Thursday, 30 March 2017

SUPPORT THE SELF-EMPLOYED

Hi guys, I hope you're having a great week so far (or if not, that you're hanging in there for the weekend). A quick post today to ask for your support for all low earning self-employed people, which includes me and many of the talented children's and YA writers I know.

Some of you might be aware of the recent uproar over the proposed (unfair) changes in National Insurance Credits. They were going to make self-employed people pay more National Insurance, bringing them in line with employed people, even though self-employed people don't get access to most of the contribution based benefits that employed people do, such as statutory sick pay. The government were forced to do a u-turn due to widespread resistence, which was a great thing. But another issue to do with the tax paid by self-employed people has managed to slip under the radar, and it's just as serious.

They're goung to abolish something called Class 2 National Insurance credits, and this means that many very low earning self-employed people will face losing their state pension, even though many of us have already paid into it for years and despite the fact that self-employed people have no entitlement to any employer subsidized pension, which means any pension provision we make for ourselves already costs us way more than an employed person would expect to pay (that's if we can afford to do any saving for retirement at all).

Here's some more background if you're interested.

If you (whether you're self-employed yourself, or hope to be one day) think that targeting the lowest earners and forcing them to stump up massive wads of cash just to keep themselves above the poverty line in old age, while leaving higher earners untouched, is deeply unfair, then please sign and share my petition here.

It's all I can think of to do right now, and you never know - it could make a difference. And thank you in advance for supporting children's and YA writers.

Monday, 20 March 2017

LINKITY AND WHOOPS AND WIP STUFF

Hello, Dear Readers! It feels a bit insensitive to wish you a happy Monday (especially if the weather where you are is as filthy miserable as the weather where I am right now) so I'll just say that I hope the week's getting off to a good start for you so far.

As you can probably tell from the blog title this week, I've got a sort of gallimaufry to share today. First up, some links to a pair of posts made by the lovely Bonnie of A Backwards Story and her friend Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl where they interview me about BAREFOOT ON THE WIND and you get a chance to win a copy, or a copy of one of nearly a dozen other Beauty and the Beast themed novels, as part of their week of Beauty and the Beast. It's an international giveaway, so get in there!

This is celebrating the release of the Disney live action B&B this week - which, by the way, I really want to see, but have mixed feelings about too. So if anyone's already seen this and wants to give me yays or nays about the film in the comments, feel free!

In other BAREFOOT ON THE WIND related news, the book has been longlisted for the Southern Schools Book award, which is super fab. The longlist is rather intimidating, but it's great to see my strange little Feminist tale there among all the big names, and some friends of mine too.

Finally, *deep breath* at long, long, loooooooong last... the work in progress known as Codename: DTH... is finished!




WHOOOOOOOOP!

Well, I mean that it's finished in first draft. And a particularly messy, rough, incomplete first draft, too. I haven't even written the epilogue, because although I know the book needs a closing chapter to tie up lose ends and give the reader that satisfied The End feeling, I feel as if anything I write now will just be a placeholder that immediately ends up going in the bin once I've re-read the manuscript. So I decided to leave it instead. I've never done that before and it gives me a really queasy, guilty feeling.

However, since the book is already 130,000 words long (yeeeee!) which is as long as Shadows on the Moon was in first draft, I definitely don't feel like I need to be adding any unnecessary new length at this stage!

The book's now printed out in an entirely different font and format than the one that I'm used to working on, and has been secured with a veritable fleet of bulldog clips, since I don't have a folder big enough to fit it (yep, it's a bit... chunky. In a loveable way!). Since I've finished this a little ahead of schedule I'm going to give myself some extra time to get distance from it before I do a complete hard copy re-read and mark-up, write that epilogue, and then get to cutting, revising and polishing. I'm hoping that I'll be able to make substantial reductions in wordcount before I take that scary step of sending this off to my agent to see what she says.

