Friday, November 15, 2019

5 Tips for Writing a Compelling Paragon Character

What's a paragon character? you may ask. There are a lot of fancy definition, but we all know I don't go for fancy things. Put simply, a paragon character is Captain America.

A paragon is a character who is a champion of a specific (or multiple specific) admirable trait(s). They are good characters, through and through. Maybe they stand for freedom and right-doing (Captain America) or justice (Black Panther) or kindness (Beth March). These character often, though not always, come with a special skill, such as Super Strength to go with their Super Heart (Superman).

They are fascinating characters that tend to be favorites of mine, though they are sadly lacking in speculative fiction. This lack of paragon character types is, in part, due to the fact that writers are afraid that such a character will be boring.

But guys. They do not have to be boring. They can be AMAZING. Take it from two authors who know: Beth Wangler and D.J. Edwardson, both masters of the paragon character type. 

5 Tips for Writing a Compelling Paragon Character

D.J. Edwardson


Today, we’re going to look at two types of paragon characters and how to write them well.

#1. The Superman: These are the characters who can do almost everything. They’re strong, courageous, they try to do the right thing. They don’t have any real weaknesses and, frankly, they’re a little harder to pull off.

To begin with, you’ll need to establish just how powerful they are. Have them save the day, and then save it again and again, each time in a bigger way.

Then comes The Problem, capital P, where you throw the cosmic sink at them. Give them problems so big, even they can’t solve them. This is where the character uncovers that extra wrinkle we didn’t know they had. They can still solve it (or a specialist character can—see below), but we have to believe, at least for a time, that they can’t. We’ll love them all the more when they do or, alternatively, when they learn that even they need help once in a while.

Bonus tip: Give ‘em a weakness. Without some kind of Kryptonite, it makes it hard to put your paragon in a tough situation.

#2. The Specialist: This character is really good at one thing. I’m talking extra-special-crazy good. Atticus Finch can’t run a four-minute mile, but you won’t find a more upstanding fellow in the courtroom. He’s a legend when it comes to setting a good example. The phrase “paragon of virtue” had to come from somewhere. Let it be your character.

Most paragons fall into this camp. To make these characters sing, do the opposite of tip #1. Give them chances for their unique trait to shine. Let them be the best at that over and over again. You could have them fail (or nearly fail), but there are plenty of other things for them to fail at (things they’re not good at). Let them fail at those. Try building them up in the reader’s mind to be the single best (fill in the blank) and see if they don’t end up finding a place in readers’ hearts because of it.

Bonus tip: Give ‘em a surprise second (or third) skill at some point. Make it unexpected. “What? You’re a master fencer and you’ve built up an immunity to iocane powder? Amazing!”

Gif of Vizzini from A Princess Bride saying "Inconceivable."


Beth Wangler


1. Who do you want to be? The reason I, and I think many others, love paragon characters is not just because they are nice: It’s because they inspire us. They show us what it could look like to live the way we want to live but aren’t able to yet. They light a fire in us and give us a goal to aim for.

With that in mind, there are two equally worthwhile ways to approach paragons. You can start with a good thing you wish you were better at, like loving your friends, following the rules, etc. Or you can start with whatever you view as your deepest failing—the thing you wish most in the world that you could change about yourself but can’t seem to change—and build a character out of that. Both characters may end up looking the same on the surface, but the way you approach writing them will be vastly different.

2. Give them personality. It’s always tempting to create a character around one central trait, and nowhere is this more tempting than with paragon characters. You’ll have a list of morals or virtues in mind, you’ll plop a face on top of that list—but your work is far from done. Take extra time building full personalities for your paragon characters. What are their quirks? Their regrets? What is their backstory? What are their pet peeves, and why?

3. Paragons aren’t perfect. Most of the time, your paragon character will still be human. That means that, however much they strive for goodness, justice, etc., they will still fall short. They will have blind spots where they don’t realize they aren’t living up to their ideals. They will have pitfalls that will get them again and again. Sometimes, their dedication to what’s “right” may even lead them to make the WRONG decision. Vices are often out-of-balance virtues.

If your paragon character is, say, a holy, perfect god, that still doesn’t give you an excuse for laziness. Perfection often might look very different from what your characters and readers would expect. You can play with this to create a truly powerful commentary. That will also keep your readers engaged and make them love your character even more. The unexpected “Hail Hydra” moment in End Game got one of the biggest reactions in the theater, after all.


Who are some of your favorite paragon characters? Have you ever written one before? Tell us all about them!

Related articles:
9 Ways to Keep Your Character From Being Boring
5 Tips for Creating Complex Characters

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Friday, November 8, 2019

#ChatWithHannah Ep 20: Indie Author Mythbusters

Do you think indie authors aren't "real authors"? Are you under the impression that indie publishing doesn't make money? Or that we're indie because we failed at traditional publishing?

