How Not To Write About Rape

Photo credit: tportal.hr

Writing about assault is never easy: there is a fine line between going overboard with all the gory details and accidentally undervaluing the profound impact violence has on physical, emotional and mental well-being of the victim. While I don’t think that all writing should aim to be political and have an agenda, however, I do think that it is important to consider the message you are sending to your readers, especially when it comes to difficult subjects such as sexual assault. Unfortunately, rape culture is very real, and it is my firm belief that we should strive to change that in any way we can. At the very least, being aware of certain prejudices when tackling difficult issues in your writing will not only make your stories more true to life, but it will also allow you to pay respect to the victims.

Do not:

  1. Use rape as a minor setback for the character

    Rape has often been used as a plot device to create an “inconvenience”, especially for the female characters. This is not only inaccurate, but also an insulting way to approach the subject. In reality, rape victims can take months, or years to recover from the experience. This requires physical, mental and emotional healing to take place. General rule of thumb: if the incident is traumatic for real life victims, it should also be traumatic for your characters.

  2. Justify rape to punish a “bad” wo/man.

    Nobody deserves to be raped. If you use rape as a punishment for someone’s misconduct, you are perpetuating rape culture.

  3. Use rape to make someone a martyr

    The other extreme would be to write a rape scene in order to make someone a martyr, an angelic, idealized heroine (or a hero) whose only purpose is to suffer and show that justice is not served equally. Leave black-and-white characters to the Grimm brothers, and opt for creating more fleshed out characters.

  4. Make the rapist a movie villain

    Rapists are not scary strangers lurking in a dark alley. More often, they are people the victim already knew, maybe even liked/respected them. It is your duty to flesh out both the victim and the perpetrator.

  5. Victim blame

    Do not try to find a rational reason for rape, because there is none. The victim is neither an angelic being nor the lust driven female who provoked the attacker with her sexuality. There is only one reason why rape happens: because of the rapist.

  6. Resort to cliches

    It seems to be more socially acceptable to write about the rape of a beautiful, young woman. However, the reality does not necessarily coincide. Men and older women can also be rape survivors. LGBT community is also at risk of being assaulted, even more so than the cis, hetero-normative people.

  7. Use excessive drama

    When describing assault, allow rawness, brutality and vulnerability, but avoid excessive melodrama. Do not allow your characters to be characterized purely by the violence they have undergone. It would be unfair.

  8. Underestimate the power of healing

    Healing is difficult, but it’s not impossible. While rape undoubtedly is extremely traumatizing, people can, and do get better. Show the glory of your heroine’s recovery, instead of making her commit suicide as a result of being unable to cope with the aftermath of violence. Imagine if you were a victim yourself: wouldn’t reading about someone else’s recovery encourage you more than reading about them ending up committing suicide?

  9. Write about rape as a wish fulfillment

    Just don’t. Rape scenes are not literary tools for arousal. Rape is not sexy: it is a horrible, dehumanizing, violent crime. Bear that in mind.

  10. Write about rape without thorough research

    If you have considered all of the above and are certain that the rape scene is absolutely essential to your story for some reason, than you really should educate yourself and look into some real life experiences of the victims. You might be the most politically correct writer there is, but only reading up on actual assault stories can give you a clearer picture of what the short and long term consequences of rape are, and this will allow you to address the issue with both respect and authenticity.

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Writing Prompts For Friends Who Are Writers

Both you and your friend suffer from a mild case of a writer’s block? These ideas could get your creative juices flowing again.

  1. Ask one another about your earliest memories, then switch the said memories and describe them from the first person perspective.
  2. Each of you should write 3-5 character, plot and setting ideas on different pieces of paper, fold them, mix them up and pick random ones from each category. The task is to write a story about the words you have picked.
  3. Both of you should bring some old family photos, and let the other choose one photo to use as a story prompt.
  4. Each of you should write only the beginning (or even the first half) of the story, and then switch and finish each other stories.
  5. Write about each other’s secrets from the first person perspective.
  6. If you are still struggling to find inspiration, go to a coffee shop together and eavesdrop. It is a good chance that both of you will spot (or hear) something intriguing to write about!

    Remember, writing ideas are everywhere: the difficult part is turning them into actual stories.

