On Writing: Healthy Masculinity

Healthy Masculinity.jpgHealthy masculinity versus toxic masculinity is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. In the last ten years, the publishing industry has focused a great deal on strong girls, and I’m so very grateful. I’m seeing evidence of this feminist push every day in my classroom. I have THE BEST strong girls as students this year. Girls with dreams and voices and determination.

But our world needs healthy men, too. And I’m growing more and more concerned at what we feed our boys–through media, movies, games, TV, advertising, and literature.

The hardest part of this process is realizing that my idea of masculinity has been formed by toxic messages around me. And that I need to change my own ideas on masculinity.

A moment that woke me up was my general lukewarm feelings towards the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I couldn’t put my finger on why this movie didn’t thrill me like Harry Potter did.

Then I watched this video:

The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander

After watching the video about Newt’s version of masculinity, I learned that Newt wasn’t the type of hero I was accustomed to in film–and yet he was one that embodied many of the traits I wanted in a man. And I suddenly realized that something was wrong with my ideas of masculinity. And it was disorienting. I needed to rewire my brain.

My very first celebrity crush was Han Solo. I watched Star Wars for the first time in 2nd grade. So I was seven years old when Han Solo became the epitome of crushworthy. I know I’m not alone in my crush on Harrison Ford. But that crush gives me a sick feeling these days.

Because this video shook me to my core:

Predatory Romance in Harrison Ford Movies

I’d had a crush on a man who didn’t value consent. Who didn’t listen to women when they said no. Who trapped and coerced women. This wasn’t the kind of man I wanted in real life. I wanted one who listened to me and respected me.

With this new awareness, toxic masculinity was appearing to me everywhere. It unnerves me that my male students are likely absorbing these messages about masculinity each and every day.

What is toxic masculinity? The social construct that defines masculinity as unemotional, violent, sexually aggressive, the lesser capable parent, and more. Any traditionally feminine traits are emasculating. Men cannot: be emotional, show sympathy, need help, like cute things, and more.

I suddenly realized there were ways that, in my very classroom, I was unconsciously feeding my students this toxic masculinity without realizing it. Every year while teaching Shakespeare, I criticize Romeo for how he goes on and on about his emotions. I chastise how moody he is, swinging from depression to bliss and back again. However, in doing so, am I further sending the message to my male students that it is not okay to share how they are feeling? Am I telling them to bottle up their emotions because no one wants to hear them?

I needed to educate myself and do self reflection. So I have been. And it’s made me appreciate so many things about the men in my life.

I love that my boyfriend prefers going to art museums with me than spending his Sundays watching football. I love that he is comfortable talking about how he’s feeling, things that are bothering him, and his dreams for the future. I love that he’s a good listener. And I love that we’ve discussed the possibility of him being a stay-at-home dad. None of these things make him any less of a man to me.

I love watching my younger brother and his wife. He freely expresses how much he loves her. He dresses up as Disney characters because it makes her happy. He frequently plans and cooks dinner. None of these things make him any less of a man.

As a writer, every single thing I experience feeds my writing. How has media shaped my perceptions of the ideal man? I don’t want my subconscious to create toxic men in my books. And so I’m trying to rewire my brain with healthy examples of masculinity.

So in addition to creating strong girl characters in my stories, I will now be very conscious of the male characters I create as well. I want to fuel a new vision of masculinity:

  • Men who show emotion: love, sadness, fear, compassion, and giddy joy.
  • Male/female friendship and companionship.
  • Men who appreciate romance and the slow process of getting to know someone.
  • Men solving problems diplomatically and in non-violent ways.
  • Men who compromise.
  • Men who enjoy childcare and parenthood… and excel at it.
  • Men who ask for help, work as part of a team, and consult others for advice.

I am still learning, growing, and developing my understanding of this topic. It’s going to be a process, but awareness is the first step.

I’d love to do some follow-up posts on books, movies, TV shows that have great examples of healthy masculinity. Comment below with anything you think I should check out!

Here are some additional sources that helped inform me on the topic:

What is Toxic Masculinity?

