Feb 27, 2015

Words of Wisdom for Writers

Just a few quotes I gathered from goodreads.com:

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

― Madeleine L’engle

“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”

― Toni Morrison

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

― Louis Lamour

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

― W. Somerset Maugham

“Imagination is like a muscle. I found out that the more I wrote, the bigger it got.”

― Philip Jose Farmer

“The true alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words.”

―William H. Gass

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

― John Steinbeck

“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”

― Ernest Hemingway

“Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”

― Willa Cather

Which of these quotes do you like the most and why?

~Eliza Noel

Feb 23, 2015

The Silver Blade: Book Review

The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner

Well, here I am again dear readers, with the Review for “The Silver Blade”, sequel to “The Red Necklace.” Once I got this book in the mail, I finished it in two days. Then I made myself go back and read it over, so I could take things in a little better. (I tend to be a whirlwind reader.) I will try not to spoil the story too much but there will be some things given away since this is a wrap up. Reader Beware!

The Plot

This story focuses mostly on Yann, since Sido's story was pretty much tied up at the end of Red Necklace. It takes place during the Reign of Terror, when all of Paris's Citizens have gone utterly mad, slaughtering mercilessly and relentlessly. Yann, now nineteen, is smuggling innocent people into England, earning himself the name of “The Silver Blade”, struggling with a long distance romance with Sido and facing once again, Count Kalliovski.

It is equal to the Red Necklace in the way of Historical content, and wasn’t boring, though I didn't feel like the writing quality was quite as good, and I do wish that the story had been longer. It wasn't much shorter than it's prequel but I think there could have been more added to it.

The romance is more involved in this one, but it is still very sweet.

I noticed that some people have said that it had a lot of similarities with “The Scarlet Pimpernel”, and though I have never read that, I thought it was worth mentioning.

I was pleased with the ending, even if it was probably a little predictable.

The Characters:

Yann has grown much since our last meeting with him, though he has a demon or two to war with. He is still loyal and devoted to those he loves, and hates the bloodshed and insanity that has overtaken Paris.

Sido has matured into a lovely and determined young woman, residing with her Aunt and Uncle in England, and longing for the day when she can be reunited with Yann.

Kalliovski of course, is not dead, but thirsty for revenge and eager to carry out his much bigger plan-creating life itself.

We have some new faces added to the mix besides Tetu, Didier, Mousier Aulard, and the bankers Cordell and Laxton, including a new minion for Kalliovski. Anslem, a boy with a beautiful face, a thirst for blood and desire for the power of the Threads of Light, seems like he could have added a good bit to the evil side of things in the story, but in my opinion, just turned out lame.

Things I didn't like:

The Gypsy magic did become more involved in this book, and honestly it was pretty ridiculous. Kalliovski can now work the “Dark Threads” as opposed to Yann's “Threads of Light.” In his quest to find out how to create life, he wants to make a “key to the soul” (to a specific soul, but trying not to spoil) and it appears that now he can bind the souls of his victims to the Automata he has made of them. I didn't feel like he quite had as much depth as he did in The Red Necklace, and I didn't have the overwhelming urge to strangle him like I did before.

Yann's good luck charm, The Shell of Shells-worn only by the greatest Gypsy leaders-turns out to have great powers and will protect Sido even though she isn't of Romany blood.

Anis, Yann's mother, warns him and others of danger, and eventually visits Kalliovski and Sido.

An old Gypsy legend comes into play at the end, which is really strange, but I don't want to say what it is because it will spoil the entire ending.

As I said before, I felt that the writing quality wasn't equal to the first one, and Miss Gardner is not in the habit of explaining how certain things work. This being the wrap up to the story, I was expecting there to be some clarification and explanation, and I didn't get it. I was a bit confused by some of the things, especially the magic involving Kalliovski, and while I know this isn't a Fantasy Novel, I think she could have taken the time to figure some things out.

I did not get as much back-story on Kalliovski and Tetu as I had wanted, and being a fan of back-story, that was a disappointment.

Miss Gardner leads us to believe that one of the Characters is dead on three separate occasions. While it was shocking the first time, the second and third time around it felt too much like she was trying too hard to keep her readers in suspense.

