Friday, September 23, 2016

7 Common Writerly Fears (And How to Combat Them)

For people who create entire worlds and write about brave people, writers are extremely fearful people. We freak out about other people not liking our stories, of writing something that sucks more than anything in the history of sucking, of writing a story that only gets read by a few random people who all leave us 1-star reviews.

Have you been there? Yeah, probably.

It's pathetic. Get a grip, dude. Do better.

No, I'm serious. Just suck it up and keep going. What? You want me to expand on that? Fine.

Luckily for you, I've come up against pretty much every writerly fear imaginable (I blame my overactive mind), which has forced me to come up with some ways to combat them. Here are some of the more common writing fears, along with ways to help you work through them:
7 Common Writerly Fears (And How to Combat Them) - Writer's suffer from so many different kinds of fear. We're afraid our writing won't touch others. We're afraid nobody will like our work...or that nobody will even read it. How are you supposed to get your mind out of the endless loop of writer fears? Check out these 7 tips.
You just aren't any good. This is probably the top one. You think you suck. Actually, you know you suck. Half of your ideas never get written out and the ones that do get written are just dumb or poorly executed and people say they like your work but they're probably lying and oh my gosh why are you even writing? You should just get a job cleaning toilets because that's about all you're capable of...and you'd probably suck at that, too.
  • How to combat it: Remember that you're crazy and thus aren't judging your writing properly. Don't make me come over there with a rolled up newspaper!
  • I know I have terrible bedside manner, but seriously. You're freaking out. Calm down. Remember that writing something sucky doesn't make you a bad writer. If just means you have a chance at becoming a better one. Remember that your writing seems boring and lackluster to you because you've been carrying it around in your head for so long that it seems commonplace. Remember that writing stories is probably one of the hardest jobs in the galaxy, and yet here you are, tackling it head on. That's insanely cool. You're doing great. Just keep going and you'll do even better.

People will reject your writing. People won't understand it or they'll think it's dumb. You'll hand your sweat and blood over to people for their perusal and they'll laugh at all of your hard work. People will start using your writing as a punching bag rather than Stephanie Meyer.
  • How to combat it: Frankly my dear, you shouldn't give a damn. Who cares if some people don't like what you're writing? They probably have poor taste. You are doing this because you enjoy it and feel called to it. If just one person benefits from your stories, then you have accomplished something huge. Maybe that one person is you, maybe it's a reader, maybe it's another writer. Don't be afraid of people not liking your work. It happens to everybody in every field. Grow a thick skin and don't pay those peasants any mind.

People won't even read your writing. You're just shouting into a void. You're going to spend your years writing and where will it get you? You'll end up living in somebody's basement, drinking hot water because nobody bought your work and you can't afford to buy caffeinated drinks.
  • How to combat it: Remember that if you have the talent and drive to finish a book, then you most definitely have the talent and drive to get it read. You may doubt this at times, but it's true. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for. So stop being afraid. After all:

You'll never be able to live up to your ideas. You have these brilliant stories lock up in your mind. They are beautiful and wonderful and will touch the hearts of so many people. But when you write them out? They're just not that special. You will never be able to meet the expectations that you have for your own writing.
  • How to combat it: Just keep writing. When your stories are not going the way they should, you can only fix it one way: Keep going. Keep writing and rewriting and working hard. Will you ever get your story to match exactly what is in your mind? No. But that is completely okay. Just because it doesn't match doesn't mean it isn't good. You have to let go of the idea of how something "should be" in order to move forward and discover new, beautiful ways of approaching a story.

You don't have enough experience. Who are you to write a book or start a blog? You don't know anything about anything. You are an imposter and should leave the writing of books to those that know more. Maybe you're too old and behind the times. Or maybe you're too young and inexperienced. You don't have what it takes to be a writer.
  • How to combat it: Shut yourself up. You're being dumb. Do you have an idea? Do you have something to write it down on? Then you are enough. Don't let anybody, especially yourself, tell you otherwise. You don't need to travel the world, you don't need to have undergone some terrible trial. You just need the capability to think deeply, read thoughtfully, and write honestly. That's it.

People will think differently of you. They'll assume certain things about you based off of your writing. They'll look at the themes in your story that are important to you and they'll deem them unworthy. Those you respect will read your work and judge your poor writing abilities.
  • How to combat it: Anybody worth being friends with will still like you and want to be around you after they read your stories. Simple as that. Don't overthink it. You're being crazy.

Your writing won't make a difference. People will read your book, put it back on the shelf, and never think of it again. They won't be moved by the characters or inspired by the storyline. You will add your stories to the piles of stories that already exist and it won't matter. Nobody will be changed by what you have worked so hard to create. Or, even worse: You will write something that is misinterpreted and causes the downfall of civilization.
  • How to combat it: Write hard so that this doesn't happen. You have the words. You have the power. Get up early, stay up late, write and write and write until you know that you have something that will allow your soul to touch the souls of your readers. The fact that you care about making a difference enough to be afraid of failing in this area means that you already have the upper hand. You will do everything in your power to write a story that will not be forgotten. And the power of words in the hands of somebody who cares to wield them is one of the most powerful forces that exists on the face of the planet.

Those are some of the biggest fears that writers come up against. They never go completely away, which is probably a good thing. Fear pushes us to become better writers. The only time it can hinder your progress is if you allow it to.

What are some of your main fears as a writer? How do you overcome them? I'd love to hear any and all thoughts on the matter.

Related articles:
5 Steps to Fighting Off Writer's Insecurity
Write What YOU Want To Write: Why You Shouldn't Follow The Current Writing Trend
Inside the Creative's Mind: 9 Things You Should Know

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Writing Introverted Characters: 8 Things You Should Know

You have the scene all laid out. The dragon is roaring outside of the castle, challenging the king to a fight. The servants have the king's sword sharpened and his armor polished, the townsfolk are watching from the castle gate, and lightning is crackling the background. It's time for the the king to come forth to claim his moment of a glory and...

