Friday, April 21, 2017

10 Points to Think About When World-Building

This post is for all you writers of fantasy settings, brand-new worlds, and alternate universes. Those of you who don't write speculative fiction....Well. Your loss. Come back next week. Maybe I'll have something for you then.

Just kidding. World-building is not solely applicable to speculative fiction writers. Many of the below world-building tips are helpful to any and all types of writers, so pay attention.

You're building a world? Then Build. A. World. Not a few towns. Not two or three races. Not one religion, history, terrain, currency. You have the power to create a universe, a way of life, and you're going to settle with making a faded, incomplete blueprint? Absolutely not. Go big or go home.

Our world is incredibly diverse. It's overwhelming to think about trying to replicate that in a story without writing an entire history textbook. As a fantasy writer who's creating her own world, I feel for you. Thankfully, I have a list of points you'll want to address in your world-building to help your world feel as fascinating and real as possible: 
Hannah Heath: 10 Points to Think About When World-Building
1. Think about species and race. If you're building a fantasy world, there will probably be more than one species. Hopefully, these species go outside of Man, Elf, and Dwarf. Hopefully each species contain several races. Is there really only one type of faerie? Can't there be faerie's specific to woods, mountains, rivers? Can't they have skin colors varying from green to orange to purple? Rather than randomly choosing a few species, really think about which species and/or races will lend something to the plot.

2. Think about setting. I have an entire post about different non-forest settings you can use in your fantasy world. Try sprinkling several of them throughout your world. No matter what Star Wars tells you, worlds don't have to have just one main terrain. I mean, I love you Star Wars, but what is your problem? Sand planet (Tatooine, Jakku). Rain planet (Kamino). Metropolis planet (Coruscant). Hawaii planet (Scarif). Unless you have a specific reason for making your world all one type of terrain, I'd suggest trying a bit harder.

3. Think about religion. I don't care if you aren't a religious person. Your world needs to have some semblance of a religion. And I don't care if you are a devout religious person. Your story can't just have one religion that is a copy of your own. That's not how this works. Religion is an elemental part of all cultures. There are countless religions out there. They affect the way people eat, sleep, relate to others. It seeps into government, judicial systems, and education. You can't just ignore something this important in your world building (or shave it down into something very narrow). You need multiple religions. You need splinter groups within each religion. You need prophecies and moral codes. If you don't know anything about religions (or are only familiar with your own), then I recommend this book on world religions to give you ideas.

4. Think about currency. Does this world run on a barter system? Paper money? Coins? Some technological "Pay through The Cloud" mumbo jumbo? Take note of how your currency changes from place to place. Money systems are very diverse and, frankly, very confusing. You don't have to have a detailed outline, but it is important to touch on the fact that your entire world doesn't just conveniently run on one type of currency.

5. Think about past times. What do people do for fun? Do they play sports or just sit around and tell stories? The way people spend their free time is very telling. It reflects their culture, and, thus, enriches your world building. Also, sometimes it just looks cool:

6. Think about communication. Just like with currency, there's really no chance that an entire world of people speak the same exact language. Even in places that do share a common language, you have to consider dialect, slang, and accents. You also have to think about how different cultures find different manners of communication more acceptable than others. Maybe hand motions are offensive. Maybe speaking rapidly is common. Maybe eye contact is a must. Think about the people you know and consider all of the different communication styles they have. Then think about the larger world and all of the languages and dialects out there. Incorporate this knowledge into your world.

7. Think about health. There is a disturbing shortage of sick people in most fantasy and sci-fi settings. You can't just pretend they don't exist. How does healthcare work in your world? Are blind people consider demon possessed? Are the physically crippled given intellectual jobs? Are all sick people just shipped off to Elsewhere? Please elaborate.

8. Think about government. Who rules who? Do you have kings? Queens? Presidents? Dictators? A republic? How do people obtain these positions? IQ tests? Blood right? Killing the former ruler? So many options. People are always struggling for power, criticizing the people who are in power, or just stepping back and pretending like it's none of their business. It's common in our world and, thus, it always seems incredibly odd when fictional worlds don't address power systems.

9. Think about magic/technology. Chances are, your world either has magic or technology, or, if we're getting really crazy: both.  Either way, these systems should be fleshed out. Can anyone use magic? Is technology only for rich people? Make up rules.

10. Think about food. Do you have any idea how many speculative fiction books I've read where nobody ever eats anything? Too many. I don't know about you, but I want to know what people eat in space. I'd also like to know how people in fantasy novels seem to survive on bread alone. Please tell me what kind of foods exist in your world.
Why are you keeping this curiosity door locked?

