She of the Many Writerly Quirks

Writers are weird.  All writers accept this fact, and so do their families and friends (poor souls).  But beyond the general oddness of scribbling on hands and arms when no paper is in reach or else dropping everything to go record a fantastic new idea–each writer has his own personal quirks.  That are usually hilarious.  Here are mine!

1. When I get a really good idea, I get hyper.  Too hyper to finish writing down said idea.  I walk around, grab my phone, change songs on my ipod , do anything but take the pen and finish writing that idea.  I’m not sure why this happens.  Maybe I get energized by ideas?–and therefore can’t sit still in the face of an energy surge?  Whatever the reason, the more rational side of my brain looks on in exasperation as I dance around rather than record that perfect new idea which fills in a massive plot holes and ties together 7 other plot threads.

2. My story notes ramble all over the place and often contradict each other!  I pursue tangents in parenthesis, break off in mid-sentence to write something else, forget what I was going to originally write, get sidetracked with research, dump all my notes in one place, forget when and where I filed that one stray note…..  Then I get confused trying to sort through them all!

3. In most of my character casts, gentlemen outnumber the ladies.  I’m honestly not sure why I do this.  It’s never intentional; the ratio just ends up that way.  Maybe since I know how women think, I’m more interested in exploring a new mindset?  It may also be a subtle response to a pet peeve: I really, really hate it when females are tossed into a story just for the sake of having females in that story.  (And these characters are rarely influential anyway.)  However, there’s no favoritism when it comes to the needs of the story; if any character, male or female, isn’t needed, I remove the character.

4. I re-use ideas.  If a character doesn’t fit in one story, there’s a good chance I’ll find a place for him or her in another.  If an idea doesn’t fit the current plot, there’s a good chance I’ll simply stick it in another story.  As such, I don’t get too upset anymore when I have to cut things from my manuscript.

5. I cannot easily write in a messy space.  If there’s clutter in my peripheral vision, or I noticed piles of junk on my dresser before I sat at my desk, the messiness hangs over my mind like those cartoon cloudbursts that sit over your head and follow you around, and I just can’t concentrate easily.

6. I refer to my characters as if they were real people, e.g. “If Charles were here, he would do so-and-so…”

7. I refer to my stories by the setting or the era until I create a working title, e.g. “theatre story,” “lighthouse story,” “20s story”.  But one poor story doesn’t even have that much description; it’s still listed in my digital folders as “Story2”.

8.  In the same way, I give my characters nicknames before they get proper names.  The nicknames, however, are often names of TV show characters, other novel characters, and movie characters.  For example, I dubbed an incompetent leader character “Buckland,” borrowing the name of the very incompetent first mate from the Horatio Hornblower episodes “Mutiny” and “Retribution.”

9. However, it drives me absolutely NUTS to have an unnamed character…I can’t picture my characters well unless they have proper names.  Sometimes I’ll give “placeholder” names to a character–that is, temporary proper names until I find more fitting ones later–but then those names often end up sticking and I never find replacements.

10. I used to want as few secret story boards and character boards on Pinterest as possible.  This approach seemed tidier and more organized.  Now I make a new secret board for every good story/character idea I get–I created two story boards last night right after getting ideas for new stories.

11. I love finding the Meyers-Briggs types of each of my characters…but I usually do this after they’re developed nicely.  (Otherwise, I might accidentally write the character to fit the type, rather than finding out what type fits the character!)  So far, I’ve written characters of all 16 types, though I admit that ISTJs and INTJs dominate.  🙂

12. Semi-colons are apparently my favorite punctuation mark, often combined with run-on sentences to create a paragraph that sounds like something out a Dickens novel; not a bad thing in and of itself, of course, unless the paragraph becomes confusing with all the ideas contained therein; usually, the sentences all have a single train of thought running through them, or some overarching category or principle, but some sentences could nonetheless be put in their own paragraphs.

13. Irony of ironies…I have terrible spelling skills.  Maybe I’ve come to rely too much on the red underlining in Microsoft Word, but my spelling is atrocious on paper and on any program without a red underline to denote misspelled words.

14. I love color-coding my handwritten story notes.  Cobalt is the ink color I use for Gentle Fire; dark green is for Empty Clockwork; dark red is for my English political novel; pink or purple is for my theatre story, plain old blue is for that “Story2” I mentioned above, and the list goes on.

So, there are some of my writerly quirks!  Feel free to mention yours in the comments!


Writing Tips for Perfectionists – Fear Formulas vs. Writing Tools

Has this ever happened to you?–you read an article with really solid writing advice.  All the tips make sense, and the author features a published book that used those techniques.  And you’re not exactly sure how to apply the advice to your work-in-progress—but you’d better figure it out.  Because if you don’t, your story will be somehow inferior.  Right?

This is called the Clever Mask of Insecurity Syndrome, and I used to suffer from it frequently.  It’s not a passion to learn about the craft of writing as much as frantic fear that you MUST apply the writing advice in ALL the articles you read.  Or else your story will stink.  The article authors are published, or they cite published authors who used the techniques–either way, all those authors know how to tell a good story, or else they wouldn’t be in print, right?  And if the writing advice makes sense, you’d be a fool not to take it.

The problem with this reasoning is that other writers, even skilled, published ones, don’t necessarily know what techniques will work for your story.  Suppose you come across an article explaining how to write in a thrilling, cinematic style.  But if your story’s scope and style is like the Arthurian legends and the Mabinogion–you’re better off analyzing Howard Pyle’s books or Tolkien’s and Stephen Lawheads’s stories.  The techniques that work for a modern thriller just won’t work for an old-style saga.  (If anything, it might create dissonance and pull readers out of the fictional world!)

I’m not saying to reject all writing advice out of hand.  Just make sure you understand what story you’re telling: the conclusions, the themes, the styles.  Everything that makes it what it is and that makes it original.  Techniques and writing advice are simply tools, and not all tools will work for your story.  You’ll gain a good understanding of what tools work for your novel the more you write and the more you research!


Beautiful People – August Edition

It’s that beautiful time of the month again, and I’m going to bend the rules a little (as I usually do).  I’m featuring three characters–Wilson, Mary, and Durant–from my dawn-of-the-west, fantasy-of-manners story (Gentle Fire).  Mary and Wilson are husband and wife, and Mary and Durant are sister and brother.  And if you’re wondering why I refer to the gentlemen by their surnames, it’s because I first wrote a military portion of the story, and it made sense to use surnames rather than Christian names.  And the naming convention stuck.

Note: I’m still developing these characters, and so some of these details may change.  But as of now, this is what they’re like!


(This is actually Wilson and Mary, and it’s the only picture of Wilson I have in my portfolio!)

