2020 Bookworm Tag (Happy New Year!)

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Naomi of NaomiandBooks (her post for this tag will be linked below — go check it out!) tagged me for this. She could not have picked a better time to do it, because I’m coming off staying up till one o’clock in the morning for New Year’s Eve. I don’t have the mental capacity to come up with a post myself, so thank you, Naomi!

All right, everyone grab your coffee (especially if you were like me and stayed up way too late), and let’s get into this 2020 Bookworm Tag!

First Off- How Many Books Did You Read This Year?

So… I didn’t keep track. It definitely wasn’t as many as I wanted to read, that’s for sure!

Instead of giving a number, I’m going to wildly cheat (sorry, Naomi!) and give y’all some reading highlights from 2020.

Let’s see… In 2020, I got into fan fiction more, and I read a bunch of awesome fics (if anyone wants some recommendations, comment below). I also became a firm Stormlight Archive fan and reread Harry Potter with a friend. And I discovered I’m obsessed with collecting books!

What is an Author You Tried for the First Time This Year?

Oh, darn! Do I still count as a bookworm if I’m not sure?

Hmm… So I think two new authors I tried this year were Jay Kristoff and Amy Kaufman when I read the Illuminae Files. I ended up loving the series (although I haven’t read the third book yet, hehe)! Ooh, I also tried Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and Nadine Brandes’ Romanov. I really enjoyed both (although I haven’t finished Romanov quite yet).

Hah! I managed to remember, and in a year where the months blur together, that’s an accomplishment.

What is an Author You Returned to This Year?

Definitely Brandon Sanderson. I read Way of Kings for the first time in 2019, but I didn’t really continue with the series until late this year. AND I LOVE IT. I want to read everything Cosmere now. If you’re a Brandon Sanderson fan, please comment below so we can scream about his books together.

Did You Read a Classic This Year?

So, I’m not sure if it was in 2020 or late 2019, but I read Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens for the first time! It took some time to get into it, but I ended up really liking it.

Did You Start a New Series?

Yes! I started the Illuminae Files trilogy and the Lady Janies series. I’m really loving both, although I haven’t finished either yet.

Did You Finish a Series?

Hehe, Harry Potter, but I think that’s it. Gosh, I’m apparently not a series finisher. I only finished this one in a timely manner because I was racing my friend.

Did You Buddy Read a Book This Year?

Uh-huh. Harry Potter, with my friend. It was a lot of fun, and it involved an abundance of fangirling.

What Author Did You Read the Most of This Year?

Okay, so… it was probably J. K. Rowling. *weeps in lack of variety*

What Was the Oldest Book You Read?

*screams into the void* If Tale of Two Cities was in 2019, then probably Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I really hope this is the last Harry Potter answer.

Did You Buy a Book That Was Published This Year?

(HALLELUJAH! NOT A HARRY POTTER ANSWER)

I don’t think so, but I definitely thought about buying Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson. I only didn’t because it wasn’t out in trade paperback, and I’m one of those readers who really likes her book sets to match.

What is a Book You Got This Year and Haven’t Read? (You Could Have Gotten the Book Any Time Between January 2020-December 2020)

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. I got it for my birthday, but I haven’t read it yet because I’m currently entrenched in the Stormlight Archive.

A Book You Weren’t Sure About But Ended up Loving?

Romanov by Nadine Brandes. Sorry, Naomi! You recommended it to me, and I never should’ve doubted you!

Besides Romanov, I ended up adoring My Lady Jane, which I really didn’t know enough about to be sure I would enjoy it.

Your Favorite Read/s of 2020?

Let’s see… Harry Potter, My Lady Jane, Romanov, Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, the Book Thief, and probably a couple others I can’t recall right now. It was a pretty good reading year, all things considered.

Nominations

I hereby nominate for the 2020 Bookworm Tag:

Here are the questions!

  1. First off- how many books did you read this year?
  2. What is an author you tried for the first time this year?
  3. What is an author you returned to this year?
  4. Did you read a classic this year?
  5. Did you start a new series?
  6. Did you finish a series?
  7. Did you buddy read a book this year?
  8. What author did you read the most of this year?
  9. What was the oldest book you read?
  10. Did you buy a book that was published this year?
  11. What is a book you go this year and haven’t read? (You could have gotten the book any time between January 2020-December 2020)
  12. A book you weren’t sure about but ended up loving?
  13. Your favorite read/s of 2020?

Here’s to 2021!

Thank you for the tag, Naomi! It was fun!

Here’s the link to Naomi’s original post — be sure to drop in and give it a read. This tag was her creation, so she gets all the credit for the awesome questions.

Happy New Year, everyone! Let’s write wonderful stories and read a lot of amazing books this year.

What the Mandalorian Teaches Us About Creating Tension

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Okay, right off the bat: WARNING. THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE SECOND SEASON OF THE MANDALORIAN, INCLUDING THE FINALE. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

All righty, that’s over with. First of all, can we scream about this episode together in the comments? It wasn’t perfect (no story is, obviously), but DARN IT ALL it was still awesome.

*coughs* Back to the blog post.

This final episode had a lot of good writing and directing on display, but one thing I noticed especially was how the tension built throughout the episode. There were times during the episode where I was genuinely on the edge of my seat and filled with dread. Which, to be honest, doesn’t really happen to me. Usually, I stare into the middle distance, world-wearied, and say “It’s okay. The protagonist always wins.”

And, sure, I kind of suspected he would in this episode too, but worry still crept in. Which was, ironically, really fun. Stories make us enjoy weird things.

Anyway. Somehow, the finale of the Mandalorian managed to create tension and fear, even though Mando (yes, his name is Mando. Din Djarin, who?) has spent much of the season winning and showing off how good he is at what he does.

Let’s look into how the episode does this.

They Showed Mando Failing in a Previous Episode

Mando succeeded a lot in this season. However, in a pivotal episode, he failed. When he brought Grogu to the Jedi temple to contact a Jedi to help him, he left Grogu alone to go fight the stormtroopers. For most of the episode, it seemed like he was still winning, as per usual, but then Moff Gideon sent in the Dark Troopers. Mando runs to save Grogu, and we think maybe he’s going to get there in time — except he doesn’t. He fails, and Grogu is gone.

