Lessons From Literature: Character Depth in Thor: Goddess of Thunder by Jason Aaron

Welcome to the third Lessons From Literature post! Today we’ll be discussing a comic book collection: Thor: Goddess of Thunder, written by Jason Aaron and illustrated by Russell Dauterman and Jorge Molina.

Any good writer has to be, first and foremost, a great reader. In this blog series, we’ll explore the writing lessons I learned from some of my favorite 2017 reads. Each post focuses on one major lesson from a single piece of literature that I read for the first time in 2017. These pieces come from all ends of the genre spectrum, from classic novels to comic books, to illustrate that skillful storytelling depends on the writer and not the format.

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Yes, that’s right. I’m calling a collection of comic books a piece of literature. Although, I grant you, there are plenty of trashy comics in existence, others provide good examples of storytelling. In our current Marvel-Cinematic-Universe-dominated culture, it might be prudent to examine what the comics are doing for their readers that more “sophisticated” forms of literature are not.

The comics I’m discussing today are five separate issues contained in the single volume Thor: Goddess of Thunder. While I wouldn’t call this collection one of my favorites (mainly because I like older comics better), and while I’ll always prefer the original Thor, I did enjoy the storyline and I learned an important lesson about creating characters.

Lesson from Thor: Goddess of Thunder: Let your powerful characters experience weakness.

In these comics, Thor becomes unworthy of his hammer and a woman (who, in later comics, turns out to be Jane Foster) picks it up instead. The hammer gives Jane the power of Thor, along with much of his knowledge and elements of his personality. What this means, character-wise, for the new Thor is that she simultaneously exhibits Thor’s bravado and her own insecurity. She’s both experienced at the whole superhero-thing, and has no idea what she’s doing.

I thought this paradox created a fascinating character. Especially in these comics, in which Jane first becomes Thor, she can be in the middle of a fight, taunting her enemy, and also wonder how to best wield the hammer. She can face down a death threat without blinking, and also worry about her friends. She can fly into space, and also wonder how to steer. This conflict does a lot to humanize the new Thor, making her both entertaining and relatable.

Powerful characters can be one of the most challenging types to write because they have to be a paradox. If they’re too weak, they’re boring. But if they aren’t weak enough, readers can’t connect with them.

A good way to tell if your character is too strong is to ask, are they too invincible to be troubled by conflict? If the answer is yes, then you need to weaken the character. Without conflict, you don’t have a story, so your characters have to be vulnerable enough to be affected by conflict. Anyone can create a character who can beat up bad guys. But not everyone can make readers care about that character, and you achieve that connection by letting your powerful character experience weakness, particularly any kind of weakness common to the human experience.

I admire the writer’s ability to balance Thor’s strength and uncertainty in this comic collection. Her strength made me cheer for her as a superhero, but her uncertainty touched me as a fellow human. I understood her struggles and felt invested in her success because she had to work for it, in spite of her extreme powers. As a writer, this is definitely a strategy I’ll find valuable in any genre I work with.

What’s another comic series that handles character development well? Leave me a comment below!

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Lessons From Literature: Beautiful Prose in Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Welcome to the second Lessons From Literature post! Today we’ll be discussing a classic novel: Bleak House by Charles Dickens.

Any good writer has to be, first and foremost, a great reader. In this blog series, we’ll explore the writing lessons I learned from some of my favorite 2017 reads. Each post focuses on one major lesson from a single piece of literature that I read for the first time in 2017. These pieces come from all ends of the genre spectrum, from classic novels to comic books, to illustrate that skillful storytelling depends on the writer and not the format.

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2017 marks the first time I read a Charles Dickens book. I know, I know, it’s shameful to live so long without at least reading A Christmas Carol. However, I made up for it by reading through Oliver Twist, Bleak House, Hard Times, and Great Expectations in a few months. In fact, I had to read them so quickly (to meet deadlines) that I ended up having to skim sections in the latter three (which broke my heart), so now they’re on my re-reading list.

A lot of books out there are considered “classics,” and I’ve read some that made me wonder, “why on earth is this called good literature?” Charles Dickens’s works, however, can justifiably be called masterpieces. You can ponder the social commentary, admire the intricate plots, and get acquainted with fascinating characters, but my biggest takeaway from Dickens’s works, particularly Bleak House, is his stunningly beautiful use of words.

Lesson from Bleak House: Take the time to write beautiful prose.