  1. What is he addicted to/can’t live without?  Coffee.  Mary once joked that maintaining  good supply of coffee was a higher priority than getting glass windows for the house.  (Which is also kinda true, since Wilson made shutters for the windows that work quite well).
  2. Name 3 positive and 3 negative qualities about your character.  Wilson is easygoing, yet hardworking, and cheerful.  However, he has a type-A streak that makes him stubborn; and though he leads his family, he’s not the sort to step up in community leadership (he says he doesn’t know what would give him authority to do so).  And he doesn’t like to be restrained or controlled, and he becomes an absolute grouch if such a situation continues.
  3. Is he holding onto something he should get rid of?  Not that I know of.  Unless it’s the memory of working his parents’ farm, which his family eventually lost due to financial trouble.  This disturbed Wilson deeply, as he wanted to be able to work the land and pass it down to his sons.  And it’s one reason he moved his family to the colonies: to be able to gain and work their own land.
  4. If 10 is completely organized and 1 is completely messy, where does he fall on the scale?  *sarcastic laugh from Mary*  3 or 4.  He tends to be tidy or at least careful with his tools and farm equipment, but everything else…no.
  5. What most frustrates him about the world he lives in?  Winter.  (His answer.)  He gets stir-crazy after being cooped indoors for a while.   And he hasn’t seen fit to share a serious answer with me yet.
  6. How would he dress for a night out? How would he dress for a night in? Night out: clean shirt and his nice coat.  And that’s about it.  His preferred outfit is sturdy comfortable clothing in earthy tones that won’t show dirt.  And he always wears boots, and usually has his sleeves rolled up and his hands stained with dirt, sap, grease or stains from iron…in fact, he looks as though he’s in the middle of manual work.  This is because he usually is.  And even when he’s not, he still looks casual and somewhat rumpled; he’s never been a sharp dresser and has no sense of fashion.
  7. How many shoes does he own, and what kind?  Work boots and one pair of shoes…assuming he still has them, that is; he may have given them to someone who needed them more.
  8. Does he have any pets? What pet does he WISH he had?  If you count the temporary and accidental ownership of the snakes and squirrels that get into the cabin.  (His answer.)  He doesn’t wish for pets, but he does want animals for the farm: two goats, a pig, and some chickens.  The family already has mules.
  9. Is there something or someone that he resents? Why and what happened?  The creatures the get into the cabin.  (His answer, again.)  And he definitely resents losing his family’s farm back east due to financial trouble.  But he’s not the sort to spend too much time thinking about it; he found a different way to get land to pass down to his sons.
  10. What’s usually in his fridge or pantry?  Potatoes at the very least.  Mary may have added more foodstuffs since he visited the cupboard.  (His answer.)


  1. What is she addicted to/can’t live without?  She loves knitting.  She once said she could be happy living in a rock field if only she had colorful yarn to work with.
  2. Name 3 positive and 3 negative qualities about your character.  Mary is no-nonsense, but caring and hardworking.  But she gets overly frustrated with lack of common sense, she is sometimes too blunt, and she’s not much of a people person–she’s polite and gracious, but not naturally diplomatic or outgoing.
  3. Is she holding onto something she should get rid of?  Not that I know of; Mary doesn’t tend to get stuck in the past.  Or hold on to material things.  For one thing, there simply isn’t room in the cabin.
  4. If 10 is completely organized and 1 is completely messy, where does she fall on the scale?  5-6.  She tends to be tidy, but she also doesn’t fuss about everything being just so.  She has more important things to think about.
  5. What most frustrates her about the world she lives in?  I think it’s the lack of responsibility and initiative from other people, especially from those who are needed to pull their weight in the community or the government.  (Mary is the sort of person who can easily see what needs to be done and why.)
  6. How would she dress for a night out? How would she dress for a night in?  For a night out, she would probably fix her hair in a more elaborate style and wear her nice calico dress (red-brown  sprigged with pink and green flowers).  For a night in, she’d just wear her normal outfit: hair in a low bun, her sturdy work dress, and her favorite red gingham apron.
  7. How many shoes does she own, and what kind?  Her work shoes, and one nicer pair for special occasions.
  8. Does she have any pets? What pet does she WISH they had?  Pets, no.  Vermin that intrudes upon her territory, yes.  (Her answer.)  And she doesn’t really want a pet; there’s not enough room in the cabin for a dog or cat underfoot.  Although she let her son Alex keep the frog he caught, as long as he kept it away from the kitchen table.  (The frog later escaped, though.)
  9. Is there something or someone that she resents? Why and what happened?  Not that I’m aware of; Mary is not a complainer.
  10. What’s usually in her fridge or pantry?  Potatoes, cornmeal, flour, beans, bacon, salt, coffee grounds, the herbs she found in the woods, sometimes leftover meat pie, sometimes cheese from their neighbors, and spices and molasses when the family can afford them.  Mary loves to cook and takes pride in making good meals for her family.


  1. What is he addicted to/can’t live without?  He keeps his notebook on hand and records what happened during the day and any expenses incurred–usually a line or two as a memory aid.  He also records his nephews’ antics; and whenever he’s teaching, he keeps a record of his students’ progresses and skills and what they struggle with.  He doesn’t trust fallible memory with something so important.  As such, he would be upset if the book got lost.
  2. Name 3 positive and 3 negative qualities about your character.  Durant takes his responsibilities seriously–so seriously that he’s keenly aware of the consequences of failure, and this fear affects his ability to assess and decide.  He’s a hard worker, but sometimes gets distracted from the big picture.  And he’s persevering–to the point of being stubborn.
  3. Is he holding onto something he should get rid of?  He sometimes gets too easily discouraged by his own failures and setbacks, and he should let that go.  He tends to drive himself harder the more frustrated or discouraged he gets.  Also, in hindsight, he could probably have brought fewer books out west…but on the other hand, they are valuable possessions.
  4. If 10 is completely organized and 1 is completely messy, where does he fall on the scale?  This depends on what’s at stake.  His notes, letters, and papers are tidy, as are the lesson plans whenever he works as a schoolmaster, but everything else…no.
  5. What most frustrates him about the world he lives in?  The inefficiency of the colonial government.  The whole purpose of the government is to govern and dispense justice, and if the government can’t do that job, something needs to change.  He is also annoyed by any public attention–Durant never knows how to handle it and would prefer to work in the background.
  6. How would he dress for a night out? How would he dress for a night in?  For special occasions, he has a nice blue coat to wear, though he always wears his boots.  Otherwise, he wears his boots, his shabbier brown coat, and work clothes.
  7. How many shoes does he own, and what kind?  Durant wears his boots almost everywhere, but I think he does have one pair of dress shoes.  He just rarely wears them.
  8. Does he have any pets? What pet does he WISH he had?  No pets; and he’s neutral-minded about them.  He likes horses, though.
  9. Is there something or someone that he resents? Why and what happened?  He usually resents his own failures or weaknesses more than anything else.
  10. What’s usually in his fridge or pantry?  He has no idea (his answer).






Guest Post – Tips for Living with Dyslexia

This is a companion post to my Tips for Handling Chronic Illness.  My friend Heather graciously agreed to contribute her thoughts and experience with living with Dyslexia, so take it away, Heather!

