Monday, February 22, 2016

Starting a New Novel (and learning new things)

In a few weeks I'll be taking an "Inspirational Writing" course at my university that integrates advice and writings from Karen Kingsbury (click here if you'd like to watch the videos from that course yourself). One of the assignments in the class is to write the first chapter of an Inspirational novel. Naturally, I'm already planning to make this first chapter part of my next full novel. I am going to use this book to teach myself how to write better and how to publish, because the best way to learn is by doing.

Normally I'm a plot "pantser" (aka writing by the seat of my pants) but this time I've plotted it out in a three act cinematic-style plot structure. Instead of just writing whatever pops into my head and seeing where it leads me, I'm being intentional about character arch and appealing to a specific audience. For example: often my characters are interesting but admittedly static, but this time I am going to make my two main characters go through a spiritual change that is reflected in their outward actions.

I'm not saying learning to write by forcing yourself to plan and structure is necessarily better than wildly following the whims of your heart (especially if you're a new writer), but I've been doing the latter for a while and haven't gotten very far. I tend to get caught up in college and drop my writing every few months, but I'm hoping that sharing my writing journey with you will keep me at least somewhat accountable.

This will be my first attempt at writing in the Christian Romance genre. I've included a smattering of romantic elements in past stories, and tried to include Christian themes in my writing before, but I've actually never written a story that is overtly Christian (as in, specific references to God, Jesus, the Bible, etc.), or one that centers on a romantic plot.

The thing with Christian Romance (and Christian fiction in general, actually) is that it often comes across as so cheesy and cliche to me. There are many bad examples to avoid being like and few good examples to model after. It's like someone who's only ever eaten at McDonald's trying to learn how to make a gourmet hamburger. What I'm saying is, I've mainly experienced Christian Romance that is pretty mediocre so I don't have a very big pool of inspiration to draw from. I know what to do in theory, but in practice it can be a feat.

I'm still working on raising the stakes and adding more conflict to my plot, but here's the basic idea (what you might see on the back cover of the novel):

Grace goes to stay at a one room log cabin in the wilderness to live like a pioneer for a winter vacation, but when she arrives she finds someone already there: an obstinate computer graphics artist named Mitch who got trapped at the cabin by the recent snowstorm. Not only is Grace's solitude ruined, the two constantly clash over his insistence on using modern technology and Grace's desire for an old-fashioned getaway. When they are thrust into a survival situation and everything is Grace's fault, she gets a new perspective on forgiveness and sees that she needs grace just as much as Mitch. Soon, she starts to see her survival partner's good qualities so that by the time the snow starts melting, so does Grace's heart.







Questions for the reader:
More info on character descriptions and plot coming soon...if you're interested?
Any advice on cheese-free, non-cliché Christian Romance?

Know of a good Christian Romance book or movie I should check out for inspiration?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

How Should Christians Approach Secular Literature?

Originally published on YoungWritersTreehouse.blogspot.com

Recently, one of the discussion prompts in my English Literature course asked how Christians should approach secular literature. I find this to be a particularly relevant question. My mom is a high school English teacher, and has enlisted my help in cataloging books she has in her classroom and recommending books for a reading list across all high school grades. I have found that much of classic and modern classic literature contains messages and content that is highly questionable from a Christian worldview standpoint. Thus, the issue of how such literature should be approached—if at all—is a pertinent issue in my life and the lives of others.

For example, the Great Gatsby is considered to be superb literature (rightly so) but presents a problem for Christians as it seems to reflect a somewhat Deist, hopeless worldview. On the other hand, the book also shows hollowness of materialism and glam and the consequences of bad choices—both messages that are in line with Biblical ideas. However, it is dangerous to read literature without being able to recognize whether its messages align with truth. This can be an especially difficult issue when literature explores and questions ideas rather than taking a clear stance. In the case of The Great Gatsby there is no one specific statement of worldview, rather a conglomeration of events, dialogue, and narration poised to cause the reader to make a certain conclusion: that God is distant and irrelevant to daily life. The most powerful weapon against this widespread untruth is not to hide from it or ignore it but rather to observe, understand, and counter it.

Literature from different viewpoints than our own is nothing to shy away from, and a combative approach is not always necessary. After all, it is sometimes said that the mark of an intelligent mind is the ability to entertain an idea or belief without actually adopting it. Moreover, being challenged in our faith can cause us to grow in our understanding of the world and people around us and can even strengthen our worldview when we analyze whether opposing viewpoints make sense. We may even discover weak points in our beliefs that can give us the opportunity to either learn more and sufficiently support the beliefs or modify them to be more accurate.

It is important to study secular literature not only to understand the world, but also to find the sacred amid the profane. As Augustine expressed, all truth is God’s truth. All people have access to God through natural revelation, whether they know it or not. Therefore, it would not surprise me in the least if “secular” literature occasionally happened upon eternal truths. In The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde wrote, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” As amoral as this quote may sound I believe it is true—as long as expressing a logical and balanced viewpoint criteria for good writing. Any book written from such a viewpoint will be true, and thus good because truth is good. To look at this from a different perspective, nothing can be good apart from God, so in one sense a book cannot be well written if it is not in some way of God. Meanwhile, a book labeled “Christian” that is poorly written or contains untruths is not actually of God.

In case you haven’t caught my drift, I don’t really believe in the word “secular.” Secular implies neutrality—a concept that does not exist in real life. For example, even things often considered “neutral” or “secular” such as a tree or an instruction manual are either of God or not of God. Consider this: a tree is of God because it is a beautiful piece of nature that displays His glory and an instruction manual that is helpful is a good thing, while an instruction manual that is confusing is a bad thing.

