Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Making a Reader Cry over a Character's Death - Part 1

 About a month ago, I answered this question on the OYAN writing forum:

I have an ally. He fights for the goal alongside the hero because he is the hero's best friend, because he loves the hero and the hero's sister who is at stake (although he is not in love with said sister...that's another dude) and because he believe it is right to do so.

This ally dies near the end of the novel, fighting (physical fighting, here) along side my hero to save said sister. He dies at the hands of one of the villain's men (or possibly the villain himself...can't remember) and it's all bloody and sad and all that good stuff.

What I was wondering was how I could make this really, really hard on my reader? My intention from the start with this character was to kill him to show some of the price that must be paid to attain the goal. In the end, though, I don't think I pulled that off. I want to know how I can make my readers love this character so much that they're really upset (and shocked) when he dies, but also how to do that without making him more lovable, admirable, ect. than the hero.

Any tips on how I can make his death heartbreaking to the reader, and unexpected?

I started dissecting possible reasons for the unexpected and hard death of someone in Forest of Lies. This is what I came up with. I am splitting it into two posts. Hopefully it’s helpful!

One warning: this will probably ruin a little bit of Forest of Lies for you if you haven’t read it already, though I never mentioned who exactly dies or exactly how. If you want to read it, it’s here: Forest of Lies.


This is an interesting question to me, because the ally that I have die is also a "faithful friend" kind of type. He's not really what you could call quiet and simple, but more of a mix of faithful, eccentric, funny, and gentle. Which sounds odd juxtaposed like that, but that's a pretty good description. So I'm going to philosophize on why his death was unexpected and why about every person who's read this books says: WHY DID YOU KILL ____?!! I didn't necessarily do this stuff on purpose. I'm just guessing that parts of it are why it worked out that way.

-I didn't want to kill him. He wasn't a character "marked for death" from early conception; I had ideas for his future; I thought he was awesome. My first reaction when I thought of him dying was: "NOOOOOO!" and then I kind of denied the fact that he was going to die right up until he did. Also, it never really sunk in for me that he HAD died until I started a sequel and realized I couldn't write him anymore.
---- So think about that. If this character survived this book, what would happen to him after it ends? Why CAN'T he die? (He has a future, my hero will be devastated, my hero needs a friend, etc.) Don't think of the character's worth stopping at his death. Think about how his life would have gone on if he hadn't died. Then you'll get some of the "he still had so much life to live" that's so painful. If you can make yourself feel that, likelihood is that your readers will too.

-Coming from that, I just plain knew this guy. I knew how he reacted to things, I knew how deeply he loved other characters (faithful friend bit coming in there), I knew his past, I knew his (cut off) future.
---- Get to know him better (I know this has been said a lot). Know what makes him tick, know his past and his (cut off) future. Why is he faithful to his friend? Don't just tack "faithful friend" onto him like a job title. Make us FEEL that job title. The friend everyone wants to have. I think this character of mine was like that. He was killed being faithful.

-His death was unimportant. He wasn't going to stop what was going to happen anyway, but he still stepped in between his friend and his friend's enemies. Plot-wise and conflict-wise, it was an unimportant death. He didn't die saving somebody. He just stood in the way for that moment. It was sort of like throwing his life away: a waste.
---- So, I don't know, maybe make it so even if the ally dies, the bad thing still happens. We lose the ally, but we lose the battle too. It's not fair. This could add a bit to it being unexpected, and an "unjust" or "wasted" death will irk us more.

To be continued!

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Is New Always Better?

HTTYD is awesome sauce.
Clue: that's me.

Okay, not really.

But that's how I felt.

Last Saturday, I innocently discovered something. I'd recently read Rowan Hood and was glad I had, so I thought it was time to deal with another of the "I conflicted" books, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinely. When I searched for it using my library's internet database, I was surprised to find that there was only one copy.

With a sense of foreboding, I then tried three different searches to try to make my current favorite, Robin Hood (or sometimes The Adventures of Robin Hood) by E. Charles Vivian, pop up in the window.

These told me that it no longer exists in my library system. Further searches revealed that another of my favorites, Roger Lancelyn's Green's The Adventures of Robin Hood (no, Robin Hood authors are not renown for original titles), also no longer exists. Robin Hood and His Adventures by Creswick is still managing to stay alive with 4 copies, to help my sanity a little bit.

