Friday, May 19, 2017

How to Effectively Write from Multiple POVs

When we were little, we played dress up. Then we entered the land of Adulting where it is frowned upon to play dress up...though maybe we're able to get away with cosplay. Maybe. But it's no longer socially acceptable to pretend to be fairies or knights or astronauts (or knightly fairy astronauts) whenever we feel like it.

Unless, of course, you happen to be a writer. We get to play dress up, only in a slightly different way. Rather than putting on costumes, we slip into different mindsets. It's called POV writing. And it's awesome. Mostly.

I'd know, because I'm writing a story in deep third person with multiple POVs. Some days it's fun. Other days I find myself three pages into a particular POV before realizing that half way through I switched voices and my spunky female elf is now thinking like my anxious male human. Not good.

Thankfully, writing from multiple POV's just takes a little bit of extra planning. You have to consider two angles: The technical angles (scene placement, POV switching, etc) and the character angles (goals, voices, and tags).
Hannah Heath: How to Effectively Write from Multiple POVs
First, let's start off with some technical tips:

1. Choose which POV's you want to write from. You'll probably want to write from the main character's POV. Often, books with multiple POV have dual protagonists, so you don't have to limit yourself to just one main character. Traditionally, people also write from the POV of the MC's BFF (sorry. The abbreviations are addicting). Antagonists can also provide a really good POV. It's up to you to decide which characters should have POVs in your story, but here are some quick points to consider:
     You want POV's that will bring something new to the table. I'm sure there are people out there who are dying to read books from four different POV's that all show the exact same thing in the exact same way. But let's just assume that those people don't exist. Pretending this, go and pick characters who have unique perspectives. Omit the POVs that do not.
     You don't want too many POVs. This is true for two reasons, one being that if you have too many POV's, your readers won't be able to get attached to any of your characters because none of them will get enough page time. The other reason is that your brain simply can't handle writing from 18 POV's. Trust me on this one.

2. Choose your opening POV character wisely. Legend says that you should always start with the protagonist. Not true. Your opening pages should mention or allude to the the main character, but that doesn't mean that your first pages must be from your MC's POV. Nope. You simply need to choose the POV that will provide the most immediate conflict. This means you can open from the villain's POV. It means you can start with a secondary character who sets the main character into action. You can even get creative and open with an omniscient narrator that is never used again. Do whatever you have to do to give your story an urgent conflict or immediate hook. If you have to, try writing your chosen opening scene from several POVs and see which fits. There's always one that seems more natural than the others.

3. Recognize that page time doesn't need to be split equally.  The characters that have the most direct impact on the plot (or are most directly impacted by the plot) should get more page time than those who don't. I don't care if you have to hurt your character's feelings. You're aiming for good writing, not fair writing. If any of your characters complain, let Snape give them a talk.

4. Decide when POV switches will take place. At the top of each chapter? Or will you allow more than one POV per chapter? It depends on what works for your story. Action-packed stories can often benefit from POV switching from scene-to-scene rather than chapter-to-chapter. More laid-back stories (or first person stories) may flow better with POV switching from chapter-to-chapter. Pick the one that makes the most sense for your plot.

Now that we have some of the technical tips out of the way, let's talk about how to tackle the problem of writing from multiple POV's without confusing the voices of each character:

1. Find out the goal for each POV character. Your book has an end goal. Some kind of conflict for the characters to overcome (If not: You are doing this wrong. Go fix your plot, then come back and finish reading this). Hopefully you've also given your characters other side-goals to achieve along the way. It can be anything from killing the 6-fingered man who killed his father to finding delicious crunchings and munchings. Write down what each of these goals look like for each POV character.

2. Find out why each POV character is working towards his/her goal(s). Why are they doing this?   What do they hope to gain or learn? Why does it matter to them? None of your POV characters should have the exact same reason for trying to overcome the main conflict or reach their own personal goals. If they do, then at least one of your character's isn't pulling their weight.  They are thus unworthy of POV page time.
Be sure to find each unique motivation and write it down.

3. Give each character a tag. Give them each a few unique things that they do when they're nervous, excited, or just acting normal. Give them each specific speech patterns, go-to emotions, character flaws, and heroic traits. Now write it down.

4. Find their buzz words. Words that sum up who they are: Their emotions, their fears, their hopes, their skills. Colors and sounds and places you associate with them. They should be single words or short phrases that get to the heart of who they are. guessed it: Write it down.

5. Consider creating soundtracks and storyboards for each character. This can help you get to the core of each character simply by looking at some images on Pinterest or listening to some music. It's not 100% necessary, but it does help.

Now, with all of this information written down, sit down and pick a scene in your story where all of your POV characters are present. Now write that scene from each character's point of view, being careful to use your knowledge of their emotions, goals, and mindset to give each scene a unique feel. Read these scenes over. Tweak them. Make sure that each is not only engaging to read, but also immediately recognizable as a different voice.

Now not only do you have unique POV voices, but you also have material to go back and read whenever you're having a hard time slipping into that specific character's viewpoint. Though, thankfully, the more you write in a particular character's POV, the easier it gets.

What do you think? Have tips to add? I'd love to hear from you!

Related articles:
7 Tips for Writing in Deep POV
What to Do When Your Story Bogs Down
Tips for Deciding Whether to Ditch Your Current Writing Project

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Tips for Crafting the Ultimate Dystopian World: A Guest Post by Elizabeth Hunter

Greetings, earthlings! I hope you are all doing well. I'm almost done with my finals and look forward to getting back to my regular posting. However, today I'm thankful for my workload because it means I have an excuse to bring you this excellent post by Elizabeth Hunter. She's here to break down what makes a good dystopian world. This article will give you a ton of ideas, so get ready to take notes. 

I've been fascinated by Dystopian literature ever since I secretly read 1984 in 6th grade. (Very dystopian of me, I know) I devoured The Hunger Games, fell in love with the Giver, and often imagine creating my own dystopian world, in a book of course.

Not everything that claims to be dystopian is dystopian. If you choose to write, or read dystopian fiction, you should know what makes something truly dystopian. On another note, when politicians claim that government is becoming dystopian, knowing what really is dystopian can help you decide if the fear mongering is legit.

I'm going to use a lot of literary examples to flesh out dystopian world building. So be prepared for illusions to: The Giver, 1984, Brave New World, The Hunger Games, and Divergent.
Tips for Crafting the Ultimate Dystopian World: A Guest Post by Elizabeth Hunter
Illusion of Choice

Dystopian governments know people need choice. Especially Westerners. We don't want to think we don't have any say over our lives. To compensate for this, dystopian governments always provide choice.

Katniss can choose whether or not to volunteer for The Hunger Games. Tris can choose which faction to join. Winston must decide whether or not to join a rebellion.

But, this choice is entirely dictated by the government. The government creates the options, so even your choice is an illusion.

