Wonder and Wisdom: The Time Quintent

For a book that is included on every elementary recommended reading list and has been adapted into several feature-length films, I believe that A Wrinkle in Time is a criminally underrated book, and the rest of the series even more so. It’s difficult to explain my attachment to this series, but the unparalleled Madeline L’Engle created characters and a world in her works so interesting that I regularly reread and take inspiration from them to this day. So today, I want to write a tribute to my favorite children’s author. For readers, please take this as a wholehearted recommendation. For writers, this is my attempt to break down what makes L’Engle’s writing so impactful, so we can learn from her style and craft similarly beautiful works ourselves.

Capturing Wonder

For a brief, illuminating second, Meg’s face had the listening, probing expression that was so often seen on Charles’s. ‘I see!’ she cried. ‘I got it! For just a moment I got it! I can’t possibly explain it now, but there for a second I saw it!”

A Wrinkle in Time, on the Tesseract

Children are creative scientists – their entire existence centers on learning more about the world each day, and learning how to make their own place in it. If you’re reading this, you probably never lost that spark of curiosity. We live for this moment of epiphany, even as we know there is an ENDLESS amount of information yet to explore. I think this is also why speculative fiction is so appealing. Not only do we have our world to explore, but we can make whole worlds with our imaginations, be they mystical realms or distant planetoids.

In a book where the magic system works through physics and 5th dimensions, she also doesn’t shy away from the metaphysical questions of good and evil. This series treats religion and science as two different, but not opposed, methods of discovering truth. The characters grapple with questions about their place in the cosmos, what is means to be good or evil, and the nature of love. The concepts are never dumbed down, though the prose is accessible to an elementary audience. Reading these books gave me the vocabulary to talk about these ideas and made me feel like I deserved to be taken seriously. We contextualize our experiences in terms of stories, and what we don’t yet understand, we call magic.

L’Engle takes this philosophy to heart with her choice of genre. She doesn’t just blur the line between allegory, mythology, fantasy, and science fiction; she posits that there is no distinction. With every possibility open to experimentation, she created a unique spin on our universe that captured my imagination as a child. This is the book that made me say, “I want to write like this one day.”

Encouragement

“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”

Madeline L’Engle

Throughout the series, the characters must fight various forces of evil, which seek to tear apart their family and their word. Just because children are young doesn’t mean they don’t encounter evil. Good protectors may shelter them from harm, but they still meet it in the daily troubles of school and home life, and without stable parents and guardians, they are even more vulnerable. This book is honest. Meg and Charles deal with bullies. Their father is missing. Their teachers and principal are unfair. Life is pain, highness, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

But you can fight back. The story shows the characters putting their lives on the line to protect their loved ones. Their actions prove you can fight IT. The black thing is huge and terrifying, but it is not all-powerful. Meg both beats and forgives her bullies. They might not release the people of Camazotz, but they save their father. It is inspiring to read about this bittersweet, stubborn hope overcoming an evil greater than any one person. The characters earn a happy ending, but at no point do you take their struggle for-granted and it always struck me as more real than much of children’s media that takes a saccharine-saturated optimistic view of the world.

Belonging

“A self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel and handed to the child, finished and complete. A self is always becoming.”

A Circle of Quiet

Meg is an oddball – the “before” of every teen makeover with frizzy brown hair, thick glasses, and braces, a math genius that’s failing her other classes, quick with a witty comeback that infuriates her teachers, too impulsive and honest, which makes her socially awkward around her peers, and overly protective of a “dumb” brother. Charles is a pre-schooler who speaks in well-articulated sentences and comprehends complex metaphysical ideas, but refuses to interact with anyone outside his immediate family. Yet, their mother never belittles them for their eccentricities – she seeks accommodations, such as homeschooling or getting a typewriter, and gives her daughter gentle guidance to help weather the trials of growing up. The Murry family also accepts Calvin, who can mask his oddness to fit into a social norm, but feels out of place amongst his own siblings. Their home is a warm and welcoming shelter from the storms of both societal shunning and thundering wild nights. If you blew into town like Mrs. Whatsit, they wouldn’t hesitate to sit you around their kitchen table for a midnight sandwich.

But belonging does not mean conformity, and Meg resists IT’s statement that “everyone is equal, everyone exactly alike.” At home, they can be themselves without fear of judgement or retaliation, rather than changing who they are to avoid judgement and retaliation. Fiction is so often escapist, and giving the characters a place to retreat for comfort and safety also gives the reader that feeling of security. Whether it’s on the utopian Uriel or on Ixchel with Aunt Beast, L’Engle shows how important it is to have a small but close-knit community to act as a support structure, even when the evil is something you must face alone.

“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.”

Mrs. Whatsit

Did you read this book as a child? What did you think of it then, compared to now? Please let me know what you think! Happy reading and writing. 🙂

5 ways to Encourage Kids to Read

When he was ten, my little brother was not a “fan” of anything. He enjoyed certain tv shows, but never got invested in the story and rarely read voluntarily, much to our mother’s chagrin. Mostly, he hung out with his jock of an older brother who poked fun at the fandom and writerly shenanigans of my marvel-obsessed sister and I, the resident Nerd and Author who “Care Too Much” about fictional worlds. Today, my twelve-year-old brother finished a 12-page-long original story, and is working his way through Lord of the Rings.