Once it's in a state my agent can live with, then we'll be on a quest to try and find a home for the book - whether that's with my beloved Walker or someone else. I honestly, truly love this story and these characters and this world. I think it's the best and most challenging thing I've written since Shadows. And I believe the book is one that needs to be out there for readers to find. Fingers crossed that there's an editor (and marketing and finance teams) out there who can love it and believe in it as much as I do. If/when it does sell, I should be able to give you all a bit more detail about it.

In the meantime, I'll be refreshing my brain a bit by ploughing through as much as my To Be Read Pile as possible, and also working on some other - COMPLETELY DIFFERENT OMG - stuff, just for fun, to keep the writing muscles limber

Read you later, my muffins!

Monday, 6 March 2017

RETROTUESDAY: WOMEN DOMINATE? IN WHAT UNIVERSE?

Hello, lovely readers! It's time for RetroTuesday, when I delve into the archives of the blog and drag an older post (squinting, blinking, perhaps weeping) back into the daylight for readers who may have missed it the first time, or might enjoy reading it again. Today's post?

WOMEN DOMINATE? IN WHAT UNIVERSE?

I want to share with you an article I read today, which made me feel like choirs of heavenly voices were singing and casting golden light on me: Gender Balance in YA Awards

The glory of this article, Dear Readers! It has confirmed what I always suspected based on knowledge of my field: while there may be slightly more female YA authors (and why is that supposed to be a problem? More on that below!) men still dominate in terms of critical attention and also (although this is not covered explicitly in the post) tend to dominate in terms of sales, with the average NYT Bestseller list (as pointed out by Shannon Hale and Maureen Johnson) showing an 8:2 ratio in favour of male writers.

And yet! It is still widely accepted as fact that YA is 'dominated' by female authors and female stories, and that somehow the ladies are to *blame* for a drop in boy's interest in reading during teenage years. So widely accepted that while that post was making the rounds on Twitter this afternoon I actually saw a male author arguing that there is a 'boy crisis' in YA, and that the stats in the Gender Balance post don't work because male authors win a disproportionate amount of awards.

Um. What? If male authors win a disproportionate amount of awards in the YA field, doesn't that merely illustrate the same point?

I'd really like to know what the people who continually harp on about this issue in this way - lack of 'boy books', 'feminisation' of YA, failing a generation of young men, etc. - would like to see as a solution. Female authors realising the error of their ways and discarding their silly novels about silly girls, and henceforth writing only books about young men being traditionally manly? Female authors taking on androgynous pseudonyms in order to avoid scaring young men off with their lady cooties? Female authors retiring from the field of YA writing altogether and running cakeshops instead so that the men can take their rightful place as leading lights of YA?

Surely I'm overreacting - no one would ever suggest that! Except that I've read at least a couple of industry professionals making serious arguments that there needs to be a drive to create an influx of male editors, publishers, cover designers and writers into the YA sector - presumably to produce books which are sufficiently manly to drive away the girl cooties.

But what am I so worried about? If women were to stop writing YA books and the number of female protagonists were to drop, that wouldn't hurt anything, would it? Everyone knows girls are happy to read about the universal experience of being a boy. Whereas boys are naturally horrified by the suggestion they should read about that weird niche experience of being a girl. You can't expect them to care about the stories that have female protagonists. It's unfair and goes against all their instincts. It's not like women and girls actually make up just over half the human race - and therefore half of the human experience - or anything.

And even if literacy rates among girls did drop - maybe to levels similar to or lower than the current levels for boys - well, that wouldn't really matter, would it? That's the way it always used to be, boys coming first in everything, and it never did anyone any harm, did it?

Has anyone stopped to question why it is that there *are* slightly more female authors and more female editors in the field of children's and YA publishing? I should say it's fairly obvious. It's for the same reason that there are more female pediatricians, female nursery-school/kindergarden assistants, female elementary/primary school teachers, female nannies etc. etc. Because our society teaches us, every day and in every way, that being interested in and looking after children is women's business. That's it's OK and natural for us to get into any job that is concerned with kids.