Some call this shadow government. A puppet act. Either way, characters feel empowered by their choices, only to become a tool of the government.

At some point in a dystopian world, one character realizes this choice isn't all it's cracked up to be. As Peeta remarks to Katniss, "I just don't want to become a piece in their games."

In a dystopian world, you're just a piece in the game. Each step the characters take falls right into the government’s hands. They expect you to take that choice and even manipulate you into thinking you choose that choice.

Winston falls into this trap in 1984. Contacted by a government agent to join a rebellion, Winston jumps aboard. He feels empowered making this decision; he's finally taking a step against the regime that has held him hostage.

But this choice plays right into the governments hands. In the end, Winston's decisions only doom his fate. Winston was always a puppet of the dystopian government.

Utopian Beginnings

Each dystopia starts as a utopia. No one wants to live in a government controlled hell. But everyone wants a slice of heaven on earth.

To begin writing a dystopia, you must ask, "What creates a perfect society?"

But perfect for you, is not perfect for me. To create a sublime society, you cannot make everyone happy. Something must be sacrificed in order to create perfection. In The Hunger Games, the districts are sacrificed to give the Capitol a Utopian world of privilege. In Divergent, individuality is sacrificed for the Utopian ideal of group conformity.

Lois Lowry in The Giver paints this picture exceptionally well. The Society is perfect: no pain, no suffering, no disease.

But to create this perfect society, something was sacrificed. Feeling.

The characters in The Giver are content with their society as long as they don't know what's been sacrificed. But once the weight of loss is impressed on Jonas, he cannot bear to live in this seemingly perfect world.

A well-rounded dystopian novel has glimpses of good. In the Giver, we admire the precision of language, the family units, the controlled, perfect weather.

But at the same time, our stomach turns at the casual disposal of children. The loss of love. And the Societal control of every aspect of their lives.

The Giver nearly perfectly balances Utopia and Dystopia. Don't create a dystopian world that has no element of Utopia. Otherwise, the government will feel contrived.

1984 fails with creating a needed government. The entire society is afraid of Big Brother. Communist thugs rule the word. This Dystopian government feels contrived, forced into existence by the death of Capitalism. (Just guessing with that, I'm not really sure why Big Brother exists)

As a reader, I'm angry with the government in 1984. I'm angry with a complacent population that lets the government rule like that. I'm angry the government seems to win and how useless the protagonist is against Big Brother.

But in The Giver, I am more than angry. I'm moved to pity. These people are blind, because everything seems perfect.

Unless you're trying to get readers to burn your books, create a dystopian society to be pitied. People that need help. People just like you and me, who wouldn't be complacent if they knew they lived in a dystopia.

Both The Giver and 1984 end on similar notes. Does Jonas survive? Will Winston really die?
But I've vowed to never reread 1984, simply because I grew so angry with the people and government.

On the other hand, I love The Giver. I weep for their Society - the love the government has stolen, the lives needlessly lost, and the lies earnestly believed.

Which reaction do you want to create?

Don't Dead End Your Dystopia

The Hunger Games, The Giver, 1984 - all three Dystopian worlds have something in common. The Dystopia is the only option. The history creating the world is fleshed out, the politics workable, and the problems real.

Divergent falls off the Dystopian train when the story becomes an experiment. The Society is an experiment, not a reality.

This is frustrating for readers and for the characters. The life they've always lived is actually just science fiction. In fact, they aren't even needed to stop injustice. The Scientists can decide to stop the experiment at any moment.

I can't imagine finding out my life was truly just part of some grand social experiment, I know that would be soul crushing. So, please don't do this to your characters. It can ruin anyone's day.

Science Fiction and Dystopia are two different fields. I don't recommend you mix the two together. Making your dystopia science fiction, an experiment, limits the humanity of your story.

A dystopian world allows you to explore the depths of depravity and humanity of your characters. You can create a world of moral greys, of unspeakable evil, and of life-altering hope.
But when that world is simply an experiment, the character's journey feels fake, nearly forced.

Don't throw your readers and characters into a tailspin. Don't put their world into a box of experiments.

Now, I'm not bashing science fiction. But I am bashing using experiments as world creators. Dystopias have existed in real life - Nazi Germany, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Stalinist Russia.

But no experimental society has ever existed. I think this method of world building is lazy, a cop-out from the harsh realities of government creation our history has given us.

Which leads me to my last idea -

Dystopia is based in reality

No matter what dystopian world you create, there are real life examples of dystopia. Humanity is rife with examples of evil governments and terrible societies, you don't need an exhaustive search in order to borrow ideas from other oppressive regimes.

Suzanne Collins borrowed from ancient Rome for the Capitol in The Hunger Games. George Orwell used his experience in 1930's Russia to craft the world of 1984.

When you sit down to craft a dystopian world, remember, the best dystopias parallel real life.

Did you get ideas for writing a good dystopian world? I know I did. If you want more great thoughts brought to you by Elizabeth Hunter, follow her blog here and her Facebook page here. Now go tell her how awesome she is in the comment section below. And don't forget to leave the title of a book that you thought handled it's dystopian setting well! 

Related articles:
8 Stereotypes in YA Dystopian Novels that Need to Stop
Tips for Writing Stunning Sci-Fi: A Guest Post by S. Alex Martin
Using Context and Subtext to Raise the Stakes in Your Story: A Guest Post by Malcolm Tolman

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Friday, May 5, 2017

The Pros and Cons of Being Both a Geek and a Writer: A Guest Post by Rachel Meyer

Hello and welcome! Today brings us guest post #2 in a series with the working title: "Help Hannah Through Finals!" This post is by Rachel Meyer. She's a writer with plans of publication, a bibliophile, and a movie geek who is burdened with glorious fandoms. She's here to talk about what life looks like as a geek AND writer. Hint: It looks pretty awesome. Enjoy! 

Being a geek and writer at the same time can be a dangerous thing. Much more dangerous than facing down Joker or trying to stop a Zygon invasion. How do I know? Because I am one.

You probably are too if you decided to read this post. Have a virtual high-five from one geeky writer to another. If you're like me, then you'll enjoy reading this post, where I'm going to talk about the pros and cons of being a geek and a writer. They're in no particular order and have absolutely no connection to one another. Except for the fact they're on the same subject.
The Hannah Heath: The Pros and Cons of Being Both a Geek and a Writer: A Guest Post by Rachel Meyer
Pro: You get the best ideas

The movies, TV shows, and books we geek out about can be so inspiring. I know every time I watch something new I get new ideas for my own stories. My sister and I love to bounce ideas back and forth until we have something amazing. (Or outlandish, but whatever.)