There’s a vast difference between slapping words onto paper to convey a concept, and artfully shaping them to tell a story. Some people might not like Dickens’s tendency toward long descriptions, but I often found myself awed by the precision of his words. Take this example from the opening paragraph of Bleak House:

“London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.”

There are several elements to notice about Dickens’s prose style, even in this short section. The first is that his novels are not meant to be read quickly (as I can attest). So many books these days are written with rapid-fire words that pound at you to “keep your interest.” Dickens’s writing is different. You have to let the words unfold, give them time to paint a picture in your head—and once you give them time, you’ll have such a wonderfully detailed mental picture, you’ll think you’re standing in the middle of it. When you read these sentences, can you feel the inhospitable weather? Fight against the pull of the mud on your shoes? Shiver from the damp of the sooty snow?

Another part of the magic in Dickens’s words is his use of metaphor. When he writes “as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth,” he’s referencing the account of Noah and the Flood in the Bible. That’s also why he mentions a dinosaur. Because he compares muddy London to an ancient land just freed from the Flood waters, he says it wouldn’t be surprising to see a dinosaur wandering the streets as well. Those kinds of metaphors and images are ones that stick in your readers’ heads—not because they’re outrageous, but because the connection is both logical and marvelous, and because the image is described so solidly. You can’t get a much better image than “waddling like an elephantine lizard.”

Lastly, I love the imagination in Dickens’s descriptions. He tells you exactly how something looks, but he often takes it a step further. He gives the image a bit of fantasy that removes it from the realm of pure reality. Consider the last sentence of this excerpt. Dickens first describes how the smoke mingles with the snow, turning it black. Then he adds that the snowflakes have “gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.” By adding this phrase, Dickens invites his readers to do more than “see” the images. He wants readers to interpret the images, to get a deeper meaning out of them that sets the tone for the whole scene. In Dickens’s work, images have great significance to the rest of the story.

As you can tell, I really like Dickens’s prose. But I’m not saying all great writers have to create stories like he did. I don’t even think that’s possible, because every writer has their own voice and style. Consciously trying to replicate Dickens would result in writer’s block more than anything else.

However, I do think we should approach writing as a craft the way that Dickens did. When you read his work, you can feel the care he took in putting words together. Writing is about much more than making sense. It’s about creating a piece of art purely from words.

Lessons From Literature: Originality in Cinder by Marissa Meyer

A-ha, you’ve stumbled onto my latest blog series! Welcome to the first Lessons From Literature post. Today we’ll be discussing a YA novel: Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

Any good writer has to be, first and foremost, a great reader. In this blog series, we’ll explore the writing lessons I learned from some of my favorite 2017 reads. Each post focuses on one major lesson from a single piece of literature that I read for the first time in 2017. These pieces come from all ends of the genre spectrum, from classic novels to comic books, to illustrate that skillful storytelling depends on the writer and not the format.

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Cinder is a difficult book to categorize in a single genre, and that’s what I love about it. The story has elements of fairy tale (because it’s a “Cinderella” retelling), sci-fi (because there are new technologies, people living on the Moon, mind control, and so on), romance (again, “Cinderella” retelling), and dystopia (because there is a worldwide plague, impending war, mutant soldiers, and more).

Lesson from Cinder: Let your imagination remake tradition.

In case you haven’t read the book, here’s a link to its description on Meyer’s website. If I had to summarize Cinder in a single sentence…it’s “Cinderella” set in the future, and the Cinderella character is a cyborg. Yes, you read that right. A CYBORG. Who doesn’t want to read that?!

As you can tell, Cinder was one of my favorite reads from 2017, which surprised me because I don’t usually like YA romance. It tends to be very shallow, both in terms of plot and characters. Moreover, while I do enjoy fairy tale retellings, there are a TON of them out there. Perhaps no fairy tale has been redone as much as “Cinderella.” The glass slipper is wearing thin; ways to make the story fresh and exiting have all but disappeared. That’s why I was so impressed with Cinder.

Meyer didn’t just rearrange the characters and events of “Cinderella” into a new book. She added her own world to the existing story. This is what makes Cinder feel so rich and “big” compared to the original fairy tale, and why it stands out among other retellings. Meyer kept the framework of “Cinderella” and added androids, cyborgs, mind-controlling people from the Moon, a deadly plague, spaceships, marriage alliances, junkyards, a lost princess, a desperate doctor…and on and on.

As a reader, I thoroughly enjoyed the magic and depth of Cinder’s storyworld. As a writer, I remembered the importance of letting my imagination run wild (in an orderly fashion, of course) with existing ideas.