    I wish all of my wonderful followers a productive writing day! 🙂

Tips For Ending a Short Story

It is a well known fact that short stories should go out with a bang. In shorter fiction, where you have a limited set of character and a shorter time span in which the action takes place (unlike novel), every word should bring the readers one step closer to the big finale. Here are some tips and tricks to write a killer ending to your short story.

1. Nice writers finish first

Keep your ending short and sweet. Make sure you don’t over-explain things – don’t underestimate your readers.

2. Finish at the beginning

Circular ending is a good way to round up your story and make the readers feel like the circle is closing and the journey has come to an end. By reintroducing some elements from the beginning of the story, you evoke the sense of completion and leave your readers satisfied.

3. Shock your readers

Another way to end your short story is to say something completely unexpected. Keep telling them about the drunk, unstable woman who wakes up with no memory and blood on her hands, and in the end slap us with an abusive husband who used her weakness to frame her for murder (okay, don’t do that because Paula Hawkins already used this one up in her bestseller, The Girl on the Train, but you get the picture).

4. Zoom out of the story

This is a very visual ending: show the close-up of the setting and then drift away to show the broader picture.

5. Keep it vague

An open ending is possibly the most true-to-life, because in real life, the Earth doesn’t stop turning because a certain event came to an end, or a mystery has been resolved. It also offers the readers to pick the ending they like best.

No matter how you decide to end your story, make sure to achieve the sense of completion, and to show that your protagonist has changed as a result of the events shown in the story.

10 New Year’s Resolutions for New Writers

  1. Own the Title
    Don’t be afraid to call yourself a “writer”, or to think of yourself as one. It doesn’t matter if you are just starting your writing career: if you write, you are a writer. Period.

  2. Read More

    It is very important to read big authors in your genre. Read the fiction you wish you had written yourself.

  3. Stay Away From Negativity

    Do not expect to gain immediate fame with your writing, but also do not let other people’s negativity affect how you feel about your stories. Do your own thing and surround yourself with those who believe in you.

  4. Carry a Notebook Everywhere

    Carrying a notebook, or a writing tool of your choice everywhere you go is a great way to prevent ideas slipping away from you. You never know where the inspiration for the story may appear, and you may want to write down your new idea as soon as possible.

  5. Conquer Your Fear of Editing

    Nobody likes editing, but also, nobody likes reading unedited stories. Make revision your friend. Your future readers will appreciate it.

  6. Transform Your Browsing Time Into Your Writing Time

    It is very easy to spend too much time on the internet, but no matter how useful your online activities may be (researching for a story, or running a blog), writing and editing should always be a priority.

  7. Finish What You Started

    Try to avoid sidetracking. If you often catch yourself abandoning projects and starting new ones, maybe you need a different strategy: try and finish your story. The worst story you have ever written is still better than the one you couldn’t bring yourself to write.

  8. Get a Dictionary/Grammar Book/Writing Software

    Getting some extra help with your vocabulary and/or grammar can be very useful. Even if you think your use of language is flawless, a little reminder now and then is beneficial to all writers.

  9. Set Realistic Goals

    Chances are, if you set unreasonably high goals for yourself you might get discouraged soon. However, setting realistic writing goals for the following year can be a great way to keep yourself accountable and to get some additional motivation.

  10. Live Life Worth Writing About

    At the end of the day, writing is not everything. In order to be a fulfilled, happy individual allow yourself some stress-free time to pursue your others goals. If you commit to living an authentic life, there is a big possibility that you will encounter something worth writing about.

Happy New Year!

Five Main Benefits of Creative Writing Workshops

Joining a creative writing workshop can be scary, especially for beginners, because allowing others to read your writing means also allowing them to criticize your work as well (hopefully in a constructive way). However, I think that the pros by far outweigh the cons. Here are some of the major advantages of creative writing workshops I have identified so far from my own experience:

1. Motivation

If you feel like you are meant to write stories, but somehow never get around to actually doing it, if you find yourself constantly procrastinating and inventing excuses not to write, you probably need an additional boost of motivation. Joining a group of other people who are also aspiring writers can give you a sense of urgency that you are presently lacking. For example, if the group meets on Thursdays, and everyone has to bring their story on that day, you don’t want to be the only one without their homework. Creative writing workshops keep you accountable to your goals. Having a set deadline is the best way to keep writing even on the days when you don’t feel like it, or, as I like to say, to turn your Netflix evenings into your writing evenings. *sobbing quietly*