Now that you have this point to think about, I want you to write down a little bit for each section. Next, connect the pieces. How does religion affect your world's food or past times? Do certain species have a difficult time communicating with others? Does the government control your magic/technology? Are some settings more ideal for certain races? How do all of these things connect to your plot, main character, or conflict?

Ask questions. All the questions. Get to know your world as much as possible. However, not all of this information needs to go into your story in an incredibly detailed manner. Avoid allowing your world-building to become so out of control that it obscures the plot. Your world should be pushing along the story, not holding it back.

There are a lot of other aspects to think about when world-building. These are just a few to get you started. Do you have some points to add? Please leave a comment below! And don't forget to tell me about some books that had excellent (or horrible) world-building.

Related articles:
7 Tips for Choosing Your Character's Appearance 
Tips for Writing Stunning Science-Fiction: A Guest Post by Author S. Alex Martin
7 Tips for Writing A Character with a Chronic Illness

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Friday, April 14, 2017

7 New and Improved Versions of the Chosen One Trope

There he is. The perfect hero. There was of a prophecy of his coming. He was born to save the world. He may have grown up an average person, but when he becomes a teenager he learns of his destiny. With the help of a gruff master and quirky sidekick, he becomes adept at all hero techniques inside of a week: Sword fighting, strategy, being able to experience traumatic events without any lasting damage to his charming personality. He will fight. Win. He is...The Chosen One.

He's also boring. Fortunately for the millions of writers who use the Chosen One trope, this is absolutely fixable. The Chosen One is like a cracker. Bland on its own, but the perfect vehicle for something amazing. Like cheese. Or salmon. Or Nutella. Or hummus.

I'm hungry right now, in case you couldn't tell.

Now, I'm sure you all are brilliant writers, so you've put clever twists on this cliche. Hopefully. But I have some twists here in my brain that you may not have heard of. I can safely assume this because they are the product of my very tired, very hungry, very stressed, oh-my-gosh-I-forgot-I-have-a-blog-post-due brain. Which means that these ideas come to you unedited, stream-of-concsiousness style. Prepare yourself. Here are 7 lesser-known, improved versions of the Chosen One.
Hannah Heath: 7 New and Improved Versions of the Chosen One Trope
1. The mid-life crisis. He knew he was the chosen one. He found out when he was a teenager. However, he simply had no interest in being a Chosen One. It sounded like too much adventure. It didn't fit into his plan for his life. He had a list. A spreadsheet. Go to college. Get a degree. Graduate by 24. Get a job. Climb the ladder. Get married. Have two kids: A boy and a girl. Nowhere in there did he have a space that said: Become Chosen One. So he simply didn't. But now he's 40 years old and bored with his spread sheet life. His wife says he's too set in his ways and he can't seem to connect with his kids. It's time for a change. So he ditches his perfect job, buys a motorcycle, and goes out to fulfill his Chosen One destiny while also saving his family relationships.

2. The Self-Appointed Savior. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Which is why she's decided she's going to be the Chosen One. Okay, so maybe the prophecy was about somebody else. But they're doing a pretty inefficient job. Move over.

3. The Eager-To-Please Chosen One. Okay, so, maybe he's not very good at saving the world. He tends to make everything a lot worse every time he breathes. But people seem to believe that he can do it and he really, really doesn't want to let them down. So stand back everyone, because Carl's going to fix this. Just wait a second while he tapes together his glasses.

4. The Unbeliever. Pffft. Chosen One. That's all a lot of tricks and nonsense. She's a realist. She believes in what she can see, not that weird shaman that showed up on her doorstep the other day. But things start changing around her. Like that guy who saw her birthmark and started babbling about dark lords. Or the soldiers who keep trying to arrest her. She leaves her village to escape from all of these delusional people, but the delusion just seems to follow her. Pushing her. Before she knows it, she has a sword that glows. And apparently she has an arch-nemesis now, who doesn't seem to believe her when she says that she doesn't buy into in all this conspiracy crap. Nope. Arch Nemesis is out to kill her, so maybe it's time to start defending herself with these new magic powers that are probably just some really intricate illusions.

5. The Infiltrator. When the prophecy surfaces, the tyrant knows just what to do. He understands that marching into a person's house to kill their Chosen One Baby is a terrible idea. There's an entire series on why that doesn't work. The natural thing to do is to do is to win the Chosen One onto his side. So he moves in next door (undercover, of course) and helps raise the Chosen One into someone intelligent. Talented. Selfish. Somebody who, with the proper bribing, will pretend to do the duties of the Chosen One while secretly letting the tyrant succeed.

