Jan 30, 2015

Plotting and Pantsing: What I've Learned From My Experiences

Today I am going to talk about plotting, pantsing, and my experience with both. I've learned a lot, even as I was writing this blog post, and I hope you can gain some insight from it. Stories are, after all, one of the most ancient and enduring ways of teaching.

First, let me define what we're talking about here. Plotting and Pantsing are the two methods of story-planning (or in the case of pantsing, the lack thereof).

Plotting is exactly what it sounds like: before you start to write your story, you make plans. You come up with a storyline; you make an outline; you do any worldbuilding that's necessary; you fill out character profiles; you  may even have a collection of notes on as-of-yet-unwritten scenes.

Pantsing is writing  "by the seat of your pants"; i.e., it involves virtually no planning at all. Usually pantsers have a burst of inspiration before they sit down to write. Maybe they think of a character, a setting, a scene, or an inciting incident. From there, they sit down and start writing down this vague idea and basing a story around it.

Of course, there are many different levels in between those two ends of the spectrum. Plotters have pantsing episodes when their characters take the wheel or when a particular plot twist ends up turning in an unforeseen direction. It's all part of the creative process. And plenty of pantsers do take prewriting notes. One example of an in-between breed of writer is a pantser who plots as they write. They'll write the first few chapters, then have to take a short breather to plan the next few chapters, and so on.

I am, at heart, a pantser, but I find that I can never finish anything if I don't plot, so I end up bouncing back and forth between the two. I've had some interesting experiences, to say the least, wrestling with my pantsing spirit and trying to establish some plotting government over it.

Last year, I discovered NaNoWriMo, and determined to sign up and do it. Since I didn't have a specific story in mind, I sat down and started filling out a bunch of character profiles and coming up with a cast. One of the questions on the profile I used was "What is your character's deepest secret?", which ended up leading to my plot.

Once I came up with a plot and outlined it (which was one of the hardest things I'd yet done in my entire life, being used to pantsing everything), I completed NaNoWriMo and finished the rough draft of my first novel. It was a proud time. Then I read my book and reworked the plot over the next few months, planning to write Draft 2 over Camp NaNo in April. I deleted, morphed, and re-invented most of my characters, and changed quite a bit of the plot. I wrote Draft 2 and then read it over, and while it was far better than Draft 1, my story still wasn't working. So I spent the remaining time until NaNoWriMo 2014 planning Draft 3 and taking breaks.I wrote the first half of Draft 3 for NaNo 2014, and then gave up on my novel. I don't know if it will ever be finished, for countless reasons, but it was an invaluable learning experience. My third draft is completely different from my first draft--in fact, the inciting incident that I got from the character's deepest secret had been left far behind.  To be honest, I don't even remember what the incident was.

So, my point in relating this somewhat long and roundabout tale (but you like stories if you're here, of course!) is to illustrate how pantsing and plotting sort of cancel each other out in my writing life. By plotting, I was able to get to the end of my story. But I can only plot to a certain degree, and in the empty spaces, my pantser self took over and the story swerved off track little by little. Also, by only being able to plot to a certain degree, I can't "see" the story until I finish writing it, and only then can I see it well enough to tell if it's good enough or not.

In the past few days, I have been writing a short story. I had it completely planned out; I had quite a few scene fragments and bursts of dialogue/inner monologue in my head; and I had the main character's motivations and character arc mapped out beautifully.

But then I wrote the story, and when I finished, I reread my notes and realized my story really, really failed to do what I had planned. It's character-driven, and I had several points that I wanted to bring across to the reader through my protagonist, but I don't think any of them showed up.

How in the world did this happen? I was scratching my head at first, but then I realized it's my natural pantsing. No matter how thoroughly I plot, when I write, I kind of lose control over a lot of the nuances. My art looks different in reality than it does in my mind.

And it's a real pain. What if all my precious plot bunnies that are constantly floating around in my head don't look how they do in my head, once I put them on paper? I mean, what if they're rabbits instead? Or hares? Or worse, something like coyotes or mules or kangaroos?

It's really disheartening to think about, my visions becoming reality but not being my visions at all once they're real.

But what if it's not a problem? What if, if I really put my soul into my writing, it's truer to me and more honest and real? Even if what I planned doesn't come out? Maybe the plans I make are just me trying to change something about myself. Maybe I'm trying to bind and redefine myself. Maybe, if I write straight from the heart, and not try to make a specific impression, I'll actually write the truth, and my art will be fundamentally sincere. That is what makes the greatest writing, after all.

I hope, by sharing some pieces of my Plotting/Pantsing journey, you've been able to glean some knowledge or wisdom for your own writing. What is your experience with plotting and pantsing? Which is your preferred method? Have you ever written a story that revealed an unplanned message or spun out of control?

--E.C. Jaeger

Jan 26, 2015

Cress: A Book Breakdown

So my friends, we’ve come to the end.

Ok, ok, so maybe it’s not the end. I’ll be doing Fairest next week and one of us will most certainly be bringing you our scattered, over-excited thoughts about Winter sometime in December (November is NaNo, remember? We’ll all be busy writing the next great American novel come then!) but go with me on the end thing for a sec - it sounds dramatic and I kind of dig it :).

[Proceed reading at your own risk - spoilers will be used frequently and carelessly. You have been warned.]