Think again:


My newly published short story, This Pain Inside, can be found in the Strange Waters anthology. The entire anthology is amazing. You should read it.

And don't forget to read allllllll the indie books.

Who are some of your favorite indie authors? Drop their names below!


Related articles: 
#ChatWithHannah Ep 17: Pep Talk for Writers
#ChatWithHannah Ep 18: Tropes in YA Fiction That Need To Die

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

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

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Writing Disabled Characters: What You're Doing Wrong


This post is long, so I'm gonna keep the introduction short. Disabled characters are severely underrepresented in fiction and, unfortunately, when we are represented, we are often misrepresented in harmful and ignorant ways. 

Positive representation is not only encouraging to the disabled community, but also helps non-disabled people have a better understanding of disability, thus giving them tools to be better allies. Because there is so much riding on disability representation, let's try to get it right, shall we? 

Here's a list of things you'll want to make sure you aren't doing. If you steer clear of these, you should be okay.

Writing Disabled Characters: What You're Doing Wrong

Some disclaimers first: 

1) I use identity-first language when discussing disability for a variety of reasons. If you're about to leave a disgruntled comment below and tell me that I should be using people-first language, I encourage you to do some research. Perhaps start by reading this article. If you still have questions about my language choices, feel free to let me know and I will give my full reasoning in the comments. 

2) I'm not touching on autism in this post because autism is generally categorized as differently-abled rather than disabled. I will be writing a post about ASD at some point, but I didn't think it was appropriate to blend that into this post. So if anyone is reading this thinking, "Hey, she forgot about autistic people!" Hold your horses. 

Okay. Here are a list of things that authors often get wrong when writing disabled characters:

You are pitying your character. This happens in real life and it happens in fiction. I call it The Look. When people see a disabled person or learn that somebody is disabled, they instantly look at that person with pity. Because oh man, how sad. Disability is a horror. How can they live like that?

I see this in writing a lot, too. Authors write their disabled characters as characters to pity. Not a character to cheer for. Not a character to look up to. Not a character to simply read and think, "Oh, hey. I like this person." Nope. Authors go out of their way to make you feel sorry for the character because of their disability.

Nope. Stop it. Stop it right now. If you are writing a disabled character and all you see is someone to be pitied, then that means you have not taken the time to stop and learn about disability or the disabled community. Do you have any idea how badass disabled people can be? No? Then go educate yourself by talking with disabled people, reading their blogs, buying their books, and viewing their art. Then come back to your character and do better.

You only show one side of disability. Sometimes writers approach their disabled character one of two ways:

1) This character's disability has given them superpowers and their life is super cool.

2) This character's disabilities has made their life a living hell with no upside whatsoever.

Both of these are insane. Being deaf doesn't magically give you incredible, life-alteringly-amazing eyesight. And having apraxia doesn't suddenly suck all of the joy out of your life. If you want to discuss disability, you need to show all of the angles. Sure, disability isn't a superpower, but it can often make us more empathetic and more perseverant than your average person. Yeah, disability can make life very difficult, but we still have ups in our lives just like everyone else.

Dig a little deeper and make sure you aren't just showcasing one tiny thread in the massive tapestry that is disability (yes, I realize this sentence is weirdly flowery, but I've committed to it so we're all just gonna deal).

Your character gains value once they are seen as "useful" by non-disabled characters. This is by far the most common trope I see when it comes to disabled characters. The character is put-upon, discriminated against, and seen as useless by their society. But then the character goes and proves their worth by doing something heroic. Suddenly all the non-disabled characters gain respect for him/her and life is good.

Dude.

Gif of a minion saying "ehhhh. No."

No person should be treated inhumanely until they can find a way to be useful. This is a very harmful message that should never be lauded in fiction or anywhere else. If your entire plot revolves around your disabled character working to earn better treatment by proving themselves, you have work to do.

If you are dead-set on using this trope, trying turning it around to show the dangers of equality through usefulness. Or the idiocy of usefulness being measured through level of ability.

You made your villain's "badness" stem from their disability. I just...*takes deep breath* Stop writing that. You're lowering the IQ of the entire street.

People don't "go bad" because they are disabled. I've been disabled eight years now and I generally only have violent inclinations when I read about villains who's disabilities magically turned them evil.

Take Ant Man and the Wasp, for example. One of the antagonists (Ghost) makes a lot of very poor (and violent) choices, supposedly because she's in pain. For the entirety of the movie, her character motivation is: "I hurt, I want to be healed regardless of whether I hurt others in the process." We're led to believe that she's messed up because of her pain (we're also led to pity her, which is a whole other issue). Never does the movie address the fact that maybe she makes terrible life choices because she lost her father at a young age. Or because she was abused and raised to be a killer right after the emotional trauma of losing a parent.

Obviously none of those traumatic events motivated her or led her down the path she's on. Clearly it was just her disability.

