Cover Reveal: The ??? Thesaurus

I have a secret to spill!

For the last month, I’ve been part of a Street Team for Angela and Becca at Writers Helping Writers, who are launching their new writing book on February 19th. Because they are known for showing, not telling, they decided it would be fun to keep the thesaurus book’s topic a secret until the book cover reveal…WHICH IS TODAY!

If you don’t know who these amazing people are, you’ve gotta check them out! Many of you are probably familiar with their Emotion Thesaurus, which, not kidding here, was the book that singlehandedly helped my writing take off like a stick of dynamite after the flame burns down. (Also, I just realized that’s an oddly specific simile.) Not to brag on them or anything… okay, yes, I am bragging on them. That’s what I’m here for today.

Well, they didn’t stop after the Emotion Thesaurus. They published five more thesauruses, and they have even more that aren’t published. (Some of them are accessible online!)

It’s been hard keeping quiet about this (like, really, really hard), so I am THRILLED I can finally announce that The Emotion Thesaurus Second Edition is coming!

Isn’t that cover just beautiful?

This is a seriously cool book, guys. The original Emotion Thesaurus released in 2012 and became a must-have resource for many writers because every entry has a list of body language, thoughts, and visceral sensations for 75 different emotions. I read through them for fun. Did you know that showing character emotion on the page is one of the hardest things for a writer to do? It’s true!

And why is the second edition so special, you ask? Well, it turns out that so many people have asked Angela and Becca to add more emotions over the years that they decided to create a second edition. It contains 55 NEW entries, bringing the total to 130 emotions.

This book is almost DOUBLE IN SIZE and there’s a lot more new content, so I definitely recommend checking it out. And you can. Right now.

Preorder Alert!

This book is available for preorder, so you can find all the details about this new book’s contents by visiting Amazon, Kobo, Indiebound, and Apple Books (iBooks), or swinging by Writers Helping Writers. You can view the full list of emotions included in this new book, too.

One last thing…Angela & Becca have a special gift for writers HERE. If you like free education, stop by and check it out. (It’s only available for a limited time!)

Have you ever used the Emotion Thesaurus?

Share in the comments your best tips about showing character emotion!

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The Sequel Game

Hi, everyone!! NaNoWriMo’s halfway over, it’s less than a week till Thanksgiving, and Christmas decorations are popping up all over the place. (Like, why? I’m a HUGE fan of Christmas, but I draw the line at getting a tree before Thanksgiving.)

At the end of this post I’ll have a little tip about NaNoWriMo, but first, I need to talk about something. One thing I’ve noticed about the writing world is that there is a plethora of advice floating around on the Internet. Everybody wants to tell you how to write a book. Which is great, because there’s actually a lot of really great advice out there… how to structure a plot, how to develop a character, how to add in backstory, how to do worldbuilding…

But one thing I’ve noticed that nobody can explain is that most of the writing advice I’ve ever seen is for either writing standalone books or the first book in a series.

What do you do with the rest of the series?

The first thing you need to realize about sequels is that there are different kinds of series. Probably the most common type is where each book picks up where the other one left off – think A Series of Unfortunate Events, or the Harry Potter saga. The other kind is where all the books are related, but you can honestly start anywhere and read them in any order because they don’t relate to each other much. The Nancy Drew series is a good example. 

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we need to look at the very first thing you’ll come to when reading a sequel – the beginning. (duh.) In a first or standalone book, you’ll want to introduce the reader to the main character, give them a reason to like them/root for them/get emotionally attached to them. I’ll assume you’ve heard all that a million times and don’t need a reminder. 

It’s different with sequels. In a sequel, the reader already knows the main character, and they must have cared about them enough to pick up the sequel. It’s a good idea to restate a few basic facts about the protagonist – especially if it’s a series like Nancy Drew, where you don’t know which book the reader will pick up first.

The next point is backstory. It’s difficult for me to give advice on backstory, especially for how to handle it in sequels, because every series is structured differently. Unless the main character’s backstory is a mystery and a central part of the plot, you’ve probably already shared most of it, if not all of it, with the reader.  In sequels, we don’t need to be reminded of all the details. Just go over the main stuff.

