Dec 23, 2014

Another Schedule Announcement

Hey, y'all.  I know we just changed the schedule to less frequent posts, but I'm here to break more bad news to you: this season is insane.  yeah, you probably knew that already, but seriously.  We just can't keep up.

There are a number of things going into this decision.  The first is that it's Christmas time.  This is probably the most hectic, crazy, insane, chaotic, psychotic time of year.  Period.  Second, we're teenagers.  If you are or have been one of those, you should know that we've got busy lives, what with the books to read, video games to play, meals to eat, naps to take, hotties to text... seriously, it's hard enough to work in a blog around all of that without the holiday season making everything ten times worse.

With this said, we're going to put posts on hold until after the holiday season.  We're going to start back up with the previously announced schedule in the first full week of January.  See you then!!

-Sam Kirst

Dec 16, 2014

Schedule Change

Alright, guys, blogglings, our faithful followers who are Completely and Totally Awesome, I have a little announcement to make. This blog has only been up for a week, and we have already decided that it will be best for us to only put up new posts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays rather than every day. We're all busy teenagers worked to the brink of insanity by school, so every day is just a little much for us. Thank y'all for being awesome and reading our blog in its infant stages! :D

-Katheline Hansen

Dec 15, 2014

Who Am I Reading About? Character Building 101

So you’ve decided to write a story?  An admirable goal.  I like you already.  What’s that? You’ve already got your story world planned out?  That’s excellent.  You’re well on your way.  What now?  You know what the conflict will be?  Shoot, you’re almost there.  Just a quick question: who is the story about?  ...You don’t know?  Well, allow me to help you out with that one.

To start off, it’s helpful if you and your readers have a common way of referring to the character you’re describing to us.  Yeah, I’m talking about a name.  Now, this is a major operation, and you shouldn’t just pick names at random.  There are plenty of good reasons for this, the first being that your character deserves better.  your parents put a lot of time and careful consideration into the choosing of your name; why should you do any less?  

The first part of naming your character isn’t quite what most people think it would be.  You’ve got to look at your story world and decide how they would structure names.  Look at the real world, for example.  In America, you find plenty of people called ‘John’ or ‘Lucy.'  If you head over to China, odds are you’re going to meet more people called ‘Ting’ or ‘Fei.’  Your story world would be no different.  You aren’t going to have two brothers named Steve and Aragorn, because cultures just don’t work that way.  You’ve got to decide what kind of basic pattern the name will follow, and make sure all the names in that culture follow the same pattern.  A good way to do this is use a name generator site(especially for secondary or lower characters).  I recommend, because it has tons of different generators-- real names to fantasy names to anything else.  If your story is set in the real world, I would suggest trying which comes up with not only a name, but a whole lot of other helpful information that many authors don’t always include.

So now we get to pick the actual name, right?  Go for it.  But make sure it’s a good one.  Believe it or not, plenty of readers will decide whether they want to read a book based on the names of the characters.  Would you read a book about a guy named Dork who goes on a quest with a girl named Stupid?  Neither would I.  How about a guy named Conor going on a quest to save a girl named Greta?  that’s better, though maybe a bit plain.  But who knows? maybe that’s what you had in mind…

...Which leads me to my next point.  How do you want this character to appear to your reader?  Is it a bold hero, rising to the challenge of the conflict?  Or is it the  farm girl who happens to be in the right place at the right time?  I can’t help you make this decision except to say that whatever you do, do it for your readers.  Which will be more exciting?  Which will provide more conflict and material for you to write about?  Which would you, as the author, feel more of a connection to?  Only you can say.

All right, so we’ve got this far.  We’ve got our name.  We know how we want the reader to see our character.  But now how do we want the reader to picture our character?  You guessed it.  Now we decide how the character looks.  This might not seem important, but it is.  How is anyone supposed to picture your beloved creation if even you yourself can’t?  ...They’ll just work it out on their own?  Nonsense!  You can’t expect your reader to do your work for you.  Your job is to make it come alive to them, and if you can’t even share with them how someone looks, you’re doing it wrong.  All you  need is the basics-- hair, eyes, height, how they dress.  It’s useful, however, to give them something that makes them unique.  Perhaps he has a physical feature that stands out, like eyes of a strange color, or a scar from long ago.  There’s even a random generator out there for you if you don’t want to come up with all this yourself: 

Can you picture them now?  Awesome.  Moving on.

