Reading Rec: The Count of Monte Cristo Part 2

Welcome back to the summary! If you missed the last entry in this series, I’d recommend reading that first to catch up on the story. To recap the color coding, our protagonist, Edmond Dantes (aka the Count, Monte Cristo, Abbe Bussoni, Lord Wilmore, and Sinbad the Sailor) gets the default black color. His old love and fiancee, Mercedes, is pink. Her current husband, Fernand Mondego (aka The Count de Morcef), in red, accused Edmond of treason to get him out of the way, and is now wealthy after a military career in Greece. Edmond’s kindly employer and true friend, Monsieur Morrel, and the rest of the Morrel family including Maximilian and Julie are green. The greedy sailor who schemed to betray Edmond, now the rich banker Baron Danglars and his family members are blue. The cowardly and selfish neighbor who said nothing during the betrayal, Caderousse, gets yellow. And finally, Villefort, the prosecutor who sentenced Edmond to life in prison for his own political gain, as well as his family, get violet.

Hopefully that paragraph doesn’t hurt your eyes too much to read. Any new characters or plot elements will also fit into one of those colors to indicate a connection to the main ones. Also, I’ve figured out how to embed the original illustrations, so this should be a little more visually interesting than a wall of text this time. Let me know what you think!

Italy, Chapters 31 – 39

This section starts 10 years after the last events covered in part one, and in a completely different part of the Mediterranean with a completely different character: a young Parisian nobleman named Franz who lands on the island of Monte Cristo to go boar hunting. It’s supposed to be an abandoned scrap of rock, but instead, he finds there the crew of Sinbad the Sailor. Franz is blindfolded and taken to have dinner with Sinbad, who shows him an incredible display of wealth before drugging him and sending him on his way to Rome to meet up with his friend, Albert de Morcef – son of Fernand Mondego (aka the Count de Morcef) and Mercedes.

These two young men have arrived in Rome to celebrate Carnival and begin making their grand plans for adventure and fun. The hotel owner warns them about bandits in a long tangent telling the story of famous highwayman Luigi Vampa and his wife Teresa, but they don’t take him seriously and go to explore the Colosseum after dark. While there, in an incredible act of timing (or perhaps plot device), Franz overhears a conversation between the Count and Vampa arranging for one of their friends, a shepherd who helped the bandits, to be pardoned from execution. Vampa pledges his loyalty to the Count and makes his escape before anyone else notices, but Franz fails to mention any of this to Albert.

Later they’re attending the opera and Franz recognizes the Count again, accompanied by a lovely Greek woman, who we later learn is named Haydee. They gossip about him for a bit with a friend, joking that he might be a vampire, then go to make his acquaintance properly. The Count is generous to the boys, offering them a coach to attend the carnival in high society and inviting them to a public execution the next day. (though.. you could argue the “generosity” of that invitation.) There, they discuss justice, the Count is apathetic as the other criminal there is killed, and watch casually as the shepherd is pardoned.

*vine with the dog voice* MAY THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPEL YOU

Franz and Albert are just a little traumatized, but it doesn’t stop them from having a good time at Carnival! Albert spends three days flirting with a pretty girl in costume, who turns out to be Luigi Vampa’s girlfriend. (Oops.) He’s captured and a ransom is sent to Franz, who takes it to the Count to beg for help. the Count agrees and easily frees Albert, appealing to Vampa’s alliance and asking him not to murder his friend. Albert is overwhelmingly grateful and promises to introduce the Count to his high society connections in France.

This is the reader’s first “formal” introduction to The Count, not through any POV or introspection on his part, or through any of the other established characters, but through an impartial stranger who’s largely incidental to the main plot. Franz serves an important role of separately showing us the different adopted personas Edmond uses – Sinbad the Sailor when he’s acting eccentric or dealing with his smuggler and bandit friends, and The Count for when he needs to act in high society which is his main disguise for the next part of the book. Through this, we get the impression that he’s oddly interesting and equally terrifying with a deep dissatisfaction in human justice systems. There’s some very unsubtle discussion of revenge and the fact that the Count has a lot of connections and a lot of power and money to throw around to suit his needs. We start to understand just what kind of a threat he can be, before any of the characters who are going to be threatened are privy to this, and that builds a sense of dramatic irony, especially contrasted to Franz’s silliness and frivolity. This comes into full forefront in the next arc:

France, Twisted Backstory, 40 – 46

Next Dumas time skips to the day the Count is due to arrive at Albert’s house, and the scene opens on breakfast with guests. We’re introduced to a few of Albert’s friends: Lucien Debray, Beauchamp, Chateau Renauld, and Maximilian Morrel. When the Count arrives they share stories, including the bandit kidnapping misadventure and that Max once shaved Chaeau Renauld’s life on the anniversary of the day his father was saved from financial ruin. The Count attempts to appear standoffish and somber, as is his usual persona, but he can’t help but be fond of Max because of his humility, bravery, and loyalty to Monsieur Morrel.

After the other guests leave, Albert presents the Count to his mother and father as “the man who saved his life from bandits in Rome.” Fernand does not recognize Edmond and takes a liking to The Count of Monte Cristo. Mercedes instantly recognizes him and is conflicted – she’s terrified at what he’s become, but he also saved the life of her son, and doesn’t know what his return twenty-four years later means for her and her family. She doesn’t say anything, except for to warn Albert to be careful.

pensive and pretty

The Count has come to Paris to start punishing the people who hurt him, but his old love for Mercedes and the friendship with Maximilian Morrel make this situation much less straightforward. Will his old love for Mercedes spare her, or will he be more angry that she married Fernand, and take out his anger on the whole Morcef family? If he only targets Fernand, will that still indirectly hurt Albert and Mercedes and their friend Maximilian? He’s still pulling the strings, but you start to see just how twisted they are as you learn more about the families.

The next part gets messy. We then follow the Count as he buys a house that previously was owned by Villefort’s late first wife. He goes to visit it with one of his servants and friends, a man named Bertuccio, who’s frantic as they walk through the place. When asked for an explanation, Bertuccio explains that years ago, Villefort had condemned his brother to death, and he swore an oath of vengeance on the prosecutor. He waited around the house waiting for the perfect opportunity. One night, when Villefort left the house carrying a wooden box and a spade, Bertuccio jumped him from behind the trees, stabbed him, and stole the box, thinking it held treasure. It actually held a half smothered baby boy who he brings back to his sister-in-law to raise as her own. They name the child Benedetto, but he grows up cruel and sadistic, and at the age of 11 kills her and runs away from home.

This was too epic of an illustration to pass up, just LOOK at that dramatic lighting

In the meantime, Bertuccio needed money and turned to smuggling. On the run from authorities, he hid in a a loft behind an inn – the same inn owned by Caderousse and his wife. He witnessed the scene as they invited a jeweler to buy the diamond that Abbe Busoni gave them, and received a large sum of gold. A storm forced the jeweler to stay at the inn overnight, and seeing an opportunity, Caderousse kills the jeweler to keep the diamond and the gold, and murders his wife because she would turn him in, then fled with the treasures. Bertuccio was arrested, but the Abbe Busoni (who he did not know to be Edmond’s other disguise) freed him with instructions to find Monte Cristo, and he’s been in the Count’s service ever since.

By finding out the Count knows all of this anyhow because of the alternate persona playing a role in the story, it shows a really interesting aspect of Dumas’s writing. All of the exposition and twists are told through dialogue and monologues – we never get a long bit of introspection from Edmond’s point of view, but instead we see the dynamics he has with other characters he’s manipulating. Dumas was a playwright before writing TCOMC, and so the dialogue-heavy style of narration might be a holdover from that experience, and he uses this really effectively in the narrative so that exposition is delivered chapter by chapter to slowly tangle the story even further. Now we, the audience, know that somewhere out there is Villefort’s not-dead son, and that Caderousse is a murderer and thief on the run which are two potentially very valuable pieces of information. Keep an eye on that.

France, Setup and connections, Chapters 47-53

Once Monte Cristo has some helpful exposition and a house, it’s time to do what any self respecting nobleman would do and show off how STUPID rich he is, specifically to earn his way into the good graces of the Danglars family. First, he opens an unlimited line of credit with Dangars’s bank, then comes up with an elaborate scheme involving Madame Danglars’s panicky horses and saving the lives of Madame de Villefort, and her son Edward when they runaway. He revives the boy with a potent elixir, which catches his mother’s attention and admiration. Villefort himself visits Monte Cristo to thank him for the heroic act, and they discuss criminal justice and natural law. During this conversation, the Count says, “I wish to be Providence myself, for I feel that the most beautiful, noblest, most sublime thing in the world, is to recompense and punish.”

The theme here comes in a little heavy handed, but since none of the characters at this point recognize Edmond, it reads as the eccentric beliefs of an exotic nobleman. We see into the psychology of The Count of Monte Cristo through his own exposition and actions. He orchestrates everything, from putting the Villefort’s lives in danger to saving them, for his own machinations and political gain, in a combination of a hero and god complex, where he believes himself to be above the law. This is disturbing to Villefort, who embodies the law in his role as public prosecutor but bends it for his own gain in the case of condemning Edmond to prison all those years ago. This immediately sets up a direct foil between old, honest Edmond, the manipulative Count he now is, and Villefort, who’s public role contrasts to his personal failings – in trying to kill and hide the child.

In the next chapter, Monte Cristo goes to visit his Greek slave, Haydee – who has 3 maids of her own and is treated like a queen in his household. He tells her she is free, to leave or to stay with him, and to do as she pleases, but she chooses to stay with him out of loyalty, since he saved her life once. The Count thanks her, and asks only that she not reveal her past to anyone in Paris. (for some reason, the book continues to refer to her as a slave after this, though it’s clear she has autonomy, so I’m not sure what Dumas’s reasoning was for this diction choice…).

Next stop is the Morrel family. Their house is happy, and they tell the Count about the red silk purse and the mysterious benefactor they never identified. He acts skeptical, suggesting the name of the English banker, but Maximilian says his father had a superstitious theory that it was Edmond’s ghost acting from beyond the grave all along. The Count is so touched by this that he leaves immediately. It’s the first time he shows any real emotion other than various intensities of anger since before his imprisonment and he can’t stand to be seen like this.

