Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” 

—William Wordsworth

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I figured I’d explore the topic of love. And since this is primarily a blog on creative writing, I’m doing that in regards to the job of writing (See my initial blog if you’re wondering about Love interests in your novel).

Ask yourself, why are you writing? 9/10 times the answer probably isn’t going to be as straight-forward as “Because I love writing.”

However, the love of writing should be the root of it.

This has practically become cliché advice. You hear it time and time again: Do not write for money. Write for the love of it (Or because it makes you happy).

How do you know if you love your writing?

A simple test is this:

Even if you knew, 100%, that your books would never sell, that you’d never become a famous writer, would you still do it?

I used to begrudgingly say yes. But that’s partly because once I start something, I have a strong compulsion to finish.

When you ask yourself this, really try to imagine what it would be like to know you’d never succeed as a writer. A lifetime of looking at famous writers enviously. Knowing no one cared about your stories, but they cared about garbage like the Twilight series. Knowing that you would never host grand book signings. Slaving away at your computer with no reward except your own enjoyment of it.

It’s not encouraging, I know. But it’s the cave of self-doubt all true writers must pass through.

For a couple years, I was struggling with a novel. It wasn’t horrible or anything, but I was revising it at a snail’s pace. After two years, I was barely finishing my fourth draft. And still I didn’t have a rock-solid plot.

Finally this past summer, I realized this wasn’t what I truly enjoyed writing. It wasn’t fun, it was just work. It’s what I thought was marketable. So I stopped and started writing a completely different novel. It’s been about six months, and I’m already starting the fifth draft.

Why? Because I love writing this story.

When you really think about it, people buy e-books instead of real books for shallow reasons—they’re easier to hold and somewhat cheaper. So here are my superficial reasons for preferring real books over e-books

1. It’s more fun to find that page you’re looking for in a real book. With real books you can place your finger in that section or just flip pages. With e-books you gotta type it in and sometimes wait for the pages to load. I enjoy browsing through a book trying to find the section I’m looking for.

2. E-books make your eyes sore. I need natural light, not a screen.

3. You don’t get a physical copy of the product with e-readers. I like to get something that I can actually hold, not just “experience.” In that case, why not just buy audio books?

4. With e-books, you don’t get the satisfying feeling of seeing the bookmark move through the book.

5. I like the smell of fresh ink and clean white pages.

6. Real books, if you have the heavy kind, give you a little bit of a work out to carry around.

7. Real books have 1500 years of seniority. Pretty much every great book you can remember started as a physical book and only now has become an e-book. How many classic stories have only appeared as an e-book?

8. Real books don’t require batteries to read, just sunlight.

9. The e-book readers I’ve used don’t start up instantly. But I can instantly open a book and start reading.

10. With e-books, you don’t get the fun cover designs and paper flaps, just digital media stuff, which I can find anywhere nowadays. How about some real art on paper?

11. It’s easier to write in books with pencils/pens/highlighters than with that touch screen garbage where you accidentally highlight the wrong things.

12. Real books don’t give off radiation. Kindles and iPads …wait 20 years for the long-term studies to be published.

13. E-books may keep trees alive longer, but real books will keep the publishing world alive longer—as a writer decide which is more important to you.

14. Real books can be signed by authors. E-books…

15. Unless you purchase through Amazon, physical books require you to go out into the world, interact with bookstore people and make wise decisions as to what you buy.

16. (Related to 15) Good for readers, bad for authors: You may buy e-books impulsively. With physical books, you realize how many you’re carrying and that you should wait to read them before buying more.

17. (Related to 16) When you buy a physical book, you’ll probably be more inclined to read it because its physically there, occupying some space in your house, shelf, or whatever. Even if you don’t read it for 10 years, you may stumble upon it one day and decide to read it. With e-books you might open your iPad, intending to read, then play Angry Birds instead.

18. With real books, the words stay in the same place. They don’t switch around when you turn your book a certain direction. With e-books, you accidentally touch the screen and the words are completely resized and the page count is changed.

19. You can fill your bookshelves with intellectual and important texts to subtly show dinner party guests you’re smart and savvy. Not so with e-readers.

20. Lastly, just remember that come the apocalypse, real books double as firewood. The most an e-reader can do is warm your hands.

As writers, a paramount rule is to read many books. This is to garner ideas as well as to get a sense of what level of quality readers want.

Certain writers may not want to admit it, but reading books is not as fun as watching a movie or listening to music. It requires effort on your part and a mental investment. So sometimes it’s hard to find a book that’s both enjoyable and helpful to you as a writer.

And if you’re reading a book begrudgingly, solely because you want to improve your own writing, it stands that you might not get as much out of it. So what should you be reading?