Next thing we need to know is how your character behaves.  The more you get to know who they are and why they do what they do, the more relatable, believable, and lovable your character will appear.  One awesome way to do this is take a meyers-briggs personality test as your character.  Really get inside their head and figure out who they are.  Take your character out to dinner.  Talk to it throughout the day.  The more you can tell your reader about them, the more they will grow to love- or at least relate to- your character.

So you know who they are.  You know what they’re like.  Now where do they come from?  It’s time for backstory.  What you include in your backstory depends on the rest of the story.  It helps shape your character and gives them the reasons they act the way they do.  Is your character mean and quick to lash out at others?  Maybe he had an abusive parent, or maybe she was ignored as a child and it’s her way of seeking attention.  Is your character afraid of the dark? there’s a good reason in his past.  The events you put before the story play just as much a role in defining your character as the ones you put in the story itself.

The backstory is also a good place to look for motive.  Why does your character care?  Why is he on this quest?  Why does she want this?  This is the final step to unlocking your character.  You could base the story off of your character reacting the way he does because it’s the right thing to do.  but tell me-- how often do we put ourselves in danger or trials just because we know it’s right?  No, there’s got to be something more.  Only you can decide what it will be, because only you know the circumstances surrounding the situation.

And there you have it!  There is someone who matters living in your world.  Now please keep in mind that there is no formula for creating the perfect character.  Everyone has their own skills and ideas to bring to the table.  What I’ve given you here are the basic tools to create a believable character.  Also keep in mind that nothing in your writing is set in stone.  If your backstory changes how your character behaves, go back and change how your character behaves.  If your motive comes from something best explained by the backstory, go and edit the backstory.  You’ve got the power to change everything, so don’t get stressed if the next step doesn’t line up with what you’ve got so far.

Now it’s your turn.  Create someone that will bring readers to the edge of their seats, the verge of tears, and the other side of midnight all in one sitting.  You’ve got this!

-Sam Kirst

*please note: In The Character’s Shadow is in no way affiliated with the sites linked to in this post. 

Dec 11, 2014

Conflict: You Kind of Really Need It

So what is conflict?

Everything, my friends. Conflict is everything.

Don’t believe me? That’s ok. I’ll break it down for you, starting with the most basic definition of a novel I could think of: something happens to someone.

Who is this someone? Your main character. What is this something? That my friends, is plot. And what is plot? Conflict.

Think about it this way. You have this totally amazing premise, about this futuristic, dystopian world where the entire population has been divided into these things called “factions” that emphasize a certain characteristic of human nature. You also have your main character, a girl named Beatrice Prior, who lives with her family in the most peaceful of the factions.

“Sounds cool,” says your friend, as you excitedly explain your brand new novel idea to her. “What happens to her?”

If you recognize the premise that I’m talking about, your mind is most likely way ahead of that ignorant little friend of yours. What happens to her? More like what doesn’t happen to her? She leaves her family behind to join the faction of her dreams only to figure out that it has the most intense initiation program of all. She battles bullies, evil instructors, and her own physical limitations to make it past the first cut only to be attacked and almost killed by one of her best friends. She makes it to the second round and starts to excel only to learn that her success is going to give away her most precious secret to the very people who would kill her for it. She finally manages to hide her divergence, passes initiation (with flying colors, I might add), and becomes a full fledged member only to have the entire faction taken over and turned into mindless soldiers who begin mowing down her old home. She fights them off, gets back her boyfriend, and stops the horrible simulation only to have her parents killed and her home destroyed in the process. 

And that’s only the first book.

Bingo people. That’s what keeps readers up past midnight mumbling about one more chapter or bumping into trees because they can’t put the-stinking-book down. That’s plot. That’s conflict. 

Conflict is the obstacles that your characters face, whether they be emotional (internal conflict) or physical (external conflict), as they go about trying to achieve their goal.

Conflict is what drives your story forward. It quickens your pace, forces your characters to act in new ways, drives your story and change arcs through the dark tunnel of plot to that wonderful light of The End. Most novels, most good ones at least, have multiple forms of conflict. From the so called main conflict (Tris vs. Jeanine for example) to many smaller conflicts (Tris vs. Eric, Tobias vs. Marcus, Tris vs. Caleb), to the inner conflict (Tris vs. her guilt, Tobias vs. his anger) it’s important to pepper your story with lots and lots of it.

