Friday, March 24, 2017

Why You Should Intentionally Write Messages Into Your Stories

"That book changed my life."

"This character's strength helped me through a rough patch."

"That message was one I really needed to hear."

These are just a few phrases that I'm pretty sure we've all heard. I've never found statements like this odd. After all, I also have read books that have shaped my thoughts and inspired my actions.

When I decided that I wanted to be a writer, I took it as a matter of course that I would write stories with the goal of encouraging and inspiring my readers. I knew that stories had power. I'd seen that power. Felt it. I was conscious of it and chose to write carefully because I knew that words can make an impact.

I took it as a matter of course that other writers did the same.

But, after almost three years of blogging, I'm coming to realize something. Not all writers believe this. Many writers do not believe that they have a responsibility to write stories that are in some way helpful to their readers.

I've received comment after comment from fellow writers that all say pretty much the same thing: Authors should not inject themselves into their books. They write a story and let the reader take what they want from it. Readers pick the messages, the themes, the lessons, not the writers.

At first the comments made me chuckle. Oh, the delusional few. But I soon found that this belief isn't just a fringe group. It's an entire chunk of the writing community that holds this view.

People shudder at the idea of putting "lessons" and "morals" and "messages" into their stories. It's brainwashing! Preaching! Judgmental! It pulls people out of the book! It politicizes a story! Just write a good plot and developed characters and let the readers take from it what they will.

Now I'm going to say something. And it may make you frown. Just hear me out:
Hannah Heath: Why You Should Intentionally Write Messages Into Your Stories
You cannot have a good plot or developed characters without a message. You just can't.

How do you know you have a great story on your hands? I'll tell you. It's the book you laugh over, cry over, the book you want to share with close friends and random people you pass on the street. It's the book that makes you think about it even when you've put it back on the shelf. The one that you find yourself wanting to quote. The story you want to hug against your chest in an attempt to absorb the strength and emotion that the characters convey. The one that stays with you.

Those great stories are few and far between. They span all genres, include dozens of different characters types, and are written by authors living in all different countries in all different time periods. But, if you look closely, you'll see that they have one thing in common.

The author cared. You can feel it in the pages. The author pouring out his heart, trying to reach you. To tell you something. The author writing characters fighting problems that she knew you needed to see defeated. Authors who saw souls that they believed they could strengthen if they just used the right words.

They had stories they wanted to tell. Stories are born of plot and characters. Plots are born of real-life circumstances. Characters are born of real-life emotions. Our world is made up of stories and stories are made up of our world. They feed off of each other, intersect, tangle together in an inseparable web of words.

You cannot have one without the other. To try to remove yourself from your writing is like trying to remove yourself from existence. To try to remove a message from your writing is like trying to live without ever impacting another life. It simply is not possible.

No matter what you do, you will always be in your writing. Try as hard as you can and you will still have messages sneaking their way into your stories.

Own it.

Those messages will be half-dead and meaningless unless you feed them. Let them go untended and you'll have a story, yes. But not a great one. Maybe a decent one. An entertaining one. But it's also just as likely that you'll have an empty story. Or a harmful one with confused morals, dilapidated messages, and warped characters.

You want your readers to decide what message your story holds? They're not going to bother with picking out a message if you hand them over a less-than-great story. How do you expect them to find a purpose to your story if it isn't a book that they're going to think about after they put it down? You have to make them care about your story to make them find a meaning in it. And a reader can't care about a story if you don't care first. A reader can't care about a story if you don't give them something to care about first.

Sure. Reader will, to some extent, take different things from a book. People will read a book and grab hold of the parts that are relevant to them. That's what make them so special and so powerful. Five people can read a great book and walk away with different lessons.

But that's only because five different lessons were already placed in the book to be found.

It's true that readers can find a meaning in a book that the author hadn't originally intended. But this is due to one of two occurrences:

The author wrote the story so sloppily that there was no coherent message and thus could mean anything and, thus, nothing.

Or, alternately, the author wrote a story so honestly that there are messages outside of those expressly intended. They grew out of the original purpose of the story naturally and still fit with the integrity of the story.

As a writer, you are not expected to have all the answers. I'm not telling you that you need to solve the meaning to life, the universe, and everything. I'm certainly not telling you to shower people with propaganda pamphlets and pretend that they're stories.

What I am telling you is that you owe it to yourself and your readers to write a story that means something. Write what is important to you, because those themes are going to creep into your novel anyway. It's up to you to decide. Do you want full-fledged messages that have the power to make your reader stop and think? Or do you want a neglected theme that's starving to death between the pages?

Writing a story with a message takes guts. Weaving strong themes into a story without preaching or forcing a view takes skill. But you can't write a story worth reading if you aren't willing to put work into it. Don't be afraid. Write hard. Write true. Go deeper. I can promise you that your story, yourself, and your readers will be the better for it.

What do you think about writing stories with a message? What do you believe and why? I'd love to hear your thoughts! And if you have books that you know fall solidly in the afore mentioned "great book" category, please leave the title below!

Related articles:
Challenging Writers to Write Honestly
Why There's No Such Thing As "Just A Story"
Challenging Writer's to Create Stories With Meaning 

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

To My Amazing Blog Followers: Blog Subscriber List Has Been Moved

A post on Wednesday? Nobody saw that coming. Except for me, of course. I saw it coming.

I need to explain something. You are reading this post because you received an email notification.  You either know exactly who I am and am curious about what this post is. OR you have no idea who this blue-haired writer is or what magic she is employing to push her notifications into your inbox.

Allow me to explain.

It began with the Great Blogging Scare of 2017. There were signs of it's coming. Signs that I, in my great stupidity, chose to ignore. It lead to chaos. Fire. Death.

Okay. Not those last two. But the first one is true. Why?

My Feedburner subscriber list vanished. All of you epic subscribers: Gone.

