Thursday, March 23, 2017

Taking Time To Read


What you read affects what you write. I've already talked on my blog about how important reading is in the life of a writer. It's something that can't be ignored. If you are what you eat, I'd contend that you are what you read as well.

What does reading do for you as a writer?

1. It stimulates your imagination. Reading creative works will spark your own creativity and get the wheels turning in your mind. It will give you new ideas, get you thinking about new "what ifs," and chances are, it will make you want to write.

2. It ingrains writing mechanics into you in a natural way. The more you read good writing, the more it will be instinctive.

3. It's just plain fun. Reading good books is a good way to relax and recharge, and if you like stories, it's very enjoyable.

So what's stopping you from reading? If you're anything like me, you can probably break it down into two reasons.

1. You don't have very much free time.

2. You feel like you're not being productive when you're reading a book.

Well, I have news for you (and me). Reading fiction books is not a waste of time. Yes, you need to prioritize your tasks, and sitting down to read a book shouldn't be the top priority on that list, but reading should not be a "maybe later, if I have time, which I probably won't." You've got to keep putting stuff into your mind if you expect anything to come out, so reading is an important thing to do.

As far as not having the time... make some time. That's going to look different for every person. Maybe watch less TV and spend less time on social media or dawdle less on chores and home business work. Those are easy/non detrimental things to cut out. Obviously you can't cut work and chores from your schedule, but if you budget your time well (something I'm personally not very good at), you may find yourself discovering time you didn't know you had. Also, don't be a workaholic. If a lot of your work is from home, it can be hard not to let it take over everything. "I can't sit and relax, I haven't met my writing quota or planned next week's music lessons or written my next blog post or practiced music or finished that sewing project or prepared for the next girls' Bible study lesson or..." and the list goes on. No one can go on forever without stopping, so take time to relax and take time to read.

After all, it's an important part of being a writer.

So take time to read.

Check out the rest of Indie e-Con at www.knittedbygodsplan.blogspot.com! I'm sharing my publication story today, and answering questions in the comments.

 Vote for your favorite 2017 Indie e-Con Book Awards picks here!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Creating a Main Character


How do you create a main character? It's one of the most important parts of your novel. After all, your protagonist is essential to the story. I've broken down the process into five easy steps.

Step 1: Choose the right character. It sounds obvious and easy, but it isn't always. Take it from the author who chose the wrong protagonist twice. Your protagonist should be the character that is the most central to the plot. The character without whom there would be no story. Just as there would be no Anne of Green Gables without Anne, your story should be dependent on your protagonist.

Step 2: Give them a backstory that's relevant to their role in the story. Your protagonist should have some reason to care about the story they're in, some reason for them to have the skills they use in the book, some reason for the plot to be relevant to the protagonist. For instance, Meg Murry has a reason to care about tessering about the universe and going to Camazotz because she wants to find her father who disappeared years before. It's a little harder in portal fantasy type storylines, but they still need a reason to care. Like how Lucy made friends with Mr. Tumnus and Edmund joined the White Witch. It involved their family personally.

Step 3: Create a well-rounded, three-dimensional character that's a product of their backstory. Your protagonist should be a realistic person. No one wants to read about cardboard cutouts. No one wants to read about Mr. Perfect. What readers want is a character who is real. Someone with strengths and weaknesses, personality and quirks, likes and dislikes, things they're interested in and things they couldn't care less about. And if a character is real, chances are, readers will care and find something to relate to.

Step 4: Get to know your character as a person. You can't write about someone you don't know. The way you get to know your character will probably be different from the next author, and that's okay. You could make up random scenes, write a character interview, fill out a character profile, imagine you are your character...the possibilities are endless. But you must know who your character is as a person.

Step 5: Write the book. A great protagonist is useless without a great story, so what are you waiting for? Go write!

Check out the rest of Indie e-Con at www.knittedbygodsplan.blogspot.com!

Vote for your favorite 2017 Indie e-Con Book Awards picks here!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Introducing Will

Will
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Will is the prince of Twisted Dreams. He's an interesting character to work with, though not nearly as interesting as his younger brother.

