Friday, May 17, 2019

5 Reasons Writers Should Read Outside of Their Genre

Currently, I primarily write fantasy. So, as a (mostly) fantasy author, I obviously must spend my life reading and watching fantasy stories, right?

Right??

Wrong.

Writers are constantly told that we need to read within our own genre. That is 100% solid advice. But what about reading outside of our genre? Is that a good practice? Is it helpful to us?

In short: Yes. But, obviously, I can't just end the post here. Where would the fun be in that?

Let's talk about the many upsides to reading outside of our own genre:

5 Reasons Writers Should Read Outside of Their Genre

1. It keeps up your mind fresh. While reading in your own genre is awesome, it can also lead to you getting into a mental rut. Take me, for instance. If all I did was live and breathe fantasy stories, I would get very bored, very quickly (also, I wouldn't get to experience Marvel movies, so I think I'd probably just end up dying of sadness). A bored writer equals stale writing. By constantly moving from one genre to the next, you are keeping your mind engaged, thus leading to more creative stories.

2. It gives you new tropes to pull from. Each genre has their own specific tropes. Horror has the cabin-in-the-woods aesthetic trope. Romance has the happily-ever-after trope. Fantasy has the Chosen One trope. Readers and writers alike can get bored with reading the same tropes over and over again in different stories within the same genre. If you read stories outside of the genre that you write, you are going to stumble across new tropes that you can utilize in your stories. This will give your fiction a unique feel. 
 
3. It can help you find your writing style. Similar to tropes, each genre tends to have a prominent writing style. For instance, high fantasy writing often has an almost archaic feel to it, whereas the thriller genre tends to feature faster, choppier sentences. If you read only within the genre that you are writing, you may end up adopting your genre's standard writing style by default. Reading new genres will introduce you to new writing voices, different word choices, and unique sentence/paragraph structures. This will help you find what you like, and thus help you settle on your own special writing style. 

4. It can help you better understand your audience. If you only read within your own genre, you won't be able to fully appreciate the uniqueness and nuances of said genre. This means you will have less chance of understanding what exactly it is that your audience expects of you. Reading a new genre provides contrast for your own genre, and this lets you see what is and is not expected of your stories. Understanding expectations allows you to please and surprise your audience. 

5. It can help you see and avoid the pitfalls of your own genre. As I mentioned above, reading outside of your genre provides you a unique view of your own genre. This can allow you to more clearly see the downsides of the tropes, writing styles, and expectations within your genre. What do you do with this information? You use it to cut out the boring/harmful/overdone aspects of your genre so that you can build a better story.

Do you like to read outside of the genre(s) that you write? I'd love to hear about your reading adventures!

Related article:
9 Ways to Use Reading to Improve Your Writing
A List of Great Self-Published Books You Should Read (Part 2)
10 Manga and Comic Books Worth Reading (Part 2)

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Some links are Amazon affiliate links. Thank you for your support.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Growth Mindset: What It Is and How It Can Boost Your Writing Life

I work at the Writing Center at my college. Every so often, there will be a specific topic that start showing up in every. single. paper. I think there must be some kind of system where Harvard comes out with a new piece of research, and then this research trickles down to the community college level, and then every professor decides that this is an essential piece of information that they must spread throughout their entire classroom. I'm not quite sure how it works, but I'm not a fan.

The most recent fad in education is what's called "growth mindset." I'm not exaggerating when I say that, within the last 8 months, I've read at least 50 papers that have either completely focused on, or heavily mentioned, growth mindset. Yesterday I thought to myself: "If I have to read one more paper about growth mindset, I will slide underneath this table and refuse to come back out until my boss gives me a raise."

But then I thought: "Hey. I can write a blog post about this and make everyone else have to hear about growth mindset." Besides, after having read so many papers on the topic, I'm practically an expert.

So, how can having a growth mindset help you become a better writer? And how can writing this blog post help me purge my brain of all of the unwanted information I have on this topic? Let's find out:

Growth Mindset: What It Is and How It Can Boost Your Writing Life

What is growth mindset?


Before describing growth mindset, I have to discuss fixed mindset. Basically, fixed mindset is when an individual thinks that their skill sets, personality traits, and characteristics (such as talent or intelligence) are fixed traits. They believe that these skillsets cannot be further developed. Furthermore, people with a fixed mindset tend to believe that you are born with a certain amount of talent, and that talent dictates what areas you can and cannot be successful in.

Growth mindset is the opposite of fixed mindset. Super helpful, I know. Let me explain: 

People with growth mindset know that their skill sets, personality traits, and talents can all be grown with time and practice. They also know that you don't have to be naturally talented at something in order to be good at it.

Now, in case you're wondering: No, this isn't a revolutionary idea. This concept of work vs innate talent has existed for a long time. However, it was just given a shiny new name, thus the push for discussing it in college circles. Ah, the joys of academia.

Anyway, it's still a good topic to discuss, especially when we connect it to writing, so let's keep talking:

How is the growth mindset connected to writing?



It is very easy to get frustrated and depressed with your writing process. When we writers get frustrated, we easily slip into a fixed mindset (even if we're the type of people who generally has a growth mindset). We start thinking things like:

"This story is terrible."

"I'm not good at this."

"I'm never going to be able to finish this story."

We get caught in a toxic line of thinking. The more we allow ourselves to think these kinds of things, the harder it is to remain positive and realistic about our writing goals.

That's where growth mindset comes in. It's important for us to foster a positive thinking process in order to allow us to boost our writing projects while staying mentally healthy.

How do I develop a growth mindset?


So many ways:

1. Identify your weak spots. Every writer is insecure about different things. Some are insecure about their writing voices, some are insecure about their ability to market, some are insecure about how slowly they publish their stories. Some writers get insecure at very specific times: during drafting, during editing, during a story launch. It's different for everyone. It's important for you to figure out what makes your mind goes south so that you can be on guard during these times. 