Con: Spending time watching shows instead of writing

You want to write. . . but Once Upon a Time. You want to watch Doctor Who. . . but writing. The eternal conundrum of a geeky writer. To write your next bestselling novel or to watch the 3,417 shows you're ten seasons behind on. *Screams and runs in circles*
Me trying to decide between writing or watching shows

Pro: You can see great worldbuilding in action

You have to admit geeky things have some of the best worldbuilding. (Except when they don't.) Lord of the Rings for instance, has some of the best worldbuilding ever. Tolkien was a master world creator and we are all worms, worthless worms in the face of his greatness.
Or think about Doctor Who or Star Wars. Some of the best things about them is their worldbuilding. Although, in the case of Star Wars, it's not so much the planets as the politics.

Con: Spending money on fandoms and having none for writing

Why get that writing course you really could use when you could spend the money on going to Comic-Con (my dream) instead. Or the next book in your favorite series. Or a piece for your cos-play. Deciding between spending money on writing or geek stuff can be so hard. Not to mention all the things you need to actually live, like food and stuff.

Pro: You learn great writing lessons

Whether or not it's a “do this” or “don't do this” lesson depends. But geeky stuff can help you learn. My sister and I often watch a movie and work out where the plot points are and what did or didn't work for us and why. Try it sometime.

One of the best things I think you can learn from geek stuff is how to write good characters. They're the whole reason you watch and love something. Otherwise, why would you watch ten season of a show about a weirdo in a time-traveling police box? Next time you watch something, try to figure out what you like about the characters and why.

Con: Everything you own is themed

You need to put together a nice looking outfit for that writing event you're going to. But when you look through your clothes, most of it is geeky or cos-play. Oops. Or you don't really want people in your bedroom because they'll never believe you're a writer. More like an obsessed uber-nerd fan. Not that I'm an uber-nerd fan in any way. Except for that reference I just made. If you get it, congrats.

Pro: You see how not to do things

Like I was talking about in an earlier point, your geeky obsessions can also show you how not to write something. Like not making your planet the exact same thing all over. (I'm looking at you, Star Wars.) You can learn some valuable lessons from them.

Like I re-watched Captain America: The First Avenger for National Superhero Day, and was discussing with my sister why I never felt sad when Bucky “died”. Even the first time I saw it, before the MCU was a giant hulking beast that is likely to crush us with it's awesomeness. We decided it was because Bucky's “death” did nothing to affect the story. It didn't matter either way.

Pro: Fandoms are always there for you
Life can be discouraging. Rejection letters, harsh criticisms, and one star reviews are in your future if you plan on being a writer. But even on the worst days, your favorite shows, movies, and books are there for you. How can you stay sad while watching The Lego Movie? Or reading Percy Jackson. Don't let life get you down. The sun will come out tomorrow.

Con: Spending too much time researching and Pinteresting your fandoms
Have you had hours of your life sucked into the endless abyss that is Pinterest memes? Me too, my friend. Or what about spending “a few minutes” checking up on the latest news from your favorite fandom? (Say what? They're making Darkest Minds into a movie? It's probably going to be ruined.)

But how can you resist taking a short break from writing to look for memes, a word which here means a funny picture meant to distract one from actually doing what you're supposed to be doing. Just try typing in “Avengers memes” or “Doctor Who memes” or whatever your favorite fandom is. But not now, or you'll never finish this post.

Con: Filling everything you write with geeky references
This one isn't exactly a con, but we're going with that so I have an even number of pros and cons. But I'm not the only one who puts all sorts of geek references in my work, right? My characters always seem to be fans of the same things I am and talking about how this was like this thing from that show/book/movie.

The other danger is having your work turn into a giant fan-fic or mash-up between all your favorite geekiness. It might be tempting to write a knock-off of your favorite movie or TV show, but you've got to keep it original.

* * * *
There are my pros and cons. What are yours? May the force be with you, live long and prosper, and don't forget all that glitters is not gold.

Let's have a round of applause for Rachel Meyer and her amazing nerdiness! Want more of her geeky writing? You can follow her blog here, her Facebook here, her Goodreads here, and her Pinterest here. Go on. You know you want to. 

Don't forget to leave a comment below and tell us all about your favorite fandoms, your pros and cons of being a geek writer, and tell us how many of the above nerd references you were able to identify. Highest count gets bragging rights! 

Related articles:
Using Context and Subtext to Raise the Stakes in Your Story: A Guest Post by Malcolm Tolman
10 Things Nobody Tells You About Being a Writer Until It's Too Late

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Using Context and Subtext to Raise the Stakes in Your Story: A Guest Post by Malcolm Tolman

Greetings, earthlings! Today's post is by Malcolm Tolman, an incredibly talented writer, voice actor, and sarcastic person. These next few Friday's will bring you posts by various writers who have stepped up to help me out while I muddle through my finals. Malcolm is kicking us off with an epic post about how to raise the stakes in our stories. It's excellent (we're talking Batman-level excellent, here) and I'm really excited for you to read it, so I'll stop writing now and let you get to it. Behold, Malcolm Tolman's guest post: 

Hello out there in the blogosphere! Have you ever read a book, watched a movie, attended a play, or played a game and wondered “…Why do I care?” It doesn’t matter if the main character is making a sandwich or saving the world (the two of which coincide far more often than you would first imagine) there just seems to be something beyond the action that either grabs our attention or doesn’t. And that something (or at least a portion of it) is what I would like to talk about today. So without further ado, let’s discuss “Stakes” and some of the common misconceptions surrounding them!

Now when I say “Stakes” I do not mean delicious slabs of slaughtered cow; Nor do I mean effective weapons for both slaying vampires and pitching tents. The term “stakes” is one that I heard first when learning improv in high school drama, and is one that I find transfers to all methods of storytelling.

“Stakes” put simply is “What’s at stake in this story?” It is the “Why should we care?” that a number of modern day stories have a tendency to lack. At first it may seem like a fairly simple and straight forward concept; However, it is also a term which is commonly tied to several unfortunately limiting misconceptions which tend to destroy the depth and flexibility this nuance usually brings forth.
Hannah Heath: Using Context and Subtext to Raise the Stakes in Your Story: A Guest Post by Malcolm Tolman
Misconception #1: Stakes are About What’s Happening.

A lot of beginning writers, especially in Western media, will tie the stakes of a story entirely to the action which is taking place. However, while the action and current setting do have ties to the stakes involved, there is also a lot more depth which tends to be overlooked with this method.

To understand this, we must first understand the three layers of communication. These being Text, Context, and Subtext.

Text is simply put, the words that we say, and believe it or not, only accounts for roughly 10% of what is communicated. Don’t believe me? Imagine a person in love with you saying “Oh! There you are!” (This may be more taxing on some people’s imaginations, such as my own, than others but do try!) Did you do it? Are you smiling? Okay. Now imagine you just did something you really shouldn’t have. You know you are in trouble, and your parent or other authority figure has just approached you from behind saying “Oh! There you are!”

…..Happy Feeling gone!

See? Same words, yet ENTIRELY different message communicated. This is important to realize, because while words do hold power in themselves, you need more than words to communicate your point! (this is half the reason why puns work!)

