NaNoWriMo? No.

Confession: I’ve never done NaNoWriMo. Even though I’m a writer. It sounds fun. You madly type about a gazillion words a day in the frantic hope of reaching 50,000 by the end of the month. Some days you procrastinate, and then you have to make up for lost time at the end of the month…

Someday I might. But more than likely I will continue to plod through the rest of the year and do nothing special for November. I’ll just cheer on all the other people who try to write 1,666 words a day for 30 days. I’ll like all their facebook posts and clap when they make their goals.

But not this November.

What am I doing this NaNoWriMo? Nothing. I just finished the first revision of Doctor and King, and I’m enjoying a well-deserved break before I dig into editing.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? How’s it going for you?

Meet the Cast

What is a story without the people? As I’m going through the alpha reading phase of Doctor and King, (which means I’m reading it to my husband for insta-feedback) I’m getting reactions not just to the story, but to the people themselves. That gave me the idea: why not have a “meet the cast” day?

So, without further ado, here are the major players of Doctor and King.

Gervaise: [Jer-vayz] The young king of Averon who mixes his own tonics and doctors animals as a hobby. After all, every king needs a hobby to keep himself sane. Gervaise has a bit of a sweet tooth, preferring to start breakfast with a pastry. He does his best to live up to the expectations everyone has of him, but secretly wonders if he’s really the great king everyone thinks he is.

The Queen Mother, Margaret: A bubbly personality with an intense inclination towards mothering her only child, Gervaise. She does her best to keep “her boy” safe from intrigues and make sure he is steered toward filling her late husband’s shoes as king.

Sedgwick: Gervaise’s servant, who prides himself in maintaining an even keel and doing what is best for his master. Even when his master may not agree.

Evangeline: The princess of Sharrilock, a kind-hearted young woman who finds the charades of those who call themselves nobility insufferable. She enjoys the occasional bout of sarcasm, and hopes to one day try her hand at raising bees.

King Oberon: Evangeline’s father, a stern-looking man with a temper, but with a sincere heart and a desire to provide for his daughter as best he can.

Clara: Evangeline’s cousin, a micro-manager extrordinaire. She hates men, due to bad experiences with a drunken father, but is not above trying a few rounds of swordplay with any man willing to try his skill against her. She usually wins.

Constance: Clara’s sister, a timid personality who relies on her sister and clings to her, but is secretly afraid of her. Evangeline is her best friend, and the two share many secrets, but Constance won’t share this one with anyone—not unless she has to.

I’ve figured out what my theme is!

I’ve figured out what my theme is!

So, here’s the story. Someone recently challenged me to figure out my personal stamp on writing. So I’ve been asking myself: what defines me as an author? What am I about? How do I best convey that?

Well, after much considering and mulling, (like the famous statue The Thinker) I have figured out my theme as a writer!

Here it is: I write stories about people who often struggle to understand their adventures, but when they get to the end, they are able to see what they have learned through their difficulties.

What does this revelation mean for me? It will help me to decide what story ideas to pursue. If an idea works well with my theme, I’ll know it is worth pursuing. If not, then I’ll know to leave it alone.

Toad Tales: two ways to start a story

A few days ago, I received an important phone call. Ok, so it was my eleven year old brother calling, but that is still important.

A little background on my brother: his favorite animals are toads. He has a huge pit dug in the backyard which serves as a cave-like terrarium for dozens of the warty amphibians, complete with a system of ledges for his pets to hop along.

He’s also been reading the Redwall series, which features only animals as the characters.

So, when my little brother called me, I was not surprised when he started telling me about his idea for a story. Toads are always the bad guys in the Redwall books, he informed me. And toads just don’t get much attention in literature in general. So he wants to write about amphibian kingdoms, and make his main characters toads.

I was honored to be the person he called for writing advice. His biggest question was this: How do you start a story?

