Protagonists I Would Like To Put In A Sack And Drown*

Goddamn it, Jacob, stop hugging me so I can go unleash a plague or some shit.

1. The Earth Angel. So fucking perfect all the fucking time, until you just want to smash their imaginary face in. This character is sometimes known as the Mary Sue, but that’s fucking sexist and also ignores the term’s origins in fan fiction. So I’m going with Earth Angel, because this character, whether male, female, another gender, or entirely genderless, is so goddamn perfect that they stop the story dead in its tracks. Nothing ever happens that they can’t fix perfectly, with no consequences or fucking it up or accidental deaths or anything. Snore.

2. The Psychopath. Dead, emotionless, usually bad-ass, and completely in control. I don’t know how this became a thing—though I’m looking hard in your direction, American Psycho—but it is creepy as hell. If your protagonist relentlessly mows down others in order to get their own way, then I’m probably rooting for the villain.

This doesn’t mean characters can’t be selfish. Selfishness is part of being human, and a healthy amount of self-interest drives characters to make interestingly poor choices. But a dead-eyed hustler who uses other people as a means to an end and then discards them without a second thought? Someone put a scorpion in their Armani jacket, will you?

3. The Lump. Need a character who does something? Look elsewhere. This often-found problematic protagonist never actually does anything. Instead, they’re relentlessly shoved around the story by other characters, like a leaf on storm-force winds. They might as well be a camera lens for the reader to see the story, an dispassionate observer of the events. The good news is their dead weight will be enough to drag the Sack of Crappy Protagonists into the briny depths.

4. The Emo Sad-Bag. We get it. You’re fucked up. You hurt. But, for the love of Christ’s most holy butthole, do you have to keep talking about it? Or thinking about it? Or generally sitting around like a mopey sack of crap, looking in mirrors and sighing wistfully?

Into the sack. Try not to drown in your own bravely-held-back tears before we get to the shore.

5. The Idiot. I cannot deal with stupid protagonists. Short-sighted is fine; bright but not as smart as they think they are is even better. But genuinely stupid, to the point of making bad choices for no goddamn reason at all other than the author needed a way to move the plot along? Get in the sa—actually. You don’t go in the sack. The lazy author who created you goes in the sack.

What about you? What protagonists can you not abide?

*As always, your mileage may vary. Someone out there must love psychopath characters, or they wouldn’t keep getting written.

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You Asked: Search Term Weirdness

You want to know about my what?

I’m sick today*, so let’s take a break from the usual round of advice and borderline abusive logic I throw your way. One thing I love about WordPress is the search term tracker. It shows me all the search terms that some of you entered that led you to this site. Some are obvious, some not so much. But they are all queries which led you to me, so I will do my best to answer them. Even if they’re not really questions.

“how to use nipple clamps”

This is one of the more common search terms. I am sorry to have disappointed you, searcher, but this Kinky World post might help you out. Godspeed.

“buzzfeed quiz gay”

Please don’t rely on Buzzed quizzes to determine your sexual orientation. Ever. It’ll probably just tell you you’re in love with Benedict Cumberbatch anyway.

“how does twist and shout end”

With neither twisting nor shouting, to the shock and wonder of all.

“Don’t disturb me or else I will fuck you”

…All right, then. Carry on.

“reaching 27000 first novel word count”

If you reached this, good for you! It’s an excellent start. If you’re trying to reach this, then write a little every day, keep your momentum going, and don’t lose hope.

“Toolbox kamikaze”

An underrated danger at Home Depot, the Kamikaze Toolbox can drop on the unwary from a great height, stunning its prey before the flock descends to feast. Thank you for bringing this predator to our attention.

“You never understood me”

Do you want to hug it out?

“You never ever understand me”

Shh, no more talking. Just hugs.

“boring parts of writing?”

Consider making those sections of your story more interesting, or not writing them at all. No reader anywhere ever got excited to get to ‘the boring part’.

“surprised and shocked cardboard box”

I don’t want to know what you did to that box.

“what sort of things should aspiring authors tweet”

Things which make you seem like a human interacting with other humans instead of a bipedal promotion machine are good. Not good are spam-style shilling, dick pics, and threats to murder reviewers. It’s amazing how many writers don’t understand the last one.

“how to gain height, if its by genital character”

…what?

