December 31, 2010

happy new year!

Seeing as I am still sick, my brain has yet to pick up to optimal cognitive functioning capability. In lieu of a somewhat educational post, I say only this:


Raise your glass to a productive (and healthy) 2011.

And enter my contest by midnight tonight, or you are full of fail.

December 30, 2010

looking to 2011

While I wait ever so patiently for the New Year to get here, I’ll throw out another post of me rambling about things. I need to take a break from all those helpful posts I put up over the past three months and give you guys some garbage to munch on. Also, I’m sick with who knows what, so I don’t really feel like thinking today. I have to conserve my energy for writing later.

Non-writing things I’m looking forward to next year…

December 29, 2010

instinctive editing

Today's wisdom comes from my experience with editing manuscripts, whether they be my drawer full of half-finished novels, or those few short stories I write every once in a while.

When in doubt, cut it out (or, more positively, go with your gut feeling).

Now, this isn't to say hold the delete button over paragraphs that you aren't sure about. When you're going over your rough draft, and something doesn't feel right, take that word/sentence/paragraph/scene/chapter and move it to a blank document. Delete it from your original draft, and analyze the story again without it. Nine times out of ten, the story is better off. On the other hand, sometimes, what you've taken out needs to be woven into the story elsewhere, because it is an important part of your story, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You'll usually have a gut feeling about these parts of your story, but you'll be scared to change anything, to cut anything, because you just worked so darn hard on it.

December 28, 2010

what i learned this year

Since we’re coming to the end of the year, I thought I’d share the things I learned about writing over the past twelve months. Feel free to share your learning experiences from this year in the comments.

Stowing away a freshly finished first draft for a month (or five) really does help with revisions.
I don’t think I looked away from my manuscript for more than a few days when I first finished it. I revised immediately, and at that point, I nearly had the story memorized word for word. Once I started querying (and getting absolutely no interest), I thought that maybe it just wasn’t what those particular agents were looking for. I thought I had a great story… just no one else recognized its amazingness. Meet December, the five month anniversary of my finished manuscript. I took a hard look at my story and realized that it didn’t need just minor revisions; it needed an entire rewrite. It needed to be restructured and refocused. I started on that. Would you believe that it already feels like the story I intended to write?

December 27, 2010

2011 debut author challenge

Through my lovely friend Amanda, I found out about the 2011 Debut Author Challenge. The objective is to read at least twelve Young Adult or Middle Grade novels by the end of the year. The books must be the author’s debut with a release in 2011. Here’s my list, to be read and have a review posted as I read them.

TIGER'S CURSE – Colleen Houck (1/11)

TIMELESS – Alexandra Monir (1/11)

I AM J – Cris Beam (3/1)

KAT, INCORRIGIBLE – Stephanie Burgis (4/12)

ENCLAVE – Ann Aguirre (4/12)

ALICE-MIRANDA AT SCHOOL – Jaqueline Harvey (4/12)

RUBY RED – Kerstin Gier (5/10)

ASHES, ASHES – Jo Treggiari (6/1)

POSSESSION – Elena Johnson (6/7)

SIRENZ - Charlotte Bennardo & Natalie Zaman (6/8)

BAD TASTE IN BOYS – Carrie Harris (7/12)

THE PRINCESS CURSE – Merrie Haskell (9/6)

There are a few others I may read, but these are the ones that I will definitely read and review. Dare to join the challenge?

December 23, 2010

the hero's journey - return with the elixir

So we’ve come to the end of it at last. It’s been a fun few weeks getting the Hero’s Journey organized for you all. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading, and I hope you’ve learned a bit too. The last stage in the Hero’s Journey is the Return with the Elixir.

Having survived all the ordeals, the heroes leave the Special World. Sometimes, they begin a new journey, and other times, they go home, but in both cases, they are leaving this adventure behind them and starting anew. The proceed with a sense that they are starting a new life, one much different that their previous one. The reason the stage is named Return with the Elixir is because of the idea that for the adventure to have meant anything at all, the hero must return with something from the Special World, proof that he actually partook in the journey.

December 22, 2010

holiday contest!

In lieu of wisdom, I offer you a contest!

Now, this one isn’t going to be as easy as the last one (just kidding… yes it is), but the prize is still the same:

Any book under $20 from The Book Depository!
(you may choose more than one book as long as the total is under $20)

Here are the rules:

You must be a follower of either my blog or Twitter (new or old)
You must comment on this post, and your comment must include:
  • your hopes for next year
  • a link to the book you want

December 21, 2010

the hero's journey - resurrection

We’re coming to the end of it. The hero is on his way home, on his way toward a new adventure, just on his way somewhere. Now comes one of the trickiest and most challenging passages for the hero, and for the writer. For the story to feel complete, the audience needs to experience an additional moment of death and rebirth. This is the climax. The first half of the story may have been building to a particular moment of seizing the sword, but in all reality, this is the point of the story where everything comes together and confronts the hero with the last and most dangerous ordeal. Heroes have to undergo a final purging and purification before returning to the Ordinary World. They must be resurrected.

Just as heroes had to shed their old selves to enter the Special World, they must shed the self that has been on this grand adventure and take on a new persona suitable for the Ordinary World. This new self should reflect the best parts of the old self and incorporate the lessons learned on the adventure. The idea of this last death-and-rebirth moment is to see if the hero retained what he learned from the Supreme Ordeal near the middle of the story. To learn something in a Special World is one thing. To bring the knowledge home and apply it is another thing entirely.

December 20, 2010

the hero's journey - the road back

Continuing on with the Hero’s Journey (it should be wrapped up by Thursday), today we’ll go into Stage Ten, The Road Back. The hero has seized the sword, saved the princess, and defeated the evil warlord. He now faces a choice: to remain in the Special World, or begin the journey home to the Ordinary World.

The Special World has its charms, but few heroes choose to stay there. Should the hero choose to stay, the story ends in the last stage, once the hero has claimed his reward. Most heroes take the Road Back and leave the world of adventure. This stage marks a time when heroes rededicate themselves to the adventure. It is another turning point in the story, where the goal of the adventure changes from seizing the sword to returning home safely. 

December 17, 2010

the hero's journey - reward

Now that the hero has defeated the villain (or somewhat), he must reap the Reward, Stage Nine of the Hero’s Journey. The Reward isn’t always that, something positive. This stage deals with the consequences of surviving death. Encountering death is a big event. There will almost always be a period of time in which the hero is recognized or rewarded for having survived death or a great ordeal.

It’s a time for celebration. They’ve killed the baddie, and now they can enjoy their fruits of victory. Strength is needed for the return journey, so the Reward may be a time for rest, recuperation, and refueling. The heroes may brag about what they’ve done, relieved that the worst is over. It’s also a time for reflection. Having crossed into that strange territory of death, the hero can never be the same. For the reader, these scenes allow a moment for them to catch their breath after the ordeal. It is also a good time to get to know the characters better, and understand them more emotionally.

