it validify all characters in YA being vicious, animalistic people. There's nothing wrong with creating polite, kind, and respectful teenaged characters. Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure that'd be a good thing.

Problem #3: Chastity is disparaged. This point stems from the novel idea that YA books should not be cheering on teen sex (or any book cheering on extramarital sex). However, that's a controversial topic that I'm saving for another post, so I'm just going to focus on this one point: In YA books, it's become a norm for teenagers to sleep around to the point that it's considered abnormal for a teen to not have sex. Is the world ending? Somebody dying of cancer? Sex is a must because apparently virginity is something you don't want to die with. Is a teen uncomfortable with having sex? There must be something wrong with him/her, so let's make an entire plot point out of them overcoming this issue! Your character has decided that he/she should only have a physical relationship inside of marriage? What a weirdo, right? Wrong. Chastity takes self-control and strong moral character, not to mention the fact that it is healthy both physically and emotionally. It is a good trait, not a flaw. I understand that many real-life teenagers (and people in general) do not see it this way, but that doesn't make it any less true. Stop belittling modesty and abstinence.

Problem #4: It carries unclear messages. What are you wanting your readers to get out of the "edginess" of your story? You need to know the answer to this question before you start smearing hard topics all over the place. If you don't, your story will have questionable points. You don't want your reader walking away thinking, "Huh, maybe that story means suicide is a way out of my problems." Or "Oh, maybe self-harming is a good way to let off steam." Or, "Abuse is okay as long as the abuser is cute and has dark, brooding eyes." Many authors reason that Edgy YA is important because it teaches teenagers how to deal with hard issues. Okay. Then write like you actually believe that. Write with a clear, helpful, non-damaging message. Not an edgy story that just wants to revel in the darkness.

Problem #5: It shows teenagers in a negative light.  As touched on previously, teenagers are not demons. Likewise, they are also not idiots. Teenagers are capable of amazing things and you do them a disservice by showing them in plots where they are always either victims or trouble-makers. You degrade when you show teen characters as all petty and selfish and lacking self-respect. If you do show them as such, this should not be the majority and it should be mentioned why they are that way (such as lacking parental love and support)....Just like how your adult characters have backstories explaining their bitterness. You write teenagers like you would any other character: With thought and purpose. Pure and simple.

Problem #6: It forces the edge. Look. Shoving the most recent controversial topic into your story just to be "relevant" is idiotic. At best, it will make your story feel awkward. At worst, you've taken important issues and tried to make money off of them with no regard for how you are impacting your readers. Nobody likes that type of author. Don't go there.

Those are some of the main problems I've seen with Edgy YA. Have any points to add....or disagree with any of the ones I've written? Please leave your (kind and courageous) comments below. If you have any edgy YA novels that you think do a good job of avoiding these problems, I'd love to hear about them!

Related articles:
Darkness in Fiction: 7 Tips for Writing Dark Stories
Why You Should Intentionally Write Messages Into Your Stories
Keeping it Classy: When is it OK to Use Profanity in Your Fiction Writing?

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Unreliable Narrators: What They Are and How to Write Them

[Author's note: This opening paragraph needs to be read in a Mexican accent]

So I was on twitter looking for blog post ideas, right? And I was like, "Ese, what you want me to write a post on?" And a couple of people, they're all, "You should do something on unreliable narrators, ya know?" And I got excited 'cause, like, that's delightful. Unreliable narrators are so cool, bro! You know what I'm sayin'?

[Author's note: Only about 12% of you will have any idea of what just happened. Go clue the rest of the confused readers in by leaving a comment below.]

Obviously, that's not how this post came into being. It happened more like this:

So what was with my original story? It was told by a very unreliable narrator. Who some of you may or may not know. Seriously. Who recognizes the narrator? Leave a comment. I must know.

Anyway, unreliable narrators are a favorite of mine. Plus, I'm not one to turn down requests from followers when they promise me adorable baby animals. Onwards!
Hannah Heath: Unreliable Narrators: What They Are and How to Write Them
What is an unreliable narrator? 


A narrator who isn't reliable. Duh. 

