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!

Related articles:
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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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Friday, July 22, 2016

How to Write Even When You Don't Feel Like It

Writing is hard. Sometimes you just don't want to do it. You stare at your project and think, "Ah man. I really don't feel like doing that right now. Or anytime soon, honestly."

I get it. I really do. And, because I get it, I can say this: 

Stop your whining!! Why are you not writing right now? What's wrong with you?! You've been putting off that story of yours for far too long. So get off the internet and start writing!

Easier said than done, you say. Or is it? 

Here are 7 ways to get your writer on even when you really, really don't feel like it:
1. Identify the problem. So what is it that's bothering you? Maybe you're scared of writing complete junk. Maybe you think you don't have enough time. Maybe you don't feel inspired. Maybe your favorite kind of tea is no longer available. Find out what it is that's making it difficult to write. Can't place your finger on it? That's okay. Why? Because...

Quote from Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman
2. Recognize that this problem doesn't matter. But Hannah, you say, yes, it does matter. That's why it's called a problem. Pffft. That's completely mental. The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. There is absolutely nothing standing in your way that you cannot overcome. Don't believe me? I have Lyme disease, meaning my hands hurt all of the time, especially when I'm writing. And yet, I'm able to get one to two blog posts out each week, write a bit of my novel almost every day, while also working part time and being a part time college student. Now look me (or, you know, my profile picture) in the eye and tell me about how you can't write through your problem....Yeah. That's what I thought. You feel dumb, don't you? And not only because you just talked to a picture on your computer screen. 

3. Remove your so-called obstacles. Schedule a time you want to write. Think of all of the things that are going to get in your way during this time. Now, go about and systematically eliminate these obstacles. Unless they're people...that's murder, one of the worst crimes, so, yeah. Illegal. Don't do it. Social media distracting you? Don't open up those tabs in your internet. Afraid that you won't be able to write anything good? That's okay. No pressure. If you don't like what you write, you can always learn from it and then delete it. Your kids won't give you any peace? Lock them in a closet. Wait, no, that's probably considered child abuse. Lock yourself in a closet. Okay, so maybe your problem isn't so much lack of time, but a lack of motivation or inspiration. In which case:

4. Remember that you don't need inspiration or motivation to write. Ever. I think a lot of writers sit down at their computers, can't immediately think of some beautiful paragraph to write, and decide that the stars are not in position for this task.
Seriously? No. This is unacceptable. You sit down and write even if you don't feel like it...even if you have no ideas whatsoever. If you're waiting for inspiration to hit, your writing project will take forever. So grit your teeth, force yourself to write even when you have absolutely no desire to do so. Fun? No. But writing isn't always unicorns and sparkles. Anyone who says differently is selling something. 

5. Don't be afraid of writing garbage. Even if you start writing and ever single word that you put down is something that you'll have to delete later, keep going. You're just finding all of the ways that your book should not be written. Just this morning I had to go back and delete two pages that I wrote the night before. I spent an hour on those two pages and there was no way to salvage them. I knew they would need to be deleted even as I was writing them, but I kept going. Why? Because I knew that if I threw my hands up in disgust and stopped writing last night, I would end up dreading picking it up again tonight. So I thought, "Well, get all the garbage out tonight so maybe you'll have a chance at writing something good tomorrow." Now I'm looking forward to writing again tonight because I know what I did wrong and I would like a shot at fixing it. So yes, maybe you're going to write garbage today. But that means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Tomorrow you might write something wonderful. That's the beauty of writing. 

6. Recognize your worth as a writer. You are the only person in this universe, past, present, or future, who is capable of writing this story. There are unique thoughts, feelings, memories, writing styles, and ideas all converging at a single point: You. The task of writing this story was appointed to you, and if you do not find a way, no one will. That is a very, very big deal. So why are you putting it off? Because you think you won't get it right? Because you're afraid? Because you simply don't feel like it? Please. You are the only one who can do this. You are unique. You have a talent. Use it.

7. Know that you will be glad that you wrote. It is normal to not want to write. Don't feel bad about  it. Just remember: You like writing. You may not feel like it right now, but you really do. Once you actually sit down and start writing, you're going to be glad for it. The only way you won't be glad about it is if you get down on yourself for writing garbage. And, as we already discussed, garbage is fine. 