2. Be honest. Fixed mindset is an innately dishonest thought process. You have to constantly train yourself to be honest. When you think things like: "This story is terrible," you have to make sure to add on sentences like: "But I can fix." Because you can. It may take a while, but you can, and that is the honest truth. Phrases like "I'm not good at this" suddenly turn into "I'm not good at this yet." Whenever you feel the lies creeping in, you have to make sure to combat them with the honest versions. The more you practice adding on words like "yet" and "I can," the closer you are to locking yourself into a growth mindset. 

3. Look back at your old writing. When you find yourself thinking that you'll never get better at being a writer, go back and sample some of your old pieces of writing. Compared to your newer work, they're pretty bad, aren't they? Clearly, you've come a very long way. This is definitive proof that you can grow as a writer, which further helps dislodge the fixed mindset from your brain. 
 
4. Don't compare yourself to other writers. One of the problems with comparing yourself to other riders is that, because you aren't inside the other writer's head and privy to their entire writing process, all you see is what you deem to be their "talent." You then make the assumption that they are more talented than you are, and that you cannot ever reach the point that they are at. Growth mindset is all about recognizing that talent has very little to do with success. However, if you're constantly incorrectly measuring other people's "talent" against yours, you'll find yourself locking yourself into a fixed mindset. I wrote an entire blog post about how to not compare yourself to other writers, so you may want to check that out. 

5. Work hard. You can't simply rely on talent to get you where you want to go. Because here's the thing: You may not be naturally talented at writing. Ooof. That thought hurts, doesn't it?

Gif of Jake from Brooklyn 99 saying: "I'm gonna go cry in the bathroom. Peace our, homies."

Well, it shouldn't. Because here's the thing: Talent doesn't matter in the long-run. Writing, like everything else, is a skillset that can be developed over time. It just takes a lot of practice and thought. The more you work on writing, the more you will be able to see your improvement. This improvement will reinforce the entire concept of growth mindset: You can (and will) grow in whatever area you work on.

Now here's the fun thing about growth mindset: You can't just develop it overnight. You have to work at it. If you are trapped in the fixed mindset, you're going to have to spend a decent amount of time deprogramming yourself. The time and effort is absolutely worth it.

And there you have it. I have successfully gotten that information off of my chest. Hopefully you've learned something. Had you ever heard of growth and fixed mindset before? Which mindset do you have and how do you think it affects your writing life?

Related articles:
9 Tips for Maintaining Mental Health as a Writer
5 Steps to Fighting Off Writer's Insecurity

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Some links are Amazon affiliate links. Thank you for your support.

Friday, May 3, 2019

9 Tips for Hosting a Podcast

I have hosted 16 podcasts to date, so yeah. I'm basically a pro when it comes to being a podcaster.

What? You don't trust me? Fiiiiiine. I should probably give you some background information:

I am the multimedia manager for the Phoenix Fiction Writers. Because of this, I design, coordinate, record, edit, and upload all of our podcasts. We have an hour-long, writing-related podcast come out once a month. This podcast has been running for almost a year-and-a-half, thus the fact that I've hosted 16 podcasts. On top of this, I've also hosted multiple interview-style podcasts both for #ChatWithIndieAuthor and for the 2018 WriteOnCon.

I've learned a lot about podcasting during this time. I'm not perfect, but I've gained some cool knowledge that you will find helpful if you're planning to host a podcast.

9 Tips for Hosting a Podcast

1. You'll want to have a co-host or a panel of podcasters. Being the only member on a podcast is very challenging. You are solely responsible for being entertaining, for talking continually, and for contributing interesting ideas to the podcast. It's a lot of work. Also, consider this: No matter how interesting you are, you'll have far less chemistry when you're talking to a microphone alone in your room vs talking to another human being.

I'd recommend a group of three podcasters. Four is too cluttered. Two can work, but it's easier to share the talking workload between three people rather than two. The third person in a podcast means that I, as the host, have time to kick back and enjoy the podcast conversation without constantly worrying about what I'm going to say next.

2. Having a structured format is key. Do you have incredible speaking skills, epic think-as-you-go skills, and stellar editing skills? No? Me neither (Except maybe the think-as-you-go skills, and that's only when I'm not tired. Which is basically never). Because of this, it's important for your podcast to have structure. The PFW podcast has this basic flow:
  1. Introductions: It's what it sounds like, dollop-head.
  2. News: Dude. Not explaining this one, either.
  3. Story time: Where each podcaster tells a writerly story from their recent adventures.
  4. Discussion: The segment where we discuss our chosen writing-related topic.
  5. Book club: Where we talk about the books we're reading this month.
  6. Closing: Where we say our goodbyes and plug future podcasts.
The Discussion segment is further broken down into individual questions. These questions are written in a Google doc for all podcasters to see. That way they can think-ahead and aren't blindsided by the questions I pitch during recording.

Without this structure, I'd end up spluttering my way through an hour-long recording. With this structure, I only splutter for about 5 minutes, and these 5 minutes are scattered about the entire hour-long session. Not bad.

3. Set a speaking order. One of the most important parts of structuring is speaking order. There's nothing more awkward than pitching a question or topic in a podcast, then being met with blank stares by your fellow podcasters.

Gif of Jeremy Renner starting blankly and blinking.

Or, worse: Two people stumbling over each other to answer first. The solution to this issue is simple: Write down the speaking order in a Google document. That way everyone knows when they're supposed to talk. It's a simple thing, but really streamlines the recording process.

4. Record via Skype. Facetime is not an option because not everyone has Facetime. Google Hangouts isn't always reliable. Skype may be kind of old-school, but it's easy to use and many people have an account (or can easily make one).

Plus, Skype interfaces with a lot of great programs that can allow you to easily record video and/or audio. I personally use ECamm Recorder. I love it: It's a breeze to use, and has a cool option that allows me to retroactively lower or higher the sound level of individual audio tracks (which is great because I tend to sit too close to my microphone, so my audio always needs lowering).

S.M. Holland, the host of the Get In My Head podcast, uses Amolto for her Skype-recordings. It's a great, free option for all you Windows-users. Unfortunately, it does not work for Mac-users (but ECamm does, so. Yay!).

Shout-out to S.M. Holland for sharing this info with us!