I once knew a family who trashed their Beethoven CDs when they learned he was an alcoholic. While perhaps this was a sincere attempt to “purify” their lives, surely this is madness. Though on some level I can relate: I’ve had a long time grudge against Frank Lloyd Wright for walking out on his wife and children for an affair. Yet, I have a photo of his Fallingwater house hanging on my wall, and detect no evil in it. I do not propose that we can entirely separate the work of art from the artist, but rather that we do not need to. Even a highly flawed person can use whatever piece of goodness that still exists to create Godly art. Moreover, art can transcend and become greater than its artist. A piece of truth professed by an atheist or a beautiful book written by a flawed person is not something to be seen as a threat but rather as a testament to God’s goodness revealed even in the most unlikely people and places and His ability to use anyone and everything for His glory.

On a related matter, one may argue that authorial intent should be the primary criteria in deciding if something is good or not—that a book is of God or of the world based on what the author intends. Yet consider: someone with a bad intent may manage to make a good piece of art despite themselves while someone with good intentions may by accident or a degree of carelessness create and evil final product. Moreover, non-Christian people can create things that result in glorifying God and even have the intent of glorifying God—even if those people are not aware of that fact. In example, C.S. Lewis’ touches on this idea in The Last Battle when Aslan (representing Jesus) speaks to pagan man: “I take to me the services which thou hast done to Tash [a false god]... if any man swear by him and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me [Christ] that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”

Admittedly the word “secular” can have some degree of usefulness in casual conversation but I maintain that it has no true definition. Literature is either glorifies God in some way or is evil—neutrality is not an option. As Jesus says in Matthew 12:30, “Anyone who isn't with me opposes me, and anyone who isn't working with me is actually working against me” (NLT).



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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Mary Sue: Analyzing a Hated Character Type

Originally posted on Young Writers' Treehouse

She's probably the most bashed character in the writer-world...but who exactly is she? And is there a place for her anywhere in literature?

Who is Mary Sue?

"Mary Sue" is a term used in the world of fiction to represent a certain type of character. It is most commonly seen as a bad thing, but there are also some characters that fit the description who are seen as well-written. There are many attributes that can make a character a Mary Sue and there are a lot of variants so it's hard to define, but I’ve boiled it down to 4 of the most frequent aspects.

Special

Even if they have humble beginnings or “normal” attributes (and they often do) Mary Sues always have something special about them—more special than anyone else in the story. For example: he is The Chosen One...she is an amazing singer and gets noticed by a talent scout...he has a heart so pure that even though he is an average guy he’s loved by extraordinary girls...she’s a master at archery even though she’s only been doing it a week...he is only 15 but a karate master! Yeah, you get the picture.

These characters are also special physically with their appearance often described in detail with Purple Prose (flowery descriptions). Perhaps he has raven black hair and sparkling green eyes...She’s too humble to know she’s beautiful but little does she know the hot new guy at school thinks she’s the most amazing girl he’s ever seen.

Perfect

The rare time that Mary Sue does have flaws, they are minor or even endearing...such as being shy, clumsy, rebellious to authority, TOO brave and daring, or TOO devoted and loyal. Oh, and anyone in the story who doesn’t think this character is special and wonderful is probably just evil or jealous. Because these characters are so perfect, they go through very little internal transformation: power does not corrupt them, they stay loyal to the quest, etc.

Disadvantaged

One of the reasons Mary Sues are created is because their writers are so desperate to make readers like their protagonists. Thus, they make the character talented, beautiful, kind...and one more thing: disadvantaged, in order to ellicit sympathy. This is why despite the fact that they are special and perfect, Mary Sues will often have tragic backstorys or are mistreated in some way. Common forms of this are bullying, poverty, cruel authority figures, or the loss of one or both parents.

A Version of the Author

Mary Sues are most commonly born when authors create a character that is a combination of who they are and who they wish to be. For example, a typical 15-year-old guy might write about an average village boy who gets a special power that makes him strong and skilled at fighting even though he used to be a wimp...and soon after he meets a beautiful girl who loves him for his heart, not his looks. On the other hand, a typical 25-year-old woman might write about a woman struggling to start her career who gets a big break when a handsome young executive recognizes her remarkable talents and promotes her to being the editor of a big magazine.

Examples: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

Harry Potter
With both parents dead, his guardians treat him poorly for no reasonable cause. He soon discovers that not only does he have special powers, he is The Boy Who Lived and is looked on with awe by many people. His flaws are few...he breaks the rules but it ultimately is seen as the right choice. I have to roll my eyes at how intensly Mary Sue this character is, but he's beloved around the world and still comes across as reasonably relatable, so I'd call this character a Succsessful Sue.

Bella Swan
She’s just your average high-school girl...who just so happens to get obsessive levels of attention from multiple attractive men. When she becomes a vampire her skills are unusually high. Some have even noted how her physical appearance descriptions closely mirror that of the author, Stephenie Myer. This is one of the most cliche cases of Sue-ness I've come across. I know trashing Twilight is old hat..but really?!

Merlin
He seems to be a typical commoner until we learn than he has special magical abilitites. In fact, even among magicians, he is naturally superior! He is the chosen one and has a SPECIAL fate! I'd say this is a borderline Mary Sue..not too bad, but not too poor either. Plus, there isn't really much of a way to maintain the basic premise of the series without adding at least a bit of Mary Sue-ness to Merlin, so who can blame them?

Cinderella
She has a tragic backstory with both parents gone and now lives under the cruelty of her stepmother. She can talk to birds and mice, has a heart of gold, is essentially without flaws, is extraordinarily beautiful, and she is chosen above every other woman by Prince Charming! Even her feet are special...they fit a shoe no others can fit! She's a classic Mary Sue, but I can't help but love her anyways--another Successful Sue!