And that's all I have to say on the subject. To sum up: If you're struggling with not wanting to work on your writing, remember these three things: 1) The longer you stay way from writing, the harder it will be to get back into it and the worse you will feel about yourself. 2) You are actually going to be happy to get back into writing. 3) The garbage will do.

Have any tips or tricks you'd like to share? Please leave them below! And don't forget to tell me about you current writing troubles and your plan to fix them. I know you can do it.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Writing Teenage Characters: What You're Doing Wrong

Teenagers. They're a species of humans generally disliked by both adults and children. It's seen as some kind of horrible disease that pops up around 13 and supposedly miraculously disappears at the age of 18 or 20, depending on how one interprets the word teenager or the laws concerning minors. Suffice it to say that teenagers are not a favorite part of most societies.

And yet, books featuring teenage characters are some of the most popular stories known to modern man.

Makes total sense, right?

Yeah, not really.

Because teenagers are generally frowned upon and not well understood, they almost always suffer when they are converted into book characters. As a writer of YA, I spend a lot of time reading YA fiction. It is very rare that I run across a teenage character and think, "Yeah, this one was done really well!" Most of the time it ends up being, "Idiots. They're all idiots!"

Allow me to explain to you all of the various ways that many writers manage to ruin their teen characters, along with ways to fix them.
1. You are generalizing. This is the number one problem that spans across all genres and effectively ruins potentially awesome characters. Your character needs to be treated as an individual with unique personality traits and interests, not as part of the teenage body. As soon as your character's defining trait becomes "teenager," you have lost all hope creating anything other than an annoying, stereotypical fictional person.

2. You aren't taking time period or society into account. This is the part where I tell you about how teenager is a fairly new word, that "back then" you were either a child or an adult, that teenagers were expected to run houses, have jobs, and function as adults, were actually able to pull it off, yada yada yada. But I'm not going to, because I'm sure you've heard that before, and yet it doesn't seem to matter to most writers. So go ahead and ignore all that and plop your teenager into medieval times and have him act like an immature idiot. Or make your Indian girl be extremely disrespectful toward her elders and get away with it. Go on. I'm sure it'll be fine.

3. You are relying on cliches. The characters defined by their love triangles, the "I can change him" girl, the guy with absent parents, the bookworm nerd, the brooding jock, the hot one. *slaps upside the head with your own manuscript* Stop it! You are a writer, not a copy cat. Besides, if you are going to rip something off, then rip something of that isn't subpar and completely horrendous.

4. You're using the "teenagers have bad decision-making skills" excuse. In an attempt to explain away the fact that your characters are acting like idiots, you may try to say that they do dumb things because they are teens and thus don't make good choices because they're too young to know differently. Let's get something straight: Teenagers are not stupid. They have brains and are perfectly capable of using them. You need to develop your character so that any bad decision he/she may make is specific to him and his mentality and his past. Teenagers don't make bad decisions simply because they're teenagers. It goes far deeper than that, so find the root of the problem that is unique to your character and go with that.

5. Your slang skills are horrible. If you are writing contemporary fiction, please, for the love good dialogue, go talk to some real teens. You will soon discover that they do not say things like, "OMG, that was, like, totes cray cray." They just don't. If you want your characters to talk like teenagers, then let them talk like teenagers, not like some crackpot 80-year-old alien who has come to earth and is attempting to masquerade as a teen. Unless you actually are writing a book about crackpot 80-year-old alien who has come to earth and is attempting to masquerade as a teen, in which case, that sounds amazing and I applaud your genius

6. Every piece of dialogue you write is dripping with sarcasm. Some teenagers are very sarcastic, some are only a little bit sarcastic, some are not sarcastic at all. If all of your characters have sass buckets for their patronus's, then you have some serious editing to do. I suppose you think your pieces of dialogue are terribly clever, but they probably aren't. They will get very old, very fast, so tone it down. Try reading this guide for writing sarcasm.

7. Your character is extremely troubled. The teen who drinks too much, has abusive parents, misuses his ADHD meds, is bulimic, and is in and out of juvy. This may come as a shock, but that is a rather extreme scenario. Try to find a middle ground. No, I am not saying that troubled teens don't exist, but I am saying that they have become the focus of many stories, so much so that there is a huge (and unhealthy) imbalance in YA fiction.