Writing really begins as a journey into what you read. At first you read books that inspire you to write, then you read books that give you a sense of what is supposed to be written.

My WIP is an espionage thriller. I probably never would’ve gotten into this if not for being introduced to Vince Flynn’s thrillers. His own backstory illustrates this point—he started reading like crazy after fears of dyslexia. His readings include Tolkien, Clancy, Ludlum, Vidal, and Hemingway (to name only a few I’m sure). All of these are big names and encompass a wide spectrum of genres.

As a hopeful thriller writer myself, I read these, as well as the old school spy writers, like Greene, Fleming, and Le Carré. I’ve filled my library with all sorts of thrillers, both the current espionage bestsellers (Silva, Thor) and the non-espionage thrillers (Brown, Larson). So I’ve specialized my writing skills, but in other ways I may have limited it.

It is important to remember that only a very small percentage of writers will reach the bestseller list, so by reading the bestsellers, you may get a small scope of what can be done with a genre. Ultimately, I have my gripes with the espionage commercial paperbacks. They are enjoyable and entertaining, but they bend the rules of logic, tend to border cliché, and scream of nepotism.

This leads to my next point. Many of these espionage writers did not come out of nowhere. Nearly all of those mentions had a background in the military-intelligence community (Ludlum was a US Marine, Fleming was in MI5), grew up in the West Virginia-DC area (where many FBI and CIA employees tend to grow up), or had media connections (Thor hosted Traveling Lite, Silva wrote for United Press International).

I’m not trying to attack nepotism, but I’m saying that it tends to undermine quality. When you read a bestseller, you have to ask, is it on the list because it’s the best quality it can be, or because Oprah wanted to help sell her friend’s book? This is just one example, but you can use your imagination to see how bestsellers may not offer the best reading.

That is to say, you shouldn’t just read the most successful books in your genre. Read the crappy books in your genre and read books that you actually enjoy (even if they never made the bestseller list). Read other genres and see how you might introduce elements of these into your writing. Or look at how certain authors integrate literary elements into commercial novels, such as John Le Carré. Ultimately, you want to get a sense of all writing can be and allow your inner muse to filter out the good from the bad.

Remember that time you sat down and everything went right. You had great ideas, there was no writer’s block to hold you back, and it all sounded good as you typed it?

Every writer hopes for this moment, but how often does it really come? How many writers consistently enjoy these perfect writing sessions? Not many.

Writing is (as you know) a tough career. With work and social lives, it can be especially hard to find time to write, let alone find the time when you are in your best creative spirit. It comes down to eliminating some of the fun stuff like TV and simply (and impulsively if you must) forcing yourself to write.

Even if you think you’re not in the spirit, do it.

That magical moment is never going to come. At least not if you don’t start writing first. Who knows, you might start off in a bad mood, but find your creative spirit once you warm up a little.

You cannot wait until you “feel like writing.”

Many writers choose to start off their early mornings with writing. I can attest to this. Like toadstools after a rainstorm, my best ideas usually pop up in my head around 5 AM. The scientific standing of this is DMT.

DMT is the chemical in our brains that causes dreams. And dreams, as you know, are often creative and sometimes offer great stories.

Early in the morning, our brains still carry DMT, so we are able to use this for better writing and better story ideas. And in the early morning, you will probably be a little calmer and have fewer distractions—there just isn’t much going on in the ungodly hours.

Another time to write is just after exercise. Cardio exercise like running or swimming elevates your mood in the short-term and this can be a factor in helping you write.

But really, I think exercise helps calm a person down by getting rid of excess energy. This means you end up a little less distracted and more focused. Also, exercise will get the blood flowing and help you work more actively.

If these don’t help, I suggest you take a two-day vacation or week-end trip. Bring your laptop and get yourself to do focused writing there for a few hours. Then come back to your normal writing place and see how you suddenly have a boost in your writing focus.

There are a ton of movies out this summer. I’ve got my picks for the winners of the action blockbusters:

Thor

Pirates 4

X-men First Class

Super 8

Transformers 3

Captain America

 
Yeah, most of them. I’m a sucker for summer action movies. What I wanted to analyze here is not so much the fact that they all use CGI effects, but the historical aspect contained in each. I am going to give you a quick history lesson with summer blockbusters.

Thor-during the Middle Ages, the Nordic folklore was based around the story of the gods Odin and Thor, who used a thunderous hammer to defeat the Ice Giants and save humanity.

Pirates 4-during the Colonial Period, the British and Spanish were fierce rivals, hoping to carve out a piece of the New World. The Spanish for Catholicism and the British for the Crown of England.