And of course her disability leads her to completely disregarding everyone else's needs because clearly disability is all-consuming and it's better to hurt other people than to live with disability another day.

*rolls eyes dramatically*

If your villain is only bad because of their disability (or because of being mistreated due to their disability), then you need to dig deeper. Disability does not a villain make. Pushing that storyline is hurtful to the disabled community and does nothing to help people understand disability.

Go back to the drawing board, please.

You aren't showing the social ramifications of disability. Non-disabled people can be weird around disabled people. It's just the truth. Ever noticed that people don't like to make eye-contact with wheelchair users? Or that people stutter over the word "disabled" like saying it out loud will summon Voldemort himself? On top of this, disabled people can struggle with friendships and social circles for a variety of reasons. Sometimes social outings are not accessible, sometimes disabled people are led to believe they are a burden and thus pull away from people so as not to inconvenience anyone. The list goes on. Be sure to include the complex relationship dynamics that come with disability (unless you're writing based off of my below Bonus Tip below, then just ignore this).

You are ignoring how disability affects your character's self-image. Internalized ableism is, unfortunately, a thing. So if you're writing fiction set in our world (or a world that doesn't understand and/or look kindly upon disability), don't forget to show what this does to a character's psyche. Internalized ableism (or being mistreated by people because of a disability) can lead to low self-esteem, defensiveness, etc. However, having a disability can also lead to viewing yourself as an overcomer, a fighter, and other positive self-images as well. Doing your research will more fully help you nail these complexities down. Speaking of which....

You didn't do your research.
Pick a disability, then research the heck out of it. If you don't, your representation will fall flat.

Now, when I say research, I don't mean poke around WebMD for a bit. 

Gif of Sherlock from the BBC TV series saying "Do your research" with a disdainful look on his face.

I mean talk to people with the disability you are writing. Read blogs and books by them. Note that I said blogs and books, plural. Disability is very complex and each person experiences it slightly differently, so you want to read widely so you can see what parts are commonalities and what parts aren't. This will allow you to better develop your character.

Also remember to read blogs and books by caretakers, loved ones, etc so that you can go about crafting good character dynamics as well. But these should always be your secondary sources, not your primary sources.

Your character's defining trait is their disability. Errrr. You realize disability isn't a personality type, right? And you understand that disabled people are, in fact, people? Correct? Okay. Then I see no reason why you can't go about building your disabled character's personality the same way you would any other character. Give them interests, likes, dislikes, motivations, etc. Sure, some of their personality traits can be related to their disability, but not all of them.

You're using a non-disabled character to "humanize" your disabled character. *smushes face into pillow* *screams* Disabled people are people. People. Peeeeeeopole. PEOPLE. It's not a difficult concept. If your disabled character needs a non-disabled character foil to humanize them or make them interesting or relatable, then you have some serious prejudices you need to work out. Do disabled people face unique challenges in life? Yes. Does that make us alien? Bizarre? Impossible for non-disabled people to understand without the help of an abled character foil? Nope.

Do better.

You're falling into one of the two main disability tropes. Clearly, disabled people have one of two personalities: They are either endlessly cheerful and kind or very grouchy and mean. There is nothing in between (or outside of) these two tropes.

If you want to write a 2D character that also perpetuates an incorrect view of disability, then by all means, follow this trope. But if you want to write a good character, remember that disabled characters should have unique personalities and story arcs, just like everyone else.

You are excusing or rationalizing poor behavior because "Oh, poor them, they're disabled." Look. I get it. Obviously, we disabled people have a hard go of things, so the moral system that applies to non-disabled people doesn't apply to us. We are 100% justified and even morally correct when we hurt other people because hey. We're hurting all the time.

Gif of an elderly lady standing up and saying, "That's not how it works! That's not how any of this works!"

You know how we talked about the importance of not pitying your disabled character? Well, this is what happens when you don't listen to that tip. You pity them, so you give them passes on things that a non-disabled character would not get a pass for.

This is not a difficult concept, but just in case you're struggling with it, please repeat after me: Disability is never an excuse for poor behavior.

Ever.

Got it?

Okay. Let's move on.

You forget about the disability. You mention the disability a few times, then it just kind of...vanishes.

Yeah. About that.

Disability doesn't work that way (unless you're writing a temporary disability). For instance, you can't have a character who's missing a hand randomly be able to easily open a jar or put on a belt. That character with a cane can't suddenly sprint up a flight of stairs. Your intellectually disabled character (depending on the exact nature of their disability) isn't going to be able to easily read instructions or carry out a conversation.

If you're writing a disabled character, always keep sight of the things that they can or can't do. That should be obvious, but apparently isn't.