Men don't go into those fields very often because, in general, it's not considered normal or natural for them to be interested in or want to care for children. You only have to watch the episode of Friends where seemingly sensitive, New Male character Ross is repelled by the very idea of a male nanny, to see the attitudes that are likely to put young men off from any career where their primary business is dealing with kids. Not to mention that any field in which the majority of roles are filled by women is likely to be far lower paid than a field which is dominated by men. We're still nowhere near pay equality anywhere in the world.

Why the sudden outcry, then, at the idea that there may be slightly more females working in YA or children's publishing and writing, even if guys do in general win the majority of the awards and get the majority of the sales in that field?

Because, all of a sudden, YA and children's publishing have become high profile and lucrative. And this has caused all the people that previously dismissed writing for children or working in children's publishing as petty and unimportant - and therefore, naturally felt that it was 'women's work' - to discover a deep interest in it.

But to their shock and disgust, many of the biggest names in children's and YA writing are women. Many of the most successful agents and editors are also women. Many of the books seem specifically aimed at girls. Is it really possible that women are contributing more to this field than men!? Not in terms of general sales or award attention or anything, but - there are still all these women everywhere!

What is the world coming to when such a high profile and lucrative field is full of GIRLS? Women are taking up all the room and attention that the men need!

No wonder boys don't read!

Bunkum. It is that attitude, that very one, which causes boys not to want to read.

The fall in literacy rates for boys is nothing to do with icky female authors and their icky books that dare to treat female characters and their stories as important. It is everything to do with a society that teaches young men that in order to be 'normal' they must embrace traditional ideals of masculinity - and that means rejecting any activity which might might be considered feminine, even tangentially.

Like reading.

It is everything to do with a society that teaches young men that being a great reader is nerdy and girly or even - worst of all! - GAY. So if they do read, they must be careful to never, ever, ever betray any interest in a book with a woman's name on it or a girl protagonist. In fact, to be safe, just play video games. Or football. Those are safe, boyish activities.

It is everything to do with a society that accepts male dominance as so natural, so unquestionably normal and right, that the NPR list of Best YA Novels, which was split quite equally between male and female authors - 59 women, 44 men - is heralded as evidence of something unnatural or sick, a forced 'feminisation' of the publishing category. The people who reacted with shock to this list feel instinctively that YA ought to be dominated by men, just like TV, films, advertising, academics, medicine and every other profitable field in our world.

So what if male YA authors do appear to get more awards and more sales? That isn't enough. The idea of a significant amount of women being prominent beside men in any important field is so alien that a slight majority of female YA authors (even if they're not receiving as much critical attention or getting as many readers) is considered, in itself, a problem.

Things will only be right when things flip the other way and male authors not only dominate in awards and sales but also sheer numbers. Only then will the natural order be restored, and boys miraculously become great readers - even though, of course, they will still scorn and turn away from any books written by, giving starring roles to, or marketed at, girls.

What is the betting, Dear Readers, if that through some twist of fate being a nanny suddenly became a high profile and lucrative field, people would be leaping out of the woodwork straight away to condemn the female domination of this profession? That suddenly fingers would be pointing at the women who've been quietly doing this job for decades and blaming them for the 'feminisation' of the young people under their care? That there'd be talk of trying to encourage men into the field so that boys - those poor, misunderstood boys! - didn't miss out unfairly?

Listen up.

Fewer boys read because our society teaches that it is not 'normal' for them - ie., 'manly' for them - to be interested in sitting quietly in their room, alone, reading books. Since they're also taught that the most horrible, awful thing to be accused of in the world is being unmanly or, in other words, 'girly' (or, le gasp, GAY, quelle horreur!) of course many of them jump ship from reading to killing things on computer screens as soon as they hit puberty.

