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! Or...you 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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Monday, January 30, 2017

WriteOnCon: An Awesome Online Writing Conference You Should Attend

What is this? Hannah posting on a Monday instead of a Friday? The sky is falling!

Don't worry. There will still be a writing tips post coming this Friday. Every once in a while I choose to post on a Monday when I have news I want to share outside of my regular posts. Well, today I have something I think you all will be interested in. Listen up.

I was recently given the awesome opportunity to be a WriteOnCon team member. WriteOnCon is an online writing conference geared towards KidLit, MG, YA, and New Adult authors. It's a pretty epic event that I've heard of before and considered attending, so of course I was pretty excited to get to be part of the team that brings it to the masses in all of its glory.

So, why am I telling this to you? Because the more I've been working on this event, the cooler and cooler it seems to me. I think it's something you all might really enjoy, so let me give you a brief overview of what it is:
WriteOnCon: An Awesome Online Writing Conference You Should Attend
Yep. The above image says it all. Post over. Return to your writing. 

Just kidding. Allow me to expand: 

WriteOnCon is an 3 day online writing conference for writers and illustrators of picture books, middle grade, young adult, and even new adult. So, basically everybody except for boring adult authors. You aren't allowed to sit with us cool kids. Just kidding. While some of the critiquing events are limited to the above categories, the live events, blog posts, and vlogs are open to every writer out there. Come one, come all!

This event runs from February 2nd (a Thursday), through February 4th (a Saturday). There will be blog posts, vlogs, live events, critique forums, and pitch sessions. The live events are held on Facebook and will include Q&A sessions with various authors, agents, and editors, along with critique sessions.

The Q&A sessions allow you to get some of those writerly questions answered. From publishing to editing to character development, you can post questions to live events and get some answers. This is my favorite part of the event because it means you all can bring your questions to somebody other than me. Just kidding. But seriously. Take advantage of this. Here's the schedule for you to peruse to find out which Q&A events look like your jam.

There's also going to be an online forum where you can post your polished query letters or samples of your writing. Agents and editors, known as Ninja Agents, will be somersaulting in and out of these forums, reading pitches and sample writings, offering feedback, and doing other ninja-y things.
How insanely helpful is that? You can check out the list of the Ninja Agents here.

But here's something else that's even better: Paying to attend this event isn't going to mean that you have to skimp on buying yourself coffee or a new book to read. Nobody wants to see a writer coffeeless or bookless. This is a humane event. There are different levels of admission, the most expensive one being $15. Told you it was cheap. To read about the different kinds of admission, click here. But I recommend the Extended Admission.

And you know what else is cool? This event is entirely online. Which means that you do not have to go outside and interact with other humans. Ew. You can sit at your computer wearing your bunny slippers and Batman hoodie and interact with other people via your brilliant writing, so nobody will be the wiser. Major plus.

I'm really excited about WriteOnCon, not only because I get to be part of the amazing team, but because I think its something that many of you would actually get a lot out of. It has something for every writer and it's a great way to connect with people in the writing industry, as well as to learn tricks of the trade, gain new perspectives, and just have a fun experience.

If this seems like something you're interested in, you can register here. And if you have questions, you can check out the FAQ page or read the blog.

So what do you think? Are you going to attend WriteOnCon? If so, I'm helping out with the live events, so I'll keep an eye out for your name down in the comments section and send encouraging writerly thoughts your way. Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think!

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Friday, January 27, 2017

Treacle Tart Inspired by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

At the end of each month I always almost always post a recipe that uses a beloved food from a book that I like. This month's Book of the Month is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire because 1) I love Harry Potter and 2) I'm trying to do a recipe from each Harry Potter book with the end goal of having a Great Hall feast. Because who hasn't dreamed about a Great Hall feast?

I fully intended to make bouillabaisse. I was always rather disappointed that this scene never made it into the movie: 

“What’s that?” said Ron, pointing at a large dish of some sort of shellfish stew that stood beside a large steak-and-kidney pudding.
“Bouillabaisse,” said Hermione.
“Bless you,” said Ron.
“It’s French,” said Hermione.

I've never identified more with Ron than at that moment. I can't ever pronounce anything French. I have a hard enough time with English, and that's my native language. 

Anyway. Bouillabaisse. I decided to make it before knowing what exactly it was. Then I looked it up and saw that the ingredients include "Live Lobster." 

Ha. Right. That is a big fat nope for me. 

