On Bravery

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(Photo by Majkl Velner on Unsplash)

I recently reread the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. And it was interesting to me that the story that stuck out the most to me wasn’t Louie’s, though I still very much appreciate his. The story that struck me actually barely had anything to do with him, and there wasn’t really a whole lot on it.

The story that I remember the most was only a few lines, about a Japanese guard in one of the POW camps Louie spent some time in. To give the full impact, here’s the full quote from that:

Some Japanese, […] tried to help POWs behind (the commander’s) back. No one did more than Private Yukichi Kano, the camp interpreter. When sick men were taken off work duty, losing half their rations, Kano found them easy jobs to keep them officially “at work” so they could eat enough to get well. When he saw prisoners violating the rules by eating vegetables in the garden area, or pocketing mussels at low tide outside the camp, he talked the guards into looking the other way. In winter, he hung blankets along the infirmary walls and scrounged up charcoal to heat the rooms. He snuck sick men away from the sadistic Japanese doctor and into the hands of a POW who was a physician. “There was a far braver man than I,” wrote POW Pappy Boyington, winner of the Medal of Honor.

This man wasn’t doing anything we might consider a “big deal.” He wasn’t an Oskar Schindler, or any other fantastic wartime savior. I honestly wonder if he even thought that what he was doing was super meaningful to the prisoners he interacted with. But what he did do meant the world to the men he was able to help in some way.

And they recognized how brave it was.

What really hit me was how the mentioned POW wrote about this man who was technically one of his captors, and what that really meant. Private Kano likely could have been severely punished for his actions had he been caught, and he of all people probably knew this better than anyone.

But he did it anyway.

I started wondering about myself. Am I brave enough to do a little thing, a thing that “doesn’t even matter” knowing that it could get me in trouble, but knowing that it is the right thing to do regardless? Even when I’m not in a position to do something that seems “big” do I have the courage to do the little things that could still get me in trouble?

Do I have the courage to do the right thing, even if the culture around me is telling me it’s a bad thing?

Do I have the courage to risk comfort and happiness, risk punishment and ridicule, in order to reach out to a fellow man and do everything in my power to help them?

I know I still need a lot of work as far as that goes. I’d like to think I would do something like that, but I also know I’m already failing in places right in front of me. I’m a human. I’m a work in progress.

But maybe in recognizing this, I can start striving to become better about it. I have a long way to go, but it’s an effort I want to make.

And maybe you’ll join me.

2019 Goals Update + 2020 Goals and Plans

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Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

Last year I set out several goals for myself as far as writing was concerned, and promised a follow up at the end of the year. I surprised myself with everything I managed to get done, and I’m proud of how far I came. Original post can be found here.

So here’s how I did:

1. Spam out a messy first draft of Two. I didn’t get as far as I wanted with this. I did however, make it to 50,000 words in the draft, and 18 chapters (I had originally planned for 19), so I came close to what I wanted. Unfortunately, this story is evolving itself and it’s looking like it’ll drag out longer than I had planned. But I’m happy with how far I made it.

2. Get at least half a first draft of DoER. Even though this was second on the list, it was actually my second to last priority for the year. I didn’t start actually working on it until June. My goal for the first draft was 75,000 words.
In the end, I finished a very rough first draft. A complete rough draft. And it ended up being nearly 140,000 words long. I still have no idea how I manged to do that, but I’m very proud of myself.

3.  Ronan’s story rewrite. I think I made it about halfway through this. I thought I’d make it farther, but I also thought it was going to be easier than it’s proving to be. So far I have been completely reworking the entire story, both plot events and completely revamping some character arcs and their roles. I’m getting to a point where the redone story will start matching up with the first draft, so it may start going faster from here. But I can’t complain about my progress. In reworking the story I’ve now exceeded the original wordcount of the first draft, and have two more chapters than the original draft had, and I’m still only about halfway through the story. I’m glad I decided to finally start this.
It also has a title now! Azaria Durant helped me figure it out, so now this story is officially known as Heir of Blood.

4. D&S. I thought I’d only be writing drabbles for this story, but I’ve actually written 16 chapters for it, and have almost 50,000 words for it so far. I have no idea how much longer it’s going to be, this is the most discovery writing oriented project I’ve ever worked on, and I have no idea what the plot is doing, but I’m having fun with it at least.
(This project also may have a better working title, but I’m keeping it under wraps for now, while I try to decide if I actually want to go with it or not.)

5. Write at least one short story. I actually wrote a couple. But the one I specifically wanted to write, for the contest, did get written and submitted. I didn’t place at all, and I actually submitted it to a second contest with the same results, but I’m still proud of my story, and I think I did well with it.

All in all I ended the year with just at 326,000 words. My original goal for the year was 100,000, so I more than tripled that, and I’ve really proven to myself this year just how much I can write at a time.

 

2020 Goals

1. Finish writing Two. Honestly I’m ready to be done with this story. Two has been a problem child since she became a character, and I have no idea what’s going on with this story anymore. Part of that is on me, I should have gotten a better idea of the story’s plot before I started writing, but at the same time I have a feeling that wouldn’t have helped. Once I finish this I can start figuring out a plot for Three. I plan to finish first drafts for all four books in the series first before going back and working on reworking them. But first, I just need to finish Two.