After recovering from a near-heartattack, I did some scrambling around and was able to recover almost all of the email addresses.

Unfortunately, a handful of brand new subscribers were lost. They have been sent off, I know not where. I mourn for them.

That's why I decided: I am leaving Feedburner. This blog post is to inform you about my (and your) pilgrimage to MailChimp.

Here's what you need to know:

Everything is okay. Don't panic. Seriously. Things are under control. Don't worry about it.

If you have received this post via email and know yourself to be a subscriber: You are on my subscriber list and have been safely moved over to MailChimp, where you will continue to receive notifications each time I publish a new post. Yay! You have successfully dodged a catastrophe that you weren't even aware of until just now. *throws confetti*

If you have not received this post via email and have found this post through other means, but believe yourself to be subscribed: Please enter your email into the sidebar or below:

* indicates required

Be sure to verify your email. You will then become a new member of the Hannah Heath clan. Welcome. Come back next week to sprinkle some blood over a book and become a full-fledged member.

If you have received this post via email and do not know why: I can explain. You, at some point within the last almost-three-years, subscribed to my blog. Congratulations. You have excellent taste. However, you did not verify your email address with Feedburner, and thus never received any notifications from me. However, when I moved my subscriber list to MailChimp, your email was activated.

This means you will now receive notifications every time I publish a new post. There is no escape.

Just kidding. If you check out my blog and decide that it's not for you, you can simply unsubscribe. There's a link at the very bottom of the email notification you received that you can use to easily unsubscribe. Though I'm not really sure why you'd want to. Obviously, Past You did think it was a good idea to subscribe to this blog. But if you still want to unsubscribe, then you are a sad, strange little man and you have my pity.

Anyway. That's what's going on. Thank you for taking a moment out of your day to read this. I really appreciate your support and I'm very pleased to have moved us all to a safer, more secure email service. No more near-heart attacks.

Have questions? Suggestions? Funny blogging anecdotes? Please leave them in the comment section below!

Related articles:
None. This blog doesn't usually have near-death experiences. However, if you'd like to get a taste of what I usually write, check these posts out:

Challenging Writers to Create Stories with Meaning
7 Cliche Characters in YA Fiction That Need to Stop
Butterbeer Inspired by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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Friday, March 17, 2017

The Do's and Don'ts of Writing Strong Female Characters

I wrote a guest post many moons ago, detailing the do's and don'ts of creating strong female characters. I wrote a companion piece to this post and published it on my own blog, linking over to the guest post on Rae Elliott's blog. Her blog has been redesigned since then (and it looks amazing...check it out), thus breaking the link. People were interested in reading the original guest post: The Do's and Don'ts of Strong Female Characters, so I'm posting it here. There is also a bonus point added in that wasn't in the original. You're welcome. 

Walk down the YA book aisle and you’ll see strong female protagonists littering the shelves. And why not? These characters are self-reliant. They are beautiful. They can beat up men twice their size! Dresses and femininity are the only thing they fear. Who needs the help of men? They’ll finish the job themselves. They are freedom-fighters, battling the demons of their pasts on their own or with the help of weaker supporting characters.

They are also very, very stereotyped.

Now I get it: writing believable, enjoyable, and realistic characters can be hard. Like, climbing Mount Doom hard. So it’s no wonder that a lot of writers get the ‘strong female character’ wrong.

As somebody who reads an insane amount of books and writes almost as many stories, I’ve seen a lot of interesting female characters. Some very well done and some not-so-well-done. The not-so-well-done characters are often a result of misconceived notions regarding what “strength” looks like in a girl. So if you’re looking to write yourself an awesome female character, here are a couple pointers you should keep in mind:
Hannah Heath: The Do's and Don'ts of Writing Strong Female Characters
Don’t think of her as a “strong female character.” Do think of her as a human being. I think this is probably where most writers slip up. The fact that you have to put the word “strong” in front of “female” shows that there is something seriously wrong with the way you view girl characters. Females are strong. You don’t have to add the word “strong” into your thinking because not only is it redundant and nonsensical, but it is degrading to your character. Are your other female characters so lame that you feel the need to add the word "strong" into the mix? Rather than calling her a strong female character, call her a person. Give her a personality, likes and dislikes, a backstory. Your creation process for a “strong” female character should be no different than any other character.

Don’t feel the need to make her masculine. Do allow her to be feminine. She is a female character. Giving a girl strength isn’t synonymous with putting her in a pair of pants, giving her a handgun, and letting her beat up a couple of dudes. What’s up with that? I mean, if you want a character that acts like a guy, then create a guy. Trying to make a female character appear male is not okay. It’s sends the message that being a girl isn’t good enough. That a female can only be "strong" if she acts like a dude. Besides, what’s wrong with a girl character that likes to wear skirts or is a fan of the color pink? A woman who can run in heels without ruining her makeup or breaking a leg is a woman to be feared and respected. And a girl who can push through a tough situation while still remaining a compassionate and understanding character is a character to look up to. There are many different kinds of strengths. Don’t mistake masculinity for the only kind out there.

Don’t make her out to be a jerk. Do give her a friend. I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that many “strong” female characters are often distant and not super nice. You don’t have to make your character mean in order to make her appear strong. That’s not strength, that’s bullying. Never a good move. Unless you want people to dislike your character, you need to give her a nice side. Also, you don’t need to make her friendless in an attempt to show her independence. Everyone needs a friend, everyone needs someone to talk to. Girl characters are no exception to this rule. 

Don't sexualize her. Do think of her as a human being. I see this all of the time. The female character who is a massive flirt and dresses in skimpy clothing because she is Strong and In Charge and is Not Ashamed of Her Body. She is lusted after by all male characters, but she puts them in their place with a quippy line and sassy hair flip. 
This trope has a ton of things wrong with it, but I'll just focus on this one: Strength has nothing to do with the amount of skin a person shows. Confidence has nothing to do with sexual activity. Stop linking these things together. It makes no sense. Instead, write your character as a human with a personality and morals and real strengths. It's not a difficult concept.  

