Tag Archives: writing

A Little Encouragement

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Happy Friday, friends! The weekend is here and with it, here’s a little extra encouragement as you work on that best-seller. Nothing is quite as demotivating as pitching an idea to someone who replies, “Hey that’s cool! Your story sounds kind of like…reminds me of….etc.” Sometimes it can feel like everything’s already been said, that your story isn’t worth putting out there, but fight that little brain demon and keep at it!

Want to know a secret? Some of the most mind-blowing characters we see and think, “Wow, I could never create someone as devastatingly amazing at that,” aren’t quite as stand-alone as we think. For example, Batman was not the world’s first mysterious and shadowy crime detective to make a hobby of stalking police commissioners. Much of his character draws from the 1930’s radio drama, The Shadow. (Which is actually super fun to listen to if you like podcast-type stories. You can find episodes free online.) So yes, sometimes we do need to stand on the shoulders of the storyteller who have come before us. But by incorporating our own voices we are owning our traditions and remaking the myths that have been the foundation of narrative for centuries. You’ve got this!

Happy Writing!

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A Guide to Preserving Literary Parents

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(Photo taken from Flickr)

When it comes to protagonists, we all know the drill–child loses parents at a tender age, discovers the world is not as friendly as it seems, and eventually becomes her own hero, cobbling together a family-of-circumstance along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I love these types of stories. They’re often my favorite. But, my fellow writers, where does it end? Will no one save the parents?

Parents as Motivators 

The most basic role of parent figures in fiction is probably that of the motivator. Often in YA it’s their death that leads to the main character’s emotional struggle. (For example, in classic Disney films parents have what I  would guess to be a 3% chance of surviving past the first twenty minutes.) But it doesn’t have to be this way! Living parents can be just as effective at motivating protagonists. Reuniting with estranged family can serve as a strong motivation or end goal. In my novel, Marley is offered the chance to find her parents as extra incentive to comply with the antagonist’s scheme. On the other hand, parents can also serve the “prove you wrong” purpose, leading the underestimated heroes to take up a cause to prove their worth.

Parents as Protagonists

Sometimes young writers such as myself forget that a parent can function as a stand alone character, or even the hero. In this capacity, they are the ultimate protectors. Case in point, the movie Taken. At the same time, parental characters don’t have to be confined by their guardian role. They can go on their own adventures, fight their own personal battles, and be their own comic relief. Two words. Dad jokes.

Parents as Antagonists

Ah, villains. How we love thee. Although a bit cliché, parental antagonists are fantastic, creating joyous inner conflicts that have given us gems like:

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Sorry, Darth. Not today. Of course, there are times when children fall in line with the evil whims of their parents as well, such as the case of Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series. The turmoil between the will of a parent and a desperate to please hero is absolute gold. Not only does it increase tension, but it ups the stakes of the protagonist’s success. Basically, fictional parents rock, so let’s think twice before casting them out to sea.

Happy Writing!

Question of the week: Who are you favorite fictional parents?

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When to Write a Series

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Writing a novel is similar to knitting a scarf. It can be stunning, colorful and intricately designed, but no matter how brilliant, if it’s too long the loops can bury the person on the receiving end. If they’re too busy trying not suffocate in all the details to notice them, then what’s the point? Enter, the series. Heroically breaking our favorite tales into bite-sized pieces since who knows when. I have an enormous amount of respect for good series writers. So why are series so great, and when might a novel become a series?

The Temptation of Familiar Characters

Series are fantastic for those of us who don’t want to say goodbye to characters after just one adventure. When we readers comes across developed, timeless characters, we weep at the thought of letting them go. The proof is in the fan fiction. Picking up the next book in a series has all the warmth and excitement of running into the arms of an old friend. It’s homey, thrilling, and downright addictive. Unfortunately, characters can dull over time if forced to return to old habits after they’ve outgrown them. Be wary of writing a series for the sake of keeping characters around, rather than for the purpose of developing them and those around them.

Complex Plots

Breaking down stories with complex and/or long-running plots are probably the simplest way for a novel to transform into a series. If important aspects of the main plot, or even subplots, become too lengthy, it can tire the reader. I’ve had this happen to me while reading on several occasions, even when I absolutely love the book. I want to keep reading, but begin to develop a feeling of obligation in place of enjoyment. Turning a novel into a series can give readers a chance to better digest multiple complicated events that are vital to the overall story. In other words, it offers a bit of respite so readers can recharge their bookish hunger.

Prequels & Sequels

God bless the brave writers who successfully tackle prequels. Among the many great things the Star Wars franchise has taught us, it’s that prequels are like quicksand (Anakin knows what I’m talking about, that angsty sand-hater). They have the ability to suck us in with promises of revelational backstories and beloved characters. When done well, prequels have the potential to be the crowning jewel of a series. When they’re not, they leave us with a mouthful of mud and regret. Sequels that lack depth of plot can have similar effects. While a squeal doesn’t have to be a continuation of the original plot, it shouldn’t ignore it either. (Scott Lynch, author of the Gentlemen Bastards series, is excellent at maintaining purpose while working with different plots.) When going the series route, write with intent, and attack that prequel and/or sequel with gusto!