2. Complete Heir of Blood rewrite. I want to say the second half of this rewrite will be easier, it’s going to follow the basic plot of the first draft better than the first half did, but I won’t make any promises to myself about that. The good news is I am really enjoying this project. I love the characters, and for as much trouble as they cause me, it tends to turn out okay in the end. And I’m really excited about new developments and themes in both this book and the sequel after it, so it’s keeping me motivated.

3. Spam out D&S first draft. I don’t even care how bad this draft is, I’ll just be happy to get it done. I’m honestly not sure if it’s going to go anywhere after that, and if I do poke at it again in several years, it’s going to look much different than it does now. I do like the sort of theme, and the juxtaposition of characters that started this book, but it’s gone completely haywire. But, if I can figure out an ending, and about how to get there, I’ll be doing good. I’ve found my endings change the least from drafts.

4. Start draft 1.5 of Heirs of Fire and Lies. In November 2016 I did write 50,000 words for this story. But it was all in disjointed scenes without transitions, and it will have been almost four years since I wrote them by the time I probably get to this that those scenes will need a complete rewrite as well. So I’m considering what I have down already as a massive outline (even though I still need to figure out the exact timeline for most of it) and it’ll give me a good basis to jump off of and write what will resemble more of a first draft than a second. I’m excited about it though, and ready to work this series through to its completion. It may take another two years to get there, but I’m hoping it’ll be worth it.

 

Bonus goal: Review every book I read this year, to some capacity.
I recently started a second blog project (archanereads.blogspot.com) and my goal is to do mini reviews (or long ones) of every book I read this year. I’m hoping to read a lot, so it could prove to be a lot of reviews. I already have one review up and it was a lot of fun to put together, so here’s hoping the rest of the year is just as enjoyable.

 

What about you? What are some of your goals, writing related or other, for this new year?

Best and Worst Reads of 2019

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Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash

My goal was to read 26 books this year. It seemed like a good number, seeing as I had recently been struggling with reading anything at all, and I’m in college full time, on top of hoping to find a job soon.

But apparently I fell into a rhythm this year, and I read 71 books. (So far. I may finish one more before the year’s over.)

I also can have pretty strong opinions on what I read, and I enjoy rambling about what I’m reading. So I decided to make a list of my favorite and least favorite books I read this year. This is all my personal opinion, I don’t really have any authority in saying what’s “good” and “bad.” It’s just what I enjoyed reading, or didn’t.

So here we go. Possible spoiler warning. (Books are listed in the order I read them.)

Best:

  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I reread this book probably every two years. This was my third time through. I really like this book. The theme is one that resonates with me deeply, and Dostoevsky was a fantastic author. Plus Russian literature and culture fascinates me (I was actually taking a Russian class at the time of this reread), and the immersion into that makes me happy.

  • On Writing by Stephen King

I’ll be honest, the two Stephen King novels I read, I didn’t really enjoy. (The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three.) So I wasn’t expecting much, even though it had been recommended by several other authors I do like. But this book was well worth it. It was very conversational and easy to read, and rather than being written as if he had all the answers for how to write and become popular, King’s main conclusion was “I have no idea how I did this, here are some suggestions I’d have, but that’s not for everyone.” Which I really appreciated, and King’s down to earth voice was both comforting and encouraging.

  • Charlotte’s Web by EB White

I just really love how Charlotte was characterized. Spiders have always had a soft spot in my heart, and Charlotte was so lovely and gracious and beautiful. I already knew roughly how the story went, but it was worth every minute of the book to spend it with Charlotte. Part of me wishes the book had been longer, just to spend more time with her. Maybe I’ll find some more EB White to read soon.

  • Prodigal Son (Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein #1) by Dean Koontz

Taking book suggestions from someone whose judgement I didn’t trust in the slightest was admittedly a very risky move on my part. But the premise that had been described to me was enough to draw me in. And I’m glad I went for it. Koontz took the original Frankenstein story and treating it as if it had actually happened, brought the characters into modern day New Orleans. The entirety of the book is very dark and eerie, but it doesn’t rely on gratuitous violence to make itself scary. It’s the first book I’ve ever read that’s left me somewhat shaken up (and I’ve searched for a book that could do that), but because both the tone and the choices made throughout made it feel actually real, rather than trying to go for shock value in anything.

  • Among the Hidden by Margret Peterson Haddix

I’ve wanted to read this book for many years now, but I finally got around to it. I’m glad I did. It’s written for a younger audience than what I usually read, but I hardly even noticed. The pacing was exactly what it needed to be, the stakes were real, and the the characters felt real and relatable. Haddix never fails to impress me.

  • Winter by Marissa Meyer

It took me quite a while to get through this one, but I finally made it. And I enjoyed every minute of it. I like the entire Lunar Chronicles series, but Winter may be my favorite of the four books. Honestly, that’s entirely because of Winter herself. The way her madness was written throughout was just beautiful, and it’s one of the best fiction representations of mental health that I’ve seen in a while. There’s still a character that I can’t stand (first impressions can be a bear), and there were some things that didn’t feel like they went anywhere (one particularly right near the end), but all in all it was a very satisfying conclusion to a huge series, and Winter as a character written better than I could ever have hoped for.