How do I do this? Well, you most likely have some of your conflict already figured out. Most story concepts have an inborn major conflict, this would be your basic “Jack fights the bad dude and wins” type thing. While figuring that out is extremely important, I’m going to assume that you have already decided upon your major conflict and looking to add more. Here’s a few practical tips that will help you do that:

Analyzing your character’s goals for conflict: An easy way to flush out more conflict is figure out what your character wants and keep it from them. Does your character want, more than anything, to make it through her faction’s initiation? Put horrible tests and evil instructors in her way. Does she want her family to stay together? Make her brother betray her. Does she really, really want to get a glass of water? Make her trip.

Conflicting Wants: As a general rule, your character should want more than one thing and those wants should be in opposition to each other. For example, at the beginning of Divergent, Tris wants nothing more than to strike out on her own and join the Dauntless, but she just can’t stand the idea of leaving her family behind. Her wants are in conflict with one another, and it is this inner conflict that propels us through the first portion of the book. 

Expect the Unexpected: Another way to come up with conflict (and to help you figure out where you should put it) is to figure out what your character expects to happen, and then change it. So your character decides to run off and visit her brother over in the Erudite complex. She’s not quite sure what she expects to happen, but she’s hoping to get some encouragement from seeing him. Is this what she gets? No, she gets a harsh reality check when he badmouths their family and turns his back on her, then an even bigger knock when she gets cornered by the Erudite leader, Jeanine. That was definitely not what she was hoping for. 

What’s the worst thing that could happen to your character right now?: This question is another way of thinking about the last point. For every scene you should find out what the worst possible thing that could happen to your character is - then do it. Tris has just survived the Dauntless initiation. She’s ready to join and start her life as a full fledged member. What’s the worst thing that could happen to her? Well, Dauntless could be destroyed, taken over by the Erudite and made into mindless killing machines who begin mowing down her old home.

I hope you found this post informative and that it will help you power through your next (or current) draft. Just remember - when in doubt, add more conflict, you kind of really need it. 


Dec 10, 2014

Portraying Dark Emotions

Emotions are a key part of making a character come to life; without them, the figures in our story would be just that, figures.  But I thought  that given the recent release of Mockingjay Part 1, and given that we happen to be discussing the Divergent trilogy on the blog,  now would be a good time to talk about when a character’s psyche is no longer a relaxing place for a mental vacation.

We all know the feeling of reading a fun, exciting, series, and the hitting *that* book, after the poor MC - main character, for those of you new to the online writing community -  has shot a  friend in the head/survived two fights to the death in a futuristic arena/ witnessed Lord Voldemort’s return. Clearly it wouldn’t be realistic for someone to live through traumatic events and go whistling on their merry unchanged way , but how much of the darkness can we include before it becomes suffocating, before it becomes ‘too much’ and the character is ‘unlikable’?

The unhelpful answer is that ‘too much’ is a matter of personal taste. I’ve heard narrative devices and strong feelings compared to spices. A little adds flavor, too much ruins the food. Sounds reasonable, right?  What needs to be taken into account, though,  is that different people have different tolerances for spiciness.  Take my dad and me. He likes to go to make-your-own stir fry restaurants and put in a bunch of jalapenos so the juice soaks everything, whereas I down multiple glasses of water if there’s so much as a weird herb on my pepperoni pizza. Likewise, two people can have opposite perspectives on the portrayal of, say, guilt. They could read the same book, and one could say the character read cold-hearted for not reacting enough, and another could claim the character was too angsty. So what are we writers to do? It’s impossible to cater to every reader’s palate.

