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‘Turtles All the Way Down’ is John Green’s best work

I realize that I am way behind on this, especially since Turtles All the Way Down was released over a month ago. But I finally started it, I put off my 15-page thesis long enough to finish it, and it deserves a blog post of its own.

I’ll have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of John Green. I enjoyed Looking for Alaska when I read it back in high school, but the rest of his novels were sub-par for me. The characters felt more like caricatures, I couldn’t connect to any of them, and the plot lines were incredibly surface-level.

I knew that this said more about the time he spent writing them than about his writing abilities, though. Looking for Alaska was so good, but it was his first novel, and he spent years writing it.

So when I heard that he was finally coming out with another novel, one that he also spent years on, I was excited. I was going to give it a chance for this reason alone, despite not having enjoyed his other novels.

And I was not disappointed.

I loved, loved, LOVED Turtles All the Way Down, and it’s mainly because of the book’s realistic portrayal of mental illness and the effect it can have on not only those suffering from it, but also their loved ones.

My favorite parts of the novel were the ones where there were internal conversations between Aza’s mental illness and her rational side. She was overcome with anxiety, but it was only a part of her brain.

As someone with anxiety, I think it’s important to show that we know our impulses are irrational, but our anxiety ends up taking control most of the time and we don’t know how to stop it. Green showed just that, and with eloquence.

That being said, though, he balanced the parts inside Aza’s head and the external events of the novel really well. I never felt like her internal dialogue lasted too long or distracted from the plot, even when she was dissociating.

As I noted earlier, he also realistically portrayed how mental illness affects the loved ones of those suffering. Too many novels show teenagers being able to support their mentally ill friends and significant others with ease, and that just isn’t the case in real life.

From experience, I know that friends become impatient, and relationships are constantly on the rocks because of mental illness. Without any spoilers, all I can say is that Green shows this reality with striking accuracy. At one point, when Aza’s best friend is ranting to her, I felt as though I was reading the texts I had gotten from my own friends back in high school.

And the accurate portrayal of mental illness isn’t the only impressive thing about Turtles All the Way Down. Aza’s relationship with the women in her life — her mother and her best friend — are the focal point of the novel, not her relationship with the boy. And the boy doesn’t save her; he hardly even tries. He’s merely recognized as a notable part of her ongoing life.

The ending wrapped up the novel, too, but not in a neat little bow. Nothing irritates me more than a stand-alone book about a tough topic that wraps things up nicely, as if someone can recover from a lifetime of mental illness in two weeks. Instead, Green makes it evident that recovery is possible, just not within the timeline of the novel.

Overall, it’s a great book, and I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. That’s not saying much, though; I give a lot of books 5 stars on Goodreads because I’m way too enthusiastic. If I could, though, I’d give it all the stars and recommend it to everyone.

So if you think you want to read a John Green book, start with Turtles All the Way Down (or Looking for Alaska). You won’t be disappointed, either.

5 Fun Ways to Develop Your Characters

Let’s get one thing straight: I loathe character charts.

I struggle immensely with character development, and I’ve filled out one too many charts about my main characters. The ones with 500+ questions are, for whatever awful reason, the ones I lean toward most, and maybe that’s part of the problem.

Either way, I never finish them; they bore me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. After a while, it starts to feel like I’m pulling answers out of thin air with no context whatsoever.

My main character’s favorite color is purple, she doesn’t like any meat but chicken, and her most important possession is her Catcher in the Rye book that she’s written in the margins of…okay?

These are all important things, but the process of discovering them would be dull if I did so with a character chart (I didn’t), and I would still hardly feel like I know her. I don’t get to interact with these facts at all, I’m just putting them down somewhere.

After a few years of hating myself while filling out character charts, I decided to give up on them completely and find a new, more enjoyable way of developing my characters. Here’s just a few:

1. Make playlists for them.

A few months ago, I began putting together playlists for every single one of my characters (my favorites of which, you can find here and here). I considered the type of music/artists they would listen to, the songs by those artists most likely to elicit emotion from them, songs that may remind them of other characters, what they would do while listening to the music I chose, etc. Through that process, I’ve found that I got to know each of them a bit better.

The type of music one listens to says a lot about a person, but that’s not the only reason this helps. The experience of listening to music is a very human one, and imagining characters listening to something they enjoy and reacting to it makes them seem a lot more “real.”

2. Journal from their point of view.

This has less to do with making each character seem “real” and more to do with distinguishing them from one another. Journaling from their points of view helps to develop unique voices for each of them.