5. Keep it casual. Look. You can spend hours working on producing a highly-professional podcast with scripted discussion and lots of editing. OR you could spend far less time by having a semi-structured chat with some of you favorite people. Keeping things causal works to your advantage in several ways. It means way less work, less stress, and far more fun (both for yourself and your audience). Think about it. Would you rather listen to a lecture-like podcast? Or a podcast that makes you feel like your sitting in on a discussion between good friends?

6. Keep your energy up. Not to freak out any hosts, but: If a podcast is boring, it's largely your fault. Podcast hosts need to be energetic (or, if the podcast isn't an energetic one: Hosts need to embody the mood of the podcast). Hosts also need to be capable of pumping up their fellow podcasters and squeezing information out of them. This means you need to be fully awake and prepared to keep the podcast lively. Given that I'm almost always tired, I usually manage this through caffeine intake and also allowing myself to make a complete idiot of myself. I generally say the first thing that pops into my head, thus allowing me to keep the conversation going (and also sometimes resulting in some semi-decent jokes. Sometimes). 

7. Take notes as you record. Editing is a huge pain if you don't know what parts need to be edited. As you talk, keep an eye on the time (ECamm has a timer that tells you how long you've been recording). When you notice any awkward pauses or weird mistakes you know you'll want to edit out, make a note of it. My notes look like this:


But yours can look however you want. I'm not the note police. 

8. Don't edit out the charm. This goes back to the "keep it casual" tip. If you edit the podcast too much, you'll cut all the human-ness right out. Sure, you can chop some of the awkward pauses, or the stumbling-over-each-other bits, or the whoops-I-accidentally-spoiled-something-I-wasn't-supposed-to sections. But there are some tiny errors and mannerisms that you'll want to leave in. Listen to the podcast as an audience-member, not an editor, then decide whether you really want to edit something out. Otherwise you'll end up with a sterile-sounding podcast (and lots of hours lost to editing).

In case you're wondering: I use iMovies to edit the podcast. It's a very minimal editing tool and not at all professional, but it's free and it gets the job done. 

9. Have fun! Podcasting can be a lot of work, but it should also be fun. If you choose the right people to record with and the right topics, podcasting can be an epic adventure that you look forward to embarking on. Remember to keep things light and always take the time to enjoy being with your fellow podcasters!

Do you host a podcast? Drop the link below so I can listen! Or, if you don't host a podcast yourself, riddle me this: What is your favorite podcast to listen to? Bonus points if it is writing-related or nerd-related!

Related articles:
How to Use Youtubing and Podcasting to Build Your Author Platform
Tips for Writing Dark Fiction - A PFW Podcast

Enjoy this post? Take a look around. If you like what you see, please don't forget to subscribe by email for a new post every week! 

Some links are Amazon affiliate links. Thank you for your support.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Writing Process Methods for the Different Learning Styles

I work as a supplemental instructor at my college. Basically, I lead a hour-long session after each class that implements new study strategies and writing techniques to supplement the class lecture. Every student has a unique learning style, so I go out of my way to design session plans that are helpful to everyone.

A few weeks ago it occurred to me: I tailor the essay writing process according to learning style, so why don't I do this for creative writing? And thus this post was born.

Before we get started, I think it is important for us to acknowledge two facts:

1) This post is a day late because I've been traveling. I suck at timezones (and also at keeping track of dates), so thus a Saturday post.

2) I wrote the majority of this post while sitting in the San Francisco airport. My seat is sticky. I don't know why. It's freaking me out. I hope you appreciate my sacrifice. Also: I'm pretty sure San Francisco is the portal to Hell.

Okay. That is all. Here we go:

Writing Process Methods for the Different Learning Styles

Tips for Visual Learners


Use a whiteboard. If you can find a way to have this whiteboard in your line of sight as you write, you'll find this tool particularly helpful. Jot down notes, magnet drawings to the board, do whatever you need to do to visually ground yourself in your writing. This is particularly helpful during the drafting stage. 

Use a highlighters/different colored pens. When you go to edit your story, print it out and have at it with colorful writing tools. I tend to color-code my editing notes like so:

Notes in upper left corner of page. In blue ink: Add new. In red ink: Delete. In orange: Tweak. In purple: Question.

Editing notes on multiple pages. Some notes in orange ink, some questions in purple ink, some crossed out sentences in red ink, some new sentences written in the margins in blue ink.
Editing for Vengeance Hunter. So many notes, but it was worth it. 
This helps me quickly and easily see what needs to be fixed (and how to fix it). 

Draw a concept map. A concept map is a fun, easy way to brainstorm. You put a main idea in the center circle (maybe a character's name, maybe a town, maybe an important plot-point). From there you branch out and draw more circles with connecting ideas inside. You keep branching out until each idea becomes more and more specific. This is great for drafting, re-writing, world-building....Pretty much everything, honestly. You should try it. 

Draw a (regular) map. If you're writing fantasy or sci-fi, you may want to create a map of your town/world/planetary system. It doesn't have to be pretty. It's just something that will help you get a sense of direction as you write. I, personally, can never picture my world's map in my mind, so having a visual is a lifesaver. Without it, my characters would end up traveling in weird switch-backs and possibly into the ocean. 

Change font/color/size of document. Stuck in a particularly boring or frustrating scene? Struggling to edit because you don't know where to start? I have a simple hack for you: Change your story's font into something very different from what you've been using. Or switch from black font to green. You can even try changing the orientated of the document to layout...or switch the font from 12 pt to 14. These things will force you to see your story in a new way, thus jumpstarting your brain. 

Watch Youtube videos, movies, and documentaries. Movies are the visual learners best friend. When researching for world-building, action sequences, etc, go watch some videos on your chosen topic. This will help you better absorb information so that you can more realistically portray it in your stories. I recommend Khan academy to help you collect some basic knowledge.

Pinterest. Similar to Youtube and documentaries, Pinterest will help you visually organize your thoughts while also providing inspiration. Use it for research and drafting.

Tips for Auditory Learners


Fun fact: Auditory learners also tend to really enjoy speaking as a way of learning. Another fun fact: I cannot retain auditory information to save my life, so this is the learning style I am weakest in.