Fewer men enter the field of children's and YA publishing because our society teaches that a career focused on children and young adults is not 'normal' for them - ie., manly - and because they are aware that 'women's jobs' are not as well paid (even though it turns out that many men will be rewarded for entering this field with better sales and critical attention).

THIS IS NOT WOMEN'S FAULT.

Stop blaming us for the effects of a society that oppresses us. We're not the ones that built it (even though many of us are so indoctrinated by it that we will fight to defend it). That's why it's a patriarchy. If you don't like it, try dismantling it. Good luck. I'll be over here writing the stories I want to write in the way that seems best to me, without any regard to you, or any other group that apparently sees my contribution to my chosen field as so utterly pointless and insignificant. I don't need to justify the fact that I'm female or that I'm interested in the stories of female characters, and nor do the other lady children's and YA writers out there.

WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO EXIST, THE RIGHT TO CREATE, AND THE RIGHT TO PROSPER.

If you feel that mere fact threatens you and the young men in your life? The problem is yours. Not ours.

If you need anymore background on the different ways that boys and girls are socialised to act? Read this: Boys Will Be Boys Is No Excuse.

Oh, and if you think that I'm wrong, and We're All Equal Now, So We Should Shut Up And Go Home? That post has some pretty telling points to make on the skewed idea of 'equality' that the media presents too (but this has adult language and a trigger warning, so stay away if it's not for you). 
 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

IS BAREFOOT ON THE WIND #OWNVOICES?

Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers!

Today, as you might guess from the blog title, is a piece with some thinky thoughts. These are the thinky thoughts I've been having, on and off, about BAREFOOT ON THE WIND since it came out and since and I began to see reviews of various aspects of the story.

It's by no means a definitive Voice of God type of thing - I've no wish to lay down the law about the book or how anyone else should interpret it. I just thought that it might add value for some readers to know some things about the book and how it relates to my own experience and identity.

So, really this post came into being at this point because of the urging of some lovely folks on Twitter. One person DM'ed me to ask if I had meant for Hana to read as an asexual or greysexual character. I told her that I had written Hana very deliberately as greysexual, because I was a greysexual teenager once - although sadly I didn't even know that term existed at the time! I now identify as asexual, however.

Another tweep listed the book as a piece of respectful representation on the grounds that it portrayed mental illness in the form of Hana's apparent depression, but said she was unsure if she should call it #Ownvoices or not. I told her that I, too, have suffered with depression since being a teenager. What's more, after the death of my Father I also went through a period of what is known as Complex or Complicated Grief in which I was unable cope with my bereavement, suffered with overwhelming feelings of guilt and responsibility for what had happened, and wished fervently that I had died in my Father's place. I based Hana's mental state on these experiences.

It suddenly occurred to me that because I had written this book in a secondary world in which terms such as greysexual/asexual and depression simply did not exist, that some readers who might be eager to find representation of those marginalised identities might completely miss it. I'd already read several reviews which expressed disappointment that Hana's relationship with Itsuki in the book wasn't more 'passionate', or mentioned that it seemed more like a friendship than a romance. Those choices were deliberate - they charted the progression of a greysexual person's developing feelings as I experienced them - but how could readers know that when I'd been unable to put the correct label on Hana's identity without being unforgivably anachronistic? Should I be tweeting about this book and calling it #Ownvoices in order to help ace/greysexual and non-neurotypical readers know that stuff was in there?

I looked on the website of the writer who coined the #Ownvoices hashtag - Corrine Duyvis (Hi Corrine!) - and she said she didn't really want to try regulate the term: she just wanted others to be able to use it in whichever way seemed valid. But she felt as long as the author and the protagonist shared a specific marginalised identity, it pretty much counted as far as she was concerned.