He just wants to stay in his room and read a book. He'll go kill that dragon when he's formulated a plan. And when there aren't any onlookers to make him nervous or rain to get his novel wet.

Pesky character. Why can't they ever do what they're told?

Introverts pop up in books quite often, and quite often they are done very, very well (Bilbo, Nick Carraway, Katniss, Sherlock, Jane Eyre, Walter Mitty, Batman). But sometimes they are very inaccurate, and sometimes they are simply painful to read about.

As somebody who's made it her profession to sit alone behind a screen and talk to imaginary people, I feel that I am singularly qualified to write about how to create introverted characters. Here are several points that can help writers steer clear of writing lame introverts and move directly into the "awesome introverts" zone:
1. Introvert is not synonymous with shy or socially awkward. Pay attention. This is important. So many writers think that introverts have to be painfully shy or awkward. Not true. There are varying kinds of introverts and yes, some of them are shy and not very good socially, but others aren't. Being an introvert simply means that you prefer spending more time being quiet or alone than you do being around lots of people who you are required to engage with. That's it. Shy and socially awkward has little to do with it. So ask yourself: on a scale of first-part-of-the-novel-Mr.-Darcy to Captain America, how socially awkward are your introverts? If all of your introverts are closer to first-part-of-the-novel-Mr.-Darcy because you just assume that all introverts are awkward, well:
2. Introverts dislike small talk or shallow things. They don't want to waste their energy talking about the weather. Seriously. Just look at the sky and decide whether it's going to rain yourself! Don't drag other people into a 3-minute conversation! If they are going to talk, there is often going to be a reason behind it. Either they like another person enough to be willing to talk to them or they have something that needs to be said. If your introverted character is doing a lot of talking about nothing (especially to people they don't particularly care about), then you'll need to redo some dialogue. Unless your introvert talks a lot when he/she is nervous, then you are forgiven.

3. Introverts spend a lot of time in their heads. This means us authors get the chance to explore facial expressions, internal monologues, context, and between-the-lines dialogue when writing introverts.

4. Not all introverts like to read or play video games or garden. That's cliche. And goodness knows introverts don't like cliches, since they fall into the "shallow things" category (Suddenly you all understand why I keep writing cliche bashing articles). Some introverts like to play sports or go to coffee shops or people watch or bungee jump or listen to hard rock cranked up super loud. Your introverted character is allowed to like pretty much everything that other people like. Except for being around massive amounts of people for extended periods of time. That doesn't follow.

5. Cut the "reluctant leader" introvert. Please. Being an introvert doesn't mean that your character has to hate being the leader of a group, especially if that group is only comprised of a handful of people. In fact, some introverts may feel uncomfortable being the follower. Because they spend more time internalizing and thinking things through, they're the ones who are likely to say, "Um. NO! Splitting up is never a good idea. That's how people get eaten by spiders or attacked by people with chainsaws. Stay as a group. Don't listen to the idiot who suggested otherwise." Introverts can and do lead, so don't be afraid to put your introvert behind the wheel.

6. Introverts are loyal friends. So maybe an introvert only needs one or two really good friends, but you can be sure that they'll stick by these friends no matter what. They'll carry you up Mount Doom even after you accused them of pigging out on the elvish food you packed. They may be generally quiet, but you mess with an introvert's close friend and you'll find yourself running for your life while the introvert's pal yells after you, "She's our friend and she's crazy!" They'll even mascarade as extroverts while dressing up like a giant man-bat at night if they think it'll help or honor their loved ones. And, in case you're wondering, yes, your introverted character can and should have extroverts as friends.

7. Confident introverts are the best and should be in more novels. Think about it. The introvert who slays the dragon and doesn't feel awkward leaving the Dragon Slaying After Party early. The introvert who is comfortable being quiet and doesn't feel the need to explain their silence to anybody. Or the one with a great sense of humor who shows up late everywhere wearing this shirt:
Novels need more introverted characters who own their introvertedess. 

8. Introvertedness is a disease that needs curing. There is something very wrong with somebody who is comfortable in their own company and doesn't crave being around large herds of humans. If you have an introverted character, that character needs to be fixed by the end of the novel. Have him meet a manic pixie dream girl who shows him how to live life to the extroverted version of fullest. Make her take off her glasses and go to a party. Introverts are not as valuable as extroverts and thus must be converted. Introverts are a public menace, undesirable No. 1, America's most wanted. There are only two ways to handle a fictional introvert: fix them or kill them off.

And there you have it. 7 tips to keep in mind when you are writing introverts. Also, remember that this pointer trumps all of the above:

Make your character a person first. Then an introvert.

Character building 101. Applies to the creation of every kind of fictional being.

What do you think? Do you have any tips or comments to share? I'd love to hear from you via comment or social media. Not through a phone call. That freaks me out. Please don't.

Related articles:
Writing Strong Female Characters: What You're Doing Wrong
7 Tips for Writing Characters with Chronic Illness
7 Cliche Characters in YA Fiction That Need to Stop

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Friday, September 9, 2016

The Six Question Character Challenge: A Look at the Characters from The Stump of the Terebinth Tree

Raise your hand if you know anything at all about my WIP characters.

Yeah. That's what I thought.

My characters haven't been getting any time out in public. I've kept them secret and safe for a long time, mostly because they've been going through personality morphs during my re-write and I didn't want anyone to think that my characters are bi-polar.

