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Monday, December 30, 2013

Stacking Your Brainstorming Ideas

When I sit down to brainstorm--whether I'm letting my ideas free-flow or I'm trying to come up with a solution to a problem in my manuscript--I start listing possible ideas.

After I find several that work, I stare at my answers and try to decide which to use. I start weighing my ideas against one another. Sometimes I get in this little battle over them, weighing the pros and cons of each.

Then it hits me.

Can I find a way to use most or all of my ideas?

Usually the answer is yes.

And my story is better when I stack multiple ideas together. It's more likely to exceed my audience's expectations when I do that.

So, today's post is short, because it's simple. When brainstorming, see if you can stack your ideas and utilize as many as possible. You're story will likely be better because of it.

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 Resources for Writers

Last week I posted about the best books I found this year. Today, I'm listing all of the valuable resources I've found for writers, including a site where you can create your own audiobooks, references for writing tips, and a word processing plugin that will actually teach you to write better.

(Sidenote: Thanks for participating in our giveaway! You can see the winners here!)

References for Writers

If you hold the rights, you can go to and turn your book into an audiobook. You can either read the book yourself, or hire an actor. Here's how it works for the latter:
1. You upload an excerpt of your book
2. Actors audition for it.
3. Judging from the auditions, you pick who you want to read it.
4. Once it's all recorded, you're set to sell it. ACX can get it up on major retail sites.

Watch this (fun) video about the process.

Check it out for yourself at

The Emotion Thesaurus

One of the biggest problem areas for writers is conveying a character's emotions to the reader in a unique, compelling way. This book comes to the rescue by exploring seventy-five emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each.

Using its easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment, including situations where a character is trying to hide their feelings from others. The Emotion Thesaurus also tackles common emotion-related writing problems and provides methods to overcome them.

This writing tool encourages writers to show, not tell emotion and is a creative brainstorming resource for any fiction project.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Best Books of the Year

I didn't keep complete count of all the books I read this year, but at some point I estimated around 40 or 50--fiction, nonfiction, and unpublished. Here are the best books I read this year, in no particular order.

Fiction for Readers

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

 Once, a hero arose to save the world. A young man with a mysterious heritage courageously challenged the darkness that strangled the land.

He failed.

For a thousand years since, the world has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal emperor know as the Lord Ruler. Every revolt has failed miserably.

Yet somehow, hope survives. Hope that dares to dream of ending the empire and even the Lord Rule himself. A new kind of uprising is being planned, one built around the ultimate caper, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the determination of an unlikely heroine, a street urchin who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn.

Read my review here. Or check it out on Amazon.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every thirty days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

Read my review here. Or check it out on Amazon.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

R is having a no-life crisis—he is a zombie. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he is a little different from his fellow Dead. He may occasionally eat people, but he’d rather be riding abandoned airport escalators, listening to Sinatra in the cozy 747 he calls home, or collecting souvenirs from the ruins of civilization.

And then he meets a girl.

First as his captive, then his reluctant house guest, Julie is a blast of living color in R’s gray landscape, and something inside him begins to bloom. He doesn’t want to eat this girl—although she looks delicious—he wants to protect her. But their unlikely bond will cause ripples they can’t imagine, and their hopeless world won’t change without a fight.

Read my review here. Or check it out on Amazon.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Free Books, Gift Card, Critique, and Swag! Giveaway :)

This giveaway is now closed.

Hello my lovely followers! I'm giving away two eBooks (your choice) and a first 5-page critique alongside some other prizes from bloggers, like a $5 Amazon gift card, swag, and more books! Why? While it is my blog's 1st Birthday and the Holiday season and I'm hoping to finish the second draft of my novel by the end of the year(!), this is really just for fun! Just enter below with a click of the mouse. :)

(If you've already followed my blog, Twitter, or Facebook, click all three options below to enter.)