6. The Grandmother. Teenaged chosen ones can be inexperienced. Whiney. Lacking necessary skillsets. The Chosen One Chooser (because yes, that is absolutely a term) decides to gift the title of Chosen One to somebody more qualified: Grandma. She's been around. She knows things. Like how love triangles are a distraction, how nobody wants to hear you whine. She's fed up with Bad Guy's attitude. He clearly never listened to his mother. Armed with knitting needles and a plate of cookies, Grandma is off to give this young man a talking to.

7. The Irresponsible One. He's been trained since a child. Had every necessary Hero skill pounded into his head since birth all because of that lady prophet who showed up on the king's doorstep. He spends twenty years preparing and completely missed out on his childhood. Then, just as he's about to depart to kill the bad guy, some star-readers show up out of the blue. That prophet that told him he was the Chosen One? She's actually the real chosen one and the only one who can save the world. She just didn't want the job. She's been out having a grand time while he's been slaving away. Sorry.

Personally, I'd like to see these Chosen Ones much more than the usual cliche type. What do you think? Which of these is your favorite? If you've ever seen them used before, please let me know. That is a story I must read. Also, if you have any twists on the Chosen One that you'd like to add, please leave a comment below!

Related articles:
7 Cliche Characters in YA Fiction that Need to Stop
Romance in YA Novels: The Good, The Bad, and The Stupid

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Tips for Deciding Whether to Ditch Your Current Writing Project

Your characters aren't talking to you. Your plot somehow wove itself into a massive, ugly knot and refuses to smooth out. Your once shiny idea for a book is now rather uninteresting and, perhaps, subpar.

You have another idea. A better idea (hopefully). So what should you do? Start working on this new project and leave the old one behind? Or try to take your WIP in to therapy and hopefully work out your problems?

It's a hard choice. I mean, this decision could go either way. On one side, a beautiful novel. On the other side, painful, agonizing failure. What to do?

Well, having not read your book, I have absolutely no answer for you. Try flipping a coin.

I'm kidding. That's a terrible idea. Please don't do it.

While I may not have a yes or no answer for you regarding the future of your WIP, what I do have is a way to help you figure it out on your own. Here are a series of questions you can ask yourself about your novel to help you decide whether or not it's time for you to move on:
Hannah Heath: Tips for Deciding Whether to Ditch Your Current Writing Project
Question 1: What does this book mean to me? Hopefully, you started this book for a reason. Maybe you felt you had an important story to tell, maybe you found the message helpful to you personally. Writing a book is a massive undertaking. Because of this, writers tend to craft stories that are special to them. Remember what it was that made you want to start this book. Is it still important to you? If so, it may be worth sticking to.

Question 2: What did you hope this book would mean to others? What was your end goal in writing the story? Did you want to inspire your readers? Make them smile? Provoke them to thought? Help them through a specific problem? Think about the themes in your story. If they aren't very strong, this can lead to a flat story and, thus, a lack of interest in continuing to write it. That is absolutely fixable. However, if your book possess themes that you aren't passionate about or believe would be more powerful in another story, then maybe it's time to move on.

Question 3: Can I change the theme/character/plot to keep me interested? So maybe you lost interest in your story. It happens. The sky is not falling. All you have to do is get in there and change the story around to make it more engaging. Maybe your main character needs more depth. Maybe the plot needs to be clarified or the theme needs to change directions slightly. If the story is boring you, then you may simply have been working on it for too long and are suffering from burnout....Or your book is boring and will thus bore your readers. Either way, these are problems that can be fixed by making a few changes. However, if you've done this multiple times to no avail, it may indicate that the story is past saving.

Question 4: Do I often abandon my books? If you often find yourself ditching your stories and moving on to new ones that you never end up finishing, then muscle up, buttercup, because I have news for you. The problem isn't your book. It's you.
You are chasing plot bunnies and need to learn how to just focus on one story at a time. Or you simply haven't been planning your stories adequately, which means you keep finding yourself backed into a corner like this. Whichever it is, apologize to your characters for being flaky and do better.

Question 5: Do I think I need inspiration in order to write? This is a fairly common thought. Writers think that they need to be"inspired" to write a story. That they need to love it, always be interested in it, adore it the way Westley adores Buttercup. Pfft. I don't know where you get your delusions, laser-brain, but this is simply not true. Writing a book is hard. There will be days when you feel utterly uninspired. Weeks where you hate your book. That doesn't mean your story isn't worth writing. It just means that you'll be putting your need to write this book to the test. If you can put up with the absence of inspiration/love because you can see a light at the end of the tunnel, then keep writing. If you can't? Then don't waste your time on a book that you can't see an upside to completing. Let it go.