So I decided to try another Harry Potter recipe I'm always curious about. Harry's favorite desert: Treacle Tart. 
Treacle Tart Inspired by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
But first, in case you don't know what The Goblet of Fire is about: 

Harry Potter is looking forward to a normal year at Hogwarts. No Voldemort, no people thinking he's a mass murderer, no playing with Time Turners. Hogwarts is hosting the Tri-Wizard tournament, and he's looking forward to watching the event play out. He is not old enough to volunteer to take place in this deadly magical competition between different wizarding schools, so it looks like this year he will be out of harm's way for a change. But then his name is shot out of the Goblet of Fire, indicating that he has been chosen as a school champion. But Harry didn't put his name into the Goblet, and he most certainly didn't want to be at all involved in it. But here he is, once again in the spot light. Once again disliked by his classmates. And, it would seem, once again in the path of He Who Must Not Be Named. 

Unlike most fans of this series, Harry is actually a favorite character of mine. We have a lot of things in common: Events that were out of our control changed the way we have to live our lives. I got Lyme disease, he had to live with the Dursleys. He and I both struggle with figuring out how to best live our lives in the face of these events, and we both tend to get angry and frustrated a bit too quickly about our problems. We're both stubborn, have outbursts of both intelligence and stupidity, are willing to stand up for what we believe in, and, as it turns out, we both love treacle tart.
For those of you who were like me 10 days ago and have no idea what a treacle tart is, allow me to explain: Treacle tart is a tart made out of golden syrup. Golden syrup is a specifically English sugar and water syrup.

Supposedly it is possible to buy golden syrup here in America (or simply order it online), but I was wary of the amount and kind of sugar used in commercially made golden syrup, so I decided to make my own using less sugar and some lemon juice to cut the sweetness. I also decided to make the tart crust using spelt flour to reduce the amount of gluten in the crust. Basically, this is a slightly healthier version of treacle tart.
Yep. Those are spells in mini bottles. Christmas present from an epic friend.

Golden Syrup Recipe
Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of cane sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of water
  • 1 cup of cane sugar
  • 1 and 1/4 cups of boiling water 
  • 2 thick lemon slices
1. In one saucepan, bring the 1 and 1/4 cups of water to a boil. Have it ready. In another saucepan, dissolve the 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of cane sugar and bring to a simmer. Keep a close eye on this. You want it to turn a pretty amber color. If it goes beyond that it burns very quickly and, well...see for yourself: 
This is what I call Seamus Finnigan Syrup. 

2. Once you get your amber colored syrup (preferably on your first try), remove from heat. Add the boiling 1 and 1/4 cup of water slowly. It will bubble and splash, so be careful.

3. Add the 1 cup of sugar and the 2 lemon slices. Now bring to a slow boil. Allow it to boil for about 45 minutes to an hour. Try not to stir it too much. It will thicken slightly while it's hot, but you'll need to pour it into a jar and allow to cool before it thickens. If it isn't the thickness of syrup when it cools, don't panic. Just boil it for a bit more. 
This stuff tastes amazing. I may have stirred it several times just so I could lick the spoon. It also works as a great tea sweetener. 

Spelt Flour Crust

You can use whatever kind of crust you want. I just chose to use this one because I don't like the way gluten-free crusts taste, but I don't like what's done to white flour. So spelt felt like a happy medium.

Ingredients: 
  • 1 cup of spelt flour, sifted
  • 5 tablespoons of butter
  • pinch of salt (1/8 of a teaspoon, for those of you who get confused by this terminology) 
  • 6 tablespoons of ice water
1. Mix together the flour and salt. Cut in the 5 tablespoons of butter until the butter is the size of peas. Or, you know, very un-uniform peas that look more like a plant Neville would like:
2. Add the water. You made need more (or less) depending on how many nargles are floating about. Shape into a ball. Chill in the fridge for an hour. 

3. Roll the crust out to be about 1/4 inch thickness. Place in your chosen tart dishes and poke holes in the bottom and sides with a fork.
Cover with parchment paper, fill with beans or rice. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 5 minutes. Uncover and bake for anther 5.

Treacle Tart
Ingredients: 
  • 1 cup of golden syrup 
  • 3 tablespoons of heavy cream or half and half 
  • Zest of one lemon, plus the juice from half a lemon
  • 1/3 cup of bread crumbs. You can use pretty much any kind of white bread. I used sourdough. The reason behind the bread crumbs is to give something for the syrup to stick to, thus allowing the tart to set. 
1. Bring the syrup, heavy cream, lemon zest, and lemon juice to a simmer, then remove from heat. Add the bread crumbs and stir. 