X-men First Class-in the 1960s, the US and Russia were at each other’s throats. At the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world came very close to nuclear annihilation.

Super 8-the title is actually the name of a camera used in the late seventies.

Transformers 3-in the 1960s, the US and Russia were involved in a Space Race, culminating in man setting foot on the moon in July 1969.

Captain America-the zeal of fighting in the great World War II attracted even the most unlikely recruits. Meanwhile the U.S. was working on plenty of secret military projects, like the Manhattan project and stranger ones like ice ships and anti-tank dogs.

Although none of these movies are really historical, they slide a cut of history into action-hungry viewers’ plates. I doubt Hollywood hopes to put history class into the context of a cool movie. It’s really the other way around.

Giving your story a historical context can add a whole new level of backstory to it. Doing this can add credibility to your story, while at the same time, getting readers/viewers far more interested in seeing the blend of reality and fiction. It helps make the story more relevant to your audience and show how it fits into the real world.

The inclusion of “fantasy history” or mythical entities into books is most prominent in fantasy. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Percy Jackson all draw from preconceived notions of what once existed or were thought to exist. In using actual history, science fiction does a great job of applying background context for better effect. The Hunger Games implicitly uses concepts like peak-oil and peak-water scenarios as the background. Some think the widespread use of Google, Apple, and Facebook is leading us towards George Orwell’s 1984.

Whatever your story is, see if there isn’t some history that fits into the backstory to give it a richer feel.

When you’ve spent as much time as I have watching TV/films and wikipedia-ing stuff, you have a third sense about upcoming movies. Sight. You see the ads and you can tell whether they will suck or not. Admittedly as soon as I saw they were making a Green Lantern movie I cringed a little. Is Hollywood really this desperate, I asked myself.

The Green Lantern has always been better accustomed to being a support character, behind major DC Comics characters like Superman and Batman. Despite what comic book fans would have you believe, GL is not meant to be the star of a major motion picture. And then the trailer and ads started popping up and I knew this movie was in trouble.

Two things from the trailers, which I found no less insulting in the movie, were Air Force pilot, Hal Jordan’s (Ryan Reynolds) Green Lantern costume and the gold-fish dude (voiced by Geoffrey Rush). There is something visually unappealing about the GL suit and I don’t mean the color design as much as the model of it. It looks like they sucked all the fat out of Ryan Reynolds’ body, so that he is just this small hyper-muscular guy. He looks puny, not heroic. And then the “mask.” Did they buy that from a party supply store? Honestly, I kept thinking of Goofy.

And the goldfish Green Lantern. I am not prejudiced against goldfish now, I have a pond full of them, but he actually admits to looking like one. That’s kind of the movie makers way of saying, “Yeah we know this  looks weird, but he’s in even though his character serves only an expository purpose.” Because that’s all his character does. The goldfish character informs Hal Jordan of everything he needs to know when he becomes the Green Lantern. That scene definitely keeps the tension heightened.

So now that I’ve gotten some of my more ostensible gripes out of the way, its time to dig deeper into the failure of this film.

If this movie was trying to be a parody of the superhero genre, they made a good attempt. The alien characters looked silly, there were plenty of pointless scenes, the dialogue faltered, and the climax was arguably deus ex machina. There’s even a line where Hal Jordan’s friend says, “You’re a superhero.”

Sadly, I’m pretty sure they were trying to make a movie that could compete with the likes of Iron-Man, Batman, Spider-man, and the X-men. Might want to pull that reboot trump card out early guys.

Aside from the overall bad design, the story just sucked. It was less convoluted than say, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, but made less sense.

The movie begins in kind of the worst way possible, a voice-over to get viewers up to speed on what the Green Lantern Corp is and what it does. Something about Guardians of the Universe using their green rings and starting the Green Lantern Corps to protect the universe no less. And there is a great evil named Parallax, who was only their best warrior, Abin Sur, could defeat.

Why do I say this is a bad way to open a film? For one, it’s just pure exposition. And secondly, it really takes away from the experience of the viewer learning about the Green Lantern Corp as Hal Jordan learns. But it is defensible, as plenty of good sci-fi films used this intro style—Star Wars, Transformers, Thor.

The actual story opens with three nondescript aliens exploring and accidentally freeing Parallax from his prison just a few meters underneath the surface of a planet. Keep in mind, this guy is the greatest threat in the universe and the Green Lanterns barely defeated him. Yet they chose to imprison him just below a planet’s surface, with no guards. And the prison, a sort of crystal chamber, is so well-constructed, the mere presence of three alien explorers triggers Parallax to break free.