Whether we knew it or not at the time, this planted the seed of doubt in our brains. Mando didn’t always win anymore. And this was an important event for the writers to have happen before the finale because it gave Mando a low point and put him in a position to lose everything. He went from a confident bounty hunter to a single dad prepared to sacrifice everything for Grogu. We felt that shift, and it made the tension and desperation in the finale that much more authentic.

We’ve talked about this before, but you have to let your protagonist fail sometimes. Readers will identify with and care about a character who has lost or experienced pain, because that is part of what it is to be human. No one wins all the time, so it’s hard to love a character who never seems to fail.

They Turned Mando’s Victories Against Him

Mando’s one of those cool heroes who always does something clever/uses his Mandalorian-ness (technical term) to defeat the weekly villain or antagonistic force. We’re used to that, so every time he gets in a fight, we don’t wonder if he’s going to win. We just try to figure out how.

The final episode changed that by making the Dark Troopers the main danger. We had seen Mando take out hordes of stormtroopers with no problem, but he had already lost against the Dark Troopers once. That’s where that seed of doubt comes into play, making us fear the Dark Troopers and wonder if Mando can beat them.

I don’t know about you, but I felt some genuine dread when that Dark Trooper got past the blast door. I really wasn’t sure if Mando could beat him, partly because of his previous defeat and partly because of how the Dark Troopers were built up as unstoppable.

The writers capitalized on that worry by making Mando struggle with fighting the Trooper. He barely wins.

Which brings us to our next point.

Mando Almost Lost Right Before a Crucial Battle

Directly after his clash with the Dark Trooper, Mando runs to get Grogu out of the brig, only to find Moff Gideon standing over him with the Dark Saber.

First of all, the fact that Moff was waiting for him and had predicted the plan makes him more intimidating (smart villains are almost always scarier). And after Mando’s struggle with the Trooper, we’re not feeling so confident anymore. We’re asking exactly the question those evil writers want us to ask: “Can Mando really win?”

Now, Mando tries to make a deal with Moff, saying all he wants is Grogu and he’ll leave Moff alone. Which makes us all the more worried because even our gung-ho protagonist doesn’t want to fight this guy, especially not after his battle with the Trooper. Besides that, Moff found his weak spot — Grogu — and exploited it. This whole scene put Mando in a very vulnerable position, which was perfect for building tension.

When Mando, who now has Grogu, turns his back on Moff and starts to walk away, we almost breathe a sigh of relief. But we don’t because we know it can’t be that easy. That’s when Moff attacks.

Suddenly, Mando’s up against a villain trained with a lightsaber. We know how powerful these weapons are, so we’re even more concerned. Plus, we just watched Mando almost lose. To make matters worse, he loses against Moff Gideon for a while, retreating and using his vambraces to just barely block Moff’s attacks.

We’re watching, and we’re scared because the writers took the time to prove that our protagonist isn’t invincible. Then, they proceeded to portray our main villain as highly competent — right before the two characters get in a climactic fight.

That’s how you create tension.

Of course, Mando does win that fight, and we finally start to relax. It feels like the episode is over. He has Moff, he has Grogu, and he has the Dark Saber.

Mando Struggled to Beat a Single Dark Trooper

Back on the bridge, we’re starting to get worried again (exhausting, isn’t it?) because there’s conflict happening between Mando and Bo Katan, and Moff is toying with everyone. Then Moff gets hold of a blaster and almost shoots Grogu before Cara Dune takes him down again.

Phew, we think. Episode over?

Nope. Because there’s one little niggling thing many of us probably thought of when Mando vented the Dark Troopers into space. Can’t they get back in through the fighter bay? After all, the writers made it clear that the shields are permeable on both sides.

The answer, we find out two seconds later, is yes. Yes, they can.

Pretty soon, we have a battalion of Dark Troopers storming the ship while Mando and Co. are trapped on the bridge with a laughing Moff Gideon. According to Moff, when the smoke clears, the only people left living are going to be him and Grogu. Meaning, for all Mando’s efforts, Moff is going to win.

We’ve seen Mando fight dozens of times before, and we’ve also seen him win against difficult odds. However, this episode is a special case because he already lost once before, he barely defeated one Dark Trooper, and he’s still in a very vulnerable position. Besides that, Moff Gideon has proven himself capable of outthinking (although perhaps not outfighting) Mando.

As we watch the Dark Troops march on the bridge, we are thinking, “how are they going to get out of this?”

Which, again, is exactly what the writers want you to think. This is a climactic episode. They don’t want it to feel easy. They want it to feel earned.

Takeaway

Here’s what we can take from this episode and apply to our own stories to keep readers on the edge of their seats (because who doesn’t want to do that *evil author laughter*).

  • Letting your character fail and lose things helps create tension and generates sympathy, especially if the character is hyper competent.
  • If you can, turn your character’s previous victories against them by using them to make a villain who almost defeats/does defeat them seem that much more intimidating.
  • Craft a villain who challenges your character.
  • Consider having your character almost lose a battle directly before the final confrontation to call their dominance into question.
  • Show your readers a villain’s/antagonistic force’s competence rather than telling them about it; readers will believe what you show them more than what you tell them.
  • Allow your villain to control the conflict when possible.
  • Foreshadow plot points and plot twists in such a way that your readers are filled with dread. Try to do so subtly enough that they’re not sure if they can guess what will happen but clearly enough that they have definite suspicions.
  • If appropriate, include a moment in the scene/story where the readers think the conflict is over, but are proved wrong when you pay off some bit of foreshadowing from earlier. Keep them looking over their shoulder (metaphorically).
  • Don’t be afraid to put your hero in a vulnerable position; bring them low so your readers are genuinely afraid that this could be their end. That will make it so much more satisfying when they triumph.

I hope this post was helpful! Happy writing, my friends! Go forth and terrify your readers.

And Merry Christmas!