This all led an animated discussion on Twitter. Many people chimed in to say they DID feel the story counted as #Ownvoices. But then the author and We Need Diverse Books founder Ellen Oh (Hi Ellen!) chimed in to say that you can't really call a book #Ownvoices if the author doesn't share the protagonist's ethnicity. And I don't. Although Hana's secondary world is a fantasy one, and her ethnicity doesn't really exist in this world, her culture is BASED on Feudal Japan, which means her ethnicity is, too. And, as Ellen pointed out, for a white author to put the hashtag #Ownvoices into play to promote a book in which the main character does not share her ethnicity feels perilously close to a form of cultural appropriation.

At this point it became clear that this was all way too complex to really sort out on Twitter. So I thanked everyone and went off and continued to think about it for a while more before deciding: yes, I should address this on my blog. Because that way people have the relevant information - a more nuanced and complex version of the information than I can possibly offer up in 140 characters - and they can make their own minds up.

Tl;dr - BAREFOOT ON THE WIND features a greysexual, mentally ill protagonist, and those parts of her marginalised identity were based on the author's own experiences as a greysexual, mentally ill teenager (and on later experiences of bereavement). But the author does not share the character's ethnicity, in so far as that ethnicity is based on Japanese culture.

Phew! I hope that all makes sense! Any questions or comments, muffins - toss them in the comments :)

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

ARE FAIRYTALES FEMINIST?

(Originally posted on PewterWolf's blog - revised 15/2/2017)

When the title of this post was suggested to me, I found myself a little conflicted. Can fairytales be Feminist, I asked? Or is this an unanswerable joke question, like whether Grumpy Cat has a Communist agenda?

Let’s just take a moment to remind ourselves what Feminism actually is – untainted by any of the wonky ideas that society may have about it, or any of the behaviour of individual people who reject or embrace the concept. It’s pretty easy:
Feminism
noun
“The advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”
Basically, Feminism is the struggle to ensure that all sexes (there are more than two, FYI, but that’s a whole ‘nother blogpost) have equal rights. A Feminist individual is someone who believes in equality regardless of gender and hopefully works in whatever way they can to bring that about.

So... are fairytales Feminist? Maybe that's the wrong question. Maybe a better way to phrase it would be: Can fairytales be Feminist? Do they have the potential to embody Feminism? Or is that impossible?

Because the thing is, folklore and mythology from pretty much any society you care to name certainly seems to depict a lot of highly sexist attitudes, not to mention celebrationg the Patriarchal societies that spawn those attitudes. And this makes sense. Though initially fairytales were contemporary, evolving narratives, they began to be written down - and considered ‘finalised’ - in Western Europe throughout the 18th and 19th century. They reflect those historical modes of living which were prevalent during that time – when men wore trousers and girls wore skirts, and if they swapped at all it was for reasons of comedy or in order to preserve female virtue.

They haven't really been allowed to evolve since then. We consider those versions the 'originals' or the 'classics' rather than just one of many different possible iterations of archetypal tales. As such they’re filled with a lot of ideals that woman are still fighting against - hello, diametrically opposed innocent damsels (virgins) and wicked ambitious older woman (whores) all desperately hoping to snag a man! And there are an awful lot of young, aggressively heterosexual males rushing in to save the day... and the depictions of people of colour or non-Christian people is pretty awful. The depiction of non-straight people is nonexistent.

But fairytales – the ever changing, oral stories to which our current, sanitised, Disney incarnations are only distantly related – stretch right back to the time when humans were still figuring out what humans even were. When firelight was all that stood between us and the howl of creatures in the dark, and for all we knew a fairy, dragon or young God might be lurking around the next tree trunk any time we went out to cut wood. They contain archetypes, larger than life, fundamentally human characters and quandaries which, while they MAY be warped and stretched and manipulated to reflect the politics of whichever person or society promotes them, are still able to rise above – or sink below – cultural mores in order to share essential truths.

What are fairytales about after all? What questions do THEY ask US?

What is love? What is good – and what is evil? What does it mean to be brave? How should we react to injustice? How can we better our own lives, and what are the risks if we try? What makes a monster? What is a hero?

