My Protagonist of the Opposite Gender…

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One of the hardest things to do as a writer is to write someone who is not yourself.” – George R.R. Martin

Writing a whole book from the name of a particular person is always a challenging task, but choosing a protagonist of an opposite gender is a real test for every author. I am doing this for the first time now, so I have been trying to adjust to the funny sensation of having a whole new personality – a male one – living inside me. 

The first confirmations of his presence started coming when I was thinking over the plot, and since then my protagonist has been growing through me like a plant that breaks through layers of soil to see the sunlight. Wow, what an interesting sensation! My first thought was that I was going crazy, but then I found similar feedback in the blogs of many authors. I completely agree with this comment by Cristina Hartmann: “I string words together and hope for the best. All characters, regardless of gender, have a part of me in them. No matter how seemingly different a character may be from me, they all have something in common with me. I put a little of myself in every character I write. In that sense, gender is irrelevant.”

When I write a character, I cannot go only with his/her general gender characteristics: I must imagine and draw a whole colorful picture of the character’s personality traits. Besides this, I may give a character an atypical quality: a male character may love planting roses, while a female may entertain herself by solving math problems in evenings. These unusual qualities may look like pesky imperfections at first, but they often lead my character toward some significant and exciting events, and eventually, the character is supposed to win the readers’ sympathy.

It is important to pick out some easily recognizable, but still quite unique character traits, because this helps the reader find connection between their mental image of my character and someone who they already know from real life: such character can keep the reader excited and interested to read the story to the very end. Secondly, the character’s imperfection should be charming; it is always a good idea to turn it into the character’s power at some point in the story (a stutter that suddenly helps them meet their love, or disarming shyness, or clumsy forgetfulness – anything).

It seems to me that the most difficult thing is to do this with a novel protagonist, especially if this is a person of an opposite gender, and even more – if he/she is the narrator of the story.

Kristen Houghton in her article “Writing As Your Opposite Gender Can Be Successful” wrote: “There are some things to remember when writing in your opposite gender voice. Understand that your character is unique and not a metaphor for the entire gender. The same is true when writing about ethnicity, race, religion, or social classes. You’re not generalizing about entire segments of society, you’re being specific about one character. As far as characters go, it pays to remember that not all women think and behave alike, and neither do all men… If my goal as a writer is to help my readers expand their life experiences through my writing, then my success will depend mainly upon my talent and technique, not on my character’s gender.”

My biggest goal in writing is to draw my characters so realistically that every reader would recognize someone they know in them. I believe that the only right way to do this is to write my characters completely from my own experiences.

I found a similar opinion in an article by Avory Faucette: “…the difficulty comes when describing an experience I haven’t had, which is more about others’ perception of me than about my own gender… I feel comfortable writing characters with similar hopes and aspirations and experiences to my own, and that makes it difficult to write someone who is not college educated, who is much younger or older, who is an immigrant, who is a person of color, etc.”

Sheri Fresonke Harper: “I think people in general have a blend of both feminine and masculine traits and interests… Often we pick up voice, mannerisms, and other characteristics of character from our experience with the world so that when we write from the perspective of another sex, we’ve seen the world through the eyes of people of that gender that have said the same thing, thought the same thing, acted the same way.”

This is true. Men and women aren’t that different, but they face quite different social roles and as so, their behavior is not the same.” Even the very fact of choosing to write the protagonist of the opposite gender shows that the author has made a commitment to explore a new social role and is willing to share that new knowledge with others.

It was a surprise to see that some authors find the task quite entertaining. I loved this comment by Eli Havoc: “It’s really easy. I was told once, by a female friend “we think just like you do, except we’re constantly worrying about how we look.” And that piece of advice had worked very well for me. I wrote a book written in first-person, once, with a female main character, and have gotten several comments from readers that go something like “Jenna’s character is so real! How did you write a high-school girl so believably?”

With all this being said, everything still seems to boil down to the author’s talent and brilliance in writing technique. In fact, the protagonists’s gender becomes nothing more than a tool which the writer decides to use in order to deliver the main idea of the book. Well, let us proceed to writing then! In the end, if I am a good writer, I should feel comfortable writing characters of either gender. Do you agree with me?

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“Cooking” Blog Headlines: My Signature Dish

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Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that a smartly chosen headline can sell even an average article. Headline is the face of every text composition or document, no matter if it is long or short, creative or strictly logical, artistic or business-like. Every word of a headline works to represent the whole composition in search engines, in email, on social media, and can either attract the eye of the reader or do quite the opposite thing, which makes the task of crafting the headline crucially important.

