Introducing: Inferno’s Melody

Happy December, everyone! I don’t know about you, but I always get really excited about Christmas. I love picking out a Christmas tree, and decorating it with my family, and baking Christmas cookies and making a huge mess in the kitchen. It’s the best.

I like to use December to get a break from whatever story I happened to be writing for NaNoWriMo. You really do need that break, even if you don’t feel like it. I desperately want to keep working on it this month, but I’m taking a break anyway. I’ve got a couple of other deadlines I have to keep track of for other stories.

I wanted to write more posts last month, but, you know, NaNo keeps you pretty tied up. But today I thought I would tell you how it went. I thought I’d officially introduce you to my newest novel: Inferno’s Melody. I have never told anyone about a book two days after I finish writing it. Never. I almost didn’t post this today. I feel very vulnerable, baring my heart like this. But I think this is something I need to say.

Inferno (1)NaNoWriMo pretty much never goes the way I expect. This year, I’d expected it to be an epic mad dash of writing day after day and a brand-new story emerging from the smoking ashes. Well, I guess that technically happened, but not in the way I’d expected. You see, this is the third novel I’ve written, and I’ve come to expect the newest one to always be my favorite. I was in love with my first novel until I wrote the second one. And yes, I am in love with the story I wrote last month, but my heart isn’t quite there yet. Ironically, that’s exactly what the story is about.

I’d like to ask you all a question: WHY do you do what you do? Whether it’s writing, playing music, art, or another passion you have, why do you do it? What drives you? Do you do what you do for yourself, or do you do it for someone else? Why do you sit down and work at it day after day, even though it can be extremely frustrating at times? I think all of us have at least something that fits these standards. But what makes us do what we do?

For me, that thing… is not writing. *gasps from audience* I figured that out a few months ago, and, well, I decided to write a story about it. Leave it to me to make my entire life ironic. Now, don’t get me wrong here: I LOVE writing. It IS a passion that I have, and I AM driven to do it every day, no matter how hard it gets. But it is not my greatest passion, and here is how I figured it out:

This passion that you have, would you follow it to the end? Would you live your entire life in dedication to this passion? Would it be worth dying for? Or is it not quite that strong?

Writing, for me, does not meet these standards. Not by a long shot. It’s like trying to compare a candle to a bonfire. It can’t be done. The difference is so great, it just wouldn’t make sense. I found that there is another passion that I have. But I was trying to use writing to satisfy it. It seems to work most of the time, but I think later on, it won’t be enough anymore.

God’s love is perhaps one of the most compelling things I have ever known. And really, I think I’ve always known that. It took three novels for me to be able to say it outright like this, but it’s a theme that’s come up again and again in every single one of my stories:

A man dying for his enemies.

A boy being driven by fear until he finds that love is much stronger.

A girl devoting her entire life to a cause until she realizes that her heart is empty.

They are all the same story, and all of them are about me. No, I have never died for my enemies. But I would, if my passion led me there.

Yes, I have been driven by fear. It’s a terrifying ordeal. The thing that finally set me free was the Truth – and I promise, love is much stronger than fear.

Have I ever devoted my entire life to a cause, then realized my heart was empty?  I’m praying that I won’t.

You see, all of these characters had to discover something. They had to discover their passions. They had to discover love. When I say “love” I hope you aren’t envisioning the sappy, romantic love portrayed in the media – I hope you’re envisioning a desperate madness that extends far beyond the boundaries set up by this world. Yes, I have experienced this kind of love before. I have a Savior who loves me like that, more than I could ever imagine. And He has allowed me a very small taste of what it’s like to love someone or something else like that.

I want to say right now that whatever happens, I will always proclaim God’s name. I will always extend the message of his love to everyone else. Because this is what compels me, and this is what drives me. God’s love is burning inside of me like a blazing inferno, too hot and too bright to keep shut up inside.

Its melody is intoxicating, and I will always sing it for the world to hear.

Inferno’s Melody is not just a story. It is real.

I really want to hear what your passion is. Why is it so compelling to you?

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Getting Into the Writing Zone

NaNoWriMo is officially halfway over! And I officially no longer have any idea what I’m writing about! But that’s the fun of it, right? I definitely think so. In fact, I’m starting to think that it’s my favorite thing about NaNo. Because normally, I would get stuck in a rut if I didn’t know where my story was going, but during NaNo, it feels good in an I-really-hate-my-writing sort of way to be able to see an entire book unfold right before your disbelieving eyes.