You can journal about anything, really. Journaling about events that actually occur in your novel/story helps to organize and understand what each character might be thinking.

My favorite thing to do, though, is look at prompts (1, 2, 3) and answer them as each character. This is similar to character charts, but it calls for more elaboration and better allows you to put yourself in your character’s place. Plus, at least for me, it’s just more fun.

3. Write them into any and every prompt response.

Prompts don’t always have to be answered with new characters, I’ve come to learn. Writing your characters into situations that they would never be in in your novel helps you to figure out their personality, what their motivations typically are, etc. It also keeps your mind geared toward your project during the times you’re stuck!

Here are some if my favorite tumblr blogs with prompts: 1, 2, 3

There are also some blogs that post prompts specifically for putting your characters in different situations and developing them!

4. Flesh out their hobbies & interests.

One of my favorite things to do when developing my characters is look at a list of hobbies and interests and find what I’m drawn to most for each character. That’s the easiest part of this — the part that you’d do when filling out a character chart.

But anyone can read or play video games. It’s what makes the hobby unique to your character that matters, that makes what the character does in their free time seem less forced. Think up situations where your character’s interests or hobbies would interact with other aspects of their personality or life.

For example, my character Lily is really into calligraphy. Anyone can learn calligraphy, but it’s unique to her because she frequently writes her boyfriend letters in pretty, cursive fonts. My character Maddie runs, but only during the mornings she wakes up and can’t get back to sleep. Her boyfriend, Aiden, loves to draw, but he is obsessed with comics, so he typically draws superheros and wants to be a comic artist.

Yeah, you get the point.

5. Put them in your place.

You’re always putting yourself in their shoes, so why not put them in yours?

This one is something I usually just find myself doing, but I thought I’d include it. When I’m in situations where I can zone out and daydream, like on the bus or in class, I often will imagine my characters in the same situation and what they would be thinking about or doing, how they would react to what I’m hearing and seeing.

This makes daily life a lot more interesting, and you’ll never believe just how many ideas can come to mind.

Thanks for reading! What are some fun things you do to develop your characters? Let me know!

To keep up with me outside of this blog, follow me on twitter at @stephclaires and on instagram at @steph.claires

 

Reading Recap – May 2017

Hey guys! This past month finally kicked off my summer break from college (I’m now a rising senior? Wild), and I’ve been reading and writing more than I ever have before. Which wasn’t much to start with, but we won’t talk about that.

Anyway, I took out eight books from the library and, instead of ignoring their existence, I’ve been speeding through them one by one. Like a good “avid reader,” finally.

Here’s what I’ve read of them so far:

recap3

Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

This is the third installment in the “To All the Boys” series, which was initially only supposed to be a duology. It follows the main character of the series, Lara Jean, as she decides on what she’s going to do after high school. I have been looking forward to reading this book since it was announced in, like, October. Jenny Han is my favorite author, and I desperately needed more of Lara Jean’s boyfriend, Peter K, in my life. The only disappointment I had with this book was that I wasn’t as engrossed in it as I have been with all of Jenny Han’s other novels (I used to finish them in one night, and this one took me a few days), but that doesn’t mean it was bad by any means.

recap5Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman 

Put simply, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is a collection of essays about pop culture, but that description doesn’t do it justice. I just recently got into the creative nonfiction genre, and I’m glad I started with a gem like this. Somehow, Chuck Klosterman is capable of being hilarious and deep at the same time. Several parts of this book made me incredibly introspective, and then I found myself laughing out loud two pages later. He covers topics such as music, romance, sports, and television, and even if you don’t enjoy the whole novel, you’re bound to find some part of it you relate to. All I gotta say is Klosterman is an entirely underrated writer, and I’m 100% going to be reading more of his stuff in the future (not spons).

recap2The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

I have one word: Ugh. And not a good “ugh”; not an Ugh by the 1975 kind of “ugh.” Just…ugh. Based on the actual description of the novel, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is about a girl whose friends died in an accident she miraculously survived, and she has no memory of what happened. Supernatural elements are hinted at in the summary on the back, etc. But this is hardly what the novel focuses on. It’s mainly about Mara’s relationship with an incredibly cliche boy with a British accent and questionable past, who can speak like 12 languages and is rich enough to pull out thousands of dollars from his pocket on a whim. If you didn’t cringe at that idea, that’s fine, but I did. A lot. This was a lot of hype surrounding this novel, so I was excited to read it, but I was in pain by page 5 and had to force myself to finish it. 😦

recap4Room by Emma Donoghue

This made up for the horrendous journey The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer put me on. Room follows Jack, the 5-year-old son of a woman held captive in “Room.” His only knowledge of the world is that 11×11 space, which is a heartbreaking concept to begin with. The novel starts off kind of slow, but quickly picks up its pace and left me in tears, yo. I loved this novel especially because it’s told from Jack’s point of view. I feel like writing from the point of view of a child is something incredibly hard to do (I mean, I already find it hard enough to write my main character’s conversations with his 6-year-old brother), and an author either excels at it or completely misses the mark. Donoghue definitely excelled. I felt like I was actually listening to a 5-year-old, and that made the story ten times more harrowing.

