How Wattpad Is Changing My Life

WattpadOrangeWattpad is my latest big adventure, and it’s changing my writing life.

I joined Wattpad seven months ago to follow Katie Cross, who at the time had just serialized her novella The Isadora Interviews and was preparing to start Bon Bons to Yoga Pants. I wasn’t sure what I thought about it, back then. Raw, unedited writing? Authors giving away whole novels for free? Anyone can join and post random stuff? Uhh… But I needed an account to read BBtYP — Wattpad is good like that, you can’t read unless you’re registered — so I signed up.

When I read Katie’s blog post about how Wattpad has extended her author brand, I realized that my assumptions about Wattpad were wrong. It’s not all fan fiction and erotica (although those are well represented), and even well-known authors have taken to the platform (all kinds, from Margaret Atwood to R.L. Stine), enough that Wattpad has an orange “verified” checkmark for them. I also had a chance to chat with Jing Jing Tan at Wattpad (honestly, it sounds like the coolest place in the world to work); she was super encouraging, and I learned that it’s truly about connecting readers and writers.

foundmytribe-smlAt the core, it’s a social media network, only instead of cat pictures and linkbait, everyone there is sharing and discussing stories. I’m loving the feedback and support and conversation. Where sometimes trying to connect with new people through Facebook and Twitter feels like work, Wattpad is making it fun to reach out again.

But… changing my life? How can that be?

Look, I don’t share my work easily, so I don’t have much to show out there for the length of time I’ve been writing. I find excuses for why I don’t submit stuff, and why I don’t self-publish, but the truth is I’m just scared. Wattpad is making it easier for me.

  1. It’s easier with a buddy or two. E.D.E Bell started three days before I did, which gave me the courage to post my first chapter. T.J. Lockwood said she’d do it if I did it, and we both post on Fridays.
  2. Reads and vote stars are addictive. Yes, it’s true. I now live for reads and those little vote stars (top right corner of each chapter, yo!). Posting a new chapter sends a notification to all my followers so they can read it… and the number next to the little eyeball goes up, and the vote count next to the little star goes up, and I float on a cloud of happiness.
  3. Public commitment works for me. The main page for my work-in-progress says “updates on Fridays!” That’s a promise. No matter how my week goes, and no matter how fraidy-cattish I feel or how I convince myself it’s not quite right and needs more editing, Friday rolls around and that chapter has to go up.

plsvote4me-smlIn the two weeks since I posted the first chapter of A Husband for Deva on Wattpad, I’ve more than doubled my total public word count (TPWC = words available to the general public, whether for free or by purchase). The best thing is, I feel fabulous about it.

Wattpad can’t and shouldn’t be a working writer’s only platform, but as part of a wider author-brand strategy it’s brilliant, and for those who fear jumping into the pool, it’s an awesome way to get our toes wet.

Give Wattpad a try, if you haven’t already!
Share your profile in the comments.
I hope you’ll follow me
and give A Husband for Deva a read.

And remember, on Wattpad you make a writer’s day every time you click that little star in the upper right corner of a chapter.

Advertisements

Of Quirks and Flaws

Sometimes one thing leads to another. When I was engaged in reading/discussing a great blog post by Katie Cross a couple of days ago, I had one of those moments where (please allow me to be cheesy for a moment) the metaphorical light bulb goes on and a brand new thought is suddenly blindingly obvious.

The subject under discussion was quirky characters. Also, flawed characters. And I realized just how commonly we conflate those two. I hadn’t actually thought about this before…

quirk: an unusual habit or way of behaving / a peculiar trait: idiosyncrasy (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

flaw: a defect in physical structure or form / an imperfection or weakness and especially one that detracts from the whole or hinders effectiveness (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

To be genuine and memorable, characters need to have both quirks and flaws, as all people have them. Those are the characters we love and remember for life. But quirks do not equal flaws, and flaws do not equal quirks. And this is where the light bulb came on for me: flaws need to be overcome or changed; quirks do not.