2. Constructive Criticism

Teachers of creative writing workshops are experts in the field, and possibly writers themselves. It is always a good thing to have someone other than your friends and family to read your stories, and give you their honest (and educated) opinion. (Let’s face it, your friends will always say it’s the best piece of fiction they have ever read, and the road to success is not paved with vanity). They might notice something that you missed, and sometimes it is the small details that really make or break the story. It’s great to have this opportunity to improve your writing skills, and become aware of some of the errors you are prone to making (such as using too much adjectives, for example). You should always keep in mind that the teacher’s goal is to help you, and not to criticize you. You share a common goal: to improve your writing.

3. Learning From the Mistakes of Others

The teacher is not the only one giving you feedback, at least that’s how my creative writing workshop works. We all have to listen carefully to the stories of others, and make notes about some things that they did well, and on others that could use some improvement. Clearly you shouldn’t take all the comments of your colleagues as absolute truths: in my creative writing group there is an old lady sensitive to descriptions of violence, and no matter how well written the story is, she dislikes it because it feels too graphic for her. However, if more that three people notice the same thing, it might be worthwhile to think about it and revise your story. Also, hearing the mistakes of others can help you avoid doing the same thing in your writing.

4. Inspiration

Creative writing workshops can be a great source of inspiration for your writing. The teacher is usually required to come up with a series of writing tasks or props, usually related to whatever the subject you are dealing with at the time (for example, writing a dialogue, coming up with a convincing character, etc). Sometimes, these tasks can really inspire you to write longer pieces of fiction than originally intended, and think of stories you would never have come up with otherwise. It is a great opportunity to really explore your writing style and to try a wide range of different subjects and narrators. Experimenting with different styles brings you closer to discovering your true writing voice.

5. Support

Being able to hang out with other people who also write is an incredibly rewarding experience. Many writers have felt isolated or discouraged from writing because nobody took them seriously or they thought that everyone could do it (yeah, right). Creative writing workshops are full of people who agree that a) good writing is hard, b) that writing can be improved with practice and c) that writing good stories is worth the time spent on said practice. During your meetings, you are surrounded by people who get it: they know how difficult it can be, but also know that quitting is not an option. The members of your creative writing group can be your biggest cheerleaders, and also the people to celebrate your writing victories with.

This is a part of my group:

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These are my experiences with creative writing groups. Which are yours?
Let me know in the comments!

Christmas Writing Props

Here are some Christmas related writing props to inspire you in the holiday season:

  1. Write about a secret that is revealed at Christmas dinner
  2. Write about that aunt/uncle that drinks all the wine
  3. Write about that one family member everyone talks about behind their back at family gatherings
  4. Write about a couple that spends their first Christmas together
  5. Write about the first Christmas without a deceased family member
  6. Write about your favorite Christmas decoration
  7. Write about your Christmas tree
  8. Write about the story behind you mom’s special dish she makes every Christmas
  9. Write about your favorite Christmas present ever received
  10. Write about what changed since last Christmas

Of course, you don’t have to write about yourself: you can write from your character’s perspective as well.

I hope you find these helpful.

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Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of my wonderful followers! 🙂

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Fake Character Flaws

You know this one: in order to come up with relatable characters for your story, you have to give them some flaws. Flaws make characters human, and the fact is that humans are far from being perfect. That being said, in recent fiction I have seen so much of what I call “fake flaws”, because they are not actually flaws: instead of adding depth to the character, they only add to their charming personality (boring). This happens when the writer falls in love with his/her creation, instead of worrying about the readers who will start yawning at the endless descriptions of how perfect the character is. Anyhow, here are my top 5 most common fake character flaws that I’ve noticed in recent fiction:

  1. Being clumsy

    This particularly refers to girls. When you have a young female protagonist, and want people to like her and relate to her, especially if you are writing YA fiction, you cannot go wrong with giving your character a tiny little flaw of being really clumsy. Make sure she trips over things several times during the story. Seriously? They couldn’t come up with anything better? I doubt it.

  2. Being nerdy

    In bad writing, being into technology and/or science fiction makes you an overly intellectual person a.k.a. a nerd who is unable to hold a conversation with people. In real life, people are rarely that simple. If the biggest flaw a character has is rambling too much about tech stuff or just watching a particular TV show, it is still a flat character.