December 16, 2010

the hero's journey - the ordeal

So here’s the biggie.

Everything in the story so far has led up to this point, Stage Eight of the Hero’s Journey: The Ordeal. The hero stands in the deepest chamber of the Inmost Cave, facing the greatest challenge and the most fearsome opponent yet. He has prepared for this moment, and he is ready for the struggle to come.

The Ordeal has a single, specific function: death and rebirth. Certainly you don’t want to kill off your main character. He’s made it this far, and we, the readers, have been rooting him on from the beginning. He just can’t die… or can he? (Imagine me with a bulging eye and a raised eyebrow here… in fact, make it a unibrow worthy of Count Olaf). 

December 15, 2010

blog promotion

This should be a no-brainer seeing as you are reading this right now, but…

Read (and Comment on) Writing Blogs.

You don’t have to read every single one, but take it from me, I’ve learned more about the writing industry and writing itself in the past six months of reading blogs than I did in college. I should have started reading blogs years ago, but I was slow to enter the blogosphere, slow to enter the world outside of the people that I knew personally. I did it finally, and I’m glad that I did.

December 14, 2010

the hero's journey - approach to the inmost cave

Now that the hero has made friends, ruffled a few feathers of the enemy, and has learned what exactly he needs to do, he has to go do it. Stage Seven of the Hero’s Journey is the Approach to the Inmost Cave.

Structurally, it comes right after Tests, Allies, Enemies. However, that does not mean that as soon as the hero passes through the inn, that he should dive straight into the heart of enemy territory. As the writer, you have the right to allow yourself space and “creative license” to make these stages what you want them to be. As always, this structure is not rigid. You can follow it step by step, word for word, but you don’t have to. Also, the Approach doesn’t have to take only a page or so. The Approach is a journey. The hero is on his way, and a lot can happen between here and there.

December 13, 2010

the hero's journey - tests, allies, enemies

Once the hero has crossed the Threshold into the Special World of adventure, he will encounter the fifth stage of the Hero’s Journey: Tests, Allies, Enemies.

The hero is finally in the mysterious and exciting Special World. He has committed to adventure. He has (most of) the necessary tools and knowledge to survive. He is ready to face the unknown.

If you remember the first stage of the Hero’s Journey (the Ordinary World), you’ll remember that I explained that there needs to be a high contrast between the Ordinary and Special Worlds. The reader, who has seen the Ordinary World in all its un-glory, now experiences the Special World. Their impression of this new place should differ greatly from the Ordinary World. Where the Ordinary was mundane, everyday, and quite boring, the Special must be exhilarating, exciting, and unusual. Even if the hero remains in the same locale, there should be some sort of movement, a change in tension and energy. Usually a new emotional or psychological world is unveiled. The Special World has a different feel to it.

December 10, 2010

the hero's journey - crossing the first threshold

Up to this point, the hero has avoided entering the Special World of the Hero’s Journey. Now he stands at the Threshold to the world of adventure. He has heard the Call. He has doubted himself. He has prepared for what is ahead. Everything until now has led to this point, the most critical moment in the beginning of a story, where the hero commits wholeheartedly to the adventure.

Oftentimes, the hero’s final commitment is brought about by an external force which changes the course or intensity of the story. They generally don’t just accept the Mentor’s gifts and charge on ahead. There has to be one finally kick in the rear to get them going. Crossing the First Threshold is also known as the “plot point” or the “turning point” of traditional structure. The actual moment may last seconds, or it could take an entire chapter to unfold.

December 9, 2010

the hero's journey - meeting with the mentor

Stage Four of the Hero’s Journey sort of meshes with Stage Three and Five. Sometimes the structure of a story, even if it follows the Hero’s Journey model, doesn’t have distinct stages. They flow (which they should!), and feed off one another. The Refusal of the Call weaves in with Meeting with the Mentor, which weaves into Crossing the First Threshold. For sake of explaining each stage, they have to be categorized and separated.

Meeting with the Mentor usually happens around the time of the Call to Adventure, or the Refusal of the Call. As I said Tuesday, sometimes the Refusal of the Call is not a bad thing. Sometimes, the hero needs to prepare for the journey ahead. In most of mythology, the preparation is done with the aid of the wise, protective figure of the Mentor, who will guide, train, teach, or test the hero to see if he is really ready for the unknown adventure that awaits. It is this stage of the Hero’s Journey in which the hero gains the supplies, knowledge, and confidence to commit to the adventure and leave all fear and doubt behind.

December 8, 2010

take risks with writing

I sort of covered this in a post back in October, but I thought I'd reiterate today.

The common saying is "write what you know." I call bull crap. I've had several people tell me over the years that I wasn't ready to be published because I didn't have enough life experience, that it would take years before I would have enough suffering and conflict to put into stories, that I just wasn't old enough. Monkey doo.

Take that "write what you know" horse manure and fertilize your flower pots. We're writers. We have the capacity to dream up worlds and characters that have no place in our everyday world. Was J.K. Rowling a student at Hogwarts before she wrote Harry Potter? No. Did H.G. Wells build a time machine and travel to a far off future? No. Did Robert A. Heinlein fight in the Bug Wars before he wrote Starship Troopers? No. Well, H.G. Wells might have actually done that, but who's to know for sure?

December 7, 2010

the hero's journey - refusal of the call

Once the Call of Adventure has sounded, the problem of the hero becomes how to respond to it. It’s a difficult passage. The hero is being asked to journey into the unknown, into an adventure that will be both exciting and dangerous. As the hero is prepares to undertake a great adventure, the Ordinary World knows somehow and clings to the hero. The hero’s home holds him in the safety of its ordinariness. Countless distractions tempt the hero away from the threshold of the journey.The hero may be afraid, or hesitate before the threshold, which is only natural.

This halt is known as the Refusal of the Call, Stage Three of the Hero's Journey. The hero may hesitate for only seconds, or he may try to reject the call altogether. The purpose of the Refusal is to signal to the reader that the adventure is risky, that it’s not going to be easy for the hero. By crossing that threshold, the hero enters shark-infested waters, and those sharks have lasers on their heads.  The hero might lose companions, treasure, or his own life. The pause makes the commitment to the adventure a choice, even if it doesn’t really seem like a choice.

December 6, 2010

the hero's journey - call to adventure

Continuing with the series on the Hero’s Journey, I introduce to you the Call to Adventure, stage two of the mythic structure. You can link to the other stages from the introduction page.

As I said last week, the Ordinary World of the story is static and boring, but also unstable. The need for change and growth is due, and the hero only needs a small something to get him off his lazy butt and into an adventure. That something is the Call to Adventure.

Other terms for the Call to Adventure are inciting incident, initiating incident, catalyst, or trigger. It’s ultimately the plot device that gets the story rolling once the main character has been introduced.

December 3, 2010

the hero's journey - ordinary world

Well, because I want to, I’m going to continue my discussion on the Hero’s Journey. I’ve got it mapped out to where I’ll finish the day before Christmas Eve, so most of December will be devoted to the Hero’s Journey. I’ll keep my Wednesday Wisdom going, as well as a contest at the end of the month, so you have that to look forward to!