Maximilian shrugs off the odd behavior and goes to meet his secret love, Valentine de Villefort – the daughter of the prosecutor. She’s miserable because her father is distant and wants her to be married off to Franz, and her step-mother hates her. The only person who really understands the dysfunctional family dynamic is her grandfather, the old Bonaparte agitator Noirtier (we met him at the very beginning when Villefort first decided to condemn Edmond to prison to hide his ties to his father). He’s had a stroke, and can only communicate through blinking, and Valentine wants to run away with Max but can’t bear to leave him alone. Besides, Maximilian is too poor to be a good match for her and Villefort seems to hate the Morrel family (for their loyalty to Edmond).

The face of a stressed out 19 year old has not changed in 200 years.

The Count arrives soon after, which pulls Valentine away from their conversation in the gardens. Following her, the reader gets to see the ensuing conversation between the Count and Madame Villefort. They talk about toxicology of all things, as he reminds her that they’ve met before, once in Italy. Madame Villefort remembers that he had a reputation for being a great doctor, and peppers him with questions about different poisons and how he’s developed immunity to many of them (Iocane powder, perhaps?) He benevolently offers to send her a vial of the elixir he used to save her son after the runaway horse incident before taking his leave.

Besides the obligatory Princess Bride references, this series of scenes is interesting because it shows how differently the Count acts with his few trusted friends, like his servants, Haydee, and the Morells compared to the others. He tries to maintain an air of callous indifference in public, but he has a soft spot, and intends to protect the ones he cares about. We also have another tangle threaded into the situation of “who deserves revenge?” Dumas writes in the forbidden-love subplot with Maximilian and Valentine to add collateral damage. Much like the situation with Mercedes and Albert, as The Count tries to exact his revenge on Villefort, he runs the risk of hurting the innocents connected to the family. They challenge the Count’s dark worldview that humans are self-centered, and force him to change his plans to avoid letting them be caught in the crossfire. And even so, he’s only loading the traps, and the actual revenge is still long in coming. The building irony and suspense means that you keep turning pages, even as the chapters stretch on, because you want to know how this is all going to come full circle.

And that’s where I’ll leave off for this week. What do you think, and what have you learned so far? Let me know in the comments how you’re enjoying this.

Reading Rec: The Count of Monte Cristo Part 1

Welcome to February and March’s reading reccomendation! In keeping with the outlining theme of the month, today I’m sharing a book with one of the most complex and interesting plots I’ve ever read. I listened to The Count of Monte Cristo audiobook last summer and it is now one of my favorite classics. There are several movie and TV adaptations that I haven’t seen, but I want to focus on the book to demonstrate how Alexandre Dumas handles a story that spans several decades and dozens of inter-character relationships. Its the sort of story that works really well because of the slow pacing of a book, rather than being constrained by an arbitrary time limit, and hopefully by dissecting it, we can learn a few things about how to do this sort of plot as well.

This book is 1243 pages, 117 chapters, and over 375K words long, so I’m splitting this post up into four parts and stretching it out over the next month. I wanted to make sure I had enough page time to give enough context and that’s the winning option from my polls. That being said, I think there’s a statue of limitations when it comes to spoilers in 177 year old books, so I’m going to prioritize the “what can writers learn” aspect of the analysis in this article. If you’d like to read more, SparkNotes has a great study guide, and the whole work is available for free download on Project Gutenburg. True to form, I’m also color coding this! Try to spot the themes as I explain the twisty plot points!

The Creation of the Count, Chapters 1-30

The story follows the life of Edmond Dantes, a young sailor who finds himself in command of his ship after the captain dies at sea with the mission to take a message from the island of Elba to Paris. He comes home to Marseille, France, where he has everthing a 19-year-old in 1815 could possibily want – a loving father, his beautiful and faithful fiancee Mercedes, and the promise of a promotion from the owner of the company, Monsieur Morrel.

Unfortunetly, he’s also got three jealous enemies who have alcohol aplenty and motive enough to make ruining Edomond’s life sound like a really great idea. Danglars is another sailor who wants to be captain, and he writes an anonymous tip with his left hand suspecting that Edmond is a traitor to the crown. For context, at this point in history, Napoleon Bonapart was the former emperor of France, but he had been overthrown and banished to Elba – the island Edmond stopped at on behalf of the late captain. Now, Edmond is going to Paris to deliver a message he knows nothing about, but chances are good it could contain Bonapartist sympathies and get him in a lot of trouble with the current monarchical government. It’s just plausible enough to land Edmond in jail, or at least, get him out of the way long enough for Danglars to sweep in and snatch the promotion to captain.

The second member of the conspiracy is Edmond’s greedy and selfish neighbor, Caderousse. He doesn’t paticularly like Edmond, but he also doesn’t want the poor kid to get killed either. At this point in the dinner, he’s too drunk to help with the scheme, and too drunk to properly protest it either. To keep him quiet, Danglars promises that he was “only joking”, mashes up the letter, and throws it into a corner – getting rid of the ploy but not actually destroying it.

That intentional choice allows the third member of the conspiracy, Fernand, to later pick up the letter and mail it to the guards. He’s in love with Mercedes, but she turned him down in favor of Edmond. He’s also her cousin (blegh) and can’t take no for an answer. He would just kill his competition and marry her anyway, but Mercedes promised to kill herself if he did anything to hurt her finace. Danglar’s scheming gives Fernand the perfect opportunity to get Edmond out of the way for his own gain too.

It’s worth noting that Edmond has only ever been polite to these three men . He’s not stupid, and knows they don’t like him, but he does his best to work with them and even give them gifts as a sign of peace. But the letter is sent anyhow and the poor guy is dragged off to Paris for trial by the royal guards in the middle of his betrothal feast. Caderousse says nothing in his defense, Danglars convinces Morrel to give him the position as captain, and Fernand goes to comfort and woo Mercedes, exploiting her pain for his gain.

Meanwhile in Paris, Edmond meets the prosecuter Gerard de Villefort, who is responsible for deciding his fate. At first, everything seems to be going well and Edmond is hoping for an aquittal, until Villefort learns that the letter he’s carrying is adressed a man named Noirtier, his father, and a leader of the Bonapartist party. Afraid that the affiliation with a traitor could damage his own ambitious career, he sentences Edmond to a life sentence in the dungeon of the Chateau d’If and tells the king about the plot, earning a promotion for himself in the process.

In introducing the first of a very large cast of characters, Dumas helps make the important ones easily identifiable and memorable by giving them distinct motivations and personality traits. This helps avoid the writing equivelant of “same face syndrome” in art – even though we’re introduced to a dozen different players. This also sets up arcs for each character and their relationships as the story continues, with each character’s primary goal becoming an element of their downfall.

Jumping ahead.. some politicking happens, nobody tells poor Edmond what in the world is going on, and he nearly starves himself out of desperation and depression. Just before he actually dies, he makes a friend in prison who gives him hope and instructions on where to find buried treasure, and escapes 14 years later. Upon finding his wealth on the island of Monte Cristo, he creates a new persona for himself as The Count, befriends some smugglers with a few lies about his identity, and starts out to get some answers.

First, he disguises himself as an Italian priest called Abbe Busoni and finds the now impovershed Caderousse. He pretends that Edmond Dantes was bequeathed a large diamond while in prison, but died in his cell and wanted to have it divided amongst his “friends”. As the executor of the “will”, the Abbe says he wants to find the others: his father, Danglars, Fernand, and Mercedes. Caderousse feeling partially guilty and mostly greedy, tells of the whole plot to have Edmond imprisoned, and the Abbe gives him the whole diamond to keep as reward for his friendship. He also learns what happened to the others. Edmond’s father starved himself to death out of grief, cared for until the end by Mercedes and Morrel, who gave him a red silk purse of money, but is now on the verge of banktrupcy after several ships sunk. He’s now waiting for Edmond’s old ship to come into port, hoping it’ll be enough to save his family. In the meantime, Danglars resigned from his position as captian and began chasing money, becoming a wealthy banker and a baron. Fernand spent a tour in the military, fighting in Greece and earning a high rank before returning with a new (somewhat mysterious) fortune. After 18 months, Mercedes accepted that Edmond was probably dead, and gave into marrying Fernand.

Caderousse reflects that it seems the good are always punished, when the evil are rewarded – ironic considering his wishy-washy position between the two. Edmond, a good person who “died” to give way to the vengeful Count, intends to bring justice to the people who hurt him and to reward his friends. The other characters quickly start to fall into one of those two categories. But instead of diving off into parallel plots dealing with each friend or foe individually, their stories quickly intertwine, and add a new layer of complexity to the Count’s relationships with each family. Because I’m running out of colors, each family is going to get one color though.

After talking with Caderousse, Edmond goes to his home of Marsilles in a new disguise – pretending to be an Englishman named Lord Wilmore that has connections to Morrel’s bank. He visits the mayor to get information, buy up most of the shares in the shipping company (so now he owns Morrel’s debts), and in the process, learns how Villefort ordered him to be locked away for life, and confirms Caderousse’s story. He files this information away for later before going to visit Morrel, who is devastated after learning that his last ship has sunk. Lord Wilmore explains how he now holds the debts, gives the family another three months to pay them back, and as he leaves, pulls aside Morrel’s daughter, Julie, and makes her promsie to follow any instructions she receives from someone named “Sinbad the Sailor.”

Three months pass, and the family is still unable to pay back the debts. Morrel knows that if he cannot pay his debts, his children will be discredited both financially and dishonored, so he tells his son, Maximilian, that he plans to commit suicide on the day they are due, and let the insurance take care of the rest. Max tries to stop his father but ultimetly can’t do anything to change his mind. At the last moment, Julie recieves the lettter from Sinbad the Sailor with instructions to find a red silk purse – the same one Morrel gave to Edmond’s father all those years ago. It is filled with the debt notes, which have been paid, and a diamond for her dowry. Immedietly after, they get news that the ship, though sunk, has been exactly replaced with a new one, loaded with the same cargo, and sent back to Marseilles – saving the business, and Morrel. They rejoice over this anonymous benefactor, and Edmond quietly leaves Marseilles without revealing himself.

By completeing the setup of the story, we learn about Edmond’s new mindset and priorities in rewarding the people who were kind to him. His use of several different fake personas differentiates the benevolent Edmond from the vengeful Count of Monte Cristo, but the layers of secrecy obscure his true motivations from the people around him. We learn from the dialouge (especially in the Abbe persona) that he veiws himself as an agent of God’s justice, and how he will make sure everyone gets what’s coming to them eventually. At this point, the story takes a 10 year time jump, and the next arc focuses on the Count’s activities in Italy while on tour, so I will save that for the next post.