Don’t surround her with weak male characters to make her look strong. Do surround her with other strong personalities. This is an extremely common mistake. I feel like writers sit down to outline characters like this: “Two strong female characters co-existing? Yep, that’s good. Two strong male characters who are buddies? Great. A strong male and female character? In the same book? And they actually get along? Whoa, hold on, I can’t do that!” Uh. Yeah, you actually can, and it tends to help create rounded, interesting characters. You do not have to tear down males to make females look strong and it is possible to have two dominant personalities in the same book. You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.

Don’t make her flawless. Do give her a weakness. Nobody likes a perfect character. I don’t know about you, but every time I read a flawless character, I respond in one of two ways: 1) Okay, that’s boring. 2) Wow, now I feel like a really horrible person. Giving your character a weakness makes her human, relatable, and it also gives her something to fight against. And no, not being able to pick between two guys does not count as a weakness. Ever. Just…just no.

There are lots of other do’s and don’ts out there when it comes to writing female characters, but those are the most common slip ups. Feel free to add to the list in the comment section below!

What about you? Have you ever struggled with any of these? We’d love to hear about how you deal with writing female characters in your writing!

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

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Friday, March 10, 2017

7 Tips for Balancing Your Writing with the Rest of Life

People are very predictable. They almost all struggle with the same kinds of things and ask the same kinds of questions. I pretty much get the exact same responses every time people discover certain things about me. For instance:

Upon discovering I was homeschooled: "But how did you socialize as a child?"

Upon discovering I like the character Loki: "But isn't he a bad guy?"

And, most importantly:

Upon discovering I'm a writer, college student, and Lymie: "But how do you balance your writing life with all that?"

The first two questions are easy to answer: 1) They're called play dates. 2) Yes, he kind of is. I said I like character, not his decision-making. I'm not a psychopath.

The third question requires a somewhat longer answer.
Hannah Heath: 7 Tips for Balancing Your Writing with the Rest of Life
1. Don't expect this to look pretty. You know all those Instagram pictures of the pretty writing desk with the cozy cup of tea sitting next to a note book? Those are lies. Lies, I tell you. Writing isn't some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your insipid dreams magically come true. So let it go. You can be a writer + [insert your other titles here], but it will be hard and it will get ugly at times. But it's rewarding, so keep at it.

2. Schedule your writing time. Seriously. There's a reason one of my very first blog posts was about how to schedule your writing sessions. It's important. You simply won't get anything done if you don't do this. Don't give me that, "But I just don't have enough time." I find that argument vague and unconvincing. Make time. Sure, your schedule will have to switch up with each life change. For instance, my writing schedule is very different this semester due to my current school and work schedule. It'll probably switch up again during the summer. You just have to find what works for you and hold onto it for dear life. At some point it will fall apart and you'll need to find a new plan. That's okay. Life likes to try to fluster you. Don't give it the satisfaction.

3. Prioritize. While your writing life is important, you need to make a list of things that are more important to you. For instance: Who are you going to take care of first: Your kids or your characters? Your kids. Hopefully. Which is more important: Staying healthy or finishing your book? Let me help you: The answer is staying healthy (check out this post by a brilliant writer friend of mine to get some tips on how to have a healthy lifestyle as a writer). Which is better: Writing your novel or building your platform? Always be a writer over an author. You need to keep yourself anchored. Know what parts of your life should take precedence. For instance, I love writing, but I know that I need to keep my grades up, which sometimes means studying more and writing less. I love reading books to review, but I know that the Bible is the first thing I should open each morning. I love this blog, but I know that writing my book comes first. Find out what is what in your life and allot time for your writing life accordingly.

4. Take care of your mental health. All of this scheduling and piling things onto your plate? It's stressful and a little heartbreaking. As in people-are-trying-to-kill-me-and-I-just-want-to-eat-some-plums stressful and heartbreaking. You need to find little things that keep you happy. For instance: I have what I call a Kaori Jar (points if you understand why).
It's a mason jar full of little strips of paper that have fun 20-30 minute activities written on them. Walk on the beach. Learn some code. Drink some tea. Color. Do a character outline. It's quick, easy, and helps me de-stress. I have a "Happy Calendar" where I write only the fun schedules (all the annoying stuff goes on my computer). These tricks help me keep from being drowned by the overwhelming feeling of, "Crap. So many things to do. HELP!" It's not perfect. Many days I'm a ball of stress masquerading as a writer, college student, employee, blogger, etc. But other days I'm not, and that helps. Go out of your way to find little things you can do each day to keep your mind from going downhill.

5. Be a smart procrastinator. Do you know that you tend to kill a lot of time on Pinterest? Why not spend that time finding, reading, pinning, and tweeting/social media-ing (shhh. That's a word now) helpful writing articles to boost your social media presence? Know you should be either studying your notes for that exam or writing that book but are sick of looking at both of them? Go cook something healthy to eat. Yeah, you're still procrastinating, but you're not wasting time. There is a difference. It will free up a lot of your time because hey, you just did stuff you would (or should) end up doing anyway, so now you have time later on to do other things. Like writing. Or some other high-priority activity.

6. Don't be an idiot and pile on too much. I know it's hard. There are so many things you want to do. Me? I'm a writer, blogger, social media-er (if social media-ing can be a word, this can to), college student, Lyme-fighter, and part-time worker. I really want to start up a Youtube channel, begin a local writer's group, and learn Japanese. But I'm restraining myself because I know that that's just too much for me to do right now. Maybe later, but not now. Know your limits. Be willing to say no to yourself (and others). Understand that you can't do everything and try to be okay with it. Just being you is hard enough. Be proud that you've gotten this far without blowing anything up. Though I guess I shouldn't assume that you've never done that. Gotten this far without killing anyone....? Hopefully I can assume that.