My Dyslexic Diagnosis:

Mom had me diagnosed with Dyslexia soon after I started kindergarten.  I’m a high moderate/borderline severe dyslexic.  I wrote everything mirror imaged and/or scrambled and also had other symptoms waving red flags of Dyslexia as well.  My uncommon and early diagnosis proved to be true as my issues continued and grew with each grade in school.  Third grade was my breaking point, and my teacher had no choice but to hold me back.  At the age of 12 I still couldn’t read independently.  Up to the age 16, I couldn’t process what was being said by actors in movies and it (understandably) drove my family and friends crazy by me constantly asking questions. i.e., Why did they just do that? Why are they crying? What is happening? Why are they mad? Why did they just laugh?  I would also watch movies out of the corner of my eye (and still catch myself doing so today).  This can be a sign of many things, but for me it was discovered to be caused by my light sensitivity (co-existing SPD [Sensory Processing Disorder]).  Looking out of the corner of my eyes changed the way my brain processed the light coming in and made it more comfortable for me to process.  As a kid brushing my hair and teeth was quite the chore for my mom.  It would put me in sensory overload as those sensory inputs actually caused—and still causes—me physical pain (because of my brain’s special wiring) so as a kid I would fight against it and scream.  We found sticker reward charts somewhat helpful, and overtime, I just learned to hold the overload inside.  (Up to a certain point.)  Thankfully, with age comes stronger and longer tolerance.  Below is a brief description of dyslexia and helpful tips for Dyslexics and family and friends who live with and know Dyslexics.

What is Dyslexia?

There are many medical terms and ways to explain Dyslexia and explanations of how it affects each individual differently, as the symptoms and severity vary.  However, it all boils down to a difference in brain wiring.  Unlike professionals claim, you CAN’T re-wire the brain of a dyslexic.  However, there are successful ways to teach them to learn  (repetition, visuals, and hands on learning).  But even after that teaching and “re-wiring”, the dyslexic is still a dyslexic and always will be.  Dyslexia is more than a “reading disability.  It affect so much more of daily life than information sources are raising awareness to.  The dyslexic’s special wiring happens for reasons unknown in the womb, and it is hereditary.  Dieting, exercise and therapy can’t cure Dyslexia; however, at times it has proven to help slightly decrease the severity of symptoms with certain individuals.  (For more information: https://www.dyslexia.com/ )

Tips for those living with Dyslexia:

  1. Dyslexics don’t see backwards. (Unlike it’s commonly thought.) However, our mind will make things jump and jumble, and will reverse letters, music notes, and objects.  (This is caused by our sequencing and decoding difficulties due to our brains special wiring)
  2. Never believe that false voice inside you (or real accusations you may hear from others) that says being different is something to hate, and that because of your difference you’re really just lazy, dumb or stupid. It’s been scientifically proven that our active dyslexic minds have to work 10x harder in school alone, and this isn’t considering our daily life and struggles outside of school. Once again, this is caused by our mind’s special wiring which only makes us a different type of learner in school and daily life (not disabled, lazy and stupid).
  3. Dyslexia is not all trials and tears though—it comes with gifts too!! (Vivid imagination, out-of-the-box thinking, and creativity to work around our barriers and difficulties, at times eccentricities, the ability to see things at multiple perspectives, a mind quick to memorize visuals and hands-on activities, and the list goes on.)
  4. Dyslexia is not something we can out-grow or overcome but it is something we can learn to successfully live with. Never give up!
  5. While others will strongly deny and detest this, I find colored overlays very helpful for me personally when trying to read with my dyslexia. (Mainly the yellow overlay works best, but under certain brighter lighting, I’ve found a light green and blue colored overlay to be of good service too).

Some issues and symptoms caused by dyslexia: (note that these symptoms will vary in each individual Dyslexic)

  1. Sensitivities to textures with both food and clothing
  2. Bed wetting issues may occur beyond normal age expected
  3. Sensitivity to bright lights (including sunlight)
  4. Sensitivity to loud noises and the space around them
  5. Sensitivity to scents and certain chemicals (may complain of a choking sensation in the throat and/or cough continuously around the odors)
  6. Because of the Dyslexic’s special brain wiring, one or more of these disorders are highly possible to co-exists along with it.
  7. Co-existing sensory processing disorder (SPD)
  8. Co-existing Tourette’s syndrome
  9. Co-existing ADD/ADHD
  10. Co-exciting auditory processing disorder

Tips for family members, teachers and friends, when communicating with Dyslexics:

  1. Don’t talk down to them or treat them like they’re slow.
  2. If you notice they start to fidget, shift their eyes, and/or sigh a lot while listening, slightly slow down talking, because either your rapid words or other background noises are beginning to put their mind into sensory overload. Either way, slowing down while talking will help them.
  3. If you notice they keep looking around while you’re trying to converse with them or they just stare off instead of being tuned in, don’t take this offensive. Unlike a non-dyslexic, these are NOT signs of boredom or disinterest! It simply means their mind has taken in its max, and by zoning, they can handle staying in the environment that’s overstimulating them.  (Inattentiveness is also not their choice–it’s their mind’s natural way of coping overstimulation.)  Just give them a moment, and they should snap back in tune, and then you can continue talking.  Also (gently) calling their name can help them snap out of their mental daze.  (Since they think in pictures at times, something said will send their mind into a daydream, and they’ll have no idea they stopped listening and will appreciate you kindly recalling their attention.)
  4. Don’t point out weird quirks you notice that the individual with Dyslexia may knowingly or unknowingly display. (Random clicking of the fingers, clapping, hitting hand/s against a hard surface, humming, looking out of the corner of their eyes, rocking back and forth, tapping/bouncing foot or legs, constant fidgeting/squirming in seat, etc.) Their mind is wired differently, so they’re going to be different and somewhat eccentric.
  5. Remember Dyslexics aren’t slow. They have an average or well above average/gifted IQ, and their visual mind is running 30x faster than the average human mind. (Which means they aren’t going to catch everything said or going on.)  So instead of judging what you don’t understand, try to keep an open mind and accept the difference.  Being different is not weird, a disease, or wrong.  Differences and eccentricity add variety to our world.
  6. A Dyslexic stuttering, refusing to write, or mis-pronouncing words is part of their mind’s special wiring that causes a confusion with sequencing and decoding written language. To keep them from shutting down, refrain from laughing at their struggle unless they’re laughing or making a joke about it. Then by all means show it doesn’t bother you, and that you aren’t judging them by laughing with them.
  7. Don’t critique them for how they see and express the world. (Dyslexics are out of the box thinkers.) The majority of Dyslexics are quite enjoyable to converse with.  They care very deeply about the feelings of others, and when comfortable, they can be quite witty, funny, intriguing and sarcastic!
  8. Because of their special wiring, dyslexics will always struggle with sequencing their whole life. (Though with much repetition and visual teaching they can greatly improve.) Things to consider being understanding with them about is: improper spelling, messy handwriting, difficulty with reading and remembering how to write checks, struggling to read non-digital clocks, their frequent struggle of having a “blank mind” when trying to remember names, months, and dates, also constant right/left & under/over confusion.