You feel the need to keep mentioning the disability. This is what happens when you try to avoid the above point, but swing too far to the other side. Writers sometimes have the tendency to gawk at their own disabled character. This sucks because, as writers, we have the great opportunity to normalized disability and show readers that disability isn't something bizarre or upsetting or alien. Don’t blow this by frequently shoehorn disability into every page.

Your character isn't really disabled. Ah, the old “we thought this character was a wheelchair user, but surprise! They’ve been faking the whole time” trope. This SUCKS. Stop it. People are already skeptical of disabled people, especially those with invisible disabilities, those who are ambulatory wheelchair users, or those with disabilities that flare up on some days but aren't very bad on others. Doing the “fake disability” trope not only feeds into this skepticism, but it also validates it.

You're planning to kill the character off (for not-very-good-reasons). Ever noticed that the disabled characters are usually the first to die in a novel? They’re usually killed off to motivated non-disabled characters or to evoke emotion in readers. Both of these are cheap reasons. Give us positive representation. Give us warrior disabled people (like the deaf general in the Dragon Prince). Give us disabled people who get happy endings (like Dr. Watson in the RDJ Sherlock Holmes movies). Give us characters we can actually connect with rather than characters that are just going to be killed off for emotional effect.

You're employing the "magical cure" trope. You take your disabled character and have them healed by some magical force (or a non-existent technology, if this is sci-fi or futuristic). This is also known as The I-might-as-well-have-not-written-a-disabled-character-at-all trope. 

Gif of Captain America saying "Son, just don't."

This is unhelpful and absurd because A) Your character is no longer disabled, so it's not really disability representation, B) Magical cures do not exist in real life, so how is the helpful to readers?, and C) It sends the message that you weren't comfortable with (or felt limited by) by your character's disability, so you wanted to find an easy way to get rid of it. None of these are good, so don't even go there.

Bonus: Your disabled character is constantly discriminated against. Now, this isn't necessary a "you're doing it wrong" point, but it is something for you to think about. Disabled characters are constantly discriminated against in stories for the sake of realism. But here's the thing: Not everyone is terrible to disabled people, so it's important to show positives. And, if you're creating your own world, it may be nice to show a world that is accessible and open to everyone, no matter their level of ability. It would be a great way to show people how to be more inclusive. If you feel like taking positive representation to the next level, perhaps give this a whirl. 

And there you have it. If you're interested in reading books with positive disability representation, I recommend The Electrical Menagerie by Mollie E. Reeder, Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry, Dragon School by Sarah K.L. Wilson, Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno, of any of my own stories (except Vengeance Hunter, which, while a good story, is my only publication that doesn't feature disability). 

Do you write disabled characters? What are you doing to make sure you are writing a positive representation? Did I miss any points? I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

As always, please keep comments respectful and thoughtful. Thank you!

Related articles:
9 Tips for Writing Physically Disabled Characters in Fantasy
7 Tips for Writing A Character with an Intellectual Disability
7 Tips for Using Story Writing to Raise Awareness for a Cause

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Friday, October 25, 2019

Factoid Friday #2: Jumping in Theme-First

When I was just starting out as an author, I heard a lot of people (both writers and readers) saying that you should never build a story around a theme. I was told that, unless I wanted to write preachy message-fiction, the story's theme should take a backseat during the creation process.

So, being the good, obedient person that I am, I decided to take that advice and throw it completely out the window. And then light it on fire for good measure.


The one exception to this is Skies of Dripping Gold. That story started out with a plot (a character trying to climb his way to heaven) and a theme (faith through pain, trust in God over trust in self). The characters and the world-building all came later.

What story components do you decide on first? Which ones do you fit in afterwards?

Related articles:
Factoid Friday #1: About Wanderer's Name

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Friday, October 18, 2019

How to Properly Portray Mental Health Issues in Fiction

Ah, mental health. Awareness has been rising of late, yet fiction still tends to portray mental health issues in hurtful and uneducated ways. How do we go about fixing this problem?

Well, we can start out by listening to what E.B. Dawson and S.M. Holland have to say on the topic. They are both incredible authors who are also mental health advocates, and they have kindly agreed to share their wealth of knowledge with us. Do you feel lucky? I know I do.

Get your note-taking tools out and prepare to learn:

How to Properly Portray Mental Health Issues in Fiction: A guest post by E.B. Dawson and S.M. Holland

E.B. Dawson


1. Don’t glorify mental health issues. You may think this is an obvious one, but I see it all the time. The most common manifestation of this I see is to take one aspect of a mental illness, magnify it, and give it to a main character without the connecting symptoms/struggles/consequences. Example: A genius character, a specialty in his field, struggles with OCD and blows up when his new assistant moves something on his desk half an inch. “It’s funny,” you say. “It’s their flaw,” you say. “It humanizes them.” The problem is that true OCD is a very serious, often debilitating condition. That little outburst is probably the symptom of a deep rooted issue that has caused this man and his friends and family a lot of pain. If he does not get help, it is going to manifest in other heartbreaking ways in his life. If your character truly has a mental illness and you only insert it into the story when it is convenient, then you are glossing over the issue and communicating that mental illness is just something to make your character more interesting. Yes, mental illness IS interesting, there’s no doubt about that. But it needs to be respected and depicted accurately.