Record yourself explaining your ideas. You know how you'll be chatting with a friend about a story (or chatting to yourself about a story...No judgement) and you suddenly stumble across a great idea? But then you sit down to write it and don't remember exactly what it was? Yeah. That sucks. To avoid this issue, record your ideas on your phone. Or on an audiorecorder. Or, if you want to be super retro: A tape recorder. Do they even make tape like that anymore? I don't know. Star Lord would be proud of you, though.

Gif of Star Lord saying "You're welcome."

When you go to write, listen to your audio notes as a guide. This is great for drafting and re-writing. 

Read your story aloud. Seriously. Please do this. When you edit, make sure you read your story out loud. Reach each word slowly and individually to catch mistakes or weird flows. I'd also recommend reading each paragraph backwards (the last sentence of the paragraph first), as this forces you to slow down and see how each sentences stands on its own. 

Have your computer read your story aloud. Again, this is for editing purposes (and even for re-writing purposes, if you need a new perspective). Most word-processors have a text-to-speech option where it'll read your story back to you in a very strange, robotic voice. The robot will naturally stumble over mistakes or awkward sentences, so this is a great, easy way to detect mistakes.

Listen to podcasts. You know how I said videos are good for world-building/idea generating/research for visual learners? Well, podcasts are the auditory learner version of that. I know that some auditory learners even like to have podcasts playing in the background as they write. This would personally drive me crazy, but some people find that it keeps them focused and grounded, so you may find it helpful. 

Use dictation tools. Instead of typing or hand-writing your stories, try speaking them into your computer. Most world-processors come with a free dictation tool. They aren't great, but they're still very helpful. Kyle Robert Shutz wrote an awesome post on how to make the most out of this function.

Talk it out. Talk to friends or family about your writing. Bounce ideas off of your writing friends. Do write-ins with friends of yours. 

Tips for Tactile Learners 


AKA "kinesthetic learners," but kinesthetic is hard for me to spell (and even when I spell it correctly it still looks wrong), so I'm going with tactile. 

Use notebooks. Because tactile learners rely on touch and action to learn and create, paper and pen can be very helpful. It grounds us in our writing, keeps us focused, and engages all the senses. However, if you can't write using a notebook (perhaps because of chronic pain, like me), then trying typing on a keyboard. The feel is still there, which is great. As a tactile learner, I think this is why I find dictation difficult for creative writing: I'm lacking the kinesthetic (hey, I spelled it right first try!) aspect that my brain craves.

Travel and explore. Writing about the ocean? If you can, go visit a beach! Or at least a large body of water.

Gif of Bilbo Baggins running and saying "I'm going on an adventure."


Virtual reality or Google maps are decent options if you don't have the means to travel. However, visiting a place in-person can help you immensely because you get to touch, see, smell, and hear everything around you. This gives you all sorts of ideas for writing description...or for world-building in general. Likewise, test out specific activities you are writing abut. For example: Go to a shooting range, teach yourself to sew, attempt pottery, etc. 

Use a standing desk/sit on a ball. Tactile learners don't always operate best when sitting still. Try writing while standing up or while balancing on one of those weird yoga balls that I would absolutely injure myself on. I personally like to write while sitting in bed, preferably wrapped in a blanket. There's something about the sense of touch that helps me get writing. 

Act out character actions. This is preferably done in the privacy of your own home (unless you're okay with looking like a mad person). Don't be afraid to mirror your character's facial expressions, hand gestures, or even action scene choreography. This will give you new ideas for how to approach writing specific scenes...and will also keep you engaged. 

Use index cards/sticky notes. Yes, whiteboards are awesome for tactile learners, but this will take things to the next level. Use index cards and sticky notes during drafting and revising. You can block out scenes on them (or even draw portions of a concept map on different cards/notes). The fact that index cards and sticky notes are small means that you can re-arrange them in multiple orders, thus allowing you to find new combinations for your story.  

I googled learning styles and learned that there are seven (count em', SEVEN) different learning styles. However, all of them branch from these three main styles, so I'm going to stop here. However, before we go:

Music is important. I've found that people of every learning style find music incredibly helpful to their writing process. Some listen to music with lyrics, some listen to instrumentals or filmscores. Some people (like me) do a pulsing method where they'll listen to music during some writing processes (like drafting), but not others (like editing). I recommend experimenting with your background sound as you write to find what works best for you.

What learning style are you? Tell me all about your favorite writing methods! 

Inside the Creative's Mind: 9 Things You Should Know
12 Writing Myths You Need to Stop Believing

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Some links are Amazon affiliate. Thank you for your support!

Friday, April 19, 2019

7 Tips for Re-Writing Your Story

The document is staring at you, mocking. You've been pouring yourself into it for quite some time now. You thought things were going well.

But then things started to go south. At first, the signs were minimal. Some shaky character arc, slightly askew world building, but nothing that you couldn't fix with some good editing.

At least that's what you thought, until you hit The Wall. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could help you overcome this obstacle. "It's not you, it's me," the document said, but that doesn't really matter at this point, does it? All of the time you have spent with the story has come to nothing. It's over.

What you you do now? Well, you could decide to scrap the project and start on something new. Or, you could get super intense and do a complete overhaul. A re-write.

While the words "complete re-write" may strike fear into the hearts of many writers, it doesn't have to. Here are some ways to make the rewriting process as smooth and painless as possible:

7 Tips for Re-Writing Your Story


1. Block out the story. 


This is a quick, easy trick that can make all the difference in the world. Review the parts of the story that you have and write short summaries of each scene. Don't go in depth. Only block out the important parts of the plot, the important emotions, and maybe the themes and world building you felt were important to inject.

Now ask yourself: Where do I want this story to go? How do I want the story to end? Block out those scenes, too.

Next, take a step back and look at all of the scenes you've blocked out. What parts stick out as not quite right? Sometimes massive portions of the story will jump out at you as entirely wrong. Other times, only very small pieces of the plot will strike you as slightly odd. Highlighted these problem areas.

Note: If you are plotter, you may be tempted to create an outline for the story rather than blocking it out. Do not do this. Blocking out the story is less structured and will you see the story a new light.