And this makes sense, because people naturally think about the important parts of their past. Like in Harry Potter we learn in every single book that Harry is an orphan because his parents were murdered by Voldemort. That’s important. The fact that Dudley bullied him is not quite as important.

Plot structure is the big one. Of course each individual book should have its own climax and everything, and the main character should have a character arc. But in a series, this is multi-faceted. The series needs to have a plot structure as a whole. There should be one point where we reach the climax of the whole series. Like an individual book, the series should have a definite turning point somewhere around the middle. The same idea applies to character arcs.

Of course, I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to writing sequels… there is SO much more to think about! Real quick, let me give you a survival tip for NaNoWriMo…

If you’re behind (like me), you need to find a way to get those words written. What I’ve done is set a timer for thirty minutes and start writing. Don’t do anything else. Don’t check Facebook, don’t look at Harry Potter memes, don’t do the dishes or fold the laundry. Just write. At the end of thirty minutes, check to see how many words you wrote.

Then, take a ten to fifteen minute break (maybe it’s finally time to fold that laundry), then do it again. Write for thirty minutes. Don’t think about all the typos you’re making, don’t think about how stupid the scene probably sounds, just write.

You can keep going with that cycle for as long as you want. Usually what happens for me is that I get more and more words written every time. Sometimes I can even get up to 2000 words per hour. It’s a very exciting way to see your word count grow!

That’s all I have for now (I should probably get back to my NaNo novel…). But let me know in the comments if you have any advice to share about writing a sequel. And best of luck to you if you’re doing NaNoWriMo!

Have you ever written a book series?

Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

The Writing Bubble

Ah, here we are, at the very end of summer. It sure went by fast. School’s about to start (if it hasn’t already), and it’s almost the season for pumpkin spice and apples and crunchy orange leaves and NaNoWriMo. Perfect time for writing, if  you ask me. It’s very cozy to sit in Starbucks with your laptop and the rain drizzling down the windowpane and the steam from your latte warming your face.

Writing is interesting in that it has bubbles. You know what I mean. Genres, audiences… the like. Lots of people will tell you to stay in your bubble, but those people are only concerned for your public face and not your actual self.

the writing bubble

It’s okay if you want to stay in your bubble. Lots of writers do. They find their niche, settle in, get comfortable, and stay there. Personally, I like my little YA Fantasy bubble, but occasionally I’ll branch out into sci-fi or middle grade fiction or poetry. There’s nothing wrong with bubbles, it’s just that… well, if you stay in them, you’re missing something.

It’s just like music. You can spend your entire life mastering one instrument, but by doing so, you miss everything else. You miss an entire world of skills, songs, and beauty. I’ve spent about ten years of my life taking piano lessons, and it’s taken me that long to realize that there is so much more out there. Music is more than mastering one classical song after another. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of other instruments. And if that’s not enough, there is so much more you can do with music. You can compose a film score. You can be in a band. You can become a YouTube star. You can conduct an orchestra. You can write Broadway musical.

The same goes for writing. You don’t have to stick with your genre, for example, YA Fantasy. You could try writing for middle grade instead. Or branch out even farther and try sci-fi, or historical fiction, or horror or contemporary or thriller or romance.

Or, if you’re especially brave, you could venture outside the fiction bubble. Try nonfiction. Write a memoir, a biography, a cookbook, a Bible study. Or… don’t write a book at all. Write movies. Write plays. Write Studio-C-style sketches.

And if you really want to get outside your bubble, don’t use words at all. Write music to tell a story. Paint a masterpiece. Perform a dance.

See, storytelling is so much more than writing. Every author, every poet, every screenwriter, is telling a story. Every artist, every composer, every dancer, has a story to tell the audience. Creativity is a gift, a means to express yourself, to share pieces of your heart. Use that gift. Even though not everyone tries to tell stories, that’s usually what ends up happening.

Think about it. Traditionally speaking, every book has a theme. Every song has a chorus. Every painting has a focal point.

I’m not saying you should try something outside your bubble. But why not? Don’t let fear hold you back. Don’t tell me you’re not good enough. With experience, you’ll grow. Every storyteller starts out as an amateur.

I’ll close with a quote by J.R.R. Tolkien. I always go back to this quote, and it sums up storytelling pretty much perfectly:

“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

What’s your writing bubble?