Fine. It goes a bit deeper than that. An unreliable narrator is somebody who either cannot or will not tell the story the exact way that it happened. Maybe they simply are not privy to all of the details and are not upfront about this fact for various reasons. Maybe they are very biased and, without realizing it, allow their bias to seep into their narrative. Maybe they are trying to make themselves (or their friends) look good. Maybe they are insane and don't even realize that they're not telling the story straight. Or maybe they simply think it's funny to lie to you. 

Here's something you may not know about unreliable narration: 

All novels written in first person use unreliable narration, though in varying degrees. Why? Because nobody is reliable. Some less so than others, sure, but even if a person tries as hard as they can to recount events exactly as they happened, that person will still end up telling a slightly different story than what actually happened. 

Many novels written from any non-omniscient POV use unreliable narration. Just like with 1st person, this can often be unintentional. 

When should you use an unreliable narrator? 

Unreliable narration is excellent for creating mystery and intrigue. It's a classic when it comes to psychological thrillers and horror. It can be good when you're writing characters who are massively flawed, writing pure characters in a massively flawed system, are using POV switches between multiple characters who are all very different from each other, or are writing a character with a mental illness. It is excellent if you are trying to show the grey areas of life, create tension, or keep your readers in suspense. 

It can work for any type of story, but is best used to create conflict and provoke thought. 

What are some books with unreliable narrators? 

Harry Potter: We spend a lot of time suspecting the wrong people because Harry is a biased person, thus creating mystery and plot twists. He is an unintentionally unreliable narrator and is not malicious, simply a hurting, angry, and confused person who has the unfortunate tendency to hold grudges and see things from only one point of view. 

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: This is an excellent novel where the main character slowly goes insane. The narrator has two different levels of unreliability: One level where she is clearly losing her mind. And one where, even before she begins to clearly go crazy, she seems incapable of clearly judging the motives of those around her....Thus making it nearly impossible for the readers to understand them, either. It is expertly used to enhance the psychological thrill of the book. 

Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky: This novel is told from the bitter, skewed perspective of an old man. We know almost from the start that he is unreliable because he pretty much tells us he is. His unreliable narration is used to help along the satire and social critiquing that is a focus of the story. 

Other examples of varying levels of unreliable narrators include: The Life of Pi, The Great Gatsby, Flowers for Algernon, Wuthering Heights, The Yellow Wallpaper, The Hunger Games (specifically the later books in the series), and Pretty Much Any Story Told by Loki. And those are just the one's I've read (or seen) and can easily remember. There are many others. Feel free to leave the titles in the comments section below! 

How can you write an unreliable narrator? 

I have tips. 

1. Pick a reason for their unreliability. People don't usually twist a story without reason. What motivates your narrator's unreliability? Is she/he protecting himself/herself? Protecting friends? Trying to make a point? Is he crazy? Or just ahead of the curve?
Is she herself being lied to? Pick an angle. There can be multiple reasons. In fact, when it comes to normal people, there is almost always more than one reason that people spin a story.

2. Decide why it's important to the story. How does this unreliability affect the storyline? You can use it to create tension. If your character isn't aware of her own bias, it can be used to cause her to make an incorrect choice that leads to a plot conflict. If the reader isn't aware of the bias, you can use it to spring an unexpected plot twist. The options! How will you ever choose? 

3. Decide whether you want the unreliability to be noticeable. There are two main ways you can spin this. #1: Your reader knows the narrator is unreliable. #2: Your reader has no idea your narrator is unreliable...Or at least doesn't understand the extent of their unreliability. #1 can cause mystery, thrills, and engage the reader as they try to discover the true story behind the narrator's words. #2 allows you to spring plot twists, unexpected endings, and emotional reveals. You can completely misdirect your readers. However, don't go too far with this. No reader wants to feel tricked. Thrilled and surprised, yes. Cheated? No. A truthful secondary character can help offset completely unreliable narrators.

4. Don't feel the need to make the narrator a bad guy. While unreliable narrators can be manipulative, narcissistic, or sadistic, they aren't always. Sometimes they are victims of their own lies. And sometimes they are honestly just confused. Yes, unreliable narrators can be antagonists. But they don't have to be by default.

And there you have it. Unreliable narrators. What they are. Where you can find them. How to write them. Now somebody give me my adorable baby animals. They were promised to me. A niffler is preferred.

Before you go, leave a comment telling me about your favorite unreliable narrators! Are you writing an unreliable narrator? Tell me about him/her below!

Related articles:
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