8. Adult characters are lead by your teen character. The world is in shambles, people are dying left and right, freedom has disappeared, and for some reason the only clothes available are grey-colored. A leader is needed to fix this broken, dying, ugly-clothes world. So everyone decides to herald a sixteen year old girl as their leader. Sounds like a great plan, right? While it is not absurd to think that a teenager can be elemental in leading a group of people, it is absurd to think that adults would choose said teen as their unrivaled leader. So please, don't be such a clotpole. Use your brain to create realistic situations.

9. Your teen is constantly thinking about crushes. While you may spend most of you time playing "he loves me, he loves me not" in high-stress situations such as zombie apocalypses, most people do not. Stop putting your character in a position where he/she is trying to save the world while also fretting about which crush to choose. Here's a fun idea: How about the crushes stop trying to hit on the main character and instead come along side her and try to make her life easier rather than harder? And, if you aren't writing an action novel, please remember that sex should not be the main point of your story. Give your characters a personality and a reason for existing. If you have to put sex in there to make your story interesting, then you're doing it wrong.

And there you have it. 9 common mistakes writers make when writing teenage characters. What do you think? Did I miss any or get any wrong? Tell me about it in the comment section below!

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Writing Strong Female Characters: What You're Doing Wrong
Writing Awesome Male Characters: What You're Doing Wrong

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Friday, July 8, 2016

Why There's No Such Thing As "Just A Story"

"It's just a story."

There's a phrase that never ceases to bother me. I've heard it used in several different contexts, all of them absurd.

"Oh, don't get so worked up over the bad messages in that novel. It's just a story."

"I don't know if being a writer is the right choice. What difference will I be able to make? After all, they're just stories."

"Don't worry so much about how people interpret your writing. It's just a story."

I've always found that phrase odd. It's an accumulation of absurdities, ignorance, and thoughtlessness. "It's just a story." Since when did we start telling ourselves such problematic mistruths?
Words have a way of sticking with us. We remember compliments we've received from loved ones many years ago, and have no end of trouble forgetting the hurtful things said to us when we were young. We draw strength from scriptures and are motivated by song lyrics.

Through words, men have been inspired to fly halfway across the world to minister to people they have never met. Because of words, men have been whipped into a frenzy and slaughtered those they had no true quarrel with.

It only makes sense that words, when put into the form of stories, are just as powerful as conversations or speeches. Perhaps even more so.

How many times have you read a novel and been forced to sit back and think about the world in a way you never would have otherwise?

How many times has the story of one person's courage or faith inspired the same feelings in you?

How many times has a story changed your life?

For me, the answer to these questions is the same: Many times. 1984 made me think about my freewill and ask myself how far I would be willing to go to preserve it. I draw strength from Samwise Gamgee's perseverance, am inspired by Remus's fight against a disease that threatened to overtake him, and am in awe of Liesel's hunger to use words to do beautiful things. The story of the King who gave his life for the entire world changed my life.

I look at this and it is clear to me that there is no such thing as "just a story."

Stories are many things, but they are not small and they are not meaningless. Stories have an immeasurable amount of sway over our lives, and this sway has grown even larger because people are no longer aware of it.

Because people are convinced that they are "just stories," they forget to be careful about what kinds of stories they are putting into the world or allowing into their minds.

Because they are just stories, authors no longer write their stories for a reason. They forget that novels can help shape the way people think. Shelves are full of books that were not meant to mean anything, and thus end up reflecting the hollowness and depravity of the world.

Because they are just stories, readers feel no need to be intentional about what kind of words and images they fill their minds with. They do not recognize how stories can lock into their hearts and change the direction of their thoughts.

Believing that stories are "just stories" does not take away their power. It simply causes people to forget that  the power is there, making it all the easier to misuse.

It's about time that people start being intentional about the kinds of stories that are told and listened to.

It's time that we drop the "just."

They are not just stories. They are stories. Tales of ourselves: of who we are and who we strive to be. Accounts of places real and imagined, of people beautiful and ugly, of thoughts noble and evil.

These stories make up the world. They are stories we replay for ourselves in our minds, which we call memories. They are bedtime tales that help us to be unafraid of the monsters under the bed. They are inspiring recollections of brave people, educational tellings of turning points in history. They are gospels that are people's salvation.

They are life.

That is not something to be taken lightly. And there is certainly no "just" about it.