Now because Cress is a long book and because I’m a long winded person even when I’m not talking about my favorite book in one of my favorite series, I’m going to try and keep this post as short and simple as possible (emphasis on the “try” there - don’t judge me too harshly), borrowing the fabulously successful “list” method from my fellow Lunartic, Katheline. Here are just a sampling of the reasons why Cress is such a success:

1. A Fast, Gripping, and Terrifying Inciting Incident
While things aren’t exactly right as rain going into Cress (Kai’s about to marry what might possibly be the biggest and most dangerous lunatic in all the galaxy for crying out loud), they’re pretty good. The characters are safe, at least for the moment, and are able to train and prepare in relative tranquility. Considering what life has been like for these guys recently, I’d say that scenario there is pretty stinking good. But does Meyer leave us with that, allowing us to slip into apathy as we watch our beloved characters sit around and eat canned tomatoes for 150 pages? No. What does she do? Oh, you know, just has a rescue attempt go horribly wrong causing one character to be captured by the enemy, two others to be falling to their deaths in a sabotaged satellite, another to be wounded (perhaps mortally), and the only one left to be stuck staring at the carnage, scrambling to save even one person, and wondering how in the heck it went so wrong.

Remember that little trick I talked about in my first ever blog post? The whole “when in doubt, find out what’s the worst thing that could happen to your character right now, then do it” thing? This is that tip at its finest.

2. Cress
Cress is our title character, so obviously she has to play a large part in this book. We’ve seen her a few times before now, but this is really when she begins to come alive. And alive she is. She’s a wonderfully balanced character - a great mix of shy, naive, talented, and daring. While Cress certainly is the most innocent of all the characters (living in total isolation will do that to you) she is far from dismissible. Throughout the novel she consistently proves herself capable of meeting every challenge thrown at her, not only reacting to the changes but processing them, coming to grips with her own weaknesses, and striving to overcome them. And she’s a complete tech genius. I mean, how awesome is that? Give this girl a computer and there is nothing she can’t do.

3. High Tension/A Great Excuse To Mention My Favorite Scene
One of the most effective aspects of this books is its high tension level. Meyer accomplishes this in a few ways - constant, virtually unrelenting conflict being one of them, and multiple, intriguing plot lines being another. By using eight different narrators (I remember at least eight, please correct me if there are more), most of whom are experiencing different things, Meyer is able to keep the tension at an insanely high level - making her reader have serious anxiety not only about the current plot line, but about the five or six other unresolved ones that are going on at the same time! Most of this comes to a head in what might just be my favorite scene in the book (though I’m quite partial to like a bizallion others as well) - when Cress, Thorne, Dr. Erland, Wolf, and Jacin are all in the same room but, due to like bizallion circumstances, don’t realize that the others aren’t a threat for a good page and a half. I don’t know how y’all were feeling during that scene but I was practically screaming my head off! (YOU CAN’T KILL EACH OTHER!!! YOU’RE FRIENDS!! FRIENDS, YOU HEAR ME?!!) Ok, so maybe I was screaming my head off, no practically required. But still - talk about tension!

4. Thorne and Cress’s Relationship
It's book 3 and we are treated to yet another completely adorable romance. Personally, I think Thorne and Cress are the cutest out of the whole lot. Their relationship, more than any of the other’s, is built on mutual growth. Cress makes Thorne stop and think, forcing him to actually consider his actions and at least become marginally aware of the consequences. Thorne makes Cress come out of her shell, forcing her to experience new things and step up to the plate. And you know what? They both turn out better for it. Cress makes Thorne a kinder, slightly more humble person, someone who is beginning to act as if he wants to improve, to become the sort of person who deserves to be loved. And Thorne makes Cress a stronger person, one who can look at a world (and a man) who is filled with flaws, and love it (and him, especially him) all the more for it.

Now they just have to admit that they love it each other.

Seriously, though. I'm kind of dying on the inside waiting for this.

5. Cinder and Kai’s Relationship/A Great Excuse To Mention My Other Favorite Scene
Finally! That's the primary reaction I have to the Cinder/Kai developments in this book - finally. Meyer has been tantalizing us with this since page one, dangling the carrot of the adorable Cinderella/Prince Charming relationship in front of her anxious readers noses’, prompting us to turn page after page at a breakneck pace, and ultimating propelling us through three full books before we get the scene that we’re looking for. Yep, I’m talking about the last scene of the book, otherwise known as My Favorite Scene in Cress 2.0. It’s been a long time coming but at the end of Cress, book three, we finally see Cinder and Kai, face to face, once again. Of course, a lot has gone on since the last time they saw each other (the two minutes before Cinder knocks him out doesn’t really count in my opinion) and us anxious carrot chasers are treated to a pretty intense scene as Kai struggles to make sense of what’s happening and Cinder goes through a whole host of internal conflict trying to admit her true identity. But then our stubborn little mechanic Princess finally gets it out of her mouth and-

Cue awesomeness.

This was seriously one of the sweetest moments in the entire book. All the way up until this point Cinder has been completely terrified to tell Kai the truth. Why? Well, her experiences with Adri and Pearl didn’t exactly give her a lot of confidence in the “Cyborgs are worthy of love” department and she figured that adding “estranged Lunar Princess” onto that wasn’t going to help matters too much. But does Kai scream? Run for the hills? Absolutely not. He barely even blinks an eye. And once he gets over his initial shock, he thinks its pretty much the best thing on earth (or the moon, or outer space, or whatever). Sure, he’s a little curious and yes, he was a little ticked before (being kidnapped will tend to do that to a person) but all his anger and uncertainty quickly evaporates and we carrot chasers are finally treated to the moment we’ve been waiting three books for.