2. Identify what makes the problem areas problematic. 


What about them made your story go off the rails? Maybe the themes were wrong. Maybe the character arc went in completely the wrong direction. Maybe the plot was too open (or perhaps too constrictive). Underneath your scene blocks, jot down ideas for how to correct these mistakes. You'll probably have quite a few, so just let the ideas flow.

3. Re-block the story. 


Your notes from point number 2 will be very helpful during this process. Also remember that you'll need to keep two things in mind as you re-block this story: 1) the highlighted problem areas that you need to completely delete or rework. 2) Your end. Remember how you asked yourself where you want the story to go, then blocked those ending scenes out? That needs to be in the forefront of your mind when you are re-working your story. Here's why:

Stories tend to require re-writing when they've gone completely off the rails. Stories go completely off the rails when we, as writers, lose sight of exactly where the story is supposed to head. We've already made this mistake once (thus the re-write), so we really want to make sure to avoid this problem the second time around.

4. Take a step back. 


Once you're finished re-blocking the story, take a break, then come back to it. Do any of these new blocked scenes strike you as odd? Do any of them seem like they will be hard to pull off? Do any of them seem like they aren't going to take your story to its targeted end? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you're going to have to go back and re-block the entire thing all over again. Sometimes it's helpful to tell somebody else your idea for the rewrite, as they will be able to easily identify weak spots that you might overlook. Or, if you're antisocial, you can simply find a nice-looking wall and recite you every re-blocked story idea to it. This sounds weird, but talking out loud absolutely helps.

5. Start writing in a new document. 


Do not, I repeat, do not, start rewriting within the same document. Open up an entirely new one and start from scratch. Yes, you can have the old story open in another window, but you don't want to be working in this exact same document. You want to save this old document as is because it is your baseline. You'll need to refer back to it from time to time. If you change the original document, you'll basically be cutting holes in your safety net.

6. Copy and paste what you can. 


By looking at your new scene blocking, you'll see that there should be at least some portions of your story that you can still use. Don't be afraid to copy and pasted over into your new document. There's no use in wasting words. That being said, make sure to rework these scenes if any of them are leading into the problem areas that you have highlighted earlier.

7. Be patient and proud. 


Don't let yourself feel rushed or overwhelmed during this process. Rewriting can seem daunting, but it's a normal part of the writing process. Give yourself grace, and be proud that you took the step to rewrite (rather than giving up or deciding to push forward and publish a subpar story). 

You may have to re-block the story several times during this process, but keep going. You got this. 

What are your tips for doing a complete re-write? I'd love to hear them!

Related articles:
Macro and Micro Editing: What They Are and How to Use Them to Fix Your Story
How to Know When to Stop Editing Your Novel

Enjoy this post? Take a look around. If you like what you see, please don't forget to subscribe by email for a new post every Friday!

Some links are Amazon affiliate. Thank you for your support!

Friday, April 12, 2019

10 Little-Known Weapons to Use in Your Speculative Fiction Stories

I'm not even going to bother writing an introduction for this post. Read the title and you'll know what it's about. I don't want to waste time on the intro because I had a ton of fun researching this topic and just want to jump right in. Get ready to have your mind blown:

10 Little-Known Weapons to Use in Your Speculative Fiction Stories


1. Hellburners



A badass name for an insane weapon. Hellburners were implemented in the Siege of Antwerp and were basically ships that were turned into floating bombs.

Image of an exploding ship catching other ships on fire.
Image source: Wikipedia
Here's how it works: the ship would be loaded with gunpowder, sharp instruments, rocks, and pretty much any item that can inflict damage. A fuse made of a clockwork flintlock device was used to ignite the gunpowder on a timer. This ship would then be launched towards enemy ships, assisted by the ebbing and flowing of the tide. Clearly, a lot of things had to line up for a hellburner to reach its target and explode on time. However, apparently if the inventor of the Hellburner, an Italian man by the name of Federigo Giambelli, was quite clever. Of the two Hellburners that were launched, one of them ended did up killing about 800 men (the other sailed off course and did little damage).

Yup. If you happen to write flintlock fantasy (or any kind of cool pirate novel), remember to keep this in your back pocket. 

2. Nest of Bees


While we are on the topic of gunpowder and horrifying weapons of mass murder, let's talk about the Chinese Nest of Bees. I struggle to even describe what this weapon is, so here is a picture:

Image of a strange looking hexagonal quiver. A lot of arrows are crammed inside with what look like fuses attached to one end.
Image source: Reddit
This weapon consists of a hexagonal encasing with 32 arrows inside (not sure why it needs to be 32 arrows exactly, but that the number my research kept coming up with). The hexagonal tube widens near the mouth to allow the arrows to easily escape. Powered by black powder, the nest of bees allowed a single man to shoot up to 32 arrows at one time. Picture a small, hand-held canon that shoots arrows instead of cannon balls and you'll get the picture. While not particularly useful for one-on-one combat, this is an interesting piece of weaponry used during large battles. 

I don't know about you, but I would 100% run at the mention of any weapon named after a bee hive. 

3. Katar


This looks like brass knuckles with a blade attached to one end. The blade scissors out from one blade into three.
Image source: Pinterest

Simply put, these are Wolverine claws. Except they are made out of iron instead of adamantiam, and they originated in India rather than Canada. I am very disappointed that this is not used more speculative fiction novels. I mean, look at them. Are they not the perfect weapon for a badass assassin character? Or a rogue sci-fi character?

4. Macuahuitl


Guys. Let me talk to you about the genius of Mesoamericans. They invented a weapon made of wood and obsidian stone that is not only nearly unbreakable, but is also capable of beheading a horse. 

A long wooden club with sharp, obsidian stones lining the edges. It looks very heavy.
Image source: ati

This may look like a club, it it operates more as a sword. The wood is embedded with sharp obsidian stones that are sharper and more effective than an actual steel blade. These weapons were documented by Spanish conquistador's as incredibly fearsome, and was one of the many advantages the Mesoamericans had when fighting Spain. Did you know that the conquistadors probably would have been driven out if the Spaniards hadn't accidentally brought over diseases that severely weakened the indigenous people? Yep. Those cultures were incredibly advanced.

