Thursday, September 13, 2012

On Writing Advice: Acceptance

For my AP Psychology class, I have to do an assignment that involves reading a non-fiction book called Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.

Now, admit it. No matter what genre you like, that is a pretty intriguing title. It is all about the "adaptive unconscious", which is the part of your brain that makes snap decisions based on very little experience. It automatically processes all the information in a given situation and makes a decision on how to act. This means that things like predicting if your marriage will end in divorce or whether or not something is a fake can be found out not within months but minutes.

So I started reading it and answering the assigned questions, and I come across this section that would apply to writing incredibly well, in my opinion.

If you know what improv is, then you'll know how hard it would seem. Making up witty dialogue and a play on the spot; I don't know about you, but I'm more inclined to think about that sort of thing for hours, analyzing the options, the outcomes, and pretty much every possible scenario. Improv is the opposite.

There are rules to writing that lead you to be a better writer, no matter your skill level. It is what keeps writing from being a sticky pile of atrociousness. Well, improv also has rules, and one of these is something I don't see very often in books.

Let your characters accept what is happening to them.
I read a lot of books that come across as angsty and vapid because the MCs always complain that this can't be real: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa - the MC thinks that there were no such things as fairies; Stoneheart by Charles Fletcher - the MC refuses to believe in the living statues; and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol - Alice believes this is all a wierd dream.

Now, these aren't bad - in fact, I find Alice endearing. But I find that when characters accept things, it opens opportunities. Who cares if your character is real because she can't accept magic? Make her real and inspiring by taking action.

Of course, no one is perfect. Your characters can have a respite; even Harry Potter didn't believe he was a wizard at first. But Harry Potter gets over his denial pretty quick.

Yes, my drawing skills are below average. The question is, though,
which would you rather read about? The one crying, or the one with her
hands raised in victory?

Let me give you an example. Say Mary (the stick figure on the left) is told she is a witch, and an evil magician is plotting to kill her. She denies, denies, denies. "What? That's crazy. I'm not a witch, There's no such thing as magic. I'm not worth killing." Blah blah blah. When the magician shows up at the door with a gun and shouts that he'll kill her, she starts crying, sticks her fingers in her ears, and says, "I can't hear you! You're not real." You can guess the next part.

Mary (the stick figure on the right) is told she is a witch, and an evil magician is plotting to kill her. She denies, denies, denies. But she realizes that if on the off chance this really was happening, then THERE WAS SOMEONE OUT TO KILL HER. She asks the person who told her she was a witch to train her in this so-called magic, and she realizes that not only is magic real, but it is the coolest thing ever. She becomes a pro in no time. The evil magician comes to her door, waving a gun, she laughs and levitates the gun out of his grasp. She twists it into a knot, and the evil magician runs crying to his mommy.

This is an extreme (and somewhat hilarious) example, I know. But do you see my point? Writing about the first Mary sort of stalled. There wasn't really enough opportunity to let her become the heroine she is in the second Mary. The first Mary was vapid. The second Mary was strong.

Now, this entire post may be biased, because I read and have read a lot of fantasy; if I suddenly gained magical powers, or was turned into a cat, I'd be ecstatic. Others might not be so pleased to grow fur. And denial is a natural reaction: he couldn't have died. They can't be killers. She can't be mentally insane.

But I think a character who gets over their denial and takes action is a character we can relate to and look up to. A realistic character who inspires is always better than just a realistic character.

So, to sum up this post: let your character accept his/her circumstances. It provides amazing opportunities for his/her to grow. Also, this book Blink is pretty mind-blowing. It's not a writing book, but you can probably expect more tips on writing from it.

What do y'all think? Acceptance or denial? Can you think of any characters who irked you because of this?


  1. If the character accepts the bizarre stuff right off the bat without a little questioning or demand for proof then I would be sceptical that they accepted things so easily but I agree I prefer a character who accepts what is so obvious then be in constant denial. I mean as readers we know we are reading a fantasy, we know that the faeries are real, we don't want to read chapter upon chapter of a character constantly denying that faeries are not real. And if it's a dream so what, that's a pretty awesome dream, go and have an adventure.

  2. I think if the character gets stuck in denial or non-acceptance, then the reader's not going to get the satisfaction of seeing the character change or grow, and that's a big part of why we read.