Anyways, the only reason I’ve actually survived NaNo this long is because I have found a foolproof way to trap that elusive fairy we all like to call The Writing Zone. No idea why I just used that strange metaphor there… but it fits. I have heard multiple people I like to call “experts” say that real writers don’t NEED to get into a writing zone to be able to write. Real writers should be able to write anytime, anywhere. In bed at midnight. In a crowded coffee shop. On a yacht stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. At your desk at school when you’re supposed to be taking a science test.

I get why people say that, because, let’s face it: when you’re a bestselling novelist, you won’t always be able to crawl into an obscure corner of your room, put on your superhero cape, and pen your thoughts with your favorite purple pen. But hey, this is NaNoWriMo, and the point is to get the words written, no matter what it takes. And if you have to wear a superhero cape to be able to get into the writing zone, then I guess the experts will just have to rethink their philosophies.

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I have several things I do to get into my personal writing zone, and for each writer, it’s probably different. But I’ll share some things with you, because they’re general enough to be applied to everyone.

1. I always write on the floor, at the end of my bed. It’s less comfortable than sitting on my bed, and that’s important, because I might be tempted to curl up and fall asleep. I’ve written in bed before, and woken up at three in the morning with my light still on, and my notebook or laptop still open. More than once. So now, I rarely (if ever) write in bed, or in any place I might want to sleep.

2. Pray. I’m trying to get into the habit of praying before every writing session. It refocuses my mind and gets me thinking about why I’m writing at all. Rather than merely writing the story for the story’s own sake, or writing because I enjoy it, or even writing in order to complete the most well-known international writing challenge, I am writing for my Creator. He gets all the glory. Not me.

3. Here is where the real magic begins: music. I like to listen to the same song every single time, and do you know what that has done for me? It’s rewired my brain somehow, and now every time I hear that song, my brain instantly goes into its writing zone. You may be asking, “What is this magic song?” Well, it’s not just one… I actually have several, depending on what story I’m working on. Pick one that you like, one that inspires you, and most importantly, one that won’t distract you. I’m one of those crazy people who can actually write with lyrics in the background. Yes, sometimes I do end up accidentally writing the lyrics, but if it happens, that’s okay. What do you think the backspace key was invented for?

4. Drink tea. Drink lots and lots of tea. Tea is for me what coffee is for other writers. My mom and I have an entire hoard of tea sitting in the pantry in the kitchen. I could probably drink a cup a day for an entire month and never have the same kind twice. I like to sip on something hot while writing. I think it feeds me ideas. If you don’t like tea, don’t skip this step. Just substitute your favorite hot drink, like coffee or hot chocolate or cider or whatever you want. It’s November, and hot drinks make you feel all warm and cozy in your little writing zone.

5. Write in the dark. No idea why I like to do this. Maybe it eliminates all other possible distractions, like that Harry Potter book sitting so invitingly on my bookshelf, or my half-finished drawing of my side character’s brother’s girlfriend’s neighbor’s archenemy. I think the dark also helps me feel cozy and snug in some weird way. (I think I’m seeing a theme here.) I like how the only thing illuminated by my flashlight is my notebook in front of me.

6. Wear a bathrobe. It makes you feel warm and cozy, and it goes perfectly with your tea and the dark. I mean, you don’t have to wear a nice, warm, soft, fuzzy bathrobe, but Sherlock Holmes went around in his flat in his dressing gown, and he solved all his toughest cases that way. There may actually be some scientific facts behind this. I’ll have to look into it after NaNoWriMo’s over.

And that’s it. That’s how I get the day’s words written. Sometimes I change it up a bit, but if I’m running short on time and I NEED to get writing done, this is what I’ll do. Feel free to let me know about your writing routine in the comments!

Oh, and since we’re on the subject of NaNoWriMo, I’d like to take a moment and fill you in on the novel I’m writing. You can read about it extensively here, but if you’ve already done so, you know that the tentative title was Grandmother’s Secret. Today, I am pleased to announce the actual title: INFERNO’S MELODY. Don’t ask why I named it that. I just did. I’ve also updated the plot summary on my “Stories” page, so definitely give it a read!

How is NaNoWriMo going? Do you have a specific writing routine you like to go through?

The Universal Truth

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

No, not that kind of universal truth. I’m pretty sure the above statement isn’t even true. Mrs. Bennett thought it was, but most of what she says is nonsense anyway, so we shouldn’t use her words as life advice. Today I’m here to talk about a different kind of universal truth. I apologize in advance if I ramble a bit, or if I use the same word four times in the same sentence. NaNoWriMo just started, and my thoughts are everywhere right now.

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I first learned about the Universal Truth from a wonderful lady named Kay Strom. (Her books are excellent, by the way.) According to her, a Universal Truth is like a theme, but it is way more specific. Stories, as you probably know, usually have a theme, that is, a recurring topic the book keeps touching on. It answers the question “What is this book about?”