Around the same time, at the start of 2020, I was in one of the worst reading slumps of my LIFE. High school literature classes and a busy college/work schedule took my reading habit from several books a week to 1 or 2 a year. Thanks to a few beloved friends’ encouragement, I started the Stormlight Archive, and bounced back to reading over 30 books by this past year.

I’m not a teacher, or a parent, but I have learned a few things from watching his development these past two years, and watching the tricks that my friends pulled on me. For anyone else who spends a lot of time with impressionable kids and wants to play the (incredibly fun) role of neighborhood eccentric that sends children on adventures, here are 5 ways to encourage them to read.

1) Meet them where their interests lie

This transformation started with Avatar the Last Airbender. It just came out on Netflix, and we watched it as a family during the quarantine at the start of COVID. I could include him in conversations with my sister about fan-theories and subtext, and it made him feel grown-up to participate and contribute. When he came up with his own daydreams, I asked him to write his updates for me, and directed him to more reading material. Likewise, my friends indulgently listened to my writing rambles and gently nudged me toward a series they knew I would enjoy based on the similar tropes.

Try to introduce kids to similar genres as the ones they already enjoy. If they like a video game or tv-show, try to find novelizations or comics to accompany it. Show them how to use a library catalogue to look up the author’s last name and find other books. Listen to their rambles and ask questions, instead of just nodding and smiling. I’m sure we can all remember how hurtful, dismissive adults were when we shared our interests as kids. If they can trust you to be a supportive friend, they’ll be more receptive to your input in the future. I will accept recommendations from those same friends now with no questions asked because I trust their judgement on my taste in books.

2) Tell them stories

Making dinner? Weeding the garden? Folding laundry? Instead of putting on music or a movie for background noise, ask them if they want to hear a story. Humans have been telling tall tales over the household chores since the beginning of time, and oral storytelling is one of the most powerful gateways to voluntary silent reading. Tell them about crazy things you did when you were their age. Share your favorite fairy tales from that one obscure book in the back of the library. Pass the plot back and forth in a “choose your own adventure” never-ending story to let them contribute. Frame it as a fun way to make the chore less painful, and if they enjoy the story time, you might find them coming back to help if it means they can hear what happens next.

3) Don’t Gatekeep

Do they want to read comics? Fanfiction? Chapter books below their grade level? An epic that might be too advanced? Let them! If it’s fun, they’ll keep reading, and eventually move onto other types of literature as their tastes change. If it becomes a chore, they’ll lose interest and give up. This is exactly the tactic that English class pulled on me to put me into a 3-year-long reading slump. It says something dire when the most interesting and uplifting book we read all year was an account of the Armenian Genocide from a survivor’s descendent. If you want to nudge them toward the classics, there are easier methods than assigning something from an arbitrary reading list as homework.

4) Read together, Share favorites

Related to the above point about telling stories, never underestimate the sacred power of the bed-time read-aloud or a book club. Taking the time to read with someone else proves that you think the story is worthwhile, and there’s a special kind of joy in watching someone discover something you love. Take it from the Princess Bride.

If you know they will never pick up a certain book, such as a difficult classic, a long book they don’t have time for, or something outside their usual genre, reading it aloud to them is an excellent incentive. It outsources the work of reading to someone else and allows their hands to be free to play with blocks or work while they can still enjoy the story. If you don’t have the time to do a read-aloud, buying or renting them an audiobook can also be effective! I do most of my reading nowadays in the car while commuting to work.

5) Reward Initiative

The Annual Library Summer Reading Program was my bread and butter growing up. You logged how many minutes you read each day, which stacked onto your total tally. When you reached 200, 400, 600, and 800 minutes, you could redeem prizes and free books from the display. If you don’t have access to such a program, or it’s not summer, proposing your own challenge can take advantage of a competitive streak. Once, I bet my brother that he couldn’t read all 28 of the original Magic Tree House books before his birthday, and when he posted that last badge in his passport, he won a one-on-one ice cream date with me.

For me now, the chance to ramble about stories with my friends is incentive enough. They’re often subjected to “live-reactions” as I text my running theories. We usually meet up once I finish to have a debrief and share predictions for the next book. It’s nice to see them and share the excitement while taking a break from homework. And hey, I won’t say no to ice cream either.

Thank you for reading this post! I wish you the best of luck on all your bibliophilic adventures! Have a great day, and happy writing! 🙂

“Brigid’s Vists”

Meet Brigid! She is a minor character from my upcoming middle grade portal fantasy novel, Runaways. She is a friend that the sisters meet in the Seelie Court, and the leader of a group of “powers” – humans that the fae have blessed with phenomenal abilities. I got new markers for Christmas and had to try them out on the POV character of my next newsletter story.

Every three months, I release a new short that features a side character from some corner of my fictional universe, and Brigid is the protagonist of this year’s Christmas special! Why are you posting about a Christmas special in January, I hear you ask? Shhhh. The story includes time travel and the holiday liturgical season doesn’t end until the 6th. This is totally legit.

If you want to read “Brigid’s Visit” you can sign up for my newsletter at this link! It also grants you access to my backlog of stories, including “Jack of Fables” and “Matter.” I hope you enjoy reading!

2021 Year in Review, 2022 Resolutions

Hello all! In lieu of my usual monthly goal recap, or pestering people for interviews over the holidays, I wanted to take this 5th Friday of December to do a year in review. I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas last week, if you celebrate, and a Happy New Years tonight! Strangely enough, I don’t actually remember last New Years. It’s like I set up my bullet journal for 2020, making jokes with my friends about how if last century was the roaring twenties, this century would have the screaming twenties, then I blinked and here we are. Oops. But there’s proof that the past year did, in fact, exist, so let’s see if I met any of the resolutions that I don’t remember setting for myself.