 

Worst:

  • The Last Star by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave was enjoyable the first time I read it. The Infinite Sea was still good, but just a little more annoying. This final book… I don’t know if I really have much to say about it. Part of the issue could have been the number of years that went between my reading the first two books and this one, but other middle of the road reads from this year lead me to believe that’s not the case. This one just felt completely melodramatic, boring, and pointless. I don’t actually remember much of what happened in it anymore, I just remember the ending, and how ridiculous it felt.

  • A Time to Speak by Nadine Brandes

Without going into another long and pointless rant about some choices made between the first book and this book that completely killed my interest in the story, I’ll just stop by saying it’s not really for me. The romance “subplot” seemed to take over the entire story, and circumstances made me feel like the main character wasn’t a person worth being with for her love interest, so I was honestly rooting the whole time for him to leave her, or to die since the former wasn’t going to happen. It seemed like the best option for him, rather than having to be tethered with the main character as a romantic partner for long. Which I know was an extreme reaction, but that’s how much I disliked the main character’s behavior in regard to her love interest(s). What little I remember of the rest of the story was good, but it was so choked out by the romance that even that wasn’t completely enjoyable.

  • No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty

This book was basically the antithesis to On Writing that I mentioned before. Where King mostly said “figure out what works best for you,” Baty’s tone seemed to be “this is what works for me, so this is how it must be done.” Granted King’s book was a general writing journey while Baty focused on writing a novel in a month, but his language still irked me. There is not one way to write, and while I understand the basic idea is getting words on paper so you can have a first draft to work with, no matter how bad they are, I don’t agree that writing mindless drivel is the solution either.

  • Ready Player One by Earnest Cline

I don’t have a die hard love for 80s culture, so the almost worship of the 80s as the main feature of the book didn’t do much for me. Beyond that, the plot was typical and predictable, the characters, especially the main character, were boring and very emotionless, which I’m still bitter about.

  • The Story of With by Allen Arnold

For one, I didn’t like the set up of the book. Having the “story” parts immediately followed by the analysis made me fell like the author didn’t trust his audience to be smart enough to understand what he was trying to say by the allegory, and had to explain it right away to them. It felt condescending and pretentious, and I’m not a fan of feeling talked down to. Beyond that it felt very spiritually uncomfortable to me, so the whole thing wasn’t a very enjoyable read.

  • Hacking Harvard by Robin Wasserman

It was an interesting idea at least. A fiction novel about getting a less than up to par student into an ivy league school, written years before the admissions scandal came to light. In practice, it wasn’t worth reading. The plan was boring, the characters were all flat and terrible, and there was a lot of stuff in it that didn’t need to be there. It was boring, underwhelming, and I’m never getting the four hours it took me to read this book back.

 

What about you? What are your favorite books you read this year? Least favorite? I’d love to hear about them!

On NaNoWriMo

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(photo courtesy of nanowrimo.org)

For anyone who doesn’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a writing challenge that encourages participants to write a 50,000 word novel, solely in the month of November. While that was the original intent of the challenge, a lot of people have adjusted the challenge to fit their needs, the main constant being to just write 50,000 words in one month, whether it’s on an old project, a new one that will continue past November, or multiple projects.

I’ve done it every year since 2016, with different types of projects each year. This year I kept working on my four main projects of the year. For the most part, anyway. Eventually I dropped three of them to focus on just one, but that’s a different story.

I finished the month out with just over 76,000 words total, and got pretty close to finishing up a story I’ve been working on for a very long time. I’m happy with my progress.

If you’re a writer who’s completed NaNo this year, congratulations. You did something really great. If  you’re a writer who chose not to participate in NaNo, or go for the full 50k, I admire you for doing the right thing for yourself. If you didn’t know what NaNo was before today, I’d advise you to be very careful about considering it next year. While it is fun and the competition can be great for some people, taking care of your health and well being are always first priority.

I don’t have much else to say, so I’ll end this ramble here. Hopefully I’ll have a more interesting post up in a few weeks.

On MBTI (and other personality typing systems)

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Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash

I’m not a huge fan of MBTI, or any of the other personality typing systems out there. And I don’t really try to hide that fact. I do think some of them have some merit, and can be very helpful in identifying commonalities with other people, as well as shortcomings a person may have. Personality typing systems can help in finding others who think similarly to you, and getting support for working through aspects of a person’s personality.

But, I’ve also seen a huge obsession in certain circles with the MBTI system, to the point that it almost seems that’s the only way people can figure out to start a conversation, or to relate to other people. And I don’t think that’s healthy.

I’m not writing this with the intention of saying that anyone who uses MBTI (or any other system) should stop, or that it’s inherently a bad thing. I just want to throw out a couple thoughts and concerns I have about a reliance on the system, in order to maybe start a conversation. I think it’s enough just make people more aware of how they use personality typing systems, so they don’t unwittingly use them wrong.

Exclusivity. This is first because it’s the least of my concerns, but it’s still worth mentioning. I understand it can be great to find people who think mostly like you, and to gravitate toward them and want to be around them. But don’t get carried away with that, and let other people who don’t have a similar personality type to you slip past, just because they’re different. Maybe they won’t end up being your closest friends, and that’s okay. But don’t think just because they have “that” personality type you won’t be able to find any common ground with them, or to relate to them in any way.