But recently they've really been shaping up and I've been dying to tell people about them. Lucky for me, Susannah Metzler from Tea with Tumnus tagged me to join the Six Question Character Challenge.
What exactly is this tag? It's super fun. It asks six questions of each of the characters from your WIP:
  1. A contradiction within the character (the positive kind of contradiction that shows character depth)
  2. The character’s Myers-Briggs type
  3. Favorite color
  4. How would they slay a dragon? (It doesn't matter if there aren't dragons in your book. Just use your imagination. I assume you have one, otherwise you wouldn't be a writer)
  5. What is their darkest secret?
  6. Where do they see themselves in ten years?
You can read Susannah's post about it here. Incidentally, you should be following her blog. If you aren't, do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Go directly to jail.

The novel I'm currently writing is The Stump of the Terebinth TreeAs annoying as it is to be re-writing a 400 page novel that I've already spent years on, I'm really happy with how it is coming along. And I'm very proud of the characters, mostly because they've grown up admirably without me really do anything except making sure they drink their Ovaltine. Let me show you what I'm talking about:

Note: the pictures are references to the magic that each character is strongest in: Water, fire, electricity, and healing.

Wanderer (protagonist): Desert Elf

Contradiction: He loves his brother and has spent his entire life trying to heal him of an incurable illness, yet he leaves home when his brother's sickness worsens because he's terrified of watching him continue to suffer. 

Personality type: ISFJ - T: The Defender 

Favorite color: Royal blue. 

On slaying a dragon: He would pull out his broadsword and use magic to enhance his strength, allowing him to dispatch it the cleanest, most humane way possible. And then he'd spend the next few days feeling like a horrible person because he just killed a majestic and endangered creature. 

Darkest secret: He's afraid that at some point in his life, something will push him just a little bit too far. What's left of his family will die or he'll have to watch his friends suffer and something inside of him will snap. He's constantly struggling to keep his mind from being consumed by darkness, but he doesn't know how much he can endure before he loses this fight. 

In ten years: Elgar will be dead and he will be back at home with his mother and his brother, who he will somehow find a way to heal. He'd like to be an arrow-runner (desert elf messenger) and hunter, exploring all of the corners of the desert and beyond.

Jayel (co-protagonist): Halfblooded Desert Elf

Contradiction: Though she maintains that halfbloods are just as capable as fullbloods, she constantly feels the need to prove her abilities to both herself and a select few people who are important to her. 

Personality type: ENFP - A: The Campaigner 

Favorite color: Fiery orange 

On slaying a dragon: She would try to scare it away first by enveloping herself in flames and showing off her rather frightening abilities as a fire-wielder. If that doesn't work (it usually does), she'd shoot it clean through the heart with one of her arrows. She'd probably never think about it again. After all, she did give it the option to run. 

Darkest secret: Her greatest fear is being left completely alone. Because her personality is one that is made to understand and help others, yet not to be understood or helped herself, she has lived with the constant feeling that being alone is an inevitability. When she finally finds people to love and be loved by, she is afraid that they will be taken from her. 

In ten years: she'd like to work with other halfbloods to set about freeing them from slavery and reintegrating them into society. She'd help everyone, especially halfbloods themselves, recognize that halfbloods are not lesser beings. And, of course, she'll be doing this with Wanderer, Durran, Ailith and Shelumiel (her mentor) backing her, because she can't imagine life without these four. 

Durran (secondary character): Human 

Contradiction: He will do anything to keep his sister Ailith safe and happy, but can't bring himself to do the one thing that matters most to her: Having faith in Masiah (God). And, you know, not kill people. 

Personality type: ISTJ - A: The Logistician 

Favorite color: Black. 

On slaying a dragon: He'd have his sword out in a moment and would attack it the old-fashioned way: No magic, just sharp objects and blunt force. He'd secretly hope that the dragon has a friend nearby to come and make the fight more interesting because, frankly, he likes doing battle. Of course, he'd try to keep the wild grin from his face because he knows Ailith doesn't approve of needless carnage. 

Darkest secret: If Ailith were to be killed, he would go on a prolonged revenge rampage until he'd had enough, then he'd simply sit down and wait to die. Though, honestly, this isn't much of a secret. Anybody who has spent more than 10 minutes with Durran recognizes this as the truth. 

In ten years: he'd like to live off in a secluded area with Ailith and any other people Ailith wants with them. He'd also love to discover what chocolate tastes like. Beyond that, he doesn't really have a plan. His main goal is to keep his sister alive and happy. 

Ailith (secondary character): Human

Contradiction: She's an extremely sweet person who may seem like a push-over at first, but her hard life has caused her to become quite adept at thievery and mercenary work. 

Personality type: INFP - A: The Mediator 

Favorite color: Lavender 

On slaying a dragon: She really wouldn't want to kill it, so she'd talk everybody into trying to sneak around it. But if it endangered her friends, she'd immediately dull it's pain sensors and reverse her healing magic to make it's heart burst. Then she'd say a prayer over it and try to block that event from her memory because she hates killing. 

Darkest secret: She's afraid that if Durran dies with an unsaved soul, she would never be able for forgive Masiah. This lack of faith causes her a lot of guilt, but she loves her brother too much to be able to stop worrying about his fate. 

In ten years: She hopes to settle down in a peaceful town with Durran. Maybe she'll meet somebody nice, get married, and raise a family. It's a normal, slow paced life that she wants and she tries to believe that she will one day reach this goal.

Now, to tag other writers to participate:

Luke Hartman
Alena MacIntyre
Wendy Greene
Ellen Smith

Incidentally, if you aren't following these writers, you're doing it wrong.

If you weren't tagged but would like to participate, please feel free to jump in! I love learning about other people's characters, so don't forget to leave a link to your article in the comment section below.

What do you think? Of the 4 of my main characters, who speaks to you the most? Would you be interested in reading more posts about my current WIP? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Related articles:
The Fantastic Five Dialog Tag - Five Pieces of Dialog from The Stump of the Terebinth Tree
The Liebster Award - In Which I Answer Random Questions and Link Over to Other Epic Blogs

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Friday, September 2, 2016

10 Different Kinds of Love to Use in Your Novel

Most of us have read about all of the different kinds of love. They're very neatly defined with scholarly greek names, most of them approved of or thought up by some prestigious philosopher or dude with a PhD. So what am I doing adding to that pile?