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This is the lovely printing of Vivian's copy that graced the shelves at the library in this system that was "mine" for ten years. Hardback, full of beautiful (and less beautiful) illustrations from all sorts of artists (I featured one here), and, on top of it all, an interesting, original, funny, and surprisingly fluid (instead of completely episodic) text to go along with it.

I remember noticing several years ago that the library system was reducing their copies of both of these books (and Creswick's as well)--so I bought them. I've felt a little silly for it over the years (though all around happy to own each of them), and had kind of reached the point of: "they won't REALLY disappear entirely."

As I'm writing this, the anger is draining away and I'm just sad. The text of these three books--Creswick, Vivian, Green--are all over 50 years old. Creswick and Vivian are over 100. Even Robin McKinley's 23 year-old book has been diminished, and replaced with such things as Rowan Hood and Hawksmaid. Or, Forbidden Forest, a nine-year-old re-telling that I stopped reading last night after about 20 pages because it was disgusting.

This isn't to say I don't like re-tellings. I DO. That's why I read them and watch them--even if I don't ultimately care for the book, I often like the twist. Robin Hood from the point of view of his daughter/Marian/Little John? Bring it on! I'm excited to see what you've done.

But when new utterly replaces old? I volunteered at my library for quite a long time. Once I was given the task of working on the "Dusty Book List" in the easy readers section. This meant that I was given a list and went to pull everything on the list off the shelves--they were to be discharged from the library and sold in a booksale. It was called "Dusty Books" because every book on that list hadn't been checked out for 2 years. I must admit I felt sorry for all those old little hardback books as I pulled them out.

Now I can't help wondering if that's what happened to two of my beloved versions of Robin Hood.

Why do we always assume because something is new it'll be better?

P.S. YES, this means I will be doing re-reads and reviews of these "deceased" books. They deserve it!
Image Source for HTTYD is on the picture...internet safety won't let me view it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Do Everything! do to the Glory of the One Who made you
'Cause He made you to do
Every little thing that you do
to bring a smile to His face

And tell the story of grace
With every move that you make
And everything that you do!

This is a great song.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rowan Hood: Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest

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* = poor
* * = fair
* * * = good
* * * * = very good
* * * * * = above and beyond

Rowan Hood: Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest
by Nancy Springer
Publisher: Philomel (June 25, 2001)
Length: 170 pages
Juvenile Fiction

This book and I have quite a bit of history. It is originally the book that made me want to find the "real" version of Robin Hood--so I could read this (apparent) sequel. When I returned to the library searches a few years later with the knowledge that there wasn't a "real" Robin Hood, I read this book. In fact, I read all of the books in Springer's series--5 all told. Yet, when I got to the end, much like The Hunger Games, I felt like I left them with a bad taste in my mouth. I then proceeded to decry them as an insult to the legend for several years.

I figured it was time for me to either reconcile myself with this book or at very least clear the mist that has come about my memory of it from the years since I've read it and figure out what exactly I do think about it.

I definitely did that.

I can see now why I was conflicted over this book. I had remembered Robin as something of a boyish idiot--but either I remembered completely wrong, or perhaps superimposed another version's over top of this (or, maybe, he becomes more childish as the series progresses? I'm not sure.). Robin, actually, is basically gold in this book. I found myself reading mostly for the passages with him. He's fun-loving, but kind, with his moments of seriousness. He's not completely unreachable, as he is in some versions, but very human. An admirable and daring human, but certainly not just a legend. He is very much Robin Hood done right--all of his dialogue rings true. My only problem was that there wasn't enough of him. (Remember my review of Hawksmaid? Apparently I don't like the girl-ed up versions of the legend that short-change Robin Hood in the process. Haha.)

The writing is also good. I could really see Robin, which was fun, and the forest, and the characters. The description is not overpowering, but it does its job well. I could understand Rowan's desire and heartache. The other characters--not really anyone from Robin's band, but the other young people Rowan runs into--also seem alive, and like they have their own stories to tell. (Which they do--the next three books all focus on her three friends. The fourth returns to her.)