2. Don’t demonize mental health issues. Instead of giving mental health issues to their protagonists to make them more interesting or romantic, some people will be tempted to give them to their antagonists in order to make them more scary, disturbing, or complex. I don’t think I need to explain why this is super sensitive territory. It is true that mental illness can distort people’s perceptions of reality or morality. It is true that some people with mental illness struggle with societal norms or societal rules. You don’t want to fall into the trap of having your story accidentally imply that people with certain mental illnesses are freaks or criminals. I’m not saying that your antagonist/villain can never have mental health issues. What I am saying is that if they do, you had better do your research. Real people who struggle with these issues or have friends and family members who do, will not be super pleased if you use it to make your story more sensational.

3. Behavior stemming from mental health issues has consequences. What does this mean? Well, this is related to my other two points. It’s also a tip on how to avoid the pitfalls of points one and two. I see this in movies and books ALL. THE. TIME and it makes me frustrated. A lot of stories will throw in erratic behavior/emotional dysfunction for the purpose of plot, humor, or tension without truly understanding where these behaviors stem from. As soon as the scene is over, the story and characters move forward as if all is well.

Here is the problem: these behaviors are like symptoms. They only exist because there is a deeper problem that needs to be addressed. Even if it is not the focus of the story, there needs to be an acknowledgement of consequences. Everyone knows that if a character breaks his leg in scene one, he cannot be running around in scene two unless appropriate time has passed in between. Most authors will take the time to be consistent with physical consequences, but there are way too many who disregard emotional/psychological consequences. The sad result is the same as it would be if writers disregarded physical consequences. If the majority of writers portrayed characters able to walk two weeks after breaking their leg, people would start forgetting that it actually takes months to recover from such an injury. Example: the full blown temper tantrum is a good example and it’s super popular in media right now. Let me tell you a secret: if an adult throws a full blown temper tantrum (I’m not talking about just snapping at someone or something like that), there are some issues there that need to be worked out. Too often the plot moves on without anyone acknowledging serious concern or changing their opinion of the character. And surprise, surprise, that character never struggles with anger again. Not realistic. Physical manifestations of anger are scary to witness and often break trust. They aren’t funny or romantic nor are they usually isolated events.

Find E.B. Dawson here: 



S.M. Holland 


1. Proper research is important. One of the biggest mistakes I have observed when it comes to writing about characters with mental illness is the lack of research. A lot of people will rely on what they have seen or observed through social media or Hollywood films. A lot of the time, they get it wrong or just scratch the surface. Hollywood and the media tend to either glorify or demonize mental illness. I think it is important to understand, to the best of your ability the clinical understanding and definitions of the mental illness you are trying to work with. The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is a great place to start when it comes to trying to understand on a clinical level. Once you understand the basic workings of a mental illness, you can build up from there. Google and youtube can both be good places to search for articles or clinicians talking about how to work with and treat a mental illness. For example, there are several different types of schizoaffective disorder. A lot of symptoms overlap, but there are certain symptoms that are specific to each vein of schizoaffective disorder. If you wrote a book based solely on someone seeing things, you would miss the mark and create a cliche character. Doing thorough research and not relying on what you have already seen in other novels or movies will take you far.

2. Real life feedback is imperative. Unfortunately, even a professional can get it wrong. Years of studying and working in the field with mentally ill patients does not trump real life experience. I highly recommend finding sensitivity readers who live with or have experienced the mental illness you are trying to portray. Whether it be someone you know personally, or someone you find through an online forum, I feel this is an important step in order to help your character’s authenticity. It is good to remember that everyone who struggles with mental illness, like bipolar or depression, etc, experience it differently. However the basic workings are similar. A sensitivity reader can help you work through your manuscript and help point out when your character's struggles are being exaggerated to glorification. They can also help you with proper language usage so you are not demonizing people who struggle as Dawson mentioned above. If finding someone who struggles with the mental illness you are trying to portray is difficult, someone who works in the field with people who struggle or a family member of someone who struggles is a good alternative.

3. Mental Illness does not only affect the person/character. When writing about characters who struggle with mental illness, it is also important to remember that they are not the only one affected. We have to remember that there are different levels when it comes to mental illness. In the center is the sufferer, the first ripple is family, or a spouse, who they live with. These are the people who see the struggle everyday. They may have to help more, like either helping their spouse shower, or taking their kid to the hospital. They hear and see the tears, and that takes a toll on them. Maybe it will cause them to have their own spiral of depression. The next ripple out will be friends, teachers or co-workers. They are aware that the person is missing more work, or falling behind on school work, slowly becoming more distant, and so on. As far as your characters reach is, that’s as far as the ripples should go. Mental illness isn’t a single depressive episode in a story, and then they move on. It is an all life consuming disease. In a lot of novels I have read dealing with mental illness, the illness stays in the characters head, and nobody around them knows. Rarely this is true (of course there is always the exception). At the very least, the first ripple, family, spouse, roommate, etc, would be aware that something was off. As the struggle gets worse, you can expand those ripples.