This leads us into context, which accounts for roughly 27% of what we are communicating. Context is simply what is happening, what we are doing, and what has happened or was done in the past. We saw an example up above with the loved one vs authority figure (while you are in trouble) comparison.

Now you might notice that context is pretty similar to the “action and setting” concept which this stakes misconception is about. That is because “What is happening and where” are both parts of context, though it still goes a little deeper as well as it also includes what history is involved. But as you may notice, this still only covers 27% of communication.

And so this leads to the big one. Otherwise known as “SUBTEXT”. Subtext is the paradoxical component which makes up roughly 63% of what you communicate. Why is it paradoxical you may ask? Because subtext refers to the things you AREN’T saying, yet manages to get communicated. How can this happen you may ask? I honestly have no idea. My own theory is that our thoughts are communicated on its own level, but the truth is that it’s something we have observed in this world, yet don’t fully comprehend.

Want to see how it works? Try this.

Say “Hi!”

Now say it like you love the person.

Now say it like you are scared of them.

Now say it like you’re introducing yourself.

Now say it like you just caught someone you’ve been chasing.

See how they all sound completely different? This is a common exercise within acting, but believe it or not it comes through in storytelling as well.

Now that we’ve dealt with this misconception, what can we learn from it? The most important thing is to know the details about your characters and your world. Know what your characters like. Know what they hate. Know what the history of the world is. Know how the history affected the characters. You don’t have to tell your audience everything, but the more YOU know about your characters, the more your readers will start to feel for your story and the more weight circumstances will begin to carry.

A character who comes across illicit goods may be interesting… but a character who just finished escaping from the law and his old gang in order to turn over a new leaf coming across illicit goods and having to decide if he can really risk getting pulled back into his old life in order to keep these goods from causing harm… Now it suddenly holds a lot more weight.

Misconception #2: High Stakes MUST Be a Life or Death Situation

I remember back when I was learning improv, there was one guy in my class no one ever wanted to go up (which of course was also the most frequent volunteer) because his only choice in every scene was to become a gunman and kill the other actor. Now this is an extreme case, but it’s something I see in a lot of stories these days where every story has to be about saving humanity, overthrowing the world order, or dealing with other life threatening issues. In a way, it makes sense. Death is a scary unknown for many people. The idea of being the one person who can stand up against a world order is greatly empowering. The main problem is that this uses a very cheap method of escalation to generate emotion from readers instead of letting the quality of writing do its work.

Now what do I mean by “Cheap method?” I am not talking like some old-fashioned author who is upset by these modern-day authors destroying my traditionalist methods. What this refers to instead is longevity of impact.

In all genres of writing, there is a way to easily get a quick and extreme reaction out of viewers, and a difficult way that takes a lot of time and subtlety. You can have Horror or Suspense, Erotica or Romance, Scandal or Mystery, and of course extreme stakes or subtle stakes.

These extreme methods are commonly seen in modern day writing as it takes far less effort to get readers to really react to what they’re reading. But the problem lies in how these methods rely on shock. And the problem with shock is that humanity is very good at adapting and becoming numb to it after enough exposure.

Sure, watching kids being slaughtered to appease some corrupt government may scare us and make us think now… but if all stories start to rely on that, how long is it before we start thinking “oh… ANOTHER one of these?”
This is what creates the difference between a recent best seller, and a timeless epic. Sure, you can put shocking things in your story, kill off characters, create corrupt worlds. But use it as seasoning. Not the main ingredient.

Also realize you don’t NEED to shock your readers to make them feel involved in your story. Let’s take something as simple as deciding to eat the chocolate on the table, by using the subtext and context theory from the previous misconception.

Now deciding to eat a chocolate off of a table is in itself a pretty mundane and boring idea. But let’s change things around a bit and see how it affects the stakes.

What if your main character is on a diet… and got sent their favourite chocolate from their brother. They have been SO good at maintaining this diet so far… But COME ON! It’s their FAVOURITE brand… and it’s there on the table… and… I mean… It’s just one…. But… GAH! Should they eat it? Should they not???

This brings forward the opportunity to create a very interesting and possibly funny story. The stakes are not tied to the chocolate itself, but to fighting temptation and doing what we know is right. Something we know we all can relate to and therefore feel for the character on. The main character isn’t diabetic. There is no risk to eating the chocolate save for losing to themselves in their attempt to maintain their discipline, yet it is still a fairly in depth story.

But that’s humor. Can you really do a heart-breaking story using such small stakes? Alright, let’s go back to our chocolate eating example (because I’m gonna prove to you the action isn’t the most important factor if it kills me) and change the context and subtext a bit more.
Your main character liked someone. They were in love. But… they were fat, chubby, and had really bad acne. They had spent months looking up health and fashion blogs. Trying to fight their shyness to become more outgoing and social. They gave up sweets and started using complicated facial cleansers to clear up their acne. Finally, after months of work it was finally starting to pay off! Walking through the hallway, they bumped into their crush who noticed them for the first time. They said they were looking really good, and that they really loved their new style. The main character’s heart leaped for a moment as it looked like things were finally working out for them when suddenly a voice called out their crush’s name from the end of the hall. It was the popular kid in their class… and their crush’s new romantic partner… the main character went home crushed… beaten… empty… They looked on their table to see a lonely chocolate. The simple pleasure they had given up for so long in order to get this far… but that didn’t matter anymore… nothing mattered… With tears beginning to stream down their face, they unwrapped the lonely chocolate… and ate it.

Same ending action, but ENTIRELY different feeling. Why? Because of the change in context and subtext. While the first example referred to self-discipline and attempting to overcome temptations, this story spoke of trying as hard as you can only to lose in the end. It is another story that many people can relate to. Note, the main character did nothing drastic. They did not commit suicide, or begin self-harming themselves. When you think about it… one solitary chocolate would probably not even undo anything they had accomplished the past few months. But it still hurts. It hurts because the character hurts, and we know that.

Now I could talk about this subject until my fingers fell off, however I’ve already pushed my max word count, so I should accept my defeat lest Hannah never invite me back again! 😉 I do hope you all have enjoyed this though, and have found it useful for your writing! Stakes are subtle, yet can make a huge impact on your writing once you have mastered them. If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at or contact me at the twitter link provided beneath!

That is all from me! But for all of you out there in the greater blogosphere; Keep on writing!

See. Batman-level excellent. To learn about Malcolm's voice acting services, click here. Be sure to check out the demos tab because it's super cool. You can read his blog here, his book here, and his tweets here. Now leave a comment below! Tell us about your favorite point(s) in the post, ask questions, or weave your own narrative involving chocolate. We want to hear from you!