2021 Resolution Review

Finish editing Storge: I half finished this and hit the 50K mark, but paused because my priorities changed. I’m still very proud of what I’ve done with this story so far, and I think the changes I’m making are for the better, however long and tedious they are to implement.

Starting beta readers for Storge: This did not happen, as the 2nd (and 3rd) draft wasn’t complete, however I did start the beta reading process for a different WIP, which I’ll talk about in a bit.

Finish Outline for Laoche Chronicles: Yet again, I did not completely finish this goal, ambitious as it was, but I overhauled my magic system, developed new backstories for several main characters, and fleshed out my world’s politics. This is an ambitious story that’s constantly evolving as I improve my craft, but I realized I would have to focus on some smaller-scale projects first to solidify my skill-set before tackling this titan.

Read 24 books: I read 34 books this year, counting beta reading Siarven’s Dreams Shadow twice which isn’t included in Goodreads (yet). You can read our interview here if you haven’t yet.

Get my act together with this Author Platform business: Last year at this time, I had next to no organized workflow for maintaining this website, and still needed to find my footing as a blogger, as well as an author and student. Since then, I’ve posted almost every Friday this year, maintained a biweekly posting schedule on my Instagram, launched a mailing list, reached my 1st year anniversary of starting this site, and hit a bunch of follower goals. I’m incredibly proud of my progress and beyond grateful for all of your immense support.

Other Accomplishments

Filled a whole sketchbook: I’m so proud of how far my art has come. Though it still doesn’t come close to the moving pictures in my head, I’m pleased to see the progress towards making my ideas a reality and conveying them to other people.

Outlined, Drafted, Edited (x2) my Middle Grade Fantasy novel, Runaways, recruited beta readers, and sent off the draft, in under 6 months.

Wrote, edited, and published two Stormlight Archive fan-fictions: Four Hours for Bridge Four is an lyric anthology of short stories during the Way of Kings timeline. Three Brothers is a one-shot “deleted scene” from Rhythm of War.

Did a TON of research on publishing and website updates: Undoubtedly, the publishing landscape will change significantly between when I did this research, and when I do start publishing, but it was a valuable learning experience and left me better equipped to approach this site and my future plans. You can find my findings compiled here and here.

Came up with a nifty new pen name: This shall stay a secret for now, as I don’t have the time/energy/money to dedicate to building up an all-new author’s persona and platform, but I will be keeping it in my back pocket for future use.

Participated in Jean’s OC Authtober: For those of you who don’t follow me on Instagram: My friend Jean, who I met in the Newsies fanfic space, organized a month long challenge with prompts to help us participants better develop our OCs. She is an incredible writer and a wonderfully kind human being, and I was so happy to learn from her process and fine tune Hannah’s voice as I worked on Runaways. My entries to the challenge are all still available to see on my page and I made a highlight so you can still find them!

Participated in the Inklings Challenge: For those of you who don’t follow the Christian Writeblr community: this was another month long challenge inspired by the real-life writing group called the Inklings, which included literary greats such as Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Chesterton. Participants were sorted into three teams and given prompts for science fiction and fantasy stories based on which author they modeled and some common Christian themes and theology.

I was on Team Lewis, and the prompts for Portal Fantasy and Stewardship fit really well for a short story I wanted to write for the Runaways universe! Around the same time at the beginning of the month, I also put up a poll asking what you wanted to see for my annual Halloween Special – and you chose an in-universe spooky short story, which worked out perfectly! These two ideas combined to create The Replacement, which you can read here! The rest of the Inklings stories can be found on the blog, and I’m slowly working through the backlog of stories. It’s been wonderful to see the creativity, thoughtfulness, and care each and every writer put into their work, and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re interested in learning more about Christian culture and creativity, or if you just want to read some really cool stories!

2022 Resolutions

I think the last section goes to show that we can’t always predict what will capture our attention in the scope of a whole year. Priorities can easily change as you realize what you had planned wasn’t working for you, or real world obligations get in the way. This is why I enjoy doing the monthly goals, because it lets me refocus and record my other accomplishments. Keeping this in mind, I know the next year and a half-ish is going to be insanely busy for me. I have an internship and move to a new far-away city this upcoming summer, and three semesters left until I finish my chemical engineering degree and graduate, which means I have to find a Real Job and be a Real Adult. That’s CRAZY. I know my writing may have to take back-burner, so I’m trying to set incremental resolutions for each of my projects, in the hopes that any forward progress will be working towards at least one of them.

  1. Complete beta reading and personal copy-edits for Runaways, then shop for a professional editor and cover artist so I can prepare it for publication.
  2. Read 50 Books – including my writing nonfiction backlog, and some beta reading assignments
  3. Finish my Storge analysis and read-through, complete 2nd draft.
  4. Maintain, and improve my author’s platform by maintaining/modifying this site, sending out four quarterly newsletters to my mailing list, and growing my Instagram presence with reels and better photos.

Wish me luck, my friends! This being said, I 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 recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, 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 accomplishments 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 2022!