In other news, I've been working away on my book. I'll be honest, it's been tedious the last two weeks--the kind of two weeks that remind me that this really is work, not all play. But my revamps have totally been worth it. The scenes I've been working on are much better than before. Thank you for following my progress and thoughts here on my blog.

**Please help by telling others about the giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you :)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Unfortunately, it's people like that, that tend to get overlooked.

I found out that my (Great) Aunt Beth passed away yesterday. I've lived 15-20 minutes away from her for the last few years and never took the time to go visit her, even when she asked, mainly because I have a shy streak, and I was afraid of feeling awkward or not knowing what to say. I shouldn't have, because she never made me feel that way.

Now that opportunity is gone.

Try not to make the same mistake I did. I'm not down on myself. I just wanted to say something to help others remember what's actually important.

I wasn't very close to my Aunt Beth, but she was the kind of person you always felt good to be around and talk to. I get good feelings when I remember her, which, I think, is what we all hope to leave behind when we die. Even in her 80's, she was "with it." Positive, independent, loving, kind, not a complainer, not one to hold grudges.

Unfortunately, it's people like that, that tend to get overlooked.

Because they don't need our sympathies. Because we know whatever we do, they won't hold ill feelings. Because they don't complain about their problems. Because they're self-reliant. Because we know they can handle whatever disaster comes their way with a smile, even if, sometimes, it's only a half-hearted smile.

But that doesn't mean they deserve our attention and love any less.

So instead of giving me sympathy, go write someone a thank-you note, go call a friend, just sit with a family member--whether they're on top of their world or hanging on by their fingertips.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

First Reactions to Catching Fire

To no one's surprise, I saw Catching Fire opening day. I think The Hunger Games movies are some of the best book-to-film adaptations I've ever seen, if not the best. The people behind the films actually kind of get the books. The acting is exceptional. It was so good between President Snow and Plutarch, that the scenes where they are sitting around talking are some of my favorites, even though there is no action or movement, nothing but talking.

First, I'll get some of my dislikes out of the way:

Sam Claflin as Finnick.

To his credit, he can act. I just don't think he can act Finnick. President Snow has built Finnick's celebrity status around his sex appeal, so Finnick is supposed to be very seductive with a long line of lovers.

Finnick is my favorite character is in the series, so, I was a bit sad, but it could have been worse. Haymitch is my second favorite character, which leads me to my second disappointment.

They cut Haymitch's backstory! Learning about Haymitch's own experience in the last quarter quell added depth to his character. I wasn't surprised they cut it, but I still missed it.

On to what I liked--wait, there are only two things I didn't like in a film adaptation? That's the shortest list ever!


They got my favorite line of the whole series in: when Peeta says Katniss is pregnant.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Throwing the ULTIMATE Harry Potter Party!

On Halloween, my friend Kaden and I threw an epic Harry Potter Party! It was totally awesome! I got pictures of everything. Feel free to use our ideas for your own Harry Potter party, for Birthdays, Halloween, or whatever. This stuff will work for kids or adults.

I'd like to thank my friend Adrian Vanderhoof, who is a photographer, for taking a lot of the pictures.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Writing as a Lifestyle

When you decide to take writing seriously, you're making a lifestyle choice as much as you are making a career choice. As a writer, you may have to change up your living conditions. If you haven't made any sells yet, that might mean stretching your $20 or leaving your work only to come home and work some more. It might mean staying up late to get a chapter in or waking up early to fit in an hour of editing before your day job. Frankly, you'll probably have to cut back on time with friends and family and hobbies, because to be a great writer, you have to not only write, but read, and study, and it helps to network and have an online presence as well.

I've been living a writing lifestyle for over a year and a half now. This post will cober some things I've learned that have helped me be most productive. It seemed fitting for National Novel Writing Month.