Writing people off. This is related to the above point, but it digs a little deeper. Don’t automatically pass someone by for being “that” type just because that’s what they’ve found themselves to be, or that’s what they’ve been told. Just because you know someone you don’t like who’s from “that” personality group, does not mean they’re all like that, or that one person’s flaws are indicative of a whole group. Because they’re not, and I’m concerned that sometimes people think “I can’t be their friend because they’re a such-and-such.” This is very hurtful to everyone involved. Certain types may have a propensity to specific issues, but that still doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, or that a person should be written off immediately for being one thing or another personality wise.

Blame shifting. I cringe every time I see the phrase “because I’m a such and such, I…” usually followed by a character issue or personality flaw. Sometimes it’s a good trait, but I’ll get to that in my next point. Personality typing systems have the potential to give someone an out, a way to excuse things they may need to work on in their life and character, by giving them a way to say “it’s just the way I am, I can’t help it.” I don’t believe personality flaws are so ingrained in us as humans that we cannot by the grace of God work through them, and I know from personal experience having something to give as a cause of our flaw makes it easier not to have to deal with them and excuse it away as it’s just “who I am.” This can not only hurt the person with the flaw, by making them unlikely or unwilling to recognize a flaw for what it is and to work to grow past it, but it can also hurt those around them, who may be being harmed by their given flaw.

Arrogance. The flip side of the previous point can be an arrogance in one’s personality over others. A way of thinking “I achieved this because I’m this type” and it can be just as hurtful as blame shifting. No type is inherently superior to any other, just like no person is superior to another. Each and every one have both good points and flaws. No one is better than anyone else, and especially not because they’re just a different personality type. But by placing every aspect of a person’s character on their personality type, it opens the floodgates for this kind of very detrimental thinking.

All this isn’t to say I think personality typing systems are entirely and inherently flawed. They do have good points to them, and the desire to better understand how people think and operate is both healthy and normal. My concern is with the obsession with personality typing, and the complete reliance on these imperfect systems that people use to define themselves, and others. I don’t believe that mindset is useful or healthy, and I want people to be careful that they don’t fall into these traps themselves.

On True Crime and Crime Fiction

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Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

A few days ago, a friend and I were talking over a messenger about crime, true crime media, and crime in fiction. We tended to focus on violent crime and I sort of accidentally sent an extremely long and rambly reply on some of my thoughts on the topic. But I ended up saving my reply to a document, so now it’s my blog post for this month.

The prompting question was something like “Is true crime worse than crime shows? And why are either considered okay? Is crime in fiction bad?” None of this is meant as an answer, just my personal views, and maybe a spark for a conversation.

 

I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with being aware of human nature, and what humans are capable of. Obviously some people can handle less of it than others, and that’s totally okay. But the world as it stands now does need people who can handle that kind of thing, and take care of it when it comes up. For people who don’t intend to get into that kind of work, the line gets a little more iffy. But as long as it’s not an obsession or anything, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having some kind of interest in crime. And honestly obsessions of any kind are unhealthy, it’s not just the nature of the material that makes it so.

That being said, there is a danger of becoming desensitized to it, which I don’t think is necessarily a good thing. Especially not for couch watchers. For people who do it for a living, it sucks that it happens, but it’s understandable. And it’s honestly probably healthier to some extent than absorbing all that violence and grief. Which, again, sucks, but we live in a fallen world, and violent crime is unfortunately a part of it.

In fiction it gets a little more tricky. On the one hand, shows like that can be just like true crime in garnering interest for the work of dealing with crime, although we all know TV lies about police and legal proceedings all the time. But it still can be helpful for getting people into those fields.

There’s also a level that both fiction and non fiction can be helpful in facing up to the problems we have as a society and race. (By race I mean just the human race in general, although ethnically specific things can come up and can be dealt with in crime programming as well.) We’re confronted with things like our own mortality, the beauty that is life, the uncertainty that we’ll even have another day. It’s healthy to face up to those things and admit to ourselves that we aren’t invincible or infallible. And fiction can be a useful tool and outlet for that, as it’s easier to stomach than non fiction, but it still raises and addresses those issues.

And honestly, as terrible as it sounds, it can also be a good outlet for people to experience their own violent tendencies, without becoming real life murderers themselves. Not just the writers, but also even those experiencing it on the other side. It’s one of the reasons I think horror might be so popular. (Not that I watch horror at all.) But it gives people a way to experience and watch gross and stomach turning violence, without anyone actually getting hurt. I’m also realizing now how dire a view of human nature I actually have.

One of the biggest problems with either fiction or non fiction comes in desensitization, which I mentioned earlier. For people in crime addressing fields, it’s unfortunately normal, and kind of natural. Most humans can only handle a certain level of violence, for a certain level of time, so someone exposed to it day in and day out is going to become more callous about it. And again, for people in those jobs, I think they do need it to keep themselves sane. For everyone else, not so much. We’re surrounded by violence in our culture, and as a result, can easily become more flippant and disregarding for human life. That’s not to say if something were to happen directly to someone, or to someone close to them, a person would be callous about it. But it makes it harder to care about crimes that happen cities or countries away, that have no real bearing on a person’s daily life. It feels to much like the fiction we’re exposed to at every turn.