When boiled down to their most basic level, many stories sound the same. The plot of Star Wars: A New Hope shares many similarities with The Lord of the Rings. It’s the setting and characters that make these stories feel separate from each other.

In other words, if you’re trying to come up with a totally new story concept, it’s not going to happen. There will always be elements of it that “have been done before,” or that sound similar to another concept (research the theory of intertextuality if you don’t believe me, or better yet, read my essay about it). So what’s a writer to do? Accept that those ideas have been explored before (a retelling is the extreme case) and find ways to make them your own.

Meyer decided to make Cinderella a futuristic cyborg. J.K. Rowling wrote about wizards who go to school. Brian Jacques created knights who are mice, squirrels, and other woodland creatures. Every great writer finds a way to make an idea their own, and when executed well, the story feels so unique that readers believe no story like it has ever existed before.

There is a lot to enjoy about Cinder and its subsequent books, including great characters, good writing, and surprisingly clean content for a secular book. But my big takeaway was the reminder to start with an idea and let your imagination play with it, like a child crafting with clay, until you’ve created something all your own.

Have you read Cinder? How do you make your story concepts uniquely yours? Leave me a comment below!

Writing Mistakes of My Younger Self: A Worldview That is Too “Young”

Hello and welcome! This article is the last part of a new, five-post series I’m doing on the blog. I recently unearthed a copy of the novel manuscript I wrote when I was 13 and reread parts of it. With the editing abilities I’ve gained in the last decade, I’ll be analyzing the major flaws in my manuscript in hopes of helping myself and other writers avoid the same pitfalls.

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Without further ado, the final Major Flaw, #5: a worldview that is too “young.” A similar problem can occur with a worldview that is too “old,” but my struggle as a writer has always been with the former, so I’ll discuss the issue from that perspective.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had as a writer has been making my characters act their age. It got easier after becoming an adult, because I had personal experience as a child, teen, and adult and could better differentiate between these ages when writing my characters. Still, I have to be intentional about the mannerisms and life problems I give my characters.

In my old manuscript, my main characters have woeful age discrepancies. As ages go, my three main human characters are young adults, but they behave more like twelve-year-olds. This isn’t particularly surprising, since I wrote the novel when I was 13. It’s hard to understand the unique advantages and disadvantages of a given age if you’ve never been there, or at least haven’t observed someone closely who is that age.

I’ve been writing for a long time, and while I don’t like this fact, I’ve come to realize that there are some stories you can’t write until the right time in your life. Sure, you can get the words on paper, but they won’t turn into the story you want to create. My novel was intended to be an epic fantasy on the order of The Lord of the Rings, but I didn’t have the writing experience or the personal maturity to create such a thing at the time.

Does that mean writing this novel was a waste of time? Of course not. It formed the basis for an entire fantasy series I intend to write someday, when it’s the right time. Besides, every word you put on paper gives you more experience as a writer, and in that sense, no writing is wasted. Don’t let worry about “the right time” keep you from writing now, but be willing to do some tough edits or even let go of the story temporarily if that’s what’s best.

With that said, there are a few factors you can consider to get your characters to act their ages. Consider these two questions: what life problems are the characters dealing with, and how do they interact with other people?

A character’s problems say a lot about their age. A twelve-year-old is mostly concerned with completing schoolwork and having fun. A twenty-year-old is dealing with a job or internship and probably college. These are generalizations, but you can see that your character’s problems will communicate a lot to the reader about their age.

Interactions with other characters are important age indicators as well. A child character won’t have as much restraint on his emotions, so the character might go from cheerful to petulant in the space of a paragraph. A teenager might be moody or just distant. The way other people react to the character is important, too, especially with parents. A parent will usually be more authoritative and rigid with a younger character, whereas they’ll tend to treat an adult child as an equal.

Experiment with different factors to make your characters act their age, but also ask yourself if you’re ready to work on a certain project. I’ve found that some story ideas just feel right for where I’m at as a writer, whereas others are better off in my near future, waiting for me to grow into them.

What experience have you had with this writing pitfall? Leave me a comment below!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog series. I loved getting to discuss some of my writing challenges and experiences with you all!

Writing Mistakes of My Younger Self: Awkward Dialogue

Hello and welcome! This article is the fourth part of a new, five-post series I’m doing on the blog. I recently unearthed a copy of the novel manuscript I wrote when I was 13 and reread parts of it. With the editing abilities I’ve gained in the last decade, I’ll be analyzing the major flaws in my manuscript in hopes of helping myself and other writers avoid the same pitfalls.