2. Pour this filling into your tarts. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes. The filling should be set, but still slightly jiggly. Allow to cool. 

Serve warm or cold, with or without clotted cream. Any way tastes amazing. 
This is a new favorite of mine. It tastes a bit like a lemon curd tart, only with a slight honey flavor. I think my version of treacle tart has more lemon flavor than traditional, which is fine by me because I like lemon. Definitely something I will make again. 

Have you ever had treacle tart? What do you think of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? I know it tends to get a bad rap for being too long, but I personally really enjoyed it. I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

Related articles: 
Mrs. Weasley's Chocolate Fudge Inspired by Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone
Pumpkin Juice Inspired by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Butterbeer Inspired by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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Friday, January 20, 2017

9 Epic, Underused Mythical Animals for Your Fantasy Novel

So you're writing a fantasy novel? You're going to need a starter bag: Do you have your hero? Check. Your sidekick? Check. Your villain? Check. Your magic system? Check. Your different races (elves, dwarves, humans, etc)? Check. That big forest all fantasy characters invariably have to travel through? Check.

It would seem that your starter bag is full. Now go forth and conquer your story world! *stands back and watches you leave*

Wait, wait! Come back! We forgot about your mythical animals. Phew. That could have been bad.

No, you don't technically need any of the items in that starter bag I just gave you. Just like you don't technically need mythical animals. But you want them. You know you do.
Hannah Heath: 9 Epic, Underused Mythical Animals for Your Fantasy Novel
But, of course, you may not want the same exact mythical animals that everybody else has. What's the fun in that? I mean, I'm sure you already have creatures lined up: Dragons, griffins, mermaids, harpies, Pegasi, minotaurs, pixies, phoenixes, unicorns. Those are all great. You'll probably never run into a reader who is upset that you included a dragon in your fantasy novel (and if you do, that person is probably insane. RUN!).

But what about some new ones? Using less common mythical animals in your fantasy story can lend uniqueness and depth to your world. Plus, they're incredibly cool.

Below are a list of really interesting, underused mythical creatures for you to peruse. If they look cool to you and fit into your world, why not include them in your writing? These poor guys never see the light of day. And, in case you're wondering, these are all actually "real" mythical creatures. I ain't got the brains to make this up:

1. Peryton

Source: FranIlustracion

The head, antlers, and forelegs of a stag, but the wings and hindquarters of a bird, this mythical animal is my personal favorite. Think of what an epic steed it would make: majestic and deadly. All it needs to do is breathe fire (and maybe have scales for protection) and this makes a formidable creature.

2. Enfield 

Image source

There's really no formal description for this one, but it has the head of a fox and the forelegs of an eagle. Sometimes it has the hindlegs of a wolf. I'd imagine this could have a tricky personality (perhaps it acts as a spy?) and I see no reason why it couldn't have wings.

3. Crocotta

Source: Wikia

A fierce hyena-like creature, the crocotta has the body of a stag, cloven hooves, and the head of a hyena or badger. It is the enemy of man and dog, has sharp teeth, and makes noises that mimic the sound of human laughter. Basically a large, angry hyena with hooves. You don't want to mess with it.

4. Wolpertinger

Source: ObeyTheKiwi

So, remember that Jackolope with purple eyes from Disney? The one that taught us that boudin' was the way to happiness? Well, the wolpertinger is like that guy. Except it's the size of a hare and has fangs and wings. While the above picture makes it look adorable, being attacked by a real-life one would probably scare the daylights out of even the bravest warrior.  I feel that this is what the characters in Watership Down would have looked like if Lewis Carrol had penned the story.

5. Chupacabra

Source: LuxDani
The name means "goat sucker," since this animal from North America is said to suck the blood of various livestock, especially goats. It has scaly greenish skin with spikes running along its spine and/or tail. It's actually considered a cryptic (a creature that may or may not exist), as Puerto Rico had a problem with their livestock being drained of all their blood via puncture wounds. Some were convinced it was the chupacabra, while others thought it was a local satanic cult performing rituals. Either way, they'd make great lapdogs for your villains.

6. Karkadann

If you need a creature for a desert, this is it. From Persia, Karkadanns are similar to rhinoceroses: they are large, scaly, have a horn on their nose (though sometimes it can sit higher on their head and varies in length and curve), and dewlap about the chest. Their horns are said to have have healing power, but they are highly agressive, so good luck if you need that horn for some kind of spell. 