How to Cultivate Inspiration

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No matter how much we love our stories and love writing, there will be times when we don’t feel like writing. When we don’t feel inspired. When our well of creativity runs dry.

Sometimes the answer is to take a break — if possible, of course. Just chill and let yourself recharge.

Other times, the block might be a momentary low point that is easily resolved. Sometimes all it takes to reignite the flame is a spark. Sparks of inspiration, thankfully, can be sought out and cultivated. For the most part, we control our creativity. Our “muse”.

So, this Friday, we’re going to talk about ways you can make that recalcitrant little brat of a muse work for you, rather than the other way round.

*coughs* I clearly don’t hold a grudge against my muse at all. Let’s get started.

Pinterest Boards

You know you love Pinterest. At least, I hope you do. I want someone to validate my obsession.

Obsession or not, Pinterest is amazing for renewing your excitement for your story. You can make an inspiration board, create aesthetics, or scroll through the story-related boards you’ve already created. I love adding quotes that make me think of my story, finding photos or portraits of people that fit my characters exactly, and using landscape artwork for setting inspiration. Sometimes all it takes is a quick look (*coughs* as long as you can avoid the rabbit hole) to get hyped for your story again.

Music

I swear… music is one of the best writing tools ever. For me, anyway.

If I’m feeling down on my story or if I don’t really feel like working on it, sticking my earbuds in and losing myself in its world and characters for a while usually helps. I can spend time with my story, rediscovering my love for it, while I go about my day (thank you, modern technology).

Movies and TV

Okay, hear me out. I know this sounds like a procrastination tool, but watching your favorite movies or TV shows, especially ones that remind you of your story, can be so helpful.

Sometimes what I’m watching will convey an emotion or theme amazingly or pull off an incredible plot twist, and I’ll think, “I want to do that. I want to earn that moment. I just have to figure out how.”

Then I find something that could arguably be seen as better than inspiration. A challenge that excites me.

Maybe this won’t work for everyone, but I encourage you to try it. Turn on that TV show with characters that makes you squeal with joy or that movie with the plot twist that floored you. Let the beauty of those stories inspire you to write your own.

Your Muse Works for You

There will surely be times in our writing career when we go through dry spells or struggle. When what’s probably best is taking a break.

However, during the other times, when we feel temporarily unmotivated, it is possible to cultivate inspiration.

You don’t have to let the fleeting muse control you. You’re a writer. Like the heading says, your muse works for you!

How to Deepen Your World Building

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For me, world building tends to be a double edged sword. It’s cool and fun, but also overwhelming. Especially when you have giants like Tolkien and Brandon Sanderson to compare yourself to.

Unfortunately, with world building, you just kind of have to dive in and do it. It might take some noodling, but — trust me — you’ve a billion beautiful worlds rattling around in that brain of yours. You can do this.

However, there’s an easy(ish) trick that can help deepen the world you’re creating and make it seem more three dimensional.

Add Random (Kind of) Details

Stick with me — I know that’s a dumb heading. But think about it. Our world is full of weird, random details that make it so much more interesting than it would be without them. Sure, God didn’t strictly need (at least, I don’t think He did) to create peacocks with their massive, flamboyant tails, but I’m sure glad He did. They inject beauty, variety, and humor (because, honestly, those tails are a bit ridiculous), and they have inspired the fashion industry in many different ways (peacock feather hair ornaments, anyone?).

(Side note: That’s another detail that’s interesting. Fashion in our world often tries to imitate the natural, wild beauty of nature. One aspect of your world will tend to affect other aspects, and remembering that will add realism.)

When creating your world, be sure to focus on the macro level, but don’t forget to put in fun, micro level additions. They might not always be necessary, but they will add a richness and color to your world that it would not otherwise have.

Consider the hobbits in Lord of the Rings. It wasn’t exactly necessary to the plot for them to have things like “second breakfast” or to be short and merry or to be homebodies, but those features added layers to them and helped drive home the point Tolkien was making.

Or think of the Star Wars universe. Despite its technological advancements, it is full of glitchy holograms, beat up droids, and malfunctioning equipment. This choice Lucas (and others after him) made gave the whole universe a sense of weight and age, which set it apart from other sci fi stories. Sometimes, all it takes to make your world unique and memorable are a few well-placed details.

Obviously, it’s important to figure out how your world functions broadly, but figuring out how it works narrowly is important as well. What are the most popular hairstyles? Culturally relevant foods? Fashion and modesty sense? Is it a gritty, old-seeming world like Star Wars or shiny and new like the MCU often feels? So many questions that, if answered, quickly lend realism and depth to your world.

Little things can have a big impact on your world building. Maybe you’ve got a pretty standard fantasy land created (nothing wrong with that), but you want to give it that spark of individuality. Or maybe you’ve got the outline of your world all figured out, and you want to give it dimension. It’s all in the details!

Conclusion

Detail-focused world building can be used to:

  • Enhance and deepen the world
  • Add realism
  • Emphasize the theme/purpose of your story
  • Set your story apart from the crowd
  • Draw your reader in

I hope this helped you! Let me know in the comments what your favorite parts of world building are!

#WritingCommunity Blog Award

This week, I have a different kind of blog post for you guys. The lovely Raina Nightingale tagged me for Lauryn Trimmer’s #WritingCommunity Blog Award. Thank you, Raina! This is my first time being involved in one of these, so please forgive any missteps.

For those who don’t know, the rules of this tag are:

  1. Display the award logo on your site
  2. Link back to the person who tagged you.
  3. Answer 5 questions
  4. Tag 3 blogs (must be blogs related to writing, not book review blogs) and ask them 5 new questions
  5. Follow as many blogs with this award as you can!

Raina came up with some great questions, so let’s get into this!

Raina’s questions:

  • If you write fiction, can you share something that stands out to you about that why you write fiction or think that it is important? (If you don’t write fiction, can you share something similar about whatever it is you do write? Or share why you like a specific genre or sub-genre of fiction that you write.)
  • Why do you write (tell us something about your purpose, goal, or motivation – this is similar to the question above, but more open-ended)?
  • How does it feel to have finished a work?
  • Can you share something about a favorite book?
  • Can you share something about a favorite book outside of your favorite genre?