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Ah, yes, Major Flaw #4: Awkward Dialogue. Sadly, even many published novels and produced movies feature awkward dialogue, a testament to just how difficult dialogue can be to write.

The best and easiest advice for writing good dialogue is: after you write it, read. it. out. loud. You’ve probably heard this a million times. I know I have, and I still forget to do it. A lot of other writers forget too, if the manuscripts I’ve seen are any indication. But seriously, hearing your dialogue spoken will clue you in to anything unnatural about it.

You could pen the most fantastic novel ever written, but if readers hit a scene with awkward dialogue, they’ll be jarred right out of the story. As you’ve figured out by now, my old manuscript is far from being fantastic, and I found myself laughing over most of my dialogue scenes. Because I had way too much dialogue to begin with, and far too little action (see the previous post), there was plenty to laugh about.

I’ll give you an example straight from the pages of my dear old manuscript. There is one part where two characters, one older and more mature than the other, are discussing a calamity that has befallen their country. The older character says to the younger, “‘You appear to be a very capable young man. You seem to have kept your head, even with all this trauma. You have my respect.’”

I can’t help grinning as I type those lines. In defense of my younger self, I was aiming for a medieval fantasy tone and trying to make this character sound wise. But let’s be honest, no one—even a medieval sage—would talk this way. It’s hilariously cheesy, not to mention verbose. Besides, respect is something that is shown through behavior, not by telling someone you respect them. My manuscript would have been better if I just let the older character’s actions and facial expressions indicate his respect for the younger.

This is the most obvious form of awkward dialogue: writing dialogue that doesn’t sound right, no matter who is saying it. But some dialogue sounds awkward just because it’s said by the wrong character. You wouldn’t expect my medieval characters to talk like American Southerners, for example.

Different regions in the world—both the real world and fantasy worlds—have different dialogue patterns. Idioms are different, as well as the terms used to describe certain things (for example, “soda” versus “pop”). You don’t have to make yourself crazy trying to plan out each character’s dialogue, but if you describe a character as hailing from a particular region, readers will expect the character’s dialogue to be written accordingly.

One quick note: if your character is from a region where words are often slurred and contractions are common, do NOT write out every one of those. Just use a sprinkling of them in the dialogue so readers get the idea. There’s such a thing as making dialogue so accurate that it doesn’t read smoothly. Let’s be honest, how many of our real conversations would sound right if they were transferred to paper verbatim? I’ve heard before that writing good dialogue isn’t about writing completely accurate dialogue, but about creating the illusion of real dialogue.

Research comes in handy for making characters sound right. Not only can you find articles about word usage in different parts of the world, but thanks to websites like YouTube, you can access videos featuring people from every corner of the globe. Watch interviews or TV shows with someone from the region you want your character to reflect, and take notes on what you notice about their speech patterns.

Finally, a certain amount of dialogue awkwardness can come from flowery dialogue tags. I’m always being reminded by my writing mentors to avoid complex dialogue tags, such as, “breathed,” “ejaculated,” “bragged,” and so on. Most of the time, a simple “said” works better. I’m not saying to never use the more descriptive tags, because sometimes they do add to the dialogue. However, it’s best to use them sparingly because they can easily get overpowering. When you can, write a line of action instead of a dialogue tag to give the reader a better impression of the movements and facial expressions accompanying the words.

What experience have you had with this writing pitfall? Leave me a comment below!

Writing Mistakes of My Younger Self: Too Many Plans, Too Little Action

Hello and welcome! This article is the third part of a new, five-post series I’m doing on the blog. I recently unearthed a copy of the novel manuscript I wrote when I was 13 and reread parts of it. With the editing abilities I’ve gained in the last decade, I’ll be analyzing the major flaws in my manuscript in hopes of helping myself and other writers avoid the same pitfalls.

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Onward to Major Flaw #3: too many plans, too little action.

As a young writer, I was constantly enthralled by details of the real world: a pretty necklace in a magazine, a cool sword in a movie, a beautiful horse in a roadside pasture. I wanted to combine all of these details into my novel, but the problem is, there just wasn’t enough room in the story for that many subplots. Nor did it make sense. I wrote about a special sword that had been passed down through generations until reaching my “chosen one” main character, which would have been fine, except that she also had a special ring with a similar backstory, and a special winged horse friend…and there’s a special dagger in there too…

Most fantasy stories have symbolic objects: the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings, the Horcruxes in Harry Potter, the Stone Table in The Chronicles of Narnia, the sword of Martin the Warrior in Redwall, and so on. But my manuscript just has too many of these special objects. There are so many that they not only lose their significance in the story, but I didn’t have space in the manuscript to play out all the subplots connected with them.