Luke Skywalker
The Force is strong with this one! He was born special and accelarates in his Jedi skills at an unusual pace, saving the day many times. He has few flaws and finds he has a special calling. Luke even wins the affections of a pretty girl (nevermind that she turns out to be his sister)! But hey, it's Star Wars. It's the classic Hero's Journey!

Gabriella
Beautiful, sweet, adorably shy, not only great in science but also an amazing singer, and one of the most popular boys falls for her. She's pretty much a dream-girl. Oh, and her biggest challenge? Choosing between going to an elite school or spending more time with her perfect boyfriend. Most of us would be happy if we could have even one of those options! And yes, her boyfriend Troy also qualifies as a fully fleged Mary Sue. A perfect couple, and perfectly facepalm-worthy examples of Sue-ness.

Is Writing a Mary Sue Ever Okay?

I've written some pretty awful Mary Sue characters in the past and this type of protagonist is often the mark of amatuer writing, but can these characters ever be considered good writing? Absolutely! Some books regarded as great literature have Mary Sues at the center of their stories...It seems to me that that difference between a good Mary Sue and a bad one comes down to if they are created as a result of daydreaming and the author's self-insertion into the storyverse or by conscious character design to make an engaging, believable story with an extrordinary yet relatable protagonist. Mary Sues can be inspiring and empowering to readers as role models, especially if the character's morals and willpower are shown to be the true source of their greatness.

Of course, simply making yourself aware of what attributes make up a Mary Sue can help challenge you to either avoid them altogether or be sure that when you do write one you rise above amateurish stereotypes for this type of character. You can do this by not being desperate to make your protagonist "likeable" and being self-aware enough to be sure the character isn't a manifestation of your own insecurities. You can be an important person without having a special skill, you can be loved without being physically attractive, and you can be a good person without being perfect.

So even if your protagonist is the Chosen One, is especially beautiful, or highly talented it can still be a good character as long as you examine yourself and be sure you are making choices for the right reasons and are still keeping your protagonist within the realm of being believable and relatable.


What are some other examples of Mary Sues?
Why do some work and others come off as amateurish?



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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Choosing the Right Main Character for Your Novel

Originally posted on Young Writers' Treehouse

Photo credit: Rubin Starset / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Classic Hero

The classic good guys. Sure, they slip up, learn things, and grow, but overall they try to do what's right and often end up saving the day. Examples of these types of Main Characters (MCs) are Luke Skywalker, Frodo, Captain America, and Elizabeth Bennet. These characters are what most people think of when they hear the word "protagonist." The reader always roots for them and wants to see them come to a good end. There is a danger that these MCs will be goody-two-shoe Mary Sues if they are TOO moral and noble to be relatable but they are popular because they win reader's hearts by pursuing worthy goals and desires that the reader begins to care about.

Observer

This character isn't really the main focus but serves as a window into the world. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Watson a prime example of this, with Sherlock Holmes being the main focus. Doyle's The Lost World also follows this format, with a journalist following a group of explorers. Mystery novels also frequently take on this style a bit, such as The Murder on the Orient Express where Poirot is the observer of a story focused on the lives of the killers. This type of MC is ideal for taking the reader into unfamiliar worlds to learn and experience along with the MC, such as what the reader experiences when reading The Hobbit and following Bilbo. Likewise, Jules Verne used this technique in many of his books such as Around the World In 80 Days and Journey to the Center of the Earth. This type of MC worked well for Verne because his books often took readers into imaginative and unique territories.

Morally Ambiguous

These characters spend a significant amount of the story vouching only for themselves, blurring the lines, and breaking the rules. They have serious character flaws but are often good at heart. Examples are Deadpool, Han Solo, Scarlett O’Hara, Jack Sparrow, and most of the Guardians of the Galaxy team. Despite the fact that it is sometimes difficult to tell if they are "good guys" or not, these MCs often catch readers' attention and can be a lot of fun to write. One has to be careful to avoid glorifying wrongdoing but these MCs can serve as a relevant analysis of what it truly means to be "good" and if or when the ends justify the means.

Switcheroo

You start out in opposition to these characters but end up rooting for them in the end. They may stay “bad” for the first third or even half of the movie before having a change of heart. Examples are Eustace from Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Kuzco from The Emperor’s New Groove, the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, Gru from Despicable Me, and Maleficent from Disney’s live-action Maleficent. These MCs are rarely sympathetic in the beginning so good side characters are essential. A story about this kind of MC can be powerful because it takes something big to cause the dramatic change in character.

Villain MC

These characters rarely show any shred of good, except perhaps at the very beginning or end of the story. Despite the fact that the character’s aren’t people we would look up to or root for, they can still be fascinating. These types MCs are rare and primarily occur in more “mature” works...such as The Clockwork Orange. Dorian Gray from The Picture of Dorian Gray, Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars (especially the 3rd prequel), and Light Yagami from Death Note are some more popular examples. These MCs are a risky choice because the reader is often supposed to want the MC's demise and it's hard to keep the story from being an indulgence in darkness. On the other hand, these MCs can make for a dramatic, intriguing, and potentially significant story.


What's your favorite type of protagonist? Which ones have you used in your stories?