Universal Truths are usually specific statements or messages about the theme. For example, let’s choose a common theme and look at how it’s presented in different books. I’m going to choose the theme of redemption, because that’s my favorite one. Right off the top of my head, two series (what is the plural of “series?”) with this theme are: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, and The Mission League by Jill Williamson. (I have not finished The Mission League series yet, so NO SPOILERS PLEASE!) Literary critics could analyze these two series and find a plethora of different themes present, but redemption is definitely present in both, so that’s the one I am going to use.

In Harry Potter, a recurring message we see over and over again is this: “Redemption usually requires a selfless act of love.” You know, when Lily did that thing to save Harry, and then later Harry did that thing to save other people. We also get a beautiful contrast between Harry and Voldemort – so similar, yet so different.

In The Mission League (or at least in the first book), we see a totally different statement: “God will keep pursuing you, no matter how long you try to run from him.” Like, throughout the entire first book, Spencer wanted nothing to do with God, but God kept showing up everywhere around him, and eventually Spencer couldn’t ignore it anymore. We also get an interesting contrast here with the villain, but I’m not gonna spoil it for anybody. Plus, who knows how it turns out in the rest of the series.

Both of these series have the same theme, but what they’re saying about them is different. And that is what makes a Universal Truth, my friend.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what Universal Truth I’m presenting in my story. It was hard at first, because I’m a pantser who doesn’t know squat about the story before I start writing it. As it turned out, I couldn’t pin down my Universal Truth until I had experienced its trueness firsthand. Oh, it was definitely present in the story – I just couldn’t see it yet.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

-1 John 4:18a

That’s it. A simple statement, not even a full verse. It’s a Bible verse that I’ve known since childhood. Of course I’ve always believed it’s true. But up until recently, I hadn’t actually seen it applied to a real-life situation.

The thing about Universal Truths, to me at least, is that a story wouldn’t be worth anything without one. In the tens of thousands of words that make up my book-in-progress, 146 of them make up a paragraph towards the end. And this one paragraph is where the Universal Truth is revealed. Without this one paragraph, none of the other words matter. Without the Universal Truth, the story is nothing, the characters struggled in vain, and I wasted an entire year of my life writing an empty story.

Even though all stories have a climax, where the tension has never been so high, and everything finally comes together, the Universal Truth is like a climax of its own. Even if it’s woven all throughout the story, there is always a place where the reader stops and says, “Oh. This is what I’ve been reading about. This is what the author wanted to say to me.”

Kay Strom says that Universal Truths should always point to God. They should go beyond the story itself as they transfer the author’s passion to the reader. And really, isn’t that the reason authors write at all? Because they are passionate about something, and they want the world to see it too?

Is there a Universal Truth in your story? How is NaNoWriMo going (if you’re doing it)?

#NaNoPrep: Overcoming Impostor Syndrome + Giveaway!!

Hi everyone! Today I have a very special post as part of the Writers Persevere event that authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are running for the next few days to celebrate their newest book, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma. This book looks at the difficult experiences embedded in our character’s backstory which will shape their motivation and behavior afterward.

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To help them celebrate this release, many of us are posting stories about some of the obstacles we’ve overcome as writers. (I also posted about this on Sunday… if you haven’t had a chance to read about overcoming fears, you can do so here.) As we all know, this isn’t an easy path. Writing is hard and as writers we tend to struggle with doubt. Sometimes too, we don’t always get the support we need to follow our passion, or we have added challenges that make writing more difficult. Because people are sharing their stories this week about how they worked through these challenges to keep writing, I wanted to post about it too.

When it comes to a character’s past (which The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is all about), there is a common problem: the character can’t seem to move past it and change. Ironically, we as writers are prone to the same problem. We feel like we don’t know what we’re doing, and that we’ll never move past the difficult stage we’re in right now. In other words, we feel like impostors. We are constantly presenting our identities as writers to the world for it to see, but when it comes down to it, do we really know what we’re doing?

I realized something yesterday (and I’ve realized it before, but yesterday it really hit me hard). In the three years or so that I’ve been seriously pursuing writing, I have grown. A lot. I laugh every time I remember writing the beginnings of my first novel. I barely knew how to structure a plot, much less map out a character’s growth. I remember getting frustrated because my characters weren’t complex enough to make that neat little chart that shows the steps of a character arc. That feeling lasted for a long time, too. I felt like I couldn’t move past it. 

And now? Character development is my favorite! For my WIP, my main character’s journey was practically the thing that made me want to write the story in the first place.

I also remember my first time trying to edit a draft of a novel as a whole, rather than fixing specific things as I spotted them here and there. I got so bogged down. And now? Now I’m nearly finished with the official second draft of Twelve, and it will be complete by Christmas break. At least, that’s my plan. My deadlines tend to get pushed back.