And I think the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can start writing real characters. No, not everyone will ‘like’ the MC.  No, the MC’s  feelings are probably not going to touch everyone in the right way. But if said emotions are truly the MC’s, the character can be a compelling one that people come to love, “warts and all”.  If we stop trying to make the perfectly likable character that nobody will complain is too tough or too sensitive or too [adjective] or not [adjective] enough, we might just make characters who are lovable.  In the last post Ria mentioned she wasn’t originally drawn to Tris Prior but came to care for her after accepting her strengths and weaknesses. Essentially, she’s come to love Tris for who she is.  As writers, we have the power to delve deep into a character’s mind and soul so readers can do just that. Our portrayal of characters can be a tool for expanding empathy and helping others to look outside their own perspective and love their neighbors as themselves and so forth.

a tool will do the most good if it’s properly utilized. While a novel about someone drowning in grief/guilt/depression/anxiety/self-loathing/[insert other negative here] done well can make people care, a novel where such things are done very poorly can elicit less positive reactions, such as urges to strangle the heroine and anyone like her.   Which brings us back to our original question of ‘how much is too much?’ I’ve spent a lot of this post philosophizing about How These Things Are Subjective And Truly Loving Someone Doesn’t Come From A Checklist Of Traits One Likes, but when it comes down to it, this is supposed to be a writing tip, and there are some reader reactions that come down not to our characters but to the way we present them, so there are a few do’s and don’ts to showing negative character emotions.

- Use the small stuff. It could be as simple as little clues as to characters’ demeanor, how hold themselves, how they speak.
- Let it lurk like a shadow. Whether you’re  beginning with a tragic event and then having the character dealing with it afterward or having the cause of what the character  dealing with become apparent later in the novel, there will be a period where the character is dealing with it. During that period, the storyworld keeps spinning and your character keeps living out the plot, but there’s a tinge coloring the scenes, a menacing  in spite of.  The warrior fights on in spite of his fallen comrades and his part in their deaths. The anxiety sufferer goes about her life in spite of the dread that squeezes her chest.

- Have paragraphs upon pages of potentially whiny interior monologue and not much else. While it’s certainly lifelike for someone to sit around thinking about their problems, we’d do well to remember the Clive James quote that “Fiction is life with the dull bits left out.” Too often a character is in a situation deserving of sympathy but gets none from the reader because the author wrote the character in such a way that it seems like the character is demanding it.
- Have your character cry every other page. I’ve read that since most people don’t cry easily, bursting into tears quickly gets to be a repetitive way to show sadness.  (But seeing as I’m the kind of person who cried during  Winnie The Pooh: Piglet’s Big Movie, I’ll have to take their word for it…)

This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips; there’s scores of other blog posts on the subject.  If you’re writing an MC going through tough times, feel free to share in the comments!

~ Miri Williams

Dec 9, 2014

Book Breakdown #1: The Divergent Trilogy-Spoiler Alert!

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As the official kick off for our new Blog, today I'll be breaking down the “Divergent Series” by Veronica Roth, one of the most popular YA Dystopian Fiction series on the market. It is one of my personal favorites, but as you know, every book has strengths and flaws, so I'll be pointing out some of those. Reader beware, there WILL be SPOILERS in this post.

The Plot/Idea:

It is very much Dystopian fiction in its idea, but I really enjoyed the way Veronica used her knowledge of exposure therapy, and her fascination with personality tests (as well as a few other things) to come up with Divergent. (I myself like personality tests- I'm an INFP). The story sucked me in from Chapter One, and Tris's voice, though it took some getting used to her clipped to-the-point way of speaking, moved the story along wonderfully.

Character Personality and Development:

I had to read the first book a few times, and then the whole series, before I really liked Tris. Once I understood her, saw all of her strengths and weaknesses, I liked her character. The thing that I admired the most was her desire to find out the truth, even when no one else supported her, when no one else believed her. She never gave up. In book 2, “Insurgent”, she made some pretty stupid mistakes, got stuck in a few ruts, but by “Allegiant”, she grew into someone who learned from the mistakes she made in “Insurgent”, and turned into someone who was likeable. In my opinion, Veronica developed Tris very well.

As for Four/Tobias, he is my favorite character, as I am partial to characters who have difficult backgrounds, but I was very disappointed when I got to “Allegiant.” Veronica Roth did not seem to have a good grasp on Tobias's voice. Several times I had to look at the chapter heading to remind myself which point of view I was reading. The voices, when switched to first person, were not very distinct. The strength I had always admired in Tobias, the unwavering ferocity, dwindled away in “Allegiant” as he spent a lot of time moping about how he was “genetically damaged.” My annoyance with him increased as time went on and he fell for Nita’s stupid plan, causing Uriah’s unnecessary death, and I was very disappointed. I liked how he finally learned how to forgive his parents in order to move on with his life, by the end of the series, but by far, Tris was the most developed.