Monday, June 29, 2015

3 Writing Questions Answered!


     "What tips would you have for someone who has a bazillion (slight exaggeration hehe) ideas going at once and has a number of stories being written at once? I tend to find myself starting new stories before actually finishing others and now it has gotten to the point where I am wondering if I will ever finish a story!" -Monique

     I would never want to tell an author to suppress inspiration, especially when you're young. If inspiration hits, write it--whether it be a few sentences or a few pages. In fact, it might actually help you finish your main story if you take small breaks to work on other stories to get those ideas out of your head so you can focus on your main story once again! If you still have trouble, you can always just set a certain time to write a story and refuse to work on anything else during that time until the story is done. Perhaps start with short stories or novellas that you know you will be able to finish if you just have a bit of self-control!

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     "My name is Arianna and I’ve been wanting to write a book for years now. I’m only in the 8th grade, but I love writing so much! I’ve been having some trouble coming up with a good beginning. If you have any advice about writing a good beginning, I would really appreciate getting some." -Arianna

     My advice is to just WRITE and not freak out if it's a not a masterpiece because if you just keep doing it you'll grow in leaps and bounds!
     I actually have two articles on this:
http://mizvaria.blogspot.com/2013/10/how-to-hook-reader.html
http://mizvaria.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-10-worst-story-openings.html
     Basically: good openings avoid extreme cliches or at least do something creative with them, introduce the most important elements of the story, and grab the reader's attention. Think of picking up a random book from the bookstore and flipping to the first page: what would make you want to keep reading?
     Sometimes it helps to get a few chapters into your story before deciding on the best place to actually start. Just start SOMEWHERE and go from there, even if later you find out the middle of the story should be the beginning!
     Another note: often stories are started too early with too much exposition. It's best to start close to the catalyst of main events. This article might help too: http://mizvaria.blogspot.com/2014/05/story-structure-plot-points.htm

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     "I have a question, I am trying to break a horrible spell of writer's block, a creative stifle. I am actually an aspiring filmmaker but I want to make a small film that involves simple human conflicts...a story that I could tell visually without too many words. I want to draw the viewer in with imagery that causes the audience to ask the question what's going to happen next. Any advice on where to find these conflicts or a way to observe them in real life?" -Marty
   
     I once went to this filmmaking conference thing and one of the speakers said that one of the most important things a director can do is simply observe life, people, and their interactions. So, to you I'd recommend observing people's conflicts, from small ones in public to potentially big ones happening with your friends and family. Conflict is constant in the real world, so the key is to reflect that in writing because conflict drives a story!
     Getting people to ask "what happens next" often arises from wondering how a character is going to solve a conflict. Example: John wants to win back Betty's affection and he knows the usual flowers and box of chocolate won't work, but he is determined to come up with a scheme that will win her heart. That's sort of cliche, but if done well it still might make the audience wonder what John will do.
     Observing conflict in the real world is the best way to get realistic and original ideas, but if you're feeling some writer's block it might also be useful to watch some movies or read some books in a different genre than you normally do and be on the lookout for types of conflict.




Note: These are sections from emails I have received, not the entire communications. Also, I have made corrections typos.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Naming Characters


Choose a Name that Fits

People often make judgments based solely on an individual’s name—it’s a natural thing to do. You can use these stereotypes to your advantage—names can be an easy way to give a lot of information about a character without having to say very much. We assume Brutus is muscular, Aiko is a sweet Japanese girl, Chad is a jerk always on the lookout for a hot date, and Agatha is an old lady (or else a mystery writer). If you choose a name with even a moderate stereotype, this is bound to reflect on the character in your readers’ minds. Everyone has different associations with names based on their own experiences and culture, but there are some more universal typecastings. For example, the names Hillary and Britney are often considered excessively girly or even bratty and would likely be considered incongruent for a shy conservative girl. Of course, you could use this incongruence to make your story more interesting.

Google It

Be sure to do a quick Google search to make sure your name choice doesn’t have a strong prior association you don’t want, but also keep in mind that virtually any name you choose—unless you make it up yourself (and sometimes even then)—will have some celebrity or politician associated with it. So don’t let connotations weigh too heavily on your decision. For example, just because you name a character Justin doesn’t mean your readers will instantly think of Justin Beiber, whereas a name like Oprah or Elvis will undoubtedly cause the celebrities’ faces to pop up in readers’ heads. This is where it is important to keep audience in mind; for example, when I think of the name “Barney” the first thing I think of is a purple dinosaur, but an older audience might think of Barney Fife of Mayberry. Of course, you can also use names with heavy connotations to your advantage. Think how amusing it would be to have a character named Elvis who is constantly irritated with people commenting on his name and he wonders what on earth his parents were thinking when they named him that.

Keep it Realistic

If you name your character something unusual for his social class, time period, race, nationality, or storyverse, you better have a good reason. Keep time period in mind—a 17th century character isn’t going to be named Max and 21st century 90 year old lady is more likely to be named Mary than Mackenzie. Keep your story’s culture in mind as well. For example, an Elvish queen isn’t going to be named Taylor and average suburbanite isn’t going to be named “Morning Mist Alianette,” unless her parents are more than a little pretentious. A little creativity goes a long way. If you don’t want your character automatically pegged as a Mary Sue don’t use overly unique or creative names like “Krystoff” and “Jesikka”—leave that to suburbanite moms who think their kids are special. I guess what I’m trying to say here is only choose names that are super unique if you give an explanation—like your character’s parents wanted their children to stand out, named them after a significant event or person, or are obsessed with some fandom.

Consider Nicknames

Nicknames for your characters can be fun and help make them unique and even more realistic. Maybe your character is always babbling and picked up the nickname Babs, or if your character is named Bartholomew Zane Smith, realistically his buddies would use a nickname like Barty, or just call him by his middle name. If you want to use a long fancy name it can become cumbersome and takes up a lot of space on the page and break up the reading flow, however you can still keep the fancy name if you refer to your character by a nickname most of the time.