Question 6: You are way too hard on your WIP. You think it sucks. Well, maybe it does (though not as much as you think). But it's a draft. It's supposed to suck. Maybe you think it's boring. Well, you're the one who created it, have been thinking about it day and night, and have read it multiple times. No wonder it seems predictable and unoriginal. Before you decide that your current novel is absolute trash that cannot be saved, check to make sure that you aren't just dealing with writer's insecurity.

Question 7: Which book is more important to me: the new or the old? If you are considering giving up on your current WIP, then you probably have another project that you're planning on replacing it with. So ask yourself: which one do you feel is a story that needs to be told? Both? Then finish your first one and move on to your second one when you've finished. Your old story? Then just keep at it. Your new story? Then go for it.

As you answer these questions, you will probably start seeing a trend. Either your current book will start looking like something worth sticking with, or the idea that you're considering moving onto will appear brilliant in comparison.

From here, hopefully it should be fairly easy to know which path to take. Take a few days. Think on it. Pray on it. Choose wisely. Then get writing. With the correct story at your fingertips, there's no telling how far you'll go.

Does this help you? I'd love to know! Please leave me a comment. If you have any tips to add to this post, let us in on them by sharing your thoughts below!

Related articles:
How to Know When to Stop Editing Your Novel
The Importance of Asking Why: 4 Questions You Should Ask Yourself as a Writer
What to Do When Your Story Bogs Down

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Onion Soup Inspired by Nate Philbrick's Where the Woods Grow Wild

There are a lot of dark stories floating around out there. That's okay. Many of them are good and deep and full of meaning. But, as much as I enjoy the darker stories, I'm always excited to come across a book that's chock full of brightness. Fun characters, light settings, and pleasant, beautiful messages. Unfortunately, this type of lightness isn't common in one of my favorite genres: Fantasy.

That's why I'm such a fan of Nate Philbrick's Where the Woods Grow Wild. It delves into the happier, delightful (though still thoughtful) side of fantasy that is often overlooked. It's the type of story that will put a smile on your face and good thoughts in your brain, and I think that's a type of story that the world could use a lot more of.

Bardun village is a fairly quiet place. Nothing important really goes on there, but nothing dangerous ever happens, either. Martin spends his days working in the steamy kitchens of the Cabbage Cart Inn. Elodie spends her days notworking as the mayor’s courier. They get into mischief with each other when they can, but it never causes any permanent damage.

Until, one day, it does. After stumbling into the forest that looms outside of Bardun village, Martin is attacked by a strange animal. Nobody ever goes into that forest, so nobody knows what it is that bit Martin’s hand, or how to save it.

Losing a hand is better than losing a life, but Martin finds himself consumed with the idea of tracking down the animal that wreaked havoc with his life. When he and Elodie go looking for the creature that stole his hand, they become separated and lost in a forest that nobody knows anything about. It’s there, where the woods grow wild, that Martin and Elodie learn why exactly nobody of Bardun village ever enters the forest: It’s not exactly the kind of place a kitchen worker and a courier can easily survive.

This book is crafted in a cheerful, light tone while also dealing with some rather serious issues, such as losing family members and learning to live with a disability. It’s the type of funny, clever writing that would make Lloyd Alexander nod in approval.

To put it briefly: This novel is awesome. My full review of Where the Woods Grow Wild can be found here. Today, I'm here to talk about a very specific part of the book: Onion soup. 
Never have I wanted onion soup more than I did upon reading this book. While the Cabbage Cart Inn doesn't sound like an ideal place of employment (you can't just go around kicking your workers, Hergelo Stump!), I would really like to get in the kitchen and see exactly how this onion soup of theirs is made. 

I pictured it as a rustic version of French Onion Soup, which made me a bit sad because...*whispers* I don't really like French food. But, in a twitter conversation with the author himself (who you should be following), I discovered that this soup is probably more similar to sopa d'all. What? You don't know what sopa d'all is? It's a Catalonian dish that I'd never heard of before. 

All the recipes I found were in Catalan, which I don't speak, so I used Google Translate, who, as it turns out, speaks Catalan only slightly better than I do. I was able to piece together a recipe that is a hybrid of French onion soup and sopa d'all. It is probably not even remotely traditional to either dish, but, given that it's supposed to be from Bardun, I think that's perfect. Also, it tastes good, so who cares where it's from? Look at how yummy it is:  
For bread: 

  • 1 head of garlic 
  • Pinch of thyme
  • Pinch of salt
  • Olive oil 
  • Baguette 
  • Gruyere cheese 

1. Chop off the top of your head of garlic. Only a little. You're only beheading part of the's a mini beheading. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of thyme and salt. 