Thank you for your patience with this long analysis! It’s one I’ve wanted to do for a while and I hope you find it informative or at least interesting enough to keep reading. We’ll be back to the usual schedule for April. Have you read TCOMC before? What’s your best reccomendation for a story with a complex plot? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and I’ll see you next week!

My Personal Process: Outlining/Plotting

Welcome to the second entry in this series of Personal Process posts! This series is keeping with the theme of the month, and for February I’m going to be talking about outlining and plotting, since I’m neck deep in planning The Laoche Chronicles and this gives me the chance to both share some behind-the-scenes with you, as well as give you some tips on how I make outlining work for me. This is just my process, and I’m not saying it’s the end all-be all for plotters, just another method that you might be able to learn from and adapt to suit your storytelling needs.

It works paticularly well for very complicated series, but if I’m working on a more straightfoward contemporary novella, I’ll skip over the whiteboard step and go straight into the document outline. For short stories, I might just make a bullet point list of Stakes, Beginning, Middle, Climax, End, Character Drive. I find that knowing how to tackle all the different angles leads to a better understanding of structure in general, so I find it interesting to study all the different scopes, then change this process to fit the needs of my current WIP.

Step 1: Brain Dumping

At this point, I probably have some semblance of a premise and characters for this idea, and possibly also an endgame idea of where I want to take the story but not middle or clue of how to get from point A to point B. This is where I collect ALL the thoughts. Usually, I do this between phone notes and a document on my laptop for brainstorming, but I also use voice memos or whatever else works. I’ve drawn ideas on my hand in pen during a lifeguarding shift before and just taken pictures of my inked-over arm before I have to jump into the pool again. It happens. In any case, you have ideas.

Step 2: Put it in some semblance of order by using a map

image
[Image ID] a blurry picture of a whiteboard covered in ideas in various covered pens looking something like a conspiracy theory board. This is the outline I was working on last night for the first book in the Laoche chronicles but it’s so vague at this point that I don’t think spoilers really matter. [End Image ID]

The next objective is to put the random ideas in a linear order. I collect all the thoughts into one spot and dump them on the board. I color code, so first I write down all the set plot-points in the approximate order in the black pen, start to finish, and leave space above and below for stuff has to happen in the middle. 

Then the characters come in. I generally know backstories so those get dumped around the starting point in green. I figure out what characters are driving the plot and draw arrows between said plot points writing what the character does in the green pen. I include motivations, feelings, alliances, anything that might possibly be important to the plot too.

Then come logistics and filling in – that’s in red. You could also use conspiracy theory string. Where are they in the world? What needs to happen next? Where do I have plot holes? What makes the characters tick? What makes sense to happen next? What needs to happen to get to the end? What worldbuilding needs to get figured out to enable this plot point? I write it ALL down on a separate piece of paper and start brainstorming again. When I find a good connection, I add it. You’ll start to notice the board is starting to fill up. It won’t be linear anymore. That’s fine. 

Step 3: Flesh it out

image
[Image ID] a poorly lit photo of a board covered in sticky notes of different, some overlapping each other. This is only a corner of the board because it’s the outline for Storge and I only took a picture of the first few chapters [End Image ID]

This is where it starts getting real. I take everything I have on the whiteboard (which at this point is a disaster) and transfer every plot point, character interaction, motivation, worldbuilding thing, pacing notes, anything about unreliable characters, author notes about who knows what at certain points (both the characters and the reader), plot twists, and anything else from the notes that didn’t make it to the whiteboard and reconstruct the story on a board.

The reason I use sticky notes is because you can move them around, layer them, and space them to create a cohesive narrative. If I need to play with timing, I can do that easily. If I need to connect plot points to characterizations or anything else, I can do that with layering and spacing next to each other. I’m still color coding at this point. I can start slapping on stuff like “which day does this happen on? What kind of transitions do I need?”, chapter divisions, and thematic elements. You’ll notice there are more holes. Fill those in sooner rather than later. And also possibly stock up on tape.

Step 4: Outline Time

I obviously can’t take my carefully made board with me to school so now it’s time to put it into a document. At this point I should preface this with the fact that I really like the 3 act structure, so I start my outline with that before anything else, like so, using headings to make a document outline – that way I can jump around the outline using the outline quickly. Probably a bit extra but it saves a ton of time:

image
[Image ID] a Microsoft word document outline with a hierarchical structure that shows acts, plot points, chapters, and chapter titles. [End Image ID]

Once that’s been filled out, I start putting the information from the board into the outline structure, and I make sure to cover EVERYTHING something like this: (with color-coding)

  1. Chapter #/Title
  2. Day of the narrative: this helps me keep time and iron out the pacing
  3. The objective of the chapter: what does the reader need to learn, what is the one big thing that happens plot-wise
  4. Main Plot Happenings – this goes in red text and details what actually happens in the chapter. For Storge, this is the plotline that follows Luca and the Laine family (when they’re together)
  5. If there are subplots, these go here too in other colors. Orange for villainous cutaways. Purple for anything with the avian city/war subplot
  6. Character arcs: these are green. I bullet point a list and name every major character in this chapter. anything important to their arcs goes here, as well as how I’m writing them. What are the emotions involved? This is normally the longest part because I have a lot of characters
  7. Worldbuilding: What does the reader need to learn about the world from this chapter? This helps me space out the exposition. Details come up on a “need to know” basis, so there’s new worldbuilding in every chapter but no page-long dumps anywhere.
  8. Themes: WHY is this chapter important? How is it contributing to what I want to say with this story?
  9. Any other author notes about unreliable narrators, plot twists, foreshadowing, and what the reader should know at this point in the story. The goal is that you don’t anticipate the twist, but rereading it there’s a “HOW DID I NOT SEE THAT BEFORE” reaction, so this is more for my sake as a storytelling-craft thing.
  10. Any excerpts or dialogue or description that I pre-wrote in the brain-dump phase and liked and think would fit well in this chapter.

Repeat with every chapter until done.

This takes a long time, and I’m always revisiting and reworking that final outline once I’ve “finished” it but it’s such a huge help to set me on the right path without detouring 565479851321 times because I realized there was a plot hole too late. It’s overly complicated and incredibly intense and in-depth so it’s not for everyone but I like my 30-page long outlines, so here I am!

This post is also an updated reshare of a similar post I originally shared on tumblr last year that got a lot of attention recently, so I wanted to post it somewhere relevant so it’s always at hand if people want it as reference. If you’re still reading this, then wow, good job, and thank you! I hope this was somewhat informative! Now Go Forth! Be Creative! Have fun! 🙂

January Goals Recap

General goals: 20/36 – WON BY TWO
Creative goals: 6.5/13 – WON WITH NO MARGIN

I barely scraped past the mark this month, but this is also more goals than I’ve ever set before – ten more than my usual average of 26. Because I was on winter break for most of this month, I wanted to be as productive as possible on my creative projects, since I expected to have more time for them. I also started a new job with a wildly unpredictable schedule, so my designated writing time was a lot more scattered. Ironically, I might be more productive during the semester when I know I have an hour each morning to write before classes. I’ve posted the rest of my goals to my studyblr, which is also where I’ll be updating on a day-to-day basis for the new semester! If you’re curious at all about how this fantasy writer is also a chemical engineering student, you can go check that out.

Now the question is, What have I learned from my over ambitious goal-setting in January? Nothing. My February list has 34 goals. Wish me luck!

  1. Get my computer fixed – My computer had the problem of dying almost immedietly every time I took it off the charging cord, so I bought a replacement battery for it and now it only dies after about 3-4 hours. Still not great, wouldn’t work if I were running around campus, but just fine for moving from my card-table desk to the kitchen table for a change of scenery. Hopefully I won’t have to buy a new one for another year!
  2. Edit 15k words of Storge – I returned to re-writing in the last two weeks of the month, finishing 3216 words. This let me finish chapter 3, which was the difficult one I put on hold after my grandfather passed away in December. I’m glad to be past it, and happy with how it turned out in the end. I also spent a lot (a lot) of time doing line-edits, starting from the beginning of the book! Using the free version of ProWritingAid for this, which only lets me do 500 words at a time, and I finished ~4600 words this way.
  3. Beta read for Jana – @siarven‘s Dreams Shadow is fantastic! I really enjoyed reading it and I highly reccomend checking out all of Jana’s work.
  4. Write 5 chapters of Lost and Found Again – I didn’t even touch this story because the muse had other ideas. See below for the other fanfic I did work on!
  5. Fill in holes on brain dump sticky board for Laoche/figure out end of series– We’re getting there! My best friend helped me figure out several plot holes and the overal structure for the trilogy. Now I need to flesh it out into a proper outline, but I have an important starting place now!
  6. Schedule writing time so I have a routine for it – My “on call” job meant that planning out a schedule in advance was impossible, but I have a routine scheduled for February. Still doesn’t count as a check-off though.
  7. Rope my sister into doing photoshoot with books and stuff so I have photos to use for writing IG – She’s been busy with school and this is low priority, but I took my own photos periodically. No check-off for that either.
  8. Schedule all of January’s posts for website and make Canva posts in advance – all 5 of them went up on time! I’m really proud of some of these! Here’s some links so you can go back to any you might have missed: 2020 Year in Review + 2021 plans, How I Develop Characters, Character Voice in The Chronicles of Prydain, Storge’s First Scene, and an Interview with Katie Koontz on her story Groundhog Day and one of her OC’s Bolte
  9. Turn IG into free professional account and post 2 times a week  I don’t understand IG at all but this has been a good WIP of it’s own!
  10. Read 1 HG wells story from book I got over vacation – These aren’t even that long I just got distracted
  11. Read Oathbringer – this is a *really* long book so I didn’t finish it but I made good progress
  12. Read Mort – I’m halfway through! If I bothered to focus on any one book I might have actually marked off one of these goals.
  13. Draw 15 things – I did a lot of character studies this month, trying to figure out the designs for my Laoche cast. This goal is a constant to keep myself working on this skilll whenever it’s not Inktober, similar to how my monthly word count goals keep me writing whenever it’s not NaNoWriMo!

Other things I did that weren’t on the list

Normally if something grabs my attention in the first day or two of the month, I’ll change my list to include time for it later. These two did not fit that category, but I spent enough time on them that I wanted to give them an honorable mention.