Use Different Initials

You’re very familiar with your characters, some of whom you’ve known for years, but this is not so with your readers. Even the most attentive readers can get confused if you’ve got 15 characters whose named start with the same initial, like Alfo, Ada, Adrian, Armando, Alice, etc.
Sure, sometimes authors will use similar names for twins or siblings, like Tolkein’s Fili and Kili.
But let’s be honest, you still have a hard time telling all the dwarves apart, right? I can’t be the only one. So try to use different initials, and if you must repeat initials make sure you use the initials for characters of the opposite gender or very different personalities. Names that start with the same initial but are very different should be alright. For example, instead of using Ann and Annabelle use Ann and Adelpha.

A Word on Name Meanings

Let’s be honest. While it’s truly awesome to use a name that has a special meaning, the majority of your readers will have no idea what the root Latin word of the name is. If it’s a choice between a good name and a good name meaning, go with the better name. Formerly, I spent a lot of time looking up name meanings, but I’ve shifted to focusing on how the name itself sounds and what it will represent to the reader regardless of little-known root meanings. Go ahead and choose names that have great metaphorical significance and such, but remember that that might be something that only you and your hardcore fans know about (unless you mention the name’s meaning in the actual text of your story).

A Word on Fictional Universe Names

It can be hard to get in the mindset of an entirely different world and apply that to every detail, but that is one of the things that makes great world-building! It ads to interest and realism when names within your fictional races, cultures, and species have commonalities. Tolkien was a master at this by creating naming styles for each race in his story: Hobbit names were short and sounded almost like nicknames (Frodo, Bilbo, Sam), Elf names were elegant with emphasis on vowels (Galadriel, Arwen, Haldir), and Dwarf names are often short and similar to their family member’s names (Fili and Kili, Dori, Nori and Ori). By using naming conventions for each culture his story was far more realistic because in the real world different cultures favor certain name elements (example: Japanese names are often easy to pronounce and frequently use Ks Os and Is). It is also important to use names consistent with the world you are trying to portray. For example, names for a medieval fantasy storyverse should not sound too modern (choose William instead of Zack) while names from a futuristic story shouldn’t be too old fashioned (choose Zenia instead of Abigail). One last note: avoid names that are hard to pronounce and remember. As a test, have a friend try reading your names aloud and see if they struggle or pronounce the names the way you intended.

For Further Study:

Great for research and has a good name generator: behindthename.com
Simple but useful name generator: random-name-generator.info

Disclaimer

First, please don’t hate me if I insulted your name, I do not encourage name stereotyping in the real world. Second, ultimately, it’s your story. Maybe you find it amusing to name all your characters with the same initial, or you want to name your suburbanite girl Morning Mist just because you like it. Do what you want. But do try keep your readers in mind if you plan to have a wider audience than family and friends and make sure that while you’re being creative you’re taking into account possible problems with your naming techniques.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Key to Writing Romance Your Readers Will Love


I'd like to address an element that has been bugging me for some time that can make or break a romance storyline. The thing is, all too often characters are purported to fall deeply in love with each other for no apparent reason and without ample time to even do so. Thus, there is a plot thread or even an entire novel wrapped around a relationship that has very little basis--which causes readers to care very little about the story. Admittedly, this has been a flaw in my own writing whenever I try to insert a romantic thread and have only recently discovered the true problem with boring, dispassionate love stories.

When I'm watching a poorly written chick-flick on the Hallmark Channel or browsing through romance books online, too often I wonder, "Why are these people in love? Why do they want and need each other so much? Why should I care?" An example of such lack of "chemistry" and basis for romance would be the movie Love Comes Softly--in my opinion, at least. Maybe I'm just missing it, but I don't see a particularly spectacular reason the heroine and love interest should be paired together. It makes sense that they are both lonely and need someone to share life with, but there isn't much reason the lead characters in particular should be paired, it seems most any other decent person would do. Love comes softly indeed--so softly you can't even hear it, in this case.

As an author, you can't just tell your readers "and they were deeply in love and would even die for each other so they are going to get married and you should be thrilled" and expect readers to get emotional about it. You must show why and how those elements of romance and true love arose. How is the character's life different with or without her significant other? Why must the character be paired with THIS particular person and no other? What is going make your readers ship these characters? Why should your romance story be your readers' OTP?

One of my all time favorite love stories is Pride and Prejudice. Why is this love story so provoking? Because Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are just so perfect for each other--both are prideful, both hold prejudice against each other initially, both enjoy witty banter, both are stubborn and cynical, yet when they see virtue truly appreciate it. All of these things and more make them seem as though they were made for each other. When reading the book, we feel that Elizabeth could never love any man but Darcy, and vice versa. The King and I is another great example--both are interested in each other's cultures, both want to better the world around them, and both have a very strong sense of "the way things should be." As in Pride and Prejudice their similarities at first cause conflict but end up making the better understand and love each other. In both of these examples, the characters have attributes that make them complimentary to each other, the characters are complex enough that it is extremely unlikely any other pairing could work, and the two have gotten to know each other well enough to reveal their deepest attributes to each other.

If you still have difficulty giving your romantic pairing a good basis, it might help to forget about the romance element altogether for a moment and consider why any relationship is significant. What makes the parting of two best friends so sad? What makes a person away at college miss her family? What makes some siblings love spending time together? What makes a student remember a particular teacher all his life? The deepest of love stories don't have as much to do with infatuation as they do a deep connection--someone who understands her better than anyone else, someone who makes him want to be of exemplary moral character, someone who makes her want to suck the marrow out of life, someone who makes him feel like he's no longer an outcast of the world, etc. These type of connections don't often happen and go much deeper than just someone to hang out with who has a few things in common.