Best Ways to Support Indie Authors and Booksellers

With holiday season coming up, I know many of us are frantically scrambling to put our lists together. But there’s no time like Christmas to spread a little cheer in the book community! Holiday season means survival time for many small businesses, who both rely on the shopping spree to make their sales for the year, and are forced to compete with huge retailers for people’s business. If you’re buying for a bookish friend or family member, or you are the friend or family member receiving books as gifts (because lets be real, if you’re reading this that’s probably the case), here are some ideas on how to support your favorite indie authors and local bookstores!

Buy their books! (or art, or merch, if they have it)

Search the author’s name and try to find a personal website: if they maintain it well, it should be at the top of the search results. Find out if they have a personal store on their site, or if they offer copies of their book in a PDF or EPUB format for being paid directly through a service like PayPal. If you buy the book this way, 100% of the profits go to the author, except maybe a small (10%) transaction fee.

If they don’t have the option to buy their book on their website, next check your local bookstore. If they don’t have it, you can almost always request the book, and they’ll order it in, or maybe even start carrying stock. This goes a long way to support both the local bookstore with your patronage and the author, who will receive closer to 70% royalties on each purchase. If you don’t have a local independent bookstore, most major retailers like Barnes and Nobles, Kobo, Apple books, Google books, etc. also offer better royalty rates than Amazon.

Amazon is the largest book retailer out there. Full stop. Unfortunately, they only give authors 35% royalties, unless they publish exclusively through kindle unlimited. If you can’t find the book you’re looking for on any other platform, it may be because the author opted for a limited distribution plan. For indie authors, it’s difficult to persuade physical stores to carry their books, or they may not have set up the other channels during the publication process. In this case, it’s totally fair to buy the book from Amazon! A sale is better than no sale after all, and they will appreciate your support.

Other ways to support the book community monetarily are to donate to their Kofi pages, signing up for their Patreon groups. Many indie authors don’t make a living off book sales alone and supplement their income with donations/tips. Some bookstores will run holiday fundraisers or charity events. If you like the work that they’re doing, consider tossing a coin to your author.

Don’t have a big gift budget? That’s ok, me neither. There are still plenty of ways to support authors and small bookstores without spending a cent!

Talk about it! Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool for small creators who don’t have a huge marketing fund or a full social battery. It’s also the avenue they have the least control over. If you really enjoyed a book, but you can’t afford to buy a copy for a friend, maybe you could do a book swap instead, and include a homemade bookmark. If other people are asking for your wishlist, give them your TBR. Mention your favorite reads from the year when you meet up with friends and relatives, and it might persuade them to go check it out. Post a quick review on your social media. Every small bit of visibility helps because you never know who will be interested enough to check it out, and pass on the word.

Request the book at your local library! Not only do you get to make friends with the librarians (who are objectively the coolest people in the world), you also get to read the book for free! Meanwhile, the author gets both a sale, and exposure as they land on the “new” shelf with a shiny new barcode, and the library may receive better funding from the footfall and check-out data. More funding = better book buying budget and fun programming for next year. Rinse and repeat.

Leave reviews! Once a listing hits 50 relatively good reviews on Amazon, the site begins free promotion for the author, because they recognize that if enough people liked it enough to leave a review, it’s worth showing to other people in the recommendations list. Once it hits 75 reviews, it’ll also be included in email promotions. Both advertising feats normally cost a ridiculous amount of money, but hitting this threshold is one of the most important landmarks for an indie author.

It also ties into word of mouth, because how will people know if the book is good enough to buy if there aren’t reviews? It’s important to emphasise that these should be honest reviews, so don’t feel you can’t leave one just because you didn’t feel it was 5 stars. Truthful, detailed, 3 and 4 star reviews also help hit that threshold, and won’t be as likely to be marked as spam. If you especially liked the story, every 5-star helps a ton. Also review it on platforms like BookBub and Goodreads if possible! You can copy and paste your thoughts, and it doesn’t have to take long, but it goes a long way.

Join their mailing lists/newsletters: Remember what I said earlier about how most of us don’t have huge marketing budgets? In the realm of social media algorithms, promoting your book is pay-to-play, and even then, your chances of being seen are slim as the posts get swept down the feed. The most reliable way to get news about an author’s sales, new releases, and other events is to join their newsletter. Emails are much less likely to get lost in the internet’s void, and they allow authors to say more than what would get caught in a short post. They also usually come with free reader magnets, which is always a fun treat.

Bookstores and libraries also host events like book signings, giveaways, and holiday programs alllllll the time but might not have the best social media presence. Unless you’re following their mailing list, you’ll miss them. I know nobody wants an inbox over-flooding with promotional material, so it makes sense you’d be picky about which you choose to follow. You can check release schedules if you’re concerned about being overwhelmed, and always unsubscribe if it’s not what you’re looking for anymore. But this is seriously one of the best ways to support authors and small bookstores, though following them on social media doesn’t hurt either.

Flaaawwwless transition into shameless self promotion: I have a new edition of my newsletter coming out next week! This one includes a short story told from the POV of the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future. You should sign up now, so you get the newsletter when it comes out, but in case you miss it, you can still read the backlog of stories later! That list currently includes a narrative poem about Jack of Fables, and a magical realism/sci-fi short story called “Matter.” If you’re looking for something fun and short to read while you’re curled up by the fire this winter break, this is your chance to get three free pdfs. I send out new emails (and new stories) quarterly, so I’ll only be spamming you every three months. I think that’s a fair trade, if I say so myself. Here’s the link to sign up if you’re interested!