Conception of the Character

Like Liesel, Will did not originate in Twisted Dreams. He obviously came from the same story as Liesel, as the dad of the main character. He's...quite different later in life, due to not handling certain circumstances very well. There's a reason he's cast as Anthony Head (Uther Pendragon from BBC's Merlin) later in life.

I don't actually remember how I settled on his name. Likely, I just chose a random German name at the same time I chose Liesel--his full first name is Wilhelm. Funny how I remember naming Liesel, but can't remember naming Will. If he has a middle name, he hasn't shared that information with me.

Character History

Regardless of which world we're talking about, Will is a prince, and he has a younger brother.  In the fantasy world, he is a prince determined to rescue the legendary sleeping princess from her overgrown, nearly ruined castle. His brother is with him as helper and sidekick and jester.

In the sci-fi world, we get a little more background. He has no mother, but his father is still alive and ruling the kingdom. He is engaged to Liesel, and determined to rescue her, for even in this world, she desperately needs rescuing. In this world as well, he is accompanied by his brother.

Personality

Will very much has a one-track mind, and that mind is hyper-focused on Liesel. Pretty nearly for the whole book. He's got some serious tunnel vision. However, despite his hyper-focus on a girl, he is a good guy, who is as prepared as he can be to rule a kingdom when the time comes. He's brave, and not usually reckless...though his judgment skills may be off under high stress. He's determined to protect his princess and bring her home to marry her. Liesel is his world.


What do you think of Will? Any speculations on what happens to his character later on?

P.S. Espionage and Crannig Castle are free on kindle this week only as a part of the Indie e-Con book awards. So download your free copies and vote for them on the 20th!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Introducing Liesel

Liesel
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Liesel is my Sleeping Beauty character, the main girl in Twisted Dreams. She's a character I'm quite fond of, though my favorite character in the book is Matthew.

Conception of the Character

Liesel did not actually originate in Twisted Dreams. She was initially the (deceased) mother of the main girl of another story. She still is, actually, but that's a ways into the future.

Her name was a bit spur of the moment. I'd decided the country of Hanover had German influences part way through worldbuilding, so all characters created past that point have German names. Several created before that point have Old English, Hebrew, and Greek names, which doesn't fit the worldbuilding, but they stuck. I was naming this girl's parents, and I didn't want to do too much work in order to find a German name I liked, so I just went with Liesel. Pretty simple, due to The Sound of Music and the fact that I also know a little girl of that name. Liesel's middle name is Rosanna, a random addition made when I began Twisted Dreams as a reference to Briar Rose.

Character History

Liesel in medieval Hanover is the princess of the land. She was given gifts of beauty, grace, long life, etc. when an infant by the Cantileens and cursed to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into an everlasting sleep by a Wingan named Calandra. (Yes, I am aware that those details differ slightly from the original. I have my reasons.) As it happened, she lived a fairly normal life until she pricked her finger and fell asleep, and that's where things get crazy.

Liesel in sci-fi Hanover is a commoner engaged to the prince. She is the second oldest of five children, having an older brother, a younger brother, and two younger sisters. Her wedding to the crown prince of Hanover is but a few days away...only the enemies of Hanover have sought to interfere.

Personality

Regardless of which version of Hanover Liesel is in, she is still a kind and compassionate soul, very much in love with her prince. She is somewhat fearful, and wants very badly to simply depend on Will instead of doing things herself, but she can't always let him do everything. She's very mature for her age, and though she has fears about ruling a kingdom, she is quite capable of being queen. She is brave and willing to do what's right, but she does have a lot of internal struggles. After all, she's in a rather complicated, intense situation.


What are your thoughts on Liesel? Which version of Hanover do you think is real?

Monday, February 27, 2017

People Do Not Come From Cookie Cutters

Camazotz. The Community. Milky Way Society. Every socialist and communist society ever.

"On Camazotz we are all happy because we are all alike. Differences create problems."

"Why do you think people get confused and unhappy? Because they all live their own separate, individual lives."

"In Camazotz all are equal. In Camazotz everybody is the same as everybody else."

"You Elevens have spent all your years till now learning to fit in, to standardize your behavior, to curb any impulse that might set you apart from the group."

"Our people made that choice, the choice to go to Sameness."