Your romantic storyline will fall flat and fail to impassion if two characters suddenly "fall in love" without explanation, reason, or build-up; however, you can enthrall readers when you give a strong basis for why your characters are in love.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How to Write a Worthy Villain-Guest Post



Villains are the lifeblood of books. Without a villain, there is no evil for the hero to fight against, no reason to set out on a quest. Having a well-rounded villain can make a good story great. It deepens the plot, heightens the struggle between good and evil, and raises the tension in the book. But it's a sad truth that villains rarely get half the attention that heroes do, ending up half formed, unable to reach their full potential. With the villain being such an important character, it is well worth taking the time to get to know your villain properly. Today I'd like to share my top five tips to writing a worthy villain.

Know their motivation:

Just as the main character has a reason for setting out on their journey, so too does the villain. Think about his past. Why did he decide to be evil? Why does he think that he’s justified in doing what he does? Remember, very few people do bad things just because they can. Make sure your villain's motivation is as solid as your main character's.

Give them good traits:

No one is completely evil. Even if your dark lord is intent on ruling the world as a tyrant, chances are that he’s going to have a couple of good traits to balance him out. Maybe he brings his secretary coffee every morning. Maybe he makes sure he’s always home in time to put his kids to bed. Giving your character good traits makes them a more rounded and more complex character.

Make them smart:

Villains are not stupid. If they’re smart enough to become such a danger in the first place, then they’re smart enough to be able to counter the hero’s attacks. Make sure that you’re not giving your hero the easy way out by making your poor antagonist a simpleton. Overcoming your villain should be a struggle, making your ending far more satisfying.

Watch out for clichés:

Be creative when characterising your villain. Don’t give them a moustache to twirl as well as a love of monologues and a fluffy Persian cat. You run the risk of having an antagonist who is more humorous than intimidating. If you want to give your villain a cat, go ahead. But make sure that your villain is still an original and complex character, not a caricature.

Give them a storyline:

A villain shouldn’t just exist because you need him for the plot. He should be indispensable, so important to the plot that if you swapped him with another character, the whole book would be different. Ideally, you should know almost as much about your villain’s progress through the book as you do about your hero’s.

The more you know about your villain, the more of a character he is, and the better the struggle between the hero and villain. And the more formidable a force your antagonist is, the more satisfying the ending will be when the hero overcomes all the odds and comes out victorious. So give your villain a bit of love and attention. Your book and your readers will thank you in the end.



Big thanks to my guest poster and her terrific insights! Be sure to have a look at her blog.


Imogen Elvis is a twenty year old writer from Australia. She reads, writes and breathes sci-fi and fantasy. As well as writing, she also love music, reading, running, blogging and snacking on tea and chocolate. You can find her on her blog, Gossiping with Dragons, or on her Facebook page where she regularly posts writing tips, inspiration and writerly humour.

Friday, November 21, 2014

5 Ways to See Your Novel Through


1. Identify Distractions
     What is keeping you from writing? Social media? Homework? Family? Watching too much TV? Maybe it’s several things, but once you identify the problem, you can make a concerted strategy to keep those things from cutting out your writing time. If it’s social media, sign out, unplug, and turn off your cell phone or wifi. For example, one of my main distractions is school, but if I would just stop being such a perfectionist things would go a lot faster. Another distraction is social media, but if I would stop looking at every single post and start ending chat conversations a bit earlier, I could free up some more time...

I had the privilege to guest post on Imogen Elvis' blog, and my article there might help you get through the long haul in NanoWriMo or just finishing your book!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Story Sparks #4

 You can use these ideas but rephrase them in your own words. If you use the exact idea credit me, but if you use your own version of the idea no credit required!

Dialogue


“I make it a point to become friends with people's enemies.”

“I will either live gloriously or die gloriously. There is no in between.”

"I have nothing to apologize for. And even if I did, I wouldn't. So there."

“I'd been turned down so many times I figured that by now, chance HAD to be on my side. It doesn't even make sense mathematically that someone could fail so many times and not get lucky even once.”

“I’m glad salvation isn't through works, because today I'm not gonna be perfect.”

“What's your favorite color?”
“Gunpowder grey.”
“I'm sure you meant that to sound all tough and manly but that sounds like a Crayola color name.”


Scraps


The city’s air was thick and smelled of wet leaves and old coins.

Everyone always bewares of the quiet broody ones in hoodies. But the really scary ones are the chatty, kawaii, bubbly ones you never see coming.

“One has but to look at you and one sees, here's a woman who may be happy or unhappy, but isn't bored.” –quote from Anna Kerenina.

The world rushes past the car window. Trees flicker by, blurred like looking out from a spinning carousel. The wheels churn the ground leaving a trail of gold dust in the air and light paints the tops of the trees in orange as the sun recedes behind the mountains. I will it to linger, for those lighted canopies are the last thing my hungry eyes can hold on to.

A very Sherlock style deduction: if someone watches one channel a lot, the logo watermark of the channel may be burned into the person’s TV screen.

“The Worst of Both Worlds” (would be an amusing book title)

A guy who is so antisocial he goes into a drive-in instead of a theatre to see movies, so he can sit inside his car, not next to people.

A guy has a cat and often brings the cat to visit his mother in a very nice care facility that he provides for her, where they have nice rooms and windows and sunshine. His mother has a fixation with painting flower pots, so he brings her flowers to put in the pots. He also brings his cat there to visit her which she enjoys very much. The sad part? His mother has severe memory loss and doesn’t remember her son, and ends up remembering the cat more than him. So he ends up being jealous of his own cat, but still faithfully visits his mother. (This was actually an idea I had for an antagonist...because I believe in rounded antagonists and wanted to show a soft side!)