I think we all know that I'm not about to write a blog post about those kinds of love. Nope. This is Hannah's list of the main kinds of love that I've observed in novels. Some are overused, some underused, some are horrible, some are great.

1. Sibling Love

Sibling love can be a somewhat elusive thing, which is why it doesn't appear in books as often as one would expect. That being said, it is almost always a readers favorite because there is something incredibly touching about a well-written sibling relationship. Love between brothers and sisters can be characterized in many different ways, but I think it's unique in that dialogue between siblings is often very short, because they know each other so well they rely mostly on posture, facial expression, and setting to communicate. There's also the fact that siblings can call each other on their crap or tease the heck out of each other when others would feel uncomfortable doing so, which can make for some fun scenes. Sibling love is also one of the few types of love in which the characters involved are allowed to be exactly who they are, which is good for character development. Because of its fierce, loyal quality and the fact that it shifts as characters mature, this love can be difficult to write, but is beyond worth it. The Connolly siblings from The Scorpio Races are a great example of sibling love done right, as are the March sisters from Little Women. Loki and Thor's relationship is also an interesting one.
Suggested? YES!

2. Till The End of the Line Love

Also known as loyal love, this one has a lot of possibilities. While it can mean a character that worships another and doesn't think he can do any wrong, it can also mean a character who sees her friends flaws but sticks by her anyway. It can be the super nice character who would never hurt a fly unless you mess with his friend, in which case he'll rip out your heart and make you eat it. Or it can be the character who loves only one person and will stop at nothing to help that person reach his goal, even if that means using unscrupulous means. 
Suggested? Yes.

3. "Been Through Horrible Things Together" Love

This kind of love doesn't happen overnight. Often, it's something that is developed over the entire course of your novel. These are characters who were slightly chummy at first or perhaps didn't like each other at all, but end up learning to respect and lean on each other by making it through some hard ordeal together. 
Suggested? Yes.

4. "Just Kiss!" Love

The two characters that will end up romantically involved at some point, but are fighting it super hard. This is an acquired taste. Some readers love it, while other people like me hope that the couple will die so they'll stop ruining a perfectly good plot. Just don't have the characters constantly at odds over something completely absurd and don't drag it out. Avoid these problems and you should be fine. 
Suggested? Sure. Fine.

5. "You're a Dollophead" Love

None do this better than Merlin and Arthur. This is the sarcastic, teasing friendship-type love that comes from two people who think the other is an absolute moron while also grudgingly admitting to kind of enjoying said moron's company. It's an easy, non-demanding relationship that can be fun to write as well as read. 
Suggested? Yep.

6. "My Precious" Love

This is something that shows up often in Creeper Romance. It's passionate and jealous and destructive and often borderline abusive. But the guy is cute with his brooding eyes and the girl is lonely and needs somebody to love her, which totally makes it okay. 
Suggested? Absolutely not.

7. Parental Love

This is a conveniently avoided type of love, as parents are often tragically dead, dying, or missing in many novels. Parental love can be a tough thing to write, often because 1) If it's a YA novel, the teenagers are written incorrectly, which throws off any hope of a well-written parental love 2) It's not considered cool. Why are parents and their love not considered cool? Seriously. Let me tell you about some awesome fictional parents: Molly Weasley and her fiercely protective love for her rowdy kids, Atticus Finch and his desire to raise his kids correctly, the Cuthberts and their different ways of showing love to Anne in Anne of Green Gables, Marmee from Little Women working to keep her family glued together. And those are just a few. Parental love, while complex and maybe a bit difficult to write about, is not one that should ever be overlooked. 
Suggested? YES!

8. Dumb Romantic Love

I'm really not sure how else to describe this love except by using the word dumb. Because it is. Dumb characters do dumb things because they think they love another dumb character and it's just...dumb. Some people try to say, "Oh, but it's love! You don't think straight when you're in love!" Um. Okay. But there's a line between madly in love and dumbly in love. Find it. Go over it with a red highlighter. Don't ever forget it's there. 
Suggested? Ha-ha-ha-ha. Ha. Ha. NO.

9. Free Hugs Love

The character who has empathy for everyone. Please note: Empathetic love doesn't mean that the giver of this love doesn't see the flaws in another person. It doesn't mean he (or she) is weak, naive, or dumb. It just means that the giver's heart is big enough and strong enough to love all people whether or not they receive anything in turn. 
Suggested? Yep. 

10. Misguided Love

Often found among villains or anti-heroes, these are the characters who just want to love and be loved and go about reaching this goal in all the wrong ways. Friend wants a horse? Let's steal one for her. Dad doesn't appreciate me? I'll engineer his near-death and then save him so he can see what a great guy I am. This is a very tumultuous love that can quickly turn into hate. It can be written incorrectly or in a damaging way more often than not, so approach with caution. Redemption is always a good direction to move with this one.
Suggested? Sometimes, in the right hands. 

These are some of the kinds of love that show up most commonly in novels (or that I wish showed up commonly in novels). They can be mixed and matched to form nuanced, deeper kinds of love, like the way you mix together paints to come up with unique colors. 

What do you think? Are there other kinds of love you'd like to include into this list? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post! And don't forget to tell me about a fiction couple (romantic or nonromantic) that you thought was well-written.

Related articles:
8 Different Kinds of Strength to Give Your Characters
Romance in YA Novels: The Good, The Bad, and The Stupid

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Farmer Maggot's Mushroom Pot Pie Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring

I've always had a love-hate relationship with Tolkien. On one hand, he's an author I've always looked up to: his prose is gorgeously poetic, his world-building is impeccable, his character development makes me drool, and his stories are inspiring in the highest degree.