"We really have to protect people from wrong choices."

It sounds so good, doesn't it? Lack of differences. Being the same. Following the same path and knowing exactly what to do because someone else already did it. No uncertainty.

People do not come from cookie cutters.

Everyone is different. Everyone has a different path. Everyone has a different story to tell, a different mission to fulfill. Everyone has different talents, different circumstances, different callings. And that's what makes the world such an interesting place.

We need George Washingtons. We need William Wilberforces. We need Albert Einsteins and Isaac Newtons. We need Mozarts and Vivaldis. We need people like Monet and Van Gogh. We need Charles Dickenses and Jane Austens and Jules Vernes and Rudyard Kiplings. We need Clara Bartons and Florence Nightingales. We need Patrick Henrys and John Adamses and George Wythes. We need Columbuses and people like Lewis and Clark. We need Nathan Hales. We need Shirley Temples and Jimmy Stewarts. We need Alexander Graham Bells and Wilbur and Orville Wrights. We need Walt Disneys and Bing Crosbys. We need John Peter Gabriel Muhlenbergs and John Newtons. We need Jim Elliots and Gladys Aylwards.

Communism doesn't work. Sameness doesn't work. The more you try to push people into a mold, the more you try to live life by a formula, the more you try to push everyone down the same path, the more you lose the rich tapestry that is this thing we call culture, this thing we call life. Yes, oftentimes differences create strife, especially when those around you disagree with those differences. Yes, sometimes it creates wars. But it also creates beauty. It creates a more full picture of humanity, of life, of God's creation.

A puppy and a fish have vastly different lives. But is that puppy a failure because it doesn't grow up to swim in the depths of the ocean like a fish? Is the fish a failure because it can't run and jump like a dog?

Just so, every person's path is different. Every person's life calling is different. Some are called to be politicians, some entertainers, some teachers, some inventors, some artists, some musicians, some doctors, some lawyers, some mechanics, some construction workers, some foreign missionaries, some soldiers, some actors, some pastors, some seamstresses, some stay-at-home moms.

And that's okay.

Some are called to seek higher education, some to specialize in trade, some to pursue arts.

Some are called to marriage early in life, some later, some never. Some are called to long and slow relationships, some to whirlwind romances. Some are called to raise lots of children, some few, some none at all. Some are called to foster and/or adopt, some are not.

Some are called to live publicly in the spotlight, some are called to do their work behind the scenes known only to their family and friends.

Some people are bubbly and friendly, some are shy and reserved. Some have lots of various interests and abilities, some are highly specialized in fewer. Some make the big bucks and become rich and famous, some are satisfied with making ends meet and living a quiet family life.

And that's okay.

I'd say there is no one definition of success, because there are infinite ways to succeed, but that wouldn't be quite accurate. There is one way to succeed and one only, though it is manifested differently in every single person that has lived and ever will live.

The way to succeed is to follow God's plan for your life.

Whether that be college, starting a small business, going out and getting a job, getting married, staying single, having kids, not having kids, joining a foreign mission, treating your home as a mission field (because everywhere on earth is a mission field), being well-known, playing a significant role only to your friends and family...whatever it is, if you're following God's plan for your life, you are succeeding.

None of this Camazotz alike-ness. None of this Giver Sameness. None of this Regulation Standardization from my own work in progress. God made us all different. These books illustrate how horrible things become when we fail to recognize and accept those differences.

Live for God. He will direct your path. It will look completely different from the path of the person next to you, but don't let someone else's view of success, or our culture's narrow-minded view of success, determine your path in life. Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him, and He will bring it to pass.

You do not come from a cookie cutter. God crafted you as an individual to His purpose, and He will direct that purpose in your life.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make straight your paths." --Proverbs 3: 5-6

Monday, February 20, 2017

Strong Female Character=Feminist?

The strong female character. The girl who's super good at fighting, who doesn't need a man to save her, who never shows a vulnerable side. The perfect feminist.

At least, that's what the clich├ęs say.

But I would contend that a strong female character doesn't have to be feminist. That, in fact, these characteristics are not what makes a character strong. I'd even say as well that a female character can be good at fighting and try not to show vulnerability, but not be a feminist.