  3. Being selfless

    Average people rarely sacrifice themselves willingly for others, especially if they don’t know them very well. Having a healthy sense of ego and firm personal boundaries is generally a positive thing. However being a sort of Mother Theresa is hardly what I would call a flaw. I am so tired of reading about all these selfless characters who risk everything for others. That’s not how (most) people work.

  4. Being overprotective

    This one is similar to the previous one. I have encountered it more predominantly among male characters. They are brave and intelligent, and also a bit arrogant because they believe that they know what’s best for everybody. They also do not believe that others are capable of surviving without their help, so they follow them everywhere they go and continuously rescue the damsels in distress. Their flaw is that they are too perfect. Give us a break, Supermen.

  5. Being impatient/stubborn

    It seems to me that there are so many character out there who are young and brave, but their biggest flaws are impatience and inability to listen to the advice of others. Why can’t it be the other way around? Why can’t a main character be extremely conscientious and calculated and maybe worry about being able to make the right decision, instead of diving head first into whatever adventure they are facing? Maybe because it is way cooler to have a character be impatient than cowardly, but we have heard that story too many times already.

Seriously, this has to stop. In order to create truly relatable characters, we must all just stop writing Superman/Lois Lane characters and think more in the direction of, let’s say, Professor Snape.

10 Tips For Editing Your Short Story

So you have written your short story and cannot wait to release it into the world. But before doing that, it is important to take some extra time to make sure your story is properly edited, despite the fact that editing is nowhere near as fun as writing.

  1. Spell/Grammar Check

    The first step towards the best version of your story is hitting that spellcheck button and proofreading it to make sure there are no errors. A story which contains spelling and/or grammar mistakes very often won’t be taken seriously.

  2. Remove Adjectives/Adverbs

    Sometimes, less is more, and this is especially true when it comes to adjectives and adverbs. Too much of either can suffocate your story. Instead, opt for using a stronger verb or a noun.

  3. Remove Repetition

    This is very important to keep your readers’ attention. If you catch yourself repeating the same thing several times throughout the story, you know what to do.

  4. Remove Cliches

    Cliches are a deadly sin of fiction writing. Avoid them at all cost.

  5. Begin with a Bang

    If you explain too much at the beginning of your story (if you “tell” instead of “show”), your beginning might not be as effective as it would be if you jumped straight into action. Mind you, this “action” does not have to be your characters running away from zombies (but hey, I’m not judging), however, if you begin your story with a lengthy description of the weather, many readers might get bored and abandon the story altogether.

  6. Check For Consistency

    Make sure your writing is consistent in every way. This can refer to either checking that the names of your characters are consistent throughout the story, or that their motivation corresponds to their actions. The story has to follow the rules of logic (except when its primary purpose is to twist those rules).

  7. Remove Unnecessary Explanation

    I cannot stress this enough. Just like long beginnings, explanations are often a lazy way out which indicates that an author couldn’t be bothered to write a scene in which s/he would show something instead of telling it. Let’s face it: explanations are boring. There are many things about the characters that the writer has to know, that never make it to the final version of the story. There’s nothing wrong with that. Make sure the readers know only what they really, really have to know in order to follow your story.

  8. Edit Your Dialogue

    Dialogue is essentially a conversation where the boring parts have been left out. Make sure that your dialogue truly reveals only the necessary information for the story, and cut all those random chats that do not move the story forward.

  9. Get Perspective

    Okay, so you have made sure that your short story does not have any repetition, cliches, or unnecessary explanation. Now what? The best thing you can do is to leave your story alone and come back to it with fresh eyes. You can leave it for one day, or a couple of weeks, depending on your schedule or personal preference. However, I find this step very important because it allows you to gain some perspective and to see the possible shortcomings of the story more easily.

  10. Get Feedback

    Give the story to your beta readers. They can be members of your creative writing workshop, your family or friends. In any case, they should be people you consider honest and trustworthy, and preferably experienced readers. It is better to have several opinions than only one. However, take their advice with a grain of salt: even though their feedback can be very useful, remember that you are still the author and at the end of the day should do what feels right to you instead of listening to others.

What is your editing routine? Let me know!