I think I’ve rambled enough for today, so now it’s your turn! Tell me about a book you read recently, and I’ll be sure to check it out! Happy reading. 🙂

How To Write Siblings

(This is a republished version of a guide I wrote on Tumblr a while ago that many people seemed to write. I’m posting it here for the benefit of the wider blogging community and for ease of searching because tumblr’s tagging system is notoriously trash.)

There are a few key aspects of the family dynamic you’ll want to keep in mind that will influence how the different relationships form! Siblings can have such a complex relationship that becomes fascinating to see in larger families: they can be best friends and worst enemies, and it’s a criminally underrated dynamic in fiction. Speaking as someone with 4 younger siblings, I’m here today to show you how to build accurate and compelling relationships for your characters.

Parental Roles:

(I’m using the term “parent” loosely, since it may vary depending on the story, but “legal guardian” sounded weird. Y’know what I mean)

Good parents will encourage mutually respectful relationships between their kids, avoid playing favorites, and work to settle bickering quickly and fairly. Siblings might get on each other’s nerves, but they’ll also be friends and whacky in-jokes abound.

Poor parents will either create an incredibly tight bond between siblings (to compensate for the lack of a reliable/safe adult support structure) or will drive siblings apart (probably by playing favorites, creating a bitter rivalry).

Another thing to consider is if both a mother and father figure are present. Kids being raised by a single parent or a grandparent will have a different dynamic than if both were around. Divorce or parental death can be a major traumatic early life event, and will affect how each child relates to their parent and to each other. I can’t really speak to this because I didn’t grow up in a separated family, but research by reading first-hand experiences. If the kids are orphans, or both parents are neglectful, a sibling might step up into the parenting role, creating a complex, co-dependent relationship.

Birth Order:

People will argue about this for aaaaagggess, but broadly speaking, the following personality traits are accurate:

Oldest/Oldest available (when the actual eldest isn’t around)/Oldest Daughter (when the older brothers are useless around the house):

  • Strengths: organized, responsible, leader, probably half-decent at babysitting, cooking, and cleaning, may be a peacemaker between younger siblings.
  • Weaknesses: bossy/opinionated, default center of attention OR invisible depending on the situation, may bully younger siblings
  • With great privilege comes great responsibility

Middle (depending on place in the middle and age gaps, may lean more towards oldest/youngest behaviors in the family dynamic):

  • Strengths: flexible, independent, more laid-back attitude, probably makes friends outside of the family easily
  • Weaknesses: flighty, deliberately annoying, might feel inadequate or looked over in an older sibling’s “shadow”

Youngest:

  • Strengths: “Go-get-em” attitude. They want to run with the older kids, and parents are too exhausted to stop them, so they learn a lot young. If the eldest could stay at home alone overnight at 16, the youngest is probably doing that at 14. Confident. The other default center of attention.
  • Weaknesses: Tag-along, loud/obnoxious, used to getting their way.

When someone only has one sibling, it’s only the oldest/youngest dynamic, and it’s more likely for both to act independently. The parent’s attention isn’t split so many ways, like it would be in a large family, so carefully consider all the interactions and personalities and how they would affect the dynamic between the two. Specifically, if there’s a large age gap, they may function more like only children that live in the same house.

When you have a large family, pretty much everything in your life rotates around the family’s schedule. When are your parents available to take you to X event? Do you have to be present at Y event, who’s babysitting tonight? Each person has a defined role within the family and the relationships reflect that. More people = more chores to be done around the house and everyone would be expected to pitch in, though the elder siblings might share more of the work.

Shared Life Experiences:

How much time did they spend together growing up, and was that a positive or negative experience? Did their family experience a traumatic event? (probably in the protagonist backstory). How did they react and support each other through that? If there’s common ground, they might not talk about it because nothing needs to be said: they lived through it together. Would they hold grudges for old fights, or keep score or favors? What fond memories can they bond over?

Personality Dynamics/Clashes:

Depending on how you built your characters from the above questions, this can be a highly story-specific question to answer, but I’m just going to throw some generic dynamic ideas together inspired by my own siblings and stories:

  • Oldest and 2nd Oldest sisters are mistaken as twins because they’re on the same mental wavelength 80% of the time. Lots of affectionate exasperation and mutual complaining/info dumping.
  • Middle was the youngest for years until a younger sibling was born. Finds themselves caught between youngest “immaturity” and new expectations to be a good example of an older sibling.
  • Two middle kids (2 years apart) bicker as small children but grow into being chill friends as teenagers once they both mature a little.
  • Younger middle has different favored older siblings to go to for different problems when they can’t get mom or dad’s attention (asking oldest for help with school, older middle for help with friends, etc.)
  • The impartial sibiling mediating arguments between overly concerned but justifiably frustrated parents and overly defensive but justifiably irritated sibling.
  • Parents mediating arguments between overly concerned but justifiably frustrated older sibling and overly defensive but justifiably irritated younger sibling.
  • Younger middle and youngest siblings being absolute agents of chaos together, and that insanity factor growing exponentially for each added person involved.
  • The house is just TOO NOISY with all of this chatter, you’re banished outside until dinner time. Go play.
  • The dynamic of: “oh my gosh they’re such a dumbass, but I love them too much to let them get away with this bad decision.
  • Protective of each other against outsiders, even if they bicker a lot: “The only one allowed to punch my sibling is me.”
  • Complaining with each other about their parents
  • So many dumb in-jokes

Communication

If you’re writing a large family, communication is SUPER important. (communication is always important, but especially when there’s a lot of people in the mix). It’s likely the parents have some sort of tracking system in place so they can keep tabs on where their kids are – not to be controlling (though that’s possible if the parents are especially authoritative) but practically, to coordinate rides, and tell when people are going to be home, and figure out what time is dinner going to be (if they eat together), and who’s in the area to do errands, and to check if the kid got to the place safely.