Related articles:
7 Tips for Writing Emotion Into Your Story
8 Different Kinds of Strengths to Give Your Characters
8 Tips for Developing a Strong Theme in Your Novel

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Friday, April 21, 2017

10 Points to Think About When World-Building

This post is for all you writers of fantasy settings, brand-new worlds, and alternate universes. Those of you who don't write speculative fiction....Well. Your loss. Come back next week. Maybe I'll have something for you then.

Just kidding. World-building is not solely applicable to speculative fiction writers. Many of the below world-building tips are helpful to any and all types of writers, so pay attention.

You're building a world? Then Build. A. World. Not a few towns. Not two or three races. Not one religion, history, terrain, currency. You have the power to create a universe, a way of life, and you're going to settle with making a faded, incomplete blueprint? Absolutely not. Go big or go home.

Our world is incredibly diverse. It's overwhelming to think about trying to replicate that in a story without writing an entire history textbook. As a fantasy writer who's creating her own world, I feel for you. Thankfully, I have a list of points you'll want to address in your world-building to help your world feel as fascinating and real as possible: 
Hannah Heath: 10 Points to Think About When World-Building
1. Think about species and race. If you're building a fantasy world, there will probably be more than one species. Hopefully, these species go outside of Man, Elf, and Dwarf. Hopefully each species contain several races. Is there really only one type of faerie? Can't there be faerie's specific to woods, mountains, rivers? Can't they have skin colors varying from green to orange to purple? Rather than randomly choosing a few species, really think about which species and/or races will lend something to the plot.

2. Think about setting. I have an entire post about different non-forest settings you can use in your fantasy world. Try sprinkling several of them throughout your world. No matter what Star Wars tells you, worlds don't have to have just one main terrain. I mean, I love you Star Wars, but what is your problem? Sand planet (Tatooine, Jakku). Rain planet (Kamino). Metropolis planet (Coruscant). Hawaii planet (Scarif). Unless you have a specific reason for making your world all one type of terrain, I'd suggest trying a bit harder.

3. Think about religion. I don't care if you aren't a religious person. Your world needs to have some semblance of a religion. And I don't care if you are a devout religious person. Your story can't just have one religion that is a copy of your own. That's not how this works. Religion is an elemental part of all cultures. There are countless religions out there. They affect the way people eat, sleep, relate to others. It seeps into government, judicial systems, and education. You can't just ignore something this important in your world building (or shave it down into something very narrow). You need multiple religions. You need splinter groups within each religion. You need prophecies and moral codes. If you don't know anything about religions (or are only familiar with your own), then I recommend this book on world religions to give you ideas.

4. Think about currency. Does this world run on a barter system? Paper money? Coins? Some technological "Pay through The Cloud" mumbo jumbo? Take note of how your currency changes from place to place. Money systems are very diverse and, frankly, very confusing. You don't have to have a detailed outline, but it is important to touch on the fact that your entire world doesn't just conveniently run on one type of currency.

5. Think about past times. What do people do for fun? Do they play sports or just sit around and tell stories? The way people spend their free time is very telling. It reflects their culture, and, thus, enriches your world building. Also, sometimes it just looks cool:

6. Think about communication. Just like with currency, there's really no chance that an entire world of people speak the same exact language. Even in places that do share a common language, you have to consider dialect, slang, and accents. You also have to think about how different cultures find different manners of communication more acceptable than others. Maybe hand motions are offensive. Maybe speaking rapidly is common. Maybe eye contact is a must. Think about the people you know and consider all of the different communication styles they have. Then think about the larger world and all of the languages and dialects out there. Incorporate this knowledge into your world.

7. Think about health. There is a disturbing shortage of sick people in most fantasy and sci-fi settings. You can't just pretend they don't exist. How does healthcare work in your world? Are blind people consider demon possessed? Are the physically crippled given intellectual jobs? Are all sick people just shipped off to Elsewhere? Please elaborate.

8. Think about government. Who rules who? Do you have kings? Queens? Presidents? Dictators? A republic? How do people obtain these positions? IQ tests? Blood right? Killing the former ruler? So many options. People are always struggling for power, criticizing the people who are in power, or just stepping back and pretending like it's none of their business. It's common in our world and, thus, it always seems incredibly odd when fictional worlds don't address power systems.

9. Think about magic/technology. Chances are, your world either has magic or technology, or, if we're getting really crazy: both.  Either way, these systems should be fleshed out. Can anyone use magic? Is technology only for rich people? Make up rules.

10. Think about food. Do you have any idea how many speculative fiction books I've read where nobody ever eats anything? Too many. I don't know about you, but I want to know what people eat in space. I'd also like to know how people in fantasy novels seem to survive on bread alone. Please tell me what kind of foods exist in your world.
Why are you keeping this curiosity door locked?

Now that you have this point to think about, I want you to write down a little bit for each section. Next, connect the pieces. How does religion affect your world's food or past times? Do certain species have a difficult time communicating with others? Does the government control your magic/technology? Are some settings more ideal for certain races? How do all of these things connect to your plot, main character, or conflict?

Ask questions. All the questions. Get to know your world as much as possible. However, not all of this information needs to go into your story in an incredibly detailed manner. Avoid allowing your world-building to become so out of control that it obscures the plot. Your world should be pushing along the story, not holding it back.

There are a lot of other aspects to think about when world-building. These are just a few to get you started. Do you have some points to add? Please leave a comment below! And don't forget to tell me about some books that had excellent (or horrible) world-building.

Related articles:
7 Tips for Choosing Your Character's Appearance 
Tips for Writing Stunning Science-Fiction: A Guest Post by Author S. Alex Martin
7 Tips for Writing A Character with a Chronic Illness

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Friday, April 14, 2017

7 New and Improved Versions of the Chosen One Trope

There he is. The perfect hero. There was of a prophecy of his coming. He was born to save the world. He may have grown up an average person, but when he becomes a teenager he learns of his destiny. With the help of a gruff master and quirky sidekick, he becomes adept at all hero techniques inside of a week: Sword fighting, strategy, being able to experience traumatic events without any lasting damage to his charming personality. He will fight. Win. He is...The Chosen One.

He's also boring. Fortunately for the millions of writers who use the Chosen One trope, this is absolutely fixable. The Chosen One is like a cracker. Bland on its own, but the perfect vehicle for something amazing. Like cheese. Or salmon. Or Nutella. Or hummus.

I'm hungry right now, in case you couldn't tell.

Now, I'm sure you all are brilliant writers, so you've put clever twists on this cliche. Hopefully. But I have some twists here in my brain that you may not have heard of. I can safely assume this because they are the product of my very tired, very hungry, very stressed, oh-my-gosh-I-forgot-I-have-a-blog-post-due brain. Which means that these ideas come to you unedited, stream-of-concsiousness style. Prepare yourself. Here are 7 lesser-known, improved versions of the Chosen One.
Hannah Heath: 7 New and Improved Versions of the Chosen One Trope
1. The mid-life crisis. He knew he was the chosen one. He found out when he was a teenager. However, he simply had no interest in being a Chosen One. It sounded like too much adventure. It didn't fit into his plan for his life. He had a list. A spreadsheet. Go to college. Get a degree. Graduate by 24. Get a job. Climb the ladder. Get married. Have two kids: A boy and a girl. Nowhere in there did he have a space that said: Become Chosen One. So he simply didn't. But now he's 40 years old and bored with his spread sheet life. His wife says he's too set in his ways and he can't seem to connect with his kids. It's time for a change. So he ditches his perfect job, buys a motorcycle, and goes out to fulfill his Chosen One destiny while also saving his family relationships.

