Tag Archives: fiction

Seven Books that Shaped Who I Am

Hello everyone!

The other day I had a conversation with sci-fi and fantasy author Olivia Berrier about the seven books that have had the greatest impact on us.  I was able to come up with two lists of seven books: seven that shaped who I am as a writer and seven that influenced who I am as a person.

Your challenge is to come up with a list of the seven books that have had the greatest impact on you.  Think about how and why they influenced you.  Then, send each author a short message letting them know what their book meant to you.  You will make their day!

To help you get started, I have included my list of the seven books that helped shape who I am as a writer.  (I cheated a little – If the series as a whole influenced me rather than a specific book from the series, I listed the title of the series.)

Cover of The Lion, the Witch, and the WaredrobeThe Lion, the Witch, and the Waredrobe by C.S. Lewis – This was the first story I ever fangirled over.  It established my love for allegories and fantasy worlds.

Cover of Flight of the EaglesThe Seven Sleepers Series by Gilbert Morris – It built upon the foundation Narnia had laid.  My love of allegories and fantasy worlds was solidified.

Box Set of The Inheritance CycleThe Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini – The Inheritance Cycle showed me how to explore different belief systems in a fictional setting and introduced me to the idea that magic can have rules.  From a technical standpoint, I learned a trick for minimizing use of the auxiliary verb “had” when relating something that had happened before the story began.  (This only applies to books that are narrated in the past tense.)

Cover of The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – This book was my introduction to first-person narration.  It is my favorite go-to example for how to set your reader firmly in a world without having an info dump and for what information to include in the first chapter of a novel.

Cover of Bridge to TerabithiaBridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson – This book showed me that children’s books can cover difficult, real-life situations which young people sadly face but society often considers too mature to discuss with children.

Welcome to Camden Falls coverMain Street Series by Ann M. Martin – This series showed me how to grow characters over the course of several books.  It also demonstrated how to write about real-life, too-mature-to-discuss-with-children situations in a tasteful way.

Complete A to Z Mysteries book seriesA to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy – This series showed me how to structure a chapter book mystery series.

Happy writing!

Katie

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Developing Believable Protagonists

Hello everyone!

For me, the protagonist is what makes or breaks a story.  If I don’t like or relate to the main character, I won’t get on board with the plot.  I have stopped reading books when this happened.

The two crucial things to do are to make your protagonist relatable and to have him/her grow throughout the story.  Relatable characters are believable.

The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait ThesaurusTwo resources I like for developing believable characters are The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus, both written by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.  The lists for each trait really help with developing realistic, multifaceted characters.

As a way of ensuring that my protagonist’s thought processes, voice, and reactions feel real, I often endow my main character with part of my personality.  For a more in-depth discussion about this method, which some authors view as problematic, read “Who me? Not I!” by Gail Carson Levine.  She includes suggestions for writing characters that are nothing like you and some writing prompts designed to help you avoid accidentally writing yourself into your protagonist.  My advice is if you choose to write yourself into your main character, make it an intentional choice.

Below are three things that I consider vital when creating a believable protagonist:

  1. Know what’s motivating your protagonist and let that guide his/her actions and responses (“The Wonder of ‘Why?’: Getting to the Heart of the Matter”).
  2. Make sure your protagonist is not perfect (“Character Flaws”).
  3. Show how your protagonist feels through facial expressions and body language (“Writing Books with Emotional Savvy”).

Happy writing!

Katie

Asking Your Way through a Story Idea

Hello everyone!

Writing a book is a lot like exploring.  You start with a vague idea and discover the rest as you go.  For me, the most important part of the creative writing process is asking my way through plot issues and character inconsistencies.

stop watchWhenever I run into an underdeveloped point in the plot or a behavior in a character that I can’t justify, I try to summarize the problem as a question.  Then, I write down the question and brainstorm answers for about ten minutes.  (Think of this process as a structured free write.  No idea is too crazy during those ten minutes.)

When the ten minutes are up, I choose the potential answer that I like best and explore it further.  (Sometimes, this involves doing another guided question free write.)  If the answer I selected solves my problem, great.  If the answer doesn’t fix the issue, I look back at my list of potential answers and choose a different one to explore.  I do this until I have the answer that works for the story and that satisfies me as the writer.

Below is a list of question words with some sample questions from my own writing projects:

What if…? (What if the crystals had power?  What if the villagers were wary of 21st century technologically?)

Who? (Who betrays the group?  Who stole the sheep?)

What? (What is the ultimate insult for a fairy?  What is my protagonist’s deepest desire?)

When? (When did the elves and humans start attacking each other?  When does my protagonist start trusting authority figures?)

Where? (Where do they fight the soldiers?  Where does my protagonist’s grandmother work?)

Why? (Why won’t the dwarf take them into the caverns?  Why does my protagonist want to befriend the new kid?)

three paths*Which? (Which route is safest?) (*I personally don’t use “which” as often as I do the other question words.)

How? (How do I get them out of the fight alive when they are outnumbered ten to one?  How do I get my protagonist to be more respectful to adults?)

I hope this gives you some good ideas for how to ask your way through your own stories.

Happy writing!

Katie

How to Grow from Past Mistakes

Hello everyone!

So, I have been reviewing my writing goals for 2018.  At the beginning of the year, my plan was to take my novel The Four Crystals from a rough draft to a polished draft by the end of the year.  I had a plan to accomplish the daunting task (breaking the editing process into weekly segments and tracking my progress); however, I made a few mistakes.

The first one was thinking I could take a rough draft to a polished draft in one edit.  It took longer to edit the first fourth of the novel than I had been anticipating.  Then, I realized that due to all the changes I had made to the first fourth of the book and all of the plot changes I was planning on making to the remaining three-fourths, it would be quicker to re-write the remainder of the book than it would be to edit it.