Yann and Sido do eventually sleep together, but there is no description whatsoever of it, just that they wake up the next morning tangled up and Yann gets out of bed to pull on his clothes.

Yann finds that he is Kalliovski’s son, but is told by Tetu that Anis believed he was instead the “ghost (or spirit) child” of her one true love. While this is utterly ridiculous, Yann tells Kalliovski that it is because he is that man’s ghost child, that Kalliovski has no hold on him. The whole thing made no sense and was just confusing and unnecessary.

To Sum it Up

I did enjoy reading Silver Blade, Miss Gardner has created some wonderful Characters and an entertaining story, but I don't think it was quite as good as the first. The Gypsy legends and magic were just goofy and I wish it hadn't been so involved, but if you have read stories with Greek and Roman legends, I suppose it’s not that much different. As for a third book? I don’t think it’s needed, or even likely, since things are wrapped up quite nicely.

~Ria Faith

Feb 20, 2015

Character Building 101

When you begin to write a story, you have a protagonist, the "hero." And then a friendly neighborhood antagonist, or "villain."

In other words, characters drive a story. Without characters, you have nothing. And if you're like me, characters are the most important part of any story. Characters draw a reader in, and make then feel the story.

So here I am, for a post on character building.

Have you ever heard of a Mary Sue? Here's the definition, just in case: A Mary Sue is a character that the author identifies with so strongly that the story is warped by it.

While Mary Sue characters are the easiest to write, they also, well, warp the story. Mary Sue's may have perfect hair, perfect teeth, and only lose their temper in fits of righteous anger against the evils of the world. They never do anything wrong, or they are so bad, that they are a cliche.

But your characters deserve more than just a Mary Sue. They have lives of their own, and you are charged with the responsibility of bringing those lives into the story. So, after a lengthy introduction, character building  101.

Step the first: What purpose does your character bring to the story? Is he/she an antagonist, protagonist, or just a general plot pusher, who will die in the first few pages? Because believe me, those characters are just as important. Once you have that in mind, move along to their character.

Step two: building a character. This is not a really dumb pun, I promise. I mean literal character. Bringing a bit of life to them. For example, Aunt Lucy, from a series I'm writing, is "One of those people who hands out free advice, and then feels hurt if you don't take it." Decide their qualities, either good or bad. What makes them who they are?

Step three: FLAWS. Yes, you heard me write. Flaws bring characters to life. Mae, a protagonist, doesn't have to be perfect the whole time. In fact, readers will enjoy her more if she yells sometimes, if she gets mad for a stupid reason, and in general-behaves like a human.

Step four: picture them in your mind. Either find a physical picture of them (google images can work wonders), draw them, or just describe them to yourself, until they become 3D. Maybe use their clothing to add little touches of POOF to them. Perhaps John Doe always carries an umbrella, or Violeta Smith only wears purple.

Step five: Explore their mind. Do they behave crazy and goofy because they are trying to cover up their pain? Or are they silent and austere because they lost their favorite chicken ten years before? Don't hesitate to add a few of your own emotions into them. Not so much as to make them a Mary Sue, but right about what you know. Just about every character I create has a little me in it, and I try to use that to bring my characters to life, but not in a Mary Sue way.

Step six: Enjoy them, and have fun. Do they have a crazy pitch to their voice? Embrace it. Do they wear weird clothes? Who cares! Let the characters write themselves in a way. Talk to them, and get close to them. Because once you've put your heart into characters, you've just upped your writing style by about 10,000 points.

Caroline signing off.

Feb 18, 2015

The Wonderful World of Plantsing

plotting (n.): a type of writing in which the writer plans (or plots) the majority of their novel before writing

pantsing (n.): a type of writing in which the writer very rarely plans, or doesn't plan at all, before writing, in which the writer writes by the "seat of his/her pants"

There, now that we have those pesky definitions out of the way- which you can read more in depth on in E.C. Jaeger's post- we can move on to the wonderful world of plantsing. But wait, you say. If plotting is planning beforehand, and pantsing is not planning beforehand, what on earth could plantsing possibly be? Then you have a lightbulb moment. Oh, you say, plantsing must be a combination of plotting and pantsing, right? To which I respond, correct indeed.