I ran across the Macuahuitl during research for Vengeance Hunter. Though I chose not to use this weapon because it didn't fit the vibe of my story, but I am 100% using it in the future. It's perfect for Mesoamerican-inspired stories or stories where steel is non-existant or in low supply. 

5. Urumi


AKA: The weapon that I would end up accidentally killing myself with if I ever tried to use it. The Urumi is a sword with a flexible blade akin to a whip. Wielding it requires skill with both a sword and a whip, as this weapons is pretty much a horrifying combination of the two: 
A sword hilt with sharp, steel whips attached to the end. These whips coil up neatly into a circle.
Image source: Ancient Origins

It's useful when fighting multiple opponents, and when it's not being used it can be neatly coiled and hooked onto a belt. I envision this being used by a wise warrior on the run. However, I would love to read a story about a brash, arrogant young character who is determined to use an urumi because they think it makes them look cool. The catch? They tend to injure themselves more than their enemies. 

6. Zhua

 

This Chinese weapon's name translates to "claw," which is very fitting considering it is literally a giant claw attached to the end of a pole. 
A long pole with an animal-like claw on the end. It looks sharp.
Image source: Deadliest Warrior Wiki

What exactly would you use this weapons for? So many things. The zhua was used to rip shields from soldier's hands during an attack, or to grab them from the back of their horses (usually severely injuring or killing them in the process). After you've de-shielded or de-mounted your opponent, this weapon can be used to tear them to shreds. Yup. For such a bizarre looking weapon, it packs quite the punch. 

7. Rungu


This ranged weapon can be used for both hunting and fighting. Originating in Africa, it's a one to two foot-long stick with a heavy knob at the end. You fling it at your intended target and knock them senseless. When thrown correctly, it is capable of fracturing a human skull (yikes). In East African tribal cultures, the rungu also has ceremonial value.

A wooden stick with a heavy, curved knob on one end.
Image source: Black Malaika

This one is particularly cool for adventure fantasy because it so easily doubles as a hunting tool and a fighting tool (plus, it's not a common weapons so your character would probably have the advantage of surprise). 

8. Italian boarding sword 


Those of you writing nautical stories, take note. This sword was used during naval warfare. It's saw-toothed blade can cut through rope, thus making it very useful in escaping boarding maneuvers. The tip of the blade is pointed, so when this sword isn't cutting through ropes it can be used to jab and thrust at approaching enemies. In addition, it can be used to hack down doors or spar using traditional fencing methods. 
A sword one serrated side. The tip is very pointed and the serrated side is very exaggerated; the serration almost look like shark teeth.
Image source: Pinterest

Basically, this is the Swiss Army Knife of nautical weapons. I don't know about you, but I'm thinking this is perfect for a pirate crew. 

9. Glaive


Okay, so this one is slightly more well-known, but it's used by one of my favorite characters so I have to mention it. A single-edged blade on the end of a long pole, the glaive is a perfect mix of staff and sword: 
A series of long, thick spear heads. One side of the blade is sharp, the other side is either smooth or has hooks,
Image source: Wikipedia

Sometimes glaive blades have hooks on their non-edged side, thus allowing the glaive to be used to knock riders from their horses. 

A glaive is used by Balsa, a character from a favorite anime of mine (Moribito). However, it's worth noting that the Japanese form of this weapon is called a naginata (betcha' never heard of that one). Go watch Moribito and you'll see just how badass this weapon is.

10. Caltrops


Yeah, I know, I know. This one isn't super rare (especially if you've ever played Dungeons and Dragons). I mention them because they're very versatile, yet never seem to make it into fantasy novels. Why?? Just look at them:

Two sharp needle-like pieces of steel are welded together. It is designed so that at least one spike is sticking upwards at all times.
Image source: Ninjawiki

As one of the members from my DnD group said: They're basically a really horrific version of a lego. You do NOT want to step on one of these bad boys. They can be used to stop chariots, horses, or even wheeled vehicles with inflated tires. And they don't just hurt transportation devices, either. They can be used to slow the movement of troops, stop a burglar, or keep unfriendly neighbors off of property. The possibilities are endless. 

Did I miss any of your favorite, little-known weapons? Tell me about them in the comments section!

Related article:
12 Unusual, Frightening Mythical Monsters to Use in Your Fantasy Novel
9 Epic, Underused Mythical Animals for Your Fantasy Novel

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Friday, April 5, 2019

Tales of an Awkward Author - Part 1

Being an author requires a certain amount of confidence. It requires the ability to meet new people, talk to strangers about our stories, and constantly put ourselves out into the world.

I, unfortunately, am not great at this. But, because I'm me, I've never been willing to let my awkwardness stop me from tackling life head-on. This has lead to some...interesting adventures. And by interesting I mean mostly cringeworthy, but also generally funny with a hint of happily-ever-after.

Today, I am ready to share some of these adventures with the world. Prepare yourself. It's going to be a wild ride.

Tales of an Awkward Author - Part 1

Broken Facial Recognition Software


I'm at a disadvantage when it comes to meeting new people. Why? Well, I am terrible at recognizing people. We're talking a level of bad that's about equal to George Lucas's prequel movies. Or Grima Wormtongue's charm. Or Gilderoy Lockhart's teaching skills. Or...or...*runs out of nerd references* You get the point.

This has led to some awkward mixups, but the most awkward scenario of all was this one:

In 2017, I was the Live Events Coordinator for WriteOnCon. Part of my job involved interviewing other authors for podcasts; a task that I usually did via Skype. However, one day I learned that one of my interviewee's lived about 20 minutes from me, so we decided: Hey. Why not just meet up and record in person?

What could possibly go wrong?

I could. I could go wrong.

And I did.

Gif of Lucy from I Love Lucy cringing.

This was only the second time in my life that I'd met up with a fellow author to hang out and chat, so, of course, I was super nervous. This was where things first started to go wrong. See, the more nervous I am, the more awkward I get.

We'd agreed to meet at a local library. Knowing that my facial recognition software is terrible, I went out of my way to visit the author's website a few times to look at her profile picture. Surely, I would be able to recognize her if I did that.