7. Have the Batman Mentality. The what? The Batman Mentality. Come on, people. Get with it. Read this post. Specifically the "Have the 'Because I'm Batman' Mentality" section.

Person-ing (I've come to far to stop now) is hard. Taking on titles like "Parent" and "Employee" and "Student" and "Spouse" and "Sane Person" is a lot. Tacking "Writer" on top of it all is even harder. But it is possible. You'll just have to feel it out. Fall over. Try again. Believe me: You will eventually find a balance.

Take a deep breath. Pat yourself on the back for just being you. Now get out there and work on your sense of balance. You can do this. I have faith in you.

Related articles:
How to Write Even When You Don't Feel Like It
11 Tips for Building a Successful Writer's Platform
10 Ways to Make Your Writing Time More Productive

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Friday, March 3, 2017

A List of Great Self-Published Books You Should Read (Part 1)

The world is full of unsung heroes. People who do amazing things and don't get nearly enough credit for it. But they just keep doing the amazing things they do because they're not in this for the recognition. They're in it because they believe in what they're doing and enjoy doing it.

I like those kind of people. They make me happy and inspire me to follow in their footsteps.

That's why I'm such a fan of indie authors and their self-published novels. I spend time each month to hunt down self-published books to read and review. These books are often unique in a way that many traditionally published books are not: You can see the heart of the author, the messages and character quirks and experimental writing styles that sometimes get lost in the refining process of traditional publishing.

Every time I read an indie book, I have the urge to buy a ton of copies, chuck them at random people, and yell: "READ IT!!!" Unfortunately, my wallet will not allow this activity...nor, I'm afraid, would the random people.

So I'm having to dial it back a little bit and share links to good indie books here, thus rescuing my bank account and any innocent bystanders.
Hannah Heath: A List of Great Self-Published Books You Should Read (Part 1)
Below are a list of self-published books I have read and enjoyed, along with links to my full reviews (in case you want more information), their Amazon links (in case you have excellent taste and decide to buy them), and links to various places you can find the authors (in case you like following awesome social media accounts and blogs).

This list is in absolutely no order, so a book being listed first, last, or three from the middle spot has no significance. Now, go forth and discover new, amazing reads!

Champion in the Darkness by Tyrean Martinson

YA Christian fantasy with great themes of faith and second chances. It has griffins, too. Who doesn't like griffins? This one is the first in a trilogy. I have yet to read the third book, but I very much enjoyed the second one.

Tyrean is a very sweet lady, so you'll want to stop by and say hello to her on her blog or one of her social medias.

Where the Woods Grow Wild by Nate Philbrick 

A fun, heartfelt fantasy novel with a light mood and deep underlying messages. I enjoyed this book so much that it is currently my novel of the month. Which means you'll be getting a recipe of Cabbage Cart Inn onion soup in the near future. Who's excited?

Nate Philbrick has a hilarious blog and a social media presence to match. If you don't already follow him, do so:

Recovery Series by S. Alex Martin 

A character-driven sci-fi series that employs real emotions and real science, a rare combination in sci-fi novels. His fictional world is hands down one of my favorites (I just really, really want to play hologis) and his characters are amazing. Embassy is book 1 and Recovery (my favorite) is the second installation.

If you like cool information about space science (I know that's not the correct term, but I feel that it's a good description), you'll want to follow him here:

Out of Darkness by E.B. Dawson 
A mix of sci-fi, thriller, futuristic, and dystopian, this novel pulls off nonlinear narrative while also including great characters and plot. That takes skill. A lot of skill. I'm dying to get my hands on book 2, but it's not out yet. *cries*

E.B. Dawson is awesome. I like her and you will too. Here, go say hello:

Urban Legend: Orphan by J.P. Dailing

YA urban fantasy novella with illegal magic, classy vampires, and a badass main character. Need I say more? No. I don't think so.

Dailing has a cool website where you can stay up to date on news for his Urban Legend series. I always get super excited when I see a subscription email roll through my inbox:

Two Lives, Three Choices by K.L. + Pierce 

YA Christian sci-fi with a great message and a neat villain. I love a good villain, so I was very pleased to find one in a genre (Christian and sci-fi) that doesn't seem to have many. This book is clean, entertaining, and makes me excited to see more from this author.

Pierce is a really nice person with a cool outlook on writing. She's also a college student in addition to being an indie author, which is an incredible feat. Go give her a high five:

Ashes by Grace Crandall

Beautiful fantasy short story with majestic prose and a killer main character (pun intended. Sorry. I couldn't help myself). Crandall has a way with words that will leave you basking in the beauty of it. Also, look at how amazing that cover is. She drew it herself. Skills. So many skills.

Crandall has a really cool blog where she posts short stories, so if you want more of her work (you will), go follow her:

Empire Under Siege by Jason K. Lewis 

Fantasy novel with awesome characters and world-building moulded after the Roman empire, this was one of the first self-published books I ever read and probably the one that got me hooked. I love the setting and the characters. Also, it has swords and battles. So yes. It's awesome.

Jason K. Lewis has a plethora of other books out there (many of which I've read and enjoyed), so go explore his website and social media to find more:

Fractured by Rae Elliott 
A sci-fi novel with steampunk elements, a writing style reminiscent of Tolkien, and underlying Christian themes, this book has one of my favorite mother characters. I feel that mothers are a severely underused character type, so Elliott's handling of Lady Darphina makes me extremely  happy. And, of course, all of the other characters are pretty cool, too.

Rae Elliott has a really pretty (and helpful) blog full of writing tips, so you should probably be following her:

And that's all I have for you today. A few answers to questions you're probably asking:

What is this Constant Collectible you keep linking to? That's a geek website I write for. I do book reviews every other Monday and occasionally review comics randomly throughout the week. So if you want more geekiness than what you get here, then head on over there and watch the nerd news and reviews roll in. Also, if you are an author with a book that needs reviewing, please get in touch!