Embracing the Writing Life

Finding (Making) Time

The most important thing about being a writer is to write! This is your priority. This means you need to put in the time and effort. Talking or daydreaming about it, or staring at the keyboard isn't enough. If you're a parent or work at another job, like I mentioned above, this might mean fitting time in at night or in the early morning, or during nap time. 

If you have a more flexible schedule, try finding out what time of the day you write best, and schedule your life around it. I've heard that most writers work best right before or after sleeping, because that's usually when the creative side of the brain is active. It's true for me. So I wake up extra early and get in some writing before I go to work. If I have trouble getting back into my story in the afternoon, I take a power nap, and magically, writing becomes easier.  I was a little skeptical of this idea before, but now I know how it really can play a role in my productivity.

Getting the Most out of Your Writing Session

You've made the time, now, make the most out of your time.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Only Half Alive

Several weeks ago, I did a cover critique of my friend Konstanz Silverbow's book Only Half Alive, talking about how the cover worked to appeal to its target audience. Today, I'm participating in the Only Half Alive blog tour, giving my followers a little more information about the book.

Only Half Alive – Author: Konstanz Silverbow – Genre: YA Paranormal Romance

The world's darkest creature will be their brightest hope!

While darkness haunts her, she craves the light. Christina is a demon, but she doesn't want to be. She is willing to sacrifice everything to change it. Only one person stands in her way, and he will stop at nothing to keep her the way she is.

The greatest battle of light vs dark threatens every living creature, a battle that could destroy all. And the demon in love will only have one chance to save everyone.

Read reviews or purchase Only Half Alive

Amazon (U.S.)
Amazon (U.K.)
Etsy (Signed and Personalized)


I pull the silver handles, and there is the silhouette of the man I have come to rob. The lamp in this room has been strategically placed so that I cannot see his face, but only his figure. Very clever, if his opponent were anyone else.

The sound of clinking ice shatters the silence as he places his glass of red liquid on the side table. He crosses his legs and puts both hands on his knee. “At last you have come.” His voice is higher than I expected. He isn’t nearly as old as he pretends to be.

I have nothing to say to him. My job is to retrieve the box and leave. But this guy has other ideas.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Surrounding Yourself with Believers

Much has been said about believing in yourself when no one else does. But what about the inverse of that? Surround yourself with people who believe in you, so that when your own confidence shakes, you have someone else's to lean on.

I've had several experiences that shook my confidence. Without getting too personal, I've had periods where all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and cry (and sometimes I did). But I knew people still believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself. For a while, I leaned on them until I could stand on my own again.

When someone says something kind about you or your work, hold onto it. Put it in a special drawer, or start a word document and copy and paste it there. If your confidence ever shakes, open the drawer and begin reading. Know that others believe in you. And that, if no one else, God believes in you. God will never give up on you, so never give up on yourself.

Here are some notes I've gotten about my writing that I've held onto when I needed someone else's faith. I hope you have some too.
"I just love reading what you write...with your talent, you could list the ingredients on a cereal box and it would be riveting." 
"I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your stories. Reading them together was kind of like sitting down to a great dinner—with an equally wonderful dessert."

"Last, but certainly not least, #FF is for my friend @Kami_Marynda. She is new to twitter but remember her name, she is going to be famous!"

"I ate this chapter up. I love it! My stomach just fell out when you ended that scene."

"Wow! thats all i can really say...I felt like crap before reading these stories but now I feel like I could take on a drunken mob! Your writing style is excellent as if you really were in the characters' shoes."

Avoid spending too much time around people who tear you down. We can't avoid those people completely, but why put ourselves in that situation more than we have to? Life is hard enough already.

Be the person who uplifts others, who writes notes of thanks, who gives praise when it's due. Supply others with sincere words they can put in their special drawer. That doesn't mean you can never criticize something, but seek to build encouragement rather than discouragement.

Be the person that can believe in others.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Casual Friday: Self Defense Against Dying in Your Sleep

I'm trying out a new segment on my blog called "Casual Fridays," and they'll happen semi-randomly. Basically I'll do a short, casual post about anything--the progress on my novel, something funny I found on the internet, a realization I recently had, childhood stories, whatever.