  • Four Hours for Bridge Four – I started a new Stormlight Archive fanfic! It’ll be a short work and I’m really excited about this one, since it’s a collection of six one-shots based off the verses a sea shanty I rewrote to be a work song for the Bridge Four characters. I’ve drafted over 4.5k words of this already and hope to finish posting it in February. I reread half of Way of Kings doing “research” for this fic.
  • I also did a read-aloud for my younger siblings of The Book of Three – the first book in The Chronicles of Prydain. It’s a reread for me so it doesn’t count towards any goals, but it was really fun to revisit these characters, do all the voices, (almost lose my voice), and watch their reactions to hearing the story for the first time.

That’s all for today! Are you enjoying these goals updates or would you rather see me do something else? What sort of projects have grabbed your attention and demanded all your time? Tell me about your writing goals in the comments and thanks for reading! 🙂

January Special: An Interview with Katelynn Koontz

Welcome to January’s Special Feature! Today I’m talking with one of my great writer friends about how she writes complex and compelling character arcs! Katie is an accomplished author who writes across several genres including Fanatsy, Sci-fi, Horror, Poetry, and Contemporary summer reads. She also does art, and drew the illustration of her OC, Bolte, for this post’s header/preview image. Katie is active in the writing community on tumblr and is one of the nicest people I’ve met there, so I’m happy to be able to share her fantastic personality and advice with you today!

Question 1: First, can you tell me about yourself, how long you’ve been writing, and what you write?

Katie: Absolutely! I’ve been “writing” as a hobby since I was about ten – I got into writing Sailor Moon fanfiction for fun, and it went from there. I’ve been writing full time since I was about sixteen, when I opened my first fiverr account. I was using it to bring in extra income to go towards the horse that I owned at the time. I used to work at horse farms for a living – I trained hunter/jumper’s from the ground up and was on the way towards showing them full time when I started having health problem and switched gears fully into writing.

Katie: I like to write anything that has a found family base to it. Fantasy is where I thrive, but I also enjoy anything that has a “summer read” vibe to it. Road trip stories, and that sort of thing. Groundhog Day has been my main WIP for about three years and I’m hoping that it ends up being finished at some point this year!

Etta: Perfect! I know you used to work on horse farms but it’s cool to learn that you were writing too in order to make that happen. And I’ve loved following Groundhog Day so I’m super excited to hear that you’re hoping to finish it soon!

Question 2: When you start a WIP, are most of your characters built from the ground up, and then you let the story form around them? Or does the plot come first and you create characters to fit into the story you want to tell? Or is it a combination of both, depending on the WIP?

Katie: I usually make the characters first. The story itself might alter how those characters behave as I develop them, but I almost always have at least a general idea of the character when I start writing. I’ll decide that I want to write for a character that has a certain trope as their main trait, or a character that fits a certain role, and then I’ll start building up the story around that character.

Etta: That makes sense! I know you have a lot of WIPs and even more OCs, so it’s really neat to see how that development process works for you.

Katie: The one downside is I end up making OC’s…and then having to make new WIPs for them to go into! XD

Question 3: What are your favorite types of character arcs to write?

Katie: My favorite types of arcs are the ones that allow the character to under go a lot of growth. I want to see characters that heal; they start in a bad place, learn a lesson, and end up growing as a person by the end of the story. Arcs that can’t be solved with just one character interest me a lot, too. A character that thinks they need to face the world on their own…and must learn that they need to accept kindness and the help of others to proceed. I’m also a huge fan of the character arcs where the big “jump” so to speak is overcoming a tragic backstory, or learning to accept their past so they can move on and start building their future.

Etta: Growth and healing are two themes I’ve noticed a lot in your stories and part of why I really enjoy reading them! It’s so wholesome and inspiring to see those characters overcome the horrible situation they might be in and find their place among their friends and in the world at the end of it. And what a perfect lead in to the next question!

Katie: Yes! It’s my favorite thing to write about. I think that the world needs more stories about hope, recovery, and finding light in the dark. I promise happy endings to all of my stories for that exact reason!

Question 4: Before we started the interview, I asked you to pick an OC to talk about for the rest of the interview. Would you give us a quick overview of who they are and their story?

Katie: Bolte is one of the main characters in my WIP Groundhog Day. He’s the general of the Royal Army in Fara Falls – a fictional RPG video game based world, in which the kingdom has all but collapsed under the tyrannical rule of their current queen, Midnight. He specializes in fire and bone magic – often using his magic to form armor made out of bone, and fire as a main weapon in his fights. Bolte is a character who has been fighting from the time he was a kid, and who sees no end to that battle. The world he lives in – constant danger, where kindness is a weakness and weakness can get you killed – has taught him to use anger as both a weapon and a shield. He comes off as a mean, sharp tongued person with few redeeming qualities…but he cares a lot, and is constantly trying to keep his childhood friend – an injured paladin named Red – and his boss/only friend – Captain, head of the Royal Guard – alive. In his story, he’s tasked with keeping Blue, a traveler from another version of Fara, alive and locating his own paladin in the process, inadvertently getting tangled up in a war to save Blue’s home.

Etta: yesss! Bolte is one of my favorite OCs of yours and the parallel worlds of Fara are such a creative setting for this paticular conflict. He’s a great example of someone who starts out in a really bad place. Your description is perfect you’re already setting up some of the next questions I’m going to ask you about and that’s great

Question 5: What motivates your character?

Katie: Bolte’s character is very complicated, but his motivation is actually very simple and straight forward. Bolte wants to keep Red alive, and he’s willing to do absolutely anything to make that happen. He’s willing to give up any other comfort – food, health, his own wants, his own safety or interests – if it means making sure that Red has a relatively safe place to live. That’s his character motivation, and I’ve also used it as his main driving force through the story. Bolte is originally only willing to work with Blue because that’s the easiest way to ensure that he’s able to return Red to their own world and keep Red safe. While that does broaden as his character grows, it’s always the Core Focus of his character’s driving force.

Etta: Bolte’s devotion to Red is one of the things that originally caught my attention for this story and this character, especially because it’s such a pure goal compared to some of the messy difficult choices and actions, he has to go through to make it happen. And I love how he never loses that core even as he grows as a person and his motivations broaden

Katie: It’s what’s made him one of my favorite characters to write for too, honestly. His mindset is always a lot of fun to get into and work with.

Question 6: What do you think are [OC’s] greatest strengths and faults?

Katie: His greatest strength is his perseverance. I’ve always thought that you can’t have hope if you’re not determined, and the core element of determination is being able to persevere. To look at a world that doesn’t want you to live, to look at a situation that is bleak and dark and often even painful, and to make the decision that you’re going to find a way to keep fighting, you’re going to find a way to break through that darkness and into the other side. Bolte doesn’t want to save the world.

Katie: He doesn’t want to save the kingdom. He wants to keep himself and Red – and as the story grows, his small group of friends, his important people, Blue and Locke and Captain and Aba – alive and as safe as can possibly be. It doesn’t matter what happens. Bolte will face any danger or threat and keep going. He’ll get up any time that he’s knocked down, and find a way to make the situation livable.

Katie: But that’s his greatest fault, too. Because Bolte is from a world that has taught him “kindness is weakness” and has spent his entire life knowing that he would have to fight to survive, he doesn’t understand the concept of letting someone else help him. He keeps his pains – his HEARTsickness, his mental stress, his physical aches like his bad knee – to himself. Even when he’s put into Fields of Fara later on, where there is access to so much more in the way of kindness and health care, Bolte doesn’t know how to look at someone and just admit “I need help”. It does get him into some rough situations, and ones that might have been avoidable if he’d thought to tell someone else how bad off he was at the time.

Katie: I’m a fan of characters who’s greatest strengths end up playing into their greatest fault a lot, actually XD

Etta: Bolte’s selflessness and love make him such an endearing character to read, and it’s interesting to see how he can only extend it so far, and to the point that it becomes good-intentioned self-destruction. And I know that Intent plays into your magic system too, so it’s especially interesting to see how that makes his fighting – both in literal battles and also just to survive every day – so much more complex!

Katie: Yes, it does! Intent directly affects how strong someone’s magic is, and how that magic affects them on a physical level. Bolte’s strong will to survive has, at times, been the only thing to keep his HP (being a video game world, the characters do have a set Health Point rating, unique to each individual) from hitting zero. And describing him as having “good intentioned self-destruction” is incredibly fitting and accurate. It’s what I find so interesting about him; a determination to live and keep others alive that often causes himself more damage than might otherwise be necessary.

Etta: On one hand my first response to that is “Oh no! He’s that hurt!” and on the other hand it’s a radio announcer voice in my head going “Local Man Too Stubborn and Angry to Die” :’)

Katie: Honestly? That’s valid. I hear it being said specifically in John Mulaney’s voice, honestly! And it’s very accurate! Because Intent is powered by emotions, Bolte simply found a way to use his anger, and on a deeper level his fear of losing Red, to keep himself moving even when he shouldn’t still be able to move.

Question 7: What sort of circumstances prompt [OC’s] character arc to really get rolling? Do they have to make any big and character-defining decisions?

Katie: The moment that Bolte realizes he cares for Blue as a friend and not just a “means to finding Red” or a “means to an end” is what prompts his character arc. Bolte’s arc is heavily based around learning how to accept help, and changing how he deals with other people, accepting that their kindness is genuine, that people care about him and he cares about them. So realizing that he genuinely cares for Blue, it’s an absolute shock to him, and starts shaping Bolte’s mindset into something that goes beyond just “whatever it takes to keep Red” alive, sort of broadening his view of the world and of people.

Katie: He comes to realize this when Blue helps him at no gain to himself; Blue puts himself in harm’s way to save Bolte, despite it not helping Blue at all in the long run.

Katie: Bolte’s story is a series of character defining decisions that he just…doesn’t notice until later, when Blue quite literally points them out to him. There are two scenes in particular that stand out as examples – one where Bolte chooses to go against the Queen’s orders to locate Captain, who is injured and lost in The Wilds, and then opts to take on the temporary role as captain, something that puts him in a lot of danger and puts him in frequent close proximity to the queen but keeps Captain safe.

Katie: The other is when he chooses to involve himself in the war in Fields of Fara because he just…doesn’t want to see Blue face it alone!

Etta: Bolte’s devotion to Red is sweet, but the other big thing that first brought me into this story was how you wrote Blue and Bolte’s dynamic, because Blue is now unexpectedly stuck in a world where everything is a lot more scary and deadly than his home and Bolte’s missing the person he’s done everything for and so they don’t like each other very much at first. And seeing that clash grow into friendship was amazing to see through the story and your writing style as their conversations become less combative and more camaraderie.