Why does it say Part 1 in the title? Because this is a series that I plan on continuing until the internet dies, self-publishing dies, or I die. Whichever happens first. I'm continually reading and reviewing self-published stories, so I'll compile a list every few months or so to share with you all. Keep an eye out.

Didn't you forget a really important self-published book? Why yes. Yes, I did. Thank you so much for pointing that out and thus allowing me to very naturally and not-at-all-annoyingly mention that I myself have self-published a short story. It's called Skies of Dripping Gold and is a YA Christian dystopian. You might like it.

If you do choose to read any of the above books, please take a few moments to drop a quick review when you've finished. It doesn't have to be a long one, but it will really help the authors out. They are all hard-working, talented, and overall very cool, so they deserve a helping hand.

Do you have any self-published books you would like to share with us? Yes, it is absolutely allowed to be your own. Don't be shy. Leave as many titles as you'd like! I'm always looking for my next read and I know a lot of people who are looking at this post are, too.

Related articles:
Lessons Learned from My Indie Publishing Journey Part 1: 7 Tips for Getting Started
Lessons Learned from My Indie Publishing Journey Part 2: 6 Tips for Novel and eBook FormattingThe 5-Star Rating System: What Book Reviewers Mean vs How Indie Authors Take It

Enjoy this post? Take a look around. If you like what you see, please don't forget to subscribe by email for a new post every Friday! 

Some links are Amazon affiliate. Thank you for your support!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Floating Islands Inspired by William Marchant's The Desk Set

Let's talk about classic movies.

If you've been following this blog for any period of time, you have most likely picked up on the fact that I really enjoy nerd movies. Marvel. Princess Bride. Lord of the Rings. Galaxy Quest. Star Wars. Harry Potter.

But you know what type of movie I watch the most...even more than nerd movies? Classic movies. Black-and-whites from the 40s, 50s, and (very occasionally) the 60s. Movies from this era are way better than pretty much any era in almost every manner possible.

The dialogue is clever, witty, and meaningful. The plots are intricate, the characters well developed, and the acting completely brilliant. Among some of my favorites are: Arsenic and Old Lace, The Thin Man, My Favorite Wife, The Quiet Man, Bringing Up Baby, The Great Escape, and The Shop Around the Corner. If you haven't seen any of these: Go watch them. All of them. Now.

But the one I want to tell you about today is Desk Set: A 1957 movie with two of my favorite actors: Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. It's a romantic comedy, but not the type that we know about today. Classic romantic comedies are incredibly clever, funny, fast-paced, classy, and sent from heaven above to bring us happiness and laughter. Desk Set is no exception.
Desk Set has dialogue that is unrivaled by many movies of even the classic film era and has a character that is immediately endearing (especially to writers): Bunny Watson.

My entire family is a fan of this movie, so my Dad bought me the screen play (The Desk Set by William Marchant) on one condition: That I make Floating Islands, a desert eaten in the movie, for us to try.
Bunny Watson is one of a kind. She works at the Federal Broadcasting Network in the reference department. It is her job to answer any and all questions that people call in: Do eskimo's really rub noses to say hello? What are the names of all of Santa's reindeer? How much does the world weigh? With her encyclopedic knowledge and intelligence, she can answer every question that comes her way...and remember the answers to almost all of them after they've gone. Yep. Bunny Watson is one of a kind. 

Too bad her boyfriend doesn't see it that way. They've been dating for 7 years and he still shows no intention of asking her to marry him. 

It would seem that her boss doesn't value her enough, either. Electronic brains are being installed in the reference department, supposedly more efficient than Bunny and her team. But Bunny isn't about to lose her job to a machine, and she's ready to prove that nobody can do her work as well as she can. The man in charge of programming and installing this computer is in for a game of wits that even an electronic brain can't match. 

You can watch a clip of Hepburn's Bunny in action here: Bunny's Quiz.

The screen play and movie plots vary in several different ways, one of them being the existence of Floating Islands. The screen play doesn't have them, but the movie has an entire scene built around the consuming of this dessert.

It always looked really good in the movie, so I thought I'd recreate it here. I know that, technically, these posts are reserved to literature-inspired foods. But the movie was literature-inspired, so that counts. Right? Eh. Why am I asking you? My blog, my rules. I vote that it counts. Yay!

Floating Islands are a dessert of French origins: They are baked (or poached) meringue spooned over a creme anglaise sauce and topped with hardened caramel threads. Look at how pretty it is:
Let me give you the recipe. Bunny probably has hers memorized (and can repeat it backwards), but here's mine copied from my notes because goodness knows that my memory is about as flaky as Bunny's boyfriend.

Creme Anglaise (Dairy-Free) 


  • 4 large egg yolks (save the whites for your meringues) 
  • 1 1/2 cups of unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 cup of cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla

1. Don't try to take pictures while performing this recipe. You'll understand why later. 

2. Beat together you egg yolks and sugar until a thick mixture forms. This takes a few minutes.

3. Heat your almond milk, but don't let it simmer or boil. You want it hot, but not boiling. Pour the almond milk into the egg yolk mixture, stirring slightly (but don't beat. You don't want it to foam). 

4. Transfer this mixture into a saucepan and put on very low heat, stirring at regular intervals and making sure to scrape the sides and bottom. You do NOT want this to boil, simmer, or otherwise overheat. You'll end up with milky, scrambled eggs, which is gross. You just want the mixture to thicken. You'll know to take it off when the mixture starts to give off a good amount of steam pretty much out of nowhere. Immediately remove from heat and strain into a bowl. 