My Reason for Writing Fiction

I love this question! I guess I write fiction because it can change people. I know, because I’ve experienced it myself. A good book can radically alter how you see the world (*cough cough* Anne of Green Gables) or inspire you to become a different, better person (*cough cough* the Millie Keith books and Little Women).

Why I Write

Well, firstly, I write because I can’t stop. It brings me joy and comfort, and my life wouldn’t be the same without it. But I also write because I want to light up the world! There are books I’ve read that still affect me today, and I write because I want to touch someone’s heart like that. I write because I want to light up the world, glorify God, and bring hope to people through my books.

All in God’s strength and with Him working through me, obviously.

How It Feels to Finish a Book

Finishing a first draft for me is this crazy mix of excitement, joy, dread, and grief. It’s like I’ve just finished a marathon. I feel triumphant, but I also feel incredibly sad because that “chapter” of my story’s journey is done. I’ll never write the first draft of it again, and I’ll never have the excitement of discovering the story as it pours from my fingertips again.

Hehe, sorry if I’ve depressed you.

As for what it feels like to finish a final draft… check back with me later because I haven’t actually done that yet. *shifts awkwardly*

My Favorite Book

My favorite book is Little Women. I read it when I was eleven or twelve, and I was blown away. I wasn’t expecting it to be so funny, so impactful, and so easy to read. As someone who has several sisters myself, I related to this book so much. I love it because it taught me many things, inspired me to imitate the best qualities of the characters, and made me fall in love with everyone in it.

My Favorite Book Outside My Favorite Genre

So… awkward. Little Women is outside of my favorite genre. So I’m going to tell you about my favorite book inside my favorite genre instead! *apologizes profusely to Raina*

My favorite genre to read is either fantasy or sci fi. I’ve read more fantasy, so I’m going with that one.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones is my favorite book from that genre. I read it when I was a little girl, and it also blew me away. It was magical and whimsical and surprising. There are parts of it I always remember so clearly, no matter how long it’s been since I last read it.

My Questions for Y’all

Yes, I used “y’all” in a heading. Can’t stop, won’t stop.

*Ahem* Anyway.

  1. What’s your favorite genre to write and why is it your favorite?
  2. What are your favorite tropes to use in a story? If you don’t have any favorites, share your least favorites (hehe, let’s inject some negativity in this tag).
  3. In honor of the Christmas season, what’s your favorite Christmas-themed book or movie?
  4. Do you enjoy listening to music when you write? If so, what kind of music?
  5. Who is your favorite author and why is he/she your favorite?

Nominations

Naomi and Books

K. L. Pierce Books

The Dancing Bardess

Looking forward to seeing your posts, you three (see, I didn’t use “y’all… I almost did, but I stopped myself)!

Gift Ideas For The Writers In Your Life

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The holidays have officially begun! That means the yearly struggle to find the perfect gifts for your loved ones has also begun. *Halfheartedly* Yaaaay…

*Ahem*

Anyway, I figured it was a good time to make a blog post with a couple of gift ideas for writers. Also, confidentially, it’s Thanksgiving week, and I’m writing this on the day it has to go out. So… easy post time! Hehe, I’m so professional.

Let’s get started.

Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with or sponsored by any company/brand mentioned in this post, and I don’t earn any kind of commission if you buy anything through these links. I just think they’re cool.

Books

Look, no writer is going to say no to books.

  1. Save the Cat: Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody

This book is pretty awesome. It taught me a lot about story structure and character, and it’s especially helpful if the recipient is an outliner.

2. The Emotion Thesaurus

Look, writing emotions is HARD. I think any of us who have tried it know it’s hard. Plus, you have to make sure you’re not repeating the same descriptions (i.e., “their breath caught in their throat” ad infinitum), while making sure it’s still realistic. *Melts into exhausted puddle* Why do we write again?

Anyhow, a book like this is sure to be helpful, especially for trying to convey an unfamiliar emotion.

3. Gift a Book of the Month Membership

I can’t be the only one who has been hearing about this company constantly on YouTube. They sponsor half the BookTubers I watch.

It’s a monthly book box delivery service that allows you to pick a book (with two add on books if you wish, I believe) from their monthly selection to be shipped to your home. You can also choose to skip delivery on a month you don’t want any new books!

Writerly Swag

  1. Litographs

Litographs is a company that makes blankets, scarves, pillows, etc. with a select number of words from well-loved books printed on them to form beautiful pictures/patterns (seriously, check out their site — they’re amazing). Additionally, they also do custom items, so, if your writer has a WIP or a published book, you can get them something with a piece of their own book printed on it! I’m sorry, but that’s just COOL. Litographs also offers gift cards if you’re not sure what your loved one would want.

2. NaNoWrimo Merch

With Christmas falling right after the tumultuous NaNoWrimo season, you can commemorate your loved one’s efforts by gifting them some fun NaNo swag.

I also recommend chocolate with this gift. NaNoWrimo is rough.

Writer Survival Items

  1. Gift a Spotify membership!

Okay, I know not ALL writers listen to music while they write, but, for a lot of us, it’s nonnegotiable. And Spotify ads are annoying, so… *clumsily drops hint, which hits the ground with a clang*

2. iTunes gift card!

For the writers in your life who prefer iTunes.

3. Really nice earbuds

I could put a link here… but I’m not going to for two reasons. One: I don’t have a good track record with picking earbuds. Two: I’m lazy (is anyone shocked?).

Trust me, for music listening writers, nice earbuds are a beautiful thing to receive.

4. PENS.

‘Nuff said.

5. Nice notebooks

For the writers in your life who like to scribble down their thoughts/outlines/stories longhand. Respect them — they have hands of steel. Also, take it from me, they can never have enough notebooks.

6. Fuzzy slippers

For comfort. Because writing. And because the floor is cold.

Merry Not-Even-Close-To Christmas, My Friends!

I hope this was helpful! It was a lot of fun putting it together. Be sure to comment with your writerly gift ideas!