2. The Self-Appointed Savior. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Which is why she's decided she's going to be the Chosen One. Okay, so maybe the prophecy was about somebody else. But they're doing a pretty inefficient job. Move over.

3. The Eager-To-Please Chosen One. Okay, so, maybe he's not very good at saving the world. He tends to make everything a lot worse every time he breathes. But people seem to believe that he can do it and he really, really doesn't want to let them down. So stand back everyone, because Carl's going to fix this. Just wait a second while he tapes together his glasses.

4. The Unbeliever. Pffft. Chosen One. That's all a lot of tricks and nonsense. She's a realist. She believes in what she can see, not that weird shaman that showed up on her doorstep the other day. But things start changing around her. Like that guy who saw her birthmark and started babbling about dark lords. Or the soldiers who keep trying to arrest her. She leaves her village to escape from all of these delusional people, but the delusion just seems to follow her. Pushing her. Before she knows it, she has a sword that glows. And apparently she has an arch-nemesis now, who doesn't seem to believe her when she says that she doesn't buy into in all this conspiracy crap. Nope. Arch Nemesis is out to kill her, so maybe it's time to start defending herself with these new magic powers that are probably just some really intricate illusions.

5. The Infiltrator. When the prophecy surfaces, the tyrant knows just what to do. He understands that marching into a person's house to kill their Chosen One Baby is a terrible idea. There's an entire series on why that doesn't work. The natural thing to do is to do is to win the Chosen One onto his side. So he moves in next door (undercover, of course) and helps raise the Chosen One into someone intelligent. Talented. Selfish. Somebody who, with the proper bribing, will pretend to do the duties of the Chosen One while secretly letting the tyrant succeed.

6. The Grandmother. Teenaged chosen ones can be inexperienced. Whiney. Lacking necessary skillsets. The Chosen One Chooser (because yes, that is absolutely a term) decides to gift the title of Chosen One to somebody more qualified: Grandma. She's been around. She knows things. Like how love triangles are a distraction, how nobody wants to hear you whine. She's fed up with Bad Guy's attitude. He clearly never listened to his mother. Armed with knitting needles and a plate of cookies, Grandma is off to give this young man a talking to.

7. The Irresponsible One. He's been trained since a child. Had every necessary Hero skill pounded into his head since birth all because of that lady prophet who showed up on the king's doorstep. He spends twenty years preparing and completely missed out on his childhood. Then, just as he's about to depart to kill the bad guy, some star-readers show up out of the blue. That prophet that told him he was the Chosen One? She's actually the real chosen one and the only one who can save the world. She just didn't want the job. She's been out having a grand time while he's been slaving away. Sorry.

Personally, I'd like to see these Chosen Ones much more than the usual cliche type. What do you think? Which of these is your favorite? If you've ever seen them used before, please let me know. That is a story I must read. Also, if you have any twists on the Chosen One that you'd like to add, please leave a comment below!

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Tips for Deciding Whether to Ditch Your Current Writing Project

Your characters aren't talking to you. Your plot somehow wove itself into a massive, ugly knot and refuses to smooth out. Your once shiny idea for a book is now rather uninteresting and, perhaps, subpar.

You have another idea. A better idea (hopefully). So what should you do? Start working on this new project and leave the old one behind? Or try to take your WIP in to therapy and hopefully work out your problems?

It's a hard choice. I mean, this decision could go either way. On one side, a beautiful novel. On the other side, painful, agonizing failure. What to do?

Well, having not read your book, I have absolutely no answer for you. Try flipping a coin.

I'm kidding. That's a terrible idea. Please don't do it.

While I may not have a yes or no answer for you regarding the future of your WIP, what I do have is a way to help you figure it out on your own. Here are a series of questions you can ask yourself about your novel to help you decide whether or not it's time for you to move on:
Hannah Heath: Tips for Deciding Whether to Ditch Your Current Writing Project
Question 1: What does this book mean to me? Hopefully, you started this book for a reason. Maybe you felt you had an important story to tell, maybe you found the message helpful to you personally. Writing a book is a massive undertaking. Because of this, writers tend to craft stories that are special to them. Remember what it was that made you want to start this book. Is it still important to you? If so, it may be worth sticking to.

Question 2: What did you hope this book would mean to others? What was your end goal in writing the story? Did you want to inspire your readers? Make them smile? Provoke them to thought? Help them through a specific problem? Think about the themes in your story. If they aren't very strong, this can lead to a flat story and, thus, a lack of interest in continuing to write it. That is absolutely fixable. However, if your book possess themes that you aren't passionate about or believe would be more powerful in another story, then maybe it's time to move on.

Question 3: Can I change the theme/character/plot to keep me interested? So maybe you lost interest in your story. It happens. The sky is not falling. All you have to do is get in there and change the story around to make it more engaging. Maybe your main character needs more depth. Maybe the plot needs to be clarified or the theme needs to change directions slightly. If the story is boring you, then you may simply have been working on it for too long and are suffering from burnout....Or your book is boring and will thus bore your readers. Either way, these are problems that can be fixed by making a few changes. However, if you've done this multiple times to no avail, it may indicate that the story is past saving.

Question 4: Do I often abandon my books? If you often find yourself ditching your stories and moving on to new ones that you never end up finishing, then muscle up, buttercup, because I have news for you. The problem isn't your book. It's you.
You are chasing plot bunnies and need to learn how to just focus on one story at a time. Or you simply haven't been planning your stories adequately, which means you keep finding yourself backed into a corner like this. Whichever it is, apologize to your characters for being flaky and do better.

Question 5: Do I think I need inspiration in order to write? This is a fairly common thought. Writers think that they need to be"inspired" to write a story. That they need to love it, always be interested in it, adore it the way Westley adores Buttercup. Pfft. I don't know where you get your delusions, laser-brain, but this is simply not true. Writing a book is hard. There will be days when you feel utterly uninspired. Weeks where you hate your book. That doesn't mean your story isn't worth writing. It just means that you'll be putting your need to write this book to the test. If you can put up with the absence of inspiration/love because you can see a light at the end of the tunnel, then keep writing. If you can't? Then don't waste your time on a book that you can't see an upside to completing. Let it go.