Yesterday, I posted an introduction to the Hero’s Journey, quickly summarizing each step. Starting today, and running nearly until the end of the month, I’m going to go in detail with each stage – twelve in all – and share what the book says as well as my own opinions on the matter. You’ll notice that this deals a lot more with the writing craft than the archetypes series. As always, feel free to ask questions, and I’ll be happy to answer to the best of my ability.

December 2, 2010

the hero's journey - introduction

So, I'm considering another series, one on The Hero's Journey, since the series on archetypes was rather successful. It definitely made my blogging topic each day a lot easier! For now, I'll give a short rendition of what the Hero's Journey is, and then, maybe, I'll go more in depth some other day, maybe tomorrow. Let me know in the comments if you want me to continue immediately, or if you want a bit of a breather.

I could easily expand on this topic, because I feel like the Hero's Journey provides a great skeleton for writing fiction. My first novel somewhat follows this structure, and so does my current work in progress.

Without embarking on an adventure, the protagonist of a tale is just an ordinary person, but by partaking in the Hero's Journey, the protagonist evolves into a hero, someone who has traveled to the unknown and returned with treasures. Therefore, the journey is the most important aspect of a story. Without it, the protagonist cannot reap the benefits of a successful quest, but by accepting the call to adventure, the protagonist begins his journey into the unknown. He has taken the first step on the familiar winding road of the Hero's Journey.

The Hero's Journey was first dissected and organized by Joseph Campbell, explained in his book The Hero with A Thousand Faces. Campbell used examples from mythology to support the universal structure that he uncovered. Many years later, Christopher Vogler, a story analyst for Hollywood, took Campbell's work and revised it in The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. If the titles are familiar, it's because I based my entire archetypes series on them. Vogler simplified Campbell's terms and omitted some of the stages while keeping close to the original sequence of events that Campbell outlined. I'll be using Vogler's terminology and figures.

The Hero's Journey is not a formula. It is an evolving form of writing that can conform to an individual's style and needs for a story. The outline Vogler presents is not an exact structure that needs to be followed. Steps can be removed and revised to fit a writer's tale.

The Hero's Journey consists of twelve stages:

This stage acts as a comparative background to the special world the hero is about to enter, making the special world "unordinary" to what the hero is used to.

The hero is presented with a problem, challenge or adventure to undertake.

This is where the hero shows reluctance and uncertainty.

The Mentor archetypal character encourages or prepares the hero for the upcoming journey.

The hero commits to the adventure and fully enters the Special World of the story.

The hero encounters new challenges and tests, makes allies and enemies, and learns the rules of the Special World.

The hero comes to the edge of a dangerous place, where the quest object is hidden and he must prepare before moving forward.

The hero faces the possibility of death.

The hero takes possession of the treasure he has been seeking.

The hero deals with the consequences of confronting the dark forces of the Ordeal.

A second life-or-death moment, where the dark forces have one last go at the hero.

The hero returns to the Ordinary World with the treasure.

That's it in a nutshell.

Now I have my own quibbles about this structure, but that's okay. It's not meant to be a rigid formula. You can alter, add, or remove steps to fit your own needs. The Hero's Journey is a skeletal framework that should be fleshed out with the details and surprises of the individual story. The structure should not call attention to itself, nor should it be followed too precisely.

Again, let me know if you'd like me to go more in depth right away. I'd be happy to! I am really passionate about the Hero's Journey, and I could easily go on forever about it. So let me know in the comments!

December 1, 2010

write with feeling

I'm an optimist to the ninth power. I believe in the power of positive thinking and dreaming and goal setting, but there is a time and a place and a limit to what these things can do. You can dream about becoming as famous as Stephen King. You can set a goal to be a best-selling author by age twenty-two (I only have two months in that case!). You can envision the movie version of your book, what the cover art might look like, if it will ever be banned, and if the President will endorse it. That's all fine and dandy, as long as you don't let the dreaming take over the reality. Nathan Bransford has a good post about dreams and expectations.

November 30, 2010

archetypes - trickster

Well, we’ve come to the end. Today’s post is devoted to the Trickster, the last of the archetypes. You can also read the earlier posts about the Hero, Mentor, Threshold Guardian, Herald, Shapeshifter, Shadow, and Ally archetypes.

The Trickster archetype embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change. Usually characters in stories that would be considered troublemakers, clowns, or comical sidekicks would fall into the Trickster archetype. They can be allies working for the hero, or they could be villains working for the shadow. They may be entirely neutral entities, working for their own gain.

The Trickster can also be the hero. These types of Tricksters are the heroes of stories where the defenseless but quick-thinking hero is put up against much larger and more dangerous enemies. In The Hobbit, Bilbo is a Trickster Hero. Even though he is only a humble hobbit, he manages to steal the One Ring from Gollum, keep giant spiders from eating his dwarven friends, saves his friends from the wood-elves, and he manages to steal treasure from the mighty dragon Smaug.

A lot of the time, the Trickster is the comic relief, the character that takes the seriousness and throws a humorous spin on it, making light of the situation. Unrelieved tension, suspense, and conflict can be emotionally exhausting. The Trickster brings a little laughter in, giving the audience the suggestion that the outcome of the story doesn’t look so bleak after all.

November 29, 2010

archetypes - ally

I hope everyone had an excellent Thanksgiving holiday. For me, it was a nice break from my quiet life. Today we delve back into my archetypes series with the Ally. You can also read my earlier posts about the Hero, Mentor, Threshold Guardian, Herald, Shapeshifter, and Shadow archetypes.

The Ally is just as recognizable as the hero. They are the hero’s companions, who fight at the hero’s side, help them, and sometimes challenge them. As a story mechanic, the Ally is useful to send on errands, carry messages, scout locations, or provide a confidant for the hero. The have the important function of humanizing the heroes, adding extra dimensions to their personalities, and challenging them to be better heroes.

My favorite Allies are those of (can you guess it?) Harry Potter, his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. They both challenge Harry, grounding him in reality and sometimes keeping him from doing rash things. They question his methods but also stand by him when he needs them. They are as loyal and faithful as any friends a person could ask for, but they aren’t going to stand idly by and allow his famousness to swell his head.

Allies don’t always have to be friends of the hero. They are sometimes interfering characters fighting for the same goal as the hero. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, so they say.

On epic journeys, heroes can acquire dozens or hundreds of Allies, building up a team of adventurers, like you would in Dungeons & Dragons, though the entire party in D&D is usually considered a band of heroes rather than a single hero and his allies.

The Ally is often considered a window into the special or unfamiliar world of the narrative. Sometimes, it would be awkward for the hero to ask questions or explain the details of a world unfamiliar to the audience,  but where the hero is tight-lipped, the Ally can ask the questions we want answered and warrant the explanations out of other characters.