The kids will also learn patience, because they might have to wait around their school for an hour until someone can pick them up. Middle and younger kids are more likely to find friends to catch a ride, whereas oldest kids might just opt to sit in the cafeteria and get ahead on homework, for example. Any older sibling will inevitably help with taxi duties.

In modern settings, that could be a location sharing app or a groupchat where parents say “text us when you get to school!”, or in fantasy settings you could worldbuild a different solution that accomplishes the same goal. The Weasley’s Clock is a great example of this, but you might also have synchronized charms or beacon bracelets or something else that works within your world!

Culture

How does the world treat families and sibling relationships? Do people live in generational households, growing up with dozens of cousins as pseudo-siblings? How much are children expected to respect and defer to their elders, and would you ever find the oldest sibling play wrestling with their baby brother? What kind of coming of age rituals might affect how older or younger siblings are perceived? Do you maintain ties to your family throughout adulthood or are found families common and accepted by law? Family is the most fundamental building block of a society, so once you design how that dynamic works, it can inform other aspects of your world’s philosophy and cultural practices.

I hope this helped you develop the families in your WIP! Before you go, I’d love some feedback on the site and how it’s working for you. Please take a minute to fill out my form and let me know how I can improve. Happy writing!

November Goals

Is anyone else shocked (SHOCKED I tell you!) that it’s already December? As much as I love autumn smells and colors, I cannot say I love the cold or dark that comes with it. At home I’d at least have the stars and wildlife to keep me company through the winter nights but here in the city it’s dreary and makes me want to curl up in bed with a book and hot chocolate. Alas, that’s not an option with midterms, and the seasonal exhaustion hit me hard. I knew I needed a lighter load this month to recover from the whirlwind that was October and the Thanksgiving travels, and my plans this month reflected that. I completed most of the goals, so I’ll take the small wins where I can get them, and keep the gloom at bay.

Before we get onto the goals, I’m gathering some feedback for how this website should work in the new year! I talk about my thought process in the 2nd to last point if you want to read more, but I’m curious to see what you all think of the site! I’ve got a google form linked here with some general questions and a designated space for you to leave recommendations, so please fill it out if you want to contribute to this blog! Thank you so much! 🙂

Won by 4 points – 9/11

Creative Free Space – Art, Embroidery: Normally I have a goal of “Draw # things” but I wanted to leave my options open for this month, hence the free space option. I drew a bunch of character sketches and started on holiday gifts for my college friends! I got a 12 pack of four-inch embroidery rings and started stitching personalized designs. It’s a nice relaxing thing to do during study sessions. It’s satisfying to see the physical progress, and quickly finish a small project which gives me motivation to do the next one. The designs are also fun, a bunch of them are fandom and dnd themed, and I can see myself improving as I draw up patterns. Who knows? Maybe my next magic system will be string-centric!

Creative “Free Space” – Laoche Development: Another fill in block because I cannot control when or why the inspiration comes for certain projects – I developed more of Madelyn and Seth’s character arcs, as well as elaborating on the mechanics of the magic system! I’m quite pleased with the simple but elegant set of rules I’ve put together.

Make edit spreadsheet for Storge and finish chapter 11: I explained my edit spreadsheet in this post, but I’m quite pleased with the developmental changes I’ve made. I only filled the sheet through chapter 9 because I ran out of time to finish, but there was quite a lot of character development work done. I’m trying very hard not to be intimidated by the scope of this story, and I’m afraid my skills aren’t quite up to par, but this exercise has helped put the work into perspective. The plan is to finish the read through for the end of the book, then keep editing from where I left off, taking into consideration the more detailed notes I’ve made. Then I’ll take a 3rd pass on it to focus on fixing anything that might have slipped through the cracks and do a simple style edit. After I’ve got the content in shape, and the prose in a passable state, I’ll send it off to beta readers to see if it makes any sense, and see what happens from there! It’s slow going, but I’m learning a lot.

Research how WordPress tags work and fix: This was a goal last month I didn’t mark off and carried over to this month, but it just didn’t happen with all the other obligations. It would be an afternoon, or 2-day project, so maybe I’ll finish over winter break. Maybe.

Back up computer: This barely counts as a creative goal but I’m adding it anyhow because it took literally eight hours for my poor laptop to process all of my files from 2016, make copies to an external hard drive, and transfer them to Google drive. Don’t lose your work!

Catch up on Something Worth Winning and Inklings Challenge Stories: If you remember the OCAuthtober challenge I did in October, my wonderful friend Jean put together the prompts! SWW is her incredible story, and she posts about once a week. The Inklings Challenge was another October event, in which Christian writers on Tumblr were sorted into three teams, assigned prompts based on the writing styles of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and G.K. Chesterton, and wrote short stories fitting the Christian philosophy. I had fallen behind on reading both of these, and my goal for this month was to catch up, which I did! You can read Jean’s work here and find an index of all the Inklings stories here.

Finish reading RoW: Binging this 400+K book in less than a week during midterms season was probably not my brightest idea but I have no regrets.

Instagram & website scheduling: Cutting it close this month but I didn’t miss a day!