Happy Writing!

Questions of the week: What book do you think deserved a series, but never got one?

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What to Read: Daughter of Smoke & Bone

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor


Summary

Art student Karou’s double-life has long been filled with dark magic and strange beasts. Yet her place among her adoptive, inhuman family has always been a mystery. When supernatural events begin to occur around the world, Karou finds herself alone and thrust into the makings of a war. A run-in with one of the angel-like Akiva only leaves her with more questions. Unsure who to trust, Karou must discover the deadly past that has led her present, and face an uncertain future.

Overall Impressions

Gorgeously written, this is one of my favorite YA fantasy series. After book one I gleefully tore through the rest of the series. The characters are highly developed and charming, and I always appreciate books with a strong female lead. Taylor constructed an equally dark and fantastical world to compliment her characters. Suspenseful and romantic, her writing balances a quick-paced plot with elegant style. I recommend the series for lovers of YA fantasy.

Happy Reading!

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What to Read: Ahsoka

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Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston


Summary

Forced into hiding in the aftermath of Order 66, Ahsoka Tano has so far managed to escape the hands of the Empire. She lives a life of necessity until circumstances send her on the run again, leading her to a place where giving up her nomadic and lonely life may just be possible. Of course, nothing is ever so simple. With her new home under threat, Ahsoka must decide how far she is willing to go to protect what little she has left.

Overall Impressions

As a life-long Star Wars fan, I was over the moon (…space humor? No? Fair enough…) when I found this book. After the release of Rogue One, I was dying to get my hands on additional Star Wars stories. This book felt like the literary version of an afternoon snack. While I wouldn’t say it stands alone outside the context of the Clone Wars and Rebels TV series, I did enjoy having Ahsoka back in my life. More classic characters also crop up throughout the book for a satisfying bit of nostalgia. The brisk writing made for a comfortable weekend read, and the plot held to the classic intertwining style of many other Star Wars adventures. I recommend this book for YA sci-fi fans.

Happy Reading!

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What to Read: Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares

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Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn


Summary

A whimsical girl looking for love, Lily leaves a notebook tucked among the shelves of her favorite bookstore; a notebook full of dares for anyone brave enough to accept them. Enter Dash. The pair begin trading anonymous challenges through the notebook, launching them into a comedic, whirlwind romance.

Overall Impressions

A perfect read for Christmas break. Set around Christmas, this funny and heartfelt novel is a part of my personal library. I’ve read it at least three times and it never fails to make me smile. The idea behind this story is beautiful. Beyond the plot, Lily’s enthusiasm is a lovely juxtaposition to Dash’s thoughtful cynicism, their voices clear and equally balanced between shifting viewpoints. I recommend Dash & Lily to anyone looking for a fun and relaxing read this holiday season.

Happy Reading!

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Part of That World

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Every book lover has had that “Little Mermaid” moment. That moment where we fall so deeply in love with a fictional world that we’d die happy if we could spend just ten minutes there. But what happens when we’re not just experiencing fictional worlds? What happens when we’re creating them? Creating a fictional world can be challenging, but not to fear fellow mermaids! Here are a few starting tips to leave readers wishing they were part of that world.

Defining Borders 

As discussed in an earlier post, setting is a powerful tool, so it’s important to use it to its full potential. When designing a fictional world, making borders is a great place to start.Building land-based borders can help define the edges of a character’s world. These edges can be limited to something as small as a single street, or as vast as a universe. There may be entire continents that make up your world, but the ones that really matter are the ones that effect characters.

There are other ways to define borders as well. Unless it’s a Doctor Who-ish world where anything can happen at any time, there are usually basic laws to how things work. Consider: What are the physical limitations of the story and characters? For example, in my novel some people like Rumpelstiltskin use magic, but they can’t go around doing whatever they want. There are lines that cannot be crossed, which adds drama by creating consequences for people who try to overstretch their limits.

Creating Cultures

Who lives in your world is a large part of its construction. What do these people value and how does it shape their world? Do they blow apart mountains to get to the other side because they value efficiency, or do they avoid the mountains because of folklore? Culture will determine how characters interact with their environment and each other. When considering creating fictional cultures, it can be difficult to find a place to start. Research can help. I often borrow aspects from already existing cultures and integrate pieces into my work to form something new.

Often culture sculpts character. Much of a character’s personality depends on the values she’s gained from her culture. In many cases, it is then her backstory, the specific events throughout her life, that decides whether a she accepts or rejects those cultural values as her own. Culture can then be used as a form of support or conflict for a character.