There’s also a thoughtlessness with crime, victims, and life that tends to be more evident in fiction, not so much in true crime. Shows and other media can have a bad tendency to make light of what would, in real life, be a completely devastating situation or event. Which isn’t to say gallows humor is never appropriate. Personally, I really like it. But I think we probably have too much of it in our crime fiction, which makes it easier to ignore the issues being raised and what makes us uncomfortable. We can ignore questions of our own mortality, and even our own morality, because it’s easier to laugh at a guy making a fool of himself, or a quirky, middle aged mortician, or a hard nosed cop holding a basset hound puppy, and forget what brought them all there in the first place.

It also shows a lack of sanctity for human life, which we see play out in the news literally every day, in one form or the other. And as a people, we’re growing more and more accustomed to seeing it every day, which in turn is helping make the problem even worse, and causing it to play out more and more on grander scales.

I’m not saying that experiencing violent media is going to turn people violent, or that video games create school shooters. I do think there is a danger there, and it can be a gateway for at risk individuals, especially when they become desensitized. But I don’t think for the most part watching violent media with regulation is going to make people evil.

I guess for me this all boils down to, I think we need to be careful with our media, and what we expose ourselves to. Everyone is going to have a different threshold for what they can and can’t handle before they start having issues, but as mature people we should evaluate ourselves every so often, and decide how and to what extent we’re being effected by the media we take in. If we find that changes need to be made, hopefully we can be the big enough person to make those changes. And hopefully never become callous enough that we can treat the plight of real people without any concern.

What do you think? Are there any points I missed that you think are important? Do you disagree about anything? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Author Interview! – Azaria MJ Durant

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(Photos courtesy of Azaria M.J. Durant.)

Murder and treachery abound in the glorious city of Twylaun.

     Two years have passed since the death of King Leonel.  Whispers of dissension are stirring as the dark lord Zeldek gathers his forces in the north to wage war on Theara. Only the young king Hamish of Valamette stands in his way of controlling all four kingdoms.

     When Bellator is captured and tragedy strikes Valamette, Ealdred must come out of exile to their aid. But he’s hardly prepared for the dangers lurking in the world he enters. And when a prediction by a witch sets his only friends against him, Ealdred finds himself completely alone in a game of power as the King of Zandelba’s puppet. 

     Yet even within the walls of Twylaun, deceit roams freely, and Ealdred is forced to play a role he is hard put to win. Can he fool the King of Zandelba for long enough to ascend the throne and stop a war between the kingdoms? Or is there a deeper threat laying in wait that neither side expects?

Recently I got the opportunity to interview Azaria Durant about her upcoming book, Shattered Sword. She had some great insights into her writing process, and I’m really excited to share her wisdom.

 

Q: What got you started writing in the first place, and how old were you when you did start?

A: I had always loved the idea of being an author, but I kinda looked at it as this unachievable thing that you had to be really old and have a lot of experience to do. When I was seven or eight, I started writing these little booklets that I illustrated myself with lots of colours, but I never even thought to consider myself a writer. It was when I was nine years old that I went downstairs to say goodnight to my parents and heard them talking to my older brother about something called NaNoWriMo. My older brother was taking the challenge, and being my competitive self, I loudly proclaimed I’d be doing it too. I completed one historical fiction novella that November, and then started on another historical fiction trilogy. I participated in NaNoWriMo two years later, and it was around that time that I decided I wanted to be a serious writer.

Q: What inspired you to start writing the Darkened Destiny Saga?

A: I was fourteen, I had finished the second draft of the third book in the historical fiction trilogy, and was regretting not writing something purely fiction because of all the research involved with making sure everything was accurate for the time period I was working on. And then I read “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. I was enthralled. I loved the story, the characters, and everything about it. At around that same time, my mom discovered a writing curriculum for teens called “One Year Adventure Novel”. I insisted that she get this, and was going to try to pattern my current project off of it. But when I started the curriculum, I decided that for something this big, I’d want to start from scratch. So I took the beginnings of a plot bunny that had been gathering in my mind since reading THG, and started to build it up following the OYAN course. It was only supposed to be one book at first, two at the most, but the story kept changing and growing.

Q: When did you realize the series would be as long as you’re planning for it now? How did you feel about that?

A: For the first two or three years of writing the story, there was only supposed to be two books – the then titled “Usurped” (which is now Broken Arrow) and Shattered Sword, with a sequel set years later called “Forsaken”. At around the three year mark, I realized that the way that I ended Shattered Sword probably wouldn’t make readers or myself happy, so I had the beginnings of a third book in my mind, which I named “Cracked Crowns” as a placeholder name, without any idea of why it would be called that.

It was supposed to be a trilogy, but that quickly changed as I realized that things couldn’t be resolved as quickly as I had planned. In the next three years that followed, the story just kept growing, first to four books, and then took the grand leap to six when I invented the five artifacts from which the books are now named after (plus one).