But plantsing is such a vast world, with so many ridges and mountains, valleys and oceans that have yet to be explored. I couldn't possibly describe all that plantsing encompasses in just this one post. I don't even know everything plantsing encompasses. But, I do have some ideas- just a few pictures, mind you- of a few of the mountains in the plantsing world.

First, we have the Character Plantser:

This plantser develops his/her cast of characters fully before diving into the story. They might conduct character interviews, take personality tests for their characters (like I do!), or write character journals. Figuring out the plot points, though? Eh, not so much.

I wish I could be this type of plantser. Characterization is probably one of my favorite parts of writing, and it comes so much easier to me than plotting does, but if I go into a first draft without at least a few major plot points figured out, it's really messy. Like, really, really, an avalanche-causing-earthquake just happened type of messy.

Then, we have the Key Points Plantser:

This is me. I figure out some of the major plot points before going into a new novel. For me, this usually includes the inciting incident, my MC's choice to go on the journey, midpoint, black moment (an all-is-lost moment that happens at the 75% point), and the climax. Some writers might have more plot points than this, or some might have only two or three. Or, they may have just as many points as I do, but they're different plot points. There's a lot of wiggle room here.

Now comes the Scattered Plantser:

This type of plantser is kind of similar to the Key Points Plantser. He/she will go into a first draft with a list of scenes in hand. However, these scenes aren't necessarily the major plot points or anything like that. These scenes are just random scenes that popped into their heads. Sometimes, it's just partial scenes, snippets of dialogue, a picture inspiring a scene, or a scene summary. But, they go in with scribbled musings that can start to form some sort of path for them as they begin to write.

Finally, there's the Headlights Plantser:

First, a disclaimer. I can't take credit for the use of "headlights" to describe this style of writing. I've read it on multiple other blogs about writing.

Now, onto the description. This writer may go into a first draft with a brief overview of events and often may also be one of the plantsers listed above. However, the writer who writes with this style really only plans the next few scenes as they write. They might plan them in detail, or it might just be a very brief overview of what's about to happen. They might plan two scenes ahead, or nine scenes ahead. I also fall into this category. While I only go into a first draft with major plot points, I'll usually start planning out the next few scenes as I go.

So, what about you guys? Are you a plantser? If so, which kind? Or are you one of those oddballs that's a full-on plotter? Or *gasp* are you a complete pantser? Tell me! :D

~Katheline Hansen

Feb 13, 2015

The (Surprising) Benefits of Roleplaying

(Hello! Melody here, back for another guest post--this time on roleplay. Enjoy!!! :)

I see you raising your eyebrows at the title. Yes, that's why the 'surprising' is in there. ;) Roleplaying can actually be extremely helpful when it comes to developing your story characters--as I have found out in the past few weeks--and I'm here to tell you how.

I've never been one for roleplaying much. I mean, it's fun pretending to be a character and communicating with someone else's character, but I had better things to do, frankly. Like actually sitting down and finishing this second novel Dragons' Bane that I've been working on for a while now. But recently, I got rather taken with the thought of actually roleplaying as my story characters, to maybe learn to make them more human and see how they react in situations outside of my story world.

And so, I got sucked into the world of roleplay. Some of the writers on this blog, as well as some other writers, started using our own story characters to do some roleplay. It was just for fun, at first, but after a couple days, I was kind of amazed by how much more...real my characters felt.