Special thanks to my dear friend Christine Eyre for giving me this very generous opportunity to do a guest post on her amazing blog! It truly is our hope that this post will help educate and encourage many others out there who are both dyslexic and non-dyslexic. God bless!

~HeatherJoy LaHaye


Artwork Post – Long Overdue

I’m so sorry, guys.  I didn’t mean to wait this long!  Initially, I had very little artwork to post; then I got busy; then I got sick.  But when sick, I always get the urge to draw (putting the down time to good use, I guess), so behold an avalanche of artwork!

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a colored pencil tutorial book at Hobby Lobby and studied it thoroughly.  One technique looked interesting: laying down the values of the drawing with a black (or brown) pencil before adding color.  So I gave it a try…

The black-and-white values as the first layer…

…and here’s the finished product!  I like this technique!  Though it’s not the only one in the book; I’ll try some of the others later.

Another pencil drawing with the same technique (called “grisaille”), except this time, I used a black pencil to draw the values of the trees and a brown pencil for the values everywhere else, since the rest of the picture wasn’t supposed to be as dark.

The book also explained how to get rid of that white-ish waxy buildup that happens after several layers of color: rub the picture, lightest parts first, with a cloth or paper towel until the colors are uniformly smooth.  It’s one way to get rid of the sketchy pencil look that I complained about in my New Year’s artwork post.

Sloppy doodle of Charles Darnay on computer paper, done while listening to A Tale of Two Cities musical soundtrack.

Sketch of James Barbour as Sydney Carton, done while watching A Tale of Two Cities concert (and simultaneously dying inside of feels).

Slightly crooked drawing of Lennox, my character from Empty Clockwork, laughing at something.  He’s a generally cheerful fellow.  🙂

Drawing that I intended to be Mary, from my western story, but it didn’t turn out quite the way I wanted.  So it’s just a random girl putting her hair up.

It’s a head canon of mine that Susan Pevensie reads her mother’s old Good Housekeeping magazines, so here Susan is, curled up and studying household economy.  Also, I drew that pose entirely from my head with no reference!

Although I chickened out at drawing feet and so covered them with the blanket.  🙂

Once the children grew up in Narnia, Lewis describes Susan as “a tall and gracious woman”, so here she is, welcoming visiting dignitaries or ambassadors, or people like that (and hey, at least I tried to draw hands!).  I don’t see Susan being a flashy dresser or weighed down with elegance and jewelry; she’s sensible and practical, and would probably favor a sensible and practical style, though also one that befits her rank.  The place she would splurge with ornaments, however, would be her hair; you have all that gorgeous hair, and you’re going to want to do something special with it.

The Pevensies and Caspian discover fanfiction of their stories.  From left to right: Caspian, Edmund (standing), Peter, Susan (also standing), and Lucy.  Behold also my awesome back-of-the-computer-screen drawing skills (haha), though I am inordinately proud of that mouse and mouse pad, for some reason.

Drawing may or may not have been inspired from a real life pet peeve.  🙂

That’s all for now!








Further Narnia Thoughts – A Confession, A Rant, and Personal Therapy

The Confession

You may have figured this out already, but I don’t like the Walden Media adaptations.  I enjoyed Peter, His Siblings, and Family Is Important The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when it first came out, but–ahem–I was 13.  We’ve all done things we’re ashamed of.

By age 16 and when Jerk Peter Prince Caspian came out, I was a bit more mature–mature enough to nearly succumb to traumatic shock at how much the story had been changed.  (Am I being sarcastic?  I don’t even know.)

And by age 18 when The Voyage of Self Discovery & Multiple Aesops The Voyage of the Dawn Treader came out, I was mature enough to succumb to neither extreme and to simply laugh at it. (*whole crew sailing into mysterious green mist of ambiguous kidnapping power* Caspian: “Now is the time to be strong!”  Me: “Oh, really, sir?  No kidding–I never would have guessed.”)

So, that’s the confession.  It leads straight into…

The Rant

Those paragraphs were not the rant, believe it or not.  But because I dislike the  movies, I get really annoyed by movie-based depictions.  I looked up Narnia fan art yesterday, and most of it was movie fan art.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’d love to see more depictions of how the artists picture the characters.  And on that note, I’d love to see more depictions of blond Caspian.  Lewis in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader describes him as a “golden-headed boy” (though such a description is never given in Prince Caspian, so I understand how readers would get a different image fixed in their minds).

Anyway, it didn’t take long for me to get tired of seeing Movie-fan art.  So then I looked up head canons.  About 45% were movie-based, 45% were odd or just didn’t sound like the characters Lewis described, and the remaining 10% were mostly okay.  It’s not a huge deal, but I want more of the book characters!  In particular, I’m tired of seeing fan fics and head canons with:

  • Modern-sounding dialogue
  • Hidden angst in the characters
  • Susan/Caspian ships
  • Unholy romantic pairings (you think Narnia escapes this?  Guess again)
  • Peter as the more level-headed, grounded one
  • Peter’s protective nature being magnified above his other qualities
  • Blond Peter
  • Completely logical Susan
  • Fashion/make-up loving Susan prior to The Last Battle
  • Feminist Susan/defense of Susan’s behavior in The Last Battle
  • Sassy prankster Edmund
  • Ignorance of Edmund’s thinker, justice-focused nature
  • Caspian as anything other than an earnest, cheerful, sometimes hesitant young man

The Personal Therapy

Yesterday, I began drawing my own fan art, and one piece depicts the reactions of the Pevensies and Caspian discovering fan fictions written about them.  I also began writing an essay discussing Book-Peter’s personality and character arc and relationships with others.  It quickly turned into a dissertation, and I shall put it in my “A Few Notes About…” series, although I’m going to try to finish Part 2 of my post about Christine Daae first.

It’s amazing how I’ve read and loved the books for 17 years and still notice new things about the story and characters.  For instance, while reading through The Horse and His Boy, I noticed this about Susan: she did not rush into a marriage with Prince Rabadash.  She judged him by his actions rather this appearance, race, or culture, and when she realized he was in truth spoiled, arrogant, cruel, etc., she made up her mind not to marry him.  And she did so of her own initiative; her answer to Edmund’s inquiry about her decision is an unequivocal no.  She’s not flighty or clueless when it comes to romantic relationships.

After Rabadash has been captured and imprisoned for unprovoked attack upon Archenland, the lords of the court mention that they are justified in executing Rabadash for his treachery.  But Edmund the Just argues against this–he points out that “even a traitor may mend.”  Barely two minutes later, Edmund tells Lucy that he doesn’t believe Rabadash would repent and mend–but was willing to show him mercy anyway.  A second treachery, however, would not be met with such mercy.