On the other hand? Sometimes he makes me want to bang my head on the wall and scream, "Too many words, man! Too many words!!" I mean, yes, you have an impressive way with words. I get it. I acknowledg it. I bow down to it. But, for the love of mushrooms, you don't have to use every single word you know on a regular basis in order to prove it! Cut back, dude. Cut back.

I am not a patient person, so it's no surprise that I've only read the Lord of the Rings series twice (as opposed to The Hobbit, which I've read about a dozen times). There are, to put it simply, too many words in that series.

At least, that's what I thought. I haven't read the series for several years, so I decided to give it another read and prepare myself for an amazing story with some rather superfluous parts. I expected to love it while also being annoyed.

Well, I wasn't wrong. I re-read The Fellowship of the Ring and was blown away. I was also annoyed, though not for the reason I expected to be.

I was annoyed because, dang, this guy can write. And I'd missed out on a lot by letting his stories sit on my shelf unread for so long. I mean, yes, there are still too many words, but at least they're beautiful ones.

I was happy to have picked up some new pieces of information upon reading this book. For instance, did you know that the Gaffer is said to be an authority on po-tay-toes? Yep. Now we know where Sam gets it. Both Gollum and Frodo become more amazing characters upon each inspection. The emphasis on courage no matter the circumstances stood out to me more than ever with this re-reading. And I was beyond happy to discover that Tolkien's wife, Edith, inspired the character of Luthien.

But you know one of Tolkien's biggest feats as a writer?

He actually made me eat (and like) mushrooms.

I mean, prior to a few weeks ago, I liked mushrooms about as much as Gollum likes lembus bread, though, to be fair, I'd never tried to make them myself. Upon reading about the hobbits and their visit to Farmer Maggot's home, I thought, "Okay, that sounds pretty good. I bet I could learn to make fungi taste good. Maybe?"

So, after reading about nineteen recipes and not particularly liking any of them, I made up my own. It turned out really well. One recipe to rule them all.
Yes, you are allowed to take a moment to be annoyed with the fact that that picture of Frodo is from the ROTK, not the FOTR. Drives me crazy.

Ingredients - 
  • Enough pie crust to cover 4 to 5 ramekins. I used one crust from Bob's Red Mill gluten free pie crust mix, but it doesn't really matter. Just use the kind you like. 
  • 1 po-tay-toe, boiled till cooked, mashed, stuck in a stew, then chopped into bit-size pieces.
  • 2 carrots, chopped. Try not to break anything when you do this. 
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup of peas
  • 12 oz of mushrooms! Note: If you aren't thinking mushrooms! in Pippin's voice, you're doing it wrong.
    Also, I used the mushroom! medley from Trader Joe's and recommend that you do this, as well, since it tasted good and was easier that cutting up my own. However, feel free to chop up 12 oz of mushrooms if you don't have access to a Trader Joe's. Try using button, boletus, and oyster mushrooms, or a mix of any kind you like. 
  • 2 sprigs of thyme 
  • 1 cup of vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of worcesterSHIRE sauce. I realized for the first time while making this dish that the word Shire is in one of my favorite sauces. It's a sign from heaven. Still have no idea how to pronounce worcesterSHIRE, though. 
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon of celery seeds
  • 1/8 teaspoon of ground rosemary 
  • 1 teaspoon of arrowroot mixed with 1 teaspoon of water. This is used as a thickner. If you're not a hippie and don't keep arrowroot on hand, you can use cornstarch. 
Directions - 

1. Preheat your oven to 400. 

2. In a large saucepan, sauté the chopped onion in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until the onions are transparent. Add the carrots and cook for a few minutes on medium high heat. Add the peas, cook for a minute or so, then lower the heat to medium.

3. Add the mushrooms!, thyme, vegetable broth, seasoning, and worcesterSHIRE sauce. Stir and allow to cook for about 5 minutes. Add the arrowroot mixture and cook until there is very little liquid in the mixture, then add the po-tay-toes. At this point, it's going to taste amazing. If you want to stop at this step and eat it as is, I won't judge.
4. Dole out your mixture between your ramekins or oven ware of choice. I should have had enough to fill 4 of my ramekins, but I ate a lot of the filling while waiting for my pie crust to chill. *sheepish grin*

5. Lay a circle of pie crust over each ramekin. Put three slits in the top. Why three? Absolutely no reason. Do whatever number you feel like without making the crust look like it got attacked by Jack the Ripper. Slide into the oven and cook for 30 minutes or until the crust is brown.
No, unfortunately that is not my Hobbit house. My awesome younger brother let me borrow it for photos.
As somebody who thought she hated mushrooms!, I can say that this dish tastes amazing. I'd honestly just eat the filling. The crust is just added fun. I think Farmer Maggot's wife would be proud of this dish.
I guess this just goes to show me that Tolkien was right: You just have to be brave and you can overcome anything. Even your fear of mushrooms!

Okay, maybe that wasn't exactly how he meant for me to take it....

Are you a fan of mushrooms? Tell me about how you like to eat them! And leave your favorite LOTR quote down in the comments section! I'm always thrilled to meet fellow lovers of Tolkien.

Related articles:
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Friday, August 19, 2016

8 Tips To Improve Your Descriptive Writing

Descriptive writing. It's important. It's how your readers can picture where events are taking place, it's the mode of writing that allows you to convey important pieces of information, and it's how you can show off your epic writing skills.

And, yet, descriptive writing seems to be a concept that eludes most. Many writers feel the need to take two paragraphs to describe a sunset to match their character's mood when they could have simply used one sentence. Nobody likes the writer who cooks up cheesy descriptions or doles out paragraphs of irrelevant details. Don't be that writer. How? Here, let me help you:
1. If it's not relevant to the story, chop it out. Please. If you have any regard for your readers, follow this rule. Do not overuse description. It is here to help you build the world of your story, propel your plot, or foreshadow an event, but it should never be employed as a page filler. Make every description, no matter how small, work to enrich your book. To a great mind, no detail is little.