Sometimes Allies can be non-human entities. An Ally of this nature may be a spirit companion or protector, like a guardian angel or the spirit of the hero’s ancestor. Allies may also be animals, like a cowboy’s horse, or a hunter’s dog, an Ally that serves as a confidant but cannot exactly speak back.
Chewbacca, though he is not an animal by any means, only speaks in Shyriiwook, but he is a devoted friend and co-pilot to Han Solo. Mechanical Allies also exist, like C-3PO and R2D2 for Luke Skywalker.

Allies are important in fiction, serving as an outlet for everything not expressed in the hero of the story.

Read the next post about the Trickster.

[This interpretation of the archetypes comes from the Hero’s Journey, a universal structure found in mythology and organized by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with A Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.]

November 24, 2010

flying pigs and roast turkey

Seeing as the Thanksgiving holidays have begun stateside, we’ll continue our normal programming next week, continuing with the archetypes series.

As you know, I would usually post a tidbit of Wednesday wisdom today, but I’ve decided to dedicate this post to my newly formed literary journal instead.

Hogglepot has risen from the grave at last.

For those of you that don’t know, I was the editor of my university’s literary journal Nebo, and I really enjoyed it, enough to start a journal of my own. Six months ago, I started working on all the necessary things: building a website, coming up with a name and submission guidelines, and nagging my husband to code it all. Then it died. I didn’t want it to die. I wanted it to thrive and frolic in sunny fields with flowers in its hair. Well, last night, my husband and I committed to bringing it back from the dead, and we were successful.
Hogglepot is a weekly fantasy journal, currently accepting submissions. If we receive enough submissions by January, we will begin posting the first week of the new year. One story a week. That’s where you come in. We need submissions! I know a lot of you are more of the novel-type, but I’m sure you’ve got some short fiction lying around somewhere!

Our submission guidelines are located on our website.

We also have a listing at Dutotrope’s Digest.
If you aren’t the fantasy-type but know someone who is, please spread the news. There is a permanent link to the website in the sidebar of my blog; just find the pig.

The lovely flying pig is Hogglepot’s mascot, who you can follow on Twitter for journal news @thehogglepotpig, or you can “Like” the Hogglepot Page on Facebook.

I hope to see some familiar names in my inbox soon!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving! I’ll see you next week!

November 23, 2010

archetypes - shadow

As recognizable and common as the hero, the Shadow is an archetype not to be trifled with.

You can also read about the Hero, Mentor, Threshold Guardian, Herald, and Shapeshifter archetypes in my earlier posts.

The Shadow represents the energy of the dark side, the unknown or hidden aspects of the world. The dark side is home to monsters, villains, and dark secrets. The Shadow does not have to always be a character, expressed as a villain or antagonist; it can be the dark side of the hero, the qualities he renounces, or a growing darkness not attributable to any concrete thing.

Most of the time, the Shadow is projected onto villains, antagonists, and enemies. These villains are usually dedicated to the death, destruction, or defeat of the hero, like Sauron and his evil forces. Sometimes, they may not be so evil; they could merely be a competitor – think Gary from the original Pokémon series, competing against Ash for the glory of Pokémon Master.

The dramatic function of the Shadow is to challenge the hero and act as a worthy opponent in the struggle. Shadows create conflict and force the hero to rise above their former lives. The hero is only as good as the story’s villain, because a strong enemy forces a hero to rise to the challenge.
The Shadow could be a single character, such as Fire Lord Ozai from Avatar: The Last Airbender. The archetype can also be expressed in several characters, even temporarily. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, several characters embody the shadow archetype: Saruman, Grima, Theoden (for a short time), Denethor, Boromir (also for a short time), Gollum, the Palantír, and the Nazgûl… just to name a few.

Heroes themselves can manifest the Shadow. When the protagonist doubts himself, becomes self-destructive, falls victim to hubris, abuses his power, or loses the will to live, the Shadow has taken hold of him.

Like the other archetypes, the Shadow is merely a function and can be worn as a mask instead of rigidly entrenched in a single character. As I mentioned above, Theoden, King of Rohan, takes on the mask of Shadow when he is possessed by Saruman. Boromir, taken by his father’s greed and desire for glory, tries to take the One Ring from Frodo.  

Shadows may also manage to redeem themselves in the course of a story and experience a change of heart, becoming heroes themselves. In Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader redeems himself by killing the Emperor to save Luke’s life. He becomes a hero, even though he is at the end of his life.

Just as the Shadow can redeem himself, he does not need to be entirely evil. The best villains are humanized by a touch of goodness or an explanation of their villainy. Voldemort was not born evil (this could be debated, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll say he turned evil by the time he could walk and talk). His past and upbringing manifested in him certain qualities that lent to a more evil path, one that eventually dehumanized him. Darth Vader is the same. He was once Anakin Skywalker, a young Jedi who lived and loved, but certain events turned him to the Dark Side.

Shadows can also be humanized by making them vulnerable, real people. Most villains do not see themselves that way. From the Shadow’s point of view, they are the hero of their own story, and what we perceive as the hero is their villain. Imagine if you will that the Harry Potter books were actually titled Voldemort and that Annoying Potter Kid. Arthas, in Warcraft III, believes his path is right, but it ultimately leads him to become the Lich King, the evil overlord of the Scourge.

For the hero of a story to succeed, the Shadow must be killed, vanquished, or converted.

Read the next post about the Ally.

[This interpretation of the archetypes comes from the Hero’s Journey, a universal structure found in mythology and organized by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with A Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.]

November 22, 2010

archetypes - shapeshifter

After an enjoyable weekend in the backwoods, today let’s go into the Shapeshifter archetype.

You can also read the earlier archetypes posts about the Hero, Mentor, Threshold Guardian, and Herald.

The Shapeshifter is an interesting archetype because, as its name suggests, it is shifting and unstable. Heroes frequently encounter this archetype in characters of the opposite sex, who appear to change constantly from the hero’s point of view. Oftentimes, this is the hero’s love interest. The Shapeshifter can also be embodied in the literal sense, as a character that changes shape.

Shapeshifters change appearance or mood, and are difficult for the hero and the audience to pin down. They may mislead the hero or keep them guessing, and the Shapeshifter’s loyalty or sincerity is often in question. The Shapeshifter’s purpose is to bring doubt and suspense into the story. They may dazzle and confuse the hero, or they may try to kill the hero. Shapeshifting can be manifested in stories through changes in appearance. It could be a change of costume or hairstyle, or a change in behavior or speech. Think characters that disguise themselves, or tell lies to get out of a sticky situation.

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix, Cho Chang could be considered a Shapeshifter because Harry doesn’t understand their relationship due to the whole Cedric dying thing. In Howl’s Moving Castle, Wizard Howl is rumored to be an evil heart-eating sorcerer, but he is everything but. However, it’s difficult to label his true intentions until the very end of the story, making him a Shapeshifter.