The number of half-formed plot ideas in my manuscript show my inexperience as a writer at the time. I would get an idea, throw it into the story, and then fail to carry it out later on. Only recently, in the course of completing my movie script project, did I realize how much I’ve improved in this area. And I improved largely because I kept the subplots and symbolism to a minimum, letting the story dictate the ones I did include.

When you include a special subplot in your story, whether it’s connected to an object or not, you have to make sure this subplot will result in action for the story. Readers don’t want to slog through a long explanation about why an object is significant (see the previous post on exposition). They want a subplot that will enhance the momentum of the story: heighten the stakes, add a threat, create a deeper bond with the characters, etc. The subplot may be cool, but if it doesn’t improve the story, it’s got to go.

Moreover, you have to let your story tell you what subplots to create. As I’ve mentioned, there are a lot of cool subplots in literature, but most of them wouldn’t work very well in the context of a different novel. Just imagine how an evil, magic ring would mess up the plot of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In my manuscript, for example, the special ring idea didn’t add much to the story, but the special sword actually made sense for my main character and for the world’s history.

In short, you have to see what works for your novel. It’s okay to try a few things, but don’t be afraid to eliminate subplots that are slowing your story down instead of advancing the action. One or two solid, memorable subplots are far better than a dozen weak ones. Just make sure any subplot you add to the story pays off by the end.

What experience have you had with this writing pitfall? Leave me a comment below!

Writing Mistakes of My Younger Self: Exposition VS. Revelation

Hello and welcome! This article is the second part of a new, five-post series I’m doing on the blog. I recently unearthed a copy of the novel manuscript I wrote when I was 13 and reread parts of it. With the editing abilities I’ve gained in the last decade, I’ll be analyzing the major flaws in my manuscript in hopes of helping myself and other writers avoid the same pitfalls.

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Today we’ll examine Major Flaw #2: exposition vs. revelation. To clarify my meanings of these terms, exposition is directly telling your reader something, usually through narration or dialogue. Revelation is revealing something through the natural course of the story. As you may guess, revelation is what we want to aim for.

When I wrote my novel manuscript, I thought I was being extremely clever with my exposition. Because the story is in a fantasy world, I needed my readers to understand certain facts about the way that world worked—what countries and creatures were involved and the history between them all. So, I had my main character go to a library and read some scrolls that provided this information. I wrote out paragraphs of exposition as if they were content from the scrolls. And when I read over the manuscript recently, I was bored to tears by my “clever” exposition.

Especially in a manuscript with a complex storyworld, it’s always tempting to “info-dump,” i.e., tell the reader a lot of facts through exposition. You’re excited about the world you’ve created, and you want to tell the reader all about it! On top of that, exposition is an easy way to make sure the readers “get” everything about this unfamiliar world. After all, you don’t want your reader to feel lost—but, trust me, readers pick up on things a lot faster than you might expect.

If you’re like me, you also write exposition to finalize some of the story details in your own mind. It’s great to write out your thoughts when planning a storyworld, but it’s a bad idea to do so within your manuscript. Create separate storyworld documents so you can plan all the details of your world without boring your readers by telling them the intimate details of dwarfish birthday celebrations or the many magical properties of unicorn hair.

Besides writing obvious paragraphs of exposition, I noticed another major way I created exposition in my manuscript: rhetorical questions. My friends, please learn from my mistakes and avoid the rhetorical questions trap. They have their place, but my younger self had no idea how to use them effectively. Instead, I wrote rhetorical questions with extremely obvious answers, all for the sake of steering the reader toward a certain reaction to the story. I’ve seen other writers do this as well.

Misusing rhetorical questions not only comes off as boring, but it’s also insulting to the reader. If you, as the writer, are doing your job correctly, the reader will automatically react to your manuscript the way you want them to. When your main character finds a key, for instance, you don’t have to guide the reader by writing rhetorical questions such as, “Could this be the long-lost key to open the treasure chest?” The reader is smart enough to guess that. Don’t spoon-feed it to them.

The solution to clunky and insulting exposition is revelation (I almost wrote that as a rhetorical question, and then I took my own advice. Hehe). You might have notebooks upon notebooks filled with plans for your storyworld, but your reader does not need to know it all. Readers only need—and, usually, want—to know the information relevant to the storyline. And they want to learn it from the storyworld itself.