Today I'm starting with one of my favorite youtube videos that happens to relate to Halloween. Meet Rae Amsley. You'll never forget him. In this video, he'll teach you self defense against dying in your sleep.

Two years later and I still laugh about this video.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday, October 14, 2013

Calculating How Long Your Novel will take to Write

* You can listen to this post on Youtube


First, I would like to say, no, this post does not give you a mathematical equation to literally figure out how many hours, days, months, years, whatever, that it will take you write your novel. Obviously there are a lot of factors that depend on you personally as a writer.

But what this post does give you is a questionnaire that helps you determine how complex your novel is, which will then, hopefully, help you gauge what kind of effort and energy you will need to complete your story.

While some authors write faster than others, some stories, frankly, take longer to write than others.

And it doesn’t just depend on the length of your manuscript. Some stories have simpler structures, others more complex.  Here are some questions you can ask yourself when plotting your novel to help you gauge how long it will take to write it.

Keep track of your answers. They run from simple to complex, with the letter “A” being simple and onward, more complex. Remember, the more complex doesn’t mean the better your story is. Simple stories can be powerful too.

(Note that I created this myself, so if you have any ideas for improvement, please let me know. This was the best I could get it at this moment.)

How large is your cast of characters?

A. Small cast of characters
B. Medium cast of characters
C. Large cast of characters

How many different settings are in your story?

A. Story takes place in mostly one area. (For example, the character never leaves the farm.)
B. Story takes place over a lot of different areas I’m familiar with
C. Story takes place in another time or place that I will need to research extensively
D. Story takes place in another time and place I will need to research extensively
Story takes place on a completely different world I need to create from scratch

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Muse in Concert! (Basically a Post with Stellar Pictures)

I usually post about my writerly adventures. Muse totally counts, right? They had to write their own music, and you can tell they spent some time thinking out the lyrics because it's not like "Baby, baby, baby, hey, yeah, yeah, yeah." Instead they say "green belts wrapped around our minds, And endless red tape to keep the truth confined."

Totally poetic.

Anyway, Muse has been touring North America this year, and I made a trip out to go see them. They're best known for their songs "Supermassive Black Hole," "Hysteria," "Time is Running Out," "Uprising," and "Madness." They're one of my favorite bands (Creed is my first favorite), and Muse put on one of the best shows I've ever seen. And, their music was better live, which is always a great sign.

What surprised me is that they only played fast songs, and they played nonstop for about an hour and a half. No introductions. No "Hey, this is the song we're playing next," or "I got the idea for this song..." Only music. Even I was getting a little worn out from rocking out, and I wasn't even playing.

Also, as you can see by the pictures, they put on a good show with lights, lasers, strobe lights, screens, and mist. Totally awesome.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Actions Vs. Words: the Loud and the Quiet

You might have an idea of what this post will be about based on the title. "Actions speak louder than words," right? Some people are "all talk and no action," blah blah blah--most of us have heard all those sayings before. True, all of those cliches are techniques you can incorporate in your writing, specifically in your characters. But this post is taking the whole actions vs. words in a different direction, one you probably haven't heard or thought about before. I hadn't until recently.

Last week I was watching a t.v. show where the lead female character spends most of her time yelling, complaining, and bossing others around. She's basically the only female character in the whole show. And she's loud, self-centered, and annoying. She talks a lot.

What is with this girl? I wondered. Is this how the writers view women? 

Then, I think, on a subconscious level, I remembered that saying, "actions speak louder than words." So I started watching what she did. I soon realized I had misjudged her. She's the most intelligent character on the show. She talks a lot about herself, but she's actually not self-centered; she often volunteers to help others out. She lets strangers stay at her home when they have nowhere else to go. She's decisive and independent. Without her talents and abilities, the show wouldn't even exist.