Hopping ahead to Prince Caspian, it melts my heart that the Pevensies were the closest thing to a loving family as young Caspian had.  His aunt disliked him, and Miraz, though initially willing to have Caspian inherit the throne, clearly never loved him.  I wish Lewis had shown a little more of the interactions between Caspian and the four Pevensies (I posted about that here).

What’s also amazing is Caspian did not grow up bitter and angry despite his lonely childhood.  He was unsure of himself, hesitant to take the throne, but–even after learning that Miraz murdered his father, after having to flee for his life, and after having to grow up quickly while barely a teenager–he remains humble, dedicated, and able to love.

He is also realistically young and adorable.  For instance, though he is taught Rhetoric (mentioned in Prince Caspian) and uses it in official situations, notice how informally he speaks around the Pevensies and other comrades.  He greets Eustace cheerfully and is somewhat amused by him (though this sentiment quickly fades).  He is instantly smitten with Ramandu’s daughter.  And he jumps overboard himself to save the three children struggling in the sea, though he could easily have ordered someone else to do it.  In short–Caspian is precious and must be protected at all costs.  Do not malign his character.  Or I will find you.  And I will kill you.

And lastly, more head canons:

  • When Peter was about 15, he shot up several inches in a growth spurt, and ended up lanky for about two years.  However, this did not happen as he was growing up in Narnia, because of the physical exercise he kept up.
  • When a king of Narnia, Edmund usually listened to what everyone had to say and only then spoke up, usually with an armor-piercing question or very obvious solution that everyone else had missed.
  • Susan learned to play the harp in Narnia, and she became quite good at it.
  • Though Peter discourages any suitors unworthy of his sisters, he’s particularly protective of Lucy, since she’s the youngest, very innocent, and his favorite sister.
  • In fact, he knows that Susan can hold her own, but that Lucy would be entirely too kind and sensitive to anyone obnoxious, thereby accidentally giving the wrong suitors hope.
  • Lucy has no idea that she is Peter’s favorite sister.  It has never crossed her mind that you can even have favorites among family members.
  • Lucy likes to play outside, and she brings home anything of interest that she finds: a feather, a oddly shaped rock, and colorful pebble, an old snail’s shell, colorful leaves, bunches of flowers…
  • Caspian is terrible at arithmetic.  (Lewis never even lists math as one of the subjects he was taught, though he surely learned it at some point.)
  • While he goes about his daily duties, Caspian often wonders what the Pevensies are doing at that moment in their world.
  • Early in his reign, when he found himself confused/overwhelmed by some political matter, he found himself wishing he could consult the High King.
  • Which led to the hope that just perhaps, Aslan would let the four of them return one day.
  • He even began to look for them at unexpected times.
  • On the other hand, Caspian did not realize it was the Pevensies (and guest) who appeared in the Narnian seas…he just saw three people struggling in open water and promptly dived overboard (like the precious, caring person that he is).
  • Caspian revived the art of navigation in Narnia…by applying the astronomy principles he learned from Dr. Cornelius.
  • As much as he loved his astronomy lessons, he also loves just stargazing for fun.
  • During the water shortage on the Dawn Treader, Caspian actually shared some of his rations with Eustace, and Edmund shared his with Lucy (Lewis states that Edmund and Caspian had been sleeping badly since the shortage began; and given their natures, it’s conceivable they were looking out for the younger characters).

Tips for How to Respond to Chronic Illness

I’ve briefly mentioned my health problems, but it’s time for a full disclosure.  Since I was 13, my white blood cell count has been abnormally low (and when we discovered this problem, my white count was lower than that of a chemo patient, though it has risen a little since then).  The doctors called this condition “Benign Neutropenia”, meaning that it hasn’t developed into a disease like lupus, for which I’m incredibly thankful.  But the condition makes me constantly tired and makes it hard for my body to fight infection.  I also have Restless Legs Syndrome, which means my legs have to move to be comfortable; if I hold them still, my entire body gets restless.  This problem turns severe at night, and I don’t sleep well (case in point: I drafted this post at 4:50 a.m. after maybe 5 hours of sleep).  And recently, I re-developed asthma; if I lie flat in bed, I start wheezing in an hour (or less).  So I sleep propped up, which makes it even harder to rest and also creates back pain.

I’ve had Neutropenia for over 10 years, the restless legs for almost 10 years, and asthma for about half a year (though it feels longer).  Being chronically ill really has affected my mindset, my perception of myself, my dreams, my abilities, much of my life—but it doesn’t control my entire life.  And I’ve learned a good deal about responding to this situation.

Tips for People Suffering Chronic Illness:

  • Don’t be Eeyore. It is devastating to live with a condition that is, quite literally, destroying your body from within—but there are always little blessings and successes in your life along with the difficulties.  Develop the habit of noticing them and remembering them—maybe write them down on pretty notepaper and stick the paper where you can see it.  Or start a Pinterest board or make a list in a journal.  Nobody likes to be around Eeyore, and that attitude won’t fix your problems.  If anything, it will make you feel worse—and the truth is, no matter how difficult your day is, there will be blessings and little joys throughout.  Try to cultivate some cheerfulness.
  • There is a line between complaining and confiding. Where is this line?  I’m still figuring that out.  A lot may depend on the person you’re talking to; some of your friends may be more compassionate than others.  But having a chronic illness does not mean that you can stop considering other people’s feelings.  Be careful not to whine, and when in doubt, just keep quiet (unless of course, you have a true medical need!).
  • Take “advice” politely. Some folks will hear of your medical problems and offer a solution they heard from a brother’s sister-in-law’s aunt’s cousin, who had the same condition.  Or they’ll ask those “have you tried this?” questions.  It’s hard to listen politely to this (especially since, yes, you’ve probably tried that, and also tried different medicines, exercises, dietary restrictions, and unconventional health cures in desperation).  But those advisors mean well.  They really, really do.  Take the advice with good grace.
  • Be discreet about your symptoms. Chances are, you have more than one health problem and/or multiple symptoms.  But you don’t need to list them all when people inquire after your health (unless the person is a close friend and genuinely wants to know).  A simple, “I’m tired today,” or “I’ve had a hard week, but I’m making it,” will suffice.  Also, don’t constantly talk about your symptoms to your close and trusted friends.  I’m sure you have passions and interests and hobbies you can discuss as well.
  • Be gracious toward your friends’ struggles. If a friend had a restless night, or suffers physical pain for a few days, or experiences any symptom you have—resist the temptation to say, “Now you know how I feel.”  You of all people should know how damaging thoughtless remarks are.  Yes, your friend got a taste of what you suffer, and if they’re wise, they’ll recognize this.  But it’s not your job to point that out.  Just say, “I’m sorry,” and ask what you can do to help.
  • Listen to constructive criticism. Just because you have a chronic illness doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for personal responsibility.  If a close and trusted friend mentions that you’re complaining, or being Eeyore, or showing any other attitude problem—listen to the criticism.  It’s hard.  It may feel like one more problem to fight through or one further flaw that defines you.  You can’t control your illness.  But you can control your attitude and actions.
  • Become more compassionate. You’re not the only one fighting daily battles.  Maybe yours are worse than a healthy person’s, but pain is pain.  Since you know how hard it is to live with, put your experience to good use and encourage other people through their struggles.  Ask how they’re feeling, check on them, listen to them, share tips you’ve learned to help you get through difficulties.  Just don’t make the whole conversation about yourself (e.g. “When I’m struggling yet again, here’s what I’ve found to help me push through despite how I’m feeling…”)  And don’t encourage just because you want others to do the same thing for you.  Let your pain teach you to care–and then genuinely help others.
  • Focus on what you can do.   Your illness will hold you back in many ways, but there will be things you can accomplish.  This sometimes feels like an uphill battle: for every chore you finish or social situation you attend, you might forsake three others.  But one success is better than none.  This is a hard mindset to cultivate, especially if you (like me) are a type-A person with an overdeveloped sense of duty and responsibility.  But the truth is, there is always something you can accomplish, be it texting a friend to encourage them, cleaning up your room, or getting through that social situation with a smile.
  • Don’t constantly use your friends as a hanky. It’s hard for others to understand what you’re going through if they’ve never experienced it, and the compassionate friends who are willing to listen are absolute treasures.  But don’t take them for granted, and don’t be always crying on their shoulders.  Encourage them, and listen to them, and help them out when they need it—after all, you know how hard life gets, don’t you?
  • Truly appreciate your friends. I cannot stress this enough: don’t take your friends for granted.  When they give you their time and energy and compassion, that’s an amazing gift.  And they may feel incredibly helpless that they can’t do more for you.  Tell them you appreciate their kindness, compassion, and support.  Also don’t abuse their graciousness; if they check on you or ask how you feel, be honest, but look on the bright side as well (e.g. “I had a bad night, but I’m in a good mood at the moment!”).
  • Cultivate a sense of humor. Without it, you’ll fold up into a useless, whining lump and probably miss many of the small blessings in every day.  A sense of humor can turn those long doctor’s appointments and wrecked schedules into a hilarious anecdote that amuses you along with everyone else; for a personal example, see this post.  A sense of humor will offer a nice reality check–life is not all gloom, doom, and chitauri–and it will help you feel better.  🙂