Finish reading Order Of The Sun: This is a draft my friend Lila gave me, and I’m enjoying the story so far! I’m about halfway through but just ran out of time to finish it this month.

Refine plans for the new year: So, back in September, when there was still daylight and motivation galore, I had lofty plans of finishing two drafts of Runaways, going through the beta reading process, line editing, redesigning my website, branding a new pen name to publish my MG and Catholic fiction, setting up new social media accounts, creating a stack of promotional designs, and releasing the book as a serial novel on this site in the new year. This was a gross underestimation of how much time holiday prep, travelling, midterms, and finals would consume. I realized that if I don’t want to burn myself out, and still create a quality story that I’m happy with publishing, I would have to take my time.

In the new year, I’ll keep posting as usual with the name Etta Grace, and keep working on all these grand schemes in the background. There are so many logistics and uncertainties associated with publishing that I don’t want to mess up. I love writing but this isn’t my full-time job yet, and I need to focus on not failing all my ChemE classes. Perhaps you’ll see the announcements in a couple months, as opposed to next month. In the meantime, thank you for your patience! I hope you’ll enjoy the story when it’s ready to share. If you missed it at the top of the post, here’s the link for my feedback form again.

Collect beta feedback and make Runaways edit plan: Because of the changes mentioned in the last point, this goals had to slightly change, as I’m also giving my beta readers more time to finish the story. I have a file system set up to bring together all my feedback and I’m very thankful for the lovely people taking the time to help me with this. 🙂

Thank you for reading! I hope you all have a wonderful winter and holiday season. Happy writing! 🙂

Free Templates: Outline and Edit Sheet

Hello my friends, and Happy Thanksgiving if you celebrate! I had meant to share with you today an excerpt from Store, which explains the yellow rose symbol you can see around my blog and social media. This scene comes from chapter 12, and I had left off editing several months ago on chapter 10. Since I took a hiatus to work on Runaways, I needed to reread much of what I already completed in order to figure out what to do next. In the process, I started experimenting with a new method to stay organized. Storge is a hugely complicated read: painfully over-ambitious story, with 3 (and a half) subplots (if you count the Avian drama), and eight POVs, so I needed a new way to keep all the details straight and my old word doc list method didn’t cut it. I’m quite pleased with how my new spreadsheet works, but got so carried away in my analysis, and midterms, and hosting our family’s feast, that I never finished the scene.

But I’ve been talking about this incessantly on tumblr, so I’m not wholly without content for you today. I’ve created a blank version of my sheet, which is available here for you to copy and use for your own stories! I also created a blank version of the outline I use for brainstorming my stories. Both of these documents are shared by clicking on the links, and you will have editing privileges. Kindly don’t write in this document, make a copy, then leave the original blank for others to use! I explained how I use my brainstorming documents in this post and broke down the editing process from first read-through to final draft in this post. With the links out of the way, the rest of this entry will is an updated version of Step 3 in the editing process: the Developmental Edits.

The purpose of developmental edits is to change the content of the story to make it as clear and entertaining as possible. In this step, you stitch together plotholes, build up the character arcs, develop narrative foils, track motifs and foreshadowing, keep the timeline and pacing on track, make sure the world-building is consistent, and balance the POVs and subplots to make sure you don’t accidentally forget one for several chapters.

I have several tabs at the bottom of the sheet to keep track of each item in depth. The first page is an overview master plan. I list the individual scenes down from beginning to end, with the column next to that merging several cells together to show chapters. Then I have color coded boxes to show which POV has each scene, and which subplot is currently being followed. That’s also where I have their length in word count and pages, what kind of scene it is, and the timeline. This lets me set up useful formulas and make graphs, even though getting those incremental numbers from Word is a pain. The program isn’t set up in the google sheet, as it would vary for the number of scenes and chapters each stories has, but the option is there for you to use.

To the right are snapshot boxes for each item I mentioned before. Those columns get their own pages for more detail, because my “thinking out loud” rarely fits nicely here. I’ll do analysis on the appropriate page, then write the things I need to fix on the master sheet. This example is from the characterization sheet, but I laid out the others in the same way, changing the column headers and colors as needed.

This is where the thinking happens: I’m an underwriter, so when I wrote the 1st draft, you only ever saw the characters actions as they moved the plot along, but I wrote next to no introspection or “down time” to release the tension where the characters could show their thought process or growth. This process forces me to slow down and compare what I conceptualize for each scene versus what I actually wrote. Readers aren’t mind readers, and this puts me in the perspective of someone who doesn’t have the full picture. I’ve noticed loads of inconsistencies by filling up these boxes. This method works very well for complex or long novels. I didn’t have these steps for Runaways because it only has 1 POV and no subplots, but I’m finding it really useful here. It’s not for every WIP/writer, but for any outline-happy epic fantasy authors with Too Many Things to keep track of, I’d recommend giving it a try!

Happy Writing!

Symbolism in Addie La Rue

I first encountered The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab on bookstagram where it seemed like everyone was discussing the story. This novel hit the NY Times Bestseller List for 37 weeks straight through July this year, and not without good reason. In my opinion, the story more than lives up to the hype, and it is so effectively compelling because of the symbolism Schwab weaves through the narrative. Today I want to discuss three of the most important motifs that make Addie’s story so memorable and how aspiring authors can learn from Schwab’s writing to create meaningful symbols of their own. This will contain some spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book yet, beware of that before reading.