Now. The timing for this is very precise. I stopped to take a picture for you all right before removing it from the heat. I took my eyes off of it for about 10 seconds. And then. Boom! 
Milky, scrambled eggs. Gross. Thankfully, I was able to strain out enough of the sauce to use for a few dishes of dessert. 

5. Add the teaspoon of vanilla. Mix, then set aside. 


  • 4 egg whites
  • pinch of salt 
  • 2 tablespoons of cane sugar
  • 1 tablespoons of cane sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar. The chemical name for this is Potassium bitartrate. Why does this matter? It doesn't. But I'm taking an Organic Chemistry class this semester and just recently learned this, so I feel that I have to put this knowledge to some kind of use, even if it just means writing it here. 

1. Using an electric mixer (or a whisk, if you are Barry Allen or happen to have magical whisking powers) to beat the egg whites, salt, and 2 tablespoons of sugar until it foams. Now add the extra tablespoon of sugar, the vanilla, and the cream of tartar (*cough* Potassium bitartrate *cough* Potassium acid salt of Tartaric acid *cough* *cough*). 

2. Beat until stiff, silky peaks form. Like this: 
3. Dole large spoonfuls of meringue onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. If you want to be really French about it, you can make quenelles. Mine are very Americanized, made-by-a-non-trained-person quenelles: 

4. Bake in a 200 degree oven for about 10 minutes...or until they become slightly browned and beautiful looking. 

Caramel threads

I didn't take any pictures of this because I learned from my milky egg disaster. But I'll describe it to you.

  • 3/4 cup of water (the chemical name of which is not dihydrogen monoxide) 
  • 1/4 cup of cane sugar 
  • Dash of vanilla

1. Heat water and sugar until dissolved. Add splash of vanilla. Bring to a boil. 

2. Allow to boil for about 7ish minutes. The target temperature for threading is 230 degrees Fahrenheit, so you can use a thermometer if you want (I didn't because I'm terrible with candies and caramels and just assumed I'd burn this on the first try, thermometer or not). You won't want to stir it, just swirl to keep it moving. After about 7 minutes of boiling, the syrup will change color to a darker, amber color. Allow to cool. Dip a fork into the caramel. When you pull the fork out, long threads of syrup should fall from the tines.

I'm so darn proud that I got my caramel to thread. Syrups and caramels almost always end as a disaster for me, but not this time. This time I won. 

Floating Islands Inspired by William Marchant's The Desk Set
1. Yell "Avengers, assemble!" 

2. Put a few spoonfuls of you creme anglaise on your plate (or other serving vessel). Place a meringue on top. Dip your fork into the caramel and wave over the meringue. 

3. Enjoy while watching Desk Set (it's on Netflix). Just be careful not to choke on it due to laughter. After all, Desk Set is a comedy...and a darn brilliant one at that. 
This movie/play is, I think, especially appealing to the writer and nerd crowd because of the plethora of interesting facts spread throughout the dialogue. You know how you're always wondering weird things like: Who was the first human to wear a contact lens? Or filling your Google search history with queries like: "Arabic word for sand" and "Author of that poem about not going gently into the night." That is pretty much what Desk Set is built around: A clever woman who is on a team that spends their entire day answering those kinds of questions. 

Plus, it's a film from a creative era that I think we writers can learn a lot from. Amazing dialogue, excellent characterization, and stories that actually mean something. Classic black-and-white movies are where it's at.
I suggest watching the movie first, then going and reading the play to catch all of the great dialogue you missed. 

Have you ever had Floating Island? Have you seen Desk Set? What's your favorite classic movie? If you haven't seen very many, please let me know. I'll be more than happy to supply you with a list of films to start with. 

Related articles: 
Corn Dodgers and Peach Sauce Inspired by True Grit
Paleo Chocolate Pie Inspired by Kathryn Stockett's The Help
Blancmange Inspired by Louisa May Alcott's Little Women

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Anti-Heroes: What They Are and How to Write Them

Writers like to use colors. We like to describe sunsets, mention what particular shade a character's eyes are, and use blue as a way to convey sadness. Oranges, purples, reds, yellows. We use them all to give depth to our stories.

But what about the color grey? That's one that writers either adore or shy away from. Personally, I like grey. Grey stories, dark heroes, antagonists with moral compasses. Grey always seems to lend a depth to stories, probably because it is more reflective of our world and the people who live in it.

My favorite color of grey is Anti-hero. This is a type of character that seems to confuse a lot of people, which makes sense because the very nature of an anti-hero isn't one that makes a lot of sense. Their personalities are conflicted and contradictory and almost defy categorization.
Anti-Heroes: What They Are and How to Write Them
But, because writers are so fond of naming things and putting them neatly into little boxes, they've been given the name "Anti-hero." Which works as far as the naming goes. But putting them neatly into little boxes? Yeah. Not so much.

However, for the sake of creating good characters, I'm going to go ahead and try and explain these characters. It's not going to be neat and there will be no little boxes, but at least there will be some organized chaos.

An anti-hero, put simply, is a hero that does not possess all of the usual heroic qualities. For example:

Heroes try to save the galaxy because they are courageous and care about the wellbeing of others. Anti-heroes try to save the galaxy because they're one of the idiots who lives in it.
Heroes stand up to evil, noseless wizards because it's the right thing to do. Anti-heroes stand up to evil, noseless wizards because they made a promise to try to protect a loved one and her son. Of course they never promised to be nice while doing it.
Heroes rescue kidnapped people because kidnapping is wrong (and maybe because they're in love with the kidnapped person...but that's secondary. Hopefully). Anti-heroes rescue kidnapped people because it means they might get their ship back...along with some rum.
Generally anti-heroes do the (somewhat) right thing, but for the (somewhat) wrong reasons. They usually have major flaws (selfishness, violence, cowardice, etc.) that are not very hero-like. They are aware of their unheroic-ness but, frankly my dear, they don't give a damn. They aren't in the hero business for purely altruistic reasons and they often clash with the "good guys" as well as the antagonists. They often believe that the ends justify the means, which means that they're fine with getting their hands dirty to finish a mission. Sometimes they end up turning hero by the end of the series, though this isn't always true or necessary.