2. Place the onion in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes, or until the cloves turn a golden brown. Once this happens, remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. 
3. Pop the cloves out of their shells and into a bowl (Pro tip: try eating a bit of the garlic just like that. It's amazing). Add some extra olive oil. Just enough to mash the garlic up and make it spreadable. 
If needed, add some extra salt and thyme. 

4. Cut your baguette into slices, drizzle with olive oil, spread with your garlic spread, and sprinkle with gruyere cheese. Place in the 350 degree oven for 5 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and browned slightly. 
5. Smell it. Go on. Now taste it. Meet you new favorite type of bread. 

For the soup: 

  • 2 yellow onions, chopped. If you aren't a big onion fan (like me), then try reducing to 1 onion.
  • 2 cloves of garlic 
  • 4 cups of hearty vegetable broth. Normal vegetable broth is fine, too. But don't you want to be a healthy, hearty person? Well. You are what you eat. So there. Also, the flavor works better. 
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme. I'm refraining from making a bad pun about thyme. You're welcome. 
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Olive oil
  • 2 pinches of smoked paprika. Smoked paprika and I have never been friends. I've never understood it's function. I've tried to substitute it for normal paprika and it promptly ruins whatever it was I was cooing. However, I read that smoked paprika is often used in catalonia dishes, so I gave it a shot. And you know what? It totally worked. Smoked paprika and I are starting to heal our broken relationship and it's all thanks to Where the Woods Grow Wild. Books really are amazing. 
  • One egg yolk per bowl (optional) 

1. Crush the two gloves of garlic into a saucepan and sauté in olive oil. Add your chopped onion. Sauté until the onion turns slightly translucent and also slightly more yellow. They should be soft. 

2. Add 1 cup of vegetable broth, a teaspoon of salt, and two pinches of smoked paprika. Stir and lower to heat to medium low, allowing the soup to simmer for about 20 minutes. This gets the onion flavor steeped into the broth. You can taste it at this point. It's epic. 

3. After your 20 minutes are up, add the remaining 3 cups of vegetable broth. You'll also need to adjust the seasoning. I added 2 more pinches of smoked paprika, along with some extra salt and thyme, but yours may differ. Taste. If you like it, it's done. If you don't like it, you did something wrong because you're a hog-moggins. Not my fault. 


Pour the soup into a bowl. Place a slice of bread on top and let it soak up all the goodness. Apparently some sopa d'all recipes use plain bread and shred it right into the soup. I chose not to do this because 1) Just like Bramble musn't eat a puffernut, I musn't eat too much gluten, so shredding it into the soup seemed a bit much. You can certainly do it, though. 2) I wanted to do a garlic spread as a tribute to the Cabbage Cart Inn's garlicky smell. 

Next (and this part is optional), drop an egg yolk into the soup. Yup. The soup will be hot enough to cook it a bit and the yolk, once broken, will give it a creamy texture. However, if you don't like egg (like me), don't do this. It'll give the soup an egg flavor (who knew?). Incidentally, egg yolks don't float, which makes them very non-photogenic. I kept trying to get it to sit on the bread, but it wouldn't stop rolling off.
Sprinkle some more gruyere cheese over the top. Get some extra garlic bread slices for dipping. Dig in. 
I'm very happy with how this turned out. It's oniony and garlicy and I think Martin would like it a lot better than the onion soup he makes at the Cabbage Cart Inn (he doesn't seem to fond of whatever it is Hergelo has him making). 

It's the kind of comfort soup I'd like to eat on a cloudy day. Just like Where the Woods Grow Wild is the type of comfort book I'd like to read on a day that I want a smile and sweet themes. Which is every day. 
I highly recommend Where the Woods Grow Wild. It's a beautiful, charming book with great characters and touching themes. If you don't read it, I may have to hunt you down and throw quails at you. You have been warned. 

What do you think? Will you try making this soup? Leave a comment below! If you've read this book, please come talk to me about it. And if you haven't read it: What day are you now planning on reading it? Don't make me come at you with those quails.

Related articles:

Rosa Hubermann's Pea Soup Inspired by The Book Thief
Roasted Vegetable Sandwich inspired by Christie Golden's Dark Disciple 

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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

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!

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

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