Being a mother and wife with decades of experience in the kitchen, I can’t help but compare this process with cooking. Cooking is a skill, which – when properly used – can turn my daily work of processing food into a very satisfying, creative and surprisingly effective activity. Moreover, it gives me a chance to share my creative work with others… just like with blog writing! See for yourself: to cook a good dinner, we need to take care of four things-

  • to know what we are going to cook (a simple way to talk about goal setting);
  • to develop a method and a sequence of doing it;
  • to have necessary food ingredients and the kitchen equipment at hand; and
  • to decorate the final product and serve it properly, in order to get the best appreciation of the diners.

Well, this daily cooking scheme looks amazingly similar to blogging process, don’t you think? Cooking a blog article seems to follow the same methodology!

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I try to write for my blog quite regularly, so the task of giving names to the articles comes up a few times every week. The method I have developed is a kind of a recipe for cooking blog titles. These are the steps I take:

Step 1. Select 3-4 keywords

While I work on the article content, I write down 3-4 keywords, which describe the main idea of my article. These words usually become the basis for my working titleFor example, when I started writing this article, I picked four key phrases: blog article, create a title, craft a headline, headline writing howto (the idea to compare it with cooking process came to me later). This first step is very important, because it helps me set the direction of my thoughts, and then I check every passage of my article with the key phrases to see if the content corresponds with the working title.

Step 2. Answer the seven questions (below)

When the first draft of my article is ready and I have the working title, I can proceed directly to designing the final title. To do this, I ask myself a few questions-

  • Should I create a witty, inciting title or rather craft an informative headline*?

  • Who may want to read an article with this title/headline?

  • What words should I use or avoid in the title?
  • Is my title/headline catchy enough?
  • How long should my headline be?
  • Does it correspond to the content, structure, and style of my article?
  • Does my headline include the necessary keywords (is it satisfactory to both, my readers and the search robots)?

*There is some difference between the notions “title” and “headline”. To read more about it, go to page: http://blendmagazine.org/blog/2009/02/27/headlines-vs-titles/

Step 2 is the most creative one. I try to imagine my readers and, depending on how I visualize them, I come up with ideas of style, manner and length of my title. I won’t go into lengthy discussions here. You can simply apply these questions to an article that you are writing at the moment, and some ideas will flash in your mind right away.

Step 3. Personalize the title

To make my title attractive to many people, I need to enrich it with an emotional component. Some authors would express it by the phrase “make it sexy”, I would rather call it personalizing the title, which gives my readers a promise that, along with sharing the basic information, I will share a little about my personality. This makes me closer to the reader and simplifies the task of disclosing the subject of my article. Sometimes at this step I come up with an idea (like the one about comparing crafting of blog titles with the process of cooking), which makes me revise the whole article and sometimes rewrite it. But in most cases, revisions make the article better, so I don’t mind…

Step 4. Decorate and serve

At this step the article is finished and the title has been cooked. If I am satisfied with everything, I can proceed to publishing it in my blog. Quite often, I revise my articles days and weeks after they were published, and recently I found out that I am not the only one who does so. Honestly, I never expect the blog articles to be perfect: this is what blogging is about, isn’t it?

A blog article should be fresh and inventive in thought, but it does not have to be coursebook-precise or academically elaborate, it should simply catch the readers’ attention and provoke them to think. This is why I added Step 4 to my recipe. “Decorate and serve” means: make it visually attractive. Do not forget to develop a clear visual structure: break it up into easily identifiable parts, add numbering and bullets, or do whatever is necessary to make your article dish look edible and delicious.

Then, finally, add illustrations and serve.

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Here is a little bonus for you:

To read more on the topic, you are welcome to go to blendmagazine.org, where, inter alia, they provide a classification of article headline types. Enjoy:

7 Types of Headlines

http://blendmagazine.org/blog/2009/02/27/headlines-vs-titles/

1. The Know-it-All: these headlines offer practical advice or tips.

2. The Teacher: these headlines teach you something you didn’t already know.

3. The Gossip: these types of headlines stir up controversy, pique your interest, and often have you asking “and then what happened?”

4. The Instigator: these headlines make bold statements, which may or may not be true, but they make you want to click to find out.

5. The Nay-Sayer: these headlines convince you that what you don’t know will hurt you.

6. The Campaigner: these headlines provoke people who have similar problems or issues to click on the articles and connect with other like-minded people.