Now let me skip ahead. On the GL planet, Oa, there are literally thousands of Green Lantern soldiers. We see them every time Hal Jordan comes to visit. They just stand there, cheer, and flash green lights. Why weren’t some of them posted to guard Parallax’s chamber or ensure no aliens accidentally found Parallax’s chamber? And the leaders of Green Lanterns are the ultra-wise Guardians of the Universe. So wise they do nothing the entire movie except build a Yellow Ring (running off the same power as Parallax, fear), which is not used until the post-credits scene when Sinestro puts it on.

I’m just saying, maybe a cooler intro would’ve been some space alien seeks out Parallax’s power or wants to free him. Then there could’ve been a nice little battle scene. Or even better, Sinestro secretly released Parallax, so that there would be a reason to create the Yellow Ring—uh oh I think I just spoiled the shocker truth to be revealed in Green Lantern 2.

That’s another thing. The character Sinestro shows no signs of evil throughout the movie. When the Green Lanterns hear about Parallax, Sinestro suggests he lead a group of Lanterns to fight Parallax. They are defeated, so then Sinestro says they should make a ring made of Yellow/Fear, to combat Parallax, who lives off Yellow/Fear (normal green rings are powered by Will, the will of all living things in the universe). While Hal Jordan is busy fighting Parallax on Earth, the Green Lanterns make the Yellow Ring. After the climax, when Parallax is already defeated and the threat is gone, Sinestro tries on the ring anyways. He seemed like a good guy to me, so he must have been corrupted by the promise of power I guess.

Much of the movie feels like it struggles to find the GL a place in the world of superhero movies. Because Will powers the good rings and Fear powers Parallax, there is a thematic conflict within Hal Jordan. His father died in an aircraft malfunction (which we see through, I’m sorry to say, humorously “cinematographed” flash-backs—it felt like one of those Scary Movie flashbacks).

Early on, Hal Jordan cannot compete with the other Green Lanterns, because he is too afraid. He has to conquer his fear to really become a hero. If not, the villain, who feeds off others’ fear, will destroy him. Hmm, sounds kind of like another DC Comics superhero. One that had a pretty good reboot back in 2005, which dealt with fear and overcoming it.

So the movie doesn’t quite find its niche in this sense. Maybe it can be clever and admit to being stuck in the superhero genre. It attempts this when Hal Jordan’s friend, who mysteriously vanishes from the script half way through, barges into his apartment, saying he knows he’s the Green Lantern. Hal Jordan concedes and shows him his costume. The friend says something like “You’re a superhero. Don’t the superheroes always get the lady?”

Next thing you know, the GL flies down to the balcony of his old friend, fellow-pilot, and love-interest Carol Ferris. But the movie pulls another clever twist, because Hal Jordan never quite hits it off with her. At least I don’t think so. There was some scene where he talks with her at the end, but it was so boring, I kind of glazed over it. I’m pretty sure they don’t hook up though. That’s what my friend said.

By now I should probably explain how Hal Jordan actually becomes the Green Lantern. The back story is that no human has ever been a Green Lantern, cause we’re too dumb and think we’re the center of the universe. True. So when Abin Sur, bloodied and dying from an attack by Parallax, lands on an Earth beach, his ring seeks out a successor. Hal Jordan is at his nephew’s birthday party and suddenly a green bubble teleports him to Abin Sur, where he gets the ring. So Hal Jordan actually plays no part in earning the ring. Later he learns he was chosen because he has the ability to overcome fear.

Let’s compare with other superheroes.

Batman

Motivation: his parents’ death and an obsession for justice

What he must do: Find himself, mature, develop his combat skills, and devise a plan to bring back Gotham

Iron-man

Motivation: a near-death experience awakens him to the fact that his company is doing more harm than good. He wants to be responsible

What he must do: Build a suit first to save himself, then build a much better suit, deal with scrutiny from Stark Industry’s Board of Directors, and start acting as a peacekeeper

Thor

Motivation: after his father banishes him to Earth, Thor realizes he was an arrogant jerk for most of his life. He realizes that humans are actually worthy beings. He wants to atone for his stupidity and protect them.

What he must do: He must humble himself. This includes not only menial tasks like cooking breakfast for his human friends, but also sacrificing himself before he can gain back all his powers.

There is a clear answer for the GL. He quits. He is given the ring, but when he begins training on the Green Lantern planet, he decides it is too hard to control his fear. So he flies back to Earth to sulk. He doesn’t master his fear. Later into the movie, he does do a few heroic deeds. One of these includes stopping the freakish telepath, Dr. Hammond, back at Cadmus Labs, where he is about to kill his own father.