Next time you sit down to write a story, I want you to stop and think about what it is that you are doing. You are creating something of power: you are weaving together truths and dreams and adventures that will take seed in somebody else's mind, possibly your own. You can nudge people into thinking and feeling deeply, or you can stop them from using their minds altogether. You can inspire them into courage and passion and selflessness, of you can let them stay in their comfort zone where they will never grow. You can create a story simply to entertain, or you can create a story that does far more than that.

It is up to you.

Will you treat your work as "just a story," or will you see it for what it is: something strong and powerful and capable of changing the minds and souls that it touches?

Related articles:
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Be A Writer, Not An Author

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Friday, July 1, 2016

My 2 Year Blogiversary! + A Survey

There are a lot of crazy things that take place in the world. Animal hotels. 8 Fast and Furious films. Twilight fans. The fact that it's 2016 and women's jeans still don't have correctly sized pockets.

But you know what's really crazy? 

The fact that my blog has been in existence for a full 2 years.

That's right. Today is my 2 year blogiversary! 
I mean, how did that even happen? You'd think I'd have messed up my blog's code and brought my corner of the internet down around our ears. Or maybe had the NSA knocking on my door, wondering how it was that I thought it appropriate to give people tips on how to make the most out of killing off (fictional) people

Luckily, neither of those things happened and I know that has nothing to do with me. 

It's all you guys. Yep. Not to sound like a Hallmark card, but, without you, none of this would be possible. 

On a scale of awesomeness, 1 being Jar Jar Binks and 10 being Batman, you guys are right up there next to Batman. And that's not a compliment I go around giving to just anyone. 

You guys join me in my quest to throw nerd references into just about any conversation...or at least follow my progress with tolerant amusement. You share my posts with others, are not ashamed to be seen chatting with me on social media, help me out when I have writing-related questions, give me book recommendations, leave intelligent and thoughtful comments on my posts, and somehow managed to help me scrape up 28 awesome reviews for Skies of Dripping Gold

As far as I'm concerned, you guys are the best followers that could possibly exist. 

In fact, your awesomeness is what inspires me to constantly push this blog to be as best as it can possibly be. 

So, to up the awesomeness factor of this blog, I've decided to start giving away free money and books. 

Just kidding. Sorry. That was kind of mean. 

Seriously, though. I would like to find  new ways to improve this blog, but I need your help. I've put together a blog survey to help me figure out how to tweak this blog to fit your needs. 

It's 17 questions and doesn't take long to complete (say 5 to 10 minutes). It would really help me gauge my audience and plan for any changes that may or may not need to take place. Your participation would be greatly appreciated.

So what do you say? Will you take it? It's not mandatory, but if you say no I may show up uninvited on your next birthday and proceed to curse you to fall into eternal sleep upon getting a paper cut from your favorite novel. Not sure if you want to risk that, but it's up to you.

Anyway, click below to take the survey. It's not your typical survey....After all, I put it together with my awesome nerd writer audience in mind. Have fun:

Powered by Typeform

Now, would you like to join me for a slice of birthday cake? Help me blow out the candles. 3, 2, 1:
In case you're wondering what the third year of this blog will bring, allow me to inform you: I have no idea. 

But that's what makes it fun, doesn't it? 

I post every Friday, but I rarely know what topic it is that I'm going to post about ahead of time. I try making my own book inspired recipes, but I'm never sure how it will turn out until after I make it. I never know who will follow me or what blog posts it is that people will or will not like. 

Hitting the "publish" button each Friday is like a little adventure all on it's own, and it's one that I'm proud to share with you. 

So here's to another year of writing tips, reviews, recipes, nerdiness, and adventures. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty dang excited. 

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Friday, June 24, 2016

7 Absolutely Essential Tips for Writing Sarcastically

Ah. The post you all thought you wanted. It's finally here. Hannah writing an instructional about how to incorporate sarcasm into writing. What could possibly go wrong?
Before we get started, I am going to make two things abundantly clear. The word sarcasm? It  doesn't mean what you think it means. In fact, when you use the word "sarcasm," the word you are looking for is probably "irony." See, irony is a type of humor where you express your meaning by using words or phrases that generally mean the opposite. Sarcasm is a subset of irony which uses irony in a malicious or slanderous way.

So, technically, I'm not sarcastic. At least not mostly. Maybe about 12%. The other 88% is ironic. Betcha didn't know that. Many thanks to my ironic, English-teacher of an Aunt for explaining that to me.