7. The Connector: these articles show the connection between two seemingly unrelated things.

Secrets of Blogging Success: Secrets? Seriously? Pah.

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“So, you call this a secret? Seriously? Pah!”

I just read another portion of articles about achieving success in blogging, and my teacher mind has been trying to put all that information into a simple, clear and easy-to-remember system of rules. Many titles promise to reveal secrets of blogging success, but in fact, ther is nothing secret-ful about it: blogging is a skill – no more, no less sophisticated than any other skill that can be developed by thorough, repeating effort – and as so, there are no secrets behind it: only rules.

To be honest, I like setting up little rules for myself: they keep me well-organized and help me manage my time. Based on all the material that I have read about blogging, I have developed my own rules – or tasks, or… well, call them whatever you want, but certainly they are not secrets! Here they are:

1. Find a subject that works for you and your audience.

I find it quite logical to blog only about things that I know quite well and to share it with the people who are interested in the same topic(s). It goes without saying that I need to study the interests of my audience all the time if I want them to read the stuff I write.

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2. Develop a voice and don’t lose it. 

This is a very creative task, but developing an author voice is a skill, too. One does not have to be gifted for blog writing; good understanding of what you are doing plus lots of untiring effort would be enough. Sounds quite promising, eh? 😉

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“Develop your author voice and keep it.”

3. Blog away regularly, let your articles be short and precise.

Doing something regularly is a good rule in every undertaking. When we talk about blogging, it is crucial, especially when you have regularly returning readers and fans. If you stop blogging for a while, a part of your audience may leave you, and regaining their respect later will be really hard.

“Краткость сестра таланта” (brevity is the soul of wit), said a brilliant  Russian writer Anton Chehov in the19th century. Today, in the world of information, his words are gaining more and more value. People prefer short, schematic and visual posts… so I will stop here and go on to our next rule.

4. Communicate with your readers, and do it honestly.

I don’t think this item even needs any additional comments. Communication is the basis of the blogger’s life, it is the ultimate goal of blogging. Doing it with the most sincere intentions will help you to build that special bond with your readers, which makes you successfull and keeps your readers satifsied with your writing.

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“Honestly? Alright, guys, I’ll be honest: I’m sleepy.”

5. Think like a scholar, share like a friend.

This is a good rule that just came to my mind this morning. By thinking like a scholar I mean being logical, consistent and precise in your writing. But sharing like a friend means that a blogger – no matter how educated and experienced she is – needs to find a lucid, intelligible style and friendly manner of writing.

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6. In every blog post, tell your readers a story from life.

“I had never thought I would write a blog, until I met a fortune-teller who told me I would become a famous writer one day… This happened many years ago, the word “blog” did not exist then… but I could never get the prediction out of my head, and now… here I am, writing these words to you.” Did you get the idea of what I mean by suggesting to tell the readers a life story in every post? Let us go on then.

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7. Illustrate everything!

Without the pictures of dogs this post would not attract even one tenth of the visitors to this site. Today, in the era of visual media, simple text is no longer attractive to anyone. All people have a common sympthom: a thirst for visual stimuli. So I have set this rule for myself: “every time you blog, do not forget to quench the thirst of your readers.”

This is it! Please, leave your suggestions and comments below. I would love to hear your feedback.

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A Few Facts About the English Language in Russian

 

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Несколько интересных фактов об английском языке, собранных с разных сайтов в Интернет. 

1. Английское слово «alphabet» происходит от названия первых двух букв греческого алфавита «alpha» и «beta».

2. В предложении «The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog» можно встретить каждую букву алфавита.

3. «I am» и «I do» — самые короткие предложения в английском языке с подлежащим и сказуемым.

4. В старые времена на протяжении определённого времени амперсэнд (символ “&”, в английском языке означающий союз “и”) был буквой английского алфавита.

5. Самые распространенные буквы в английском языке – это R, S, T, L, N, E. Реже всего используется буква Q.

6. Точка над буквой «i» в английском языке называется tittle (малейшая частица/капелька).

7. Самым длинным словом в английском языке, согласно Оксфордскому английскому словарю, является слово pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (обозначает болезнь легких, в слове 45 букв).

8. Самые длинные односложные слова в английском языке – это “screeched” (визгливо крикнуть) and “strengths” (сильные стороны).

9. «Almost» (почти) – самое длинное слово английского языка, в котором все буквы расположены в алфавитном порядке.