Cultivating a Writer’s Outlook

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As writers, we’re constantly trying to improve our craft. We want to write better each day, and create better stories. One of the ways to do that is research. Another is practice. Yet another is learning to relate to the world like a writer, and, in my opinion, that is one of the most important skills to cultivate as an author.

So, what does it involve?

See Like A Writer

Every day, we are practically assaulted with different sights. We see our familiar house, our yard, the sky in the morning, the trees with light shining through their leaves… there is so much to look at! And all of it presents the perfect opportunity for us to hone our sense of beauty, of ugliness, of peace, and of turmoil.

Keep your eyes open. Store the images you see away, because you never know when they might come in handy for a story. Learn to look at things like a writer — the same way a painter might learn to look at things like an artist.

Think Like a Writer

Our habits can be incredibly powerful. If you make a practice of thinking in terms of story and prose, everything will flow more smoothly when you actually sit down to write because you will have worn helpful pathways in your brain.

Learning your voice as a writer is tricky and takes time. However, if you work on it even when you’re not writing, the process is easier.

Take in those images we talked about above and try to figure out how you would describe them. Draw inspiration from others if you like, but challenge yourself to say something new. Pretty prose is nice, but the best prose truly says something.

Look at the people around you and characterize them in your head. Ask yourself how you would put their little mannerisms into words, or how you would show people who they are . Try to describe them succinctly as possible while still evoking an image in people’s minds.

Tell yourself little stories in your head whenever you have a chance. Narrate your walk down your driveway, your nighttime routine, or anything.

When you watch movies or read books, try to think of them as a writer. Pick them apart. Figure out why you enjoyed them, or why you didn’t. See if there’s anything you can learn from them.

Let your thoughts become story.

Feel Like a Writer

We all experience emotion every day, whether within ourselves or within someone close to us.

If you can, examine those emotions. How do they present themselves? When you’re sad, do you tend to cry or do you just feel a tightness in your chest? Or maybe you don’t want to cry, so you become irritable as a defense (*coughs* that’s not me, I don’t know WHAT you’re talking about). Keep asking yourself those kind of questions. How do you express/experience happiness, anxiety, fear, etc? How do the people around you express/experience those feelings? How do you tell what they’re feeling? What are some of the visual cues?

Writing fiction, is, in a lot of ways, trying to tell the truth by weaving a lie — well, a story. What’s happening within the story probably never happened in real life (unless you’re writing nonfiction or something inspired by a true story, of course), and the characters don’t actually exist.

But our brains tell us the opposite — at least to the point where we are able to suspend our disbelief and be in the story. Why?

Because what’s happening on the page feels real. We recognize the emotions, the desires, the reactions as inspired by truth. Often, they will reflect things we have felt or experienced.

If you want your readers to connect with your story, you have to tell the truth. Don’t be afraid to be real. Ask yourself how a certain situation would make your character feel, and don’t immediately pick the easiest answer — because it might not be the actual one.

Doing this will be easier if you’ve had a lot of practice — if you are learning from real life whenever you can.

Daydream Like a Writer

This one is probably something all of you already do, but I don’t think this post would be complete without it.

We can’t spend every moment of every day writing, but our practice doesn’t always have to occur on the page. Thanks to our lovely, multitasking brains (I mean, seriously, they’re incredible — thank you, Jesus, am I right?), we can be thinking about our story for a good percentage of the day.

If you don’t already do that, I encourage you to try it out. It allows you to plan your story ahead of time (if that works for you) and experiment with different scenarios without actually taking the time to write them out. My brain usually moves way faster than my fingers. Not only that, but it means you’re practicing the art of telling a story. All the time.

Writing As A Muscle

Writing is HARD — we all know this. But we can make it a bit easier for ourselves by practicing having a writer’s mind. Make those small choices to wear pathways in your brain that will rewire it. Keep it up long enough, and it will become automatic. You’ll watch movies and read books through the eyes of a writer. You will experience life as a writer.

And, trust me, it will show.

What The MCU’s Spider-Man Can Teach Us About Writing

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(SPOILERS FOR SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, AND AVENGERS: ENDGAME — READ AT YOUR OWN RISK)

I’m gonna let you in a little secret that is probably not very secret. I love Marvel’s Spider-Man movies. And it’s not just because Tom Holland is cute, okay?

I mean… it’s probably part of the reason, let’s face it. But the other reason is Peter Parker’s character arc and how it relates to the movies’ themes. These movies are a masterclass in how to develop a character in a compelling way that enhances a meaningful theme.

Maybe I’m reading into them too deep, but whatever. Let’s do this.

Theme Interlocks With Everything

To me, the MCU Spider-Man movies are about growing up. And also about how growing up kind of sucks sometimes, even though it comes with a bunch of benefits.

To match the theme, Peter’s arc thus far has been that of a kid figuring out what it means to be an adult and then how to be an adult.

What I love about these movies is that theme seamlessly blends with plot and character development. Peter faces something that challenges his pre-conceived beliefs about adulthood, learns something new about what it means to be an adult, overcomes the challenges, and reinforces the theme.

In my opinion, stories that weave theme, plot, and character together are the ones that are the most powerful, the ones that stick with me long after I finish them.

Peter Parker’s Progression

Hehe, say that five times fast.

*Ahem*

Peter follows a very clear character arc over the course of the four movies (not counting Captain America: Civil War) he’s appeared in, and breaking down that arc can teach us a lot about crafting compelling character arcs that also strengthen the theme of your character’s story.

So. Let’s start.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spoiler summary: After the events of Civil War, Peter Parker returns home to Queens and grows into his role as Spider-Man, while constantly hoping to get called in to another Avengers mission. When he continues to feel sidelined and ignored by Tony, he investigates a group of illegal weapon dealers, but things spin out of control when he meets their leader, the Vulture. Against Tony’s instructions, Peter continues to investigate and inadvertently puts an entire ferry full of people in danger through his recklessness. Tony saves the ferry but confiscates Peter’s suit. Peter then tries to be a normal teenager and go to Homecoming with Liz, his crush, but everything goes wrong again when he finds out the Vulture he’s been fighting is, in fact, her father. When the Vulture puts the pieces together and figures out that Peter is Spider-Man, he threatens Peter and tries to get him to leave him and his crew alone. Peter ignores his threat and ends up preventing the Vulture from stealing a plane full of alien and Avenger technology.