Have you ever tried anything different?

The Truth About Clichés

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about clichés. Writers are told to avoid them like the plague. They are a horribly awful very bad idea. A big no-no. Clichés are a sign of lazy writing, amateur writing, and all sorts of other writing that you’d never want to associate with.

Think of the young, orphaned, teenage protagonist who is secretly the Chosen One but doesn’t know it until an old, bearded, magical, wizard-like mentor tells him.

Think of the Super Evil Bad Guy who has a bazillion evil traits and zero good ones, who’s so evil, there’s no hope of redemption.

Think of love triangles, dark and stormy nights, ancient prophecies that always come true, and my personal favorite, quests for magical artifacts.

By the way, I am definitely guilty of most if not all of the above.

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So if you’re not supposed to use clichés, what are you supposed to do? Well, you’ve heard it before. You have to twist the cliché. Do something unexpected with it. For example, if you just have to have a Chosen One in your story, perhaps you could give your protagonist a big ego about his special status. Or maybe the Chosen One isn’t the protagonist at all.

See, agents and editors hate clichés. Readers notice them, too. They roll their eyes and might even stop reading altogether, and that’s the last thing writers want. The solution? Be original.

But that’s not what I’m aiming for. I want to go deeper. Twisting clichés is fun and entertaining, and will probably improve your writing, but there is a line that you are not allowed to cross.

People are afraid of originality.

Let me say that again, just to make sure it sinks in:

People are afraid of originality.

We live in a culture that is addicted to comfort, and can’t handle the unfamiliar. We all have our comfort zones, and we are perfectly happy staying inside them. And yet, we get tired of the same old, same old. If we still read books at all, we are absolutely terrified of anything original. Clichés are familiar, something we know. They’re tried and true, they’re safe. Comfortable. Boring, even. So when authors twist clichés, it’s a win-win. The book still holds that hint of familiarity, and yet it’s something different, something fresh.

But when the author does something completely original – well, that’s when people aren’t sure what to think. Even agents and editors shy away. That’s why J. K. Rowling got twelve rejections before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published. Sure, there are probably lots of clichés in the Harry Potter franchise, but it’s just that no one had done anything quite like that before. No one knew what to think. And now, twenty years later, millions of other authors have been inspired by her books.

But being original – really original – is hard work to begin with. Even if you do manage to create something amazing, you’ll have to deal with rejections and general disinterest. And I shouldn’t even mention the workload. Tolkien spent years writing The Lord of the Rings. Twelve, to be approximate. And that was just one story. Before that, he wrote The Hobbit, and before that, he was developing the language and lore of Middle-earth.

In conclusion, I highly discourage it. Don’t be original. It’s way too much work. It won’t pay off right away, if ever. Stay in your comfort zone, keep your readers in theirs, and everyone will be okay. Twist those clichés, insert plot twist or two, but don’t go crazy with your originality. Stay safe. No one wants that idea that doesn’t quite fit in with anything else.

Okay. Let me say what I came here to say.

Be brave, dear writer. Pursue things that no author has pursued before. Step out of your comfort zone. Leave behind the familiar. Write about things that scare you, terrify you even. Write about things that make you sad. Write until your tears stain your notebook. Write to embark on a journey of discovery. Write a real, honest story, not the watered-down version that people like. And when you’ve finished, take another step, perhaps the hardest step of all. Let other people read it. It will take them outside of their comfort zones, yes. But that’s good. Let them embark on this journey of discovery, too.

And don’t give up. Giving up will be the easiest path, I can guarantee you that. You may fail. But you can get up again. You can keep trying. You may get ten rejections, you may get a hundred. But you can keep writing. If it’s a story that tugs at your heart and won’t let go, God put it there in front of you for a reason, and you had better keep writing it.

What are some of your favorite (or least favorite) clichés?

What authors have inspired you?

A Proper Fangirl’s Guide to The 49th Mystic

I am SO VERY EXCITED FOR THIS POST. Seriously. I would say Ted Dekker was my favorite author, except I’ve already given that title to J.R.R. Tolkien.