“iamfuckingbusy”

Too busy for the space bar?

“how to offend your mum secretly”

Leave an anonymous poop in the mailbox. Results may vary depending on federal laws and mums.

“ants bdsm”

I’m not sure, but I’m going to say that’s illegal under animal cruelty laws.

“fucking it is about time i started writing”

Yes it is! And welcome. I can tell you’ll fit right in here.

*And will likely remain so for some time. Updates will likely come later than usual over the next little while.

BUSY BUSY: Announcement

Busy Adult With Many Important Things To Do

All right, you little confound-its. Bring it in and take a knee. It’s announcement time.

I have a bunch of writing projects that I’m trying to juggle and some aren’t getting the time they deserve. I did an audit on Uses Of My Time, Legitimate And Otherwise*, and have made a plan to finish them, which starts now.  The blog will be going to two posts a week. Check here on Mondays and Wednesdays for the finest second finest interestingly profane writing complaints, advice, harangues, rants, bitchfests, pep talks, and absurd pop culture references that you’ve come to rely on. Mondays will not always be writing prompts, though those will still appear.

I’m also looking for those interested in doing guest posts here for times when I’m away. Got a story coming out? Have a writing story to share? Whiskey recommendations? Get at me. If you’ve got a writing axe to grind, email me at bareknucklewriter@gmail.com and we’ll talk.

All right, that’s it. Get back in the game. And I’ll see you all back here on Monday.

*Watching my neighbours grow increasingly sketchy, yet still not as sketchy as their “DJ” landlord, is, sadly, not on the list of necessary things.

Monday Challenge: Now It’s Personal

Hairy Frank eventually achieved levitation, but his mullet elected to stay behind and enlighten others. Namaste, Hairy Frank.

I’ve recently gotten back into journalling. I did it for many years, mostly in that awkward/angry period between 14 and 25, but stopped because:

1) Life happened. Shit got busy fast, yo.

2) I rather stupidly believed that, once I was past 25, I had most of life figured out. At least the stuff that I would have been journalling about, anyway. Which just goes to prove that, while age might come with its own indignities, nothing makes you cringe like Younger You. I mean, goddamn, I don’t regret stuff that I’ve done, but the stupid was thick on the ground some years.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I’ve started journalling again, and am currently trying to remember what faulty brand of logic led me to stop in the first place. Near as I can tell, it seems to be the same sort of logic that makes you stop working out just when you start feeling really strong and fit, because, hey, you don’t need it anymore.

Seriously, Younger Me: cringe.

I prefer to do my journalling offline, in an actual paper notebook, with a pen that spews ink. Like a Muggle. Not entirely sure why, though the possibility of destroying any incriminating evidence with nothing more than some gasoline and a BBQ lighter has come to mind. I’ve got so many safeguards on my computer these days–after the Great Hard Drive Failure of ’14–that I could reasonably resurrect anything if I had to.

So I’ve been getting my Carpal Tunnel on and scribbling in a notebook, filling it with…stuff. because that’s what a journal is, isn’t it? A repository for all the random crap that you don’t want cluttering up anywhere else, including the inside of your own skull? That, and drawings of dragons and robots.*

I recommend journalling to anyone who occasionally feels, to paraphrase Albus Dumbledore, as if there are too many thoughts inside your head. In the absence of a working Pensieve, a notebook can do.

And what do you write about? I’m so glad you asked.

Monday Challenge: write a journal entry. It may be your first, it may be your millionth. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is your subject. Write a journal entry about whatever the hell you’re thinking about right now. Your errands, your writing, your family, the way your neighbour has started doing topless yoga**. Even how weird journals are and how you don’t know what to write about. That was the subject of my first entry, and, damn, if that thing didn’t go on forever.

Go forth and write, goblins.

*To guard my thoughts. Obviously.

**Hairy Frank has a killer Peacock Pose.

Monday Challenge: ALL HAIL SYMBOLITRON

*something something the human condition something*

I was cleaning out my guest room the other day and found my degrees. And a copy of my first thesis.* As I leafed the mess of paper, I remembered long—sometimes very long—afternoons spent in tiny windowless rooms, debating the various merits of post-colonialist discourse versus post-modernist aesthetics. Sometimes those arguments were fun, sometimes they were interesting, and sometimes they were absolutely infuriating, but not a day goes past when I’m glad I don’t have to do it anymore.