The strange part was that the Green Lantern somehow knew this was going on, even though he was sitting down a good ten miles away. It wasn’t clear how he knew to show up at Cadmus Labs and stop Dr. Hammond.

We do see Hal Jordan’s true character later on at least. As Parallax makes his way to Earth, Hal Jordan visits the Green Lantern planet to convince them to help him defend his planet. The Guardians tell him they must be wise, so they aren’t going to risk sending their Green Lantern police to defend Earth. He talks about them being afraid to admit they are afraid. With this, he flies back to Earth. This was a fairly pointless scene, except that Hal Jordan is able to resolve his fear of being afraid. Apparently, this was the fear limiting his powers.

Well not quite. When he battles Parallax on Earth, he does okay. Eventually Parallax gets the upper hand though and has him against a rock, so to speak. He can sense Hal Jordan’s fear and knows that he is about to lose. Then Hal Jordan chants the Green Lantern song and suddenly becomes strong enough to break free. Something inside him snaps and he conquers his fear in just three seconds. Now that’s character development.

Imagine being trapped in a haunted house and as the ghosts surround you, you stop shaking in your boots and simply decide you aren’t going to be afraid. See instead of doing things slowly, like Batman who spent years mastering his fear, the Green Lantern can flip a switch inside his head and go from fearful to fearless. That is why I consider this moment to be an almost deus ex machina situation. It’s as though out of nowhere, the Green Lantern develops the willpower to beat Parallax.

So then, predictably, Hal Jordan uses the same technique he used at the beginning of the film to defeat two computer-programmed fighter jets. He flies up high and waits for his opponents to lose their bearings. In this case, he flies towards the sun. Parallax follows him, but Hal Jordan evades and Parallax gets pulled into the sun. You’d think the universe’s greatest villain would be a little smarter. But Hal Jordan is also sucked in by the sun’s gravity. Fortunately the Green Lanterns show up and rescue him. I’ll bet Hal Jordan wondered why they didn’t show up five minutes earlier. As the Green Lanterns might say after seeing what has become of them on the big screen…In brightest day, in blackest night, no Green Lantern sequel shall ever cross my sight!

When deciding your characters and planning your story, you will probably consider some romantic element. Whether merely as a subplot or the web that binds the story together, romantic relationships are found in a number of successful books, films, and TV shows (beyond the romance genre of course). Love is a hallmark of what it means to be human, so, not surprisingly, its everywhere in our culture (as well as others).

With a quick glance at some of the major bestsellers in recent times, a love interest looks to be crucial.

The Da Vinci Code, Twilight, The Hunger Games, the Harry Potter series. All include a romantic component to varying degrees.

Note that there are three young adult novels here (one is romance YA of course). For many teenagers, life is like one big drama. A good drama needs romance. With readership from males 18-35 down, a major audience to consider is YA.

A love interest increases appeal. Consider Titanic and Avatar.

Would these books and films have been good, entertaining stories without a love-interest? Yes. Would they have been as successful? No

So, if your work is not a clear romance piece to start, where does a love interest fit in your story?

Of course, that depends on the genre and overall concept. In a thriller novel, a love-interest isn’t really necessary, but having one helps show your character’s emotionality. And creating an emotional attachment between readers and your main character(s) is critical for them to finish the novel. Even if you only include the character’s spouse in passing, it can help give readers a better sense of who that person is.

For YA novels, it is definitely something to consider. Looking at the earlier Harry Potter books, one can argue you don’t need it. And that’s fair. But on average, it seems that YA novels appeal a lot easier with a good romantic element.

If you’re writing a satire or comedy screenplay, you probably don’t need a love interest, at least not a serious one.

And romance doesn’t need to become the focal point of your story. In fact, it shouldn’t unless you’re writing a romance novel. It doesn’t even have to involve the main character. Maybe it’s between two of the secondary characters. But you show how their relationship affects him/her. Or go Lord of the Rings/Star Wars style. The Han-Leia relation and Aragon-Arwen relation really don’t affect Luke or Frodo. Instead these help build an emotional connection with other characters.

So my tip is if you think your book is missing something or your characters seem flat, maybe they need romance thrown into their lives. Can you include it almost arbitrarily? I would say in a lot of cases a good love-interest set up only helps. I say this cautiously, but note my vague qualifier—good.

Throwing in cliché romantic set-ups or overly ambiguous ones may simply deter from your story’s real themes. Also, a love-interest may be either irrelevant or contradictory to defining your main character/story (Lawrence of Arabia, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, some of Kurt Vonnegut’s works). That said, remember nothing can save a crappy story, not even romance. Make sure you’ve got the prerequisites before you add a love-interest to your novel/screenplay.