Question 6: You are way too hard on your WIP. You think it sucks. Well, maybe it does (though not as much as you think). But it's a draft. It's supposed to suck. Maybe you think it's boring. Well, you're the one who created it, have been thinking about it day and night, and have read it multiple times. No wonder it seems predictable and unoriginal. Before you decide that your current novel is absolute trash that cannot be saved, check to make sure that you aren't just dealing with writer's insecurity.

Question 7: Which book is more important to me: the new or the old? If you are considering giving up on your current WIP, then you probably have another project that you're planning on replacing it with. So ask yourself: which one do you feel is a story that needs to be told? Both? Then finish your first one and move on to your second one when you've finished. Your old story? Then just keep at it. Your new story? Then go for it.

As you answer these questions, you will probably start seeing a trend. Either your current book will start looking like something worth sticking with, or the idea that you're considering moving onto will appear brilliant in comparison.

From here, hopefully it should be fairly easy to know which path to take. Take a few days. Think on it. Pray on it. Choose wisely. Then get writing. With the correct story at your fingertips, there's no telling how far you'll go.

Does this help you? I'd love to know! Please leave me a comment. If you have any tips to add to this post, let us in on them by sharing your thoughts below!

Related articles:
How to Know When to Stop Editing Your Novel
The Importance of Asking Why: 4 Questions You Should Ask Yourself as a Writer
What to Do When Your Story Bogs Down

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Onion Soup Inspired by Nate Philbrick's Where the Woods Grow Wild

There are a lot of dark stories floating around out there. That's okay. Many of them are good and deep and full of meaning. But, as much as I enjoy the darker stories, I'm always excited to come across a book that's chock full of brightness. Fun characters, light settings, and pleasant, beautiful messages. Unfortunately, this type of lightness isn't common in one of my favorite genres: Fantasy.

That's why I'm such a fan of Nate Philbrick's Where the Woods Grow Wild. It delves into the happier, delightful (though still thoughtful) side of fantasy that is often overlooked. It's the type of story that will put a smile on your face and good thoughts in your brain, and I think that's a type of story that the world could use a lot more of.

Bardun village is a fairly quiet place. Nothing important really goes on there, but nothing dangerous ever happens, either. Martin spends his days working in the steamy kitchens of the Cabbage Cart Inn. Elodie spends her days notworking as the mayor’s courier. They get into mischief with each other when they can, but it never causes any permanent damage.

Until, one day, it does. After stumbling into the forest that looms outside of Bardun village, Martin is attacked by a strange animal. Nobody ever goes into that forest, so nobody knows what it is that bit Martin’s hand, or how to save it.

Losing a hand is better than losing a life, but Martin finds himself consumed with the idea of tracking down the animal that wreaked havoc with his life. When he and Elodie go looking for the creature that stole his hand, they become separated and lost in a forest that nobody knows anything about. It’s there, where the woods grow wild, that Martin and Elodie learn why exactly nobody of Bardun village ever enters the forest: It’s not exactly the kind of place a kitchen worker and a courier can easily survive.

This book is crafted in a cheerful, light tone while also dealing with some rather serious issues, such as losing family members and learning to live with a disability. It’s the type of funny, clever writing that would make Lloyd Alexander nod in approval.

To put it briefly: This novel is awesome. My full review of Where the Woods Grow Wild can be found here. Today, I'm here to talk about a very specific part of the book: Onion soup. 
Never have I wanted onion soup more than I did upon reading this book. While the Cabbage Cart Inn doesn't sound like an ideal place of employment (you can't just go around kicking your workers, Hergelo Stump!), I would really like to get in the kitchen and see exactly how this onion soup of theirs is made. 

I pictured it as a rustic version of French Onion Soup, which made me a bit sad because...*whispers* I don't really like French food. But, in a twitter conversation with the author himself (who you should be following), I discovered that this soup is probably more similar to sopa d'all. What? You don't know what sopa d'all is? It's a Catalonian dish that I'd never heard of before. 

All the recipes I found were in Catalan, which I don't speak, so I used Google Translate, who, as it turns out, speaks Catalan only slightly better than I do. I was able to piece together a recipe that is a hybrid of French onion soup and sopa d'all. It is probably not even remotely traditional to either dish, but, given that it's supposed to be from Bardun, I think that's perfect. Also, it tastes good, so who cares where it's from? Look at how yummy it is:  
For bread: 

  • 1 head of garlic 
  • Pinch of thyme
  • Pinch of salt
  • Olive oil 
  • Baguette 
  • Gruyere cheese 

1. Chop off the top of your head of garlic. Only a little. You're only beheading part of the's a mini beheading. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of thyme and salt. 

2. Place the onion in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes, or until the cloves turn a golden brown. Once this happens, remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. 
3. Pop the cloves out of their shells and into a bowl (Pro tip: try eating a bit of the garlic just like that. It's amazing). Add some extra olive oil. Just enough to mash the garlic up and make it spreadable. 
If needed, add some extra salt and thyme. 

4. Cut your baguette into slices, drizzle with olive oil, spread with your garlic spread, and sprinkle with gruyere cheese. Place in the 350 degree oven for 5 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and browned slightly. 
5. Smell it. Go on. Now taste it. Meet you new favorite type of bread. 

For the soup: 

  • 2 yellow onions, chopped. If you aren't a big onion fan (like me), then try reducing to 1 onion.
  • 2 cloves of garlic 
  • 4 cups of hearty vegetable broth. Normal vegetable broth is fine, too. But don't you want to be a healthy, hearty person? Well. You are what you eat. So there. Also, the flavor works better. 
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme. I'm refraining from making a bad pun about thyme. You're welcome. 
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Olive oil
  • 2 pinches of smoked paprika. Smoked paprika and I have never been friends. I've never understood it's function. I've tried to substitute it for normal paprika and it promptly ruins whatever it was I was cooing. However, I read that smoked paprika is often used in catalonia dishes, so I gave it a shot. And you know what? It totally worked. Smoked paprika and I are starting to heal our broken relationship and it's all thanks to Where the Woods Grow Wild. Books really are amazing. 
  • One egg yolk per bowl (optional) 

1. Crush the two gloves of garlic into a saucepan and sauté in olive oil. Add your chopped onion. Sauté until the onion turns slightly translucent and also slightly more yellow. They should be soft. 

2. Add 1 cup of vegetable broth, a teaspoon of salt, and two pinches of smoked paprika. Stir and lower to heat to medium low, allowing the soup to simmer for about 20 minutes. This gets the onion flavor steeped into the broth. You can taste it at this point. It's epic. 

3. After your 20 minutes are up, add the remaining 3 cups of vegetable broth. You'll also need to adjust the seasoning. I added 2 more pinches of smoked paprika, along with some extra salt and thyme, but yours may differ. Taste. If you like it, it's done. If you don't like it, you did something wrong because you're a hog-moggins. Not my fault. 