Maybe, however, you’re not chronically ill, but you know someone who is.  And you have no idea how to interact with them–you’re annoyed to the point of slamming a chair through the window, or maybe don’t want to hurt their feelings, or at least want some insight on what they’re dealing with.  So here’s what you can do:

Tips for Friends of Chronically Ill People:

  • They may not always be “fine”. Oh, they’ll say they are to avoid complaining or to avoid the criticism and disapproval that will inevitably follow every time they say they’re not  And maybe they’re having a better day than usual—but they may not always be fine.  Recognize this, and let the person know that you’re willing to hear the truth.  This can be tricky, because many chronically ill people don’t want to be coddled and treated like they can’t persevere, but they will appreciate someone willing to hear that, despite their smile, they’re having a hard day.  You could say something like, “I heard you’re dealing with X health problem—how are you feeling today?”  This will be an incredible encouragement.
  • Don’t give medical advice. Especially unsolicited advice.  You’re trying to help, but chances are, your friend has seen several doctors, takes several prescription drugs (that may have nasty side effects), exercises when possible, sticks to dietary restrictions, researches their condition, and tries homeopathic remedies.  Your medical advice is probably not new, and chances are, it’s more annoying than helpful.  (The exception is if you’re a close friend, you’ve researched the condition as well, and/or you’re a doctor or nurse.
  • Don’t gossip about their illness. This should go without saying, but spilling the juicy details of their health problems—even if you’re trying to raise awareness—violates your friend’s trust.  Maybe he/she doesn’t want others to know or maybe would prefer to disclose that information themselves.  If someone is mouthing off about how tired your friend always is, then you can say something general like, “Well, constant pain makes it tough.”  (Or sleep deprivation or whatever the symptom is.)  But talking about chronically ill behind their back makes them a subject of gossip; and chances are–despite good intentions of raising awareness–you won’t make anyone truly understand what your friend deals with.
  • Treat them like normal people.  There’s no need to walk on eggshells or automatically assume they won’t be able to meet the deadline, join you for lunch, or hang out on the weekend.  Chronically ill people won’t appreciate being sentimentally pitied or fussed over as though they can’t take care of themselves.  If you sense they’re struggling, ask if they’re okay and if you can do anything to help.  Otherwise, don’t act like their illness is their personality.
  • Be compassionate. Chronically ill people face disapproval for a condition they literally cannot control.  They’ll be asked why they didn’t come to the Christmas party—again—or why they can’t make it to the evening church service, why they frequently reschedule get-togethers, why they’re not more cheerful, why they’re always tired, why their medicine isn’t working, and so on.  Chronically ill people often cannot accomplish simple activities without exhaustion and pain.  That really messes with their minds, their emotions, and their perceptions of themselves.  As such,  try to be patient with the ups and downs.  You’ll get tired of hearing that your friend is exhausted, has to reschedule plans, suffers yet another side effect from medication—but guess what?  Your friend lives with the problem.  And you would not believe the embarrassment and discouragement that comes with being constantly tired and unable to fulfill obligations.  Any time you have a bad night or experience one of their symptoms, imagine living with it every day, and see how fast your perspective changes.  Sympathy and patience go a long way in encouraging them and helping them persevere.  But on the other hand…
  • Gently give constructive criticism. If you’re a close a trusted friend, you owe it them to kindly point out attitude problems and character flaws.  Chronic illness does not relieve them of responsibility to become better people, and you’re not “a good friend” to ignore attitude problems.  Just be gentle about how you point out flaws, because the information can feel like yet another battle the sick person has to fight.
  • Encourage them. Chronically ill people fight physical, mental, and emotional battles every day.  Not only do they struggle with symptoms, they may question their worth because they can’t do what a healthy person can.  They may be embarrassed by constantly re-scheduling social appointments or having to decline altogether.  They may feel that they’re constantly failing.  And they will be incredibly discouraged that they can’t fulfill their hopes and dreams.  To top it off, they have to wear a mask in public, to appear more cheerful and energetic then they really are, out of consideration for others and/or because others just won’t understand.  Their illness affects their whole lives, and they may lose sight of their strengths and successes.  Remind them of what they can do and how well they’ve managed, how strong they are, how kind, funny, whatever.  This will be a huge encouragement.
  • Ask what you can do to help. It’s hard to know whether your efforts are helpful: if your advice is perfect or annoying (especially if they take it in good grace); whether going out to lunch would be fun or exhausting; whether taking on their workload is a relief or an insult.  But if you don’t know, just ask.  Something as simple as, “What can I do to help?” is great.
  • Listen to them. This is the most encouraging and compassionate thing you can do.  Maybe you have no idea what your friend is experiencing, but guess what?—you’ll find out if you listen.  And truly listen; not give advice, not point out that it could be worse (yes, it could, but chronic illness is hard)–just listen.  Sometimes, all your friend needs is to cry and confide for a while.  Living with chronic illness can feel like a losing battle, but it will be an incredible comfort if your friend knows you genuinely care, not just about about their physical well-being, but their emotional well-being.