Chekhov's principle. Use it. Or at least utilize it to pull a MacGuffin.

2. Match the voice of the narrator. Generally, a story is told through the eyes of one of your characters. Make it a point not to have your character notice something out of his/her personality. For instance, say you have three characters in a bedroom. The tired one is probably only going to notice the bed and how comfortably warm the room feels. The paranoid one is going to be happy that the windows give them a good view of the open meadow, making it impossible for intruders to come unnoticed. And the picky one is going to be annoyed with the creaking floorboards and the fact that the dusty armoire isn't even mahogany. This is probably one of the more important parts of descriptive writing. Unless you are using omniscient POV, be very careful about having your characters notice and describe details that are outside of their personality. I recently made the mistake of having one of my rather ferocious male elves describe something as "gauzy periwinkle," which doesn't at all make sense for his character. Be better than me and don't write dumb things like that.

4. Match the mood of the story. This is very similar to tip #2. You never want your description to be at a different pace from the plot. Are you writing battle scene? Then use shorter sentences and fierce words that accurately show the brutality and confusion of the battle field. Is your character having a surreal moment? Then take your time describing the beautiful way the sunlight is beaming through the window, sending shattered rays of light dancing across the ceiling. The last thing you want to do is writing a description that pulls your reader out of the scene.

5. Play to your reader's senses. People, readers in particular, have fairly vivid imaginations, so use this to your advantage. Don't say that the room feels deathly cold. Make your reader shiver by describing how the cold leaks into your very bones and turns your breath into icy clouds. Describe how a doctor's office smells like latex gloves and cleaner. Take note of the whispering sound meadow grasses make, and don't rush past the feel of rain against your skin. Make your reader see, hear, and feel what your character is seeing, hearing, and feeling.

6. Don't be afraid to use symbolism and figures of speech. Just don't overuse them. And don't you dare write "Her hair was of silk" because everybody does that and it wasn't even very good in the first place. But, honestly, figurative writing is one of the most helpful forms of writing when it comes to getting a picture across to your readers. Flowers crushed underneath a carriage wheel can show a character's broken love. A downpour of rain can be personified as vengeful or purifying. Hyperbole can explain to your reader just how enormous and daunting that mountain really is.

7. Be ready to slow down and spend some time being descriptive. Writing a good piece of description takes work, so be willing to put some extra effort into it. Don't just say, "Err...ghosts are transparent." Oh, really? It's very clear to see that all this time spent writing hasn't been a complete waste. "Ghosts are transparent." Dig deeper. Work harder. Make Snape proud.

8. Read comic books. This is a tip you're probably not going to read anywhere else, and I'm honestly not sure why. Comic books handle description better than novels do. Some might say that this is obviously because they get to use pictures as their mode of description. Not true. Comic books go out of their way to make their illustrations match the mood of the story, appeal to the reader, and move the plot along. They pull out all of the stops: symbolism, appealing to the senses, using only relevant images. The good ones do, anyway. I recommend The Dark Knight Returns to see how to use symbolism and setting to compliment a story. Many of Scott Snyder's Batman comic books are good for this, too. What I'm trying to say is this: Read Batman. Batman can fix anything. Why? *dramatic pause* Because he's Batman!! What? You didn't see that coming?

Do you have any tips to add for improving descriptive writing? Leave them below! And don't forget to tell me about an author or novel that stood out to you because of the well done descriptions!

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Friday, August 12, 2016

The 10 Commandments of Writing

Writer's are an odd bunch. We keep totems on our desks as good luck charms (or maybe writer's-block-keep-away-ers). Many of us have little rituals we do before writing: drinking a cup of coffee, twirling around in our chair two and a half times, fiddling with a rubiks cube, turning on our favorite Pandora station, saying a little prayer, or wiggling our fingers over the keyboard while singing our ABCs. You name it, a writer has probably done it.

Because writer's are such a varied group of people, it's no surprise that the rules of writing are practically nonexistent. Some think that fragmented sentences are abominations, while others see them as gift from above. We have Team Oxford Comma and Team Non-Oxford comma (also known as Team Heathen. If you are visiting my blog and are Team Heathen, then leave now and never come back). And let's not forget about the disagreements over "showing versus telling," prologue versus no prologue, and escapist fiction versus interpretive fiction.

Basically, there are practically no rules that at least one writer has not broken. I get it. I'm all for the "guidelines rather than actual rules" mindset.

But I think it'd be nice to have a group of cohesive rules at the middle of the lives of all writers. I like that, the symmetry, the geometry of good writing laws.

Thankful, such a thing does actually exist. It's called the 10 Commandments of Writing. I found them atop Mount Procrastination, engraved upon tablets of creativity and written with the tools of irony. I'd like to share them all with you in the hopes of building a better, brighter future:
1. Thou shalt worship no writer. For no author is infallible and thus shalt not be exalted as the perfect writer.

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any false writing rules. Do not fear the false writing rules of thy fellows. Boldly travel where no man has before traversed.

3. Thou shalt not take punctuation and spelling in vain. Study correct spelling with all of your heart, mind, and soul. Do not squander punctuation.

4. Remember your writing time and keep it holy. 

5. Honor thy editors and thy readers. They have raised thee up and lead thee along the paths of publication. Give them thy respect and consideration.

6. Thou shalt not kill thy characters needlessly. 

7. Thou shalt not be unfaithful to thy writing. Hungering after tale hares (*cough* plot bunnies *cough* *cough*) whilst thy current novel lies before thee is harmful to thy productivity.