Peter in this movie is very much a headstrong, reckless teenager who desperately wants to be counted among the adults. He wants to grow up, and he thinks he can handle much more than Tony Stark is giving him. But he doesn’t really understand what it is to grow up because, if he did, he would know he’s not ready.

Tony Stark gives Peter the duty of being a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” because he doesn’t think Peter is old enough for a seat at the Avengers’ table. Peter disagrees, and he spends the entire movie trying to prove himself but ends up getting in over his head.

Near the end of the movie, Tony loses his temper and takes Peter’s suit away, saying that Peter isn’t responsible enough for it. This crushes Peter, but it also shows him that he’s been foolish and is trying to grow up too fast.

The time without his suit gives him a chance to rediscover what a normal life looks like, and he starts to enjoy it. He still likes being a teenager, and that’s when he realizes Tony might be right. Being an Avenger, being an adult comes with a lot of responsibility, and, after almost getting everyone on the ferry killed, Peter’s beginning to understand that he doesn’t want that. Maybe being a normal kid isn’t so bad after all.

Except (and this ends up being a big theme running through each of Spider-Man’s appearances in the MCU) it’s not possible for Peter to just be normal. He’s too powerful, and he’s not the kind of person who is going to stand by and let bad things happen.

So when it turns out that Liz’s dad is the weapons dealer he’s been trying to apprehend the whole movie, Peter is faced with a choice. Take up the mantle of responsibility (without the backup the Tony’s suit) to stop the Vulture, or forget about being Spider-Man and go to Homecoming with Liz and be a kid.

Peter, being Peter, chooses the first option with almost no hesitation. He goes up against Vulture, almost dies, but manages to succeed. Manages to win. His way — not Tony Stark’s.

That’s important going forward, because, up till this point, Peter was trying to imitate Tony. Be like him, rather than like himself. But he can’t move forward into adulthood without learning who he is. And this is his first step — being Spider-Man, his way.

At the end of the movie, Tony offers to bring Peter in on the Avengers Initiative and let him live at the complex, but Peter has been changed irrevocably by the events of the movie. He has matured, to the point where he realizes that there’s so much good he can do on his own block as Spider-Man. He understands that the superhero life comes with huge stakes and heavy shoulders, and maybe he’s not actually ready for that.

So he turns down Tony’s offer (much to Tony’s shock) and goes home to Queens where he happily continues to be a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”, even though he has proven himself to be capable of more.

Avengers: Infinity War

Spoiler summary: Thanos begins to gather the rest of the Infinity Stones so he can use the Gauntlet’s power to wipe out half the universe, thus restoring “balance” in his eyes. The Avengers and many other characters team up to fight him, but they are unable to win. He succeeds and “snaps” half of the universe into dust, including Peter and many other Avengers.

Peter’s next appearance comes during Infinity War, when one of Thanos’s ships bears down on New York City. He’s on a school trip with his class, but when he sees the ship, he’s obviously not going to stand by. He suits up and joins Tony and the others in the battle.

When Doctor Strange is captured by one of Thanos’s children in an attempt to get the Time Stone from him, Peter doesn’t hesitate. He jumps onto the outside of the spaceship and tries to get inside it. He almost dies when the altitude gets to be too much for him. Tony saves him with the Iron Spider suit, but they both end up trapped on the ship.

Once there, Peter continues to help, even though Tony is angry at him for staying in the fight when he told him to go. Since Peter doesn’t exactly have a choice in the matter anymore, Tony inducts him into the Avengers, which further cements him as basically Tony’s protégé (this is important going forward).

They meet the Guardians of the Galaxy (don’t ask) on Titan and team up to fight Thanos. Peter shows himself a capable member of the Avengers throughout the fight, but it doesn’t spare him from what’s to come. When the Snap happens, Peter is killed along with everyone else, dying in Tony’s arms.

Through this, he learns another price of growing up. Sometimes you lose, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Still, all he wants to do is make Tony proud, so his last words are an apology for not being able to stop Thanos in time. For dying.

I’m not crying, you are.

Avengers: Endgame

Spoiler summary: Five years have passed since the Snap. The remaining Avengers have tried to move on but cannot. Since Thanos destroyed the stones and was killed by Thor shortly after the initial Snap, there seems to be no hope of ever bringing everyone back. However, when Ant Man returns from the Quantum Realm (don’t ask) after having been trapped there for five years, they discover that the Quantum Realm could be used as a route for time travel. They formulate a plan, and inn an epic time heist through their own histories, they gather up the Infinity Stones from the past to unite them in a new Gauntlet and save the world. However, they capture the attention of a past version of Thanos, who comes to Earth, destroys the Avengers compound, and tries to steal the stones from them with the intent of destroying their universe and making a new one. However, before he could stop them, they used the stones to undo the Snap. As his forces gather, the Avengers reunite with everyone who died and face off in a battle for the universe. During the fight, Tony manages to get a hold of the stones and sacrifices his life to “snap” Thanos and his forces out of existence, thus saving the universe.

Peter is absent for most of this movie, although he is Tony’s driving motivation for undoing the Snap.

When the Avengers finally do succeed in bringing everyone they lost back, Peter joins in the final epic battle against Thanos. He is instrumental in keeping the Infinity Gauntlet away from him, and he truly becomes an Avenger in this sequence. One could even say his character arc is complete.

Except it’s not. The Spider-Man movies are about growing up, yes, but they’re also about coming into your own as a person. And Peter, while he has grown and matured so much over the course of the films, still doesn’t know who he is. He still desperately wants to be just like Tony Stark.