First, what makes a character strong? Male or female? Culture and today's media probably make you think someone that's physically tough. I know I get those mental images. But a character can be good at fighting and not be strong, in my opinion. A truly strong character has, well, strength of character. It takes a lot of courage to do what's right in the face of evil, whether or not you're in a physical fight.

For instance, Kyrin Altair of Ilyon Chronicles is one example of what I would call a strong female character. She doesn't know much about physical fighting. She learned to fight with a staff and Jace is teaching her to defend herself with a knife, but her abilities in that area are limited. Where is her strength? It's in the way she stood up to Emperor Daican and held to her faith when she knew she'd be executed. It's in the way she didn't give up on Jace when he tried to push her away because she knew he needed her. Kyrin isn't even close to being a feminist, but she's very strong.

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Lucy Pevensie of The Chronicles of Narnia also shows strength in her unwavering faith. She doesn't let anyone stop her from following Aslan. And she even fights with the archers in The Horse and His Boy, remaining feminine in spite of it. Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time is also strong in doing what needs to be done. She resisted IT and rescued her brother, difficult though it was. Kyrin, Lucy, Meg, they all have vulnerabilities, they all have flaws, they're not necessarily that good in a physical fight, but in the end, they always do what's right because they have strong characters.

Strength is doing what's right no matter the consequences.

But what about those girl characters who are good in a fight? Maybe they do have strong characters, but isn't being able to defend themselves and not needing a guy to do it a mark of feminism?

Not necessarily.

Oh, absolutely there are some fighter girls who are feminists. And I don't tend to like those characters. But since when is it wrong for a girl to be able to defend herself against attackers? A guy who cares about the women in his life, whether she be his wife, girlfriend, daughter, or sister, ought to want her to have the ability to defend herself because he knows he can't always be there to protect her. The reason Jace is teaching Kyrin to fight is because something bad almost happened to her, and he's afraid that if there's a next time he might not be there to save her. And sometimes the strong female character who can fight is that way because she had no choice. Enter Katniss and Rey.

Honestly, I don't think either of them are feminists. They're survivors who, because of their experiences, don't really trust anyone besides themselves to watch their backs.

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Let's look at Katniss. Yes, she can defend herself. Yes, she's against the idea of getting married and having children. But that isn't because she doesn't want to be protected. It isn't because she's against the concept of marriage and family. It's because she lives in District 12 and when her dad died, her mom shut down leaving Katniss to provide for the family at age 11. She doesn't want to marry, not because she's anti-guy, but because she doesn't want more people to worry about and she definitely doesn't want to bring children into the world to get Reaped. She didn't volunteer for the Hunger Games because she had something to prove. She didn't volunteer because she thought she was this great fighter who could beat all the guys. She volunteered so her sister wouldn't go to her death. Yes, sometimes she acts like she's hard and unfeeling, but she's not. She just pretends she is so it doesn't hurt as much. Her circumstances hardened her into a survivor.

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Rey has a similar story. She was abandoned on Jakku at a young age and had to fend for herself. She had to figure out how to fight in order to survive. But Rey's not interested in going and being a fighter. She's not interested in joining the Resistance. Throughout The Force Awakens, what she wants to do is go back to Jakku and wait for her family to come for her. She is a tough strong female character, but she's not a don't-need-no-man type. She's just a survivor who never had anyone else to watch her back. And she's strong not because she can take care of herself, but because--despite wanting to go home--she did the right thing in facing all those dangers to get BB-8 back to the Resistance with the map.

And really, Katniss and Rey aren't invulnerable. They try to hide their vulnerabilities as a defense mechanism, but their circumstances damaged them. Especially Katniss. They're not good at fighting because they think women are better than men and they have to prove it. They're the way they are because they had no choice.

Writers, don't make your female characters strong simply by giving them special abilities. Don't make them strong by making them compete with the men around them. Make them strong by giving them strength of character. Don't give them fighting and survival abilities just because it's cool. If they have those abilities, it should make sense for their backstory, and it should affect them.

Write real characters. Characters whose personality grows out of their backstory. Characters who grow throughout the book. Whose flaws are not condoned and given a pass, but who aren't perfect either. Study people and write.