*cue contented sigh*
6. Wolf and Scarlet’s Relationship
I don't know if you guys are aware of this, but Wolf and Scarlet's relationship appears to be one of the main reasons why several people don't like this series. "What?!" you exclaim. "How could people not like this series! And because of such such an awesome relationship as their's? I don't get it!" Well, my friends, it is, unfortunately, true. Lots of people view Wolf and Scarlet's relationship as rushed, shallow, and based solely off of sexual attraction. And while I certainly understand how they could come to that conclusion (I mean, it did happen pretty quickly), I would like to pose the following question to the aforementioned people: "Have you read Cress yet?!!!".

The relationship that we see in Cress in anything but shallow. One need only look at Wolf's reaction to Scarlet's kidnapping to see a guy who is in this for the long haul. A man who would do absolutely anything to protect the woman he loves. And the fact that, at this moment, he can't is literally eating him alive. I was practically whimpering in my seat to see Wolf so broken up like that.

This is not a shallow relationship, folks. In fact, I'd argue that, in light of the fact that Cinder and Kai only become a thing in the last 20 pages of the book, Cress and Thorne are still in denial when the curtain closes, and we haven't even seen Jacin and Winter together yet, Wolf and Scarlet's relationship is the most committed out of all of them.

Which means they better get back together in Winter. *whimpers*

7. Jacin and the Promise of More to Come
For me, Jacin’s presence is all about setup for book four. Up until this point, Cinder has been focused on earth giving little thought to Luna except for wondering how to stop its psychotic queen from marrying Kai. Jacin’s presence changes this. Jacin is a Lunar and, unlike Cinder (who hasn’t set foot in the country since she was three) or Cress (who spent the last several years stuck in a satellite and the majority of her life before that underground) or even Wolf (who spent most of his life in mutant soldier training camps), Jacin has actually seen how Luna works. He lives there. He’s a palace guard. He’s an active participant in Lunar society. He understands how the country really is  - something that the rest of the group obviously doesn’t. His presence, and his allusions to Lunar society, set the stage for the vast amount of Lunar learning that (I’m seriously hoping) will be in book four.

8. Levana’s POV
Like I mentioned in the section about Jacin, Levana’s POV is a wonderful way to increase tension and suspense, as well as intrigue. We already knew Levana was a nut but after seeing her POV in Cress we’re practically screaming to know more. What is this marriage she speaks off? Who is this mysterious ex-husband? Where did all that thinly veiled and slightly psychotic pain that we’re sensing come from? Does she really think that she’s turned Luna into a paradise? How on earth (or the moon) did this lady get this crazy?!! Before Cress I was mildly curious about Levana but after reading it I’m practically salivating from the need to understand her backstory! Luckily for me, and for you, my lovely readers, Fairest (the prequel all about how Levana became, well, Levana) comes out tomorrow!! Saw it with me now, folks - eeeppp!!

So there you have it, folks. Eight reasons why Cress was completely and utterly awesome. I hope you enjoyed this tour through my favorite of all The Lunar Chronicles and I’ll see you next week when I talk about Fairest (eep!!).

As always, happy reading, writing, and living,


Jan 23, 2015

The Joy of Virtuous Characters

“Perfect is boring.”
“Flaws make a character interesting.”

   Chances are you’ve heard this tidbit of writing advice before. And on the surface, it sounds, if you’ll pardon the pun, perfectly reasonable.  Real people aren’t paragons of virtue, and characters that feel real are interesting.


   There’s someone I hold up to be perfect.  And while many people around Him either called Him ‘Lord’ or demon-possessed, I suspect there were very few who called Him boring. Now, it’d be horrifically unfair of me to imply that people who advise you to give your characters flaws consider Jesus dull, because we’re not using the word perfect the same the same way. By perfect, I mean that Jesus is full of pure Goodness itself, but in the writing world ‘perfect character’ has in some places become shorthand for someone who doesn’t smoke, doesn’t chew, and doesn’t go with girls who do, thank you very much, and is overall not that bad of a guy. Contrast that with the likes of a Han Solo, and well, heh heh…

   And ‘bad boys’ who ride motorcycles and have Intriguing Pasts will nearly always win the heart of the heroine over the good boy best friend sorts who…uh… don’t ride motorcycles and don’t have Intriguing Pasts. 

   In short, by turning the Good Guy into a list of is-nots and do-nots, we risk making “Perfect is boring” a self-fulfilling prophecy.

   But it needn’t be so. 

   Don’t get me wrong; I’m not recommending you go and write characters that don’t have flaws, or trying to flame people that dispense the priceless writing wisdom that things generally don’t go well if you try.  I merely want to say that ‘good’ can be so much more than ‘not bad’, and give a shout-out to some of my favorite fictional friends.  

In his essay “A Piece of White Chalk”, G.K. Chesteron says,
“… And one of the two or three defiant verities of the best religious morality, of Christianity, for example, is exactly this same thing; the chief assertion of religious morality is that white is a colour. Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell…”
Possible debates about color theory aside, I couldn’t put it better.
So, here, in no particular order, are but a few characters I think display that virtue can be a joyful, exciting thing:

- Bishop Myriel from Les Miserables. In the eighth grade I was stubborn enough to attempt reading the unabridged version of Les Mis, because I ‘didn’t believe in butchering works of art.’  Confession time: I didn’t make it. But, before I threw in the towel, I did read the extensive character sketch of the Bishop of D- -, and what a character he was. Even before his famous deed with the silver - more on that in a minute - Hugo brought him to life with his almost quirky focus on charity, self-denial, and truth. Many times the town ladies thought he ought to have a new…something or other, I think a cushioned altar type thing…and raised the money  to do so, only to have him accept it yet promptly give all the funds  to the poor.  Once he went up on a mountain to preach to thieves, despite much urging not to do so because of the danger it would pose, and came down with a chest of returned jewels. 