Happy Writing!

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What to Read: Ella Minnow Pea

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Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn


Summary

Things are changing on the island of Nollop, where residents pride themselves on a culture of elite language. This valor was passed down to them by Nevin Nollop, inventor of the phrase, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” which contains all 26 letters of the alphabet. A statue containing the phrase was long ago erected in his honor. Now though, letters are falling from the statue, and the island’s council has taken it as a sign. They ban the use of each fallen letter. It is up to Ella and her co-conspirators to fight for their freedom of expression, but will they succeed before the last letters fall?

Overall Impressions 

I absolutely love the concept behind this story. Dunn illustrates the importance of self expression and the consequences of the deterioration of language with satirical accuracy. As each letter fell, I found myself wondering how heartbreaking it would actually be to lose the words I love and use daily. Yet I couldn’t help smiling at the subtle jabs displayed by Ella and her family as they struggled to cope. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of the book’s particular style. Books written as personal letters aren’t usually my jam. Style aside, I enjoyed the message and found it incredibly thought provoking. Honest and original, I would recommend this YA book to all lovers of words and fiction.

Happy Reading!

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What to Read: Sunlight and Shadow

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Sunlight and Shadow by Cameron Dokey


Summary

When Mina was born to feuding parents, a deal was struck. She would live with her mother, queen of the night, until after her sixteenth birthday. But her father breaks the pact, setting in motion a dangerous series of events. To bring back her daughter, the queen enlists the help of a young determined prince armed with his wits and a magic flute. So begins Dokey’s masterful retelling of “The Magic Flute”.

Overall Impressions

A light read for fairytale lovers, this book is my version of comfort food. It has everything: humor, romance, an age-old prophecy. Not to mention the charming characters who adventure across each page with wit and tenacity. What’s not to love? Told in true yet original fairytale fashion, I was immediately drawn into Mina’s competing worlds, and after reading it once I was happy to return time and time again (I think the count is somewhere around five?). Sunlight and Shadow speaks to a storyteller heart.

Happy Reading!

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Namely, This

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Congratulations! You have created a masterful, swoon-worthy, fully embodied character who is ready to take on whatever fresh hell you can throw at them (because let’s be honest, driving a character up a tree and seeing how they’ll get themselves down is more fun than it probably should be). But wait! This magnificent hero is, alas, nameless, and it’s hard to sing heroic ballads when you don’t have something to call them.

Sweetest Name I Ever Heard

When considering names, the two most important characters are, naturally, the protagonist and antagonist. If working with a large cast though, it’s also worth thinking big picture. How does a collection of names sound and interact together on the page?

As a reader, I can get confused when too many characters have names that sound similar. This happens when the majority of names start with the same letter, have the same vowel pattern, or are too lengthy. If too many names are too long, it tires out my brain and I start filling in the names with white-noise. Not good, right?

I’m not saying we as writers should use every letter of the alphabet, or that we can’t use long names. But I find it helpful to think about the overall feel of the story when choosing names. It helps me to keep readers in mind as I sculpt the characters I want them to love.

Authenticity 

A characters name should reflect the culture of the world they live in. Lately, I’ve done quite a bit of research in the name of, well, names. This is so my characters more accurately reflect the time periods they live in. In terms of fantasy and sci-fi genres, this part can be a little trickier, but it comes down to a matter of authenticity.

Take the show Stranger Things. It takes place in a small town in the 1980s, and follows four middle school boys named Will, Mike, Dustin, & Luke. Fitting, right? It creates expectations for the boundaries of their world, the type of story being told. But then there’s Eleven. She completely shifts the tone of the story. Her name solidifies her as something “strange”, something out of place, and the audience holds onto that sense of uncertainty for the remainder of the story.

Essentially, character names can add to the tone of the work. They can also reinforce the culture and setting. It may seem a subtle detail, but it really can work wonders in terms of creating a more believable world in the context of fiction.

Does the Name Make the Character?

A character’s name rarely makes or breaks a story, unless it’s a piece that relies heavily on symbolism. (You want to talk symbolic names, read Catch-22. Also, it’s a fantastic book, so you should really just read it anyway.) Recently, I’ve been more mindful about what exactly I’m looking for when researching names. So far, it’s helped me get a much better grasp on not only the fictional culture I created, but on the nature of my characters themselves. The truth is, trying to name a character based on a cool, underlying meaning isn’t always necessary. Sometimes, Doug is just Doug.

As much as it broke my heart, I recently forced myself to change the names of some of my main characters. It’s not that I didn’t like the names. I wanted a cohesive world for my characters to live in, and one way to do that is through names. While I’m not rolling out Marley and Holden‘s new digs just yet, I will say that changing their names has added an additional layer of believability to the world I built for them.

Happy Writing!

Question of the week: What are some of your favorite characters’ names?

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