8. Thou shalt not steal from other writers. Gathering inspiration from thy fellow writer is pleasing, but plagiarism is an abomination.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy writing. Behold thy writing talents and do not lessen them with insecurities or false criticism.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's writing style. Thy skills are enough.

These are all commandments I strive to follow in my writing life. I've found them very helpful, particularly 2, 9, and 10. What would you add (or take away) from these 10 Commandments? Tell me about your favorites! I'd love to hear from you.

And yes, you do get major points for leaving comments in Early Modern English. You may find it helpful to write as if you are a certain mighty Asgardian.

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Friday, August 5, 2016

A Pantster's Guide to Planning a Novel: 6 Tips to Get You Started

I've never had any luck with outlines. I've tried and tried, but I can never seem to stick to my original outline for a story. I'll get everything neatly in place, think, "Yeah, this is good," and then my brain proceeds to go completely off into uncharted territory. And the weirdest thing? The unplanned writing is always 100% better than what I had in my outline.

I wasn't sure what this was all about until I realized: I'm not a plotter. I'm a pantster: somebody who writes their story by the seat of their pants.

And, as scary as it may sound to not outline a 300-page novel, it can and does work.

So, to those of you pantsters out there who struggle with having a coherent plot for your novel, here's a guide to help you out. And to you plotters: If writing a 50-page outline works for you, then bravo. But if it stresses you out or sucks the fun out of things, they you may want to consider trying this:
1. You need an inciting incident, climax, and end. Seriously. You can try not planning your novel, but these three plot points need to be set in concrete otherwise everything will unravel. That's it. Just those three. They are the essentials. Everything else is connected to them. This way, you can have other plot points shift and change as you write the story, but still have an anchor so that your story doesn't switch from book about a boy fighting demons to a unicorn trying to find a good cup of tea. What? It happens to the best of us.

2. Get to know your characters. You develop life-like characters, set them in a story with three defined plot points (inciting incident, climax, end), and they will almost always be able to explain to you how the rest of the story should go. A pantster's best friend is a well developed character, so make sure you get this part right. I have a whiteboard with an entire section devoted to my characters: Who they are, what they each want individually, what they want collectively, what their unique traits are. When my story starts to feel crooked, it's usually because I've made a character do something outside of their personality. So I refer to this whiteboard, put my people back into character, and it almost always straightens things out.

3. Find out what you want this story to say. Why are you writing this story? Why this main character? Why this book at this point in your life? Why this villain? Why this target audience? Come up with a mission statement. Understand why it is that you are writing this story and what it is that you are trying to say with it. If you have a clear view of what you want this novel to do, it will be much easier to write. You don't need to write this goal down. You just need it up in your head, and you need to remember to use it as your north-pointing needle. 

4. Be ready to just go with it. We may be pantsters, but we generally have at least a vague idea of how we want things to unfold. So it can be a bit disturbing when our stories don't turn out that way at all. This is both the difficulty and brilliance of allowing your characters to run around and fill your story out for you. Their personalities will outstrip yours and overrule your plans. After all, it's one against four (or how ever many central characters you have). But don't worry. They generally know what's good for them, so keep a lose reign. As long as they are within the realm of your three plot points and their own personalities, it should be okay. 

5. Prepare to be are a darn good editor. The problem with pantsing? You're probably going to mess up quiet a bit. So, while it's important to just go with your characters, it's also important to follow behind them, cleaning up whatever plot holes they've ripped in your story. Toe the line between allowing improvisation and being a clean freak (er, editing freak?). Basically, you have to be Captain Levi: 
Yes, I understand that 90% of you won't know what on earth I'm talking about.
Do I care? No. Because I finally got to reference AOT in my post!
*throws confetti* *watches Levi sweep it all up*
You are going to have to be willing to write five pages, realize that they're good, but delete them all because they don't fit well. You must be 100% okay with murdering your darlings on a regular basis. Let your characters reign, but make sure your brain can and will overrule any dumb paths they take. That's not too hard, right?

6. Don't be afraid to go note-crazy. I am blessed with the ability of being able to remember plot point ideas, good lines of dialogue, and interesting character arcs for my story without having to write them down. Unfortunately, this comes at the price of being unable to remember whether or not I ate breakfast. So I keep notes. Not detailed ones, just little scribbles to help jog my memory. I utilize Pinterest, keep a notepad in my purse, a journal next to my bed (because my ideas mostly come at night. Mostly), and I invested in a magnetic whiteboard. This whiteboard is the love of my life and I highly recommend it. It will help you stay semi-organize and keep you from eating four breakfasts because you forgot about the other three. For more tips on note-taking, you may want to read this.

And that's it. The kind-of-sort-of-not-really detailed way to plan a novel if you are a pantster. All you need is three plot points and developed characters. With some active editing on your part, everything else will fall into place at some point or another. 

What do you think? If you have any tips to add, please leave them below!

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Leek Onigiri Inspired by Natsuki Takaya's Fruits Basket Vol. 1 and 2

I discovered manga at the beginning of 2016. I used to laugh at the concept: a graphic novel read backwards with large-eyed characters whose genders are difficult to discern upon first glance? Pffft. That's ridiculous.

But, as it turns out, this assessment of mine was entirely wrong. A huge shock, since that practically never happens. 

When I started reading manga, I stuck exclusively with shounen manga (manga for teen guys) over shojo manga (manga for teen girls). I mean, if I have the option between dudes with swords or girls with heartbreak, I'm taking dudes with swords every time. 

So, when one of my followers recommended I read Fruits Basket, I was skeptical. It's shojo manga, after all, and based around the concept of a family that turns into their respective zodiac animal when hugged by somebody of the opposite sex. What? No. That's so random. But then a few other people told me I would really, really like it, so I gave it a shot. 
I'm now a huge fan of Fruits Basket. It's everything I like: tons of humor, sweet characters, touching themes, great friendship. It's the kind of story that you read and walk away feeling extremely happy and fluffy. 