The idea of writing a six book series is still pretty daunting to me, especially as I begin to release the first books. The last thing I want is to disappoint my readers, or to write a few good first books, and then have everything go downhill from there. But honestly, most of the time it really excites me that I’ll be able to work with this cast of characters for another few years at least.

Q: Where do you look for inspiration when you need it?

A: It depends on how in need of inspiration I am. If it’s just a mild boost, I listen to movie soundtracks or inspirational instrumental music, but if I’m really down on my writing, I go to my friends for inspiration and reassurance. They’re really good at picking me up when I’m low, listening while I talk things out, and encouraging me to keep at it.

Q: Do you have any writing quirks?

A: Apparently, as my proofreader *cough* sister *cough* has been finding, I have this habit of writing my sentences in an odd order. For example: “Sheathing his sword, he walked away.” instead of “He walked away, sheathing his sword.” But like, for every sentence in a given paragraph. I’ve also been developing this irritating habit of having all the right letters in a word, but having tehm in totally the wrong order.

Q: Have you ever cried while writing anything?

A: Yes. Yes I have. There’s a scene in the black moment of Shattered Sword where I have cried almost every time I’ve gone through it while writing, rewriting, and editing. There’s also a lot of backstory that has made me cry just thinking about writing. Happy tears and sad tears.

Q: Do your novels carry a message?

A: Yes. At least, I planned for them to, though I don’t know if it actually comes across. Each book has its own basic theme, and then each character also carries a message as their arc progresses. I think the message of the series as a whole is that people are all equal, and your destiny is what you make it.

Q: How much of yourself do you put in your books?

A: I always like to put a piece of myself into each of the important characters, whether that’s a struggle I’m having, something about myself I don’t like, or that I do, and then watch it play out and affect the choices that the characters make.

Q: How did you come up with the names for your characters?

A: It was a while ago… let’s see. When I first started, I went onto all the medieval baby names websites I could find, and wrote down all the ones that jumped out at me, whether for the definition or the feel of the name compared to the ideas I had for the world. I had a notebook just full of a list of names. For the main characters, I remember being very specific to look for meanings of the type of character I was looking for. For example, Hamish is apparently an alternative of the name Jacob, which means, “He who supplants.” And because at that point, Hamish was the main villain of the story, I thought it was perfect. Other characters– Uri is a good example of this—were named names I’d always really loved, and so forged a character to fit my interpretation of the name.

Since then, I’ve been resorting to Google Translate to help me come up with more unique names. For example, Zeldek was name from a mixture of few words in the Basque language.

Q: Did you ever think you might not be able to finish BA, or even SS?

A: Definitely. It wasn’t a draft in particular that I got stuck on. It was more the big picture in general. I spent four-five years just combing over Broken Arrow ten, twenty, probably even thirty times. Rewriting. Adding more. Rewriting again. Changing plot points. Polishing, polishing, and polishing some more. And every time I went through it, there was always something I’d missed, or hated and needed to change. So there was a point at around the five year mark that I really started getting discouraged. I’d sent it to the first editor, and the editor said it was fantastic, but I still hated it and didn’t want anyone to read it. I’d started querying for it about a year or two before, and wasn’t having any luck, and I was getting extremely discouraged that I would ever look at it and say, “Yeah, it’s done. I want people to read this now.”

The only thing that really fixed that was doing the one thing I didn’t want: I had to let people read it. So, quite reluctantly, I put it out there, and a handful of people read it. The feedback they gave was a lot more positive than I was expecting, so that really led to being able to finish it and self-publish it following the next year and a half.

With Shattered Sword, there was a lot of stuff going on in my life, so there were constantly points where I just wanted to give up, even in my most recent edits. My close friends and my awesome sister have been very encouraging and have been a lot of my motivation for bringing it as far as I have.

Q: Did you hide any secrets in this book that only a few people will find?

A: I have a couple of hidden nuggets in honour of a writer friend and her characters who helped with some crucial character and story development. There are also a few nods to things that only my sister who helped me plot things out would understand; private jokes and puns, mostly.

Q: How much of this book came as a surprise to you as you were writing it?

A: About 47% of it, give or take. I’m the type of writer that leaves a lot of the plot and scenes to be figured out as I write them, and if it goes somewhere different than planned, I’m adaptable.

Q: Do you have any suggestions or tips for writing a series?

A: Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. If your story should rightfully end, don’t try to expand it. It never ends well.

Q: What’s your biggest suggestion for becoming a better writer in general?

A: I have different suggestions depending on the day, but right now this is my best advice: Take as much time as you need on a story. Don’t get discouraged if it takes longer than someone else’s, and don’t let anyone else tell you when your story is done. It’s done when you, the author, feel that it’s done.

Q: Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Why didn’t you?

A: I did consider it, yes. But I decided against it because I couldn’t think of a name more unique and memorable than the one I already had.

Q: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

A: Pretty much all of my friends are writers, but my three closest friends are all authors, and are pretty darn good at the craft, if I can brag on them for a moment. Their writing and prose always inspires me to do better with mine. It’s great, because I’m a plot/world driven writer in a group of three character driven writers, so they have really helped me to look deeper into my characters and to develop them way beyond what I thought was possible. I definitely wouldn’t be the writer I am today without them.

