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.
(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.
Hello Hello! This post is going to be a little different from the usual Personal Process series, since this week it’s a special request from my good friend Katie Koontz. I interviewed her about her character Bolte for an earlier post, and when she asked me to cover character tropes, I wholeheartedly agreed! Today, I’m doing a deep dive into how tropes are used in storytelling, some fun ways to play with them, and offering a few exercises to think about how they impact your story.
Tropes as Tools: Definitions, and how they differ from cliches.
There are a MILLION definitions out there but for the sake of this article, I’m going to use the broadest term: A Trope is a storytelling shortcut or motif that conveys information to the audience. If you notice a pattern, plot device, symbol, or archetype in three separate pieces of media, it could be classified as a trope. In fact, even the Rule of 3 is a ubiquitous trope. Every piece of media has them, and they aren’t objectively good or bad, they just exist. Saying you’re trying to write without tropes is like saying you’re going to write without a font.
Most writers have a serious love/hate relationship with editing. Rereading your old writing is a special type of painful, but the process of refining the words into something beautiful can be thoroughly satisfying as you watch your skill with writing grow. I’ve been editing the first draft of Storge recently, so I am closely acquainted with that feeling, but I’ve figured out a method at works for me and makes the job a whole lot more enjoyable. It won’t be perfect for everyone, but I thought I’d share it in case you could learn something from it!
For context, when I say I’m editing the “first draft”, I mean I’m editing the first completed draft of the story. It’s the first full manuscript I’ve finished, not the very first set of words I put to page. I started several variations of the story before realizing I had too many plot holes and characterization problems to continue. Then I would quit drafting after few chapters to go back to the drawing board. There were a few reasons for that original block. First, Storge is a very complicated story and I didn’t have enough experience or skill to execute it yet. Second, I was still figuring out my own process and didn’t yet know that I needed a detailed plan in order to tell that kind of story. I think this draft is the 5th version, but it’s the only completed one, which means its the only one that really matters for the sake of this discussion. All of my planning and scrapped drafting ahead of time helped eliminate a lot of plotholes and teach me about my writing process, but it’s not what’s actually being edited today.
I’m also planning to self-publish, and so this guide is geared to that end goal. I do not know where beta readers and professional editors fit into the querying and traditional publishing process, so I’ll hazard a guess that it’s best to go with what the professionals say. Additionally, this process focuses on long novels, but it can also be used for short stories and other works. The steps just would take less time and require fewer cycles of double checking. I wrote this to be as cohesive as possible, but you can always scale it down if needed.
That being said, now what? I’ve got a finished manuscript – how do I even start making sense of this 110K word thing??
Welcome back to the Reading Rec series, where I rant about my favorite books and talk about how reading and analyzing them can make us better writers. Following last week’s post about where to start worldbuilding, today I’m looking at a story that takes place in a modern earth setting but includes fantastical elements, and how the authors fit those two worlds together. In the interest of not doing another long ramble, and to show how to simplify the process, I wanted to look at a shorter children’s book. The Spiderwick Chronicles is a 5-book middle-grade series by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black that follows the adventures of the Grace children as they encounter the faerie world.
When I first started writing this post, I thought it was going to be an easy one to write. When I first started worldbuilding the world of Laoche, I found a bunch of question lists I liked online, and put them together into my own questionnaire that I thought encompassed everything you could possibly need to worldbuild. I’d just copy/paste that list of from my “blanks” document, mess with some formatting to make the enigmatic WordPress happy, and be on with my day. That’s when I stumbled across this website, a comprehensive worldbuilding checklist that includes more details than I could ever hope to come up with. It’s a great resource, and I’ve bookmarked it for future reference, but now I realized that I could just share this instead, and be out of a blog post. Instead, I’ve decided to explain how I decide where to start worldbuilding.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the world past the point where it’s relevant to the story. Big lists of things to consider don’t help with this either, because it’s easy to feel pressured to answer all the questions up front and build yourself a cage made of potential contradictions, or so overwhelmed that you consider switching to contemporary Earth. It’s also very easy to focus on your plot and characters so much you forget to put infrastructure into the background of the world, then struggle to fit in unique settings around the existing story that fit the themes.
I think it’s the most useful to start by asking cause and effect questions like, “What about the world influences the way my characters think?” and “What do I absolutely need to know to inform the plot?” These lists are supposed to be a guide where you can pick and choose what you want to work on, and what works for the story, then ignore the rest to figure out later, so your outline-stage worldbuilding can be as detailed or vague as you need it to be. If you find you need a certain gesture or fashion description as you write, then you can just come up with it on the spot, choosing what makes sense in that moment. Then add a comment or highlight to that section so you don’t forget what you came up with later. Your editing self will thank you for it. That all being said, I want to share my process on how to approach what aspects of worldbuilding in what steps so that I don’t get so overwhelmed and work on the most important things first.