See, the thing is, with a roleplay there is always an element of the unexpected. You are only writing one half--or a third/fourth, etc--of the conversation, which makes for some interesting and surprising situations. You don't know everything about the other characters your character is talking to, and sometimes end up talking about or doing something you never expected. And this element of the unexpected helps make the characters seem more than just puppets you are controlling to do what you want them to. They end up in situations you never anticipated, saying things you didn't plan and making mistakes that might even leave you a little embarrassed. Or they might do something fun like take a group photo, even though not all of them know what a camera is. ;)

           A picture our lovely friend drew of some of the    
roleplay characters taking a group photo.
From left to right: Jade, Russell, Gwyn,
Alice, Gigi, and Caleb
I still don't understand it, but I've also gotten out of some puzzling plot problems by doing the roleplay. There was a plot point of Dragons' Bane that I had been puzzling over for months: how my characters were going to storm an extinct volcano with only one heavily guarded entrance. Then it got brought up in the roleplay and my character shrugged and said 'Oh yeah, we're going to climb to the top and go in through the vent'. And I was just like....Why did you not tell me this sooner???? You could have saved me a lot of time and trouble!!

But, unfortunately, characters have a mind of their own, haha. I've learned things I never expected to while roleplaying, through casual conversations that brought up deep topics to how they would interact in very odd/stressful/embarrassing situations. :) It's been so much fun! And it's quite interesting when the character's feelings start to affect me too. One of my characters got really mad and kind of blew up at everyone, and after writing that, I had to like force myself to calm down because I was mad for no real reason other than my character was. I guess that's a good sign of it being real, though, right? :)

Another helpful thing I've learned during roleplay is character quirks. When you write a story, you're usually more focused on the big, important stuff. Roleplay is just the opposite. There's a lot of small talk and repeated things that would just slog a book down. It's a conversation, not a plot. And that means there's more focus on the little things your characters do that usually wouldn't be as prominent in writing a book.

For example, I realized after roleplaying for a while that one of my characters rubs the back of his neck a lot when he's nervous/confused, so I've made a note to add that into the story. I've also got some good/terrible puns and jokes out of it, haha, since he is, like, the biggest jokester ever.

Sometimes, too, there are things my characters just don't want to tell me, but they'll tell other characters. It makes me feel a bit put-out, haha, but I guess they get sick of talking to me after a while. And now all they want to do is go back and talk with their character friends on the roleplay. *rolls eyes* ;)

But really, it's amazing how much you can learn from even just a little bit of roleplaying. A couple of my characters have surprised me with how they've behaved, then just look at me like 'duh, I've been like this all along, you just haven't ever gotten me right.' Well, I'm getting them right now. And they feel a lot more like real people...almost too real, in fact. I've completely fallen in love with them.

Sooooo, how 'bout you? Ever done roleplay, or roleplayed with your characters? And if not, did this post make you want to try it?

--Melody Jackson, author of "The Dragon Within"

Feb 12, 2015

Short Stories by Christian Teens for God's Glory -- Presenting A New Song Anthology

Short Stories by Christian Teens for God's Glory
Happy mid-week, everybody! Today I thought I'd spread the word about A New Song, an effort to put together an anthology of short stories by Christian teens. Our friend Firn Hyde instigated the plan, and took me on as a co-editor in December. A bunch of us here at In The Character's Shadow will be copy-editing submissions as well.

A New Song's mission is "to glorify our beloved King of Kings: the Triune God Who exists in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We aim to bring Him praise and glory, and to inspire, encourage and touch His people – that being everyone. We plan to collect between 12 and 20 works of short fiction by teenage writers, giving them a chance to showcase their passion and talent. The anthology will be digitally self-published as an e-book of approximately 90,000 words, with a planned publication date of January 2016. Plans are under way to find illustrators and a published author to write a foreword for us. If you are interested in contributing to A New Song – in any way whatsoever – please leave a comment or contact us." 

The inspiration behind A New Song is simply this: "None of us know when King Jesus is coming to get us. While we’re still here, we have the opportunity to inspire as many souls as we can, so that they might be saved and reconciled with our God. We may be young, but we can already glorify God. We may be inexperienced, but we have fire inside us. There is something we can do. We can sing Him a new song. Not all of us are exactly singers (some of us sing like ducks being trodden on), yet there is something we can do: we can write. And we know there are many of us out there, young people burning for their King, seeking to glorify Him through the written word and the narrative. Jesus Himself told parables, small stories that helped to illustrate mighty themes. Stories as short as that of the Good Shepherd and the prodigal son are still powerful enough to break hearts open. Perhaps our fiction can be strong enough to touch them."