“ Delusional disorder is an uncommon psychiatric condition in which the patients present with delusions, but with no accompanying prominent hallucinations, thought disorder, mood disorder, or significant flattening of affect.[1][2]Delusions are a specific symptom of psychosis. Non-bizarre delusions are fixed false beliefs that involve situations that could potentially occur in real life; examples include being followed or poisoned.[3] Apart from their delusions, people with delusional disorder may continue to socialize and function in a normal manner and their behavior does not generally seem odd or bizarre.[4]However, the preoccupation with delusional ideas can be disruptive to their overall lives.” –Wikipedia



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Do You Love Your Story Enough to Commit to It?



Today the this blog is honored to welcome a guest post from a young author, Rachelle O'Neil!



Relationships take work, whether they be with a parent, sibling, friend, or spouse. It is universally acknowledged that, in order to have a successful relationship that goes beyond the barest superficiality, you’re going to need to invest some hard work into it. And that requires a commitment to the relationship. Writers have another type of relationship that they cultivate: the relationship with their stories. And our stories are like some of our deepest relationships with people: they depend upon an intense commitment. So the question then is this: Do You Love Your Story Enough to Commit to It?

Commitment, though an easy enough word to say, is a difficult concept to truly understand. According to dictionary.com, “commitment” is a “a promise or pledge; an obligation.” So how does it apply to our stories?



Commitment is being faithful:
In a successful romantic relationship, each member is faithful to the other. As marriage vows go, “forsaking all others…” I’ve heard many writing friends describe the way they jump around from story to story, and I’m no stranger to the tendency, either. When we get slightly bored with our current story, we tend to work on something else and let the current work slide. Now, understand that I’m not saying you can’t work on multiple projects at once. I do urge caution, though, since you can only spread yourself so far. But the important part is that you’re actually seeing each of these projects through to completion, not just playing with different ones until you get bored. In human relationships, that’s called cheating or playing the field. Don’t get sucked into the trap of being unfaithful to your story. “The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love.” – Anne Morriss

Commitment is sticking out the messy and hard times:
Sometimes, you get stuck in a rut. And that rut isn’t always pleasant. In a marriage, it may be the daily grind of diapers and 3am feedings. In writing, it might be times your characters aren’t behaving or the plot gets stuck about halfway through the draft. It can also be research and editing; I find myself slipping away from my story now that I’m ready to edit. And I can’t let myself give up on all the work I’ve done. Besides, I still love this story; it’s just hard. It’s so tempting to give up on your story when nothing seems to be going right. But that’s when your commitment (or lack thereof) shows through. Anyone can want to write a book; you must prove that you WILL write that book. Besides, if writing was easy, everyone would do it, and where would the fun be in that? In addition, the trials you go through to write will make your story unique. As the grandmother in the movie Letters to Juliet says, “Life is the messy bits.”

Commitment is reminding yourself why you fell in love:
At the beginning of a relationship, everything is fun and exciting. Those moments when you first get the inkling of this story idea, figure out your main character’s backstory, and come up with a brilliant title. Those are the beginnings of your story, and they are incredibly fun. They’re when you fall in love with your story and decide to make this a long-term thing. But as the actual writing and editing processes go on, you forget what made you so excited. You get frustrated and confused and maybe even bored. When those times come, you’ve got to remind yourself what was so neat about this idea. Why did you light up when it came time to work on this story? Why did it make your creativity bounce all over the realms of possibility? Why did it fill your heart? Look back; rediscover your character sketches and drawings; delve into an aspect of the story that always fascinated you. I love designing outfits on Doll Divine, and, though I tend to get distracted on there, the time spent usually does get me excited about my story again. Create Pinterest boards for your story; do freewriting exercises; deepen backstory. There are many things you can do to remind yourself why you love it. Take advantage of them. “When work, commitment, and pleasure all become one and you reach that deep well where passion lives, nothing is impossible.” – attributed to either FranĀois de la Rochefoucauld or Nancy Coey

Commitment is choosing your relationships wisely:
Not every person you’re attracted to will make your perfect mate. In the same way, not every story idea that pops into your head is meant to be. I have story ideas overflowing from my mind, but not every one of them can support its own story. And, honestly, I’m not really in love with some of them. Writing a book is a long-term commitment; you can’t just choose any story idea that pops into your head. Single out the ideas that make you glow with excitement, the ones that have the potential for depth, and the ones that can stand the fires of writing. And then commit yourself to those ideas. “There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstances permit. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.” - Unknown



So, are you committed to your story? How hard has it been to work on it through good times and bad? How do you cope with the struggles inherent in the writing and editing processes? Let me know in the comments; I’d love to hear your thoughts!

_____________________________________________________

Rachelle O'Neil is a young author with a passion for Tolkien, temperaments, and Truth. Though she's always loved writing, she took her first plunge into serious storytelling with the One Year Adventure Novel (OYAN) program and has just continued to learn since then. She has a thousand stories in nearly that many different genres floating around in her head, on her computer, and scattered across various notebooks that she dreams of one day bringing to life. She blogs every Friday at The Ink Loft and can be found on Twitter and Pinterest


Thursday, August 14, 2014

11 Awesome Websites for Writers

Here I list some of my favorite online resources for fiction writing tips and inspiration! And no, nobody's compensating me in any way to promote these.


GoTeenWriters.blogspot.com

Other writers I follow are constantly posting articles from this site, and for good reason! You don't have to be a teen to take advantage of their extensive writers-education articles on topics like character background, getting published, how to get good inspiration, developing ideas, writing prompts, and much more! They’ve also got a great Pinterest account and a Facebook group with a fun and helpful community.