She doesn't boast about her good qualities. They're subtle. They're quiet. You'll miss them if you aren't looking for them. She's a better person than she appears to be.

Because her shortcomings are so loud, I couldn't see passed them to her strengths.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

What Else You Need to Know Most About Character Voice

Here's part 2 of my article on character voice. In part 1(you can read it here) I came up with this formula:

What the Character Thinks or Talks about + How She Says it = Voice

And I discussed the first portion of it, using Hobbits from The Lord of the Rings as examples. They often choose to talk about food and rarely talk about battle tactics. Also note, that what your character chooses to say in a given situation often reveals what he's thinking about in that moment. Today I'll explore the next part.

How Your Character Talks

Education, culture, experience, interests, and social circles factor in to how your character delivers his lines. Consider speech patterns and word choice as well. 

Back to my examples of the nutritionist, the fashionista, and the dentist from last time. Their interests influence how they speak. They will have a wider range of vocabulary for dieting, clothes, and teeth. The fashionista, for example, probably wouldn't say, "she's wearing a blue shirt." She'd say, "she's wearing a teal tunic with lace along the hem, Swarovski drop earrings, and she's carrying a patent leather Coach purse in coral."

Listen to how the Hobbits talk:

"It's like the great stories, Mr. Frodo. . .Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think I do, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. . . . .Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something." --Samwise Gamgee

Notice words like "Mr. Frodo," and "Folk," help establish Sam's voice. Pretend, instead, Gandalf said this. The words and speech patterns would be different. Instead of "lots of chances" he might say "many opportunities." He might pause in different places and use different sentence structures. He's far more educated and experienced than Sam, so he'd say those same thoughts in a different way.

Then think how Gollum would say those thoughts. . . oh, wait, he wouldn't say those thoughts. Gollum doesn't think like that. That's voice too.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

What You Need to Know Most About Character Voice

I'm kind of embarrassed to admit I didn't have much of an understanding of character voice at the beginning of this year. None of my professors in college really talked about it. I think I remember learning the definition in high school and reading it briefly in a few writing tips.

In truth, I've probably heard the fact that "Voice is one of the biggest draws for getting an agent or editor" more than I've actually heard tips on writing voice. Since then, I've gotten to the heart of what voice is. Or so I think. You'll have to judge for yourself. Here's what I found for anyone who might be struggling like I once was, or anyone who wants to learn more.

First, by definition, "voice" can refer to the writer's style, the narrator's style, or, your characters' persona, thoughts, speech patterns, and word choice.

Sometimes when people think of character voice, they think of first-person narration, but really, all characters have a voice of their own, even if they aren't telling the story.

To illustrate, here are three lines from Harry, Ron, and Hermione:

  • "Don't go picking a row with Malfoy, don't forget, he's a prefect now, he could make life difficult for you..."
  • "Can I have a look are Uranus too, Lavender?"
  • "I don't go looking for trouble. Trouble usually finds me."

If you've read the books, I bet you can tell who said what.

Voice is made up of two things: What the character talks (or sometimes thinks) about, and how she says it. In other words:

What the Character Thinks or Talks about + How She Says it = Voice

Saturday, September 14, 2013

My Novel, Name, and Blog: A Handful of Updates

Hey guys, a short post this week with some updates about what's been going on with me and what there is to look forward to. :) I figure some people want updates once in a while...

  • First, I want to say, I like you guys. Thanks for following. This last week Glipho published an interview with me (you can read it here). I'm shocked it's been "shared" over 70 times, and I was surprised to see all the support from friends and family and followers about it and my writing endeavors. 
So thanks.
Painting by BreatheKeepBreathing

  • Yesterday, I hit page 500 of 700+ on the second draft of my manuscript. (Please note that my manuscript is doubled-spaced in courier font. It wouldn't be as large as 700+ pages in book form.) I'm way happy with how this novel is coming along.  It still has a long way to go, but I feel like it's on the right course. I've fixed a lot of plot problems and some character and viewpoint ones.
  • I've penned a rough draft plot description of my novel. You can find it on My Novel page. Yeah, the book is still untitled.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Arrogance vs. Confidence, Self-deprecation vs. Humility

I once had a wise ballet teacher tell my class,

"The difference between confidence and arrogance is how you treat other people."