Basically, when I recommend this manga to people, I just walk around saying, "Here, read this. Why? Because: 

I bought the "Ultimate edition" Vol. 1, which is Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 in one book. I did this because 1) It's the kind of story I love so much I want to own 2) It's a gorgeous shade of blue, and I like blue (as I'm sure you can't tell from my blog design and my hair color). 

Anyway, here's the story: 

Tohru Honda was an orphan with nowhere to live and nobody to look after her until the mysterious Sohma family takes her in. They give her a place to live and she cleans the house and cooks their meals, which is one of her favorite things to do. It's not such a bad gig. They all go to the same school (with the exception of Shigure, who is the head of the household). This can get a bit difficult at times because Kyo and Yuki can never seem to get along, but that's okay. Tohru is sure she can make them be friends soon. 

It's really the perfect life....Once you get over the fact that the Sohma family is under an ancient curse that transforms them into zodiac animals when hugged by the opposite gender. And, because Tohru is an eternal optimist, this really isn't such a big problem at all! Maybe she'll be able to help them break free of this curse. It's the least she can do, really, for the family that has made her feel safe and loved once again. 
I'm not even sure what genre this series falls under. It's definitely comedy, and it may fall under the rom-com category. But it also has magic and ancient family curses. And mythology. And general fluffiness. So yeah. Whatever genre that is. 

I'm really fascinated with how this series is able to balance humor with very beautiful, thoughtful messages. I don't know many authors who are able to balance comedy and inspiration quiet like Takaya. 

There was one scene that really stuck out to me in volume 2. Tohru is making onigiri (a rice triangle with some kind of filling stuck to the back), and notices that Kyo-kun can't seem to see his own worth. So she sits down and explains this to him: 
Tip 1: Manga is read from right to left.
Tip 2: An umeboshi is a pickled plum often put on the back of onigiri.

This scene made me sit back and smile, because it's true, isn't it? Everybody is chasing after being like somebody else. They see how amazing other people are, and they feel insecure about themselves because they can't recognize their own worth. They don't know that they have a umeboshi on their back, too. 

That's why it's important to have people like Tohru in your life: to remind you that you are important, too. 

And to make sure that you eat your leeks. 

Yes, leeks. Kyo and Tohru are in a constant battle over leeks. She loves them, he abhors them. But, she's the cook, so she's always making food with leeks in them. She even makes a leek onigiri, which is what gave me the idea for this post. 

I had actually never had leeks before. And, I gotta say, even though Kyo-kun is my favorite character, he's completely off this time. Leeks are amazing. 
Ingredients - 
  • 2 cups of short grain rice, rinsed 3 to 4 times. If you don't rinse this, it will be insanely sticky.
  • 1 leek stalk, sliced. 
  • 2 tablespoons of miso. My regular grocery store didn't have any, so I ended up getting some at this random Japanese market in my neighborhood that I didn't even know existed. It was right next to Iglesia Del Senior Jesus Christo. I love Southern California. 
  • 1/4 cup of water, vegetable broth, or chicken stock. 
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
Directions - 

1. Pour 1 tablespoon of oil into a large pan. Turn to medium heat and add rice. Stir, add 4 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, put a lid on it, turn to low heat, and allow to cook for 15 minutes. Once the time is up, remove from heat, let sit for 5 minutes, then remove the lid. That is how I cook rice. Everybody does it differently, so if you have a better plan, more power to you. 

2. While waiting for the rice to cook: On medium heat, cook leeks in 1/4 cup of water or your choice of broth (I like it with chicken stock, but it doesn't really matter). Cook until the leeks are beginning to grow less rigid. Add the miso, cook until the leeks are limp. Now taste it. Is it not the most amazing food? 

3. Once the rice has cooled, dissolve a teaspoon of salt in a warm bowl of water. The water is for you to dip your hands in and keep the rice from sticking all over you. The salt is to season the rice. Smart, huh? 

4. Mold the rice into a hand-sized triangle, burrow a hollow in the middle, and stick a spoonful of leeks into the center. Cover it up a bit with rice. You can experiment with how you shape the onigiri, but that's how I do mine. It's probably very non-traditional, so excuse this American for possibly skewering a beautiful Japanese tradition. 
5. You can wrap the onigiri in seaweed if you want to. I did, because it's traditional, but I take it off before eating because I can't stand the taste. It reminds me of the way fish guts smell down at the harbor. Not a good taste. But that's just me. 
Don't cry, little guy. You're not just plain rice. You have yummy leeks on your back.
6. Eat as is or with some soy sauce or tamari. This makes a great lunch! Or breakfast. Or snack. Basically, they taste really good and can be eaten anytime. They're like the Japanese version of a sandwich. 

Recently, a nearby shopping center put in a Daiso. I had no idea what it was, but it's tagline (Japanese quality) made me go inside. It is the strangest and funnest store I have ever seen: It's like a funky Japanese home goods store. All of their packages are in Japanese. It's awesome.

Anyway, that's where I got the fun plate and mini lotus dish.
In case you're wondering, the amber stuff in the lotus dish is a Japanese plum sauce. I tried using plum sauce in the onigiri in place of umeboshi, but it didn't turn out well, which is why I'm going to spare your mouth some unhappiness and not give you the recipe. 

These onigiri are super fun to make, not only because they taste good, but because they make me think of a manga that always puts a massive smile on my face. 

If you ever find yourself wanting a sweet, fluffy read that will make you feel all melty inside, then read Fruits Basket. I cannot recommend it enough. Many thanks to the awesome followers of mine who told me I'd enjoy it. You guys were right. 

Have you read Fruits Basket? I'd love to hear your thoughts! If you have any manga recommendations for me, please let me know!

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