7. Kirin

Source: Jill Johansen

It comes from East Asia, the spelling and look of the creature varying from country to country. Some call it the Asian Unicorn, though it can have antlers rather than a single horn. It is a hoofed, deer-like creature that usually has both scales and fur. It is sometimes depicted as being covered in flame, which is awesome. Fantasy 101: Never pass up using an animal that can cover itself in flame.

8. Camazotz 

Okay, so, this one is technically not an animal. It's a bat god from Maya mythology. But I thought the concept was interesting, so I'm including it here: He's a man-sized bat who drinks the blood of his enemies. I'm pretty sure this is what Batman would reincarnate as, supposing he dies. But he would never die. Because he's Batman.

Yes, I may have included Camazotz here solely for the purpose of saying that. I'm not even sorry. 

9. Hippocampus 

You've probably already heard of this one, but, outside of the Percy Jackson series, it doesn't really get written into stories. Which is sad. Just look at how amazing it is. 

Those are just some of the more interesting ones I've come across. There are a plethora of humanoid creatures I haven't included here. I also had to exclude these excellent ones to keep this post from running long: Manticore, selkie, wendigo, nian, and wyvern.

Which of these is your favorite? I hope this provided you with some inspiration (and my apologies for any plot bunnies...or wolpertingers). What kind of mythical animals do you use in your stories? I'd love to hear what awesome creatures you have in your fictional worlds. Please leave a comment below and tell me about them!

Related articles:
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Friday, January 13, 2017

How to Identify and Obliterate Sexism in Your Novel

I have something I want to talk about. It's not a popular topic in general (sexism in fiction), and the stance I'm taking is often frowned upon (that of common sense). So sit down, shut up, and pay close attention to the following words.

First off, let me explain something. Most people don't understand what the word "sexism" means. It means prejudice and discrimination against a person (or persons) due to their sex. People think that it pertains to prejudice against women. It doesn't. It goes both ways, though many dictionaries will include the fact that it is usually used in terms of bias against women.

Got that? You sure? Okay. Moving on.

Sexism is oddly common in fiction, specifically in fantasy and science fiction. When female characters display sexism, it's viewed as either "you go, girl" social justice or crazed feminism. When male characters use it, it's either seen as manly or piggish.

Let's get something straight: Sexism is always bad. It doesn't matter who it comes from. It shouldn't be in your stories unless you're trying to expose it as something ugly (and even then you better be doing it fairly).

So what does sexism look like in books? And how can you get rid of it? Let me show you.
Hannah Heath: How to Identify and Obliterate Sexism in Your Novel
Your characters are really good at objectifying other human beings. Your male characters ogle and hit on female characters. Books tend to show this as either romantic, terrible, or simply the normal state of things. Your female characters ogle and hit on male characters and it's either funny, romantic, or simply perfectly acceptable. It's pathetic that I have to explain this, but: Objectifying is bad and should be portrayed as such. It shows a basic lack of respect for the other gender. It shows that a person's appearance is far more important than personality or intelligence, that another person is only there to serve as something to look at and lust after. Do you know what that means? It's unjust treatment of a person based on gender, which is discrimination based on gender, which is sexism. Think about that next time you want to write out a scene where your female character lecherously eyes a dude she's never met or your male character can't seem to stop making passes at that lady he just saw.

Your female characters aren't allowed to be feminine. How many of you have read books where there's a strong, intelligent maiden warrior who looks with disdain at the giggling girl in skirts who likes to do needle-point? *raises hand* I mean, I understand that wearing skirts is probably a sign that a female character has no brain. And it makes sense that having basic skills like sewing and cooking couldn't possibly be a good thing. Of course, it's also physically impossible for a sweet, proper girl to know how to, say, fix a spaceship. But we can pretend otherwise for the sake of a good story, right? Right. I'm so glad we got that cleared up.

Your male characters talk down to females. "You can't do this because...because you're a girl!" Ah. The extremely original line used to raise storyline tension and simultaneously set up a brilliant future romance. *sigh* You're killin' me, Smalls!