The Unfulfilled Potential of Video Games

Male Protagonist Bingo: A Study in Cliches

We Need Better Male Literary Heroes

 

 

Behind the Story: Deciding Between Standalone or Multiple Books

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week’s topic:
Standalone to Multiple Books: Making the Decision

When I set out on my current Work-In-Progress (WIP), I was resolved to write a standalone novel.  I am doing an adaptation of a classic piece of literature.  That classic is one, admittedly long, book.  Therefore, I would write one book.  I thought a standalone novel was a good place to begin for a new writer, and I didn’t want to jump on the series bandwagon.  One book.  I could handle one book.

But as I started writing, I began to worry.  My word count was high.  And climbing.  I am not a verbose wordsmith either.  My scenes are quick.  Rarely do I write more than three sentences of description.  I like action.  In fact, while I’m praised for my fast pacing, my advisors and critique partners often want more description.  So the fact that my word count was so high made me nervous.  Because I knew I would need to eventually go back and flesh out descriptions and close plot holes that I sped past.

I was less than two-thirds through the first draft when I hit the max word count for a typical Young Adult standalone novel.  (YA typically falls between 55k and 90k.)  And so I knew I had to do some serious thinking.

Why had I tethered myself to this one book idea?  Mostly, it was because I wanted to be identical to the classic novel I was adapting.  Was that a wise decision?  Can I consider another option?

And when I thought about it, multiple books actually made more sense.

  • My one book is very much divided into three distinct parts.
  • There are three completely different settings.
  • Each part ends with a devastating event.
  • Each part ends with both a resolution as well as a cliffhanger.
  • Each part begins with my character grappling with change and new conflict.

I had three books.  Easily.  In fact, three books made so much more sense.  So I gave in.  And the good side is: I have almost an entire trilogy drafted.  Not just outlined.  Drafted.  And that rocks.

The tough part: it’s all a little more overwhelming.  Because a part of every writer wonders why anyone would want to read their book.  And now I have to persuade a reader to not just invest their time and money in one book, but three.  And that’s more pressure.

But I love my story.  I love my characters.  I love my setting.  And I know this story isn’t like anything else that’s out there right now.

So I’ll ignore the pressure and doubts.  And keep writing.  Because deep down: I just love this story.  And I have to write it.  Even if it takes me three books.

Have you ever had a story evolve beyond your expectations?
Let me know if there is a “Behind the Story” topic you would like to see… Happy Writing!

Behind the Story: Getting Organized

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week’s topic:
Getting Organized

I love using planners.  In college, the first thing I’d do after the first full week of classes is fill out a planner/calendar with all the due dates for the semester.  Often things would be color coded.  I liked to see everything all laid out in one document.  I’ve gone through similar phases with blogging and planning out my posts for the month.

But here is my frustration: planners don’t often have what I’m looking for.  Occasionally I’ve found one.  I really liked a line of planners Vera Bradley made for awhile.  But when I went shopping for my 2015 planner, I could not find what I was looking for.  I like to have both a monthly spread and the weekly spread.  For example, I want to be able to see the whole month of January and then immediately following a full calendar for there to be a smaller weekly breakdown.  Apparently, I am alone in this desire because finding a planner laid out that way is a challenge.

So I resolved this dilemma by making my own darn planner.  Right now it’s in a file folder, but I might move it to a three-ring binder.  I wanted to share the pages I created in case this is a design that others may find helpful.  Below are links to the PDF files.

Month Planner

This page features a write-in calendar, a place to list books I read that month, and a place to record my writing word count for the entire month.

Weekly Planner

This page features two weekly spreads where I can record:

  • Daily word count
  • Blog post published that day
  • What book I am reading

There is also a spot at the end of each week to record what my biggest accomplishment of the week was.  Sometimes we all need to recognize our efforts and give ourselves a pat on the back!

I love that I’ve been able to customize a planner for my own uses.  And this was way cheaper than buying one!

Feel free to save or download the pdfs to use yourself!

How do you stay organized?  Do you use a planner or calendar system?
Let me know if there is a “Behind the Story” topic you would like to see… Happy Writing!