It’s not a question of how noticeable or dramatic a quirk is — a taste for lurid glittery eyeshadow is an infinitesimal quirk, and a mouth full of swear words might be a strongly intrusive one, but they don’t get “upgraded” to flaws. It’s not a question of how serious or mild a flaw is — a minor disregard for the comfort of others (leaving the toilet seat up and dirty dishes on the table, say) is much less of a flaw than a propensity for theft or violence, but that doesn’t get it “downgraded” to a mere quirk.  It’s not a question of how annoying or socially acceptable a trait might be — you could be weirded out by, say, a friend’s foot fetish, but that wouldn’t mean s/he ought to sacrifice that part of his/her personality (quirk), whereas a friend who engages in bullying clearly has to resolve that forthwith if you’re going to continue any kind of friendship (flaw).

Since Little Women was taken as an example in Katie’s blog post, I’ll use that as a positive illustration too: Jo does not need to become less of a tomboy and turn herself into a lady to be fulfilled as a character (quirk) but her hot temper brings consequences until she learns to tame it (flaw). Anne of Green Gables came up in the resulting blog-comments discussion too: Anne’s wonderful imagination and chatter and passionate nature are lovely and vivid quirks, but it’s her inability to rein herself in that must be conquered for her to mature.

Quirks Presented As Flaws

When writers don’t want to give their precious characters real flaws, the kind that truly might be deal-breakers in friendships and relationships, they often deal in ersatz flaws such as “pride”, and a particularly nasty cousin of this is the presentation of quirks as flaws (i.e., something to be overcome or normalized).

Why should the geek girl need to become a cheerleader or figure skater to be fulfilled? Why should the daydreamer and looker-on-the-bright-side have to face gritty reality to become whole? Why should the introvert be expected to become an extravert? It’s not that you can’t have a geek girl who wants to be a cheerleader, or an introvert who’d like to become more comfortable at parties; it’s that the mere fact of being a geek or an introvert isn’t a flaw.

This use of a quirk in the role of character flaw can do one of two rotten things — it can weaken the character and book, if the quirky little “flaw” is an obvious Mary Sue waffle, or it can bolster up the idea that “normal” mainstream choices are the only acceptable ones. Both of those get a huge DISLIKE sticker from me! Boo!

Flaws Presented As Quirks

On the other hand, we all like a flawed hero, right? A bit damaged, a bit vulnerable under the tough shell… In fact, those little flaw things, they’re just quirks, right?

This is particularly insidious in romance, where violently possessive jealousy isn’t an uncommon trait, along with thundering arrogance (especially in Regency historicals with all those dukes and marquesses running around), and yet those are presented as almost desirable attributes, or at worst, harmless quirks. Then there’s the newer wave of erotica featuring “dominant” men — and not in a healthy BDSM-educated way — who get excused as being a little troubled or needing to feel in control of their lives. Quirks? Really?

Anti-heroes are fine. Unlikeable, unreliable narrators are fine. Protagonists who have real, serious, crushing flaws that can’t be resolved are fine. A scumbag who happens to be the only person who can save the world — sure, why not? But it bothers me when troubling behaviours are excused as “just quirks”, because it gives support to the idea that real people with those problems are justified, or it doesn’t matter, or it can be swept under the rug. That violent jealousy is romantic. That bossing your partner around is a normal way of expressing your need for control if you had a hard childhood. That because the book doesn’t call the fictional characters on their flaws, no one in real life will either. That does more harm than the world’s biggest DISLIKE sticker could express.

One Without The Other

Minor and incidental characters have one without the other all the time.

Standard villainous henchmen and minions (not the cute kind) are full of flaws so the hero can trick or distract or out-fight them, but frequently aren’t fleshed out enough to have much in the way of quirks… think Star Wars stormtroopers, etc. Little things can do a lot to differentiate a group of minor characters — a set of dungeon guards, say, with one who’s in need of some Gold Bond and one who’s always eating and so on — but it’s not strictly necessary. After all, you’re not asking your readers to fall in love with or particularly remember them.