Katie: And yes! Blue and Bolte’s developing friendship is one of my favorite parts of GHD. They have very conflicting personalities, and the story is set up in a way that they shouldn’t get along. And they don’t! Blue is sarcastic, and scared, and he doesn’t understand this world where people kill so quickly and easily, just like he doesn’t understand the mean, angry persona that Bolte has developed as a defense mechanism over the years.

Katie: And Bolte is terrified that he has finally messed up and lost Red, that he wasn’t there at the right moment, and it’s cost him Red. He’s also very bitter towards Blue, who is a constant reminder of all the things that Bolte wasn’t able to give Red; a healthy paladin who has never had to kill to survive, who has never gone hungry. It makes him so angry! They spend the first half of the story clashing heads, until they’re able to learn to look outside of their own immediate view point. They go from being antagonistic towards each other to willing to do most anything for each other. In fact, it’s Blue who Bolte ends up going too when his HEARTsickness gets to be too much. I greatly adore how they interact with each other, and how they have to grow into being friends.

Question 8: – Why does OC’s arc resonate so much with you? What do you hope other people get from the story and reading this character?

Katie: Honestly, I like the parts of his character that don’t give up. He’s the strength that I want to find in myself; that no matter what happens, he doesn’t quit trying. That he’ll face anything thrown his way and find out how to come out alive on the other side. Bolte is never whole. He’s broken long before the story actually starts. But that doesn’t stop him from surviving. No matter what the world throws at him – and it’s a lot, one thing after the other – Bolte manages to keep going. I think about that a lot and work on those scenes a lot when I’m feeling low or overwhelmed in my own life, honestly. Bolte is strong and determined, and I like that about him. When I think about people reading my story, and think about them following along with him, I hope that’s a lesson they take from him. That you can find strength, no matter what. But I also hope they look at his character, and his arc, on a broad level. Bolte cannot survive on his own. He needs help. And his character has to learn how to accept that help, how to let others help him through problems, how to accept that he needs to sit, to take a breath. Bolte is supposed to show people that they can ask others in their life for help, and that there’s no shame in needing to rest.

Etta: That’s such a wholesome message and I admire you so much for taking the care and time to write it into the story so well. I’ve seen some of the insane daily wordcounts you pull for your work writing, so I can absolutely believe you have his strength, and I hope you have the support of friends helping you keep going too

Katie: Thank you! It took me a long time to learn this message, and I’m excited to share it through Bolte’s character. And I do – I have you, for one! And other people that I’ve met through the writeblr community, who have just been an endless supply of support over the last few years. <33

Etta: The writeblr community is incredible! it’s always a joy to be able to interact with other creative people there 😀

Chapter 9: Do you have any advice for other writers on creating a compelling character arc?

Katie: For me, I’ve found that finding the character’s driving force and lead to an easier establishment of a compelling character arc. With Bolte, once I realized that protecting Red was his driving motivation, I was able to find the faults in his character. Once the faults are established – doesn’t ask for help, puts himself in danger often, ignores personal problems – you can figure out what those faults have caused. For Bolte, it causes poor ability to ask for help, and a lack of friendly or familial relations. That means his character arc has to be about over coming those things; learning to ask for help, getting friends, and understanding that it’s okay to rest. I use that same thought process for most of the character arcs that I make. Compelling character arcs show the highs and the lows of a character, I think, so learning what those points for your OC are can help you develop your arc.

Question 10: and last but not least, where can readers find you and your work?

Thank you! I post art, short stories and chapters to longer stories (Starboy most often, but also occasional chapters of GHD) on patreon.com/abalonetea.

I have three books published! These are Putrescent Poems (a horror poetry and art Collection), Dandelion Fluff (a fantasy summer read about friendship in the Land of Monsters), and We Come Undone (a found family in a post apocalypic world, set on the last farm in the country).

And of course, I post short stories and writing excerpts on my tumblr! This is where you can find updates on Groundhog Day, and other WIPs like Starboy, Just Keep Breathing, Swimming in Stars, NeonP!nk.

Thank you so much to Katie for agreeing to be a guest on today’s post! I learned a lot from her during this conversation and I love Groundhog Day and all the characters in it, so it was a special treat to be able to ask all of these questions and get the detailed thoughtful answers with So Much character background! If you liked reading about GHD, I highly reccomend going to check out the rest of her work and supporting her if that’s possible for you. The writing is beautiful and you won’t regret it. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next week 🙂

Storge’s First Scene

It was far too lovely a day for a riot, but not even the cool breeze flapping the fabric of the trader’s multicolored tents could prevent Luca from taking advantage the fact that there was, in fact, a riot. No one was quite sure who noticed the Atilan erasing and inscribing the new tax decree onto the massive slab of sandstone that served as the city’s news board. No one was really sure who started shouting obscenities first. No one was entirely sure when the Atilan threw magic into the gathering crowd. No one was completely sure how many Debilan they had injured. 

It mattered little now. The body of the Atilan messenger lay motionless in the street.

Luca ducked and dodged through the throng. Red-faced shop keeps chanted curses against their rulers for this new grievance. He fixed his eyes on the ground, searching for valuables dropped in the scuffle. A dull gleam of polished stone caught his eye. He snatched the prize and stuffed it into his satchel without stopping to check what he had found. 

As the Atilan guards flocked to the scene, Luca glanced up at the brief distraction, and so did the wealthy-looking merchant standing to his side. The shouts rose to a roar as workers charged onto the platform. The smells of blood, sweat, and anger hung in the air as the bodies pressed together. Someone stumbled into the merchant. Coins tumbled from the purse that sat in his open hand. Luca stooped to pick them up before the man could stop him and mumbled an apology. Shoving the newfound loot into his knapsack, he flipped the cover shut, escaped the crowd, and hurried along a twisting side road. Luca ducked under the outside staircase of an old tenement building, searching for any onlookers. Satisfied that everyone else was off protesting, he sprinted up the stairs and onto the flat roof.

A girl waited for him in the shade of a makeshift canopy, focused on the brouhaha below them. She was young, with ruddy brown and freckled skin and curly dark brown hair in a braid that reached her waist. Her simple dress had long lost its creamy white color, and it was torn from an old fight. When she heard Luca mount the stairs, she tore her attention from the seething crowd to look up at her brother.

“They attacked the Atilan!” she hissed. “Did you see that!?”

“Kills the mood, huh?” Luca beckoned his sister towards him, away from the edge of the roof. “I thought I told you to stay out of sight.”

“If riots are distracting enough that you’re safe to go stealing, then I’m sure I’m safe aaalllll the way up here, watching your back.” She glanced down at the street before moving closer to him. “Find anything good?”

Luca nodded and flopped down next to her as he dumped out the bag, pushing back his hair as it fell into his face. They pocketed the coins first, before sorting through the rest of the oddities. Grace occasionally looked to the street. With mages conjuring a wall of magic, the guards pushed the rioters out of the plaza. A couple lingered to watch them collect the messenger who stumbled to his feet, disoriented but not wounded. The watchers scattered when the largest of the three guards pulled his seax knife from its sheath. 

Grace frowned and turned her attention back to their work. “Most of this stuff is junk. Enne would probably like this button. Pretty pattern, and you can feel the texture. Does it match the ones on the frock she’s making?” She held the button up to the early morning light, and the shiny metal glinted in the sun. 

Luca shrugged in reply before handing her the stone he had picked up, eyes gleaming with hope. “What about this?”

As Grace took the pebble, her eyes widened in surprise. Her fingers shocked with magic, and she dropped the thing back into Luca’s hands like a hot coal. “A charm! Not a powerful one, so don’t let me have it. Where did you find that?!”

“A few paces from the shops. My guess is that one of the Atilan dropped it in the scuffle.”

“Do you think they’ll come looking for it? If we’re caught-“

“No. Look, it’s so small. They won’t miss it.”

Grace nodded in agreement, when a sudden loud voice interrupted from behind them. “I don’t suppose you were planning to return that?”

The two kids jumped, spinning around to face the newcomer. Perched on the edge of the roof was an Avian. They were bird-like people who lived in the canyon cliffs along the river, and this one was taller than most, standing at seven feet tall. Four huge wings folded behind his torso – two at the shoulders and two at the waist. The reddish-brown plumage that covered nearly his entire body, save the palms of his hands and face, mirrored the color of the clay dirt of the desert. He wore a vest and loose breeches with several pockets that seemed stuffed with all sorts of strange things. Belted around his waist hung a stained artisan’s frock. Another harness strung over his shoulder, between his wings, and around his hip so that it could hold a large assortment of chisels, hammers, and knives. He wore no shoes; his taloned feet curled over the ledge of the roof to keep him balanced as he hunched over the two kids with his hand extended for the charm. Solid bronze eyes with sharp black pupils set deep in a human-like face, squinted in anger. The feather tufts at his ears pressed back against his head.

Luca clasped the charm to his chest as dread and panic mounted. He shifted his weight onto his feet and braced himself against the stairs, ready to run. He pulled Grace to his side, not for her own protection, but for restraint. She snapped into a fighting stance, and had her hands balled into fists, though they stayed by her sides. Neither answered the question.

The avian seemed to notice their discomfort. He forced a smile and lowered his wings, as if trying to appear nonthreatening. Luca, still threatened, forced himself to smile back. The avian repeated his question. “Are you going to return that?”

Reading Reccomendation: Character Voice in the Chronicles of Prydain

Welcome to the first of this blog’s reading reccomendations! In keeping with the theme of the month, each 3rd Friday, I’ll bring you a book that really shows off a certain aspect of storytelling that writers can learn from. Is this just a thinly veiled excuse for me to ramble about my favorite books? Absolutely. But there is something to be said for learning from other authors, so today, I’ll be sharing experts from The Chronicles of Prydain to show how Lloyd Alexander uses voice to introduce his colorful cast of characters. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, it’s a pentology of children’s high fantasy books that follow the life of a young man named Taran, an assistant-pig-keeper who stumbles into adventures where he helps protect his country from the evil forces of Arawn Death Lord.

[Image ID: The cover of The Book of Three, showing Taran hunkered down next to a tree root looking up at the Horned King. He’s a figure in red riding on a black horse, wearing an antlered skull mask and holding a sword above his head. End Image ID]

Summary and excerpts will be included to give context to the characters being introduced, but I will do my best to keep these posts spoiler free as possible, so that way if you like them and want to go read the books for yourself without knowing the end, you can. In the first book of the series, The Book of Three, the reader is introduced to Taran with this scene:

Taran wanted to make a sword; but Coll, charged with the practical side of his education, decided on horseshoes. And so it had been horseshoes all morning long. Taran’s arms ached, soot blackened his face. At last he dropped the hammer and turned to Coll, who was watching him critically.