Thinking Back Through Our Family: Using Childhood Memories And Family History As A Writing Prop

Here are some tips on finding inspiration in your childhood memories and family history:

  1. Dig up an old photograph, maybe one of your parents or grandparents. Try to invent a story based on the picture.

  2. Try to remember your earliest childhood memories, and attribute them to an imaginary character.
  3. Write about the things in your childhood drawer, maybe about your favorite toy.
  4. Try to write a story from the point of view of a relative you disagree with.
  5. Holidays can be tricky, especially if you’re spending them with your extended family. Try to imagine the worst thing that could happen, or a major revelation that may occur at dinner time.
  6. Write a story with a recipe: think of a particular food which immediately reminds you of your childhood.
  7. Write a story to finish this sentence: My mother/father never…
  8. Write about your first travel experience. Was is by car, boat or plane? Where were you headed to? Tell us about it!
  9. Write about your dream career, at least what you considered to be one when you were little. For example, I wanted to be a policewoman and a veterinarian. Ended up a teacher, so you can draw a parallel here 🙂 Use your imagination to write about how your life would have looked like if you pursued this career.
  10. Write about an adventure you had with a childhood friend.

Let me know if you try any of these!

Quirky Ways To Begin Your Short Story

If you’re reading this, it means that you’re already familiar with the usual ways of beginning your short story: you can either describe a setting or a protagonist, or jump straight into action. But what happens when you get bored of the old ways of beginning a piece of writing? If you are looking for new ideas to jump start your story and grab the attention of your readers from the very first sentence, here are some useful tips and tricks:

  1. Swear Words

Okay, this one may seem a bit extreme, but hear me out: if you start your story with a swear word uttered by one of your characters, there are two major advantages over beginning your writing in a less profane way: firstly, it grabs the reader’s attention. It is not easy to scroll past these juicy first words – you are immediately wondering who is saying them to whom, and what has his/hers interlocutor done to deserve such a treatment. Secondly, the choice of a selected swear word gives away a lot about the character’s personality. If you hear “fudge” and “goddammit”, you are likely to imagine very different speakers. Also, using dialogue from the start and skipping the lengthy descriptions is likely to capture the attention of your readers from the very start.

  1. Sarcasm/Irony

A well played sarcasm usually resonates with the reader. Admit it: even you hear a tiny, sarcastic voice in your head when you are dealing with a particularly slow individuals (aka coworkers). Therefore, using sarcasm establishes a close relationship between the character and the reader, especially if they are sarcastic about things that we struggle with in our daily, frustrating lives.

  1. Ending

Creative writing workshops often teach that beginnings are  meant to set a mood for the rest of the story, without giving much away. That’s bullshit. Sometimes, you can give away your assassin or any major plot right from the beginning, and later explain what lead to it. Or not. Maybe the event is irrelevant. Maybe we are more interested in character’s state of mind (Dostoevsky, anyone?). However, use this technique sparingly, or you might risk for your stories to fall flat if you do not manage to maintain the same level of tension throughout the story.

  1. 3rd Person Narrator Explains Something To The Reader

This is a tricky one, because I have seen it done badly more that I have seen it done in a way that would compliment a story. However, this doesn’t mean you cannot pull it off, but there’s one thing that is an absolute necessity if you want to begin your short story referring directly to the reader: you must know your protagonist. Sounds simple, I know, but knowing the basic plot-line or basic character traits is not enough for this technique: you must hear their voice inside your head. You must know how they think, how they talk, and what are they trying to achieve. If the character you are working at seems particularly chatty and/or opinionated, this may be a great way to begin your short story.

  1. A Difficult (Even Impossible) Question

A question posed at the beginning of a story is the one the story must try to answer during its course. It’s purpose is to make the readers think about, even reconsider, their own attitudes and beliefs. Usually, the answers to these questions vary according to your spiritual, moral, and other beliefs. Try to play the devil’s advocate: try to imagine the reasoning behind an attitude completely opposite of yours, and then ascribe it to one of your characters. You might also put your otherwise virtuous character in a situation that makes him/her question his previous beliefs. Bam, immediate conflict!

  1. A Quote

Putting a quote at the beginning of your short story can have several uses: if can convey a general theme or mood of the story, it can be a life motto of the protagonist, or something s/he lives to prove wrong. It can be lyrics of his/hers favorite song, or a movie line. Use your imagination! Try to think of your favorite quotes in the process, or the ones that seem particularly controversial.