But, if you’re a huge Ted Dekker fan like I am, I’m willing to bet you’ve read his latest book and LOVED it. Dekker did a lot of interviews/video series about it, and in almost every one of them, he claimed that The 49th Mystic is the culmination of his entire career. As an author, I kind of brushed his statement off… because every book I’ve ever written has felt like the culmination of my career.

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But he was right. The 49th Mystic is truly something special. It’s not like his other books. But then again, it is. It reminds me of some of his older stuff, like the Circle Trilogy. It’s part epic fantasy, part thriller, part theological disquisition. And plus, the villain is pretty sweet. Like Marsuvees. ❤ ❤ ❤

(Why on earth did I put a bunch of little hearts next to Marsuvees’s name?!)

For the sake of everyone who has not yet read the book, this is going to be a spoiler-free post. However, I highly encourage you to stop reading this post right now and go read the book first. But in case you need a little extra encouragement, I’m going to give you 6,781 reasons that you should read it:

  • It’s reminiscent of the Paradise Trilogy. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that it takes place in a small, sequestered town. We get glimpses of another world… there’s some magical books somewhere… and did I mention the super-fancy, super-evil, super-good-looking, super-amazing villain who shows up out of nowhere and starts taking over everything?
  • The way it ties into everything else. Dekker is a master of weaving different series together. You can read them independently, but it’s so much more fun if you read them all, because then you get the full picture! Also, The 49th Mystic made some connections that I wasn’t expecting. If you’d like, it might be interesting to read The 49th Mystic, Green, and Immanuel’s Veins all at the same time. No spoilers. Just sayin’, it’s a good idea.
  • It’s the long-awaited continuation of the Circle Series. Okay, kind of. The subtitle is “Beyond the Circle.” And let me tell you, it is EPIC.
  • The villain. Oh wait, I’ve already mentioned him. Moving on…
  • The characters. The main character is nice and all, but I like the side characters the best. I usually do, actually. Not to mention the villain. And there were some pretty awesome side characters here. No spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that.
  • The sheer epic-ness of it all. Dude, it’s a seriously amazing book! And the theme… the way the theme plays out, all the deep theological points, definitely awesome.

Yes, that was in fact 6,781 reasons. I counted them myself.

About the only thing I didn’t like about the book was that you have to wait until October 2 for the sequel. Two. More. Long. Months. To go. (And The 49th Mystic came out in May, so back then it was even longer.)

You know, I think it’d be fun to start an official fandom for Ted Dekker. There used to be one. They used to have an annual Gathering (no joke). But now? There are no memes, no fanart, no fanfiction, no cool merchandise. If you can find any of it, it’s a very rare treasure indeed.

But you know what? None of that matters. Great books don’t exist to have the loyal following of avid (and frankly obsessive) fans. No, great books exist to change you, and the truly greatest books point you back to God, to display His glory.

And I can say with confidence that The 49th Mystic will do that.

Have you read The 49th Mystic? What did you think?

Interview with Pam Ogden!

Today, I am soooooo excited to have the opportunity to interview my friend and fellow author Pam Ogden! Her first book, He Made Me Brave, released on June 14th, and there is SUCH a cool story behind it, that I wanted to share it with all of you.