For a first scene, usually you start with (one of) the main character(s). The main crisis of the story has not yet happened, so life is fairly normal for the MC. However, there should be a conflict of some sort to create interest; maybe an ongoing life conflict; or maybe a foretaste of the main crisis. Either way, you start at the beginning, which is a very good place to start. (Yes, I just referenced The Sound of Music.)

Occasionally, however, you might begin with the villain. Star Wars begins with Darth Vader capturing Princess Leia’s ship. This brings to light a hint of the crisis before the main character, Luke Skywalker, is introduced. This adds suspense, because you keep wondering when the MC is going to cross paths with the villain.

So there you go! Two ways to begin a story. I’m not sure which one my little brother will pick…

Creating Flawed Characters

Have you ever been around a goody two-shoes? You know, that one kid who never seems to do anything wrong and is always telling you what you *should* be doing. And you just can’t wait for them to slip up and get in trouble, just to prove to them they aren’t as perfect as they think.

Switch topics to storytelling. In the same way a goody two-shoes is annoying in real life, they are annoying as a character. Sometimes you can’t help but want a perfect character to mess up, just to breathe some life into an (obviously) fake persona. So let’s dust off our creativity and give our character some flaws.

The good news is, it is super easy to find character-appropriate flaws.

The bad news is… Well, there isn’t any bad news, so let’s get on with the good news!

See, every person has strong points. Maybe a particular character is a great leader. (Let’s name her Kristy.)To make a flaw for Kristy, all we have to do is find out what the flip side (a.k.a. “the dark side”) of leadership is. Incrementally, the dark side of leadership is: bossy, domineering, tyrannical.

So, if Kristy is our protagonist, (the good guy) we might just make her bossy; or, if she’s struggling with her character, we might make her a little domineering. If Kristy is our antagonist, (the bad guy) we might even make her downright tyrannical.

So there you have it! The super-easy formula for creating flawed characters.

Why create flawed characters?

It’s easy to want to create perfect main characters. The ‘Righteous Sufferer’ has a certain appeal to us. After all, if it was our story, we’d rather be a victim of circumstances than have to face the consequenses of our own actions.

However, the perfect character makes for a dull story for one simple reason: they do not change. (They’re already perfect, so they don’t need to change.) Side note: characters who do no change are called static characters. Characters who change are called dynamic characters.

All this begs the question: why is it so important for our main character to change? Why does an un-changing character make for a dull story?

You see, a story is about progression. It’s about how Daniel or Marcy or Zane or Alithia get from point A to point B. The road from A to B has to be challenging, or it bores us. Challenge brings growth, and growth equals change.

But if a character is already perfect, there is no room for growth.

It’s kind of like our own lives. We need to grow in character in order to become the best person we can be. We need to expand in order to better fulfil our potential. If we just stayed at one level our whole lives, we would have wasted the potential we were born with.

So, here’s to growth! Cheers, everyone.

Revising: Dread or Delight?

Many authors groan at the idea of revision. I used to. I mean, I could sit there forever, staring at a scene that needed revising, wondering just where to begin, afraid to accidentally delete the best part.

Fortunately I’ve come a long way since then. In fact, I absolutely love revision! I love taking the first draft and carving it into clearer, sharper focus.

My transition from fearfully tweaking a sentence or two, to boldly chopping, rearranging, even rewriting, came with the discovery of a simple trick. Here’s the trick: whenever I came to a scene that needed rewriting, I would copy and paste it to another document before changing the original. That way I knew I had a backup if I didn’t like the rewrite.

Do you know what happened? I never, ever, had to use the backup. Rewriting really works! It always turns out better than the original! Who knew, right? But that backup broke through my mental barriers that made rewriting difficult.

Now I love it! And the best part? I don’t have to use a backup anymore.

Two Milestones

I’m celebrating two milestones right now. One of them is the first birthday of my adorable little son. *throws confetti* Happy birthday!