10. В английском языке есть слово с одной и той же гласной, которая повторяется 5 раз – «indivisibility» (единство, невозможность отделить).

11. “Four” (четыре) – единственное числительное в английском языке, количество букв которого соответствует обозначаемому числу.

12. Слово “set” (в значениях существительного и глагола) имеет больше значений, чем любое другое слово в английском языке.

13. Слова «racecar» (гоночная машина), «kayak» (каяк/байдарка) и «level» (уровень) являются полиндромами, то есть одинаково пишутся и читаются справа налево и слева направо.

14. Единственное слово в английском языке состоящее из 15 букв в котором буквы не повторяются “uncopyrightable” (не охраняемый авторским правом).

15. Ни одно слово в английском языке не рифмуется со словами «month», «orange», «silver» и «purple».

16. Буквосочетание “ough” в английском языке может читаться девятью различными способами. Следующее предложение содержит их все: “A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.”

17. Самое функциональное слово в английском языке – это «shit». (О способах его использования подробно можно прочитать здесь http://www.funfacts.com.au/the-most-functional-word-in-the-english-language/ )

18. В английском языке больше всего слов (около 800 000) и самые богатые синонимические ряды. Американский президент Бенджамин Франклин собрал более 200 синонимов слова «пьяный» (англ. drunk), включая такие «шедевры» как «cherry-merry», «nimptopsical» и «soaked».

19. Самая сложная скороговорка в английском языке – это “The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick”.

20. Согласно закону штата Иллиной (Illinois), в штате запрещено говорить по-английски – официальным языком здесь принято считать американский.

21. «God be with ye»- полная версия слова «goodbye».

22. Древнейшее слово в английском языке – town (городишко), означает, как правило, городок с населением не более 5 тысяч человек

23. Со словами month, orange, silver, purple, английские поэты не могут найти рифму.

24. В одной верхней строке клавиатуры можно набрать английское слово «typewriter».

25. Когда-то слово «pants» считалось ругательным в Англии, теперь его используют на каждом шагу.

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Fiction Readers’ Preferences in 2017: What Are They Like?

I just ran across a short article by Mia Botha on WritersWrite*, and while I was studying a table illustrating it (below), a thought flashed through my mind that lately, witout realizing this, I have been in the mood of writing short fiction. It was an intuitive, subconscious intention, very similar to the feeling which I generally have when I experience a disturbing urge to write (every author knows the feeling), but in this season – surprisingly – I have been more apt to writing in short, completed, self-sufficient fictional pieces, which could be valuable in meaning, like parables, but emotionally challenging, like poetry.

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(* The above scheme taken from http://writerswrite.co.za/what-exactly-is-a-short-story-and-how-do-i-know-if-i-am-writing-one)

A short story is an etude in creative writing, writing one is similar to rehearsing before a big concert. However, it never occured to me before that short stories and flash fiction as independent genres of creative writing are inevitably going to attract more and more of readers’ attention in the nearest time. Why? Because the world’s pace is accelerating and the readers’ traditional patterns about what, when, and how to read have been changing.

In 2017, an average book lover may only have a few short intervals of time for reading during the day (while having a meal break, while waiting to pick up a kid from school, or simply to break concentration between two working meetings). During each of such intervals, the reader would love to acquire a high-quality, finished, practically useful, yet sensible and emotionally satisfying piece of knowledge. Readers are no longer satisfied with reading for the beauty of the style, they need a lot more. In fact, what they crave for today is an informative, action-packed, imaginative, emotionally captivating, and smartly composed how-to (or how-not-to) presentation of a topic of their particular interest, be it a romance story, a detective plot, a fantasy, or a sci-fi piece. This is why I believe that the readers’ preferences will continue to shift toward reading short stories and flash fiction rather than the longer works of fiction.

I would love to hear your opinion on this. You are very welcome to leave your comments below.

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What Distinguishes a Successful Blogger in 2017?

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As I have been learning how to blog, I never miss publications on the newest tendencies in the world of blogging. It goes without saying that every beginner must find a niche and identify a group of ideal readers for their blog, but then… what else? According to my research of publications authored by well-recognized bloggers, the following features will become a must for every successful blogger in 2017:

  • compelling content that adds value to readers;
  • preferably short articles and posts;
  • attractive illustrations, at least one for each post (I have no doubt that in 2017, visualization will become No1 factor of success for bloggers);
  • simplicity and preciseness of all information;
  • an easily identified, unique feel (or a unique author’s voice) of the blog to attract repeated visitors;
  • clearly displayed personality of the blogger;
  • positive general mood of the posts;
  • rational use of social media, (the bloggers should not focus too much on them, they should rather focus on writing);
  • ongoing research related to the main blog topics;
  • regularly appearing video and audio content.