When you’ve worked hard to plan the details for your storyworld, all you have to do is let that world reveal itself in the work. For example, reveal the layout of a town by having a character walk through it and describing the sights, sounds, and smells that the character experiences. Readers will notice the details that are different from the real world and will make inferences about your storyworld as a result.

Everything you write needs to move the story forward. Use storyworld details in ways that are relevant to the characters and their desires—because character desire is what drives a story. When you write about your storyworld as if it’s real, as if its unusual details are fact, instead of explaining everything like a textbook, that is when readers will fall in love with your novel, because you’ve made the world feel natural through revelation.

What experience have you had with this writing pitfall? Leave me a comment below!

Writing Mistakes of My Younger Self: Too Many Characters

Hello and welcome! This article is the first part of a new, five-post series I’m doing on the blog. I recently unearthed a copy of the novel manuscript I wrote when I was 13 and reread parts of it. With the editing abilities I’ve gained in the last decade, I’ll be analyzing the major flaws in my manuscript in hopes of helping myself and other writers avoid the same pitfalls.

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Let’s dive into Major Flaw #1: too many characters. Allow me to clarify for a moment. There are some books out there that have a large cast of characters, yet handle them very well—the Harry Potter series comes to mind, as do the Redwall books. In those novels, all the characters serve specific purposes. This is not the case in my poor old manuscript. Some of my characters have important roles, but many of them are essentially warm bodies along for the ride.

When I wrote this manuscript, it had only been a year or two since I first read The Lord of the Rings books and watched the movies. Naturally, when I began my fantasy novel, I patterned some concepts (both consciously and unconsciously) after Tolkien’s work, which I considered to be the epitome of a good fantasy tale. My manuscript ended up featuring a long journey and, essentially, a fellowship of allied characters (sound familiar?).

When Tolkien created his Fellowship, he chose specific characters to fill important roles in the storyline. Can you imagine how the journey through Moria would have been deficient if Gimli, or Gandalf, hadn’t been there? What about how it would have been less exciting if Elrond came along? He’s such a powerful character that his presence would have removed a lot of the story tension.

Moreover, Tolkien had the sense to break up the Fellowship after the first book. He knew nine central characters would be too much to manage throughout the series, so he split them into smaller groups and had each group accomplish a task that was vital to the storyline.

When I wrote my own manuscript, I didn’t understand any of this. I just knew I’d created a bunch of characters I liked and I wanted to throw them all into the spotlight. Here’s a summary of what that looked like: the story starts off with three humans (my main character, her brother, and her best friend). When they begin their journey, they’re joined by three talking horses, which makes practical sense for travel, at least. A short time later, three winged horses join the group, which makes the first group of equines a bit superfluous. Then, two talking big cats (a cougar and a black panther) get added in. And then (oh, you thought I was done?) three more humans—with their own non-talking horses, I might add—complete the party.

Do you see how this might have been a bit much?

The big problem, as I’ve mentioned, is that most of these characters don’t serve a specific purpose. The two types of horses, for example, are just different iterations of equine characters who help the humans travel. There’s no need to have both, but I was a horse-crazy kid, so there you have it. Even the big cats don’t add much because they don’t do anything on the journey that couldn’t be done by another character. If I want to get really brutal, I’m not even sure the main character’s best friend is a necessary character because her brother fills a best-friend-type role.

When you plan your story characters, ask yourself what needs the story has. What tasks must be accomplished and what purposes must be served? Which of these needs could be combined and addressed by a single character? Then, once you’ve determined the needs, plan the characters.

Creating characters is tons of fun, which is why writers often create too many. But it’s more fulfilling to write a few well-rounded characters than a ton of flat ones, as my old manuscript illustrates. If you create a fantastic character that just doesn’t fit in your novel, well, that’s when you write a second novel!

What experience have you had with this writing pitfall? Leave me a comment below!

Give Yourself a Break: When the Writer Needs to Stop Writing

Hello, intrepid readers! Today I’ll be sharing the latest nugget of wisdom I’ve collected on the writing road.

During the past couple of months, but especially in the last weeks, I’ve had the chance to do more writing than ever before. Part of this is due to getting a real writing job (see my post about that for more details). While Geekdom House doesn’t require weekly or even monthly articles, I have been taking on a few extra projects with them, which means more quality time between me, my computer, and my articles-in-progress.