So check it out! The submission deadline is April 1, 2015, so you do still have enough time to put something together. And the suggested story length is 4500 words or less--easy peasy! You can submit your story here: https://anewsonganthology.wordpress.com/submit-your-story/ And be sure to spread the word in any way you can.

--E. C. Jaeger

Feb 9, 2015

The Red Necklace: Book Review

I came across this story-or rather the Audiobook of it-on a lazy evening while I was searching Marvel CU related things online and since Tom Hiddleston plays Loki and happens to be the narrator of this story, I decided to give it a listen, imagining that he likely had a good reading-out-loud voice. I am very glad that I did. XD

Normally, this probably wouldn't have been the kind of book I would have chosen if I was in a bookstore, considering the title says “A story of the French Revolution”. Not being a History buff, that would have been a first-glance turn off, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The story does center around the French Revolution but tells a wonderful tale of a handful of fictional characters who are all tied in with one another. Small world.

I will keep the spoilers to a minimum, since I'm shooting for more of a review here, and not a series breakdown.

The Plot:

The story begins with us meeting Yann, Tetu, and Topolain, three misfit Characters who make up their own traveling magic show. Yann can read minds and throw his voice, Topolain is a magician who is known for catching a bullet in midair, and Tetu works a wooden doll seemingly without touching it. What appears to be a lucky break for them one night, ends in disaster and leaves them tangled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with our Antagonist Count Kalliovski, who is a man of dark and dangerous secrets, and will do anything to keep his secrets, well, secretive. All the while the whole of France is crumbling around them.

The story is very well written, and in the entire six hour audiobook, I don't remember ever being bored. While there are some slow spots, I wasn't feeling like I was ready to stab myself if it would just mean I could get back to the good stuff! Miss Gardner has a wonderful way of keeping you interested in the story the entire way through.

For those of you who don't care for History, you are not bogged down with a ton of Politics in this Novel. Yes, it does play an important part in the story, but it's not to the point where you feel like you are sitting at a desk listening to a five hour lecture. It's kind of a small history review, but in a fun way so you don't even realize it.

There are a few good plot twists in here as well that I didn't see coming, and that is always a plus. The foreshadowing is excellently done. At the end we are left with a very important piece of knowledge that makes you eager to find out the end of Yann and Sido’s story.

The Characters:

There are, as I said, quite a few characters to keep track of in this tale but it's not so confusing that you have to keep a handwritten list in the back of the book.

Our main Protagonists are Yann and Sido, both younger children (12 and 14) to start, with very different upbringings. Sido, is the daughter of The Marquis de Villeduval, a foolish, heartless man who cares for nothing but his riches, and hates Sido with a bitter indifference. She was raised in a Convent after the death of her mother, and is brought back for a party at her father's Chateu, and that is when her adventures begin. She is a quiet girl, kind hearted, but with a great amount of courage and firm devotion to her Father, hoping that someday maybe he will love her.

Yann, is an independent, smart and resourceful boy, who never knew his parents and was raised by the Dwarf Tetu. He is a very likeable Character, admits his wrongs, and is determined to do what he thinks is right, no matter the dangers to his own life. He is deeply devoted to Tetu, and eventually Sido as their lives become intertwined.

Kalliovski is the villain down to the bone, murderous and crafty, and he keeps you on your toes as you read. By the end you are waiting in line behind Yann to strangle him.

The Romance is very sweet and tender, but not heavily thrown throughout the book, so if you are not a huge fan of lovey relationships in books, you should be happy with this one.

Things I didn't like:

Admittedly there is only one thing in this story that had me really frowning, and that was the Gypsy magic. I am not usually opposed to magic, this is the kind that can make you a bit uncomfortable. However, since the story tells so many other things and the magic isn’t a constant central element, I was able to let it slide.