"Men are Pigs" is a prominent theme. And maybe you don't even realize it is. For instance, I recently read a very popular book where a male character makes lewd comments to the MC female while the MC male stands by and does nothing. Not only does the female character take the comments, but the the MC male never expresses any regret for not stepping in. It's never mentioned again in the book, and the MC male and female become a couple. Because apparently the author thought that was normal. Not only for a male character to act that way, but also for nobody to find it disturbing. This is not acceptable. Your male character should not be allowed to act in that way without anyone else (especially the other male characters) saying, "Hey! That's not right!" The mindset that "men are pigs" is absurd. Some human beings are pigs, but all men are not. Portraying all (or even most) of your men as lustful and self-centered is grossly unfair to your male characters. And having your female characters just accept that behavior is setting up your female characters to be narrow-minded. Is that your intent? I hope not.

Your female characters always make the men look dumb. All women are always able to do the same things all men can, only quicker, smarter, and while looking prettier. Obviously all men just sit around on porches, grunting, drinking beer, and generally being a babbling, bumbling band of buffoons. Women are smarter. Unless they wear skirts and do needle-point, as we established above. But wait! Here's a novel idea: Perhaps both genders can be awesome without making the other look bad? Mind. Blown.

Stereotyping is common. 
You've got your Working Women, your Geeky Dudes, Stay-At-Home Mothers, Jocks, Working Fathers. They each stay very neatly inside of their labels, as people often do in real life. Heaven forbid your Working Woman be anything other than a hard-nosed caffeine addicts. The world would fall apart if your Geeky Dude plays football on Saturdays, and of course Working Father is always late for dinner and never rearranges his schedule to go watch his daughter's ballet performance.

Your characters are just walking gender signs. Their personalities were replaced with the colors pink or blue. You forgot that you're writing people, and instead grouped everyone into the "men" or "women" category. This NEVER works. You end up forgetting that both of these genders fall under the "human being" category and stop treating them accordingly. Which leads to your characters reflecting this idea that it's Men vs Women, not Human Beings vs Plot Conflict. This undermines your story and flattens your characters. If you've found yourself at this point: Redo the whole thing.

If you are writing a story to expose sexism...Well, good for you. Unfortunately, you're probably doing it wrong. For instance: Is the sexism one-sided? If you find that it is, think again. Does your story feature only one or two non-sexist characters? Widen your scope a bit, please. Is the sexism very extreme? Fine. It's not as if subtly has any place in fiction.

And there you have it. What do you think? Let me know if I missed any points or got any of them wrong. As Qui-Gon Jinn would say: The ability to comment does not make you intelligent. So please think before publishing a comment and keep it kind down there. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

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Friday, January 6, 2017

The Q & A Tag: On Batmobiles and Lightsaber Skills

Happy New Year! 2017 is here and resolutions have been made by pretty much everybody except for me.

If I had made resolutions, they would have probably been something about time management and trying to write my posts further in advance (rather than the day before Friday). But I didn't. Which is why it's the first Thursday of the the new year and I have no time to put together a clever, helpful, or inspiring post.

And you know what? I don't even care. Why? Because I have a blog tag I can use to fill in this Friday. But not just any blog tag. A Q & A blog tag with questions by the talented Julius Bailey, who has posed 10 important queries. Two of which are in regard to Batman.

In case you don't understand the gravity of this, let me explain my dedication to Batman. Here are just a few of the Batman-related items in my possession:
Yup. I like Batman. So, on to the questions:
1: What is your favorite drink? Horchata. Hands down. If you've never had it, go find some. Also, if you ever walk into a Mexican restaurant that doesn't serve Horchata, turn right around and go somewhere else. Horchata is the sign of good Mexican food.

2: What is your least favorite book?
This may make a lot of people upset, but: Ella Enchanted. I've read it all the way through, but it has always bugged me. I've never really liked the plot of the original Cinderella (who wants to marry a dude who can't remember what you look like and instead has to try your shoe on every girl in the kingdom? So Ella Enchanted not only has a plot I dislike, but it is always upsetting for me to read about how Ella was mistreated. It left me feeling like casting the Avada Kedavra spell on multiple characters. 

3: What's the longest distance you've ever traveled on foot?
About 10 miles. My family and I used to go on a lot of road trips and hikes when I was younger. One such hike was in Yosemite. It had about 10,000 switchbacks. Uphill. It was hot. And dusty. And did I mention the switchbacks? But the view at the top was beautiful and worth it. 