Other examples of varying levels of anti-heroes are: Sherlock (from the Sherlock TV series), Wolverine, Johanna Mason, Han Solo, Rooster Cogburn, Asajj Ventress (in her later years), Cassian Andor, The Punisher, and Iron Man (in his early years).

Now, on to how to write a good one:

1. They need rules. All anti-heroes have lines they aren't willing to cross. They all have things that they consider wrong, but those things are generally few and far between. While they may be fine with killing, they don't slaughter innocents. Perhaps stealing is generally fine, but never take lollipops from children. Be as irreverent as you like, but always be respectfully of the old lady living across the street.

2. Give them complex motives. Anti-heroes aren't the type to be guilted into a job. They like to leave the saving the world business to Superman and the like. If they're going to take action, they need a reason that goes beyond, "Because it's what a good human would do" or even "It's what a normal human would do." They do things to get even, to gain money, to keep tabs on someone, to atone for past sins, or because it just looks like a lot of fun. They don't need to care about a cause to fight for it, they just need to care about what the cause can do for them. Anti-heroes can have noble intentions, they just may not know how to handle them (or even be aware that they're there).

3. They don't have to be your main character. A lot of people have the idea that the story need to be told from the anti-hero's point of view. It doesn't. Anti-heroes can work as a great foil to your main hero, so don't feel the need to show the entire story from your anti-hero's view point. You can, but you don't have to.

4. The story shouldn't suggest that their negative behavior is correct. I know a lot of writers who are willing to fight me on this, but I'm going to stand by this. Anti-heroes will have negative traits. That's okay. Real-life people have tons of negative traits. However, these traits should not be glorified or made to look "cool." They are destructive and, ultimately, harmful to the character's soul. Don't pretend otherwise.

5. Don't forget to give them good qualities. Seriously. There's no need to look at your grey character and ask:
Don't go overboard. Anti-heroes are not misunderstood villains. Remember that there's still a hero in there somewhere. Give him/her admirable qualities. A classic quality of an anti-hero is that they have plunged themselves into filth in order to keep a friend or loved one clean. Perhaps they are incredibly courageous, care deeply about those around them, or work to inspire others to keep fighting.

6. Keep them walking the line. What line, you ask? The line between hero and non-hero. They should constantly be on the edge, forced to decide what it is they are going to do: The right thing? The easy thing? They should make surprising choices. There will be times when they will let people down (including themselves). But there will also be moments where they turn around and do something incredibly...heroic.

7. They don't have to be extremely attractive. Seriously. Anti-heroes do not need to be suave, black-haired, stormy-eyed, and gorgeous. Get creative, people.

8. Give them an arc. Your anti-hero needs to have some kind of shift. They don't need to swing all the way over into knight-in-shining-armor zone, but they should at least come out of the book with a new outlook or positive trait or good deed under their belt. It's called a character arc. Everyone needs one. Don't be mean and leave your anti-hero arc-less.

My current WIP has an anti-hero, so these are all tips I've found helpful with my own writing. Do you have any tips of your own to share? I'd love to hear them! And don't forget to tell me about your favorite anti-heroes! Mine is Snape. Always.

Related Articles:
Darkness in Fiction: 7 Tips for Writing Dark Stories
6 Tips for Writing an Imposing and Complex Villain 

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Why You Need to Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Writers (And How to Do It)

Have you ever looked at another writer's work and thought, "Wow, that person is amazing"? Of course you have. If you're anything like me (in which case, you have my sincerest sympathy), you've probably ended up chasing that thought with this one: 

"Crap. Why can't I write like that?"

It's inevitable. At some point, you'll end up comparing yourself to another writer and find yourself lacking. It's a terrible feeling.

And you know what? It's entirely your fault. You're being an idiot. Stop. Here's why comparing your writing to other people's (or to some kind of amazing, Batman version of yourself) is a habit you need to break: 
Why You Need to Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Writers (And How to Do It)
1. You are only seeing one side of the story. That story you just read? It was a finished product. It was something that another writer had polished enough to deem fit for others to see. You didn't see the hard work that was put into it. You didn't see what a mess it was at the start. You don't know how many times that writer trashed the idea or sat on the floor wearing a coffee stained t-shirt and glumly wondered why they couldn't be like their favorite author. You saw this process for your own story, but not theirs. Of course theirs looks better. 

2. You have terrible judgement. At least when it comes to judging your own work. Think about it. How long have you been staring at those pages? No wonder it seems a bit dull at this point. How much information do you have stored in your head that didn't make it into the story? Of course the plot seems flat. You are too close to this story to see it clearly. That shiny idea of your book that you keep dangling out in front of you? It's just an illusion. Chasing after making it more like that one author's story isn't even an option. Give up on this poisonous dream. 
Come home to sanity.
3. You aren't them. This should be fairly obvious, except apparently it isn't. You are not that writer you keep comparing yourself against. Therefore, measuring your style and voice and story and success against their's is absolutely crazy. It'd be like me trying to compare my drawing skills to my friend's photography skills. It will get me nowhere because that's comparison isn't valid. So that author you envy? He (or she) isn't you. He doesn't have your experiences or your creative process or your writing style. No wonder your story looks nothing like his. Its yours. Uniquely and wonderfully and annoyingly yours. Nobody else on earth is capable of writing your story. This book of yours has to exist in your words on your terms or not at all. So you do you. Don't try to be some writer that you aren't. Because, honestly: 

4. You absolutely do not want to be like any other author except yourself. Do you really want to be the next J.K. Rowling? The next Maggie Stiefvater? The next [insert author envy here]? I'll answer for you just in case you're about to answer wrongly: No. No, you do not. People remember the authors that are different. That take on their stories with a passion and voice that is their own. I'd rather be known as Hannah Heath than that writer what's-her-name who tried to emulate the voice and style of C.S. Lewis. 