As with the other archetypes, Shapeshifting is a function or a mask that may be worn by any character in a story. The hero may take on the mask of the Shapeshifter by disguising themselves to get past an enemy, such as in The Wizard of Oz, when Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion overcome a band of flying monkeys and steal their uniforms in order to get into the witch’s castle to save Dorothy. Villains may take on the Shapeshifter archetype to seduce or confuse a hero, such as in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Death Eater Barty Crouch transforms into Mad-Eye Moody using Polyjuice Potion.

The Shapeshifter archetype is usually found in male-female relationshipse, but it may also be useful in other situations to portray characters whose appearance or behavior changes to meet the needs of the story.

Read the next post about the Shadow.

[This interpretation of the archetypes comes from the Hero’s Journey, a universal structure found in mythology and organized by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with A Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.]

November 19, 2010

archetypes - herald

Again, here’s a short post, because I’m ungodly tired after watching Deathly Hallows last night… which was awesome by the way. 

Today’s post is about the Herald. 

You can also read my earlier posts about the Hero, Mentor, and Threshold Guardian.

The Herald is the character that usually shows up near the beginning of the story, and they either issue a challenge to the hero or announce the coming of significant change. Oftentimes, the hero of a story has gotten by without much difficulty, but no one wants to read about a character that doesn’t do anything, doesn’t change, and doesn’t struggle. The Herald gets the hero out of this mediocre lifestyle. Something happens that makes it impossible for the hero to simply get by any longer; he must act.

The Herald can be a person, object, event, or piece of information. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the Herald is Harry’s letter of acceptance into Hogwarts. The arrival of the letter causes change in Harry’s life, and even more so with the arrival of Hagrid, who embodies the Herald as a character. In Lemony Snicket’s The Bad Beginning, the Baudelaire children must change when their parents die tragically in a fire, but the bringer of this bad news is Mr. Poe, who also embodies the archetype. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the war acts as the Herald, forcing the Pevensies to leave their home and travel to the British countryside, where their adventure begins.

Heralds provide motivation, offer the hero a challenge, and get the story rolling. The Herald may be a positive, negative, or neutral figure. Sometimes the Herald is the villain or one of his cronies. In Disney’s Aladdin, Jafar forces Aladdin to get involved, acting as a sort of Herald when he arrests Aladdin and then makes him get the magic lamp, where he meets Genie and Carpet. Otherwise, he would have remained a street-rat. Sometimes the Herald is the hero’s mentor, as in The Hobbit. Gandalf shows up with a dozen dwarves, using Bilbo’s own hospitality against him and compelling him into adventure, but he also sticks with Bilbo, helping him along the way.

The Herald can show up at any time but is usually employed in the beginning. The Herald can be an inner call, a challenge, or a declaration, but the archetype’s function is the same: deliver the call to adventure.

Read the next post about the Shapeshifter.

[This interpretation of the archetypes comes from the Hero’s Journey, a universal structure found in mythology and organized by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with A Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.]

November 18, 2010

archetypes - threshold guardian

After that nice little break yesterday, let’s have a short post about Threshold Guardians. You can also read the earlier posts for the Hero and the Mentor archetypes.

All heroes encounter obstacles on their journey, and at each gateway to a new world, there are powerful guardians, placed to keep the unworthy from entering. If properly understood, they can be overcome, bypassed, or even turned into allies.

Threshold Guardians are usually not the main villains or antagonists in stories, but sometimes they work for the villain or are simply neutral characters that have their own motives for blocking the hero’s path. The main point of the Threshold Guardian is to block the hero, to test them, to see if they really are worthy or committed enough to pass the threshold into the new world. There are of course several ways to deal with these Guardians… They can avoid the Guardian and abandon their path; they can attack the Guardian, bribe them, or befriend them.

The Guardians represent ordinary obstacles as well as the hero’s internal demons: emotional scars, vices, dependencies, and self-limitations. When heroes confront one of these figures, they must solve a puzzle or pass a test. For example, the sphinx that tests Harry Potter in Goblet of Fire asks him a riddle that he must solve before he can pass into the next part of the maze, where the Triwizard Cup is waiting. Professor Slughorn, in Half-Blood Prince, acts as a sort of Guardian seeing as Harry must procure a memory from him before his path in defeating Voldemort can continue.

 In stories, they take on a wide array of forms. They can be guards or sentinels, bodyguards, bandits, doormen or bouncers, or anyone whose function is to temporarily block the way of the hero and test her powers. Any character that acts as a barrier in the hero’s journey is a Threshold Guardian, even if that character is not a character at all. It could be a great wall, a labyrinth, bad weather, disease, a pack of rabid wolves, etc… anything that threatens the hero’s forward motion or inhibits change.

Read the next post about the Herald.

[This interpretation of the archetypes comes from the Hero’s Journey, a universal structure found in mythology and organized by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with A Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.]

November 17, 2010

writing goals

I'm taking a break from the archetypes series to give you some earthly wisdom.

As most of you know, I signed up for NaNoWriMo this month, and lately my word count has been sitting quietly at 17,000 words. It's been a busy week, and I'll be honest, Harry Potter trumps everything else, so I've been concentrating on reading rather than writing. I plan to start back up on NaNoWriMo next Monday, but that's beside the point. Let's look at what the point is...

November 16, 2010

archetypes - mentor

This lovely Tuesday brings us to the next post in my archetypes series, the Mentor.

You can read the introduction here, and the post on the Hero here.

I’m also going to apologize in advance for all the Harry Potter references. I’ve been rereading the series since last week.

The Mentor is an archetype commonly found in stories, usually a positive figure who trains or aids the Hero. This archetype is expressed through those characters who teach and protect heroes; think Merlin in Arthurian mythology, Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda from Star Wars, and Professor Lupin from Prisoner of Azkaban. Joseph Campbell rightly termed the mentor the Wise Old Man (or Woman).

 The Mentor is the guide, the teacher, or the conscience. The Mentor stands for the hero’s highest aspirations, what the hero may become if they continue on their journey. Mentors are often former heroes that survived their own journey and are now passing on their knowledge to new heroes. The archetype is related to the image of the parent, often because the hero’s parents are either incompetent for the hero’s projected journey or because they are dead.

Luke Skywalker is brought up by his aunt and uncle, because, well, his father is the most evil man in the universe… not exactly the best role model. Once the aunt and uncle die, Obi Wan leads Luke on the path to become a Jedi. Harry Potter has a number of Mentors across the series that take place of his dead father – Dumbledore, Sirius, and Lupin.

The Mentor has several dramatic functions in a story.

As a teacher, the Mentor merely gives the hero the knowledge or wisdom he needs to survive his journey. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Lupin teaches Harry the Patronus charm, enabling Harry to defeat the dementors later on.

As a gift-giver, the Mentor bestows upon the hero an item that will help him survive. In Star Wars, Obi Wan gives Luke his father’s light-saber. Wearing the mask of the Mentor for a short time, Fred and George Weasley give Harry the Marauder’s Map in Prisoner of Azkaban.