I have found that the cure for Impostor Syndrome is to just keep writing. You will improve, trust me. But you won’t be able to see any improvement unless you compare where you are now to where you were sometime in the past. So don’t get hung up on what you don’t know now. Instead, look at the things you didn’t know a year ago. And keep writing.

I’d like to give a huge shout-out to Angela and Becca, because I have been following their blog and reading their books for three years now, and they have taught me so much about writing. Like I said a minute ago, you have to keep writing in order to improve your craft. That’s not the only thing you can do, however. You can also learn from professionals – people who have been where you are now, and know exactly what you need to learn.

I highly recommend all of their thesauruses (thesauri?), but The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is by far my favorite. And that is saying a lot. It has taught me much of what I know about character development. You can use it throughout all stages of the writing process, too. If you’re just starting to plan out a character’s journey, it has tons of tips and ideas to get you started. And if you already know everything about your character’s journey, this book will help you go deeper still.

As you can probably tell, I’m really excited about the release of this book, so please join me in celebrating! Do you have a story to share, or some advice for others? You can join Becca and Angela at Writers Helping Writers from October 25-27th, where we are celebrating writers and their stories of perseverance. Stop in, and tell them about a challenge or struggle your faced, or if you like, write a post on your own blog and share it using the hashtag #writerspersevere. Let’s fill social media with your strength and let other writers know that it’s okay to question and have doubts but we shouldn’t let that stop us.

Giveaway Alert!!

There’s a prize vault filled with items that can give your writing career a boost at Writers Helping Writers.

I would love for one of you to win something that will help you get closer to your goal!

The giveaway is only from October 25-27th, so enter asap. And don’t forget to share this using the #writerspersevere hashtag so more prizes will be awarded!

Do you have a story to share, or advice for others?

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#NaNoPrep: Overcoming Obstacles as a Writer

“What have I gotten myself into?”

That’s the question I asked myself last year after I signed up for NaNoWriMo. I was kind of like all of my characters at the beginning of the book, you know? They all just kind of got involved in this humongous plot thinking it would be a fun adventure. Nope. Right before their would-be adventure started, they had second thoughts. But it was too late to back out. Either that, or they were there for a purpose, and their purpose was greater than their fears.

That’s what I want to talk about today. What to do when you hit obstacles (and this doesn’t have to apply only to NaNoWriMo). Not so much the physical obstacles, but the mental obstacles. When you doubt yourself. When your goals are too big to keep pursuing. When you realize you’ve set yourself up for certain failure.

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

First of all, there’s no such thing as certain failure. Even when you’re a little hobbit carrying an evil ring into Mordor all by yourself. So, tip #1: Stop telling yourself you’ll fail.

You never know what you’re capable of until you try things. Seriously. Think about it. Say you’re a slow writer (like me). Say you’re a perfectionist (also like me). These two things by themselves are not all bad, but when both of them apply to you, it can take forever to get just the first draft written. Statistically, it’s actually impossible for you to write 50,000 words in one month. How are you going to do it?

Boundaries are key. If you’re anything like me as a writer, you’re constantly setting boundaries for yourself. Just to name a few, you say you can’t write a certain type of story. You say you can’t write enough words in enough time. You say that writing one book is hard enough, so how are you ever going to write a sequel to it?

Most of the time, these boundaries are flimsy walls that you’ve set up unknowingly. And you don’t find that out until you try to break them down. Speaking in terms of NaNoWriMo, if you don’t manage to write fast enough, who cares? You’re still writing! And chances are, you’re a better writer than you were when you started! And that is a reason to risk failure.

But wait. There are more obstacles out there. What about that other looming fear? The fear of rejection? After you get past your initial fear of failure and decide you’re going to try anyway, you run straight into another fear. What if no one else likes what you wrote?

Take J.K. Rowling, for example. Everyone knows who she is. I didn’t even have to tell you what book she wrote. It’s a little-known fact, but multiple (not just one) publishers rejected her manuscript before she finally got it published. And look at Harry Potter now. You may think that everyone loves it because it’s so popular, but that isn’t true. There are crazy people out there who don’t like it. (If you’re one of those people, no offense was meant.) The moral of the story is, even if you’re J.K. Rowling, you still have critics who don’t like your writing. There’s just no way to please everyone. 

For me, the fear of rejection is way harder to deal with than the fear of failure. In fact, I’m so afraid of rejection, that I hesitate to share much of the story I’m writing with anyone, even with my close friends and family. However… I did do something brave and create a new page for my blog dedicated entirely to all of my writing projects.