Enter Jean Valjean, a recently released convict convict who looked like, well, a recently released convict. The innkeeper and all of the townspeople refused him dinner and lodging, but the bishop gave him both free of charge. And when Jean Valjean tried to make off with the Myriel’s silverware in the middle of the night, the bishop not only told the police that the silver was a gift but also insisted he take the candle sticks as well. Whoa.  This was the turning point in Jean Valjean’s life, and Christian nonfiction author Philip Yancey says on his website, “Frankly, I first truly understood grace while reading the great novel by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables.”

- Samwise Gamgee from The Lord Of The Rings. Gardener, optimist, lover of fireworks, and one of the most loyal friends in fantasy. From Frodo’s flight from the Shire to the fires of Mount Doom, Sam was right there, even if Frodo thought he didn’t want him to be.  He had a hobbit’s humility and the courage to stand unconditionally on the side of the good guys. The ring wouldn’t have made it to Mordor without Frodo, but “Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam.”

- Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. Armed with at least half a dozen books, Hermione fought tirelessly to right the wrongs in the wizarding world, whether by starting a society on behalf of house- elf rights or traipsing all over on a horcrux hunt to help take down the darkest wizard of all time.

- Lucy Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia.  Lucy looked into a wardrobe and found a world. So, naturally, her siblings assumed she was taking a game too far. But Lucy was always the girl who knew what she saw. She knew Narnia was real and that Mr. Tumnus was good and that the white witch was bad. And in Prince Caspian she knew she saw Aslan, even though the others are skeptical.  Her title was “Queen Lucy the Valiant.”

-Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. Though he is neither the most spirited nor the most dynamic character in the novel, his quiet and dignified yet unshakable pursuit of truth and morality pervades it. In fact, this is one of the things Scout and Jem learn about him: despite not playing football or emulating his fellow fathers  in similar pursuits, he was no dud.

I could go on and on, but  that pretty much exhausts my list of favorite characters that people would recognize or not shun me for.  (Anyone other Winnie the Pooh fanatics out there?), and this post is getting long as it is.

Anyway... let us attempt to walk in the footsteps of these famous works, and tell the world that virtuous characters are a joy. Let us show that this goodness we speak of is a quality, a state of having rather than not having. Let the cry ring out that perfect isn't -necessarily- boring!  

Feel free to bring up your favorite virtuous characters in the comments!

- Miri Williams

Jan 19, 2015

Book Breakdown: Scarlet

As we continue looking into The Lunar Chronicles, I’m going to break down Scarlet into a few main points that I think Marissa Meyer did well. (Yes, I’m that other blogger Ashton mentioned who wouldn’t let her take all of TLC for herself. Mwahahaha!) Okay, so let’s get started!

Note: There will be spoilers, so read at your own risk.

  • Cameos and Little Golden Nuggets

If there is one thing this series does superbly it’s weaving in characters through little cameos before they get to share the stage. While you don’t really catch these at first, after the fact, looking back, you’ll see all of the wonderful little foreshadowing and nuggets Marissa Meyer planted. I guess that’s one of the perks of actually planning your novels before you write them… Heh… heheh (says the natural pantser)...

  • Multiple Plot Lines

Yet another thing that Marissa Meyer is the queen of. With three main plot lines going on in Scarlet (Kai’s, Cinder’s, and Scarlet’s), it would be really easy for the reader to just skip to the one they’re most interested in. But, in this book, each one has its own set of goals, conflicts, obstacles, and lovable characters. Marissa Meyer did a great job at balancing each one out and making sure that the reader was always equally interested in each of them.

  • Strong Characters With Weaknesses

This is really clear with Wolf. He’s a genetically modified Lunar soldier, so clearly he’s got some strength. And he is a strong character, emotionally as well. He has some tough decisions to face, what with defying his brother and all, but he also has moments of weakness. There are moments in his and Scarlet’s relationship where Scarlet’s pulling him together and helping him up from a fall, not just the other way around. I really, really like this. It’s great character development. And this leads me into my next point:

  • Scarlet’s and Wolf’s Relationship

They are probably the cutest couple so far (in my opinion) in The Lunar Chronicles. Wolf is so awkward, and he’s so concerned about Scarlet. I think what makes this relationship so amazing, though, (to read about, mind you) is the fact that Wolf’s so concerned about injuring Scarlet himself. He cares so much about her, but he’s scared to be around her. He’s scared of having one of his “wolfish instances” and lashing out at her. And Scarlet just comforts him and refuses to let him leave. It’s absolutely adorable.

  • Fantastic Characterization

I don’t know how she does this, but Marissa Meyer has made an android one of my favorite characters ever. Iko is a computer chip, for goodness’ sake, but she’s so likeable. When Cinder puts her chip in the Rampion, her comment is “I’m enormous.” It’s such an Iko thing to say, and I love that Marissa Meyer developed a piece of technology to be one of Cinder’s closest friends.

  • Tough Decisions and Sacrifice

Kai is faced with a really tough decision in this book. He can either be happy and marry someone he loves, or he can sacrifice his own personal happiness and marry Levana to save his people. But, wait, there’s even more to it than that. While marrying Levana will stop the immediate attacks on earth, once he’s married her, she’ll use her position to begin her conquest of the rest of the world. Tsk, tsk. Kai, you’ve definitely gotten yourself into a bit of a pickle, haven’t you?