“Why?” Taran cried. “Why must it be horseshoes? As if we had any horses!”

Coll was stout and round and his great bald head glowed bright pink. “Lucky for the horses,” was all he said, glancing at Taran’s handiwork.

“I could do better at making a sword,” Taran protested. “I know I could.” And before Coll could answer, he snatched the tongs, flung a strip of red-hot iron to the anvil, and began hammering away as fast as he could.

The Book of Three, Chapter 1, page 3

From the first lines, we learn a few important elements of Taran’s character: he romanticizes warriors and wants to make a sword so he can be a hero like them, he’s a simple farmboy who needs to learn how to labor, and he’s enthusiastic, if a bit reckless. His language is also simple and straightfoward – unlike some of the other more flowery or eloquent speaking characters who you meet later in the story – which makes him a grounded and relatable main character. Who hasn’t daydreamed while doing a boring difficult task?

Soon after we’re introduced to Taran and Coll, the reader meets the other residents of their little farm, Dallben, an ancient sorcerer, and the oracular pig, Henwen, who’s just escaped from her pigpen. Oops. Taran goes chasing her down, only to unluckily run across riders of the Horned King – one of the warlords of Arawn. When he comes to, he finds himself being cared for by a strange man who’s kneeling beside him, holding out a flask.

“Drink,” he said. “Your strength will return in a moment.”

The stranger had the shaggy, gray streaked hair of a wolf. His eyes were deep-set, flecked with green. Sun and wind had leathered his broad face, burnt it dark and grained it with fine lines. His cloak was course and travel-stained. A wide belt with an intricately wrought buckle circled his waist.

“Drink,” The stranger said again, while Taran took the flask dubiously. “You look as though I were trying to poison you.” He smiled. “It is not thus that Gwydion Son of Don deals with a wounded…”

“Gwydion!” Taran choked on the liquid and stumbled to his feet.

The Book of Three, Chapter 2, page 16

And thus we meet the greatest warlord in all of Prydain, dressed in common traveling clothes and acting as babysitter and nurse. From the confidence, language (“it is not thus”), title drop, (and Taran’s helpful exposition in the next paragraphs), we learn that Gwydion is a distinguished prince and great leader. From his phsyical description, we learn that he’s also used to roughing it on his own, not demanding pomp becasue of his station. From his kindness to Taran and knowledge of medicine, he also learn that he’s compassionate and somewhat stern.

As Gwydion and Taran start traveling together, it doesn’t take long for our impulsively courageous young protagonist to encounter the next member of the party when he dives face first into a thornbush after a weird sound. That sound turns out to be Gurgi, a creature that’s somewhere between man and beast, with twigs matted in his hair and smelling of wet wolfhound. When Gwydion scolds them both for being reckless, this is his response:

“O mighty prince,” the creature wailed, “Gurgi is sorry; and now he will be smacked on his poor, tender head by the strong hands of this great lord, with fearsome smackings and whackings…”

” I have no intention of smacking your poor tender head,” said Gwydion. “But I may change my mind if you do not leave off that whining and sniveling.”

“Yes, powerful lord!” Gurgi cried “See how he obeys rapidly and instantly!” He began crawling around on hands and knees with great agility. Had Gurgi owned a tail, Taran was sure he would have wagged it frantically.

“Then,” Gurgi pleaded, “The two strengthful heroes will give Gurgi something to eat? Oh joyous crunchings and munchings!”

The Book of Three, Chapter 3, pages 26-27

Gurgi has one of the most distinctive voices in the book and I love him for it. The third person, the couplet rymes, the whining combined with well-intentioned action, and as we see later, the enthusiasm for doing what he can to help his friends, make him such a memorable and endearing character. He’s stuck between very simple motivations like food and comfort, and wanting the wisdom to be part of something bigger than he is and his language reflects that in an earnest childish sort of way.

After they meet Gurgi, the protagonists go through several misadventures and when we meet the next of the main cast, Taran is stuck in a dungeon. A small golden ball drops through the grating, followed by a girl with bright blue eyes.

“Please,” said a girl’s voice, light and musical, “my name is Eilonwy and if you don’t mind, would you throw my bauble to me? I don’t want you to think I’m a baby, playing with a silly bauble, because I’m not; but sometimes there’s absolutely nothing to do around here and it slipped out of my hands when I was tossing it…”

“Little girl,” Taran interrupted, “I don’t…”

“But I am not a little girl,” Eilonwy protested. “Haven’t I just finished telling you? Are you slow-witted? I’m so sorry for you. It’s terrible to be dull and stupid. What’s your name?” she went on. “It makes me feel funny not knowing someone’s name. Wrong footed, you know, as if I had three thumbs on one hand, if you see what I mean. It’s clumsy.”

The Book of Three, Chapter Six, page 50-51

And as their conversation continues, later we get this proper introduction…

I am Eilonwy, Daughter of Anharad, Daughter of Regat, Daughter of – oh, it’s such a bother going through all that. My ancestors,” she said proudly, “are the Sea People. I am of the blood of Llyr Half-Speech, the Sea King.”

The Book of Three, Chapter Six, page 55

Right away, we’re struck by her talkativeness and the long, somewhat rambly sentences. She’s a girl who says exactly what’s she’s thinking, and no less, which can lead to her being blunt with poor tied-up Taran, but she also starts by saying “please” and introducing herself politely, as if she’s been trained to do that before going off. We also find out later that she is, indeed, a princess, and was probably raised to be formal, even though she has a hard time controlling her tounge. She also has a penchant for speaking in simile, which is a really fun verbal mannerism that none of the other characters use and shows her cleverness for coming up with such analogies on the spot. She’s a friendly but awkward girl, and her contrast with Taran makes for some entertaining conversations and interactions throughout the series.

There’s dozens of other characters I could mention that come up throughout the books, but either because of spoilers or the fact that this article is already ridiculously long, I’m going to include an honorable mentions section instead to give you a taste of the variety of characters and voices Lloyd Alexander writes over the course of the series.

  • Fflewddur Fflam – an “unoffical” bard and who consistantly adds a little color to the truth, and each time he exaggerates, his harp strings snap. Catchphrases include “Great Belin!” and “A Fflam is [adjective], but this situation is ridiculous!” First appears in The Book of Three.
  • Doli – a gruff dwarf who fits the “jerk with a heart of gold” trope. Catchphrase is”numbskulls and idiots!” as he bails his friends out of a sticky situation. First appears in The Book of Three.
  • Gwystyl – another one of the Fair Folk, who tries to get out of confrontation by apologizing, excusing, and saying good bye dozens of times in a single conversation. First appears in The Black Cauldron.
  • Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch – three enchantresses who are kindly threatening, caling the heroes “ducklings” and inviting them into their cottage at the same time implying they might eat them. First appears in The Black Cauldron.
  • Prince Rhun – an optimistic and slightly inept noble who greets everyone with a friendly “Hullo! Hullo!” whether they be friend or foe. First appears in The Castle of Llyr.
  • Queen Teleria – Rhun’s mother, tasked with the practical side of Eilonwy’s education, who inturrpts herself to correct the younger girl on the finer points of being a lady before picking up right where her sentence left off to continue what she was saying. First appears in The Castle of Llyr.

Thanks for reading! I hope this case study could be helpful for you if you’re trying to develop your own skill in writing distinct character voices and clever introductions. Have you read the Chronicles of Prydain? If so, who’s your favorite character? If you haven’t, what’s another story with great character voice you love? Here’s your free excuse to ramble about your favorite books like I did 😉

My Personal Process: Developing Characters

Welcome to the first of the Process Posts! This is a series that will be going live on the 2nd Friday of every month talking about how I personally develop a certain aspect of the writing process. Sometimes, seeing a different perspective on part of the writing process can be helpful in figuring out what method would work best for you, so I wanted to share mine! Of course, this is just my way of doing it, and I’m not claiming it’s the best that it universally works for every project, so feel free to chime in the comments with your own suggestions so we can learn from each other. 🙂

Step 1: Brain Dumping and idea gathering

As far as I can tell, there are two main approaches to character creation – ground up and plot down. Ground Up characters are the sort of OCs that pop into your head with a concept or image or premise, but you have to figure out how to fit them into a story. Plot Down OCs are the sort that arise out of a need for a specific role to be filled in the story, and then you have to create a character out of a few required traits to fit that the bill. This part of the process is where I’m just gathering ideas on how to turn a concept into a person and collecting them in one place. I use a lot of daydreaming, making playlists, finding aesthetics on unsplash and pinterest, reading through prompt blogs and saving everything that catches my attention. This is also the stage when they get a name and the beginnings of a personality.

I don’t know about you, but I hoard ideas like a dragon haha. When you’ve got several years of pinterest boards and phone notes and screenshots there’s no lack of potential for plot hooks and backstory. One of my recent favorite methods is going through my “Everything Playlist” (2114 songs and counting lol) and picking out songs that fit their story arc and point of view on the world. For the Ground Up characters, they help brainstorm what sort of character arcs work for them and how they react to certain situations, and can be the start of a backstory for Plot Down OCs. If you want an example of this, I have the playlists for all my Storge characters linked on the WIP page. I’m building playlists for the Laoche characters now, and Weswin has proved amusing because in-story, he’s a wandering bard. Coincidentally, he’s also the one with the longest playlist. 😛

Step 2: Listing!

When I first started writing, a lot of writing advice websites pointed me to character questionaires. There’s about a million of them but I’ve found that a lot go into a lot of extra detail about what’s in their sock drawer, which isn’t that important to me or the plot. Lists can be a good tool for collecting information about a character, but I find them to be the most useful whenever I’m into the thick of the outlining phase and just need everything in one place. Going through the list allows me to make sure I covered all the important parts of their person, so that way I don’t end up blindsided later with “oh, wait, that backstory I originally wrote down is actually OOC now that I’ve changed the plot.” These are the important things I try to cover!

Character Name: (including nicknames/epithets, if any, and how they got said nickname/epithet)

Category #1: Basics

  • Age, Sex, and Gender:
  • Race/Ethnicity/culture: Especially if they’re form a specific fantasy race, worldbuilding that culture will be important to the character’s worldview. If I’m writing in our world, this means lots and LOTS of research to avoid tokenism and make sure the cast is really diverse, without just slapping labels on them.
  • Appearance/physical details like height, hair/eye color, and general details
  • Other important details like scars, birthmarks, mobility/accessiblity aids, ect.
  • Clothing – style can say a lot about the character’s personality and background, and doing some research/worldbuilding on fashion can help round out the realism of the story.
  • Voice and mannerisms: if they have favorite sayings/catchphrases, use slang, or talk like a textbook, the character’s background will affect how they sound in the narrative of the story, so I like to start brainstorming that here, and writing little snippets in their POV.