After those praises, I run into issues. From the beginning, it becomes apparent that we're in a historical fantasy world. There's Nottingham, and Sherwood forest, and Barnesdale...but then there's the fantasy elements.

Now, I don't get historical fantasy. I can't ever figure out how I should treat in my head. It's like I'm being yanked between the real world and the fake world and end up in this in-between world that I can't take completely seriously or completely with a fantasy outlook.It doesn't help that there's various historical inaccuracies throughout the book--especially including the town of Nottingham. At least, it's inaccurate if it's supposed to be set in the general timeframe of Robin Hood tales--the 12th century--but it's impossible to tell where exactly she wants it set. Sure, legends are flexible and don't need to be historically accurate in everything. But I don't like half-fantasy half-historical worlds. They confuse me.

Really, though, it's the nature of the fantasy that bothers me. Springer has the woods inhabited by what she calls aelfe, some kind of immortal wood-spirits or elves--which Rowan (of course) shares blood with. Her mother is half aelfe, and can "sense" things like streams. It's very peculiar. (And adds immensely to the "where the heck does this story take place?" factor, considering characters still choose to swear by "Our Lady." I mean, HUH? x 10)

Also (spoilers whited out here--highlight to read if you want, don't if you don't), Rowan is Robin's daughter. Even though he never actually married or even saw her mother. Because her mother was, at the time, only the hearth in her fireplace or the earth under his head, as Rowan explains. Can you say creepy? I mean, this time I just couldn't help thinking: "poor Robin!" I loved him. He was awesome and sweet, and I don't see what Rowan's mother did to him nice or loving at all. I mean, really. It's gross. Then she didn't even tell him that he had a daughter! (Of course, how do you tell someone something like that?)

It's made more disturbing by the fact that Rowan's mother is kind of the idol of everyone in the book. That is, Rowan, Robin, and to some extent the aelfe. I can't see why she deserves this wondering respect of everyone involved. I am not a fan. "Should I read magic like this" aside, it's just plain weird and disturbing.

I will, once again, leave this book conflicted. I can see why I read them, why I continued to read them, and why I felt guilty reading them, all wrapped into one. On some sides, it's a good tribute to Robin--the way she characterizes him is marvelous. Then the thing she adds--a daughter--is quite interesting, and probably one of the things that made me want to give my Robin a family too.

But...I can't really get over the other things. Gah. I really can't decide about this book. It's annoying.

Overall Rating: * * 1/2
Plot: * * * (forgot to mention--not really an adventure story, and it has a boring, easily defeated villain, but it's more about Rowan's search and longing, and portrays that well)
Characters: * * * *
Golden Arrow: * *
"Fluently!": * * * *
Others: *

Do I recommend it? Can't say. It's up to you. Robin is enjoyable, but underplayed compared to Rowan and the fantasy elements. I won't be buying this book.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Contending for the Faith

I mentioned in my post about VBS that in the Teen’s Sunday school at my grandmother’s church the visiting youth pastor talked about contending for the faith. Before I go off on this, I want to mention again that I did like the guy, he seemed sincere, and ministry of this sort could be God’s calling for his life. He seemed so earnest about it, it probably is. But where does everybody else fit? Can you only be doing God’s will and contending for the faith if you’re knocking on doors to advertise VBS?

Sometimes the arts and obscurer callings get left out of the Christian pep-talks. This pastor talked plenty about knocking on doors and--if you have a heart for children--working in children’s church. He didn’t mention any other ways to fight for God’s kingdom. This mentality used to build up the idea that what I had a passion for--writing--was the easy way out, the way to hide in my room and clack away on a computer. Real work for God would of course involving getting out, street witnessing, door-knocking, that sort of thing.

The things that weren’t me. I knew it was good to get out of my comfort zone and try things that challenged me, but I had the idea that they also had to be the kind of thing used in examples in sermons. Connection to the established church, talking about Christ with unbelievers, bolstering attendance to church gatherings and children’s programs. Those were the hard things, the things that really mattered. Forget the novel on the 12th century girl and her search for truth. That was taking the easy way out.

But wait, hold on, Nai.

Just how much work is it to write a novel?