Alright, so overall, this book is a great sequel, a great middle-of-the-series book. The characters we’ve already come to love in the first book are further developed, while at the same time, new characters are introduced with a storyline of their own. The stakes are raised, and the conflict becomes even more serious and urgent.

Now, a question for y’all: If you’ve read it, what was your favorite part of Scarlet? Do you agree with me, or are there some points you disagree on? (Okay, okay, that was two questions… oops… :)

~Katheline Hansen

Jan 16, 2015

Inspiration Journal

*Digging through purse* “Mint gum, letter from a friend, receipt, wallet, chapstick, picture little brother drew for me... Aha! There it is! My writing journal! It’s a good thing I found it. That idea was disappearing fast.

Hi! I’m Eliza. I am fifteen years old. I am a Christian. And... I enjoy writing. I'm not published yet, but that’s one of my goals for this year. In this article I will be talking about inspiration.

One of my main writing tools is a journal. I make sure I have one with me almost everywhere I go. I use it to catch ideas for stories, characters and settings, and sometimes even random sentences or words before they disappear.

I admit that not everything I put into this journal is worthy of a story or book. But it does help to have a few ideas for those times when I’m stuck and not sure what to write.

Do you ever get one of those sudden urges to write a mystery book when you’re riding in the car on a foggy day? Do you ever see that it’s raining outside and decide that your book needs a chapter where your characters dance and sing in the rain? Are you ever with a friend and just enjoy being with them so much that you realize that is what your main character has been missing all along... a close friend? Do you ever see three police cars at a gas station and automatically come up with an idea of what might have happened?

Take advantage of all of those wonderful ideas and maybe some of those not so wonderful ones too. Write them down in your journal. You’ll find it is extremely helpful. Sometimes it’s funny to go back and read your ideas a few days later. I’ve noticed that the ones I wrote down around midnight hardly even make sense sometimes. When I’m kind of bored or not sure what to do, I’ll pull out my journal and write down the first sentence that comes to mind. Sometimes the sentence is humorous, other times it's very dramatic or full of emotion.

One evening, my neighbor and my dad were sitting in lawn chairs in the front yard. I’m not sure what started it, but they began coming up with all sorts of phrases with the same meaning. They were sayings such as, “one wrench short of a tool box”, “one taco short of a combo”, and “lost a few marbles”. You get what I mean. Basically, they were coming up with creative ways to say that someone is slightly insane. I immediately ran inside to get my journal and write them all down. So far, I haven’t found a good time to use them in a story, but I’m sure I will.

Overall, I would say that my writing journal is one of my most important writing tools.

I hope I have inspired you, at least a little bit, to write down more of your ideas. I’ll leave you with this quote by Maya Angelou:

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Jan 14, 2015

Cinder Breakdown: Welcome to The Lunar Chronicles - I Think You'll Like It Here

So another Wednesday comes and goes, and you know what that means, don’t you? It’s time for another book breakdown!

For the next four weeks we’ll be doing the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. “Why four weeks?” you ask. “Didn’t you do all of the Divergent series in one post?” Valid point, valid point. And because of your point’s validity, I offer the following explanations. First, the Lunar Chronicle series is not finished yet, so we cannot sum up the overall feel/effectiveness of the series like we could with the very-much-finished Divergent series. Second, taking the series book by book will allow us to give a much more in depth analysis, looking at author-y things such as use of conflict and story arcs instead of mostly summarizing. And third, this series is just so awesome that I could not get permission to do it unless I agreed to share it with some of my fellow bloggers.

But mostly it was the third one.

WARNING: This post will contain spoilers! Proceed with caution. You have officially been warned.

Mixing It Up: If you’ve ever heard of the Lunar Chronicles before, you’re probably aware that they’re loosely based off of classic fairy tales (Cinderella for Cinder, Little Red Riding Hood for Scarlet, Rapunzel for Cress, and Snow White for Winter). I use “loosely” for a reason. While the books do share many of the most important elements from the fairytales, knowledge of the classic tales will in no way help you guess the plot. Why? Well because if there’s one thing that Meyer does with this series, it’s mix it up. Cinderella’s a mild mannered household servant whose best friend is bird/mouse? Well, meet Cinder, the sarcastic cyborg who’s living in New Beijing as a mechanic, struggling to get enough money to escape the ungrateful care of her stepmother along with her best friend the eccentric andriod, Iko. I absolutely loved these changes. While I knew the tale of Cinderella (what self respecting Disney fanatic doesn’t?) and got a thrill out of every little tidbit (the orange car, for example, that becomes her “pumpkin” on the way to the ball) they would in no way allow me to guess the plot. And I’m a really good plot guesser, so that’s a big deal for me. Also, the differentness of the plot, and particularly the setting, was just plain old refreshing.

Which brings us to point number two of mixing it up - the setting.

The Setting: The Lunar Chronicles is set 100 years after World War Four and, while it’s not entirely clear as to when that is, it’s obviously pretty far in the future because the world is different. I loved learning about all the changes that Earth has experienced, and I especially loved the fact that all the characters take them for granted. Discovering how Earth got from 2014 A.D. to 140 T.E. almost becomes a mini-quest, an interesting challenge to the reader. It was super cool learning about things like androids, hovers, ID chips, portscreens, D-COMM chips, and cyborgs, and trying to discover their places in society. As well as learning about the political environment of the time. First off, may I say that I am totally jealous of the kids in the Third Era? They only have six countries to memorize! Six! Do you have any idea how many time I’ve had to memorize the countries of Europe? And I still don’t remember them! Ugh. But random school related rant aside, the political shuffle was extremely interesting. I’m still a little confused as to how several fully functional monarchies ended up in what’s most likely considered an enlightened age, but whatever, it was necessary for the plot (Cinderella and President Charming just does not have the same ring to it) and I’m willing to overlook that. Especially in light of the world’s coolest (and possibly freakiest) new country, Luna.