These questions are ultimately ageless. And a-political.

Our individual interpretation of fairytales, the prejudices and perspectives we ourselves bring to these archetypal stories, are what make them either positive or negative. And individual interpretations can vary, at last count... preeeetty much to infinity.

For instance, Cinderella may be a dutiful and obedient girl who never takes any steps to better her own life because her highest goal is the proper, 'feminine' one of attending a ball in a pretty dress – whose beauty is rewarded when she happens to be young and lovely enough to catch the Prince’s eye (marrying up in society being any woman's dream, of course).

OR... she might be a resolute and morally ambiguous young woman, who cunningly uses the ball to leverage her youth and beauty in order to gain the prince’s power for her own ends.

Beauty might be a dutiful and obedient girl who allows herself to be sacrificed in place of her father, and who, after being bullied or emotionally blackmailed into marrying the monstrous being who imprisoned her, is rewarded when he turns out not to be physically repulsive anymore (though his personality may still be in question).

OR... she could be a ferocious young hunter who goes after the Beast of her own free will in order to destroy him and the curse, and who chooses instead to save him, in the end, because he has proven to her that despite his beastly exterior, he is truly worthy of love.

But these Feminist ways of re-imagining our familiar fairytales – taken from my books Shadows on the Moon (Cinderella) and Barefoot on the Wind (Beauty and the Beast) – can be very controversial. Not just among Mans Right's Activists! Even from a Feminist viewpoint.

The recent Disney live-action Cinderella promoted itself with the motto ‘Have courage... and be kind’. You’d think this was a mild enough statement that no one would get cross about it, but you’d be wrong.

Online, many people rose up against the idea that a young woman suffering under injustice and abuse from her family ought to care about being kind – surely survival would be the order of the day? ‘They’re encouraging young women to be weak!’ was the battle cry. ‘Don’t tell them to be kind, tell them to fight!’

But before anyone could blink, an equally strong counter-argument blew up, stating that kindness was a Feminist virtue, that striving for some kind of unrealistic butt-kicking ideal of femininity that eschewed goodness and kindness for macho ideals of ‘strength’ was ignoring the real struggles of real women who had survived – and might still be living with – abuse. ‘Living in a bad situation you can’t get out of isn’t weakness!’ these people declared.

Who’s right? Who knows! Both, most probably.

The fact is that, just as with magic itself, fairytales can be used for good or evil. They have the potential to be both damagingly misogynistic AND empoweringly Feminist. Like most questions of story, the final interpretation is down to the reader themself to make.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

KINDLE HALF TERM PROMOTIONS!

Hello, lovely readers - no, your eyes do not deceive you, this is the second post in one week. *Le Gasp!*

Not a long one today, unfortunately, as in real time I'm actually on my way to a meeting at my prospective university for my Royal Literary Fellowship, which is both super exciting and super intimidating. But I have other good news!

As of today The Swan Kingdom and Shadows on the Moon are both in the Kindle half-term promotion, which means they're on sale for 99p and £1.09 respectively! Pretty good deal, especially when that's the new version of Shadows on the Moon with exclusive new content, which retails for £7.99 for a paperback.

I'm hoping that being included in such a high profile promotion aimed at young readers over their February half-term will give the books a chance to find a new audience (since, depressingly, many of my young readers have basically grown up now and are adults whose achievements both stun and humble me).

So if you want to share details of these rather spiffy deals on your Twitter feed or Facebook (or Instagram or any other newfangled thingie) for your friends or relatives to peruse, then do feel free - or just grab a copy of one or both of these books for yourself if you've been wanting one.

Have a lovely Wednesday, muffins. Here some new picspam of Ruskin for good measure:



Why does he always appear to be half asleep in these photos, you ask? Because it's literally impossible to get him to stay still without lunging for and attempting to consume the camera at any other time, I reply with a faintly unabalanced laugh! Puppies, folks. They be trippin'.