4. Mental illness isn’t a quirky character flaw or a plot vice. Please, if you are writing about mental illness and it is not helping grow people’s understanding of the struggle, just drop it. Your manuscript does not need it. Remember to always be respectful when researching or talking to other people about their struggles.

Find S.M. Holland here: 


I don't know about you, but I think these tips are awesome. If every book followed these guidelines, I would be far less inclined to chuck a book or my Kindle across the room in frustration. 

Do you portray mental health issues in your writing? How do you go about doing it in a healthy manner? I'd love to hear about your endeavors! 

Related articles: 
Writing Characters with Depression: What You're Doing Wrong
9 Tips for Maintaining Mental Health as a Writer

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

Friday, October 11, 2019

#ChatWithHannah Ep 19: Advice for Aspiring Authors

Are you an aspiring author? Yay! Go you. Here are some tips I've learned from my author journey that I think you'll find helpful. And yeah, a lot of these tips do still apply to all you published authors out there. You're welcome.


T-shirt available on Threadless.

The afore-mentioned Strange Waters anthology can be found here, and the livestream schedules are coming soon!

What are some of the best pieces of writing advice you've been given? I'd love to hear them!



Related articles: 

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

Friday, October 4, 2019

10 Tips for Writing a Story That Will Become a Fandom

I am part of a massive number of fandoms. Some may say it is an embarrassing number, but I say it's an awesome number.

Now, I've been watching these fandoms. Not in a creepy Edward-watching-Bella-sleep kind of way, but in a studious Hermione sort of way. And you know what?

There are patterns. There are patterns within each fandom, and commonalities between almost every fandom. Which got me thinking: What if you could utilize these patterns to create a fandom around your own story?

Let's talk about what it takes to write a fandom-inducing story.

10 Tips for Writing a Story That Will Become a Fandom


1. Be one with the force. Don't panic, and be sure to go steal everyone's left shoe. If you're good at something, never do it for free. Understand all the references, remember that bow ties are cool, and if anyone gets nosy, just shoot them. Politely.

Okay. On to the "real" tips:

2. Plan multiple books. Very few fandoms are one-shot fandoms. Pretty much all of them have multiple books or storylines going on: Harry Potter, LOTR, Star Wars, Star Trek, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Game of Thrones, Firefly, The 100. And don't even get me started on The Stormlight Archives (What is even happening with those novels?? A single one of those books is like an entire series in and of itself. I just...Okay. *takes deep breath* That's not the point of this post).

Part of this is because the more content you put out, the more noticeable you become. But it also has to do with the fact that readers are greedy little grubbers.

Er. Let me re-phrase that: When readers like something, they want more of it. They want to learn more about the world, the characters, the plot. And the more they learn, the more hyped up they get about the next installation of the series, thus creating waves that draw in more fans. It's pretty great. So if you want your story to become a fandom at some point, you'll want to plan for a series or expanded universe (or both).

3. Utilize trios or large casts of characters. Who do you like better: Harry Potter or Ron Weasley? Is Pippin your fav or Aragorn? Trick question: The answer is clearly Sam. I will fight anyone who says otherwise. Just kidding. (but not really)

Fandoms have a wide array of characters, so there's somebody for everyone. It's pretty awesome. Fandoms are often a weird mix of niche and crowd-pleasing fiction (at least crowd-pleasing within their genre) and one of the things that helps them reach so many people is having a solid cast of characters for people to root for. If your goal is to reach as many readers as possible, then consider writing large casts...or trios in which each person in the trio is vastly different.

4. Write shippable characters. Every fandom has them. Do you need to be writing romance to write shippable characters? Nope. You just need two characters with chemistry. Readers will instantly go to their land of ship building:

Gif of the big scary guy from Tangled clinking to mini unicorn figures together and smiling.

It keeps readers invested...and keeps them talking, thus building buzz. Win-win.

5. Build a shiny world. One of the reasons fandoms are so gripping is because they feature worlds that other people would love to live in. Who doesn't want to have an ale in Hobbiton? Or fly through space and time with the Doctor? Or fight in a massive, brutal battle to the death while the Capitol...err. Wait. Not that one. But, generally speaking, fandoms feature fantastical (and somewhat appealing) world-building.