Luna: Luna is the country/monarchy/overgrown colony on the moon. Way back when (I’m not quite sure when, they were vague) a colony of people from earth moved up onto the moon (again, I have no idea how that worked but apparently it did) and started their own civilization there. Eventually, they morphed into a new-ish kind of human with the power to control bioelectricity (which I believe can be defined as the stuff that makes people do things), giving them the power to manipulate, among other things, how other people see them, how they feel about them, and their actions. Of course, this ability leads to some pretty freaky rulers, landing the poor people of Third Era with Queen Levena, the psychotic, extremely powerful Lunar Queen who murdered her sister and niece in order to gain power, and mutilated her stepdaughter in order to preserve her beauty. She, ladies and gentlemen, is a whack. But she’s an interesting whack. I absolutely, positively hate her. And that makes all the difference for me. You need a villain that you hate, that you just can’t wait to be taken down. And that’s definitely what I got during Cinder (I’ve got more to say about her but it doesn’t happen in this book - check back with me in two weeks when I do Cress).

The Characters: Talking about Levena made me think about all the other characters, and really, can I just say well done to Marissa? Because I think they were spot on. Each character is so unique, and so perfect for their role. Let’s start with Cinder. First off, can I just say that I really enjoyed learning about her? I feel like her character, while simple in theory, is actually very complex and I was definitely thrown by a few of her actions. Overall though, I would just have to say that I really admire her. She has had to deal with so much hate, so much ridicule, whether it be from Adri or Pearl or even the general community, and yet she’s still going strong. She still cares and she’s still determined. And despite all the horrible things that happen to her (in just the first book for crying out loud) she still manages to be a proactive, admirable character (which, quite frankly, is hard to maintain) and it makes her anguish over her identity, her questioning over her worth, all that much more powerful. She goes through some really rough stuff but she doesn’t let that stop her. She keeps going, possessing a determination that makes her a great main character. As an added bonus - she’s super sarcastic. Which makes her dialog so much fun (especially when it involves Dr. Erland or, later, Thorne).

Next there’s Iko. Oh Iko, is there anything better than a hyper, sarcastic robot? I absolutely love her. She is so, so funny! I just about died when Adri dissembled her (no more funny comments! Noo!). Her spontaneity and lightheartedness are a great foil to Cinder’s usual glower, and they make fantastic team.

And then, of course, there’s Kai. Personally, I think he’s a wonderful character. A great balance of polite, proactive, and just downright sweet. He does have an edgy side that I loved seeing and, though it doesn’t come out much, I think that little bit of resistance is absolutely vital to his character. It proves that, despite his manners and gentle nature, he’s not a pushover and his tendency to acquiesce is not a result of weakness, but instead a sign of how much he truly cares for his country and how much he’s willing to sacrifice for it.

And he totally loves Cinder. Which makes him like 150% more awesome.

The Big Reveal: Honestly, I don’t know about you guys, but I totally called this one. I knew about the big reveal back... shoot, I think as soon as Dr. Erland told her she was a Lunar (maybe the second time, after he said she wasn’t a shell, but it was early either way). I don’t know if that’s because I’m naturally good at guessing plots (I’ve got a reputation for reasoning them out once I hit the halfway point) or because it was pretty obvious. Personally, I think it was just because it was pretty obvious. She’s a Lunar. She’s an orphan. She’s has a questionable background. You have all this hype about Levana, all these rumors about Selene. The series is called The Lunar Chronicles. I mean, uh duh! Cinder was so her. No brainer. Still, despite it’s obviousness, I was very pleased with the big reveal. I’m a sucker for inner power, predestined, false identity type plots (*cough* Incarceron, Percy Jackson, Prophecy of the Stones *cough cough*) and it’s really hard to do one of those without tipping your reader off about it really early. Plus, even though I knew Cinder’s identity (and therefore much of the book’s plot) beforehand, I had absolutely no idea what the next book was going to be about. And, in case you don’t know me yet, that made me very excited.

It also meant that I read the next book in a day and a half and was extremely unproductive while doing so.

Conflict: This book is really a lesson in conflict. Despite being the slowest paced of the series, it never feels that way. Why? Well, several reasons. One is the pure originality of the series - the futuristic setting, and the challenge understanding it presents to the reader. Another is the fairy tale - everyone knows the Cinderella story and that knowledge, even when almost every detail has been altered, creates a strong sense of dramatic irony that propels you forward. You know that something’s going to go down between Cinder and Adri, you know that, despite her best efforts to avoid it, Cinder is going to get her butt to that ball, you know that, despite all her hopes otherwise, there is going to be some epic confrontation there involving one Mr. Prince Charming (sorry, Emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth) and one Ms. Evil Queen Psycho (no addition needed).

But mostly, the reason why this novel never feels slow paced, why I couldn’t put the stupid thing down, is because of the constant conflict. It’s everywhere. Internal conflict is rife throughout the story, manifesting itself in Cinder’s conflicted feelings about her escape, about her own part in Peony’s death, about the lies that she tells Kai, about her identity, and about her own humanity. It eats her up and it eats us up. But, and this is critical here, Meyer doesn’t let Cinder sit and wallow in her self pity. No, she throws external conflict after external conflict at her, hitting her with the plague, her stepsister’s death, her stepmother’s hate, her own commitment to the research facility, her precarious grip on escape, the arrival of Levena, the loss of Iko - the list goes on and on and on. I could chart out the whole book, match it up to one of the classic plot diagrams for measuring conflict, and rave and rave about how wonderfully Meyer does this but honestly, that would be a whole ‘nother post and I’m certain you’re quite sick of listening to me ramble already. But I will challenge you, next time you read the book, to chart it out in your head. Note how every time that Cinder feels comfortable, every time she thinks she has it under control, something new pops up. Trust me - it’s worth looking at.