Monday, February 13, 2017

On Henry Higgins and the Loss of Chivalry

♫Just you wait, 'enry 'iggins, just you wait.
You'll be sorry, but your tears'll be too late!♫

I recently rewatched My Fair Lady and I discovered that, while overall I like the story, I don't like the ending. More specifically, I don't like Henry Higgins. I don't like his character arc, or rather, lack thereof.

Eliza Doolittle is a London "flower girl" who sells flowers at Covent Garden. Henry Higgins is a scholar of phonetics. He meets her one day and boasts that he could change her accent so that anyone would think her a fine lady. And Eliza, wanting to better herself, insists on taking up the supposed offer. Throughout the story, Higgins and another phonetician, Colonel Pickering, refine street urchin Eliza into a fine lady.

They are successful with Eliza. She not only refines her accent, she refines her manners, and her appearance. People even think her to be a Hungarian princess. Yet, through the story, Henry Higgins treats Eliza, as a friend of mine put it, like a science experiment. He even states once that she doesn't have feelings. Higgins's mother knows what sort of man her son is. She knows he has no manners. Eliza herself is well aware of that fact. But even with such treatment, she manages to fall in love with him (totally beyond my comprehension).

When finally Eliza can't take it anymore, she runs away and goes to his mother. Higgins tracks her down, they fight, and she comes back. I wouldn't have an issue with such an ending if Higgins had changed his ways and decided to treat Eliza like the lady she is. But what are his final words? "Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?"

Why must Eliza change, but Henry Higgins can go on treating her like she isn't even a person?

Annie Get Your Gun has a similar ending, though not nearly as extreme. Frank Butler is the star sharpshooter of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and is rather egotistical about it. When Annie Oakley beat him in a shooting competition, when she performed an impressive stunt in a show, when she won medals from foreign royals, he was nothing but jealous. Finally, she purposely lost a competition to him (it wasn't her idea, but when she figured out what was going on, she went along with it), and his bruised ego was saved. She worked to transform herself into a lady for him, but he got to keep his selfish, egotistical ways.

Why must Annie refine herself and get over any attitude she might have had, but Frank can keep his selfish pride?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Eliza and Annie didn't have any work to do on themselves, they did, but why do Henry and Frank get off with no character arc? Why couldn't they become gentlemen? Adam Pontipee in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers realized after he had a daughter himself that he couldn't go around treating people inconsiderately. He tried to get his brothers to return the girls he got them to kidnap.

Maybe it's just me, but if characters have work to do in their lives, I want them to do it. I don't want them to get a pass for their bad behavior while other characters submit themselves to being treated poorly.

I like Jace Ilvaran of Ilyon Chronicles who protects Kyrin, who isn't jealous of her special abilities, who treats her like a lady.

I like Bardon of DragonKeeper Chronicles who is a chivalrous gentleman, who is very careful and protective of his wife, who treats Kale like a lady.

I like Teddy Kent of the Emily of New Moon books who is shy, but kind, supportive of Emily's endeavors, who never intentionally hurt her. The whole misery in Emily's Quest was simply a misunderstanding due to his shyness and his mother's issues. Not because Teddy could ever be a jerk.

I like Reuben Eaglechaser of The Rizkaland Legends who may be slightly ridiculous at times, but is always there for Petra when she needs him, who will always protect her, who respects her boundaries even when he doesn't want to because he loves and respects her.

I don't want male characters to be wimps. I don't want their girls to walk all over them. I don't want them to be hiding in the background while the girls do everything there is to be done. But I don't want them to be perpetual jerks either. Give me Jace over Henry Higgins any day. I'd much rather read about Teddy Kent than Frank Butler. I prefer the gentlemen. I prefer the men who let the ladies go first, who will protect the girls around, carry heavy things for them, and, well, treat them like ladies. It doesn't make the men weak and effeminate to be gentlemen any more than it makes the women wimpy cardboard cutouts to let them do it.

So writers, don't be afraid to make your male characters gentlemen. If they have character flaws, don't condone them. Nobody really likes a Henry Higgins. But lots of girls love a sweet protector like Jace. Write about gentlemen.

Tune in next week to find out how girl characters can be strong without being feminists.

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