Q: If you could tell your younger self something about writing, what would it be?

A: Keep at it, and keep shooting as far as you can, but give yourself a break every once in a while. It’s ok to rest. It’s ok to let that book sit for a little while without having to go back to the beginning immediately. You will end up burning yourself out, and then you’ll have to learn to give yourself a break anyways.

 

Shattered Sword releases on May 26th in e-book and paperback, and is a sequel to Broken Arrow, but can also be read as a fantastic standalone. Link to the preorder can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07PVCTPQ8/ref=series_rw_dp_sw

On the Dangers of Character Torture

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Photo by Eugene Triguba on Unsplash

A few weeks ago I posted some thoughts on torturing characters in stories, which can be found here. (The second part, specifically on killing characters, can be found here.) I was going to include these thoughts in with that first post, but I thought they might be long enough to warrant their own post, and here we are.

Torturing characters can be fun. I for one have a bad tendency of grinning like an evil genius (or the Grinch) when I think of something especially horrible to do to one of my characters. I have spent literal hours talking with writing friends, laughing about what I and they plan on doing to our respective characters. We have a generally good time plotting plans and evil schemes for our characters to fall into. So I certainly don’t think torturing characters is inherently bad, or something that should be avoided if possible.

But I do think too much of it can create some dangers and pitfalls that writers should at least be aware of. Because you can’t protect yourself from things, if you aren’t even aware of them.

It can numb a writer to pain, and can hurt their ability to effectively relate to others. Immersing yourself in anything can cause a sort of immunity to that thing to develop. I believe the same holds true for when you torture characters. This likely is more of a danger for character first writers over plot writers, as they tend to feel like their characters are actually real people, instead of just players in some sort of plot. But it can be true regardless. Constantly being surrounded by death, pain and suffering, even if it’s fictional, can create bubbles and barriers around writers which can in turn make it harder not only for them to relate to people in the real world, but also to truly empathize and share the hurts of others.

And if the writer writes things that are very bad, there could also be a risk of thinking things like “oh, you’re not so bad, things can be worse.” Which is helpful maybe a tiny percentage of the time, but most of the time it isn’t. People need empathy, not to be told how worse it could get and to suck it up.

Now before anyone who knows me thinks that I’m pointing fingers at them, I’m not. All the writers I know are beautiful, very caring people who don’t seem to have hurt themselves by writing horrible tragic things about their characters. I’m only speaking from a level of personal experience, and some traps I have noticed I could be falling into in the past.

Now, I know it can do the opposite too. Being too deep into the suffering and torture inflicted on characters can cause a writer to feel too deeply the pain around them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being aware of the pain of others, and of feeling empathy for people beyond yourself. I think this world needs more of it. What I’m talking about is the chance that, in experiencing the suffering of one’s own characters, it could cause a writer to begin to feel too much the pain that people they may not even know are going through, and in the end only hurting themselves. Most writers feel what their characters are going through, at least to a certain extent, so going through things with the characters can lend itself to a writer having even greater empathy to the plights of others. This is a very good thing. What I don’t think is a good thing, is a writer, or even any other person, feeling the weight of the world’s suffering on their shoulders and having to carry that around when there is nothing they can do about it and it does not even help the person going through the pain. Empathy creates change, but unnecessary and self imposed torment only hurts people.

What about you? Are there any pitfalls you have seen to writing suffering that writers should be aware of? Do you disagree with anything I said? Let us know your thoughts.

On Killing Characters

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Photo by Ravi Pinisetti on Unsplash

A few weeks ago I wrote a post with some miscellaneous thoughts on torturing characters, which you can find here: On Tormenting Characters. I mostly talked in general terms about doing bad things to characters, but as I was thinking it through I wanted to go a little deeper into one specific aspect of torturous writing: killing off characters.

Some writers do lots of it. Some don’t do any. Some kill their characters only to have them revived again by magic or science later.

No matter what kind of writer you are, there are a few things to keep in mind when considering whether or not to kill off a character, and they’re things I’ve come to feel strongly about over my (almost) decades of reading and loving stories.

Don’t do it just because you can. This relates back to what I said in the other article. Don’t do something just for shock value. That doesn’t mean that can’t be part of the reason. But it needs to be more than just “yes, I get to be evil, mwahaha.” And the reason can be as simple as “I need this to show just how bad this character is, or how far they’ve fallen.” That’s still much deeper than “heehee, I get to kill.”

Let the other characters react. It doesn’t have to be immediately. If the characters are running for their lives, or caught up in the middle of other imminent danger of some sort, they may not be able to respond to the impact of the death right away. But don’t take that as a free pass for them to never deal with it. Once they get to a place of at least minimal rest, the reality of the death should start to, in the very least, begin creeping in. Each character will react differently, and should. Just how deeply they react depends a lot on how well they knew the character who died, how they died, and to an extent the character’s personality. But even witnessing the peaceful death of someone a person doesn’t know can effect them to some degree. We as humans don’t often like to be faced with our own mortality, and your characters just have been. Let them deal with that.