Well, I think that’s about it for Cinder. Like I said, I could keep going forever, but this is long enough as it is and I’m pretty sure 99% of it is (hopefully entertaining) ramble. Still, I hope you enjoyed looking at book one of one of my favorite series and please, stay tuned because next week my fellow blogger, and fellow Lunar Chronicles fan, Katheline will be bringing you Scarlet. And trust me, you want to be here for that.

Happy reading, writing, and living. See y’all soon.

- Ashton

Jan 12, 2015

The Three Keys to Worldbuilding in The Inheritance Cycle

It took me a good number of weeks, but today I finally finished the 906,057-word-long Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. My basic reason for reading it was curiosity (okay, that would be a reason to read just about any book...but what I mean is, I wouldn't have picked this up just for fun having never heard of it before. It took a lot of convincing for me to finally bite the bullet and read it.) First, so many people were talking about it, and second, it was written by a teenage homeschooler.

I'm not big on the magic thing (a post for another day), so that was the main reason holding me back from reading this series. But I stomached it and read on anyway. I wasn't impressed by the writing, (mechanics-wise) which was amateur, but by the last book it had really gone uphill. While Paolini's writing is not the strongest, he is a master in some regards, and after book one I had to read the rest of the Inheritance Cycle. Curiosity continued to drive me on: I had to crack the mystery of how he was doing this.

'This' refers to the worldbuilding. My greatest impression during books one and two was the vastness full of immense unknowns. How did the author create this so very vast world? His world isn't unusually large for a fantasy book, but he somehow gives this impression of vastness (I don't mean largeness, I mean vastness. Feel the difference?). And I was determined to figure out his secret.

By book three, I was catching on to him. By book four, I had it all figured out. I'm not sure if I would be able to pull it off too, but I did figure out how (I think) he did it.

Beware: there are spoilers ahead. I will mark them for extra safety measures. Also, even if you skip the spoilers, you'll be familiarized with some elements of the story and this is one of those stories that I think is more enjoyable the less you know about it before reading it. Not a big concern, but just a warning in case that's important to you. The reader experience, y'know?

Anyway, let's get started.

The key to this vastness and unknownness is just that: vastness and unknownness. I know, that was lame... But let me explain. I'll use the Beor Mountains for example. They are huge. Like, ten miles tall huge. (Or were they bigger? I kind of lost track of all the measurements in the dwarves' home...). That's amazing, right? But it wouldn't be nearly as amazing (I don't think) if there weren't other mountain ranges of more normal proportions to compare it to. Yes, there were multiple mountain ranges.

So, Key No. 1: Size. Make big things in your world. Then make more (lots more), but bigger. Way bigger.

And this brings us to our next point. Paolini has just...tons of STUFF in his books. So many things come in huge quantities, and then on top of that, they're all different. Take all his races and species and creatures, for example. He has humans, elves, dwarves, Urgals (and Kull), dragons, werecats, and then Shades, the Ra'zac and the Lethrblaka, the spirits, and more. He has those mega-critters in the Beor Mountains to match the mountain range's size (the Feldunost and those big boars and bears). And he doesn't have just dragons, either; he has the wild dragons and that sea dragon sort of thing too (sorry, I don't remember all the different names). And a whole other slew of creatures on Vroengard. Like the burrow grubs. *shudders* I'm not going to forget those things in a while. Quantity, people. Quantity. The more the merrier.

But keep in mind that he didn't sacrifice quality for quantity in his world, either. Sure, he has some crazy creatures, but none of them are belief-suspendingly-crazy. Unless magic is involved, but he still doesn't make them silly crazy. They're still worthy of respect, even if they're pushing the limits of physical reality. Like the burrow grubs. *starts screaming*

Key No. 2: Quantity. But don't throw away quality at quantity's expense.

The third key to Paolini's vast world has to do with the unknown. The unknown is frightening. And Paolini capitalizes on this fear and uses it to strike awe in his readers' hearts as they wade through his very vast and mysterious world.

****Vague Ra'zac spoilers****

Just think; by the end of book one, nobody had even seen what the Ra'zac looked like; they were still wreathed in legend, and it was only in book two that we found out the extent of their physical repulsiveness (yeah, as if they could be more repulsive than they are in book one). And after they were seen and their eating habits were established, we still didn't know anything about their mysterious mounts for awhile. And it was in book three that their home was explored and they were finally killed. And in book four we found out the terrible, horrible root of their repulsiveness.
Always, through it all, we knew that there was something worse about them than was first apparent. And each time that we found out a new thing about them, we knew there was more. And even when we thought we knew it all, there was still more, and this was worse than everything else about them.
****End vague Ra'zac spoilers****

The Ra'zac were only one of many, many unknowns in Paolini's world. It seemed like every time a mystery was solved, there was another to replace it. Usually more than one to replace it, actually. And this dovetails with Key No. 2.

Key No. 3: The unknown. And when the unknown becomes known, replace it with even more unknown.
****Exremely Major Spoiler (highlight to reveal)****

The series even ends with a finale blast of unknown. Eragon leaves the world he knows, (notice: the world he knows; it's no longer full of the unknown for him) to go find a new, as-of-yet unknown place. It's in keeping with the rest of the story and is thus beautiful.