I’ve found that the best way to combat the fear of rejection is by just letting people read it. Stop editing to make it perfect and just let people read it. (Yes, hello to all the people I’ve promised to let read my manuscript: I will follow my own advice. My manuscript has a few holes in it, and unless you want to be really confused, you don’t want to read it yet.) Until you’re ready to query an agent or to self-publish, your manuscript does not have to be perfect. And, let’s face it. Even when it is published, it won’t be completely perfect.

I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to obstacles in writing, and there’s no way I can address all of them in one post. Besides NaNoPrep, I had another reason for posting this today. On Wednesday, I will have a very special postThis one serves as sort of an introduction, a prelude. I won’t be talking specifically about fears, but the topic will be similar. So stay tuned! I will also make sure to announce it on Facebook when I do post it. In the meantime, let’s talk about obstacles.

What’s the biggest obstacle you face while writing? Do you have any experience dealing with fear?

 

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#NaNoPrep: Fantastic Words and Where to Find Them

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with Newt Scamander or his magical beasts.

One of the biggest issues all writers have during NaNoWriMo is… yep, you guessed it, writing. Duh. If you do the math, 50,000 words divided by 30 days is approximately 1,667 words per day. That may seem feasible, but you’re going to be writing nearly 2,000 words every. single. day. for thirty whole days. It’s definitely possible, but is it easy?

Um… no. It is not easy.  What will you do when writer’s block strikes (and, unless I’m wrong, writer’s block is a part of every writing project)? What will you do when you get bogged down and the story is barely moving at all? Where are you going to find these elusive, magical words?

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

Unfortunately, you probably will experience writer’s block at some point during NaNoWriMo. Writing prompts are a great place to start. Pinterest has literally thousands of them, and the NaNoWriMo site also has some. But everybody suggests writing prompts, and sometimes, they’re not that helpful.

Here’s a list of ideas to get you started. If you have anything to add to it, definitely let me know!

Write backstories. Last year, my novel featured twelve characters who were either main characters or main supporting characters. I still don’t have all of their backstories. NaNoWriMo is a great time to explore your characters’ histories. Write detailed, extensive scenes from the past. And even if it doesn’t end up in your final manuscript, it counts, because it’s a part of your first draft.

Go off on tangents. Do you have a random scene stuck in your head that won’t fit anywhere in the manuscript? Go ahead and write it. Do you know about the history some ancient dark lord that used to rule your fantasy land? Go ahead and explain it, even if it has nothing to do with the present moment. Do you know the names of all the plants growing by the side of the road? Go ahead and name them all.

Write up a ridiculously detailed acknowledgements page. I did this last year, because I was desperate, and ended up not counting it because it felt like cheating. It’s not cheating, because it’s a part of your first draft, but I’m such a perfectionist that it felt like it. In your acknowledgements, name all the people you can think of, even fictional characters who have inspired you. While you’re at it, write up other front matter… a table of contents, a copyright page… anything and everything you can think of.

Have a couple of scenes lingering in the back of your mind and save them for a rainy day. I found this technique immensely helpful. I am a pantser, so I don’t do much planning before I start writing. But I do plan the basics. I tend to mull over my story in my head and watch scenes as if I were watching a movie. Because of this, I ended up writing a couple of detailed scenes, without actually writing them down. It’s very reassuring to have that. If you sit down to write one day and realize the words won’t come, you’ll still have those mental scenes to whip out at a moment’s notice.

Utilize NaNoWriMo’s word sprint tool. Maybe you already do. Word sprints are the best! You set a timer and see how many words you can write before the time runs out. You can either race against yourself, or get other people involved and race against them. Last year, I actually set a personal record for how many words I could write in half an hour. It was because of a word sprint. Use them! They help!

If you know any other helpful tips, definitely let me know because I may actually add it to this post.

What are you writing for NaNoWriMo this year? Do you have a personal experience you’d like to share?

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#NaNoPrep: The Do’s and Don’ts of NaNoWriMo

I hate lists of do’s and don’t’s. In fact, I hate writing rules in general. So it seemed logical for me to type up a list of rules about what to do and what not to do during NaNoWriMo.

Actually, I had a lot of fun writing this. Every item on this list is something I’ve learned from personal experience. If you’re considering participating in NaNoWriMo this year (especially if it’s your first time), it might be just what you need.

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

DO look at your schedule sometime before the first of November, and make sure you have enough time to get writing done. Note any holidays, etc., when you won’t have as much time on your hands. Be sure to be practical when making time to write… if your brain doesn’t begin functioning until lunchtime (like mine, ahem), then getting up early to give yourself time to write is NOT a good idea.