So, when Tony sacrifices himself for everyone at the end of the movie, Peter is shattered. He thought he had finally gotten everything together, become an Avenger, but now the rug has been pulled out from under him. He no longer knows what to do.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spoiler summary: After the events of Endgame, everyone, including Peter, tries to recover. Peter is grieving Tony and looking to find a way to live a normal life. He no longer really wants to be Spider-Man, but circumstances force him into it. He ends up teaming up with Quentin Beck (Mysterio), a man who is supposedly from an alternate universe and is looking to save Earth from elemental beings bent on the world’s destruction. However, it comes to light that Mysterio was lying, and is in fact behind the destruction. He has been using drones and holographic technology to create convincing illusions. Peter discovers his deception and ends up in a battle for his life and for London. He manages to stop Mysterio, but Mysterio manages to reveal Peter’s identity and convinces the world that he was the villain all along.

In this movie, we see Peter back in Queens, except nothing is the same. The whole world has been turned on its head because of the Snap, and he’s dealing with grief and trauma from everything that happened. All Peter wants to do is try to regain some semblance of normalcy. He wants to be a teenager, go on a class trip, and figure out how to tell MJ, a classmate, that he likes her.

Only problem is, this is the movie where everyone decides that Peter is an adult. Happy, Aunt May, Nick Fury, Maria Hill, and a deceased Tony all regard him as an Avenger and a superhero. Once, that would have been Peter’s dream, but now he wants the opposite.

Worse, the whole world is looking for a replacement for Iron Man. And everyone assumes that replacement is Spider-Man. Even Tony appears to when he wills him the glasses that control EDITH, a global protection system. Everyone is looking to Peter to protect them and be the new Iron Man.

Throughout the movie, Peter resists that call. He doesn’t believe he can ever be Iron Man, and he certainly doesn’t want to be a hero for all the world. He doesn’t even want to be Spider-Man anymore.

Predictably, crisis hits and Nick Fury calls on Peter to help — whether he wants to or not. That’s how Peter gets involved with Mysterio, who is the only one in the entire film who seems to understand Peter and treat him like a kid. He appears to care about Peter and believe he can fill Tony Stark’s shoes, but he is the only one not forcing him into it.

Peter instantly latches on to this new father figure who takes the pressure off him and gives him someone new to look up to.

Which makes it all the more terrible for Peter when Mysterio betrays him and reveals that he was after the EDITH glasses all along. Worse than that, Mysterio really does think of Peter as “only a kid” and has none of the confidence in him that Tony had.

After Mysterio defeats Peter in the worst way, Peter goes to Happy for help, and his character arc for the movie climaxes in a highly emotional scene where Happy explains that Peter is never going to be Iron Man, and that Tony himself didn’t want Peter to be a new Iron Man. He, in fact, wanted him to be better. He wanted him to be Spider-Man. Tony believed in Peter before Peter believed in himself.

This is a huge moment in Peter’s movies-long character development. For the first time, he realizes who he is. He’s Spider-Man, and he’s going to go about saving the world his way — not anyone else’s. He takes up his mantle as an adult, as an Avenger, and goes out to stop Mysterio.

He succeeds in an epic sequence in which he uses his Spider Sense (or the Peter tingle if y’all prefer), which has been on the fritz the whole movie because of his doubts, to defeat Mysterio’s illusions. In the climactic moment, Mysterio appears beaten and tries to use Peter’s immaturity and lingering desire for a replacement for Tony against him again, but Peter doesn’t fall for it. He uses his Spider Sense to see through yet another illusion and stops Mysterio from shooting him just in time.

This is the moment Peter truly crosses the line from childhood into adulthood.

Up till this point, the villains he has fought have either been small-time, honorable in some fashion, or impersonal forces such as Thanos.

In the climax of his first movie, he is able to save the Vulture (another instance of Peter starting to own who he is), and the Vulture ends up protecting him from the other imprisoned criminals Peter has taken down. Despite his villainy, the Vulture still has some good in him and respects Peter’s courage.

In contrast, the conflict with Mysterio is highly personal. Even though Peter tries to end it as peacefully as possible, Mysterio betrays him again and tries to kill him in a savage, sneaky way that the Vulture never would have attempted. Despite trying, Peter is unable to save him.

In my eyes, the two villains work as a metaphor for the loss of innocence. When Peter was a child, things were simpler and the people he interacted with, no matter how bad, had some redeeming qualities. Now that he is adult, things have gotten more complicated, and the innocence is gone. No matter how kind and good he is, he will still meet vile people who won’t fight fair or care about him as a person.

After the battle, Peter rejoins his classmates and even manages to tell MJ how much he likes her. They share their first kiss, and, for a time, it seems like Peter can juggle both lives. He can be Spider-Man and a high school student. Superhero and boyfriend.

But that would undermine his character arc and his story’s theme. This is why the writers put in a twist ending where Mysterio betrays Peter one final time and reveals his identity to the world. Not only that, but Mysterio also leads everyone to believe that Peter is behind the destruction he himself caused. Now Peter will either be on the run or be caught in a battle to clear his name.

This fits exactly with an overarching theme of Peter’s movies. He’s a boy who wanted to be an adult before realizing that childhood wasn’t so bad. Unfortunately, the world will not allow him to remain a child. It continually forces him to grow up and leave normal life behind.

Well. That got heavy. Sorry if I depressed you guys. Let’s just be thankful we’re not Peter.

What Can We Learn From This?

These movies are a masterfully done, and there’s so much we can take from them that applies to our own writing.

  • Theme, plot, and character should usually be inseparably linked.
  • A story can be upbeat and hopeful while still conveying a bittersweet theme.
  • Don’t be afraid to use symbolism to get your point across.
  • Sometimes taking the most important thing away from your character is the best catalyst for growth (hehe, that sounds so sadistic).
  • Don’t be afraid to break your character — it makes the moment he/she rises again that much more powerful.
  • Be sure that you don’t brush off a character’s previous experiences or traumas. Allow past occurrences, especially terrible ones, to continue to affect him/her in the present as their character develops (wow, this sounds REALLY sadistic).
  • Allow your character to fail often, or be unable to stop/change things.
  • Especially if you’re writing a series, allow a natural progression of the story’s theme and the character’s arc. The first Spider-Man movies are about Peter realizing he needed more experience, and the latter ones are about Peter coming to terms with his growing responsibilities and figuring out who he is.
  • Your character might be becoming a better person or becoming who he/she were meant to be, but that does not mean his/her story needs a happy ending all the time.
  • Your villain can and perhaps should teach your character just as much as a mentor figure.
  • Choose villains that challenge your character, force him/her to grow, and affect him/her in some personal way.
  • Try putting your character in conflict with many different people, even if they are on his/her side. It will force he/she into a corner and force him/her to make choices.
  • Give your character concrete desires that make sense for their character, but make sure to let them evolve organically as his/her story progresses.
  • Make sure your story doesn’t go in a direction that undermines your theme or your character’s arc.