Behind the Story: Journaling Your Writing

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week’s topic:

Journaling Your Writing

I wanted to share something I started doing as part of my writing routine that’s been helpful for me.  Perhaps it will be helpful to other fellow writers as well!  I’m calling it journaling because that’s pretty close to what it is. Here is what I include in my journaling:
  • Today’s Date
  • Brief Description of Where I Left Off in My Novel
  • What Scenes I Know Are Coming Up Next
  • Surprises While I Was Writing
  • My Final Word Count For the Day
I don’t write a ton for each entry.  A typical day looks like this:
Write Tip Pic
I want to explain what each part does for me, and why this has been a useful tool:
  • Today’s Date: Helps to hold me accountable for writing each day.  And it’s useful in tracking my own productivity.  I also give myself gold star stickers on a calendar for each 1k I write, and if I forget to “star myself” then I can go back here to check.
  • Where I Left Off: I always begin my writing day by re-reading the last scene that I wrote.  I usually try not to do any editing.  Rereading gets me back in the zone and refreshes my memory.  And then writing a brief blurb of that scene in my journaling helps me focus on what about that scene was important.
  • What’s Next: Listing the scenes that are coming up next can serve as an outline, menu, or brainstorm session.  Sometimes it’s a reminder of what’s on my agenda.  Sometimes I can kind of pick from the menu based on what I think comes next organically.  And sometimes I have no idea what comes next and I brainstorm some possibilities.
  • Surprises: This is probably the part of my journaling I love most.  Whenever I sit down to write, something will usually come out that I was not expecting.  An unplanned plot point or an emotional burst from a character or a new quirky secondary character makes himself known.  My favorite part of my writing day has become writing down the surprises, and often I want to explore that surprise more the next day.  I also think it might be fun to share with readers someday… “This character came out of nowhere!” or “I was never planning to do that!”
  • Word Count: This holds me accountable for my writing most of all.  I try to write a 1,000 words a day… no matter what.  It’s a high goal, but honestly, the hardest part is making the time to write and getting your butt in the chair.  Once I’m started, I usually make it.
Not only has this journaling been helpful, but I also think that somewhere down the road, this is going to be a sentimental keepsake.  Being able to look back and see how my story unfolded… I wish I’d done this from the very beginning.
Now I have a beautiful use for all those awesome journals/notebooks that people give me as gifts  🙂
Any other writers do some form of journaling?  Anyone plan to give this a try?
Let me know if there is a “Behind the Story” topic you would like to see… Happy Writing!

Bits of Writing Wisdom (1)

Writing Wisdom
The first of a series of posts where I share writing quotes that inspire me.  Using crafty supplies, I create and mount the quotes in a vintage typewriter style.  Then I photograph the quotes to share with you.

Writing Wisdom #1:

Final Writing Wisdom 1

 

How this inspired me:
I’ve been in the middle of writing something and become totally and completely bored by what I was typing.  And when I stop myself from tapping away at those keys and think about what I’m typing–I usually realize that nothing about what I’m writing is moving the plot along.  Often what I catch myself doing is writing a description passage.  Or perhaps describing mundane details like what my characters are eating and how they’re dressing for the day.  Sometimes that boring stuff gets the words flowing, but deleting, regrouping, and coffee is definitely the best course of action.  Write exciting!  Not boring.

Thanks Maggie Stiefvater (author of Shiver, The Scorpio Races, The Raven Boys) for the great wisdom!

Share this bit of writing wisdom with a writing friend!
Or pin for later inspiration! 

May you have many exciting writing days!

Master Writer: Poe and Sound Effects

Poe Pic

(I drew this Poe head.
And I’m pretty darn proud of it too!)

I just finished teaching a unit featuring several works by Edgar Allan Poe.  If there’s anyone who teaches out there, you’ll know that teaching something forces you to not just learn the material, but become an expert.  Especially when you’re teaching something… times five classes.  And especially when you have 110 little heads asking you questions.

But as a writer, I’ve also found that teaching what are often great works of literature offers me amazing insight on the craft of writing.  At author events, people always ask for advice on becoming a writer.  And very often authors answer that you need to read a lot.  I think I’d go a step further.  Reading a lot is great.  But reflecting on and analyzing what you read is just as important to the growing process as a writer.  I think this is why so many writers benefit from a good MFA program–because it forces writers to use these analysis skills with their reading.

Anyhow, this post is intended to share one of the lessons I learned from Edgar Allan Poe.  A pretty cool one, I think.

Lesson from a Master Writer: Using consonance to create sound effects that mimic the action in your narrative.
Instructor: Mr. Poe
Required Text: “The Raven”

For this lesson, please read the following two stanzas from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”:

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more.

-Stanzas 3-4, “The Raven”

Using these two stanzas, we are going to look at how Poe used consonance to create sound effects that mimic the noises in the narrative.