DON’T try to do it on your own. In other words, don’t just assign 50,000 words to yourself as a personal, private challenge. Last year I considered doing this because I was afraid to officially commit to it. Luckily, one of my friends encouraged me otherwise. Make yourself an account on the official NaNoWriMo website. It is much more motivating. Even if you don’t win, you’ll get some pretty awesome prizes.

DO spend time with your family. It’s important. And when you do, try to talk about something other than the novel you’re working on.

DON’T stay up late to write on a school night. (I have to put this here to encourage responsible behavior. Whether or not you actually take my advice is up to you.)

DO make time to spend with God. This should be #1 on the list. It should be your first priority, the most important thing on your schedule (even during the other eleven months of the year). He is your sovereign Creator, and he deserves your worship. Consider asking Him how to let whatever you’re writing glorify Him. After all, whatever you do should be done for His glory.

DON’T obsess over word-count goals. If you’re constantly checking your word count while you write, you won’t be as productive. Did you know that Microsoft Word has a feature that enables you to turn off your word count?

DO make sure you know what you’re writing before November hits (that’s why October is NaNo Prep Month – unless you’re a die-hard pantser), but:

DON’T wait for inspiration to strike every day. It won’t. Sometimes (okay, probably twenty-eight out of the thirty days), you’ll just have to sit down and make yourself start writing. It’s painful sometimes, because even as you’re writing them, the words sound like squeaky chalk on a chalkboard. Write them anyway. You’ll fix them later.

DO pick up a copy of No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. He walks you through NaNoWriMo, week-by-week, and has a lot of great tips to offer. I checked it out from the library last year and had it for the entire month of November. This year I’m considering buying my own copy.

DON’T forget practical things like eating, sleeping, and exercising. Eating and sleeping are no-brainers, but exercise is just as important. Sitting in front of a computer makes muscles stiff and eyes sore (not to mention wrists and fingers from all that typing).

DO make sure you have your own computer (or notebook, or typewriter, or Morse code machine, or whatever you prefer to write books with). This one seems obvious. But I didn’t have my own laptop until after NaNoWriMo last year, and certain anonymous members of my family got annoyed and thought I was hogging the computer. Which, of course, is impossible to do if you’re writing 50,000 words in a month.

DON’T give your family hourly updates on your word count. Trust me on this one.

DO make sure you have enough chocolate to last you through the month. Chocolate is good for pretty much any circumstance you could possibly run across during NaNoWriMo… it’s there to comfort you when the words won’t come, it’s there to celebrate with you when you win, it’s there to melt in your mouth when you cry for your characters and the hardships you’re putting them through.

That’s all the tips I have today, but since NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, I will probably be doing a series of posts similar to this one.

Will you be participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

Do you have any advice to add to the list?

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The Difference between Salvation and Redemption

I’ve been doing a lot of character development lately. It’s my new favorite aspect of writing. I’ve been reading a lot about the different Myers-Briggs types (and yes, each of my twelve main characters is a different type), delving into backstories, and figuring out their inner motivations.

My latest endeavor is to answer this question: What is it that drives them? What are they seeking, and hoping to find? These questions are closely connected to their inner motivations. Of course, all of them are driven by something different. No one is quite desiring the exact same thing, although they share the same external goal for the story. They all have different histories, and different character arcs. Every single one of them has a unique internal longing.

That being said, of course some of them will be similar. For example, and this is the main point of this post, two of my characters are seeking almost the same thing. I’ll call them Character A and Character B, for the sake of character-author confidentiality. For some odd reason, most of my characters have a habit of having intricate, secretive backgrounds which somehow always end up playing vital roles in future stories that haven’t been written yet. So, for the sake of a spoiler-free post, I will tell you their stories but not who they are. Get to the point, you say. What do these two characters want?

One of them is seeking salvation, while the other is seeking redemption. I had to stop and think about this after I wrote it. Don’t the two words mean the same thing? More often than not, they are used synonymously, especially when referring to the Christian faith. But no… they are not really synonyms. The root of the word “salvation” is “save,” and the root of “redemption” is “redeem.” Redeeming someone is very different from saving someone. Saving someone implies protecting them. From danger, perhaps. From death, even. Saving implies rescuing. But nothing more.

Redeeming someone, on the other hand, is more than just rescuing someone. Redemption involves a price. If you redeem something, you are buying it back. If you redeem something, it is yours. But it always comes at a price.

It’s easy to see why the two words are used synonymously when referring to Christ. Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection, gave us both salvation and redemption. He saved us from death – by taking sin upon himself – and serving the punishment for that sin: death. And because he paid that price for us, he redeemed us from sin. He bought us back to be his own. And now, if we believe in him, we not only are saved from death, but we belong to him. We are his children.