WritersWrite.co.za

If you’ve been in the online writing community long, chances are you’ve come across Amanda Patterson’s Writers Write blog. She has many posts on everything writing related, from plotting to book promotion and author quotes to writing humor. One of the best things about her site is that in addition to her posts, she has many guests posts from other experienced writers. This site also serves as a promotion for Writer's Write courses for purchase.

Springhole.net

Plot generators, character quizzes, articles on world-building, name generators, the Mary Sue test--this website has it all! Note that it also has a lot of role-playing related stuff, but has a large emphasis on writing fiction. Springhole.net provides all kinds of writer-resources, from a town description generator and articles on naming characters, to a science fiction plot generator and tips on how to create better fantasy species. So check it out; there's a lot to browse through!

HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com

K.M. Weiland’s website is a favorite of mine, with tons of helpful articles. She covers a wide range of topics with in-depth quality content. While beginners can benefit, she goes beyond the basics in order to help you take your writing to the next level! She also an awesome YouTube channel with writing advice and has several books on various aspects of writing, which look excellent though I haven’t read them yet.

BehindTheName.com

This is my go-to website for name meanings and history, and their random yet customizable name generator is a favorite of mine! With a forum all about names, name meaning theme lists, and more, it’s a haven for naming characters.

WritingForward.com

Prompts, grammar tips, exercises, publishing advice, inspiration, and much more for all types of writing! Taking advantage of this site could make you an expert on all things writing! The site has great organization to help you discover what interests you from their archives.

Creative-Writing-Now.com

This site covers novel writing, but also has resources for other types of creative writing, even scripting. The site is well-organized, so just browse around for whatever writing type, genre, and topic you are interested in! Similar to Writer's Write, this site also promotes writing courses for purchase, but has plenty of great free resources.

BeKindRewrite.com

This site covers all things fiction, including writing prompts, writer resources, tips on character development and exposition, writing inspiration, "fiction philosophy," and more. While this site may not be as polished as some of the others, it's fun and bubbly with a lot of interesting articles and posts to check out!

JodyHedlund.com

Jody’s author page includes a blog that has many articles for writers on topics such as editing, getting published, developing characters, time management, mechanics, and pre-writing.

Tumblr.com

Nope, Tumblr isn’t just SuperWhoLock and weird GIFs, it actually has a lot of great writing blogs. Here’s a few to get you started:

Pinterest

It’s not just for cupcakes and wedding dresses, Pinterest has a huge writing community that pin a bevy of resources—from character inspiration to info about various ways to poison your protagonist, to the proper way to write a villain. This is my main source for writing inspiration and tips. Here are some Pinners who have some good pin boards for inspiration and tips:

@writersreleif
@jesskhoury
@amandaonwriting
@brennach
@writingmaverick
@kmweiland
@stardaniels
@novelistunite
@drcrusher
@xdamselflyx
@sarahselecky (her writing prompts board!)
@ellastark
@thescorpioracer
@sjtesh


Disclaimer: Not all of the things recommended here are guaranteed to always be 100% appropriate in terms of mature content, language, topic, etc. View at your own discretion.

What are some of YOUR favorite online writing resources or people to follow? Comment and tell me!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Story Sparks #3

Just a few scraps form my writing notebook...

You can use these ideas but rephrase them in your own words. If you use the exact idea credit me, but if you use your own version of the idea no credit required!

Dialogue


"Live by the sword die by the sword."
"That's why I use a gun."

"Don't forget to dot your T's and cross your I's"

"How can I fix the world when I can't even fix myself?"

"I've got a problem and I need to be able to get advice on the problem without the fact that I have the problem being criticized."

"Always forgive. Never forget."

"When I die I plan to take all my secrets with me, not leave them scattered about."

"Don't inflict your nostalgia on me. I've lived too much of poverty to romanticize it."

"I didn't do it."
"You mean you're not the one who made the explosion?"
"Oh, that. Come to think of it I may have had something to do with it."
"Something to do with it?"
"Well, partially responsible."
"Partially responsible?"
"Alright, largely responsible."
"Largely?"
"Okay, it was all me. Me me me! I did it! and I'm not ashamed of it either. Hahaha."

"People are like electronics: they only act how you want them to if you treat them gently."
"I once had a DVD player that would only work if you hit it."

"I am always happy when I wake up and find I'm still alive. Especially with you around."

Plot Ideas

Someone changes their birth certificate by a year so they are charged as a minor and don't have to go to adult prison.

Rent-A-Date: There's a service that will rent out dudes to take on a date who will pretend they are your new boyfriend. A girl rents a date to avoid the rampage of people always trying to get her to hook up when she has to go to a family event. She ends up falling in love witht he rent-a-a-date. (After I thought of this I realized movies similar to that have been done before, but whateve.)

Guy gets amnesia, but ends up living a happy life for a few year, until he finds out that he used to be someone else. This leads him on an emotional roller coaster as he searches for clues about his past life. (Thought this up a long time ago, now it sounds rather like a Bourne movie to me now.)

Settings

At night, the dock was a gallery of lights reflecting on the lake.

The sun made the clouds aureate and coated the earth in melancholy beauty.

Periwinkle fields on a grey day.

A house made of doors.

Neon signs flashing on cracked wet pavement as a 40's song plays in the distance.

Scraps

Skies scarred with jet plane trails.

Blinded by the darkness

I will print out a picture of the sun and hang it on the stars for you

Winged lions with cashmere skin

Trees rush past your shifting starry eyes