She's right. Sometimes I think society confuses confidence with pride. Likewise, society confuses humility with self-deprecation. In reality, it's completely possible to be confident and humble at the same time, without being prideful.

Arrogance vs. Confidence

People who are arrogant want themselves to succeed and be better than everyone else. On the other hand, people who are confident want themselves and everyone around them to succeed.

Let's take two characters from one of my favorite childhood shows, Dragon Ball Z to illustrate.

Vegeta's defining characteristic is arrogance--and he flaunts it. All of his goals and actions stem from his desire to be better than everyone else. He frequently treats those less powerful than him as garbage. He even puts his own wants before his wife and son. He shows no mercy; he's ruthless. He's full of himself and fully selfish.

Goku, on the opposite side of the spectrum, is confident. He wants himself and his friends to succeed. He cheers them on, treats them well, and despite being the most powerful person in the world, doesn't put himself above others.

(In contrast to Vegeta, he's very merciful. He always provides opportunities for villains to stand down. He's quick to forgive.)

Goku believes in his talents and abilities, but he's also teachable. He acknowledges his shortcomings and overcomes them. He's eager to learn from those more powerful than him, and he submits to whatever needs to be done. Goku is confident and humble. (Not self-deprecating.)

So, confidence and arrogance depend on how you regard others. When you start dissecting this, it  makes sense. Confidence comes from security. When we are secure of ourselves, we don't feel threatened by others' successes. Why would we? We're secure. (Remember, you don't have to be perfect to be secure.)

Arrogance, pride, conceit, ironically, doesn't actually come from being too confident, but from insecurity--a fear that if others succeed, we have less value. Pride and selfishness are also linked. When we don't want others to succeed, we're being selfish.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Judging a Book's Cover: A Cover Critique of Only Half Alive

Earlier this week I logged onto Facebook to see this:

Konstanz Silverbow's cover reveal. And I loved it so much, I had to share it. You may or may not like it. But either way, this cover works. And I'm going to pull it apart to show how it conveys its genre and story in order to appeal to its target audience.

(Please note I have not read this book. This is a breakdown entirely based on the cover content.)

Many authors who publish traditionally don't have much, if any, say in what their covers look like, but they can still benefit from what I'm going to talk about. And, with more and more people self-publishing, more and more authors have to come up with their own covers, so this may be helpful for them too. Unfortunately. . . I've seen some awful indie covers. I won't post any up here, but, if you want an example, it shouldn't be hard to find one. Konstanz Silverbow is self-publishing this novel. She had Stephanie White design the cover. Here's why it works.

(Please take time to read the back cover--in italics below--to follow along with the critique.)

The world's darkest creature, will be their brightest hope. While darkness haunts her, she craves the light. Christina is a demon, but she doesn't want to be. She is willing to sacrifice everything to change it. Only one person stands in her way, and he will stop at nothing to keep her the way she is. The greatest battle of light vs dark threatens every living creature, a battle that could destroy all. And the demon in love will only have one chance to save everyone.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Editing From the Inside Out

As I'm editing my novel, I'm going through different passes, each one focused on one or two aspects of the novel. And I'm fleshing out the heart of the story before I worry about the details. Why focus on the word choice of a scene before I have the plot figured out? For all I know, I might have to cut the scene that I just spent a half hour nitpicking word usage over. So, when editing, consider focusing on the most important elements of the story before worrying about things like stylistic punctuation. Edit from the inside out because--

1- It saves on time. You're less likely to invest a large chunk of time into a scene that will eventually be cut or changed.