Here’s the second milestone: I’ve finished the manuscript of Doctor and King! What does that mean? It means I’ll be revising and editing for a while. Also, after I’ve finished revising, I’ll be looking for beta readers.

What is a beta reader? Well, a beta reader is super special. They get to read a book before it is published, and give vital feedback on whether the story flows well, or if there are gaps or places that are confusing or boring. (I personally enjoy beta reading.)

Some fun facts about Doctor and King:

  1. This is the first time I’ve written an entire novel in first person. It has been fun and challenging to do something different.
  2. This is also the first time I’ve attempted a major romance thread in a story… I am so not a big romance person*, so that was really tough for me. (Fortunately the characters are similar in personality to myself and my husband, so I kind of based the dynamic between them on my own romance.)
  3. Here’s how I came up with the plot: I asked myself how a fairy tale like Sleeping Beauty could have originated in real-world circumstances. So, this is kind of my re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty with no fairies, magic, or spindles. Volia! Doctor and King was born.

*Side note: My mom and sisters were going to watch Ever After, a Cinderella re-make movie, and I wasn’t interested. They convinced me to watch by telling me that the main character climbs a tree in her underwear. (Underwear was totally modest in those days.) I caved and watched the movie.

I Simply Remember My Favorite Things

I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad. Yes, that is a line from The Sound of Music.

Here are a few of my favorite things. Or at least a few of my favorite books. 😉 (I’ll include some other things too, just for fun.)

The Cat of Bubastes by GA Henty. The tale of a captive in ancient Egypt, and his master’s son who accidentally kills a cat, which is punishable by death. Historical fiction with tons of cultural details.

Escape from the Island of Aquarius by Frank Peretti. I gotta admit, I wish I had more of Peretti’s writing, as much as I enjoy his children’s series. Plenty of adventure and Bible verses to go around.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. An old favorite. Tolkien’s hobbits are just too relatable to pass up. Plus, they have furry feet. What’s not to love?

Crescent Tides by J Aaron Gruben. A new favorite! Historical Fic meets SciFi? Yes, please! (You can read my review of it here.)

Dorian the Daring by Yours Truly. Am I allowed to have one of my own creations as a favorite? Sorry, but I just get all excited when I read it, even though I know what happens next. Crazy, huh?

The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall. A wonderful tale of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to save their village, even though the villagers exiled them. Plus, there are cute rhymes that get stuck in your head.

Okay, now for the other favorite things.

Ripe mangos. Yum! Messy, but divine.

Goats. Gotta love them goats! As long as they stay on the inside of the fence…

Cheese. Cheese comes from milk, milk comes from goats, which is another reason I love goats.

Swords. Epic duels, anyone?

Chocolate. If you don’t like chocolate, that leaves more for me.

Enliven your writing with Verbs

During my homeschooling days, I used to listen to a grammar memory song. One of the lyrics is permanently stuck in my head so that it plays every time I hear the word “verb.” It goes like this “I’m a verb, verb, verb, I’m an action word, so put me where the action is ‘cause I’m an action word.”

I know, kind of cheezy, but helpful to middle schoolers trying to remember the parts of speech; or in this case, the parts of writing.

Why are verbs so important? Simply put, the right verb can transform a mediocre sentence into a marvelous sentence. (Example: Instead of the word “transform,” I could have used its less inspiring cousin “change,” but that would have been… less inspiring. See how easy this is?)

Here’s a quick comparison of how this works in the writing world.

  1. She walked up to him and said “Where have you been?”
  2. She stomped up to him and said “Where have you been?”
  3. She sidled up to him and said “Where have you been?”

Notice that I only changed one word, yet each sentence carries a different feel. Sentence one sounds bland. Sentence two gives us the impression that she (whoever she is) is angry with him (whoever he is). Sentence three tells us that she may be flirting with him.

All by altering a single verb. (See? I could have used the verb “changing” instead of “altering,” but that wouldn’t have been as punchy.)

Try it! I bet you’ll like it.