Characters, plots, themes, plot twists, precise and unexpected details, active voice, adverb elimination, more plots, more characters, more themes, editing, issues, critiques (oh my, critiques!), research, and more research...the list goes on and on.

It’s not really the easy way out. It’s another hard way, fraught with the perils of Discouragement and Unworthiness. And for someone like me, it has stuff almost as scary as knocking on doors: they’re generally known as critique groups.

In fact, I recently took on some hard adventures related to two things I love: critiquing and encouraging writers. One was leading a critique group (though I lead stuff easily online, I’m more of a follower in real life) and the other was talking to a room of 86 other writers and some of their parents on critiquing and my critiquing journey. Both freaked me out immensely (and then weren’t as bad as I thought).

Did I bring anyone to Christ doing those two things? Probably not, considering the workshop I did them at was almost entirely, if not entirely, filled with writers who already know who created this earth. Maybe I encouraged or helped them, though. Maybe someday one of their novels, filled with REAL Truth and Light, will hit it big and change lives--or maybe it’ll just change one life. One precious life.

Jesus himself told stories. What makes them any less of a calling? What makes mathematics, politics, or ventriloquism anything less than missionaries and ministry? God made us each unique. Do you think he made each of us unique to do exactly the same things?

Yes, contend for the faith--but contend for it in the way you were made to. If you do it right, any calling will be hard.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beautiful People: Robin

Well, I haven’t exactly talked about him in awhile, but if you know me well, you know how much I love my character Robin. As in Robin Hood, except “my” version. I say “my” in quotation marks, because he’s the strangest character I’ve had. He came into my head almost fully developed--and yet a mystery. He acted 3-D, but it took a lengthy time for me to crack the outer surface and get to WHY he acted the way he did.

So, now an “interview” of sorts called Beautiful People.

Because he’s also one of the most vocal of my characters, I’m just going to let him speak for himself (mostly because I kept hearing him answer these questions, instead of “coming up” with the answers by thinking!).

1. What is [your] biggest accomplishment?
Robin: Anytime I have stepped completely aside and let my Savior really USE me.

2. What is [your] strongest childhood memories?
Robin: Strongest? Does that mean fondest, or the things I really remember the most? Because I doubt you’d like to hear what I remember strongly. But fondly...time spent with my mother, and running wild over Locksley’s lands and Sherwood forest, toy bow in hand.

3. What is [your] favorite food?
Robin: The kind that you eat. And then don’t throw up.
Me: Robin, that’s gross.
Robin: It’s true! YOU didn’t have to survive the great “What Exactly Contaminated Much’s Stew?” incident...
Me: Can you be a little 21st century and just answer the question the way they’re expecting?
Robin: First I’m too 21st century when talking to you, and now not enough...but all right. I do like venison.
Me: Is it the flavor or a bit of your daring side showing through?
Robin: Moving on.

4. Do [you] believe in love at first sight?
Robin: No. Love is a commitment and an investment. Attraction at first sight? Definitely. But not real love.

5. What kind of home do [you] live in?
Robin: Depends on which part of my life you’re talking about. Beginning? A comfortable manor. Later, two different castles--prisons to me. After escape, green. And muddy. And hot and cold and green some more. [laugh] That is, a forest. Quite a bit later, a small house, sometimes a manor.

6. What do [you] like to wear?
Robin: Clothes.

7. What would [you] do if [you] discovered [you] were dying?
Robin: What I am now, except better. Serving others, loving those close to me. Seeking to glorify my savior in everything I do.

8. What kind of holidays, or traditions do [you] celebrate?
Robin: I know, but my author doesn’t (something about needing to research that more. I’ve heard that a thousand times.), so now we have a paradox of a dilemma where I can’t answer you.

9. What do your other characters have to say about [him]?
From Forest of Lies...
Will Scarlett: “He’s a bit odd, but I can trust him to make good decisions and stick to what he’s intended to do...”

Marian: “You let them think you sane, do you not?”

Ralph Murdoc: “He is a heretic, Lady Marian.”

Much: “You’re impossible.”

10. If [you] could change one thing in [your] world, what would it be?
Robin: There would be no more orphans, physically or emotionally.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Blessing of #1 Fans

To describe writers in brief: bipolar, self-doubting, whiney, lonely, self-critics, strange, different, bipolar (oh wait, said that already...).