4: If you could own one of the batmobiles from any one of the live-action Batman movies, which one would you choose?
Okay. So. If we're talking the batmobile I would use to fight crime (such as hunting down people who don't return books they've borrowed, don't use oxford commas, or use the wrong form of "your"), then I'd choose the Batmobile from The Dark Knight. That thing is completely awesome. But if we're talking about the one I'd own just to drive around, then I'm going with the 1966 Batmobile. On top of having extremely functional gadgets such as the bat-tering ram, the super-powered bat-magnet, and the inflatable batmobile, it's really pretty. Just look at it:

5: Would you rather be chased by human eating snakes or human eating spiders? Snakes. Spiders scare me. It probably has something to do with all of the fantasy novels I read, but snakes scare me less than spiders. But, honestly, if both of them eat humans, I probably don't stand a chance either way.

6: Would you rather have awesome kung fu skills, or awesome lightsaber skills (with a saber included)?
Oh, sweet! A way to defend myself against the afore mentioned human eating snakes! Thank you. I have to go with awesome lightsaber skills. Because Star Wars. Also, lightsaber skills tend to include kung-fu-like skills. Think Darth Maul.

7: If you had to be stranded fifty miles out in either a desert, the ocean, or the north or south pole, which would you choose? Do I get to bring my lightsaber and batmobile with me? No? Then probably the ocean, because, being a Californian, I'm more familiar with it than deserts or the north/south pole. Though technically California is a desert. *shrugs* I'm fairly certain I could survive because I've seen a lot of stranded-on-the-ocean movies. We all know how accurate those are. 

8: What do you consider to be your greatest skill?
Perseverance. I think that this is not generally considered a skill, but I think otherwise. I consider it my greatest skill because it has allowed me to survive and succeed in certain areas of my life (blogging, college-ing, publishing, and fighting Lyme) I would not have been able to without it. 

9: What's your dream job?
Being an author. Ideally, not only would I publish works of fiction, but I'd also start up my own a transmedia group (a team of coders, musicians, writers, actors all working together to create stories across many different media platforms). I'm not sure what that title is. Self-employed? Entrepreneur? 

10: What did you think of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice?
MARTHA!!! Every time I think of that movie, I think of this scene from I Love Lucy. Beyond that, I actually like that movie. *hides behind laptop* I understand that it was a total mess, but I liked it: the scary Batman (minus the killing people part), the soundtrack, Lex Luthor. In fact, I wrote an entire review for it here, if you're interested in my full thoughts. 

This is where I'm supposed to come up with my own questions and tag other bloggers to answer them. But I'm too busy with my new batmobile and lightsaber (which is purple, by the way) to do that. 

If this looks fun, feel free to use the above questions and be sure to credit J. Bailey. And let me know, too, so I can read your post! Also, don't forget to look around J. Bailey's blog. He likes Batman, so he's immediately cooler than a lot of people. 

What about you? What batmobile would YOU want? Leave your thoughts below!  

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Blancmange Inspired by Louisa May Alcott's Little Women

I think we all have that one character that we grew up with that was (and maybe still is) eerily similar to ourselves. We have the same personality, the same dreams, the same flaws. And, because of this, we've read their book over a dozen times and have a copy of it proudly displayed on our shelves.

My fictional twin is Jo March from Little Women. She's a tomboy, never quite fits in but doesn't usually mind, is a writer who works hard and dreams even harder, has a bad temper and a problem with saying things out loud that most people just keep locked up in their minds, wears her hair short, gets into trouble but generally is able to blunder her way back out, and has a good sense of humor.

Jo is pretty much me with the exception of our height (she got to be tall and I still struggle with reaching things on the top shelf) and our cooking skills (I can actually make pretty foods).
Of course it's no surprise that Little Women was (and is) a favorite of mine. I grew up reading it and I'm always inspired by Jo and her fight for her writing career. In case you don't know what this story is (in which case....Christopher Columbus! What have you been doing with you life?), here's a brief synopsis:

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. These four sisters couldn't be more different: the elegant grown-up Meg, the tomboyish Jo, the musically inclined yet extremely shy Beth, and the impertinent Amy. They each have their own dreams and set backs, but when their father goes to fight in the Civl War, they work together with their mother to keep the house up and running. Whether they're putting on plays, braving different society circles, waiting to get published, or forming secret clubs, they are united in their desire to grow into women that will make their parents proud. 

Funnily enough, as I sat down to write this post, I started thinking of all of the reasons I don't like this book. I'm sad that Beth died and will never get over the fact that Jo and Laurie didn't get married. WHY??? They could have made it work! Grrrr.

So I had to ask myself: Why on earth do you like this book? My answer to myself: Because it upset me.