Please, add your ideas in the comments below if you can think of more items. Thank you! Wishing you all the best with your blog!

The Faster Millennials Breed, the Less the Book Authors Eat…

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There is an interesting paradox: in the new millennium, again, like in good old days, reading has become a privilege of a few. Centuries ago, the main obstacle to reading was mass illiteracy, so authors knew that their writing could only be appreciated by a thin social group of well educated and relatively wealthy. Today, when everyone can be a potential reader, the authors are facing a problem again: the short era of mass, unlimited reading is over: the millennial generation lacks time. By a trick of fate, the only shortcoming of reading – the fact that it is quite time-consuming – seems to negate all of its precious powers, because in our crazy world time has become the most valuable asset of all.

A good novel takes days (sometimes weeks) to read, while a good movie is visual and fast: a movie “retells” you the longest book in as little as an hour or two, so books can no longer compete with such means of information transfer as television, movies, computer games, or the Internet, which altogether have turned the process of reading into nothing more than a careless time killer. With all the technologies available today, I am surprised that books still remain in vogue at all.

All in all, the authors of new books have to face it: the niche is rapidly thinning. Within a decade or so, reading is going to turn into a special treat, or hobby, appreciated only by the extravagant few, like listening to vinyl records or taking pictures on a film camera.

What does it mean to authors then? I guess two thirds of all authors will be kicked out of business in the nearest few years, while the quality standards for writing will soar up higher and higher.

An opponent might suggest that reading is good for our mind, it develops emotions and feeds our soul, it is undeniably healthier than anything else the technologies can offer… Yes, of course, this is true. Still, the tendency is quite clear: in the 21-st century, reading has become an unaffordable luxury, and the process is only beginning to develop.

With all this in mind, every new author should be realistic and not put all eggs in one basket: making a living by just writing books is hardly a good idea today. Even the most captivating novel may fail to attract the desired number of readers, simply because of the fact: most of them realize that they will never have time to read it.

Writing Fiction Is an Art

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To me, writing fiction has always been equivalent to creating artwork, because it is the art of influencing the personality of your reader, and reading fiction is nothing else but an acquaintance with a new world – the world as it is seen by the author.

Secondly, writing fiction means sharing your vision with others, and sharing is also an art. Like every other art, fiction writing is not supposed to share information – let us leave this to press, television and journalists – it is supposed to provoke emotional reactions, to make the reader feel and suffer.

Gustav Flaubert wrote that the art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe. To me, it is also the art of sharing your vision so masterfully that others could see it your way.

Fiction writing is also the art of working with other people’s imagination, which is a lot more difficult than just working with someone’s logics. To master the art, a good writer must be a little of everything: an artist, a linguist, a psychologist, a philosoper, and just an inspired individual who sees the unique sides of this world and can convey his vision to others.

Annual Best Book Ratings: Objective or Not?

In my opinion, a book should only be rated decades after it was published, when thousands of readers have lived through it and agreed: “this book has changed us”. Today, I would rather rate the books published in the 1990-es, that would be more objective.
Anyway, thanks to Publishers Weekly for the job of putting together and highlighting some information on the most recent publications for us. With all the mass of books being published every year, it is becoming almost impossible to pick out really good books without the help of such ratings.

http://best-books.publishersweekly.com/pw/best-books/2016/top-10#book/book-1 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Blogging Is an Introvert’s Torture

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Blogging is a real torture for me as an incurable introvert.

(Here comes a 15-minute break sipping cold coffee and blankly looking at the line above.)

No. Blogging is not my strong side.

(5 more minutes of heavy thinking here.)

It feels like talking to a wall when you have to share your thoughts to a blog instead of chatting with a real audience. Having spent decades working with large and small groups of people every day, I am used to seeing people’s faces and receiving immediate reaction to everything I say. But blogging makes me feel like I have a sleeping patch on my eyes and a helmet over my ears. I must confess: to me, there is nothing cool about sharing my thoughts to invisible audiences. I guess, I am a bit old-fashioned here.

Writings from the Couch

Processes of Discovery in the Mind

Shelf Love

live mines and duds: the reading life