Conclusion

Stories like Spider-Man’s can teach us so much about writing. Analyze your favorite stories. Ask yourself why they work and what you can learn from them. Pick them apart down to their bones. Try to figure out what the writers were thinking or hoping to get across and decide if they succeeded.

Thanks for letting me nerd out! I hope this helped you with your writing in some way.

Let’s chat! Tell me in the comments below what your thoughts on these movies are or tell me something you learned from another story (that would actually be super helpful, thanks).

Happy writing, my friends!

Unsolicited NaNoWriMo Pep Talk

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Well, it’s November. Which means the sane (haha, just kidding) among you are busy prepping for Christmas and Thanksgiving.

It also means that some of you are in the thralls of NaNoWriMo. Or as I like to call it: writing hell.

Can you tell I’M in the thralls of NaNoWriMo?

Sorry, this hasn’t been very pep talky thus far. *Ahem*

I don’t know how your writing is going right now. It might be going great (I see you, Twitter followers who are pulling off 2k-6k days!), or it might feel like every word is being dragged out of you by force.

I’m kind of in the middle, if anyone’s interested.

But if you’re having trouble this month, if life has thrown you a curveball, or if the words just aren’t coming… this post is for you.

Listen. The world needs your story. It does. It needs to discover your unique way of seeing the world, your individual voice. This idea you have, that’s been swirling around in that big brain of yours for days, months, or years… we want you to share it.

Because it’s yours. No one else can write this story the same way you can.

So if you’re feeling discouraged, if you want to give up, remember that. You’re going to shine so bright.

Every successful author had a beginning. Maggie Stiefvater, Brandon Sanderson, John Green, Shannon Hale, C.S Lewis… they all started with an idea and a dream. They fought for their stories, and they won.

You can too.

Don’t give up. Keep writing. Keep fighting. Remember your dreams, and never dismiss them as impossible.

And know that I’m praying for you to be able to achieve everything you want to.

You can do this, author. I promise.

To finish this off, here’s a pep talk from Kim Chance. I think she’s better at them than me. ; )

Writerly Resources For Authors

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With NaNoWrimo coming up, I figured a post like this might be helpful. Over the years, I’ve curated different writerly resources from conscientiously (*cough cough* read that as “obsessively”) researching the writing craft.

So now I’m gonna share them. This is totally NOT because I didn’t feel like writing a full-on blog post this week. That’s not what’s happening.

(It kind of is…)

*Ahem* On to the post!

Disclaimer: Linking to these resources does not necessarily mean I endorse or agree with everything the creators write or say. It just means I find their content helpful and want to share it.

Okay, the probably unnecessary disclaimer is over. NOW let’s begin.

Blogs

Helping Writers Become Authors by K. M. Weiland

Guys… this blog is incredible. K. M. Weiland has at least 100 pages of blog posts, and they’re all so helpful and informative! I learned about story structure, theme, character arcs, and outlining from this woman! Especially if you’re still new to writing, this blog will help you SO MUCH.

Abbie Emmons: Make Your Story Matter

This blog is also so helpful! Abbie Emmons has a lot of great insights into the power of theme and character. Her posts have taught me so much. Abbie also runs a YouTube channel with a lot of awesome content.

Well-Storied by Kristen Kieffer

Another great resource with a lot of great articles, similar to K. M. Weiland’s site.

Story Embers

Story Embers is many different things (it has GROWN since I last checked it!). It’s a blog, a community, an educator, and more. Its focus is helping Christian writers tell powerful stories that glorify God. If you’re interested in writing Christian fiction, Story Embers is a great place to start! Even if you’re not interested in that realm of fiction, I think the blog posts are helpful regardless.

Hannah Heath’s Blog

I love this blog! Hannah Heath also has a big archive of posts that delve into various topics related to writing. Her posts are from a Christian perspective, but much of what she talks about applies to all genres. Plus funny GIFS!

She also has a YouTube channel you should check out.

YouTube Channels

And speaking of YouTube, it is a WEALTH of writerly resources.

Kim Chance

Kim Chance has taken an indefinite break from YouTube, but she has years worth of videos up on her channel. She gives writing tips, but also covers traditional publishing topics like querying! Besides her educational videos, she has fun vlogs and several inspirational “pep talks”.

Alexa Donne

Alexa Donne has hundreds of videos on writing, querying, and publishing. Her channel also includes writing vlogs and some BookTube-esque (that’s TOTALLY a word) content.

Hello Future Me

This channel is awesome! It has a bunch of in depth videos on world building, writing, and more!

Keylin Rivers

Keylin’s an up and comer in Authortube who does a lot of fun livestream videos, including frequent live writing sprints.

Kate Cavanaugh

Kate does a lot of fun videos as well, and I believe she’s planning on live-streaming some writing sprints this November, so you should definitely check her out!

Brandon Sanderson

I mean… it’s Brandon Sanderson. There’s no way I was going to leave him out.

Of late, he’s been doing livestream signing sessions that have a lot of great writing advice in them. Plus, I find it’s helpful for me to listen to a fellow writer if I’m in a writing slump.

He also has some, if not all, of this year’s recorded lectures from the class he teaches on his channel.

Yes, I am a Writing Nerd. Why Do You Ask?

So. Here you go. A few of my favorite writerly things (and now I’m thinking of the Sound of Music). Anyway, I hope you find this helpful!

…I don’t really know how to write a proper conclusion to this particular post so… yeah. Happy writing!

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