Welcome to the last part of this series and the thrilling conclusion of the book! If you happen to be reading this in the future and missed the first three parts, I’ll leave links to those here so you can catch up: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Obviously if you don’t want to see how the book ends, avoid this part for the sake of spoilers. I also wanted to put a trigger warning at the beginning of this one for suicide. It’s been mentioned before in the book, but one actually does occur in this part, so steer clear if that’ll be troubling for you. Stay safe, my friends!
When we last left off, the pieces were in place, the secrets known and ready for release, and the undoings begun! The coward Caderousse was murdered by Benedetto – Villefort and Madame Danglar’s illegitimate son, now masquerading as an Italian nobleman named Andrea Cavalcanti thanks to the Count’s patronage.Danglars is teetering on financial ruin after losing a million francs in the stock market, so he’s set up a marriage between his daughter Eugenie and Andrea to get his money. Noirtier’s Bonapartist political affiliations ruined an unwanted arranged marriage between Valentine and Franz, and potentially his son’s Royalist political career, but instead of now being free to marry her true love Maximilian Morrel, she’s been framed as a poisoner. Meanwhile, the Count still can’t figure out his feelings for Mercedes, and news about Fernand de Morcerf’s military scandal in Greece was leaked toa local newspaper. Though it was missing any connection to the family name, Albert was still concerned, and asked his friend Beauchamp to investigate.
The Morcef Mess, Chapters 85-93
This chapter opens with Beauchamp arriving at Albert’s home to tell him the bad news that he has solid proof of his father’s crimes in Greece. Because the original story didn’t have a direct link to the Morcerf family however, this news can still be suppressed, and Beauchamp promises no to release it because of his friendship with Albert. He thanks his friend and visits with the Count for a vacation at the beach. Three days later however, the story is published in a rival newspaper linking Morcerf with the whole scandal and Albert rushes back to Paris to do damage control and hear the whole story. Fernand belonged to the government Chamber, and after the news got out, they ordered a trial and extensive investigation into the betrayal. At the trial, Haydee appeared and testified to the murder, as well as how Fernand sold herself and her mother into slavery and presenting evidence in the form of the selling/buying contracts from Monte Cristo.
Hello! I’m picking up again today with this series, but if you missed the first two parts, you can read those at the following links: Part 1, Part 2. For convenience sake I’ll put a summary and color code guide, but if you’re already up to speed, you can skip the next paragraph.
When we last left off, Edmond Dantes (aka the Count of Monte Cristo, Abbe Bussoni, Lord Wilmore, and Sinbad the Sailor) had moved to Paris and started meddling in the affairs of the other characters. He gets the default black color. His old love, Mercedes, who recognizes him but says nothing out of fear and her son Albert are pink. The Count met Albert in Italy and saved him from bandits.Mercedes’s husband, Fernand Mondego (aka The Count de Morcef), in red, accused Edmond of treason to get him out of the way but doesn’t recognize him as the count. He is now wealthy after a military career in Greece.The reader also meets the Count’s “slave” and friend – a Greek girl named Haydee who is traveling with him.The Morrel family are old friends of Edmond is green. Notably, Maximilian is in love with Valentine de Villefort, but their marriage is impossibledue to a family grudge and her existing arranged engagement. Her grandfather, Noirtier loves her to death and does not get along with his son due to differing political views. He is disabled due to a stroke but communicates with her through blinking. Valentine’s mother hates her, dotes on her son, and takes an interest in poisons while ignoring her husband. Valentine’s father, the prosecutor Gerard Villefort, sentenced Edmond to prison, and tried to bury a baby in a box one time before he got stabbed by Bertuccio – a man with a vengance who took the child and raised him as his own. Their fun dysfunctional family is violet colored. The child, Benedetto, grew up to be a criminal and ran away from home at age 11. He’s not missing, and he gets Brown.. In the meantime, Bertuccio was also witness to Caderousse (the old cowardly and selfish neighbor) killing a jeweler to keep a diamond and large sum of cash. He was last seen on the run from the police, and is shown in yellow. The Count also makes an impression on Danglars, the greedy sailor who schemed to betray Edmond now turned banker, by taking out a huge line of credit. We also meet Madame Danglars, a scheming woman who doesn’t actually like her husband very much. Their daughter, Eugenie is engaged to Albert Morcef, and the family gets this blue color.
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.
Welcome to February and March’s reading recommendation! 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 audio book 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, 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!