I got so attached to the characters that the going ons in their lives affect me emotionally. I care about the book and the people in it because the writing is good and the characters are better. It's the kind of story that you can easily attach yourself too: laugh over it, cry over it, be inspired by it, and never ever forget it.

Basically, this is a story I love even while disliking parts of it. I'm assuming we all have a childhood book like that. Right? Right??

Anyway, I've always been curious about a food that appears in this book: Blancmange. It's a dish that Meg makes for Laurie when the March family hear he's sick. Jo takes it over to his house and explains that it slides down easily and is good for a sore throat.
I've always wondered about this food because: 1) I have no idea what it is. 2) I have no idea how to pronounce it. 3) It seems to show up in almost all books written in the 1800s.

Well, as it turns out, blancmange is a dairy and cornstarch pudding (usually vanilla flavored) and is pronounced "Blah-mahnj." Gotta love French.

It is of British origin, though it has a long history. At one point it had meat in it, then evolved into a pudding with the thickening agent being pigs feet (yum!), went meatless around the 1600s where eggs were used to thicken it, then, in the 1800s, arrowroot was used as the thickener. Arrowroot was later replaced with cornstarch.

Funnily enough, arrowroot is growing in popularity today and is used by a lot of hippy organic people like me. So I decided to make blancmange using arrowroot and almond milk. The idea is to have a pudding that is so thick that you can place it in a mold, set, then invert onto a plate with the pudding still holding itself in the correct shape. Mine? Well...we'll get to that part.
Ingredients 
  • 2 cups of almond milk 
  • 1/3 cup of maple syrup
  • 4 tablespoons of arrowroot mixed with 4 tablespoons of almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla. I actually forgot to put this vanilla in because I'm an idiot and always forget important things (did I mention I'm a lot like Jo?). So I suppose this technically makes the vanilla optional, though it is traditional. 
Directions

1. Heat milk and maple syrup in a medium saucepan until the syrup is dissolved. 

2. Pour in the arrowroot mixture and whisk. Put heat on medium high. Bring to a boil, whisking continuously, and allow to boil for about one minute. The mixture should be fairly thick at this point. It should thickly coat the back of a spoon. 

3. Pour the mixture into molds. I didn't have any of those pretty silicon molds, so I used glass punch bowls. 
They either worked just as well as molds or were the cause of the impending disaster I will show you below. 

4. Allow to cool, then let set in the refrigerator for about 3 hours or until firm. Once done, they are ready to eat. I threw some cherry sauce over mine to make it prettier and give it a nice flavor. Cherry sauce is incredibly easy to make, so just hop on Google and pick one. I pretty much used this one, but withheld the cornstarch and used 1/3 cup of cane sugar for sweetener. 

Now, generally, blancmange is set in molds, then inverted onto a pretty plate like so: 
I'm honestly not sure how this is possible. Maybe I didn't use enough arrowroot? Or maybe the above picture is lying and it's not real blancmange. I suspect the latter is true, as the internet is full of images of failed blancmange or blancmange simply left in their molds. 

Anyway, I tried to invert mine onto a plate, knowing full well that it wasn't going to work. I ended up creating what looks to be a distant cousin of the Blobfish (No, I didn't just make up that fish. They're real. Look them up): 
I think I would have made Jo proud. 

Anyway, I'm not sure exactly what blancmange tasted like, but this seemed pretty close to the real thing. It didn't taste very good, which, honestly, I wasn't really expecting it to. I mean, it's a descendant of foot jelly. 

I never share recipes on here of foods that don't taste good, but I though I would today because: 1) I thought it was funny. 2) I do think that some people might like it. I personally don't enjoy jellies or puddings, so I can't judge this one accurately. 

Have you ever had blancmange? Please tell me what you thought of it. And don't forget to tell me about your favorite sister from Little Women!

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Friday, December 23, 2016

Challenging Writers to Write Honestly

Writers have a tendency to hide behind their stories when they write. I get it. It's easier. Instead of saying, "Here's what I think," we get to say, "Here's what my character thinks." Instead of saying, "Here's how I feel," we get to show what our characters feel.

It's not as scary: When people peer at our stories and glimpse a real person inside of it, we can just say, "Oh, that's just my character come to life. Not me. Totally not me."

And there's something to be said for that. After all, characters shouldn't be carbon copies of their authors, nor should every single thought and feeling in a book be the exact thoughts and feelings of its creator.