One should remember, however, that gifts should be earned. When a hero receives a gift, it should be after the heroes have passed a test of some kind; it should be earned by learning, sacrifice, or commitment. Obi Wan gives Luke the light-saber because he managed to make his way past the sandpeople to Obi Wan’s hideout, but also because Luke makes the commitment to learn the ways of the Force.

Another important function of the Mentor archetype is to motivate the hero. Sometimes the Mentor’s gift to the hero is sufficient, but with reluctant heroes, they need a bit of a nudge to get going. In The Hobbit, Gandalf forces Bilbo into his adventure by inviting all the dwarves to Bag End, where Bilbo’s generous hospitality and curiosity drag him into an adventure.

Like the other archetypes, the Mentor is not a rigid character type. The Mentor is merely a character function, a job which several different characters may take on in the course of a story. Mentors come in all shapes and sizes. As I said before, the Weasley twins, though Harry’s allies, take on the role of Mentor by giving him the Marauder’s Map, an important tool for the rest of Harry’s journey. In Goblet of Fire, Harry’s enemy, Death Eater Barty Crouch, literally takes on a mask as he acts as a Mentor toward Harry in the guise of Mad-Eye Moody. Sometimes, even the hero can take on the mask of the Mentor. In Order of the Pheonix, Harry starts Dumbledore’s Army and teaches his classmates the spells they need to defend themselves against anyone who would try to hurt them.

While the Mentor archetype is prevalent, some stories have no need for a Mentor. Sometimes the hero is experienced and has internalized the archetype. It could be the hero’s chivalric code or the memory of a previous Mentor. The Mentor archetype could also represent itself in the form of a book or another artifact that guides the hero in their journey.

As for their placement in a story, Mentors usually appear in the beginning of a story, but they can show up at any time really. Most importantly, they are where they are needed. A character may be needed at any point in the story, someone who has a map to the unknown country or has a bit of key information that will help the hero along his way.

Christopher Vogler ends the chapter on Mentors quite nicely:

Mentors provide heroes with motivation, inspiration, guidance, training, and gifts for the journey. Every hero is guided by something, and a story without some acknowledgement of this energy is incomplete. Whether expressed as an actual character or as an internalized code of behavior, the Mentor archetype is a powerful tool at the writer’s command.
Read the next post about the Threshold Guardian.

[This interpretation of the archetypes comes from the Hero’s Journey, a universal structure found in mythology and organized by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with A Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.]

November 15, 2010

archetypes - hero

As promised, today begins my archetypes series (you can read the introduction here)…

The most recognizable role in a story is that of the protagonist – the main character – or the person who changes the most from the beginning to the end of the story. Most films, novels, and games have a single, recognizable character that the audience, reader, or player relates to throughout the story. Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, and Link (from the Zelda franchise) are characters that fall into the role of Hero.

The Hero is the first archetype discussed in the Hero’s Journey, without whom the Hero’s Journey would be impossible. The purpose of the Hero is to give the audience (or reader) a window into the story. He or she is usually the first character we see in a book or movie, and we see the world of the story through their eyes. Without them, the story cannot be told. They have qualities that we as an audience can identify with and recognize in ourselves. These characters, these heroes are driven by universal needs that any human being can understand: to be loved, to be understood, to succeed and survive, and to be free and whole.

Through the Hero, we invest a part of ourselves into their journey and into the world of the story.

Heroes, protagonists, should have these universal qualities for the audience to latch onto. They are not abstract stereotypes with single traits and flat motives. Protagonists are real people (I’ve talked about this in an earlier post here). A real character, like a real person, does not consist of one quality or motivation. Real characters have a unique combination of many qualities and drives, some of them conflicting. A character that has a combination of conflicting qualities is the most interesting to an audience.

Indiana Jones is a near-fearless archeologist, willing to dive into dangerous situations in the name of historical preservation, and yet, he is deathly afraid of snakes. Harry Potter, in Sorcerer’s Stone, struggles to fit in even though he is famous, and he constantly doubts himself even though time and time again, he proves that he is a great young wizard. Bilbo Baggins refuses adventure and constantly wants to go back to Bag End, but he has one of the most spectacular adventures in spite of all that.
Characters should not be single-minded in their goals or actions, and they should not be saintly either. Real people do not consist of only good qualities. Real people have flaws so protagonists should have flaws. Harry Potter doubts himself and has the ridiculous notion that he does not need help with his overall struggle against Voldemort. Heroes should have all those qualities that we can identify with, even the bad ones: revenge, anger, lust, cynicism, despair, and mistrust. Heroes must be unique human beings. The flaws of a protagonist give that particular character somewhere to go. Flaws are a starting point of imperfection or incompleteness from which a character can grow, the character arc.

A well-written Hero might trust of all the wrong people, be strong-willed but feeble-bodied, decisive but uncertain of his decisions, and be overprotective of his allies. It’s the combination of conflicting qualities that gives an audience the sense that the Hero is one of a kind, a real person rather than a stereotypical manufacture.

The Hero, or protagonist, of the story is usually the one who learns or grows the most in the course of the story. They are the ones that overcome obstacles and achieve their goals, but they may also gain new knowledge and wisdom. The protagonist is usually the most active person in the story, and he is the one in control of his own fate. He should perform the decisive action of the story, the life-or-death decision, whatever action that requires taking the most risk or responsibility. Where many writers fail with the Hero’s action in a story is at that peak moment, the most critical point in the story, where the Hero suddenly becomes passive and is rescued by the timely arrival of some outside force, the deus ex machina.

The Hero’s function in a story covers many aspects, but more often than not, the Hero shows the audience how to deal with death. At the heart of every story there is a confrontation with death, if not directly, then there is the threat of death or a symbolic representation of it, where the stakes are success or failure in place of life and death. True heroism is shown in stories when Heroes take the risk that their quest for adventure may lead to danger, loss, or death; they accept the possibility of sacrifice.

Above all the true mark of a Hero is sacrifice, his or her willingness to give something up of value, perhaps their own life, on behalf of others or an ideal. Harry Potter is willing to give up his life to save Ginny Weasley in Chamber of Secrets, a sort of sacrifice he tends to repeat throughout the series. Harry is the ultimate example of the sacrificial Hero. Obi Wan Kenobi sacrifices himself so that Luke and gang can escape from Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. As much as I hate this particular scene, Jack sacrifices his life so that Rose can live on in Titanic. Heroes in video games live to sacrifice their time and abilities to save others or defeat the big bad guy. Link spends his entire life battling monsters so that he may defeat Ganondorf and save Zelda. The character in any given RPG (Role-Playing Game) risks their life to save their village, castle, world, or universe.

As is obvious, characters other than the protagonist, or proclaimed Hero, can take on heroic qualities. Luke Skywalker is the hero of Star Wars, and yet Obi Wan takes on the mask of Hero for a short time. Rose is the heroine of Titanic, and Jack has his fair share of heroic moments. In the Harry Potter series, the list of other characters that take on the Hero’s duties is phenomenally long, most notably in Harry Potter’s friends, Ron and Hermione.