A Gypsy woman reads Yann's palm and tells his future. Tetu and Yann can read minds, and move objects without touching them. While normally, those last two would not bother me, the Gypsies believe that every object has a spirit, and if you “listen close enough you can hear the sounds they make”. Yann learns to move objects by learning to see the invisible “Threads of Light” connected to them, and he does this by visiting a Gypsy man who takes him to a clearing at night, plays a soundless flute, and makes a transparent woman appear. She touches Yann, giving him the sense that he was “leaving his body” and takes him up in the sky, showing him a glimpse of an event that happened in one of the Character's pasts and upon returning to the ground, he can now see the Threads of Light. You have a faint idea that this woman is some kind of wise Spirit, who takes Yann's spirit and somehow gives him the ability to see the Threads. While there is no definite explanation for this, it still left me a bit twitchy.

Yann also accepts a good luck charm (talisman) from the old gypsy man, “the shell of shells”.

The ghost of Yann's mother shows up briefly and helps a Character, and a voice had whispered to Yann early on that he was in danger, so I speculate it was his Mother that time too.

Kalliovski wishes to become a powerful Shaman, one of his goals being to discover the secret to creating life itself.

There is talk of ”fate,” “destiny” and “luck” among the Characters, especially Yann, but God is rarely mentioned, and not at all attributed to any of the events that take place.

About the Audiobook:

Since this is how I “read” the story I feel like I need to say a bit about it as well. Tom Hiddleston adds a wonderful touch to this story with his many (excellent) voices for each Character, and his ability to read it aloud in an interesting way. Curl up in a chair or your bed with a cup of hot chocolate or coffee, turn on the Audiobook, and I'd call it a fantastic way to spend a chilly Saturday afternoon.

However, I did notice that when I picked up the paperback after it arrived in the mail and began reading through it, that the Audiobook was edited down significantly. Dialogue was shortened, sentences as well, and even some smaller paragraphs and sections taken out. Nothing super important so that you will miss key parts to the story, but even still an annoyance to me. The Characters are a bit more…..well, to use the words of The Mad Hatter, “muchier” in the actual book, and I wish they had left it alone. There is a second Audiobook, done by another narrator, but i haven’t heard that one, so i don’t know if it is the same way or not.

So to sum up the story, it's an interesting well written historical tale involving many excellent Characters, though it is not without it’s flaws. I look forward to it's sequel, “The Silver Blade”.


Feb 6, 2015

Why on Earth Are These Books Not Published Yet?!

One of the worst things about being a book-lover is unpublished books. I’ll read a really awesome blurb, read glowing reviews, and be completely ready to go hunt down a book in a library or even buy it on Amazon, but then, I see these words: “Expected Publication date” followed by some date that hasn’t yet happened. It’s depressing. Depressing and heart-wrenching and totally not okay.

And there are already so many of these books that I’ve come across that aren’t going to be published until later this year. To try to alleviate some of the torture of waiting, I’m going to make a list, so that maybe, just maybe, you guys can also fall in love with some of these books and join me in counting down the days until they’re finally published.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I found this book sometime last year, decided I really wanted to read, discovered it wasn’t to be published for almost a year, and proceeded to push it out of my mind (because that’s really the best thing to do, I’ve found, in cases such as these; otherwise the waiting can drive one insane). But then I heard another blogger talking about it, and now it’s come back! I can’t wait until (March)!! It needs to be published NOW!!

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

I love books that make you think, and if there's anything this book seems like it would do, it's make you think. Also, I've started to really like psychological thrillers. I blame this on We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, which was just absolutely incredible. Since reading that book, I've been really wanting to devour more and more psychological thrillers, so I'm super excited for this book!

Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani

The Heir by Kiera Cass

ASDJFKHADJ!!!!!! This book!!! This book!!! This. Book. I read The Selection, The Elite, and The One (I think all) last year. You know, that was back when it was only supposed to be a trilogy. And I looooved them!!! And then, imagine my joy when I find out that she’s actually going to be writing two (YES, TWO!!!) more books set in the same world!! I am so insanely excited for this book that I have absolutely no idea how in the world I will possibly stand the wait for it to be published. DX

The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

Winter by Marissa Meyer

As you've probably already noticed, I love the Lunar Chronicles! I am sooo excited for Winter!!! Winter seems like she'll be such a great character, and such an interesting point of view to read from. After catching the few glimpses we did at the end of Cress, I can't wait until Winter comes out!

~Katheline Hansen