First, what is consonance?  Consonance is the purposeful repetition of a consonant sound.  (Assonance is the purposeful repetition of a vowel sound.)

In the first stanza above (stanza 3 in “The Raven”), the consonant sound “s” is repeated in the first line, “the silken, sad, uncertain rustling.”  What sound do you make when you want a person to be quiet?  When you want silence?  Shhhhh.  The “s” sound is a soft sound as well as one associated with silence.  And what is Poe describing using this soft “s” sound?  The movement of curtains.  Now say that line again.  Go on.  Say it out loud.  “The silken, sad, uncertain rustling…”  The very sound of that line mimics the soft sound of rustling curtains.

Absolute brilliance.  Let’s look at another.

In the next stanza (stanza 4 in “The Raven”), the consonant sound “p” is repeated in the lines:

But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

Especially when contrasted with the soft “s” sound of the previous stanza, the “p” sound is sharp and surprising.  Think of the word POP!  Or make the “p” sound with your lips.  It’s a quick burst of noise.  This “p” sound is again being used as a kind of sound effect for the narrative.  These two lines are describing the knocking sound at the door.  The quick, sudden burst of noise that has startled the narrator from slumber.  When I read this line, every time I get to a “p” sound, I feel as if I’m hearing that persistent rapping at the door.  The “p” sound even forms a sort of rhythm that one might use when knocking on someone’s door.

So while “The Raven” is known for its lyrical rhyme and rhythm, I’d venture to say that Poe was one of Horror’s first sound effect artists.  Poe knew how sounds affected a person’s psyche, and so he tried to imitate sounds with the words he chose.

POE = GENIUS

Thanks for attending my little lesson on Poe.
I’d love if you left a comment to tell me your thoughts on Poe, “The Raven,” or the lesson post in general!
Is this kind of post something you’d like to see more of on Hughes Reviews?

Writing: Troubleshooting, Backstory, Romance?

Writing ResolutionThis blog has had many focuses over the course of its creation.  It started as a chronicle of my grad classes in Children’s Lit.  Then it transformed to a more book review focused blog.  One thing I need right now is a way for me to reflect and digest the progress I’m making on finishing my thesis.  (And seek out advice/tips from fellow writers–see bottom of post!) So I’m amping up the writing posts, but there should be a more steady diet of book reviews popping back up as well.

I’d set a deadline to be finished with the first draft of my novel over the summer.  But between having mono and transferring to a new job, nothing about this past summer went according to plan.  I’ve settled into the rhythm of my new job, and evenings spent sitting behind my desk with blankets and tea as I type away are now a real possibility.

I’m in the messy middle of my novel.  The middle was particularly difficult to even begin because I had a whole new setting and whole new cast of characters.  So I really felt like I was starting over.  I’ve written a large chunk of the middle and there are huge portions that I’m just not happy with.  I feel like I’ve taken some wrong turns and I need to go back in order to move forward.

I spent Friday night brainstorming every problem that I thought I had with this section of the novel.  Any doubt or frustration I was having.  See below:

photo 1

The next step was brainstorming possible solutions to these problems.  This has pretty much become my agenda for the next two weeks or so:

photo 3

Saturday afternoon I spent tackling some of the list.  I made Character Plan Sheets for the two characters I’m struggling with.  I also did some poking around on the internet for writing resources regarding romance writing.

I have no idea what I’m doing with the romance writing.  Really, I just want to know how to create romantic tension between my male and female characters and build a believable relationship.  I’m not writing Fifty Shades of Gray or anything.  It’s not THAT kind of romance writing.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to break away from the chronological novel and write backstory for one character.  I think all my problems stem from my not knowing his character well enough.  I especially need to know and understand how he got himself into his current situation.  What flaws led him there?  What insecurities does he have?  Where do his goals and ambitions come from?

I know that none of his backstory will actually be in the novel.  Part of me is so eager to be done already that I’m frustrated to be taking this “time out” of sorts.  But it might be freeing to write something that never has to be seen.  So here’s hoping I have some fun with it.  And here’s hoping that this makes writing the messy middle a little neater and easier.

Questions for my readers:

  • Do you know any good resources on writing backstory?
  • Do you know any good resources on writing romance?
  • Can anyone recommend good YA historical romances?