That being cleared up, I will now use the word "irony" throughout this post. Unusual, I know, since nobody uses correct English online anymore. Hopefully I don't destroy a whole fragile system.

Also, this post is going to be ironic. Very, very ironic. Some tips may be serious, but some may not be. How will you be able to tell the difference? Hm. Good question. I'll let you know once I figure out the answer.

Tip #1: Use irony to expose the ignorance and ridiculousness of a person or situation. You know when people are stupid in movies and the only way to straighten them out is to slap them across the face? That's what irony is for in writing. Except, if done incorrectly, rather than knocking some sense into them, it can knock what little sense there was right out of their brain. Irony is a very delicate thing. Use responsibly. 

Tip #2: Everybody speaks irony, so don't be afraid to use liberally. It's not as if you're going to hurt anybody's feelings. When you use irony, everyone will know that you're using it and will probably laugh at your cleverness. It rarely happens that people will overlook your genius. Some suggest that you should make it abundantly clear from the start that you're not serious, perhaps by putting up a warning sign or overdosing right out the gate to show the ridiculousness of your words. Me? I don't think that's the way it should be handled. 

Tip #3: Pair irony with a serious statement. Irony can be made better by using it as comic-relief in a dark moment. If you have a dark storyline, break it up with something ironic. It's best to give this 'breaking the darkness' role to one character, generally a brooding guy with dark hair and an "I'm ironic" sign hanging from his forehead. It's not as if other writers commonly do this. It's definitely not annoying, especially if it's mean-spirited or unrealistic. 

Tip #4: Use all the punctuation and fonts! You can *never* overdose on all the awesome and ~totally helpful~ symbols, italics, and all-caps that your keyboard has to offer. When in doubt, ALWAYS convey your irony through the usage of these glorious keys. Winky smiley faces are also great and never frowned upon by editors. ;) I mean, if you didn't use these tools, people might be forced to use their brains. Last time that happened, people decided to put a 10-minute dance scene in Spider-Man 3. Oh. Wait. Maybe that's what happened when people don't use their brain? I'm not sure. All of this thinking is hurting me. 

Tip #5: Exaggeration and deadpanning have no place in irony. Ever. You think I'm kidding? I'm not. 

Tip #6: Take lessons from some of the great ironic writers and characters. Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), Jonathan Swift (A Modest Proposal), Mark Watney (The Martian), William Golding (The Princess Bride), Jane Austen, Iron Man, Eeyore, Loki, Rocket Raccoon, Alfred Pennyworth, practically every character from Harry Potter. 

Tip #7: Understand that irony can get old very fast. Some people can write entire books in an ironic tone and people love it, while others can't even make it past the first 10 pages without annoying everyone. Generally, self-deprecating or all-inclusive irony is more acceptable than sarcasm when writing for long periods of time. However, it can be really hard to gauge when you've gone too far, so it's best to stop when you're ahead. For example, I'm currently not sure whether this post is making you laugh or really getting on your nerves, so I'm going to stop now. Sorry. Or you're welcome. Whichever fits. 

And there you have it. A very clear guide on how to write ironically. 

One thing you should be aware of: With great irony comes great responsibility. Try not to use this type of humor to be hurtful. It's not nice and can wound other's feelings. Whatever those are. 

What do you think? Is this a good guide for writing ironically? What tips would you add? Actually, I don't really care. Don't leave any comments. Most definitely do not share this posts with your friends and followers. And it's not like I want you to subscribe to my blog or anything crazy like that.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Butterbeer Inspired by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Ever since I read Harry Potter, I’ve wanted to go to Hogwarts.

Of course, I’d resigned myself to the fact that that wasn’t going to happen for a long time. I never got my letter, though we all know that’s not due to my lack of magicalness. Voldemort was in power during the 90’s, so a lot of muggle born records were destroyed, which explains my lack of letter: They don't have my address. I have yet to stumble upon a portkey that will take me to Hogwarts and Amazon does not sell working floo powder (huge mistake, guys).

But then something awesome happened. Universal Studios Hollywood opened up Harry Potter World. I finally got to go to Hogwarts!

It was amazing. The castle was magnificent, Hogsmead rocked, and the Forbidden Journey was one of the best rides I’ve ever been one (Note: If you want to hear more about the Harry Potter World in Hollywood, my review is coming soon to Constant Collectible. Stay tuned!).