Monday, 6 February 2017

RETROMONDAY: CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT IS HARDER THAN IT LOOKS

Hello, Dear Readers! Happy (ha ha - yeah, sorry) Monday to you. I've got a super busy week coming up and my puppy is still a total maniac, regularly forcing me out of bed before six in the morning and giving me about ten seconds of peace per day, but I've been feeling pangs of guilt about neglecting you. So I thought I'd resurrect a grand old Zoë-Trope tradition: The RetroPost!

In this case, we have CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Harder than it Looks, dredged up from the dim and misty recesses of the past (four whole years ago). Enjoy, muffins!

* * *

It's time for another one of my opinionated posts about writing. But half of the credit for this one goes to the inimitable and lovely Holly of my writing group, with whom I was recently grousing on this topic. Hi Holls!

What were we grousing about? The fact that both of us (reading on opposite sides of the Atlantic ocean, no less) had lately picked up so many books which had fantastic central premises, which were well paced, pretty well written, full of exciting incidents and maybe even had some initially interesting characters but which - despite all this! - somehow in the end left us feeling... empty.

Unsatisfied. Cheated. Frustrated. Unmoved. Convinced, somehow, that the whole exercise of turning pages - despite the exciting incidents and great premises and decent writing - had just been a waste of time.

After we'd been talking in detail for a while about the various books which had disappointed us this way and trying to figure out just what was WRONG with them, one of us (who knows which one - it was a loooong moaning session) suddenly put our finger on it. The problem was character development. Or, rather, the lack of it.

Now, you might think this would have been an obvious problem for two writers to notice and figure out. But actually the lack of character development in these books was being masked by the fact that the main character's life was often being totally transformed by the end of the story. All kinds of seismic shifts in their abilities, their home environments, their romantic lives and their family situations were going on. It seemed crazy to say that these characters weren't developing. But they weren't.
 
We realised that in all these books, although the heroine - it was normally a heroine - might have experienced massive changes in her situation by the end of the story, she very rarely experienced any change in her character. She was always essentially the same person by the finale of the story, no matter what she had been through. And the finale normally consisted of her getting what she had wanted all along - without her ever having reassessed those desires, or questioning why she desired what she did in the first place.

In fact, it was like the authors had gotten confused on the difference between plot and character.

In my head, I could just imagine these writers proudly saying: 'Look at my character's amazing arc! She goes from a lonely teenager with no idea of her true heritage to a superpowered elf with a hot elvish boyfriend and lots of elvish friends!' Or maybe: 'My character develops from a cold and solitary existence as a lab rat in a secret government facility to a free person and a member of a warm, happy family!' After a bit of checking, I found many reviews which talked about the plot and the character development in this way, as if they were interchangeable. It seems this is a common misconception. Common enough even to fool the editors who should have caught this and helped their authors to overcome it.

Because, you see, those descriptions above do not touch on any character's arc at all. Nor do they count as character development. They describe plots. And when a plot is serving double duty - trying to be a character arc too - the events (no matter how well paced, well written and exciting) of a story will feel essentially empty. It doesn't matter if the stakes are as small as a girl longing for a date to the prom, or as epic as The End of the World. If the change in the character's situation isn't significant enough to change *them*, then why on earth would reading the book make the reader feel changed?

These books would turn the heroine's whole world upside down. They might kill off her best friend right before her eyes, remove her from the only family she knew, or tell her that she had a secret heritage she never knew about. They would pit her against life-threatening danger, maybe force her to develop frightening new abilities, make her fall passionately in love. Surely I should have been gasping, crying, thrilling?

Yet none of those events, no matter how outwardly shocking or traumatic or wonderful, ever really moved me. The way they were depicted simply skimmed over the surface of the profound emotional effect on the character that should have been the whole point of those events in the first place. It was as if the writers thought that these Big Important Events by themselves were enough to involve my heart. But the End of the World (the world the writer has created) and everyone in it means absolutely nothing to me if the writer cannot show me what this means to the POV character.