****End Extremely Major Spoiler****

So there you have it: the three keys to Paolini's vast world: size, quantity, and the unknown. I could probably write a whole book on my findings in depth, but this is the meat of the mystery. I hope you find it helpful in your own worldbuilding enterprises! I know I will.

Have you read the Inheritance Cycle? What did you learn from it? Have you ever set out on a mission to unlock an author's authorly secrets? Spill in the comments!

-- E. C. Jaeger

Jan 9, 2015

How I Published My Novel, 'The Dragon Within'

Hello everyone! I'm Melody Jackson, an almost adult, self-published author of The Dragon Within, which you've probably never heard of, but that's okay because you soon shall. ;) Today I'd like to bring you a special guest post about my journey from aspiring writer to published author, along with a few hopefully helpful tips and other such things. :)

If there's one thing you should know about me before we begin, it's that I'm a total, unabashed fangirl and all around GEEK. Doctor Who, Sherlock and other such fangirl-y references may make an appearance in my post, haha, and if you don't understand my references, feel free to ask!

 Ready? Allons-y!

My author picture :P

My self-publishing story starts like any other: with an eager young teenage writer and an interesting story idea that became one of the worst pieces of writing I've ever made. Oh gosh, that first draft makes me squirm so much...haha. You wouldn't even recognize it from the published story now! It was...terrible. :p

Fun fact: My story idea actually sprung from a story idea I had one night. I was a girl in a world where there were lots of dragons, but they didn't really get along. There was a big, crazy river sort of dividing their territory, and they were going to go to war and stuff, but I helped them make peace.

If that's intrigued you, though, I'll have to warn you my story came out much different, but totally better, I hope! I've actually got a book trailer I put together for your viewing pleasure (hey, a little harmless self-promoting never hurt anyone, right? ;)

Haha, it took me so long to make that...but I'm really glad I did; it may be my single best book-selling tool! It's not the easiest nor quickest thing to do, but really, really worth it. And it's pretty cool to show people. :)

Aaaanyway, after I made a total mess of a first draft, I decided to try submitting it to a critiquing site (Critique Circle) for input. And then I learned just how little I knew about storywriting. :p Thus began the long couple years of lots of studying, researching, asking questions, and rewriting the story into something that was actually enjoyable.

Another note: They say all the best writers read a lot, and that's totally true. But also, watching movies/TV shows is just as productive and bonus: it gives you a viable excuse for why you're rewatching the whole of Doctor Who for the tenth time. ;) Haha. I've actually seriously memorized certain scenes and studied them because the emotional impact they made on me was something I wanted to learn how to capture...and it's amazing how much you learn about character from watching TV shows. :)

But I digress (I love that term, it sounds so poetic and formal somehow :p ). After three years of learning to write well, I finally decided it was time to publish my first novel, The Dragon Within. I self-published it through Createspace, meaning all the details were in my hands. I wrote, edited, designed, formatted, everything. But that's a whole different story, and a long one at that. So instead, I present you with my first novel, The Dragon Within!

*cue dramatic fanfare, because dramatic fanfare is cool*
The coverrrrrr! :D
"Are dragons good...or evil?

Kaena Armae doesn't really care either way. No one's seen a dragon in over twenty years, so why should she even care?

But when she comes face to face with the shocking truth in the forest near her home, she is forced to choose sides in a feud that started centuries ago.

And the real war is just beginning.
Now, Kaena must convince opposing sides to join together to combat an ancient evil, or face the destruction of their whole                                                            world, forever.
                                     But what if they're fighting the wrong enemy?"

If you like dragons at all, you'll probably love The Dragon Within. :) My dragons were inspired by the wonderful DragonKeeper Chronicles by Donita K. Paul and have very human-like characteristics that (hopefully) makes the story quite amusing. The dragons were definitely my favorite to write, too! And here is a special link to purchase a copy from my blog (shh, it's cheaper than Amazon ;)

Get a signed copy of "The Dragon Within"!

You can also check out my blog to find the first chapter for free (it's at the bottom of the home page) as well as other interesting bits about The Dragon Within and information about my upcoming novel, Dragons' Bane. (the first chapter of that is also on there. It's not exactly a sequel to The Dragon Within either, so you don't have to worry about spoilers.) I try to make things fun and interesting, and also share some of the writing knowledge I've gleaned over the past 4 years. :)

A final bit of advice: One of the hardest things I struggled with about publishing The Dragon Within was figuring out when it was ready. So, I'm going to make things a lot easier and yet a lot harder for all you aspiring authors by just saying frankly, it's never truly ready. Writing books is an art, and everyone will always have some way you can improve it. But what you have to realize is there comes a point where changing tiny details doesn't matter anymore. Who cares whether you say she 'ran' or 'sprinted'--it's not going to make someone hate the book (At least, it shouldn't!) At some point, you just have to take a leap of faith and publish it. The biggest thing is, don't look for approval from others, because no matter how amazing your book is, someone will always dislike it. But if you love your book, someone else will too. :)

Well, I hope this post has been informative as well as fun, and that I might have piqued your interest about my books. :) If you'd ever like some writing advice or just want to fangirl about amazing TV shows, feel free to contact me by whatever means you prefer. I'm very active on Pinterest (and have some fun book-related boards on there!) and post blog updates on Google+, and then of course I'm on the NaNoWriMo forums and always have my email open for anyone to contact me. :)

Have any questions (writing-related or not) that you'd like answered? Feel free to post them in the comments; I'd love to help if I can!

--Melody J.