There are obviously many different kinds of Heroes, but that is what makes the archetype of Hero so wonderful. Protagonists are not forced to be gung-ho Heroes, willing to risk their lives for anything. They can be doubtful; they can turn to the dark side and come back again. The Hero archetype is a fluid structure, a basis for building a protagonist. Heroes don’t always have to fight evil wizards bent on world domination, and they don’t always have to stand up to the class bully either.  The range of the Hero’s capabilities is fantastically broad, and he doesn’t always have to succeed at his goals.

The point of the archetype is to give a basis for what Heroes do. In mythology, most Heroes follow the same pattern, but that pattern can be applied to anyone or anything. It is not a rigid structure that the writer cannot stray from… It is an attempt of organization, taking the collective unconscious of humankind and applying some sort of order to it.

Read the next post about the Mentor here.

[This interpretation of the archetypes comes from the Hero’s Journey, a universal structure found in mythology and organized by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with A Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.]

November 12, 2010

archetypes - introduction

Yesterday, Julie Eshbaugh posted about “Archetypes, not Stereotypes” on the LTWF blog (you can read that here), and as infuriated as I was that she stole my topic, she encouraged me to go on and start my archetypes series. Julie and I had similar inspiration for the topic – Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers – she just beat me to writing the post.

The idea behind the archetypes comes from Joseph Campbell’s analysis of mythology in his book The Hero with A Thousand Faces. These ideas are expanded upon by Vogler, who uses his experience as a screenwriter to apply the same theories to movies and writing.

Archetypes are the recurring character types in stories, from myths to modern fiction. The term comes from Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, who applied “archetypes” to patterns of personality. He suggested that humanity as a whole may have a collective unconscious, which is why myths from the beginning of different civilizations have the same characteristics.

The most common archetypes are the

Over the course of the next week and a half, I’m going to go in detail for each of these archetypes and end the series with an introduction to the Hero’s Journey, in which all these characters can be employed.

As Julie pointed out in her post, the archetypes aren’t necessarily stereotypes:

One way to see the difference is to imagine an archetype as a base to build upon.   An archetype is a prototype of a character.   On the other hand, a stereotype is an overly simplified concept of a character, with overly simplified opinions or behaviors.   A stereotype is two-dimensional and generally stays that way.

I couldn’t say it better.

The archetypes are flexible character functions, not necessarily rigid roles. The hero could take on the function of a mentor or even the trickster for a short time but still remain the hero. The same could be said about the mentor functioning as a shapeshifter or herald in addition to his mentoring duties.

There are many ways to use the archetypes, be they masks for the characters, facets of the writer’s personality, or personified symbols of human qualities. Vogler says, “Every good story reflects the total human story, the universal human condition of being born into this world, growing, learning, struggling to become an individual, and dying."

Monday, I’ll begin the archetypes series with the Hero.

Have a great weekend!

November 11, 2010

who's that harry kid?

So, I apologize for the delay in today's post, but I have been rather busy this morning rereading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and I'm watching the Deathly Hallows premiere as I write this. I'm going to take a leaf out of Nathan Bransford's book (his blog has a Harry Potter theme this week) and dedicate this post to the overall awesomeness that is Harry Potter.

Harry Potter is what first inspired me to pursue a writing career. They're the first books I really fell in love with and what turned me into such an avid reader. J.K. Rowling really did a wonderful job, honing her craft as she wrote each book, bringing us wonderful characters and a vivid magical world. David Heyman took those books to film and brought all that magic to life, and for the past decade, the books and films have fueled an almost unhealthy obsession.

My favorite book is easily Deathly Hallows, though I love them all (except maybe that bit in Order of the Phoenix with Grawp). Of all the books, Deathly Hallows was impossible to put down. I remember my mom had to bring me breakfast in my room, and I'll admit, I even took the book with me to the bathroom.

It's actually funny, of all the books I own, the Harry Potter series are the most uncared for. Each subsequent book has more dog-eared pages than the last, and you can easily figure out what I ate while reading them. My copy of Prisoner of Azkaban is on its last stitch - the last quarter of the book is falling out.

So, I want to know, how did Harry Potter affect you? What is your favorite book? Your favorite character? Your favorite film? Here's your chance to give a speech on everything you love about Harry Potter.

November 10, 2010

internet etiquette

Today's wisdom is simple.

Be nice.

It's easy to get riled up in this field, what with publishing supposedly dying (it's not), that folder in your inbox labeled "rejections" steadily growing, and not meeting your daily NaNoWriMo goal. It's okay to rant a little bit about how you wish just once, you'd get a partial request instead of a form rejection. Every writer hits this point at sometime. But, you shouldn't take all the negativity in your life and throw it on others.

November 9, 2010

blogging block

I’ve been doing a good job of keeping a semblance of writing advice flowing through this blog, even if some of my posts are a bit strange and follow odd tangents. As of late, my cup runneth dry. I’m struggling to come up with helpful writing advice, and I managed to stare at a blank page for nearly an hour just now.

So, this is me pleading for your help.


What do you want me to blog about? I may not be published, and I’m definitely no expert on the publishing industry or landing a dream agent. However, I do want to help my fellow writer. I started this blog to reach out to the writing community and lend a hand to those of you in need of writerly advice, to make friends with those of you that I am insanely jealous of, and to share my writing journey in the making. I want to keep this blog going, and I want it to be an enjoyable experience all around.

So, friends and cohorts, tell me what you want me to write about. What do you want to know? What are you curious about?

November 8, 2010

plotting your story

Most of you know by now what side of the plotting field you play from… I’m a pantser. You may be a plotter. If you don’t know, a pantser is a writer that just sits down and writes a story with little to no planning. A plotter is a writer that plans everything out before they sit down to write. 

I’m a pantser, but that doesn’t mean I completely forgo plotting. I’m curious to see how other people plot their stories, especially other pantsers.

My plotting process goes as such:

1. Idea. I get an idea for a story that really moves me, something I can’t help but write. I start working it through my head without writing anything down at first.

2. Character Sketches. I figure out my main character, the main villain, and maybe one important secondary character. Most of the time this is done by character interviews, but Jo Hart has an excellent post on character sketching at her blog here.

3. Candy-bar scenes. This is a term I take from one of Holly Lisle’s workshops, Create Your Professional Plot Outline, which is free, and if you have yet to find her site, read every single article she has ever written right now. Most of my plotting techniques come from this, but I like to vary it up to what works for me. Candy-bar scenes are scenes that you have to write. They may be epic space battles, a heated break-up, or a joy ride in the Aston Martin DB5 from the Bond films. These are the scenes that get you excited about writing the story in the first place. I usually have these in my head as soon as an idea hits me.

4. Start writing. If I plan any further than this, then I don’t want to write the story anymore. I figure out everything else as I go.