But no.

I walked up to the library and there was a very sweet-looking lady sitting outside. I made eye-contact, nodded at her politely, and walked. right. past. her. I was so nervous that my brain was too jumbled to recognize her as the person I was there to meet.

I got into the building and the author was nowhere in sight. The sweet-looking woman from outside walked up behind me and introduced herself. I introduced myself and we found a place to sit.

And I said nothing. Nothing. Nothing about our weird eye-contact-head-nod, nothing about me not recognizing her, nothing about how nervous I was. And that would have been the polite thing to do, right? Because, from her point of view, I had nodded at her and, for some weird reason, had walked past her. Almost as if I expected her to trail into the building behind me like some sad, stray puppy.

But I was too flustered to acknowledge my error and the further and further we got into the meeting, the weirder and weirder it became for me to awkwardly say, "Heyyyyy. So, remember that time I just walked right past you? Sorry about that!"

Gif of Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreations making an awkward "My bad" face.

So I said nothing. Which was so, so absurd because this author is a really cool person. She would have 100% understood and been chill with my awkwardness.

*sigh* This author's name is Sally J. Pla. Yep. Our meeting was incredible and we recorded a great podcast on writing neurodivergent characters.

I drove home afterward feeling super excited about the meeting, and also so, so, so awkward.

Ever since then I've been ultra paranoid about accidentally dissing fellow authors by not recognizing them. I have yet to find a way to correct this issue, but I did learn one valuable lesson:

Whenever I don't recognize a person, I can simply laugh and explain why. There's no need to be weird about it. 

Shout-out to Sally J. Pla for reading this part of my blog post before publishing. It was the first time we'd discussed my weird behavior. We had a good laugh about it, and she made me feel a lot better about myself. As she says: We're all human.

Deer in the Spotlight 


One of the perks to being an author in this modern age is that I rarely find myself in the spotlight. I get to hide my awkwardness behind a computer screen and, when I do have attention focused on me, the internet allows me to have time to formulate coherent, non-awkward responses. 

But that changed the day I met up with fellow writer Elza Kinde. Herself and her mom run a local writing group, so one day I decided to attend the group so I could meet Elza. I'd followed her online for a while and I thought she was the epitome of cool, so I was excited. And nervous. Because, y'know...my track record when it came to gracefully meeting fellow writers wasn't all that great. 

But here's the thing I hadn't anticipated: Elza really, really likes my writing. Like, a lot. 

Now, I know people online enjoy my writing. That's awesome. It makes me super happy. But I'd never actually met somebody in-person who enjoys my work (aside from family and friends), so I wasn't prepared. 

Prepared for what, you ask? 

The spotlight. 

I showed up to meet Elza and, thankfully, I had no issue recognizing her (thank you, Elza, for always wearing cool head wraps). I was really proud of myself for not fumbling our initial meeting.

But then something unexpected happened.

Elza started introducing me to her friends as "an awesome author." She gushed about my writing, and my mind just kind of....

Exploded. 

I had no idea how to respond. Was I supposed to smile, nod, and say, "Yeah, I am an awesome author. Kneel before me."

Tom Hiddleston dressed as Loki at Comic Con. He's making a smug face while cameras flash.

Or was I supposed to say, "No, I'm not all that great. My stuff sucks, actually. You should read Twilight instead." Neither of those things seemed quite right.

I started over-analyzing everything: Should I give people my business card after she pitched about my stuff? Do I wait for them to ask? Do I try to shift the conversation away from myself? Towards myself? Am I even a good enough author to deserve this praise? What am I even doing and oh my gosh why am I so weird about these things??? 

Overwhelmed, my brain went back and forth on what to do. Part of me wanted to hug Elza for being so supportive and cool. The other part of me wanted to hug Elza, then flee in terror. 

I don't remember exactly how I handled it. It's all kind of a blur now, honestly. I'm pretty sure I just stood awkwardly, smiled a lot, and turned as red as Bob the Tomato.

But that was absurd, wasn't it? After all, why should I get awkward over somebody else gushing over my writing? That is way less uncomfortable than me having to pitch my own work (which I'm super bad at, btw). After a while, I started to calm down. I saw how cool it was to have a fellow writer friend who was willing and able to lift me up and support my work. Rather than feeling awkward, I settled into just be myself instead of some weird author-in-the-headlights dork. 

I left our meet-up feeling slightly cringe-y towards myself, super appreciated of Elza, and inspired to go out and be that same type of supportive to other writers.

Many thanks to Elza Kinde for being cool with me posting this. It's worth noting that we are friends to this day and often bond over being awkward souls.


You'll notice that this blog post is titled "Part 1." That's right. I have several more stories about my adventures as an awkward author. Besides, I think we all know that I'll never run out of semi-embarrassing tales to recount. As much as I'd like to think that I'll get better at being a functioning human, I know that I'll always be awkward at heart. But that's okay. It keeps life interesting.

Have your own awkward writer stories to tell? Let's hear 'em! Bonus points if you want to be extra and write an entire blog post series about them.

Related articles:
There aren't really any, sooooo. Here's some on how to network:
Great Social Media Networks for Writers (And How to Use Them)
11 Tips for Building a Successful Writer's Platform

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Friday, March 29, 2019

7 Non-Romantic Relationships for Your Stories - A Guest Post by Beth Wangler


Something awesome this way comes. Allow me to introduce you to the incredible Beth Wangler: indie author, Phoenix Fiction Writer, and friend. She's here today to share some amazing ideas for writing non-romantic relationships, so listen up and take good notes: 

You know how it goes: Boy meets girl, girl meets boy. Probably they hate each other at first, but through the course of the story they fall in love, just in time for a dramatic kiss at the climax.

Am I the only one who’s getting bored with all these romantic subplots?


Now, there’s nothing wrong with romance, per se. Romance can be a very powerful driving force in anyone’s life, and it can drastically shape lives for real and fictional people. The trouble is, romance is by far not the only type of meaningful relationship that people have with each other.

I have a little secret for you: The core relationship your main character has doesn’t HAVE to be romantic. *gasp* I know, it’s crazy.