Synopsis:

Adeline LaRue is a young woman living in the small town of Villon, France in 1741, who desperately wants to see more of the world. She feels trapped in an engagement she doesn’t want, and fears the headlong rushing of time, saying, “I don’t want to live and die in the same ten meter plot.” Her faith is torn between the Christian God of her parent’s and the old gods of her elder friend, Estele. On the night of her wedding, she flees into the woods and pleas for some higher power to save her from her fate, and the night answers. Despite Estele’s warnings to never pray to the gods who answer after dark, Adeline strikes a deal with him. At first, she offers a wooden ring, carved for her as a child by her father, but the god doesn’t deal in “trinkets.” They bargain, and draw their terms: immortality in exchange for her soul when she doesn’t want it anymore.

When she returns to the town, she finds that everyone she knew has forgotten her. She cannot remind them of her name, because every time she tries to speak the words, they get stuck in her throat. She cannot write or leave any permanent mark. Any interactions “reset” the curse. As soon as the other person walks away, they forget her again. However, she can steal. She takes some bare essentials and a wooden bird from her father’s workshop before fleeing the town. The story follows Addie – no longer Adeline – between her past through the centuries, and modern day NYC, as she navigates her curse and meets Henry Strauss, the first person in over 300 years who remembers her.

Continue reading

How To Write Impactful Symbols

Hello my friends, today we’re covering every English teacher’s favorite subject! (cue collective eye roll). Take it from someone who started an engineering major specifically to avoid taking Lit classes: Symbols can actually be a fascinating and extremely effective technique to elicit emotional reactions from your characters and your audience. It’s one of my favorite, but poorly understood, rhetorical tools in a storyteller’s arsenal, so today I wanted to break down the topic and discuss how to write symbols that work.

What Makes The Curtains Blue? Or, When Does Symbolism Matter?

Whether a trait is a symbol depends on context: specifically in its reoccurrence and connection to the themes. A symbol needs to impact the characters and the way they interact with the world. If a protagonist remarks on the blue curtains and they’re never mentioned again, that’s setting the scene. If the curtains are closed whenever a character experiences a depressive episode, and they’re a barrier to the support system of friends and family reaching out to help, then that could be a symbol for the isolation of mental illness. A symbol is normally a physical object, though this isn’t a requirement. If a character refers in the narration to his depression as a “curtain of fog” throughout the novel, but actual curtains don’t affect the story, that would be an example of an extended metaphor or motif, rather than a symbol. So now with the definitions out of the way…

How To Make Symbols Relevant and memorable

Making an effective symbol is half about making sure readers remember it in the middle of all the other plot stuff going on. It really comes down to pattern recognition. One mention makes it a throwaway detail. Two mentions make it a coincidence. Three or more make it intentional. You also want to make sure you include the symbol in a context where it will be the most memorable, like an emotionally charged scene, rather than just setting up the environment. If you want readers to remember, the characters need to care about the symbol, and draw attention to it in some direct way that points out, “this will be back.” It’s an emotional Checkov’s Gun, where if you tie an object to an emotion, we expect the same object to return to evoke that same emotion again, or remind the character of the original occurrence. I’ll talk about this a bit more in the next section, but keep that reoccurance in mind.

It can also be interesting to compare the contexts in which you introduce the symbol is introduced. If an object is a useful tool in one situation, and serves as a damning marker in another scene, it becomes a more complex and interesting element that carries that context forward. When you introduce a symbol in different frames, not only do you draw a parallel between those two situations, you can also juxtapose them to take advantage of dramatic irony. This is the sort of setup-payoff loop associated with foreshadowing, the kind that makes the audience point at the page and go “oh! so that’s how that comes back!” Additionally, in mysteries, these can take the form of subtle clues and red herrings, to point reader attention away from the relevant details. The possibilities are as endless as your creativity!

The emotional impact of motifs and symbols

Not only can you juxtapose the context to take advantage of dramatic irony, you can also draw parallels and comparisons between the character’s mental states. A symbol can serve as a reminder of a different point in their character arc, to showcase how much they’ve grown or fallen since the last appearance. If they tie their emotions up in a physical object, and they bring that baggage with them, literally. It brings the emotion to the present to impact the reader as well. This is how you can create a mixture of anger and heartbreak to create betrayal over an ex’s ring, or bittersweet at a memento of childhood. How does the character react to the symbol when they don’t want it? Would they try to destroy or throw away the memories associated with the thing, or treasure finding it? If it’s something they keep intentionally, how would they feel if they lost it, or had to give it up?

This doesn’t have to be a simple onetime only setup/payoff event. Recurring motifs let you track those emotions through a story, each time growing more complex, harder to define, and more intense. It might not always be relevant, but each time you bring that object back into play, the reader recognizes, “oh! The symbol is back! This is important!” The trade of tension and relief between appearances also helps to keep the story moving as the audience wonders when the symbol will come back again. Does a character reject it in one scene, then rejoice at its return, only to cast it away again when they realize they are no longer tied to the past? Does the villain taunt them with their past failures, only for the hero to reclaim them as their own? These are the powerful turning points that make up the emotional beats of a story, and symbols let you leverage the backstory in a way that profoundly effects the present.

Was this a useful article for you? Do you have any symbols in your stories? Let me know! Next week, I’ll be discussing a book that uses several symbols spectacularly, to show you just how diverse they can be, and just how much range you can get from them. Until then, Happy Writing! 🙂