But that’s all secondary. I’m sure you all have one question you need answered: How was the butterbeer?


I took note of the flavor and went home to try to make my own. After all, my book of the month is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the first book that Butterbeer makes an appearance in.
For those of you deprived muggles who have not read The Prisoner of Azkaban or perhaps have forgotten it’s storyline, here’s a quick overview:

For twelve long years, the dread fortress of Azkaban held an infamous prisoner named Sirius Black. Convicted of killing thirteen people with a single curse, he was said to be the heir apparent to the Dark Lord, Voldemort.

Now he has escaped, leaving only two clues as to where he might be headed: Harry Potter's defeat of You-Know-Who was Black's downfall as well. And the dementors heard Black muttering in his sleep, "He's at Hogwarts...he's at Hogwarts."

Harry Potter isn't safe, not even within the walls of his magical school, surrounded by his friends. Because on top of it all, there may well be a traitor in their midst.

I like this book for a lot of reasons: the Marauder’s Map, the awesomeness of Hippogriffs, the quidditch matches, and the mention of Butterbeer.

But I like it for more sirius reasons, too (sorry, horrible Harry Potter joke. I’ll do better, I promise). I love Lupin’s quiet strength and bravery in the face of a difficult ailment, Rowling’s advice as to how to fend of Dementors has helped me a lot, and Ron’s “Don’t let the muggle get you down” will forever be a mantra of mine. I’m in awe of Rowling’s ability to create a story that is both fantastical and down-to-earth.

So, in honor of this book and Rowling’s brilliance, I’d like to share a recipe for Butterbeer with you.

It is made in three parts: first, a butterscotch syrup must be brewed, then cream soda must be conjured, then some whipped cream summoned. Here we go:
Butterscotch syrup:

Ingredients - 
  • 1/2 cup of packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup of heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon (traditionally, butterscotch doesn't have cinnamon, but I added it to this one because I thought it would help give the Butterbeer the "warm" feel described in the books. Also, cinnamon rules.) 
  • 1/2 teaspoon of himalayan salt (or sea salt) 
Directions - 

1. Solemnly swear that you are up to no good. This is an essential step. Do NOT skip it.

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan on medium heat. In a bowl, combine the cinnamon, brown sugar, and salt. You'll want to have your vanilla all measured out and ready to go. You'll also want to procure a stickiness-repellant wand or a rubber spatula to stir. I used a spatula after Umbridge's own heart: 
3. Once the butter is melted, add the brown sugar mixture to the pan. Once the mixture is wet, add the heavy cream. Stir until combined. Bring to a boil, scraping sides and bottom of the pan occasionally. Allow to boil for 4 to 5 minutes. Once it begins to thicken, remove from heat. 
4. Add vanilla extract, then transfer to a container to cool (I used a mason jar). The syrup will thicken considerably while cooling.

This stuff is delicious. I would have eaten it all if it hadn't been necessary for the rest of the recipe. Snape thought that it was a poison hexed to make people want to eat it, but soon came around. 
Cream soda: 

I attempted to make this from scratch, but failed miserably. I'm not sure why. I suspect the nargles. Being a highly-intelligent Ravenclaw, I quickly came up with a solution: Go to the store and buy ready-made cream soda. I recommend getting an all-natural kind, since those tend to have less sugar. I used Virgil's and liked the way it turned out.

Whipped cream: 

Ingredients - 
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons of butterscotch syrup 
  • Sugar to taste (optional)
Directions - 

1. In a chilled bowl, whip together the heavy cream, butterscotch syrup, and sugar (if wanted). Whip until stiff peaks form. 
2. Try not to fling cream all over the counter while beating it. I may have failed this step. 

Assemble Butterbeer: 

1. In a small bowl, pour one bottle (12 oz) of cream soda. Gently whisk in 2 teaspoons of butterscotch syrup. Over-wisk and you'll lose the fizziness. 
2. Pour this concoction into a mug and top with the whipped cream. 
Mischief managed! You now have Butterbeer that tastes glorious and is very similar to the one at Universal Studios, though not quite so sweet. 
Even Snape thought it was good.
It tastes of sunshine and Harry Potter books. In fact, drinking Butterbeer fills a person with so much happiness that I don't think even Dementors would be able to suck it all away. It's basically Dementor repellant. 
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