If you readers have any tips to add, feel free to mention them in the comments!  And if you notice that my posts could have been penned by Eeyore, or that I mention difficulties more than humor or blessings–please let me know.  🙂


Artwork Wednesday – Fandom Crossover Edits!

Once upon a time, I was chatting with Bella  about A Tale of Two Cities.  At some point during the conversation, we realized that lyrics from other musicals like Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera fit the characters from AToTC.  Cue massive feels and fangirling and ideas shooting back and forth–and then a Photoshopping frenzy!  🙂  I began making picture/lyric edits, and Bella has already featured some of them on her Tumblr fan blog, which is here.

Warning: Serious feels and heartbreak ahead for Phantom and A Tale of Two Cities fans.  What do you mean, I’m taking this too seriously?


See what I mean?

That crack you heard was the sound of my heart breaking…


*gross hysterical sobbing*

As much as I love Sydney, Charles and Lucie are an absolutely precious couple, and they also need some love!

How about some Tale of Two Cities + Phantom?

I recently introduced another friend of mine to The Phantom of the Opera musical (the 25th Anniversary Concert, of course.  🙂 )  And she loved it–so much that she made some edits of her own!



Aw, yeessss!!

But it isn’t just musical crossovers I make, oh no.  Here’s Captain America + Bandstand:

I’m sorry.

And then The Alamo:

Now I’ve got to run, ’cause Chris is going to kill me.












The Art of Storytelling – Creating My Compass

(Thanks to Bella for her title suggestion!  I was truly stuck.)

NOTE: I initially published this back in January, but decided to tweak the style and post it again.  This isn’t a guide for How To Write the Perfect Story; but the principles that have worked well for me.  ?

I once had no idea how to keep my stories focused.  I had good ideas, but I had a lot of ideas and couldn’t discern which ones truly belonged in my work-in-progress.  Was this phrase a better explanation of the theme?—or that paragraph a couple pages later?—or that note on my digital sticky notes?  Cue the pile-up of 172 pages of notes.  And I inevitably got overwhelmed.  Even more frustrating, after I sorted through those notes and reworded ideas (again), the story pieces added up—to the wrong picture.  Finally, through trial and error and through analyzing books and films, I created this list of points that help me build my story more easily and to keep it focused.

Articulate the Story Concept.  Or the general idea behind the story.  It could be a question to explore, such as “Where to draw the line in giving loyalty?”  It could be a character or situation: “A girl who was never taught to discern properly,” or a simple plot: “A girl takes up multiple hobbies to find her passion and talent.”  Or it could be a general theme, such as “different kinds of power (social, legal, abusive, and others) and what they can and cannot accomplish.”

Actually, I know the concept from the get-go; whenever I say, “Well, I have an idea for a story about…” that’s the concept.  But it could be narrowed a little–a general idea can become many different stories (which cleverly disguise themselves as plot bunnies).  So here’s a question that narrows the field: What draws me to this idea?  What do I love about it?  This not only helps keeps my story focused, it also explains what’s original about the idea, and it articulates my own passion for the subject.

As an example from my writing, one story idea is about two families whose children marry for mutual social and financial benefit.  This is the general idea.  The more specific idea is how these characters respond to the various social and familial expectations of them.  And what I like about the idea is the mindsets, values, and relationships of the characters as they handle situations in which they do not have a lot of control.  All very general, but it tells me at once that my idea about the fight between Enlightenment vs. Romanticism doesn’t belong in this story.

And then I tinker with the wording of the concept until it expresses exactly what I have in mind.  My ultimate goal is to understand what story I’m telling.  Not just the genre, but what I’m personally trying to say.  (More on that later.)

Specify the Story Conflict.  This definitely helps me discern which ideas (and subplots and side characters) belong in the plot.  And when I fail to specify the conflict, my story becomes crowded and confusing.  (*stares sadly at mountain of unfinished drafts*)  So do other writers’ stories—I may offend people with this example, but the film God’s Not Dead had a plot thread completely separate from the main conflict.  The conflict of the film is ultimately between skeptics attacking faith in the God of the Bible and Christians defending that faith.  While this is going on, a liberal feminist news reporter learns that she has cancer, and she eventually gets saved.  (Whoops, spoilers.)  But she does not meet or influence any of the other characters.  And since she gets saved near the end of the story, she doesn’t have time to contribute to the main point by defending her newfound faith.

I get why this plot was included: so that a character (and by extent the audience) could hear the Gospel.  But that character and her story does not enhance or contribute to the ultimate conflict.  That detour simply uses screen time that could have been spent on the main characters.  And on that note, a better way to include the Gospel would be to have the ex-Muslim girl remember the Gospel to strengthen herself in the face of persecution or perhaps try to share the Gospel with her family.  That would have contributed to the conflict, and it would have been an awesome addition.  (Seriously, the writers should have explored that character and her situation further!)

So, defining the story’s conflict will thin down those plot bunnies.  But here’s a catch: conflict often has two layers: surface conflict, and then what I call “root conflict.”

Surface conflict is a clash that fits the story’s concept, but that happens apart from—or because of—the root conflict.  The root conflict is the ultimate battle of the story, the clash that explains what’s really at stake.  It’s often internal conflict (but not always).  A good example of these two layers is the film Inception.  The “surface conflict” is the attempt to plant an idea in a man’s mind through his dreams.  This is something that had never been successfully done—oh, and there’s a deadline for this attempt.  But the root conflict is Cobb battling his own guilt and fear and grief.  He cannot let go of the past, and at first refuses to confront his problems.  His stubbornness and his burden endanger his goal and the safety of his team.

So I write down the obvious conflict in my story and then ask how that conflict came to be, which helps identify the root conflict.  (Or vice-versa, and I think about what action might be prompted by the root conflict.)

Make the Setting Influence the Action or Affect the Characters.  Years ago, I entered a short story contest with several guidelines: the required setting was the Titanic, and the contest theme was “Women and Children First.” I wrote the story of a couple who met on the ship; and though they weren’t close friends, the man stepped back so the woman could get into a lifeboat and escape.  Measured by the contest guidelines, the story and setting worked.  But when I looked at that story a few years later, I asked: how does the Titanic enhance the plot?  Sure, the event is a classic example of chivalry, but without the contest parameters, my characters could do what they liked and could be moved to a different setting with no big change to the plot.  Red flag that the setting was just painted scenery, and not a place with impact.