20180626_184515Six years ago, Pam and her family adopted a little boy from South Korea. Now, they are working through the adoption process again – and if you know anything about it, you know that it is very long and very expensive. He Made Me Brave is the story of their last adoption, taken from Pam’s travel journal when they went to Korea. It’s a story filled with overwhelming emotion and God’s redeeming power. It’s a love story, it’s an adventure story, it’s a testimony of God’s work. Thus, it is my great honor to be able to introduce you to its author.

~~~

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Talia: What inspired He Made Me Brave? What’s the story behind the creation of this book?

 

pam ogden author headshotPam: My inspiration was fear! I didn’t mean to be writing a book, honestly. A few days before we left for South Korea, I noticed that recording my thoughts, and especially very concrete details about what was happening around me helped to ease my anxieties.  Somehow, writing down the “reality” was a very effective way to combat my tendency to catastrophize and was the only thing that seemed to keep me grounded and present in the moment. I had so many fears about the trip, flying, meeting Hudson for the first time, and my competence as a mom, and all of those fears were coming to one giant climax simultaneously. I was just lucky enough to find a tool that helped me cope with those fears, at exactly the right time.

I kept my iPad nearby through the entire trip, and concentrated on my tactile observations anytime my anxiety threatened to overwhelm me. At first I had no plan for what would become of the journal after the trip. It was purely a tool for my personal use. But as I read over it the night before we met Hudson, I realized what a colorful record of this landmark event was emerging. I thought that someday I might share it with him.

When we decided to start the adoption process again, we pulled out our souvenirs from the trip to South Korea, and then I was reminded of the travel journal. I read over it for the first time in five years, and the descriptions reawakened all the memories and emotions from the trip. I decided to share some of the entries on my new blog, to give my friends and family some history for our second adoption. I was shocked by the volume of feedback I received, and how many people suggested that I turn the entries into a book.

During Thanksgiving break, on a whim, I submitted a partial application to the publishing company Lucid Books, but I had no expectations there. I intended to self-publish on Amazon, and hopefully raise some money for our second adoption. To my complete surprise, I received an email and then a phone call from Lucid, praising the work that I had submitted, and offering to publish the book!

Talia: Wow, that’s an amazing (and very exciting) story! Especially because you never even considered publishing it! You said your inspiration was fear, and in your book, you talk very frankly about your anxiety. Was there any part of the book that was particularly scary for you to write or to share with other people?

Pam: Because I wrote the book for myself and didn’t intend for anyone else to see it, it wasn’t scary to write at all. Actually it was very soothing.

But once I started the publishing process, knowing that people would be reading all those private thoughts was nerve wracking! I was unsure about how both my skill as a first-time writer and also my very personal reflections would be received. It’s terrifying to be that vulnerable; to allow my raw and unpolished thoughts to be exposed. I am hopeful that people will find it encouraging and validating, and especially that the people who played parts in the story will find themselves represented well.

Talia: I know exactly what you mean! Writing, especially sharing your writing with others, is being vulnerable, and sometimes, that is very hard to do. I am glad you decided to share your book, though–and I have no doubt it will encourage other people! Did you ever dream of writing a book before you wrote this one?

Pam: I have always dreamed of writing a book. I never felt like I had anything important enough to say, though, honestly.

Talia: Do you plan to continue writing?

Pam: I hope to! I published this book to help with the second adoption, and I would love to write a second book about our trip to Japan to pick up this baby. The stories of both adoptions are so interconnected, it would be more like a sequel.

I guess a second book is really in God’s hands, though. The adoption process is such a volatile and unpredictable animal, I am still hoping and praying that there will be a second adoption to write about.

Talia: That would be so cool if you wrote a sequel! You’re right, this whole thing is in God’s hands. I love how in He Made Me Brave, you can see God’s hand throughout it all. You can see how He was working through every part of your story! What are your hopes for this book as part of your current adoption process?

Pam: My hopes for the book are twofold. Of course I would love for the book to be so successful, that it helps to fund our second adoption, but I know that is an unrealistic goal for a first time author.

So I hope that the book will be a platform for me to build on, both as a future author, and also as an advocate for international adoption. Not many people know about the current decline in adoptions from other countries. One statistic I saw showed an 81% drop in adoptions from foreign countries in the last ten years. The problems are not solely trends in personal or individual family preferences. The changes that our government is making in the adoption process are causing fees to soar astronomically, and delays to stretch on indefinitely. Also, the statistics for children who are institutionalized for their entire childhoods, and then are expected to care for themselves when they age out are horrifying. I would love to use any exposure the book brings me to raise awareness of this problem. And if our story compels a reader to donate financially to our adoption, then we would be incredibly grateful for that, too!

Talia: It’s sad that not many people know about those problems. I know it’s caused unbelievable stress for some families (probably you, too!). I think the goals you have for your book are very good ones. Who knows, God may use you to call others to help, maybe even to consider adoption themselves!

Now, because I just have to know, who are some authors who impacted you as a writer? Inspired you as a reader?

Pam: My favorite authors are Victor Hugo and Joan Aiken. Both of them describe the world and humanity in a way that inspires a sense of romance and wonder without sacrificing reality. I love writing that can both tell a story and also appeal to my love of poetry and metaphor, and my favorite stories include themes of redemption, mercy and compassion.

Talia: love both of those authors! Victor Hugo is absolutely amazing, and Joan Aiken too. The way you described their writing is spot-on, and I think those themes you listed are part of what makes a timeless story.

This brings us to the close of our interview, but I just wanted to say thank you so much for being willing to do it! It was a lot of fun coming up with questions and seeing how you answered, and I liked getting to hear a little bit more about your book. I’m sure God will use it all for His glory.