The other reason I’ve been writing more is that, due to some personal changes, I have more time to write than ever before, as well as a wide range of projects that demand consistent work. Previously, most of my creative writing was done on a hobby basis. Whenever I miraculously ended up with a spare half-hour or so, I worked on one of my stories. Because free time is often hard to come by, my writing projects had to be content with inconsistent additions and edits.

Suddenly, I not only have a bunch of awesome projects that I’m working on (a couple of short stories and a feature film script, for example), but I actually have the TIME!!! (did I mention time?) to do them! It’s a writer’s dream come true.

However, I have learned something important about myself and about writing for a career. These past few weeks have been my first taste of what it would be like for writing to be my primary occupation, day in and day out. I’ve discovered that, when I have free rein to attack a writing project that I’m passionate about, I get so excited that I can drive myself to mental exhaustion. Eventually I reach a point where my body is aching to move away from my desk and my brain is fed up with staring at a computer screen, but I’m so into the story that I keep pushing myself.

On one hand, this can be a wonderful feeling. That intoxication with a writing project is why I love being a writer in the first place. It’s a rush like nothing else. But the problem is, if I don’t have something to disrupt my writing occasionally, I end up wearing myself out so much that I can’t stand the sight of words. It’s like chocolate: you need moderation or it will make you sick.

Maybe it’s just me, but I suspect that many writers struggle with the same issue. Yes, we love our time with our computers or notebooks, when it’s just us and our story. I have moments where I’m writing and mentally praying, “God, this is SO cool!” I could – and do – spend hours lost in my own storyworld. But I have to step out of it sometimes or I get overwhelmed.

So for all the writers out there who adore their craft, but need some time away from it for the sake of their sanity, here are a few ideas for activities that will refresh you but keep you in the creative mindset you love.

1. Go Outside

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Remember ‘outside’? That place beyond the walls of your writing realm? Yeah, sometimes I forget it’s there, too.

The paradox of being a writer is that we love writing about interesting places, but we forget about actually stepping out of the house and exploring one of our own. Whether you drive to the mountains or go for a walk – or even just drag a chair into a sunny spot in your backyard – your body will thank you for the time away from your writing desk, and so will your brain. If the weather in your area makes going outside a less feasible option, trying wandering around your local library or visiting a new coffee shop.

To make things more interesting, you can always take a camera with you (oh wait, we have those built-in to our phones now…). I find that it helps me explore when I have a camera along to document what I’m seeing (just make sure to ask permission before photographing people). Who knows, you might end up with an idea for your newest story setting.

2. Get Crafty

There are some great websites out there, like Pinterest and Instructables, where you can find a nearly unlimited supply of crafts. Whether you’re trying to make your own lightsaber or build a cabinet, you can find a tutorial for it (don’t forget about video tutorials on YouTube).

Working with my hands is one of the best ways for me to de-stress. I have been known to vent some frustration by doing leatherworking in the garage (it’s very satisfying to pound holes into leather). Cosplay is also a big hobby for me, because I get to be in the creative mindset of a particular fandom. I love the simultaneous challenge to my logic (by figuring out how to create a costume) and my creativity (by making it happen).

3. Make Some Food

That writing brain of yours needs fuel, people! If you’ve been wanting to try your hand at baking or had a new recipe waiting to be tested, there is no time like the present.

When your brain is working hard, you are actually burning fuel so you need to keep yourself fed and hydrated. Aim for quality meals, not just sugar and caffeine because you’re in a hurry to get back to your writing – although there is nothing wrong with taking a break with the occasional bowl of ice cream. 😉

I don’t know about you, but when I’m deep into a writing project, I tend to lose track of time. Before I know it, it’s past mealtime and I’m starving. My personal goal is to get ahold of some good smoothie recipes, because I’m a smoothie lover and those are a fantastic way to get good food on the go.

4. Have a Movie Marathon

There will be times when your eyes are so worn out from staring at a computer screen that this isn’t the best option. However, there is nothing wrong with making a bag of popcorn and plopping down on the couch with your favorite films!

I tend to feel guilty about taking a few hours to just watch some TV. But the truth is, while I don’t believe watching tons of television day after day is healthy, sometimes we need to veg out. Give yourself the chance to recharge by doing something completely fun and frivolous. And guess what, movies are stories too! You’ll be surprised how much inspiration they can give you.

5. Hang Out With Friends

What?! We’re introverted writers – we only socialize with the people in our heads, right?