If you want to draw your readers in and get them invested, put effort into building a world that will transport readers somewhere new and interesting. Create new cultures (like the Gungans...only less annoying), invent a drink (like butterbeer), spin a political backstory (like Firefly). Have fun with it.

6. Don't be afraid of tropes. Have you noticed that most fandoms are populated with tropes? The lovable rogue (Han Solo, Malcolm Reynolds), the straight-laced sidekick (Hermoine Granger, Spock), the Big Bad Government (the Capitol, the Empire), the against-all-odds team of scrappers (all of them, honestly).

Tropes work because they are familiar and timeless. They're easy to market and easy for readers to invest in. Obviously, it's important to make those tropes your own, otherwise you'll come across as cliche. We Phoenix Fiction Writers recorded a whole podcast on how to correctly utilize tropes, so I'd recommend giving that a listen.

7. Have an identifiable genre. This boils down to marketing to your target audience. If you want to draw a fandom, you need to make yourself easy to find. While having a niche genre is super cool (and entirely possible to be successful with), it is difficult to build a fandom that way. After all, most fandoms have identifiable genres.

Sure, some of them are a bit blurry. For instance, I'm not at all convinced that Star Wars isn't straight-up fantasy (the Force is literally just space magic, guys). Firefly is entertaining because it's a weird blend of sci-fi and western. That all cool. It makes those fandoms unique. However, they still do tend to have identifiable umbrella genres (sci-fi, in both of their cases), so make sure your story does at least have a main, overarching genre.

8. Use buzz-words. Want to reach your target audience? Buzz words are where it's at. Have you ever noticed that fans are often part of similar fandoms? Hunger Games fans often like Divergent and Maze Runner. People who like Naruto also like Hunter X Hunter and....I don't know what else, I never got into Naruto (*pho-Naruto-runs away*).

Wanna know why this is? A lot of reasons, but findability is a big factor. When LOTR fans hear "epic fantasy" and "elves" and "wizards," they'll come running like:


You can easily tap into the Assassin's Creed fanbase by using terms like parkour and *drum roll* assassins. Figure out what fandoms are similar to your WIP, then use matching buzz-words during marketing.

9. Write a plot-driven and character-driven story. Most fandoms are plot-driven, probably because plot-driven stories are often easier to market because they're easier to explain than "And this character has feelings and thinks thoughts." However, fandoms are, at their core, all about the characters. While the plot is important, you need lovable characters who drive that plot forward.

10. Get fandom-lovers to be your street-team. When you start marketing your story, you don't want the help of some mouth breathers who can't sing the Batman theme song. Nope. You want Nerds with a capital N. People who know your target audience, who are familiar with the buzzwords, and who can help pump up your work in the way that only fangirls/fanboys can.

And there you have it. If you want a shot at building a fandom around your story, this is a great place to start. Have other thoughts or tips to add? Leave them below! And be sure to include the titles of a few of your favorite fandoms. For science.

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Monday, September 30, 2019

Review of Janelle Garrett's The Underground: A Strange Waters Anthology Story


*throws pebbles at your window*

Pssst. I know today is Monday and I don't generally post on Mondays, but I have something special to tell you about today.

As you hopefully know, the Strange Waters anthology is releasing on October 19th. With it comes 9 short stories from each Phoenix Fiction Writer. We have everything from space wizards to dragons to underwater civilizations to children with backpacks.

Today I'm here to tell you about the story with dragons because, well, dragons are awesome.

And so is Janelle Garrett, author of said dragon-ish story.

The Underground is a fantasy short story full of amazing world-building, great characters, and a mysterious, semi-spooky setting:


What if everything you believed was actually true? 
His whole life, Kef has been told he is too idealistic. His older sister, Hiya, insists the Deep is a lost memory. It disappeared from the Raized Domains centuries ago. Kef wants to believe the Domains haven’t been abandoned, but everything points to the contrary. Their parents mysteriously vanished. People keep turning up dead or missing. And then, Hiya is taken by the feared Dragons.

Kef will stop at nothing to rescue her, including traversing to the Underground itself to take on the Dragons. What he finds there will change the whole sphere: but will he be too late to rescue Hiya?
Now, Janelle Garrett is not your average fantasy author, so her dragons are not your average dragons. They are a highly-intelligent civilization. Also, they camouflage themselves in a really creepy way (no spoilers).

Yup. This story is a wild ride.

I honestly can't decide what portion of The Underground was my favorite. The story is told from two points of view: one point of view is first person, and the other point of view is in third person. I don't think I’ve ever read anything like that before. It was really well done and completely fascinating.

Beyond the complete and utter uniqueness of the story, The Underground gives readers a lot to think about. Garrett takes on themes of faith and doubt in a very clever, subtle way and I am 100% there for it.

Basically: This story is awesome and I can't wait for you to read it. It will appear in the Strange Waters anthology releasing on October 19th, alongside stories by Beth Wangler, C. Scott Frank, E.B. Dawson, J.E. Purrazzi, Kyle Robert Shultz, K.L.+Pierce, Nate Philbrick, and yours truly. 