In the cases of Character A and Character B, one of them is seeking redemption, but the other is seeking salvation. This too is easy to see. Character A grew up in a dysfunctional family. As a child and teen he was abused – both physically and emotionally – by his parents. He was bullied by other children. He was wronged in a lot of ways, and this traumatic past has shaped the rest of his life. He doesn’t trust anyone but himself, not even God. In fact, he wonders if God exists at all. He wants salvation.

Character B, on the other hand, is haunted by a past she no longer wants any part of. She’s made mistakes; she’s been lured in by sin’s enticing temptations. Her sin hurt the people in the world she loved most, not to mention herself. She’s mad at God and feels she doesn’t belong anywhere, not even in the shelter of God’s love. She wants redemption.

So there you have the difference between redemption and salvation. Salvation is a rescue; redemption is a purchase. Character development is definitely one of the harder things about writing, but it’s also one of the most fun and rewarding aspects too.

My favorite resources for developing a character’s backstory or motivations are the Emotional Wound Thesaurus and the Character Motivation Thesaurus (both are from Writers Helping Writers. I’m very excited because The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is going to be released sometime this October!!) Even if you don’t need them as writing resources, check them out anyway. They’re awesome.

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Plot happens when many characters’ journeys cross paths.

A character’s journey, for me, quickly becoming more important than the plot of the story. It makes sense… the characters are the ones interacting with the plot. A lot of the time, the characters are the ones creating the plot in the first place. What would Pride and Prejudice be if Darcy wasn’t so proud in the beginning and therefore had no character arc? Or think about how the numerous plots of Downton Abbey would be different if none of the characters had distinct backgrounds, motivations, and personalities. No story would be the same without these elements. Characters are one of the primary driving sources behind any story.

I’m curious to know… have you done any interesting character development? And do you have any favorite books with well-developed characters?

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The Last Hurrah

Hello, friends, and welcome to the Monthly Theme! You probably noticed that my blog looks different. I was bored, so I redesigned it. I think that now it echoes my personality more.

I know I haven’t done a Monthly Theme in quite a few months, so really it shouldn’t be called “monthly.” But I came up with a pretty good one for the month of August…

Adventure!!

This may seem like a strange one to choose. As you know, by the time August comes around, summer is winding down, and the month is full of hot, dreary days.  By the time August comes around, we look forward to the cool, crisp promise of fall and the start of the new school year (or not…). By the time August comes around, we’ve done all of our fun summer stuff. It doesn’t even have any holidays.

I hold a different view. August, to me, has always been sort of a last hurrah. It’s always an exciting month. A few Augusts ago, I started writing a story. That story led to another story, which in turn led to another… the story kept growing bigger in my mind, and now I have an entire saga waiting to be written. This August in particular, I’ve felt very productive in my writing. It’s definitely been an adventure… I’ve been working on a LOT of character development (I hope to do a related post soon), a bit of plot development, and the story has been generally sitting on my mind. Last August, I went to Camp Attitude, which always holds tons of new adventures. And there’s always a church-wide camping trip at the end of the month (which I just got back from a couple of days ago). Not to mention that epic solar eclipse we had last week.

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Aside from personal adventure, there is adventure to be found in lots of fictional works. It’s a fairly common theme, if you could call it a theme, and even stories that don’t focus on adventure as a main part of the story at least contain hints of it. Adventure is associated with taking risks, with excitement. It’s associated with new experiences and the rush of adrenaline. Now, if you are positively paranoid about anything that promises danger and have no desire to do anything out of the ordinary, then perhaps a life of adventure is not for you perhaps Gandalf will invite thirteen dwarves to your house and you will get roped into an epic quest.

I think everyone, though, (yes, even Bilbo) longs for some sort of adventure. Something bigger than their ordinary lives. Like Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Even if we don’t know it, we all know we were meant for more than this provincial life. (Hint: It’s because God made us that way. He designed us to live in a perfect world with him. We’re the ones who messed it all up.)

While our thirst for adventure can lead to moments of self-discovery, it can lead us into all sorts of other stuff too. Oftentimes, this is how characters start their journeys. The character wants an adventure, so he goes and finds one, and bam!, there’s a story. This isn’t the case all the time – sometimes a character is thrust into something without a choice. But consider the following questions:

Why was Lucy snooping in somebody else’s wardrobe?

Why did Harry trust a perfect stranger to take him to school?

Why did Christine agree to go with a creepy masked phantom?

Why did Neo choose the red pill?

Why did Roland stop fleeing his pursuers to help Mercy?

(That last question is from the first scene of my book. :D) There are answers to all of these questions, but the most simplistic answer is that they all wanted an adventure. They all believed that something bigger was out there. And that’s the key word here: belief. If Lucy didn’t have that child-like faith, she never would have been able to get into Narnia. If Harry didn’t believe what Hagrid told him, he never would have made it to Hogwarts. And so on.