Actually, I am a very introverted person, but I also feel the most refreshed after some quality time with my best friends. I don’t usually do big gatherings, but I’ll take a day with a couple of my besties over just about anything else. God has put certain people into your life for a reason, and our relationships are where the best stories happen.

In fact, all four of the other suggestions I’ve made in this post would be fantastic with friends as well as solo. If distance or lack of transportation makes it impossible to meet your friend in person, give them a good-old-fashioned phone call or use something like Skype. Plan a special outing or schedule a regular time to meet up so you keep in touch.

I’ve been blessed that many of my friends are also writers, and let me tell you, there is nothing like having a community of Godly, loving friends who can listen to all your triumphs and trials in the writing world!

 

I hope you all enjoyed this post! Thanks for reading as always. Leave a comment below about some fun activities that have worked for you!

Geekdom House – My First Paid Writing Job!

Hello dear readers! I know, I know, I sort of vanished from this blog for the last couple of months. I’ve had a lot going on in my life, both good and bad, but today I wanted to tell you a little about one of the really (reallyreallyreally) good things–my first paying job as a writer!!!

A few months ago, through the blogs of other writers as well as the recommendations of friends, I discovered a website called Geekdom House that produces an online magazine called Area of Effect. I heard that they might be looking for an additional writer for the magazine–or would at least be willing to keep my information on file for future positions–so I went ahead and emailed them an application per the specifications on their website.

Much to my delight, the editor replied and gave me the chance to write a guest article for Area of Effect. I eagerly agreed, sent her some article pitches, then worked my tail off crafting an article from the pitch she liked best. It was hard work, but I was pretty pleased with the final draft when I emailed it back.

It took around a month to hear back about my article. I was excited enough at the prospect of getting one article published, but when the editor responded, she not only said she loved the guest article, but offered me a regular Staff Writer position! I was (and am) overjoyed, and I jumped at the opportunity. My first article, originally meant to be just a guest post, went live on May 17, 2017.

As a Staff Writer, I contribute at least one article every other month, but when I have time, I often write more. In July, I ended up contributing three articles.

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When the Geekdom House home page shows THREE of your articles at once!!!

I loved the idea of writing for Geekdom House from the first time I found their website. The writers are Christians, and our articles are about deeper themes found in popular culture, or “fandoms.” Area of Effect is Christian-based but is not a Christian magazine per se. Instead, its goal is to connect the secular and Christian worlds by talking about pop culture through the lens of personal experience–which can include Christianity.

For example, one of my recent articles talked about the new Spider-Man film, Peter Parker’s struggle with self-worth, my own similar struggles with the issue, and how I’ve come to find my self-worth in Christ.

Area of Effect also has some “Fun Friday” pieces, which are shorter articles just meant to be nerdy and silly. I did one recently called “Why Severus Snape Would Make a Great Therapist,” and I was cracking myself up while I wrote it (hopefully the readers found it as funny!).

And there you have it–the story of how I got my first paying writing job. While my end-goal as a writer is still to write novels and screenplays, not to be a freelance writer, I couldn’t be more thrilled with where I’m at. I’m a big nerd (if you couldn’t tell from my cosplay page) so the chance to talk about my faith in the context of my fandoms, in the company of other Christians, is an absolute dream come true.

Like any job, though, writing has its ups and downs. It’s pretty awesome when I get to read a good book or curl up in front of a nerdy movie “for work” (hey, I gotta be familiar with the subject matter!) but, don’t get me wrong, the job definitely has its challenges. Experienced writers will tell you that writing is the best and worst thing you’ll ever do.

When I wrote my Spider-Man piece, I was so excited that I churned out a decent draft in twenty-four hours. Then, after I got my editor’s feedback and went to edit it, I spent four straight hours agonizing over how I wanted to change it–cutting passages here, adding sections there, and generally wondering what I’d gotten myself into. But, the article turned out much better for all that hard work, and nothing could beat the feeling of seeing it go live on the Geekdom House website.

So, what clever writing advice do I have to share from all this? I guess it would have to be, look for opportunities. Search around, read some blogs from other writers “in the same boat” as you, or with similar interests. See where they’re writing and find out if the same place could work for you. If you’re able to talk to them personally, ask for some guidance about places to apply. Take a class in marketing your writing, if you’re able to.

Freelance writing is not an easy career to pursue. From my personal experience and the experience of family and friends, I can tell you that it is not always a reliable source of income nor will it make you rich. But, if you can find some good writing opportunities to do on the side, you might just end up with a job you love and the public writing exposure you need–and then, you just never know how far you’ll go.