5. Figure out the ending. I didn’t know where I wanted my NaNoWriMo story to end until about 10,000 words in. With my first novel, I had an idea for the ending before I started writing, and about 10,000 words in, I had a completely different ending in mind. I’ve found that this works best for me, because by this time, I understand the characters’ motives and weaknesses completely and what constitutes a satisfying ending for their story.

6. Finish writing. Self-explanatory.

If you are a plotter, how in-depth are your outlines and prewriting exercises? If you are a pantser, what plotting tools do you employ, or do you completely ignore all plotting? Please leave comments below. I really am interested in how everyone else plots a story!

November 5, 2010


So the first week of NaNoWriMo is coming to an end. Have you kept up with your daily word goal, or have you fallen behind already? I am just barely on schedule (since I won't be writing on the weekends). The good news, my word count this time around is already triple it was last time around (I only got to 3000 word before I quit). That's something, right? But I know how it feels when you get behind on your word goal, and you keep getting behind. Before you know it, you've written half of what you meant to write in a week.


November 4, 2010

get to your target audience

Probably one of the easiest ways to write to a target audience is to spend time with that target audience. Some of us don’t have that luxury, but you can find ways to be around kids or teens without interfering with their activities or looking like a creeper.

 If you have children, I don’t recommend stalking them. You can certainly interview them to see how they would act in a certain situation or what they are learning at school, but they’ll feel threatened if you watch them all the time to see how they act. They won’t act normal. You could host sleep-overs and parties to see how your kids act with their friends in that setting.

November 3, 2010

twitter: the distracter

Courtesy of the enchanting Mason Bundschuh, I now have a sign under my computer screen that says:

Stop Twittering and Write.

You'd be surprised how much this actually helps me. Since I put the sign under my computer, my writing productivity has increased by 100%.

If you're like me and get distracted by the shiny internet shortcut on your desktop, then having things that distract you away from Twitter, Blogger, and Facebook are actually rather successful.

I recommend printing out quotes about writing, quotes from books you love, motivational one-liners, or anything that makes you want to write. For my current work-in-progress (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo), I have the thing that inspired my story in the first place sitting next to my keyboard: a metal candy tin. When I see it, it reminds me of my story and gets me excited about writing again.

Whatever makes you want to write, surround yourself with it. Tape it to your desk, to your wall, to your keyboard... put it somewhere you can't help but see it. Now, stop reading my blog and write :P

November 2, 2010

author interview: j.n. duncan

I’d like to welcome the wonderful J.N. Duncan to my blog! He graciously agreed to do an interview with me. His debut novel Deadworld hits shelves April 2011. Here’s the blurb from his blog:
She’s as tough as anything haunting Chicago’s streets. But to deal with an inhuman power that won’t stay buried, this FBI agent needs help that comes at an immortal price…
Jackie Rutledge has seen her share of supernatural killers. But her latest murder case is what recurring nightmares are made of. Brutally exsanguinated human victims, vanishing-into-the-ether evidence, and a city on the edge of panic mean that she and her psychic partner, Laurel, are going to need more than just backup …
So Jackie is fine with any help rugged P.I. Nick Anderson can give—even if that includes the impish ghost and sexy vampire who make up his team. But Nick is hiding secrets of his own. And Jackie’s investigation has plunged them both into a vengeful game reaching back centuries—and up against a malevolent force hungry for more than just victory…

When did you decide you were going to be a writer?
My grandmother was a mystery author and published three novels while she was alive. They aren't in print any more, but it was seeing her writing when I visited her in the summers of my youth that inspired me. It was all type written, with white out and everything. Ah, the days of old (lol). I was fourteen when I decided to write my first novel. Thanks to my grandmother, who was in a writing group with well-known children's author Eve Bunting, I got some of my first written material critiqued. Eve said the writing had promise and to keep at it, which I did.
As a debut author, how awesome was it when agent Nathan Bransford offered representation for Deadworld?
Oh, it was very exciting. Nathan was one of my top two or three agents, and I had been shopping Deadworld around for over a year. He actually rejected my first query for the book. I got offered a deal from Kensington and went back to him to see if he would take a second look (which isn't an automatic yes, as some might think), but he really liked my story/writing, and we both already knew we'd work well together from interactions we'd had through his blog.
What inspired Deadworld?
Deadworld was inspired by something pretty simple, actually. I'd just finished up editing my first novel, an epic fantasy, and wanted to do something completely different, as much to give me fresh eyes on the fantasy as anything else. Fantasies and thrillers are my two main genres for reading, so I decided to do my other love. The only thing was, what sort of thriller? At the time, there was a fair amount of stuff in the blogosphere about people being tired of vampires versus vampires always being around. I like vampires, from campy to creepy, I think they can be great villains. I thought people were tired of them because it was too much of the same thing. So, I decided to come up with something different, a subtler, and in some ways maybe more menacing kind of vampire, very removed from the gothic mythos which is more typical.
Your blog touches on the paranormal, and Deadworld has its fair share of ghosts and vampires, but have you ever had a paranormal experience?
Nope, not that I'm aware of anyway. I'm a skeptic, and tend to believe that 99.9% of what people claim as paranormal experiences are likely explainable by things we understand. However, there's always that one tiny percentage of really weird shit that can't really be explained. I do believe there is stuff out there that we just don't have a grasp on yet and maybe never will, except for a few select people.
Can you shed a little light on Deadworld 2 (which will come out October 2011)?
Hmm, this is tough without being spoilery for number one. It's more ghost than vampire in book two, and it's a real emotional struggle for Jackie, dealing with the aftermath of book one. There's also a very intriguing paranormal element introduced that will continue over into book three and perhaps beyond.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Keep at it. That's the best advice really. The only way to get better and to get anything finished is to write regularly. Also, be humble. When it comes to writing, there's always room to improve, in every aspect of your writing. And read, in and out of your genre. There's no magic formula. It's mostly persistence, dedication, and creativity. You have those, you're ahead of the game compared to most others.
I’m a lover of random and weird facts… Is there something strange people don’t know about you?
I'm a fairly mundane, family guy for the most part. Kind of boring really. Plus, I can never think of things like this when people ask. I have a sieve-like memory. Lol. There's you a random fact.

Deadworld hits shelves April 5, 2011.

You can find Jim on Twitter @jimnduncan and at his blog Writing in the Dark. If you have any questions for him, you can contact him through his blog!

EDIT: Jim is now represented by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown LTD

November 1, 2010

contest winner!

First I want to thank everyone that entered the contest and tweeted about it!

You all worked hard on your entries, and it was a tough choice, but found the one entrant that surpassed the rest...

And the winner is...

Diane Amy!

She chose Under the Dome by Stephen King as her prize!

Diane, please contact me via email with your mailing address so that I can send you your book!

As for the rest of you, I'll have contests from time to time, usually to celebrate some menial occasion, so look forward to more in the future!

In other news, today is the first day of NaNoWriMo! If you haven't already, get your pens to paper, fingers to keyboard, telepathic mind-link to word processor... it's time to write!