Show the impact. This goes along with the previous point, but it goes further, and usually regards more specifically characters that had a personal relationship with the dead character. Of course, each person is going to react differently to deaths, taking into account factors of personality, manner of death, closeness of relationship and so on. But there are some baselines of grief that all the characters who knew the one that died should pass through, and some will feel it even if they didn’t personally know the deceased character. And in most cases the death should inspire the character or characters toward something, usually a revitalized effort toward defeating the villain, or finishing the mission, or so on. But it can also cause the characters to reevaluate what they’re doing, and think through whether or not their goal is actually worth the cost. It might be, and it might not be, but either way, it doesn’t hurt to show the thought process.

Consider the reality of the situation. If you’re sending your heroes into an epic fantasy war that will last a long time, it’s highly unlikely the main characters will all escape without losing at least one person they knew on some surface level. I’m not saying you should kill a main character, but I’m also not saying you shouldn’t. It should at least feel like a possibility, and there should be good reasons for all of them to have survived. If you send a completely incompetent character into a battle with no one watching their back, I’m not going to believe they escaped without at least a scratch. Of course, this doesn’t mean you always have to kill characters either, just try to be realistic about numbers, skills, and odds, and make it believable all your named characters could have escaped, if they all do.

Don’t overuse death fakeouts. It’s okay to have one. It does happen. But don’t use too many of them, and be aware that after you’ve done it once, it’s going to take even more work to convince readers that other characters are actually dead later.

Basically it all boils down to letting there be a reaction to the death. The more prominent the character, the more time you should give your other characters, and therefore the readers, time to grieve. They just lost someone important, and we did too. Give everyone some time to process what just happened, and show it being processed realistically, in keeping with the other characters’ way of dealing with things. Research grief and the grieving process, and don’t be afraid to show it. It will help us as readers believe that death meant something.

Bonus thought:

Parents don’t always have to die. Neither do mentor figures. It’s a common trope, especially in some genres in particular, and one that I am certainly guilty of. But I would love to see more stories with living parents and teacher figures. And not just living ones, but loving, caring, non-abusive parents who genuinely care about their children and want to be there for them. There are a multitude of different ways to force a main character away from home, or the parents away from them, without killing those parents off, and I think the world needs more stories like this.

 

What are some tips you can think of for making a character’s death mean the most in a story?

On Tormenting Characters

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Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash

Recently a writing friend of mine, who asked me to call him Vailyon for the sake of this, posted some very interesting thoughts he titled “Pain, Writing, and the Author.” Unfortunately, his post is on a private forum, so I can’t link it here, but it did get me thinking, and I think I have a few of my own thoughts on the subject.
EDIT: His thoughts were posted with permission as a guest post on another blog. Link to that is here.

The very rudimentary gist of Vailyon’s post was that authors need to be careful about writing pain, specifically, why we’re adding that pain into the story. Pain can be a very useful tool, but it needs to have a purpose.

While most of us like to grin and cackle evilly when talking about the horrors we have in store for our characters, the truth is, this isn’t always a good thing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being proud of being able to create emotions in readers. Without emotion, stories would be powerless, or at least would not hold the power they do in our lives. Maybe they’d be about as useful as a math problem, which is to say useful, but not very engaging on an emotional level.

But if that is all we try to do, create emotion with no end purpose, just to elicit a reaction in the reader and get them to love our stories by hating what we do to our characters, they become nothing more than just painful stories.

The world is broken. No matter what worldview, it isn’t hard to see that something isn’t right in this world, and that something needs to be fixed. This is where the pain in stories is useful, and what the ultimate purpose is. The pain has a reason, it’s not just for torture, and in the end, pain isn’t the ultimate, or the final ending. There is hope.

This doesn’t mean stories need to have a happy ending. One of my favorite books ends with the main character going to prison, and more specifically a Siberian work camp, for wrongs he committed early on in the story. Since he likely would only be classified as a torn antihero, if even referred to that strongly, I doubt many people would call the end of this story a “happy” one. But there is hope. The story ends with one of the most beautiful sentences I have ever read, and it gives hope that the main character can and is changing. And that’s really all that particular story needs. Just an indication that things can change, and that wrongs can be made right.

In contrast to this, stories that just seem to pile on pain for the sake of hurting the characters and therefore the readers, don’t really have any purpose and from what I have seen, only serve to alienate the readers from the story, and from any message it may have tried to have. It still doesn’t mean the main character can’t end the story in a bad spot. It just means the reader needs to see the hope, and see the reason for the badness in the story.

Stories inherently are meaning. And as such, the pain included in them needs meaning too.

It can even seem purposeless within the story world. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing something terribly wrong to a character, for the sake of showing the evil of the villain, or for giving realities of the world. It helps create realism, which helps keep readers reading. But this in and of itself is a purpose. And it shouldn’t last forever.

Just don’t get lost in the pain. And don’t keep doing it just because it’s fun.

 

Bonus thought: A few days ago, another friend of mine sent me something on Pinterest, the gist of which was “you can always tell which character is the author’s favorite, by which character nothing happens to.” We had a good laugh about that. In most cases, this is completely not true. In fact, it’s probably the opposite. If nothing happens to a character, it usually means the author doesn’t like them and thought they were boring. Writers I know tend to do the worst things to the characters they love the most. For some reason.

What about you? What reasons for pain do you use in your stories?