You can (and should) pre-order the ebook on Kobo and Barnes and Noble. It will be available for purchase on Amazon on October 19th.

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Friday, September 27, 2019

Factoid Friday #1: About Wanderer's Name


Ever wondered how I named the main character of Colors of Fear and The Stump of the Terebinth Tree? Wonder no longer.


Yeah, technically Wanderer is his nickname and not his birth name, but you get my drift.

Have you ever read the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander? Which book is your favorite?

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Friday, September 20, 2019

8 Tips for Writing Efficiently

As I begin a new college quarter, I've been finding myself thinking a lot about efficiency. How will I find time to write well when I'm stuck trying to study van der Waals interactions while wolfing down lunch between classes? I wasn't sure, so I looked around for the most efficient writers I could think find. Surely, they would have something to share.

And, as it turns out, they did. Grace Crandall and Kyle Robert Shultz are here today to discuss tips for writing efficiently. Crandall manages to pump out a new (and incredible) short story every month on her blog and Shultz publishes approximately 80 million epic books a year, so they know what they're talking about.

Tune in for their top tips for writing efficiently:

8 Tips for Writing Efficiently

Grace Crandall 



1. Keep notes on upcoming scenes. Whether it’s a detailed outline or simply a stack of notecards with ideas for what could happen next, having something to refer back to while you’re writing saves a lot of time that would otherwise be spent in re-reading your own work to remember where the story left off. The ability to quickly skim over your plans for character arcs and upcoming challenges can help kick-start a writing session.

As an added benefit, it’s easy to jot down scene ideas even when there would be no time to write them through. For me, this has cut down on the hazard of daydreaming up an awesome scene only to be unable to remember it once I’ve sat down to flesh it out. Notes and lists are a handy way to keep the story moving forward, even while you’re busy and short on time.

2. No time is too short to get a little something done. Even a few minutes spent on your manuscript can be better than nothing. I used to think that fifteen minutes of spare time wasn’t enough to even bother opening up a notebook or a word processor—and I missed out on a lot of writing time that way. There are more of these little hollows of unused time in a given day than you might think. Making use of them can open up whole new realms of productivity.

3. Take some time after every writing session to appreciate what you’ve accomplished! When the project is long and the time is not, it’s easy for me to slip into the trap of checking my progress against how much I still have to do . No matter how much gets done, it always seems like far too little. This is a vicious cycle that can, and will, come around to sting you. When writing becomes a source of panic and guilt, the desire to do it—and the joy of doing it—can drain away, making it ultimately harder to accomplish your goals.

Always remember: you’re making something! Step back and take some pride in how far you’ve come. Not only is all progress well worth being proud of, but this also helps to make writing something that your mind associates with positive feelings, leading to even more progress in the long run.

Find Grace here: 


Kyle Robert Shultz


1. Have some idea of what you’re writing before you start. I’m not saying that you need to have a detailed outline if that’s not part of your process. However, regardless of whether you’re an outliner or a discovery writer, jumping in with no idea of what you’re going to write is definitely not going to help your efficiency. To minimize the time you spend staring at a blank screen, make sure you have at least a general idea of what you’re going to write before you sit down at the keyboard.

2. Name characters/places/etc. and do research before and after you write, not while you write. Doing these things in the middle of writing is a major time-waster. If you don’t have the time to think of the perfect name, use a place-holder and move on. If your scene depends on vital research, get all of that done in advance, and if you hit a snag while writing because you need more information, try to make a note and move on until your session is done.

3. Take planned, timed breaks. You do need breaks if you’re going to write efficiently, but even these should be focused. Plan a specific thing you’re doing to do to give yourself a break (for example, doing a particular outdoor activity, watching a YouTube video, taking a nap, etc.) and stick to that. Make sure you don’t break your creative flow by letting your break run on too long, unless you’re done for the day.

4. Have a reasonable and sustainable daily writing quota. Don’t plan on writing 10,000 words in a day if you can’t. Or 5,000. Or 3,000. Any words is better than none. If you can only produce 1,000 per day, that’s great. Stick to that and don’t feel guilty about not doing more. Setting unattainable goals will make you more likely to give up completely when you don’t reach those goals.

5. Don’t rule out dictation. Dictation may not be the right method for you, but don’t assume that if you haven’t tried it. Give it a shot with some free text-to-speech system like the one in Google Docs and see if it works for you. You may be surprised. Dictation can help you get the words down faster, keep you focused, and improve your health.

Find Kyle here: 

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And there you have it! Brilliant tips from brilliant authors with brilliant time-management skills. How do you write efficiently? Or are you still trying to find your stride? Let's chat in the comment section below!
10 Ways to Make Your Writing Time More Productive

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