2- It makes it easier to cut what doesn't belong in your story. When you've invested loads of time into a plot turn or character, you won't rush to chop them out of your manuscript. It's like a long-term relationship. It's harder to say goodbye. If you edit from the inside out, on the other hand, you can do plenty of painless yanking.

Creating An Editing Plan

First, look at your manuscript, and decide what is most important to your story (or, what needs the most work): plot, theme, character, or setting. Those are the big four.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mazes, Mysteries, and Monsters: A Review of The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Fiction for Readers

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every thirty days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

Who is it for?

The Maze Runner is a post-apocalyptic, dystopian, young adult novel that's fast-paced and packed full of mystery. If you liked The Hunger Games, this novel may be for you. Although the plot is entirely different, The Maze Runner has the same appeal, with softer content. So if you couldn't handle Katniss because of the dark, violent, gory material, The Maze Runner may be a better fit for you.  

If you want a book you can't put down, one full of danger, suspense, and mystery, look no further.


Once I started reading this book, I couldn't stop. In fact, I was so hooked into the story that I got the audiobook so that I could keep "reading" even when I had to do the dishes. At that point, my friend, who hates reading, even got hooked. 

The setting and plot are what make this book. The characters are surrounded by a maze that they have tried unsuccessfully to solve for over two years! Everyday they send runners out to search the maze for an exit, and every night they (hopefully) return before the doors to their home base close at sundown. Monsters, called Grievers, lurk in the maze, killing anyone who doesn't make it back to the Glade before evening. 

I love a story that blends fantasy/sci-fi with mystery. And right from the start, Dashner introduces readers to several mysteries, so that if you aren't trying to solve mystery #1, you're trying to solve mystery #2 or #3, all while worrying about Grievers and murderers and supply shortages and character relationships. There is always something going on, always another hook on the next page, always trouble on the horizon. I should warn you that The Maze Runner will tempt you to procrastinate the real world, but it's worth the unwashed laundry and frozen dinners.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Leading with Your Strengths

Several months ago, I had a realization that changed how I approach everything in life. Sometimes I lead with my weaknesses. When faced with challenges, I lead with my weaknesses. Often when meeting new people, I lead with my weaknesses. When in times of trial, I lead with my weaknesses.

I conduct myself based on my shortcomings, focus on what I'm lacking--not in a depressing sort of way, but it's at the forefront of my persona. I lead with what I don't have, what I don't know. I let those things be the back bone of what defines me. Sometimes.

This approach is self-crippling.

It feeds insecurities, doubts, and low self-esteem.

Once I had this realization, I thought about my friends who are genuinely confident. It's not that they don't have weaknesses. They lead with their strengths. They let their strengths be at the forefront of their persona, let their strengths define them first.

Leading with your strengths doesn't mean ignoring your shortcomings. Acknowledge your weaknesses and work to overcome them. But don't define yourself by what you are lacking. Start with what you know, your strengths, and then work out from there. Truly confident people don't overlook their flaws. They know they are good enough in spite of them. Their strengths come first. Their weaknesses come second.

When you lead with your strengths, miraculous things begin to happen. You feel more capable of meeting challenges and more worthy of success. You feel happier. Because, you are.

I now make a conscious effort to lead with my strengths in all that I do. While I doubt people can tell a difference in my demeanor, I feel different.

So go forward in life and lead with your strengths in all that you do. Especially when faced with a challenge out of your comfort zone--remember what you know and what you are good at first. Then work from there.

(This post was somewhat inspired by Elder Jeffery R. Holland's talk on faith. You can read it here.)

Follower Spotlight

Bonnie Gwyn was one of the first people to welcome me into the blogging world. She's a teenager, a writer, and loves to blog about being Mormon. You'll frequently find her in good attitude. Thanks for following me, Bonnie!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Let Your Reader Do the Work

I have the opportunity to read a lot of unpublished content, and every so often I find a story where the writer doesn't let their readers do the emotional work. I've heard the writing rule that if your character is crying, then your reader doesn't have to. At first I wasn't sure how much I agreed with it, but after I read it, I started paying attention.