~~~

If you like, you can visit Pam’s blog.

Or, do her a favor and buy her book on Amazon. 😀

pam ogden author headshotHomeschool mom and pastor’s wife Pam Ogden had dreamed of being a mom since she was a little girl.  She and her husband wanted six children, but their plans were waylaid when high-risk pregnancies and premature births threatened their first four babies.  In 2012, they adopted their son, and in 2017, they started the process to adopt one more child.  Pam graduated with honors from George Fox University, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Writing and Literature, and a Master’s degree in Counseling.  Pam loves her small-town life in Sweet Home, Oregon, with her husband, Jason, and their five children: Kelly, Luka, Ivan, Ember, and Hudson.  Pam and Jason hope to add one more child soon.

 

Lessons from Lemony

Why are you doing an entire post about Lemony Snicket? Isn’t this a writing blog, not a fangirl blog? Why Lemony Snicket, and not one of your top favorite authors?

If that sounds like you, let me tell you now: you’re asking all the wrong questions.

If you’ve read his books at all, you know there’s no one else quite like Lemony. He’s a very good writer, and yet he broke almost every writing rule I know of. His books are, in all honesty, pretty ridiculous, and yet I couldn’t put them down. How does he do that??

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Probably the most important thing I learned from reading Snicket’s books is that you shouldn’t be afraid to break the rules. I don’t mean this in a bad way, as in, actually doing something illegal. I mean rules about writing. Have you ever heard that you should never, ever, ever stop the story to explain something to the reader? That’s one of the biggest no-no’s of the writing world.

And yet, Snicket is notorious for stopping in the middle of an action sequence to extensively define a word. Or starting a new chapter with a completely unrelated story about his own life. Or breaking off to engage the reader in a Very Fascinating Discussion about the water cycle, which has nothing to do with the story at present.

But here’s the thing. Lemony Snicket actually increased my vocabulary with all of his digressions. If not for him, I still wouldn’t know what the words austere or ersatz meant. And if you just skim over the parts about his past life, you’ll actually start missing important clues. Even the water cycle ended up being important.

So, takeaway #1: Don’t be afraid to experiment with the rules. There are times when they shouldn’t be broken, but if you follow them too strictly, you may end up missing something.

The characters are next on the list. Now, the characters could be better, and by that I mean most of them are static characters (meaning they don’t change much over the course of the story. I like to see characters’ struggles as they change.) Toward the end, Snicket went a little deeper, but overall, his characters are just memorable. You can’t help but love every single one of them, and if you can’t love them, you love being annoyed by them.

Each of the characters has their own talents, whether it’s inventing, reading, cooking, poetry, mycology, or even villainy. Side characters tend to have quirks rather than talents, such as being a horrible violin player, or having a bad taste in fashion, or being in love with the most boring job in the world.

Takeaway #2: Make each character memorable. Give them a tag, something that separates them from all other characters. Give the reader a reason to love them. I could write an entire series of posts just about how to accomplish that, but we must move on to the next thing I love about Lemony:

20180426_211727His secret codes and messages. Everyone loves the challenge of finding and decoding hidden messages. Like the letters “VFD” hidden in the eye symbol. Like when the first letter of every sentence spells a word. Oftentimes these messages are hidden in plain sight.

I actually have suspicions that he hid a message throughout A Series of Unfortunate Events. I haven’t found anything yet, but the illustrator, Brett Helquist, once hid a secret, encoded message in the illustrations for a different series, so it’s not completely unreasonable. (The series is Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, if you want to know.)