HOWEVER. Sometimes authors get so caught up in hiding themselves that they hide everything else, too: genuine feelings, important thoughts, provoking ideas. They stuff away the parts of the story that matters in an attempt to help themselves feel safe.

But here's the thing: Writing isn't about feeling safe.
Hannah Heath: Challenging Writers to Write Honestly
If you want to feel safe, then go park yourself behind a desk somewhere with a schedule and steady pay. There's nothing wrong with that. It's simply not what being a writer is about.

You shouldn't write to become rich and famous. That takes a long time and doesn't really benefit anyone, except possibly yourself if you are very lucky. You shouldn't write to tell people that the sky is blue. People could just look outside. You shouldn't write to only entertain mindlessly. There are thousands of apps that can do that, and that's about a thousand too many.

You should write because you have something to say. Because you have a message people need to hear, a problem to discuss, something beautiful to share. You write because you have a truth to tell.

Maybe it's your truth. Maybe it's the truth of a friend, or one that you saw on the news one day and just couldn't get out of your mind. Whatever it is, it's there. You can see it, and, because you have the words, it's up to you to make sure that others get a shot at seeing it, too.

But you can't do that unless you're willing to be honest: both with yourself and your readers.

Let me give you an example. I'm a Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ and I want others to, too. I also have Lyme disease, which means I'm in pain all of the time. And I see other people all around me who are in so many different kinds of pain: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional. And you know what? That bothers me. I don't understand why God is allowing that to happen.

But I'm not supposed to talk about that. Not if I want other people to believe in Jesus too. Right? Right???

Wrong. I am a Christian. And I am a writer. God has given me questions. And he has given me words. So it's up to me to write about the problems that I have within my own faith. No, I don't have answers. I wish I did. All I have is pain and anger, love and faith. So that's what I write about in my stories.

And it's hard, because I put these themes into my stories and I know: People can see me. They are reading about my struggles and thoughts and emotions, albeit in different forms and with slightly different takes. But that's me nonetheless.

This was a main concern of mine when I first started fiddling with the idea of Skies of Dripping Gold. I knew that, if I was going to write this story in a way that matters, I was going to have to take the pain and the anger and abandonment I felt because of my sickness and channel it into that story. I'd also have to infuse it with the desperate faith and confused hope I felt.

I thought: "This will be too much." Too much truth. I looked at both myself and my potential readers, my insides screaming:
But then I realized something: Why on earth wouldn't people be able to handle my truth? I couldn't possibly be the only person to struggle with believing in God in the midst of a broken world. And I had the idea that, perhaps, if people could see their struggles on paper, maybe they wouldn't feel so broken by their problems.

So I wrote the story. It hurt, because I had to thrust my hands deep into the darkness and stare directly at all of the ugly problems and scary questions that people like to pretend aren't there.

And you know what? It helped. It helped me with my own pain. It allowed myself (and some of my readers) to look at and fix the anger and fear we didn't think we were supposed to acknowledge. And that's when I decided: If I write, I will write honestly or not at all.

So you know those things that bother you? They aren't going to go away just because you won't acknowledge them in your writing. They're just going to sit inside of you and rankle, just as they sit inside of your readers and eat away at them.

You, as a writer, are not asked to have answers. You aren't expected to know everything or save everyone. You aren't Batman.

You are, however, expected to write truthfully about what matters. It is your job to explore ideas and topics honestly: Write about problems head on, explain beautiful truths so that people can see them clearly.

If you are a writer and don't pursue yours stories honestly, then what good are you? You'll provide some entertainment, maybe even provoke some thought. And then people will put down your book and you'll be gone from their mind. You will have made no difference, helped nobody. Not even yourself.

Write to be remembered.
Do not write to be forgotten. Write to help, to expose, to love, to explore and fear and be courageous. Write to be remembered.

When you sit down before your story, you don't have to pretend. You don't have to make things look better or worse than they are. You don't have to be afraid of what people might think, afraid of whether or not you'll be able to get your point across, afraid of tearing open old wounds. You don't have to say what other people are saying. You just have to say what is true. And you have to say it honestly.

Write long and hard about whatever it is you know that others need to see. Maybe they won't understand it. But you know what? If you try your hardest, it doesn't matter. Because at least one person will see it: You. You have saved at least one person, and that is more than many will do in a lifetime.

What is it that you have to say that you haven't written before? I'm challenging you today: Write honestly. You were given this talent for a reason. You have the words, you have the means, you have the conviction. Do not let it go to waste.

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