In my story Empty Clockwork, however, the setting is a late-Victorian world with strict social norms and tradition but with a steampunk twist:  scientific dabbling is a popular hobby for the rich.  And “secret” labs in the basement are an essential part of any grand house.  This setting creates conflict for Lord Fredericks, a brilliant, self-taught scientist, who can’t capitalize on his skills because he is also an aristocrat and not supposed to do manual or tradesman’s work.  The setting also affects Henry*, a doctor who is passionate for his work, but who can’t get the wealthy hobby scientists interested enough in his ideas to fund his experiments.  The third character affected is Lennox, a young man who teaches classics at Cambridge and therefore can’t get anyone to take him seriously as a scientist.  Because art and science don’t mix, y’know.  And Susan, heiress and Lord Fredericks’ ward, can’t find an endeavor she thinks worthy to support with her money because of the complacent attitudes in society.  The setting directly affects the main characters, creates conflict, and points to my theme (which I will not reveal here because spoilers).

*inspired by Henry Jekyll from the 1994 concept album of Jekyll & Hyde.  As such, I might eventually change his Christian name so as not to be sued by Frank Wildhorn, Leslie Bricusse, and the ghost of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Discover why the Story Matters to the Characters—and to Me.  Goal, stakes, conflict…those can be found anywhere.  A character could set the goal of opening his own business, with the stakes of providing for his family, and face obstacles in the lack of money and an affordable building to rent.  But why doesn’t he go another route to provide for his family?  Why does he choose this hill, the hill of the story, to fight and possibly die on?

This point is a cross between the character’s motivation and the stakes of the conflict–it’s why the goal matters to the character.  Not just the external repercussions of failure, but the internal consequences.  The more personal the story conflict and stakes, the more the readers will care about the characters and their struggles.  For example, Inception deals with complex concepts: the actions of the subconscious, the unique nature of dreams, and how each can be manipulated.  Truly engaging stuff—but the principles matter because of how personal they are to Cobb.  If he can complete the inception attempt, he can go home to his kids—but ironically, experimenting with dream manipulation and inception is what tore him from his family in the first place and created the guilt that plagues him throughout the story.

The author also needs personal motivation, and a second question I ask is: why does this story matter so much to me?  What are my own personal stakes?  This is partly practical; I’m more likely to finish the story if I’m passionate about it.  But understanding the personal stakes is another tool that narrows the focus of the story.  Suppose a writer believes that it’s ridiculous for 18-year-olds to choose their life passions before college.  They only just got out of school; they haven’t observed and experienced life to the degree that a 30-year-old has; how on earth can teens be expected to know what they want to do with their lives?  With that question, that drive behind the story, the writer can quickly discern that his other story idea about how the elderly are ignored doesn’t fit in the plot of this story.

Work Backwards from the Conclusion.  Articles and tutorials say “figure out your ending first.  Write toward your ending.”  I never understood this.  Doesn’t the outcome depend on what the main characters choose?  Won’t choice A create one outcome and choice B create another?  Should I just make up events regardless of what the characters chose to do?

Not necessarily.  The ending is more than the final dramatic events.  It’s also the conclusion of what the story says.  Which is an extension of what the author is trying to say.

Oh, please.  There’s no need to ask “What am I trying to say?”  Stories are just to entertain, right?

Right.  And wrong, because every story, even the fluffiest, feel-good novel makes some statement.  Even as untrue as “everything will turn out okay if you dream hard enough.”  Or whatever.  Continuing to offend people with my examples, The Battle of Five Armies film had no idea what it was ultimately saying.  Fight Ye Olde Evil?  All Gold is Evil?  Something Vague About True Love?  Reclaiming the Characters’ Ancestral Homes?  Hobbits Are the Saviors of the World?  (Epic fail on that last point, as Bilbo was demoted.)

By contrast, the Lord of the Rings (book and film) made a clear statement with its ending: sacrifice is the price of freedom.  When Frodo leaves Middle Earth, it highlights the price that warriors and defenders pay so that others may live in their homes in peace.  This theme is shown throughout the story.  Didn’t Frodo leave the Shire in the first place to protect it?  Didn’t Sam help Frodo no matter the cost to himself?  Didn’t Aragorn conceal his lineage and walk in humility for years and protect the Shire unseen? Didn’t Tolkien lament the fallen defenders all through his story?  Sacrifice is the conclusion—sacrifice for the land and peoples of Middle Earth.

Once I recognize what I’m saying with my story, it’s easier to work backwards from that and figure out what events and final conflicts would fit the story.  (And I often have an inkling of how everything will turn out, even if it’s cliche and obvious.)  Then I ask: where do the characters need to be, emotionally, physically, and mentally to drive the final events?  Then I create conflict and events that push the characters to that stage of readiness.

What’s ultimately important is that I understand what story I want to tell.  This means more than the genre.  It’s the big picture: the concept of the story, the tone, the stakes, what I’m trying to say, and what I want the story to accomplish.  Do I want it to be lighthearted or a cautionary tale?  Is it just a practice project or something I’m passionate about?  Do I want it to amuse or criticize or inspire?  If I don’t know what story I want to tell, it will end up dissonant.  It will read as though it tried to say one thing, but ended up saying something something very different.  It has happened in the past–and I’ve seen it happen to too many other storytellers.  The makers of the Hobbit films clearly did not know what kind of story they were telling.  In a film trilogy called The Hobbit, Bilbo is almost a side character, and the story focuses on the other races of Middle Earth.  The franchise tried to be dark and epic, but the slapstick humor and roller coaster chase-and-battle sequences undermined that tone (not to mention that when Smaug’s fire doesn’t burn rotting tapestries, tension vanishes anyway).  The main plot was the quest to reclaim Lonely Mountain, but the subplots didn’t really enhance that—Thranduil’s white gems, for example, and the romance between Kili and Tauriel, and Tauriel as a character in the first place.  *ducks volley of rotten avocados*  The result is three films with some good aspects, but with so many conflicts, characters, and plot threads that the story feels stuffed.  *ducks more flying vegetables*  And the root problem is that screenwriters didn’t seem to know what story they wanted to tell.

Now, confession time: I don’t have every one of these points articulated for every one of my stories.  Several are missing the ending.  A couple are missing the general concept.  One does not have specified conflict.  And that’s okay.  Stories take time to develop.  Some take more time to grow than others.  And these points are just general guidelines to help me build a strong foundation for my story.










Writing Tip #13 – Muscle Through It

Sometimes, you get stuck on a scene that’s dry and stale and is incredibly hard to write–and the problem doesn’t have an easy fix, and all those writer blogs and articles are no help.  Sometimes, you just have to push through and write that stiff-sounding scene.  But as you push through, think in terms of little victories or progresses–two new sentences is two more than you had before.  One paragraph added is one more than you had before. If you disciplined yourself to write even though you didn’t want to, that’s good.

My sister finds it helpful to write funny notes to herself in parenthesis so she has something to laugh at as she reads back through the difficult scene.  I notice which phrases or snippets of dialogue are good even if the rest of the prose seems dry.  Listening to music is always a great motivator.  And remember, the sooner you muscle through and write that difficult scene, the sooner it’ll be over with!