Fairy Tales 3My second mistake, which I technically made years ago when I started writing The Four Crystals, was not reading a variety of fantasy books before I started writing one.  Up until this year, I didn’t understand that there is a difference between fantasy and fairy tales.  After all, they both have magic, fairies, elves, dwarves, and quests.  Some of my writer friends kindly alerted me to the fact that The Four Crystals, which I wrote to be a fantasy novel, read more like a fairy tale – probably because I have read so many fairy tales and fairy tale spinoffs.  Once I learned that there was a difference, I started reading fantasy novels to get a feel for what beats I would need in my novel.  I also needed to figure out which fantasy clichés I had accidentally put in my novel.  (The wise old mage working with the know-nothing teenage boy might have been one of them.)

Mistake 11.jpgThings I have learned from this year’s mistakes:

  1. Read a minimum of five books in the genre you want to write before you start writing (ten is more advisable).
  2. Do multiple edits and focus on one thing per edit (e.g. characters, plot, dialogue, etc.).
  3. Set a goal, but if everything falls apart, DON’T GIVE UP! Learn from your mistakes, regroup, and try again.  (The failure rate for people who give up is 100%.  I will not be one of them.)

My goals for 2019 are to complete a new draft of The Four Crystals and to write at least the first book in the mystery chapter book series I started brainstorming and researching during the second half of 2018.  (Don’t worry, I already read over 20 mystery chapter books to make sure I understood the genre.)

Happy writing and happy New Year!

Katie

P.S.

I would like to shout out a special thank you to the two people who most supported and encouraged me after I discovered that I needed to do a major re-write to The Four Crystals: my brother and creative consultant, Gregory, and my friend and author, Olivia Berrier.  I don’t know what I’d do without the two of you!

What Does It Add to the Story?

Hello everyone!

Have you ever heard the phrase, “kill your darlings”?  I have, and I used to resent it with every fiber of my creative being.  Why would I eliminate a favorite character, scene, or line?  That question is one I’ve recently had to answer.

My project for 2018 has been editing my novel, “The Four Crystals.”  After making some changes to the main characters’ personalities and motivations, which strengthened the plot and intensified the conflict, I arrived at one of my favorite conversations between two characters.  It no longer worked.

I tried valiantly to save the conversation, but eventually, I had to re-write it.  Cutting the original version of that conversation hurt.  But I was super proud of myself for putting my story’s needs before my own desires.  Then I kept going.

short cutIn a travel sequence, I had an issue fester between two characters over the course of 48 hours and finally culminate in a confrontation.  I had so much fun writing the sequence.  When I looked over it, I realized that those scenes and even the confrontation didn’t move the plot along.  I could tell my reader how long it took my party to go from point A to point B and summarize the main difficulties they faced in one paragraph.  I tried to justify keeping the sequence on the grounds that it contributed to my characters’ development, but the reader already knew there was hostility between those two characters from earlier scenes.  And the mini-confrontation didn’t grow the tension between them enough to justify keeping the sequence.  I had to cut it, and yes, cutting it was painful.

When it comes to editing, I’ve concluded that anything that does not advance the story and/or the characters’ development should be cut.  It makes the story more interesting to read.

My challenge to all of you is when you look at your own work, don’t ask yourself, “How do I feel about this character, scene, or line?”  Instead, ask yourself, “What does it add to the story?”  If the answer is nothing, cut it.

Happy writing, and be bold in your editing!

Katie

Let’s save the world!…Or not.

Hello everyone!

Have you ever planned to do something and then had those plans fall apart?  I have, and many amazing book characters have too.

Just yesterday, I planned to go on a day trip to Ligonier, PA to do some research for a chapter book series I want to write.  I was fine in the morning, started to feel unwell during the three-hour drive to Ligonier, and arrived just in time to throw up.  My traveling companion graciously agreed to turn right around and drove me home.

Your writing challenge for the next two weeks is to write a short story or scene(s) in which your protagonist planned to accomplish something (it could be saving the world or going to the grocery store), and the plan majorly failed.  Below are a few things to consider when writing your short story or scene(s):

  1. th0PT2DQ7ZWhy did the plan fail?
  2. Why was the plan important to the protagonist?
  3. How does the protagonist feel about and react to the failure?
  4. How do the other characters feel about and react to the failure?
  5. Can the protagonist save or fix the situation?  Does he/she act on his/her ability?  Why or why not?

Happy writing!

Katie

Daily Inspirations

Hello everyone!

Have you ever noticed how everyday things can be the best inspiration?  I recently got two parakeets: first Orville, then Wilbur a week later.  Orville was lonely, so it seemed like the right decision to get him a brother.

It struck me that my interactions with my birds were a lot like the way I develop characters for a story.  I got Orville for companionship and planned to let our relationship develop based on his personality, but I got Wilber to fill a hole in Orville’s life.  (I had a function and name, all that was missing was the character.)

silhouette 1

Once Wilbur joined our family, Orville’s true personality came out.  The quiet bird who let me hold him, became a vocal hand-avoider.  As a result, I had to re-think the way I was training both birds.

 

Carrot 1

My parakeets have been so inspiring to me, that I’ve decided to turn them into characters for a picture book.  I have several ideas for the theme, but it could still change.

Your challenge for the next two weeks is to use something new or ordinary from your daily life as the foundation for a picture book, short story, or poem.

I’d love to know what your inspiration is and whether you will be writing a picture book, short story, or poem. If you’re comfortable sharing, please post in the comments below.

Happy writing!

Katie