So, while adventures presented in stories are somewhat romantic (meaning they are romanticized – that is, made out to be better or more illustrious than they actually are), adventures in real life are very different. Let’s face it: None of us will ever stumble upon Narnia. None of us will ever receive our Hogwarts letter. None of us will ever get roped into a magical quest. But all of us were made for more than this life we are currently living. And if we set out in pursuit of it, it will be an adventure.

Not the kind of adventure you read about in books, but the real kind of adventure.

One that lasts for eternity.

I’d love to hear about your summertime adventures! Also – do you have a favorite book where one of characters goes on an adventure?

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In Honor of Tolkien

Hi everyone, I’m really sorry I haven’t blogged in a while. Maybe I’ll tell you about my Camp NaNoWriMo adventures sometime, but today I have something special to write about. Apparently there’s this thing going around where lots of bloggers write Tolkien-related posts in honor of the release of The Fellowship of the Ring on July 29, 1954. (I missed the anniversary by a day, but who cares.) Therefore, as a huge fan of Tolkien, I will dedicate this entire post to talking about, and fangirling over, his books.

Favorite Character:

Samwise Gamgee.

If you asked me who my favorite character was, I would not hesitate, not in the least. Sam is my favorite character, hands down, no arguments.

Why?, you ask. Well, first off, I always love the sidekicks for some reason. Sam Gamgee, obviously. Ron Weasley from Harry Potter. John Watson from Sherlock. Even amongst my own characters, I love all the sidekicks the best.

I could give you an exhaustive list of all the reasons I love Sam, but that would just lead into…

Favorite Chapter in the Entire Trilogy:

“The Choices of Master Samwise,” from The Two Towers.

(WARNING: SPOILERS)

If you’ve never read the books, go read them the ending of The Two Towers is quite different from the way its respective movie ended. The book ends in Shelob’s lair, when Sam thinks Frodo is dead, so he takes the Ring with the intent to destroy it himself. (In the movies, we don’t see this part until The Return of the King.)

Anyway, in this chapter, we really get to see Sam’s character come out. He’s in quite the predicament: He’s just traveled across half of Middle-earth with his best friend Frodo, only to be attacked by a gigantic spider when they are so close to the end of their journey. He is devastated because he thinks Frodo is dead, and he is torn between his duty to his friend and his duty to Middle-earth. The last thing he wants to do is take the Ring and destroy it himself. He longs to go back home to the Shire. He can’t bear to leave his friend alone in this dark place. But he knows he can’t stay with Frodo; otherwise the enemy would find them both and take the Ring. His heart longs for vengeance against Gollum for deceiving them and bringing them here in the first place. But he knows that wouldn’t be worth it.

I love seeing Sam’s internal struggle here. Deep down, he knows the answer, but he has to wrestle with it first. Eventually he sees that the fate of Middle-earth rests in his hands and that it is his solemn duty to finish what Frodo started. This passage is the reason Sam is my favorite character in the first place.

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Things I Wish Were in the Movies:

(MORE SPOILERS)

-Tom Bombadil and that whole part about the Barrow-downs

I know Tom Bombadil was a pretty ridiculous character who added almost nothing to the plot, but I liked him. I think there were some things which he said and did that were important. And the Barrow-downs, which also added nothing to the plot, were pretty creepy. They were kind of a part of the whole Tom Bombadil subplot, too. I think it would have been fun to see.

-Éowyn and Faramir’s romance

The movies did mention it, but it was infinitely better in the books. The reader sees them get to know each other, and their love grows as the story goes on. It also offers more closure for both of the characters. It’s one of my favorite parts.

-Arwen

Um… Talia? Arwen is already in the movies… duh!

Exactly my point. She was much different in the books. Now don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with the movie’s version of Arwen. It’s just that she plays a lot bigger part than she did in the books. Like I said, I have no problem with it. It just bothers me a little bit.

Favorite Quotes:

I’m limiting this to book quotes. Otherwise we’ll all be here all day. Also, I’m only going to mention my personal favorite quotes, which does not include the really famous ones that everybody knows and loves.

“You can trust us to stick with you, through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.”

-Merry

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.”

-Gandalf

“I am Aragorn son of Arathorn; and if by life or death I can save you, I will.”

-Aragorn

“The Shadow that bred them [the orcs] can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. I don’t think it gave life to the orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them.”

-Frodo

That’s all I have for now, aside from the fact that Tolkien has been an inspiration to fantasy authors everywhere, including me. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you in the comments about anything and everything Tolkien-related.

Do you have a favorite character? A favorite scene or chapter? Or any other Tolkien-related comments?

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