Here are the examples I ran into. Harry Potter: while Harry is on the verge of crying several times in the series, he almost never does. Fact: I cried more in those books than any other book I've ever read. And thousands of people cried too. In Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, Jean Valjean weeps several times just in the first 200 pages. I never cried once. (And anyone who knows the story, knows how heart wrenching it is.)

If Harry broke down and bawled all the time, I don't know that I would have. I may have still gotten teary-eyed, but I don't think I would have sobbed like I did. There is something about having your character cry that takes the tension out of the reader. The character is doing the emotional work, so the reader doesn't have to.

I soon realized this applied to more than crying. In one unpublished story I read, one of the characters was often worrying about a mystery. She asked all the questions, did all the wondering, the worrying, and I found that I, as a reader, didn't have to. And you know what? I wasn't as engaged. The author didn't let me do that part. So instead of participating in the story, I was merely "watching" it.

I Open at the Close by Yume Dust
I'm not saying you can never have your characters cry etc. (there is a time and place), but keep it minimal. You want to build up those feelings in your reader so that they experience the story, not just read about it. Just because you didn't write that your characters were crying, or worried, or angry doesn't mean they weren't. 

In fact, I've come to accept that those passages where I was bawling my eyes out were moments where I was vicariously crying as Harry. And that's what you want as a writer. You want your readers to be in the character, in the story, because only then can they reach that deep, emotional plane where the story leaves an indelible mark on them.

So when your character is sad, anxious, fearful, embarrassed, or angry, instead of focusing on how the character feels and reacts emotionally to it, focus on how to elicit those emotions in your readers, so that they become part of the story. This is often done by focusing on the event that caused those emotions and rendering it in a way that amplifies those emotions. For example, how much emotion do these sentences conjure?

Harry watched Sirius fall through the archway to his death. Harry couldn't believe it. He was upset and started crying.

How much more emotion does this passage conjure?

It seemed to take Sirius an age to fall. His body curved in a graceful arc as he sank backward through the ragged veil hanging from the arch. . . . 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Wizarding World: Your Vicarious Experience, Part 2

Last post I started my tour of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Here is the second half.

Rides, Wands, and Hogwarts Castle

Further up the street you find a roller coaster: Flight of the Hippogriff. You heard it was family friendly. This is something everyone in your party can do.

While waiting in line, you find Hagrid's Hut.

And sneak a paparazzi picture of Buckbeak.

You sit and pull down a lap bar...then blast around the track! Family friendly? What was the lady thinking!? You were expecting a Mister Toad's Wild Ride, but you got something a step below Big Thunder Railroad! You scream in surprise and zoom around the track.

Behold! You have finally arrived at Hogwarts! And it's magnificent! The wait for this attraction is always long, because not only do you get to explore the castle, but board a one-of-a-kind ride: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Wizarding World: Your Vicarious Experience

Writerly Adventures

 Ever wanted to go to Harry Potter land in Universal in Orlando, Florida? Or have you already been? This is a very detailed vicarious experience for anyone who wants to go, or, who wants to go back.

Welcome to the World of Harry Potter

Congratulations! You made it to Universal's Islands of Adventure! Unfortunately there are SO many tall trees in Florida that despite your excitement, you can't even get a glimpse of Hogwarts until you've reached this bridge near the back of the park. This is an epic moment. Take a picture.

Travel a little further and you come to another bridge with a better view. This picture sums it all up.

Finally you've made it! Compared to the rest of the park, this section shines. It literally looks like you are stepping into another world.

On your right, you see the scarlet Hogwarts Express. The conductor there is hilarious and makes snide comments about "muggle technology." The train lets out a jet of steam.