Little quirks and engaging traits are a standard way of filling out the population at large around major characters — neighbours, schoolmates, ball guests, cruise ship passengers… it wouldn’t make sense to give even half of the supporting cast fully developed personalities complete with flaws, so to prevent the neighbourhood or ballroom being full of samey cardboard cutouts, they get liberally sprinkled with quirky traits. That’s fine; it fits with readers’ expectations, and those minor players don’t need to have character arcs and overcome things.

Major characters do need both flaws and quirks, though; flawlessness is annoying, and the absence of quirks leaves us cold. It’s the combination of the two that makes the characters realistic and embeds them in our memories forever.

And now I need to go rewrite some things.

Let’s Get Edgy (or, How Far Is Too Far?)

So, maybe you’ve noticed that I describe my writing as “edgy romance and speculative fiction”. Maybe you’ve wondered… why?

Well.

It’s not about being explicit/graphic (though sometimes, sure, I’ll consider going there); that’s just called erotic romance, or “hot” or “spicy”. And naughty books are so popular right now, even mainstream — moms outside the preschool chat about their favourites and check out each other’s Kindles and Kobos — that there’s no edge in it, not even with a little bit of kink thrown in for titillation (this isn’t the 1950s: we’ve all heard of bondage and threesomes by now, no one is shocked).

It’s not about profanity, though my voice goes where the characters want it to go, and sometimes that includes teh swearz. Lots of books have swearwords and gritty language of varying forms; that’s nothing edgy, and nothing to do with romance. Obviously, there are some places readers don’t expect to find, well, words a kindergarten teacher wouldn’t use in class (e.g., sweet romances, particularly faith-oriented romances where a wedding is de rigueur before the happy couple gets even an off-screen naked snuggle), but I don’t think most people classify a few $h!ts and f^*ks as particularly edgy these days.

Walking on the edge, for me, is going as far as I myself feel comfortable, and then taking a step or two further. Pushing myself into uncomfortable territory. Going into mindspaces where I don’t have the answers, and seeing what my characters will do.

So I take the classic “nice girl meets a rock star”, and she’s a virgin and he’s a stud, and she’s grown up with the white-picket-fence life while he’s been on the road… and I say to myself, let’s make him a heroin addict. Let’s get onto Erowid and learn everything we can about what that looks and feels like, and think about the risks and damage he’d be carrying. Where does that put the girl? Can she take that on?

I take the classic “just dumped and vulnerable” situation, and put my protagonist/heroine in the path of a delicious rebound dude… and then I say, let’s make him polyamorous. Yes, as in, he already has a girlfriend, and she’s all fine with him having a new lover alongside her. Let’s check out Polyamory.com and find out what that really means for real people living it, and think about how a traditionally-brought-up woman might react to what her new temptation is offering.

Now, I’m pretty sure many — most? — readers aren’t going to be into addicts and polyamorists. But I don’t want to write about just another red herring obstacle, and I actively look for challenges that make me think, damn, I don’t know if I could handle that. So for me, it’s more about the emotional/psychological edge than anything sexual or verbal, exploring the shadowy area just outside of the furthest edge of my own comfort level.

I know that’s how/what/where I want to write, to explore. But… how far is too far? At what point do I cross from just being edgy to going over the cliff and splatting onto readers’ repulsion? Where is the hard line between raised eyebrows and disgust? I really do worry about this — how much is too much? — but I just can’t seem to dig into novel ideas where the problems could all be solved with an hour or two of honesty and good communication and some sensible decision-making.

I don’t know. I suppose at some point I’ll find out. I hope I haven’t put everyone off already…

But “edgy” is my warning label. Not for language, not for spice, but for “don’t expect normal and don’t expect nice”.