 Category #2: Relationships

  • I know the orphaned hero trope is really popular, and I understand the narrative incentive to just handwave annoying questions like “why are there no responsible adults to stop the 14 year old from becoming a war criminal and saving the world?” but I’ll be honest, I don’t really get it from a storytelling point of view. Most people have families and a home life that significantly impacts their worldview irl, and so do my characters, so that sort of discussion goes here.
  • I discuss (briefly) each member’s personality (if they don’t have their own outline) and relationship to the character. This is also where work out how their friendships developed with other members of the cast. This is a good opportunity to get info down for side characters who might not need a ton of background but do feature in the story in some way.
  • I also note how the MC is generally perceived by his/her acquaintances and strangers, and what sort of reputation they have outside of their immedieate social circle.

Category #3: Romance

I’ll be honest, I rarely write romance, but if that’s going to be a major subplot in your story, it’s probably important to develop that here. Important questions to ask might include: Does this character have any past experience with dating that might affect how they approach this relationship? What’s their orientation? Do they want a relationship, and if so, what do they want out of a relationship? Do they flirt, and how do they flirt? What sort of misunderstandings would lead to obstacles in the relationship and how would they work to get past them? If there’s other distracting plot stuff going on (like solving a crime, fighting an evil king, or saving the world from reality unravelling, y’know, typical Tuesday stuff), how would they react to The Feels and balance their time between their romantic interests and their duty?

Category #4: Skills

  • General Skills: if they know art, fighting, other languages, ect, anything goes here. explain WHY they know that.
  • Smarts: This would be a character’s general approach to solving problems, thinking fast under tough situations, and general background knowledge. I’d also include schooling in there if it’s relevant, but education doesn’t necessarily correlate to intellegence.
  • This is also where I touch on their occupation and hobbies. It’s a fun way to round out a character and subvert expectations if they have an interest in something you wouldn’t expect on first notice.

Category #5: Fundamentals – the fun stuff, where I start drawing connections to the plot. At each major decision, I come back to this section and ask myself “what would they decide to do based on the following? Why?”

  • General Personality Categorical Stuff: like Introvert or Extravert, MBTI type, Hogwarts House, Enneagram, Alignment like in DnD, an excuse to makeup fun uquiz questions and figure out their general behavior and voice on a day to day basis.
  • Strengths: there are many different types of character strengths and I don’t have the space to summarize them all here, so Here’s an excellent blog article on types of strengths. to give you some ideas! I try to make sure that I include a few for my villains too becasue they need to be effective in their villainy, and to include a variety of strengths so that the characters can play off of each other’s strong points.
  • Weaknesses: These usually reflect what the strengths could be if taken to their extreme, and connect with plot points where the characters fail to reach their goals because of a mistake or choice they make.
  • Goals/Dreams/Aspirations: The driving motivation behind their actions in the story
  • Beliefs/Affiliations: If they’re part of a religion or have a certain philosophy that plays into how they behave, it goes here.
  • Fears/Insecurities/Mental illness: the angsty part of this outline, where the tragic backstories come out
  • Role in the Story: Why are they here and what do they contribute to the plot?
  • What are they doing after the story ends? If the story has sequel potential, that goes here
  • Any formative memories that might be important go here
  • What would they die for? How much are they willing to sacrifice? How far are they willing to go with their actions to meet their goals before it’s crossing a moral line for them?
  • If I have any motifs for them at this point, they’d also go here.

Step 3: Repeat for each character and Connect the Dots

At this point, my characters have usually changed a lot from the original concept, and now I have to figure out how they change in the story. While I’m developing them, I’m simultaniously working on the outline (which I’ll discuss in next month’s Process Post!) and as I work through the plot in each chapter, I’m also working through the character’s arcs. This is my favorite part of the creative process – when I get to see how the messy, complicated people come together with a messy situation and how they clash and world together and make their way to The End. This is a process borne of a lot of trial and error on my part, and so I hope that by sharing it today, it helps someone too.

If you’d like, take this as an opportunity to ramble in the comments as much as you’d like about your favorite OCs. I’d love to learn more about my reader’s characters, and about the stories they live. Thank you for reading, and happy writing! 🙂

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

Goals, and Resolutions, and Updates, oh my!

Happy new year!! While yes, resolution setting is an endlessly talked-about and controversial topic, I – predictably enough – really enjoy this season because of the monthly goals that I keep. In retrospect, it’s gratifying to see how much I was able to accomplish on my personal projects despite the hectic day-to-day responsiblities getting in the way, and the faliures are put into a greater context which puts in perspective what really needed to be prioritized. Since it’s Jan. 1 and the Endless Impossible Year is finally over, this post will not only cover my usual monthly goals recap for December, but it’s also going to -surprise surprise – include my resolutions and plans for 2021.

So without Further Ado, let’s get into the goal recap and resolutions…

This month was especially difficult for my family, and especially busy with finals, Christmas preperations, and a new job on top of the family stuff, so I was surpised to see how much I actually got done in the 1 week before life went crazy, and the few days between the 26th and 31st. Winning a month of goals with only 12 normal days to work? I did what? To be fair, some of these were easy goals and I didn’t add any goals for certain projects and WIPs, but I had a lot of other life and family goals too that I was able to accomplish and so I’m taking it in stride. And this marks three years I’ve been keeping monthly goals, since I started in January of 2018, which is a pretty cool milestone too.

Figure out plan for authors website updates in December and 2021: See below!

Post to blog following schedule: This is only a seperate goal because I didn’t queue posts ahead of time and the middle weeks of this month were insane so actually making all the posts for December on time was a small miracle. I’ll be working ahead for this upcoming year (hopefully).

Find someone to interview for January on website: I didn’t have the chance to do this in December buuuuut, see below if you want to be on the blog!

Finish Words of Radience: This book. This book! Is the first book in a long time that I have actively stayed up until 4am to finish reading.

Do list of questions to start Laoche’s outline: If you’re following my my tumblr you’ll know that I finally got the chance to bust out the sticky note board, old 3 ring binder of composition books, and start braindumping for this series! I have made a lot of progress so far, but I have also found a lot of holes in the original concept (which I made when I was 14 so no surprise there) so there’s more work to be done in the future! It’s like before I had 6 duplo blocks and had put them together into a child’s house or something, and starting this outline was like knocking that off the table altogether and dumping out a whole tote bin of the little legos in it’s place. It’s awesome and fun and an absolute mess and there are no instructions included.

Draw 5 things: I had the chance to draw a few fun characters for the Writeblr Secret Santa and some doodling for my own characters! 5 exactly, and hoping for more next month.

Edit 10k words for Storge (allowed to skip chapter 3): *sigh* so this could have been done. I was partway through and going at a good pace, but then when the family emergency happened, not only did editing schedules get thrown off, but also the next chapter I had to cover hit a little too close to home for me to rewrite with an objective and critical eye. Even with the caveat that I later added about skipping it, I wasn’t able to get back into the story since that chapter is the immediate aftermath of the inciting incident, and just ended up tabling it for the new year. (I should say, my family is alright, it was a couple rough weeks there, but we’re good now.)

My top creative resolutions for 2021:

  • Finish editing Storge! I’m really re-writing it into a 2nd draft, and since the first one took me over 3 years, I don’t have high hopes for this goal, but I’m getting better at time management and I’m a better writer, so *crossed fingers* on this one.
  • Starting beta readers for this would be incredible but I have a feeling that’s a project for next winter break.
  • Finish Outline for Laoche Chronicles: This includes figuring out the plot and themes for the trilogy, backstories, motivations, and arcs for each character, worldbuilding for the world’s science/magic system, and cultures for 3 countries (8 subcultures if I count correctly). This is the most ambitious project I’ve ever tried, and though I didn’t have the skill to manage it when I was 14, I hope I’ll be able to figure it out this go around.
  • Read 24 books: I have a good mix of nonfiction, Sanderson, and a never ending TBR so only time will tell if I can pull this off!
  • Get my act together with this Author Platform buisness. I hope the plan that I have outlined below will be a good start on this, but I know I have a lot of research and learning ahead of me if I ever want to get these stories published, so this will be an adventure! That being said…

Now the exciting update!

I posted this on tumblr earlier in December when I actually figured it out, but not many people saw it there, and it’s relevant to the website itself so here it goes. My process for choosing weekly posts so far has been a mostly last minute array of “uhhhh what can I grab from tumblr today?” with occasional put-together content, but moving forward I have *trumpet sounds* a schedule! New plan, starting this month, is that I’m keeping to my once a week on Fridays update schedule, with each month having a theme and pattern:

  • The 1st week will be my usual monthly goals recap, both as accountability for myself and to check in with you and your progress because I like hearing about what you all are working on.
  • The 2nd week of the month is going to be a post about my writing process. This won’t be a “how to” post, since everyone has their own way of writing that works for them, but rather just sharing another way of developing a different aspect of the story like worldbuilding or characterization. I think it’ll also be a fun “behind the scenes” of what I’m currently working on, and because I have a series in development, a fanfic in drafting, and Storge in editing, all the bases are covered.
  • The 3rd week will be a resource reccomendation, similar to my last post. These will be links of books and that I think really exemplify the theme of the month and a brief analysis on how to learn from them, as well as a chance for you to give me your reccomendations. The last post and the first in this series was more general “how to write” resources, if you want to check that out!
  • The 4th week of the month will be some of my writing that keeps with the theme of the month – probably either a Storge excerpt or introduction to the main trilogy of The Laoche Chronicles. I’m excited for this, because it’ll force me to do drills and learn certain skills I need more practice on, in addition to helping me make progress on my stories and letting you see some actual content from my worlds!
  • Months with 5 Fridays will get special bonus content revolving around the community – hopefully either interviews/collabs with other writers, shoutouts, or something else fun that you pick! I’ll have polls up on my IG account (@ettagraceauthor) for these.

Now that that’s been explained, here are the themes for the next several months that I have figured out so far! If there’s something not here already that you want to see, leave a comment and I’ll add it to a future month. 