However, I do remember once, at the Grad House**, we got to talking about what would happen if you came up with the symbolism first, and then wrote the story. Short answer: it would probably suck. Or be critically acclaimed. Or possibly both, because the two are not mutually exclusive.

So, in honour of that drunken conversation many autumns ago, here’s this week’s Monday Challenge:

Go to the Symbolitron. It will randomly generate a story and the symbolic meaning behind it. Pick one from the list it gives you, and then write the opening for that story. 

And if you want to do it in a bar in memory of me and my colleagues, more power to you.

*The second one I haven’t seen since I passed it in for final marking. Either I really don’t want to look at it anymore, or it flapped its covers and flew away to start a colony of post-colonial research proposals of its own.

**A bar, because the first rule of grad school is why meet in your office when you can meet in a pub?

Making It Worse: Why Awkward Characters Are The Best

So, is this a good time to tell you that your scabbard is in a REALLY awkward place?

Awkward characters are the most fun to write.*

Here’s why: you’ve got a situation. Because you’re a writer, it’s probably bad. Some shit’s about to go down and everything stands on the brink of disaster. One false move, one inappropriate word, and the whole thing comes crashing down.

Having an awkward character there is like having a match when you’re standing knee-deep in gunpowder.

It’s all about potential. Awkward characters—and by that I mean characters who say or do the wrong thing at the wrong time, just like real people—are endless sources of complication, hilarity, tragedy, and things going completely pear-shaped. They’re like machines designed to make chaos.

Which, as a writer, is fucking great.

See, the best thing about awkward characters is that you never have to look outside for sources of conflict. They make their own, which is far more compelling than anything I can impose on them. Comets falling from the sky and invasions of Mole-Things from under the earth are way less interesting than a rookie fighter who, because of some broken wiring, can’t stop herself from mouthing off to the biggest, baddest necromancer around.

This isn’t to say external conflict isn’t good and, sometimes, necessary. It can also be fun. But if you’re looking to create tension, most readers instinctively cringe when a protagonist does something stupid. Because we know what it’s like. We’ve done that. Okay, maybe not giving the finger to the five-storey-tall rampaging mech, but we’ve definitely said the wrong thing to our boss, or our partner, or a cop. We’ve done stupid shit and had to reap the consequences.

And knowing that a character can do something awkward is a great source of tension: “Oh, god, Jimmy’s stuck in the middle of the horde of Bob the Bleak-Hearted, he should just give up, give up, Jimmy, don’t start talking again, every time you talk it goes bad.”

Whether or not Jimmy says what’s on his mind to Bob, the tension is there. People will read just to see how bad he fucks it up. He might not fuck it up, especially if this is the Last Great Confrontation and Jimmy has to get his shit together or destroy time and space. But the potential for fuck-uppery permeates the scene, winching ever tighter around the heart of the reader, until the sheer tension makes them want to throw up.

Writers: we’re bastards. Get used to it.

*Though, for me, not always to read. When I’m reading I love those knife-edged, grey area bastards like Harlequin in Myke Cole’s Control Point.

Monday Challenge: Guess Who’s Back?

“I had a headache once. Then I danced on some text.”

Today’s Monday Challenge is inspired by this goddamn migraine, which I thought was gone. It should be gone. I took the medication, got some sleep, did all the right things*. And yet, after a small intermission, it’s back.

Maybe it just slept in this morning.

I sometimes wonder if the part of my brain that gives me weird story ideas and insults like ‘shambling pubefarmer’ is also responsible for the migraines. I mean, there’s got to be something twisted about that little nest of dendrites, right? It can’t be totally normal. When it’s working as it should, I get stories about blood and magic and guns and monsters. But every now and then it throws a rod and the energy that would go into making an idea goes into trying to force-eject my brain from my skull.

Just a speculation, of course.

Anyway, Monday Challenge: something that should be over—that whoever it was happening to thought was over—has continued. Perhaps in a different form, or in a different place. Or maybe in the exact same shape it used to take, stalking around your life or your head. And is it possible to make it go away, once and for all?

*As opposed to the shit I would have done ten years ago, when my thought process could have been described as “just take the edge off with some rum and half a pack of cigarettes, because you’ve got another section of your thesis due tomorrow and that fucker ain’t gonna write itself.”