So. Now that we have that out of the way. How can you go about making sure you don't slip back into the stupid mindset of comparison? 

Step 1: Be like Batman. Don't compare yourself to Batman. Just take some tips from him. Never give up. Work hard. Be confident in your abilities. Know you are awesome. Don't ever let anything tell you otherwise. 
What do they (or that stupid voice in your head) know? You're Batman! know...You're [insert your name here]! 

Step 2: Look backwards or forwards, but never to the side. You're allowed to look forward at where you want to go and behind you to measure how far you've come. That's it. Don't look left. Don't look right. It doesn't matter what anybody else is doing. All that matters it what you are doing with your ideas and your abilities. 

Step 3: Learn from rather than compare to. Do you really admire that other writer? Then take notes. Figure out what it is that you enjoy about their style. Pay attention to what makes them special. See how you can put your own spin on it. Admire, look up to, learn from, grow. But don't you dare think that you won't ever have a story that is as worthy as theirs. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you. Do you really want to spend it feeling sorry for yourself? 

Step 4: Be patient. Yes, patient. I hate that word as much as the next person, but it's important. You can't expect to write something amazing on your first try. Or even your fortieth. Unless there's some magic potion out there that nobody is telling me about (In which case: Come on guys! Where can I buy it?). You may not be exactly where you want to be. But just you wait, just you wait. Keep working. It will come.

So what do you say? Do you want to stop being an idiot and start being your own writer? I hope so. 

Note: Portions of the above article are copy and pasted from a past newsletter of mine. So if certain paragraphs sound familiar, don't freak out. I'm not stealing from anybody...except my past self. Shhhh. Don't tell her.

Related articles:
Why Writers Should Strive to be More Like Batman
5 Steps to Fighting Off Writer's Insecurity
Be A Writer, Not An Author

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Friday, February 3, 2017

Writing Extroverted Characters: 7 Things You Should Know

A few months ago I published a post about how to write introverted characters. People read it. People liked it. People wanted me to write a post on extroverted characters. I told people no. Because why would I, an introvert, write a post about extroverts when I know somebody far more qualified? I wouldn't. That is why, today, I'm excited to share a guest post with you written by the highly talented, highly extroverted Harley Rae. She has 7 great points to share about writing extroverts, so sit back and soak in her awesomeness: 

You don’t read about a ton of extroverts. In my opinion, introverts are more common than extroverts in works of fiction. You want to know why? Because most writers are introverts. And a lot of writers base characters off of their own personality. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say ALL writers are introverts and that they should be. I’m saying that most authors I’ve met are introverts. Personally, I’m an extrovert. As you can see, I’m also a writer. For those of you introverts that are having trouble writing a character who is an extrovert, I’ve written down a few pointers so you can do it right! (I think I’ve said the words “introvert” and “extrovert” way too many times).
Writing Extroverted Characters: 7 Things You Should Know (A Guest Post by Harley Rae)
1. Not all extroverts are mean. I’m sick and tired of hearing about mean extroverts. Just because we like to talk, does not mean we like to be mean. My Dad and I were discussing this topic earlier, and he made a really good point: All bullies are extroverts, but not all extroverts are bullies. Think about it. You never meet a shy bully. It doesn’t work. But, you do meet nice extroverts. That totally works.

2. Extroverts are alert. This may be a minor thing, but I thought I’d mention it. The four character traits of an extrovert are sociability, talkativeness, excitability, and alertness. I thought it was interesting that alertness was included. But then I started thinking about it. We are always looking for more attention (I know that sounds conceited but we do it anyway), which requires being alert. We have to stay on our toes to find the nearest crowd, especially us short extroverts. That may just make sense to me… I might be delusional.

3. Extroverts LOVE to talk. It’s good to have a lot of dialogue in your story. Make your extrovert talkative. If you have a character who is an introvert, make it so that the introvert likes listening to the extrovert. For me, personally, I love it when people are willing to listen to me. I mostly talk about fangirl stuff, so my family tunes me out all the time. When someone is willing to listen to me it makes my day!

4. Extroverts enjoy exploring new things. Extroverts like to explore. Make your character WANT to try things. Readers like exploring new places in books. As a avid reader, I know I love to hear of new places and things. I think your readers would really like it if you included some exploring.

5. They’re not always confident. Trust me, I doubt myself, a lot. Extroverts sometimes make really stupid decisions. I’m not saying we’re stupid, but everyone makes a bad decision once in awhile. It’s really funny when you’re reading about a very sarcastic character who, in the middle of a battle, makes a stupid decision. Then they make sarcastic comments to cover up their stupidity.

6. Extroverts aren’t always natural leaders. Just because we like being around people, doesn't mean we want to lead them into battle. It would be fun to read a story about a leader who is an introvert, and their best friend is a extrovert and enjoys following them into battle.

7. Extroverts like making people laugh. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I can rule the world when a group of people actually laugh at my jokes. I love reading about a sarcastic character. Percy Jackson is a perfect example of a sarcastic extrovert. He is also very sassy, but that’s off topic.

Well, that’s all of the pointers I can think of. If you have any more, I would love to hear them. I hope this helps you write the perfect extroverted character! Thank you for reading!

Did you like this post? I'm sure you did. If you want to get more of Harley Rae, go subscribe to her blog and follow her on twitter. It's not a requirement, but choosing not to do so will go down as a Poor Life Decision. We all have enough of those, so don't add to the list. Go follow her. And leave a comment below telling us about your favorite extroverted characters, your favorite tip, and any other favorite things you want to tell us! 

Related Articles:
Writing Introverted Characters: 8 Things You Should Know
7 Cliche Characters in YA Fiction That Need to Stop

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