  • January: Character Voice/Characterization
  • February: Outlining and Complex Plots
  • March: Worldbuilding
  • April: Editing and Prose
  • May: Research and Adaptations
  • June: Developing Strong Themes
  • July: Poetry
  • August: Short Stories

That’s all I have for today, but I’m excited to see what this year brings. I enjoy interacting with the writing community and want to be better about reaching out to people in the future. I also want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void, and so if I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your reccomendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me on the 5th week in January, you can leave a comment below for both of those, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! Also feel free to tell me some of your accomplishements in 2020 and what you’re excited to be working on in the future. I hope you all have a wonderful start to your new year and a happy 2021 🙂

Resource Reccomendations: Writing Help Masterpost!

Helllooooo there! I’m doing something a little different this week. If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve recently finished uploading all of the relevant links and introductions for my main WIP, Storge, which you can find here. I’m also working on the sequel series which makes up the rest of the Laoche Chronicles, but for now, a lot of that is brainstorming and I don’t want to post that information until I’ve outlined and can avoid redactions down the line. So instead we’re doing this! You all seemed to like my other informational posts about the writing process, like this interview about starting an author’s platform and this one about staying creative when life gets busy, so I thought it would make sense to continue that trend with some Resource Reccomendations. Thanks to everyone who commented your favorites, and if you have another one that you don’t see here, feel free to leave it in the comments! Lets get started, shall we?

Youtube Channels

Hello Future Me: I’ve already talked about this one before on my IG, since it’s one of my all time favorite channels. Tim Hickson’s video series On Writing and Worldbuilding (and the book he subsequently compiled of the scripts) has been a massive help in teaching me how to tell a good story and create an immersive world. His research is second-to-none, the media analysis is insightful and helpful in learning how your favorite stories are built (specifically Avatar: The Last Airbender and Tolkien’s works), and you can tell a lot of work goes into each video. This is my go-to resource to learn about or brush up on the tools storytelling when I’m having trouble with a paticular element of my writing.

Jenna Moreci: This is one of the first channels I found and still one of my favorites. Jenna has a great playlist of videos teaching how to write specific types of scenes or tropes, but also a lot of great practical advice on the buisness side of being an author that’s serving as my main point of reference for starting my writing platform. She’s a ridiculosuly hard worker and her quarterly goal lists inspired my monthly goals lists, which I can vouch for as being an extremely useful tool. She’s fun to watch, and is very active in the author community, so her channel is also how I found many of the others on this list. This is my go-to resource for info on building an author’s platform and the self publishing process.

iWriterly: This is a similar channel to Jenna’s that talks a lot about the business side of writing – but this one is run by Meg LaTorre and talks about how to break out into the traditional publishing industry. She worked as an agent and just self-published her debut novel, and so she’s very knowledgeable about this paticular topic. I’ve been working through her videos on using Instagram for writers, which is a bewildering topic for me, and she presents the information in a clear and accessible manner. This is one that’s newer to me, but I like the content I’ve seen so far! I reccomend this channel if you’re looking to traditional publish or start seriously working on an author’s platform.

Overly Sarcastic Productions: This channel is run by a two person team going by the names Red and Blue. Blue does videos on history, while Red does videos on mythology, classic literature, and most relavant to writers probably: Trope Talks, which dissect popular tropes, how to subvert them, and how to do them really well. They make “boring nerd subjects” absolutely hilarious, the research and video production is top-notch, and they have a lot of other ways to engage with their platform too! They have a huge discord server (link in the descriptions of their videos), and even though I don’t interact very much in there, it’s nice to be able to read the interesting conversations and have fast-access to people in fields you might not know that much about if you need an answer for your writing research. They also have a more informal podcast (link below in the ‘podcasts’ section of the post) that discusses their recent videos and answers fan questions, and sometimes do collabs and video game streams. This is my go to for general research, inspiration, and understanding how stories change and grow over time.

Tale Foundry: This is a really creative channel that does deep analysis of certain genres and pieces of literature to explain what can be learned from their writing style! They have a smaller but very interactive community that does story-share competitions and peer review, and recently started a new video series called “Tale Tips” that talk about how to improve your prose. Also, the channel “character”/avatar, is a robot and the whole channel has a vaugely steampunk aesthetic to it that I love. This is my go-to for understanding genre, how to portray a specific tone, and will be my go to community if I want to try short fiction one day.

Brandon Sanderson (recced by @siarven on tumblr): I’m a little late to the party but Sanderson has quickly become my new favorite author after reading the first two books of The Stormlight Archive, and I was thrilled to find out that not only does he have an entire channel full of informal discussions and short writing advice videos, he also has a whole college class recorded and available for free on how to tell stories. If you need a good hour of discusson on his truly enviable worldbuilding in the background while you wrap presents, it’s here. Beware of spoilers for his books though! He likes to use them as examples. Great for if you need a crash course on how to structure a novel or want to hear Sanderson talk about his own writing

Shadiversity: This channel focuses mostly on historical weapons, tactics, and, military strategy, but its also a goldmine for writers looking for resources on how to write that big final battle or an awesome underrated weapon to give a character. He does a lot of his own demonstrations with the weapons, and also has a really fun series on “what weapons would be best for this fantasy creature” which inspired some of the Avians tactics in Storge. This is my go-to for researching anything that has to do with fight scenes or worldbuilding militaries.

Just Write (recced by @lunarmoment on tumblr): This channel does video essays analyzing popular media for their storytelling and demonstrating what writers can learn from them. It focuses mostly on movies, so if you’re looking to be a screenwriter or need to brush up on the three-act plot structure, this would probably be a good channel for you. I’ve watched a few of their videos, and from what I can tell, they’re all put together very well, like watching mini documentaries.

Kate Cavanaugh (recced by @inkwell-attitude on tumblr): This is a new channel for me, but from what I’ve seen so far, I really like it! Kate does vlogs about her writing process, challenges, and goals, and looks like a great source of some writerly motivation. I think she also does a write-in streams, which are a fun way to meet other writers and get in your daily word goals.

Shaelin Writes (recced by @gloriafrimpong on tumblr): Another new channel for me – Shaelin is part of the authortube community, talks about her writing process, has videos on writing tips, and talks about what she’s learned on her own writing journey. I’m looking foward to watching more of her videos in the near future!

Books

On Writing and Worldbuilding: Volume 1 by Tim Hickson: this is the one I mentioned above, under Hello Future Me’s youtube channel. I have this book and like to use it as a fast reference if I don’t have the time or access to the internet to go watch the original video associated with the topic I need. An audiobook version just came out recently, and he’s planning to release another volume eventually with the newer video’s scripts.

No Plot No Problem by Chris Baty: This little handbook is a fun crash course in novel writing by Chris Baty, one of the founders of NaNoWriMo. The first half is an introduction to the core elements of a novel and how to develop them before you start drafting, and the second half is a NaNo survival guide.

Anatomy of Prose by Sasha Black: I haven’t actually read this one yet, but it looks really good and I enjoy Sasha’s other work on her youtube channel and podcast. It discusses stortelling on a sentence by line basis, explaining how understanding grammar and vocabulary can improve your prose.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (recced by @zielenbloesem on tumblr): This book is partially a memoir and partially a self help book, talking about what it takes to be a writer and how to overcome some of the challenges along the way. I haven’t read it yet, but it looks interesting!

How to Read Literature like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster (recced by @uraniumwriting on tumblr): This book is something you might find in an English class, and talks about how people (professors specifically) interpret books. It discussess narrative devices, symbolism, and can serve as a helpful exercise to help you think about how your own writing might be percieved. I haven’t had to take an English class in a few years, but I’ll be checking this out for sure.

Blogs/Websites

Helping Writers Become Authors: The name really says it all, this website is a database of helpful articles on how to develop your writing style and other elements of the author life. I used this blog a lot when I was first learning how to write, and have since enjoyed going back to it to see what else there is to learn.

Hannah Heath: This is one of the first blogs I found when I started writing, and her articles have been a huge help in learning how to develop meaningful stories with strong themes. She’s a self-published speculative fiction author of not-preachy and super creative Christian lit, and also has a Youtube Channel where she vlogs about her favorite tropes and characters. I’m listing her here, rather than in the youtube section becasue I found her through her blog originally, and becasue that section was getting really long.

Name Generators and Meaning sites: There’s a million on the internet but they can be invaluable when trying to figure out what to call your fictional children or that place mentioned briefly in chapter 2 that’s definetly not foreshadowing or anything. Two of my favorites are Springhole and BehindtheName.

Krista Jain: Another great resource for folklore and inspiration! I met Krista recently through this blog, and I’ve really enjoyed reading about her inspirations and seeing the research she does for the folklore spotlights. I’m looking foward to using this site as a reference for worldbuilding as I outline the Laoche Chronicles!

Unsplash and Canva: These are free stock photo and graphic making sites that I use for all of my edits and aesthetic images! Both have a pretty broad range of photos and features to choose from, and they’re easy to use. While this doesn’t have to do with writing, they can help you promote your writing platform!

Podcasts

The Overly Sarcastic Podcast: as mentioned above! This is a newer channel development, so there aren’t many episodes yet, but they more than make up for it in the promise for more consistent content, their hour length, and the informal, unscripted humor.

The Rebel Author Podcast: Created by Sasha Black, this discusses How To’s of the writing life and how to create a successful platform for your writing. She often collabs with Jenna Moreci, and while I’ve only listened to a few episodes, I’ve learned a ton already and want to take notes so I don’t forget anything.

Hyba is Writing: I met Hyba on writeblr originally and while I still need to catch up on the newer episodes, I’ve enjoyed listening to her discuss her writing and self-publishing journey! The episodes have both a professional and informal sort of quality to them, if that makes any sense, like you’re listening to a friend who’s really clever and put together and I really enjoy how calm and friendly they are.

Catastrotivity by Exurb2a: This is hosted on youtube, but it’s essentially a 6 episode podcast that works as a series of personal ancedotes, sympathy for the difficult parts of the creative process, and a pep talk. This is actually the side channel of the creator, who’s main channel has other really creative off-beat videos that toe the line between existential sci-fi and motivational speaking. It’s really weird and really entertaining (in my opinon), and a great example of how you’re never alone in your creative struggles.

That’s all I have for now, but I hope you can use this as a helpful reference post the next time you’re looking for writing help! Do you have a favorite creator or resource that wasn’t featured here? Feel free to leave a link in the comments, and help this become a collaborative list for other readers! Thank you again to my friends who answered my posts asking for recs! I really enjoyed seeing what you had to share. Until next time, happy writing! 🙂