We can, quite honestly, be a perfect mess. I rarely meet an author that is self-confident about anything (and when I do, they tend to annoy me. Except for the one that said: “help! my novel is perfect!” Then I just laughed.), and I certainly belong to the stereotypical bipolar, doubtful, whiney crowd.

A community of writers (for me, the OYAN forum) helps a lot with most of these writer-ly ailments, particularly the feeling of isolation and loneliness that the craft of writing involves. (And also, we can then whine together.) It’s also wonderful to have fellow writers who actually know how help me make a book better, and won’t just say “it’s good” or “missed a comma.” But even with all that, there can still be something missing.

Writers write to be read. We can say we write for our own enjoyment or just because we like it, but the truth is that at the heart of every writer is a longing for readers. Without that longing, I would venture to say you’re not exactly a “writer” but rather someone who happens to write. Why do bloggers like people to follow, comment, and contact them? Why do they (or is it just me...) watch stats like hawks to see how many times the blog is hit and which posts are popular? Because they know they’re being read. It’s not just a cry to emptiness.

That’s where readers come in. And, those number 1 fans.

From the ages of 8 to 15, my biggest fan was my sister Grace. Even though I never finished a book in my first 6 years of writing, Grace read everything I wrote. She read all 48,000 words of the novel that would become Betsy Flowain (when it went down to 39,000), she read my Robin Hood snippets, she read A Tale of Interesting Coincidences and Unexpected Happenings. The only thing she didn’t read was my brief LotR fanfiction, and that’s because I hid it from her (it has since been justly erased from all time and space).

She read everything.

I was a writer; I was 8; I was being read. My little sister nurtured my early years.

Since my joining the OYAN forum, God has blessed me with friends, critiquers...and more no. 1 fans. Jane, Mercia, Lizzie. They were sure (or at least said they were sure) that I was brilliant. I was sure I wasn’t, but I appreciated their love of my writing and my stories. They lifted me up when I was down.

Writers can’t survive without critiquers. They CAN survive without die-hard fans, but die-hard fans do help keep our teensy egos slightly alive. They tell us we’re not wasting the time in front of the computer.

And so, I thank God for the blessing that each of my no. 1 fans is.

Who are your no. 1 fans? Do you ever thank them for their devotion?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Christians and Art: Content vs. Quality

In the last several months, I have found myself in several arguments with fellow Christians over art. Sometimes I have argued the more conservative side, and sometimes I have argued against the more conservative side. Recently, I have identified at what is often at battle with Christians and the arts: content and quality.

This shouldn’t be surprising, because for a good time now Christian arts have become specifically known for low-quality. If Christians want something higher-quality (movies, books, music, you name it) they generally have to gravitate towards the secular market, and gravitate towards content that is (generally) less God-glorifying.

This is what causes, I believe, the great controversies in truly Christian communities. I need only mention Harry Potter for you to get what I mean, but considering I’m “on the fence” as far as that goes, I’ll turn to examples I do understand.

My most heated arguments have been over the television show Doctor Who. Obviously, I’m a huge fan, though I admit its flaws as well, mainly: evolution and taking the Lord’s name in vain. There are other things, but most can be summed up in “evolution.” The show’s universe is one where God has no place.

Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? For me, it is mostly redeemed by the excellent writing, superb characters, and good morals (although, officially, there is absolutely no ground for them).

A less obvious example is "Tangled." Recently, my friend Hannah posted a review on this apparently harmless movie. I didn’t agree with everything she said, but she brought up two good points: the issue of “rebellion is good” and “the end justifies the means.” There has not been much hue and cry in the Christian community over Tangled, but it too has its issues even with its superb quality (as she also admitted).

For more middle ground, Lord of the Rings. I would guess that the conservative Christian community is split about half-and-half on this one. Some things it’s a superb story that is God-glorifying (me!), others are worried about the magic of Gandalf and the ring of power.

The list could go on and on. Over and over again, it’s the tug-of-war of content vs. quality. For some, content is more important. For others, quality. For people like me, I end up swaying for quality sometimes and content other times (Doctor Who is probably my most secular fandom).