June is off to a sluggish start for me when it comes to reading and writing, but hopefully I can get back into my groove. I’m currently reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, a book I’ve been meaning to read for a year now! I’ll keep you all updated as much as possible.

To keep up with me outside of this blog, follow me on twitter at @stephclaires and on instagram at @steph.claires

OOTD: a concert-going look

Yesterday, I saw Panic! at the Disco live, and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to (aside from the two times I’ve been barricade; nothing can beat that). Being as addicted to my phone as I am, I was on it the entire ride there, and it ended up dying before Panic came on.

This is what made the show exceed the others I’ve been to.

For once, I was able to focus on the music, and I ended up crying to Girls/Girls/Boys and Hallelujah. I was able to have both hands empty and dance freely to all of my favorite songs. This, along with the amazing performance and stage effects, made the experience memorable.

Unfortunately, the only downside was that I couldn’t take any pictures during the show. I did take pictures of my outfit, though, and that’s the most important thing.

I honestly have no clue what I was going for with this outfit. The current “aesthetic” of Panic! at the Disco gives off a new-agey feel, so I picked out the best shirt to fit that category. The light-washed button-up skirt, army jacket, and boot/thigh-high combo came together after searching through my dorm room closet.

The space buns came about by chance as well, since I initially was going to do a single, half-bun. That turned out terrible, but it led to my discovery of how not-bad I actually look with two buns sitting on top of my head.

Details:
Shirt: Urban Outfitters
Jacket: Forever 21
Choker: Forever 21
Skirt: Forever 21
Shoes: Just Fab
(The socks were a gift, so I don’t know where they’re from, but I’m sure similar ones can be found just about anywhere)

OOTD 4

I felt so confident in this look, and I’m positive it only served to make the experience even more perfect.

To keep up with me outside of this blog, follow me on twitter at @stephclaires and on instagram at @steph.claires

 

 

You don’t have to comment on everything people do

Every day, I can look at my twitter feed and see at least one person talking about what other people do. It’s often something minuscule, like watching ‘too much’ television or posting about their relationship for the world to see.

It’s almost always something that doesn’t affect the person tweeting at all, but they still feel the need share their negativity with their followers. And anyone who sees it absorbs the energy behind it, whether they do what is being posted about or not.

The worst is when it’s sent directly to someone, when a comment about the way a person chooses to look or the way they live their life is made via anonymous messages or even direct tweets . They show up on my timeline, and I get them occasionally, and immediately, my stomach sinks.

There are right and wrong times to share your opinion, and sharing it on something inconsequential just for the sake of sharing or to make yourself feel better is silly and impulsive. Sometimes, your opinion doesn’t need to be stated. Sometimes, it’s unnecessary.

There is a myriad of other things you could be tweeting about. Dogs, for example. An inspiring quote, your favorite movie, the universe, some sick songs you’ve been listening to, something good that happened to you, dank memes, pics of beautiful women (or men, I guess). Positive things, things that make you happy.

And when it comes to sending people messages about why they bother you, I suggest unfollowing them instead. Rid yourself of your negative feelings instead of feeding them.

Choosing to focus on the things you don’t like isn’t helping anyone, especially not you.

I know that making this blog post is a little hypocritical. I guess I could have unfollowed the people who tweet this way and posted about literally anything else. That very fact is what has held me back on this topic for years, but I guess I’ve just seen too much of it.

All I’m trying to say is: the world doesn’t need your input on everything. You don’t have to pick up your phone and tweet any negative judgement you have as soon as you think it. Your followers will get along fine, and you’ll be just as good of a person without it. Maybe even better.

If it’s critical of someone, if it isn’t constructive, it’s okay not to say anything. It’s okay. Loving things is awesome, and positivity (real positivity) is underrated.

As the great Elizabeth Olsen said in Liberal Arts, “You think it’s cool to hate things. It’s not. It’s boring. Talk about what you love and keep quiet about what you don’t.”

Live your life, and let others live theirs. I promise the earth won’t implode if you do.