Moral Dilemmas:
Divergent dealt with a lot of moral issues, but the biggest theme was human nature. The government tried to fix the problem of human nature by genetics and it was an epic fail. After war, they placed the people into experimental cities, dividing Chicago into five factions and waiting for their genes to heal. It didn't work. None of the efforts made by the leaders worked. As Tris said; “One bad thing goes away, another replaces it.” No matter how smart we think we are, no matter how hard we try, we cannot fix our evil natures. No amount of genetic tweaking, or hundreds of rules, will ever change that. Tris has many of her own struggles, some include being compassionate and forgiving, her actions contributing to Al's suicide. Tobias fears becoming like his father, fighting against his tendency to relish violence and masochism.  By the end, he has almost succeeded.

Series End:
Ah, and now we come to one of the most controversial subjects concerning the series. The ending. Many people were satisfied, but many more were not, I myself being one of the many more. On one hand, Tris dies heroically, taking the place of Caleb, who deserved to die, but volunteered to take the suicide mission for the wrong reason-escaping his guilt. While Tris's recognition of this is noble, I was left with a very empty and somewhat angry feeling. We, as readers, wanted to watch Tris and Tobias live the life together that they deserved after all they had been through. We wanted to see Tobias finally happy. Instead, we watch as Tris dies in a stupid way-surviving the death serum only to be shot by David- leaving Tobias alone. This was not the ending we deserved, and I think it was a poor decision on Veronica's part. Though she says she had planned Tris's death from the start, I honestly think she could have changed it.

No Justice Done:

The villains, Marcus, Peter, and David. They drove us crazy the whole series, and I could not wait for Marcus to get what he had coming to him. The fangirl in me was really hoping for a Tobias vs. Marcus showdown, or even Tris shooting him would have been satisfactory. But, this did not happen. Instead Marcus simply walks away. No one knows where he went, he just simply vanishes into society, no consequences for the many years of violence he inflicted on his family, nothing. Then Peter, who attacked Edward, tried to kill Tris, and never knew the meaning of the word “loyalty”, was allowed to simply erase his memory and start over, in the hopes that he will be a nicer person afterward. He says he hates what he does, but he makes no move to better himself. Instead he takes the cowards way out, which, logically, is not likely to work. Just because you take away memories, it doesn't change your evil tendencies. And lastly David, the man who tried to wipe millions of people's memories and murdered Tris, was not punished either. This was another major let down as I finished the book.

Solution Never Given:
While Veronica Roth seemingly had a good grasp of the evil human nature, by the end of the book, she does not give us the solution to the problem. The factions are disbanded, and everyone has gone back to the way things were before the war, and they begin the rebuilding process, but what happens several years from now? Does history repeat itself? The answer must be yes because we will never cease to be evil. And if the answer is yes, then everything that Tris stood for and everything that everyone fought for, was for nothing. Factions cannot wipe away the evil, genetic engineering cannot either, so what can? That is the question she leaves hanging. The solution is obvious to us Christians though because we know only God can change our sin. The more Christian a nation becomes, the better life will be for everyone. I just wish Ms. Roth had made that clear.

The Four Stories:

And last of all we come to the short stories about Tobias. I was very excited to read these and I was not disappointed. We get a great glimpse into Tobias's home life and his transfer, his making it through Initiation, and then some overlap into Divergent. There are even special scenes included in the back, written from his POV for our enjoyment.

So to sum up the series, I loved it, and still do, with it's many strengths in its pages and

awesome characters. The wrap up was a disappointment however, and maybe Veronica Roth will keep this in mind when she goes to write another story. I won’t hesitate to check out her next work and I will hold out the hope it will be as good as Divergent could have been had she taken advantage of it's full potential.


Dec 8, 2014


Welcome to Into the Character's Shadow! We're a group of Christian teen novelists who met on the forums for NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don't know what that is, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it's a month long venture in which writers from all around world try to write 50,000 words.

Anyways, we've decided it would be fun to start up a group blog about writing, so you'll see us breaking down books into tips for writers, reviewing books, and (of course) blogging about random little things here and there. We hope you follow along, pick up a few helpful tips along the way, and enjoy the ride! :)

-Katheline Hansen

P.S. This was supposed to post yesterday, but I accidentally forgot to hit "Publish", so there will be two posts today. Hooray for double posts! :D