I also love the importance Snicket placed on books and libraries. Every single one of his books features a library of some sort, even if it’s just a tiny collection of books. Usually, one of these books contains the answer to a puzzling question of a mystery. Books contain knowledge, and Snicket reiterated that message over and over. It’s kinda refreshing, seeing as we live in a world overrun by technology. It’s like that feeling you get whenever you walk into a library. You know, it feels almost shut off from the rest of the world, because decades if not centuries of knowledge rest on the long rows of bookshelves, and it’s one of the few places where you can truly say, “The world is quiet here.”

Have you read anything by Lemony Snicket?

What do you think of his unique style? His ridiculous characters?

How (not) to Be the Next C.S. Lewis

Hi everyone! Today, you get the privilege of listening to some of my totally random thoughts. My brain is fried, and this is the only blog topic that came to mind: other authors as role models.

When I first started taking writing seriously, I wanted to be the next Ted Dekker. That was probably because I was completely obsessed with his books back then, and he was the only author I read for an entire year and a half. I wanted to write those edge-of-your-seat-the-entire-way-through books. Books that were a picture of the Gospel.

And then I read Harry Potter. My vision changed. Now I was determined to be the next J.K. Rowling. What writer doesn’t want that? What writer doesn’t want to rock the world with a single book that ends up being pretty much the #1 bestselling series on the planet? And here we are, twenty years later, and she still has a huge following. That sounds awesome, doesn’t it?

And then I decided I could do better than that. I adjusted my vision a bit, and decided that I wanted to be the next Tolkien instead. I wanted to be the founder of a completely new genre (Tolkien is often considered the father of modern fantasy). I wanted to write books so memorable, that people would still be reading them eighty years from now. (Yes, The Hobbit was published eighty years ago.)

Then I changed my mind again. After reading The Screwtape Letters, I decided that I would be the next C.S. Lewis. I would write fiction so real that it’s almost inseparable from reality. I would write about the Christian faith within a fictional work.

the next cs lewis

Most professionals will tell you not to try to “be the next [insert your favorite author here].” I have come to agree with them, for two main reasons. First, favorite authors change (as you can see from my list). And second, the best authors were themselves. The best authors weren’t trying to live up to the standards set by other authors. The best authors were defying the norms, sometimes going directly against current trends.

But if you asked me who my four absolute favorite authors were, I’d tell you the four listed above. Trying to imitate them has given me a deep liking for their books. Theirs are the books I will always go back to, no matter how old I get. And even though I no longer want to be any of them, my writing is still very much influenced by them. For example:

All of those authors taught me to love fantasy, and now it’s the main thing I write. Beyond that, there is one thing all these authors have in common, and that is their stories are pictures of the Gospel. I will always write stories like that. I can’t not weave the Gospel into my fiction. It’s like an instinct; I couldn’t get away from it even if I tried.

Ted Dekker taught me that *SPOILER ALERT* the author is actually allowed to kill the main character. *END OF SPOILER* My overall writing style is also a bit like Ted Dekker’s (at least I think so. If you think differently, let me know. 🙂 )

Like J.K. Rowling, my books feature super evil villains, complex plots, and shocking endings. I’ve also started sorting all my characters into Hogwarts houses. It really helps early character development!

And like Tolkien, I write epic fantasy with quests that span the entire world and WAAAAAAY too many characters.

And finally, like C.S. Lewis, I have recently started writing stories that leak into reality a bit too much for my comfort – intentionally. (If you haven’t, you should read The Screwtape Letters. It scared me.)

As you can see, the authors we love do shape our writing. And why wouldn’t it? If you like to read a certain type of book, you’d probably write similar books, right? If you’re a writer, I highly encourage you to study your favorite authors. Study their books. Stalk them on Facebook. Find other people who love their books as much as you do, and talk about them. (Unless the author in question is Ted Dekker. He has no fandom, which makes me sad, but if you’re looking for a fellow fan, you can talk to me. It gets lonely over here with a big empty green lake all to myself and no one to dive in with me. And you’ll only understand that last sentence if you’ve read his books.)

So yes, learn from your favorite authors. But don’t try to BE them. It won’t get you anywhere, because you will never be able to. You will only get discouraged, because every writer has their own unique set of gifts. You can learn new skills and implement them into your own writing, but you will never actually be that author. And that’s the important thing to remember.

Who is your favorite author?

Which authors do you look up to as role models?