Gif of Vizinni from Princess Bride saying "inconceivable"

Here are 7 other types of relationships for your characters to have.

7 Non-Romantic Relationships for Your Stories - A Guest Post by Beth Wangler

1. Parent-Child


Parent and child relationships are some of the core relationships in our own experiences. Whether that is a healthy, nurturing experience or an experience of neglect or abuse, these shape us from the day we’re born. They can be complicated and messy, and each one is different. In addition to adoptive, biological, or step-parents, people may have parents-in-law. I would love to see more of these kinds of relationships in stories, and not just stories where the parents are dead.

Also, your main character can be the parent in the relationship. I know, it surprised me, too: Parents are also real humans with stories to tell.

Books already doing this well: Mark of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse features a troubled mother-daughter relationship; “Beast in the Machine” by E.B. Dawson features a beautiful father-daughter relationship; “The Traveler” by E.B. Dawson features a sort of adopted parent-child pair.

2. Siblings


Siblings can be...complicated. Brothers and sisters love each other. They also know each other better than anyone else--which can be a wonderful thing, and it can also lead to a lot of hurt. For the most part, siblings are stuck with each other (much more than girlfriends and boyfriends are stuck with each other), so this provides an incredible opportunity to explore reconciliation and forgiveness. And siblings don’t have to be young: I’d love to see more adult siblings.

Gif of Sam Winchester saying 'You're my brother, and I'd die for you."


Books already doing this well: “Colors of Fear” by Hannah Heath features brothers, and her “Skies of Dripping Gold” features a brother-sister duo; “Irellia the Night Walker” by me features sisters; the Beaumont and Beasley books by Kyle Robert Shultz feature a great, supportive, complicated brother pair; Two Lives Three Choices by K. L. + Pierce has a brother-sister pair with one of them as the antagonist; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle is centered on a beautiful big sister-little brother relationship.

3. Other Family


Family is more than immediate family. Cousins have a special connection. Aunts and uncles can be very influential on nieces and nephews. Godparents and grandparents are some of the most important people in a child’s life. Whether family lives close or far, whether there’s a small or large age gap, whether it’s a big or little family, these relationships are beautiful, meaningful, and often strange.

Books already doing this well: The Girl Who Could See by Kara Swanson has a wonderful young aunt and niece relationship; Child of the Kaites by me features an MC with close relationships with her uncle, cousins, and pseudo-adopted parents; The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis has a nephew-uncle relationship.

4. Friends


We need more examples of healthy, supportive friendships as well. Now, there are a decent amount of these relationships in fiction. I would like to see friendship take more of a forefront rather than being put on the back burner while romance takes the lead. From a conversation I had on Twitter, a lot of people (myself included) also want to see more completely platonic male-female friendships, and we’ve noticed an extreme dearth of supportive female friendships. We need more ladies supporting each other in our fiction, friends. We also need more guys who aren’t ashamed to have good, close relationships with their bro-pals.

Books already doing this well: Creation of Jack series by E.B. Dawson has a plethora of incredible F/F, M/M, and M/F friendships; The Electrical Menagerie by Mollie E. Reeder; the Malfunction trilogy by J.E. Purrazzi features both a M/M and a M/F friendship, both of which are incredible; my “The Temple Builders” features a M/F friendship.

5. Teacher-Student/Mentor-Mentee


If you’re writing a futuristic, modern, or even probably historical story, chances are high that your characters had to gain knowledge about their world through some kind of schooling. That might be a private tutor, it might be a one-room schoolhouse, it might be an apprenticeship, it might be a massive, impersonal university. Most societies have both teachers and students of some type, and both student and teacher can be a main character. The same goes for mentors and mentees.

Gif of Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn starting up their lightsabers in unison.


Books already doing this well: “Flames of Courage,” by Hannah Heath; “The Word Thrower” by me; Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card takes place in an academy system; and Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis.

6. Employer-Employee/Worker-Customer


Many cultures feature economies based on buying and selling, and so consumer-worker interactions are some of the more common relationships people have. This could be a regular customer at a grocery store/coffee shop/lumber yard/etc. It could be the relationship between an employer and someone who works closely with their family, like a nanny or housekeeper. There is some overlap with this and master/apprentice relationships, but that’s okay: Our goal is just more diversity in relationships in stories.

As @JessieBWrites mentioned on Twitter, good bosses are common in real life but almost impossible to find in fiction.


Books already doing this well: “The Astoundingly Mortal Peril of Denna Dorwin” by Nate Philbrick has a hilarious shopkeeper-client relationship; “Beast in the Machine” by E.B. Dawson also features an employee-employer relationship.

7. Colleagues and Team Mates


Colleagues and team mates are people who may be very different from each other but share a similar interest. They might be competitive with each other, or they might be supportive. They might have very different religions, genders, social or economic statuses, or personalities, but they can still end up caring for each other. If your character works full-time, chances are they spend more waking hours with their coworkers than with their family or friends.

Books already doing this well: It’s hard to classify the main relationship in H.L. Burke’s “Magicians’ Rivalry,” but I’d say it leans a bit more into colleagues than employer-employee; Dracula by Bram Stoker has a wonderful team of colleagues/friends; the borgs in J.E. Purrazzi’s Malfunction trilogy; the Mythfits in Kyle Robert Shultz’s Beaumont and Beasley series.

For more ideas on diverse character relationships, check out this thread on Twitter of people sharing what they would like to see more of:


What types of non-romantic relationships would you like to see more of in stories? Do you know other examples of stories that focus on these types of relationships? Let us know down in the comments!

Great tips, right? Beth Wangler is amazing. Be sure to follow her online: 


And, if you're on the hunt for good Christian fantasy, you just found it. Beth Wangler's series, The Firstborn's Legacy, is incredible and you should read the entire thing: The Lake of Living Water, Child of the Kaites, and the Steward Stories. Already read some of her stuff? Let's fangirl about it below!

Related articles:
Romance in YA Novels: The Good, The Bad, and The Stupid
Don’t Write Every Day: 9 Ways to Rest and Rejuvenate - A Guest Post by Beth Wangler

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