In the best books, characterisation and plot are so entwined, so integral to each other and to the events of the book, that they do almost feel like the same thing. But they have fundamentally different functions within a narrative, and trying to create a decent story without one or the other is like trying to have spectacles without frames, frames without the lenses.

Even if you do turn your plain, lonely teen into a superpowered elf and give her a hot boyfriend and an elvish family, you still need to make sure that her established traits, beliefs, insecurities and priorities are challenged, strengthened, destroyed or resolved by the end of the book. We need to see that everything she has been through has affected her meaningfully. If the heroine starts the book longing for someone to love her and ends up with a family and boyfriend, that is very nice for her - but it's still plot and not characterisation.

Remember that you're a writer, not the wish-granting fairy from Cinderella. Don't just look at your plot as a series of events that get your hero or heroine to a desired outcome. Not even a series of awesomecoolsauce events. Look at them as ways to push and challenge your character, to display her traits and develop her personality. Readers long to see the main character become the person they should be, not just get the stuff they want.

Your main character doesn't need to evolve into into an entirely new being by the end of the story. In fact, it's better if she doesn't. Changes that happen to the character throughout need to grow naturally from who they are at the start - their core qualities - and the particular pressures that the story and the plot events put on them. The last thing you want is to have the character do a complete u-turn and become someone unrecognisable. That's not satisfying either.

So maybe your elvish heroine started the story as a selfish and insecure girl who was callous to others because she was afraid people would see how vulnerable she was - and in order to get the family and the love she always wanted, she first had to realise that she must treat others well, and be willing to risk giving love, with no guarantee it would be returned?

Maybe she was frightened and timid, a girl who refused to take risks - and she had to find the seeds of courage inside herself, even risk losing the ones she hoped would love her, before she was worthy of them?

Or maybe she was filled with self-loathing, yearning for affection but still convinced she didn't deserve it - and had to learn to value and care for herself first, before she could finally find a place among people who would value and care for her the same way?

Those are CHARACTER arcs. See how they differ from the plot ones? They're about learning, changing, growing, not about getting stuff.

You need to ensure you're putting time and thought into your character's development even if you're writing the first volume of a trilogy or series. In fact, it's even more vital, because if I think you're holding stuff back from me in book one I'm probably not going to bother to go and buy book two. I need to feel that you've got a character arc in your mind as well as a plot one.

An easy way to figure out if you've achieved worthwhile character development is to give your main character or characters a choice. A pivot-point, somewhere near the end of the story. Arrange events so that things could go either way - disaster or triumph - and make the whole thing hinge on a moment of choice for the character. If they act the way they would have at the beginning of the story? Disaster. Maybe even if they act the way that they would have midway through the story. So they need to have grown and developed enough that you feel they could reasonably go in the other direction. Then you and the reader will be able to see that they have become who they were meant to be, and that they deserve their happy ending (if you've been nice enough to give them one!).

A great example of this is Katniss' decision at the end of The Hunger Games. At the beginning of the book Katniss' one priority is to win, to survive the Games by any means necessary, because she believes that Prim needs her - and because she doesn't believe in anything other than that. By the end of the book, she is willing to swallow poisonous berries along with with Peeta rather than sacrifice her soul by trying to kill him and let the Capitol win. She has changed significantly because of the events of the story - but we still see the qualities of bravery, strength and self-sacrifice that Katniss had at the beginning of the book, too. Those traits have been challenged, stretched to breaking point, but ultimately reinforced by her ordeal.

In Closing: plot is about going places, doing things and getting stuff - changes in situation. Characterisation is about changing, growing and learning stuff - changes in the character's core. Make sure you have both these things running side by side, and you will make Zolah a very happy reader.

I hope this makes sense to you, my lovelies. Any questions? Pop them in the comments. Read you later!
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