Pour the soup into a bowl. Place a slice of bread on top and let it soak up all the goodness. Apparently some sopa d'all recipes use plain bread and shred it right into the soup. I chose not to do this because 1) Just like Bramble musn't eat a puffernut, I musn't eat too much gluten, so shredding it into the soup seemed a bit much. You can certainly do it, though. 2) I wanted to do a garlic spread as a tribute to the Cabbage Cart Inn's garlicky smell. 

Next (and this part is optional), drop an egg yolk into the soup. Yup. The soup will be hot enough to cook it a bit and the yolk, once broken, will give it a creamy texture. However, if you don't like egg (like me), don't do this. It'll give the soup an egg flavor (who knew?). Incidentally, egg yolks don't float, which makes them very non-photogenic. I kept trying to get it to sit on the bread, but it wouldn't stop rolling off.
Sprinkle some more gruyere cheese over the top. Get some extra garlic bread slices for dipping. Dig in. 
I'm very happy with how this turned out. It's oniony and garlicy and I think Martin would like it a lot better than the onion soup he makes at the Cabbage Cart Inn (he doesn't seem to fond of whatever it is Hergelo has him making). 

It's the kind of comfort soup I'd like to eat on a cloudy day. Just like Where the Woods Grow Wild is the type of comfort book I'd like to read on a day that I want a smile and sweet themes. Which is every day. 
I highly recommend Where the Woods Grow Wild. It's a beautiful, charming book with great characters and touching themes. If you don't read it, I may have to hunt you down and throw quails at you. You have been warned. 

What do you think? Will you try making this soup? Leave a comment below! If you've read this book, please come talk to me about it. And if you haven't read it: What day are you now planning on reading it? Don't make me come at you with those quails.

Related articles:

Rosa Hubermann's Pea Soup Inspired by The Book Thief
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Friday, March 24, 2017

Why You Should Intentionally Write Messages Into Your Stories

"That book changed my life."

"This character's strength helped me through a rough patch."

"That message was one I really needed to hear."

These are just a few phrases that I'm pretty sure we've all heard. I've never found statements like this odd. After all, I also have read books that have shaped my thoughts and inspired my actions.

When I decided that I wanted to be a writer, I took it as a matter of course that I would write stories with the goal of encouraging and inspiring my readers. I knew that stories had power. I'd seen that power. Felt it. I was conscious of it and chose to write carefully because I knew that words can make an impact.

I took it as a matter of course that other writers did the same.

But, after almost three years of blogging, I'm coming to realize something. Not all writers believe this. Many writers do not believe that they have a responsibility to write stories that are in some way helpful to their readers.

I've received comment after comment from fellow writers that all say pretty much the same thing: Authors should not inject themselves into their books. They write a story and let the reader take what they want from it. Readers pick the messages, the themes, the lessons, not the writers.

At first the comments made me chuckle. Oh, the delusional few. But I soon found that this belief isn't just a fringe group. It's an entire chunk of the writing community that holds this view.

People shudder at the idea of putting "lessons" and "morals" and "messages" into their stories. It's brainwashing! Preaching! Judgmental! It pulls people out of the book! It politicizes a story! Just write a good plot and developed characters and let the readers take from it what they will.

Now I'm going to say something. And it may make you frown. Just hear me out:
Hannah Heath: Why You Should Intentionally Write Messages Into Your Stories
You cannot have a good plot or developed characters without a message. You just can't.

How do you know you have a great story on your hands? I'll tell you. It's the book you laugh over, cry over, the book you want to share with close friends and random people you pass on the street. It's the book that makes you think about it even when you've put it back on the shelf. The one that you find yourself wanting to quote. The story you want to hug against your chest in an attempt to absorb the strength and emotion that the characters convey. The one that stays with you.

Those great stories are few and far between. They span all genres, include dozens of different characters types, and are written by authors living in all different countries in all different time periods. But, if you look closely, you'll see that they have one thing in common.

The author cared. You can feel it in the pages. The author pouring out his heart, trying to reach you. To tell you something. The author writing characters fighting problems that she knew you needed to see defeated. Authors who saw souls that they believed they could strengthen if they just used the right words.

They had stories they wanted to tell. Stories are born of plot and characters. Plots are born of real-life circumstances. Characters are born of real-life emotions. Our world is made up of stories and stories are made up of our world. They feed off of each other, intersect, tangle together in an inseparable web of words.

You cannot have one without the other. To try to remove yourself from your writing is like trying to remove yourself from existence. To try to remove a message from your writing is like trying to live without ever impacting another life. It simply is not possible.

No matter what you do, you will always be in your writing. Try as hard as you can and you will still have messages sneaking their way into your stories.

Own it.

Those messages will be half-dead and meaningless unless you feed them. Let them go untended and you'll have a story, yes. But not a great one. Maybe a decent one. An entertaining one. But it's also just as likely that you'll have an empty story. Or a harmful one with confused morals, dilapidated messages, and warped characters.

You want your readers to decide what message your story holds? They're not going to bother with picking out a message if you hand them over a less-than-great story. How do you expect them to find a purpose to your story if it isn't a book that they're going to think about after they put it down? You have to make them care about your story to make them find a meaning in it. And a reader can't care about a story if you don't care first. A reader can't care about a story if you don't give them something to care about first.

Sure. Reader will, to some extent, take different things from a book. People will read a book and grab hold of the parts that are relevant to them. That's what make them so special and so powerful. Five people can read a great book and walk away with different lessons.

But that's only because five different lessons were already placed in the book to be found.

It's true that readers can find a meaning in a book that the author hadn't originally intended. But this is due to one of two occurrences:

The author wrote the story so sloppily that there was no coherent message and thus could mean anything and, thus, nothing.

Or, alternately, the author wrote a story so honestly that there are messages outside of those expressly intended. They grew out of the original purpose of the story naturally and still fit with the integrity of the story.

As a writer, you are not expected to have all the answers. I'm not telling you that you need to solve the meaning to life, the universe, and everything. I'm certainly not telling you to shower people with propaganda pamphlets and pretend that they're stories.

What I am telling you is that you owe it to yourself and your readers to write a story that means something. Write what is important to you, because those themes are going to creep into your novel anyway. It's up to you to decide. Do you want full-fledged messages that have the power to make your reader stop and think? Or do you want a neglected theme that's starving to death between the pages?

Writing a story with a message takes guts. Weaving strong themes into a story without preaching or forcing a view takes skill. But you can't write a story worth reading if you aren't willing to put work into it. Don't be afraid. Write hard. Write true. Go deeper. I can promise you that your story, yourself, and your readers will be the better for it.

What do you think about writing stories with a message? What do you believe and why? I'd love to hear your thoughts! And if you have books that you know fall solidly in the afore mentioned "great book" category, please leave the title below!

Related articles:
Challenging Writers to Write Honestly
Why There's No Such Thing As "Just A Story"
Challenging Writer's to Create Stories With Meaning 

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