Of course, as a Christian artist, my goal is to marry content and quality in everything I do. But as Christians, artist or not, how do we cope with this content-quality battle?

As I have disagreed with, argued with, and debated my fellow Christians for the past few months, I have finally come to a conclusion: it comes down to each person and God.

As I watch Doctor Who even amidst moral issues for the good in it, I avoid the “Trock” (Doctor Who/Time Lord rock) band “Chameleon Circuit” because it has lyrics that take God’s name in vain. For me, good, catchy music with content like that is a BAD idea--because it will get stuck in my head. I don’t want it running through my head for hours on end, and I know it will if I listen to it. It doesn’t seem to bother some Christian friends of mine.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 8, Paul discusses (as my Bible labels it) “Be[ing] Sensitive to Conscience.” As it is 13 verses long and doesn’t really deserve be excerpted, I suggest you read it yourself. The gist, however, is about the idea of eating food offered to idols, and two views on it: 1) it’s okay and 2) it’s not okay. Paul says it’s okay: it’s not a sin. But he then urges the Corinthians not to eat food offered to an idol in the presence of Believers that view it as wrong. It says “their conscience, being weak, is defiled” (verse 7).

Watching and reading or not watching and reading certain movies and books can be a slightly different matter, but in some ways it’s very similar. Some things, overall, won’t really matter. At the same time, some people will be pro and some will be anti. And that’s okay. I don’t think it necessarily means a conscience is “weak,” but that each person is different. For myself, it’s not good to listen to music with lyrics I disapprove of. For Hannah, it’s not good to watch a movie that promotes rebellion against authority.

Does the “anti” or the “pro” make either one of us any more of a Christian than someone who listens to that music and watches that movie? I don’t think so. We’re both trying to glorify God in our choices against certain things.

All in all, it comes down to you and God. If you think you shouldn’t be watching that show, then stop. If you think you shouldn’t read that book, then don’t. But also don’t decide that someone else is less of a Christian because of their quality choices or less of a person because of their content choices.

If they’re a true Christians, they’re trying their best.

So do the same.

First two images from Wikipedia. Lord of the Rings image from Amazon.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Weekend Fun: OYAN (A Poem)

Yes, I should've posted it for "OYAN week," but, frankly, I forgot it existed. Now enjoy or cringe at my attempt at poetry, circa 2008.

Dedicated to Mr. Schwabauer--thank you so much!

First it was the age,
The type,
The point of view!

Now it’s take away my “retorted”,
My lovely, lacy, tragically!
The big grey elephant also most go!

What will be next?
Nouns, prepositions?
Must I type with my elbows?

Why is “was + ing” banned?
Are you sure it is just not of selfish spite?
Grinding my prose into short words, un-clich├ęd phrases, and the repetitive “said”?

Forever planning, never writing!
Why the unexpected details?
Why do they matter?
Why not skip over and add them in later?

Must I keep this up?
I will not!
My words will not be destroyed by your evil plot!

My mentor will not die in chapter 9!
I will not write in first person!
I will use “expostulated”, “was”, and “ly”!
What’s it to you? Why do you care?

But now I look at what I’ve already written...
Devoid of “was” and “ly”, full of “said”,
Straight to the point, invigorating, exciting!

I type in a flurry;
I’m amazed to see the cascade of average words turn into the scene of my head!
I care for my hero, despise my villain!
The suffering works--not one of my characters likes me!

I see the sense of “Bob leaned against the wall”,
Compared to my old and stagnant “Bob was leaning”!
The reduction of “ly” fires my imagination!
The unexpected details put me into my story, a fascinating, amazing place!

I guess I’m saying...
By golly, OYAN works!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I Think

I bet he says "I think."
I still remember one of the first and only writing critiques my dad has ever given me. It went something like this:

“Don’t say ‘I think’ so often. We know it’s what you think, you wrote it.”

I still remember what I was working on. Exchange City. Eight years later, I’m still battling the tendency to insert “I think” or its subtler cousins (I suppose, it seems, it appears to me) into my nonfiction writing (considering my novels are all first person so far, it’s my characters fault if “I think”s show up!).

As I was writing some posts for this coming week, I decided to do a quick document search for each “I think” in three posts. Altogether, there were about five. Generally, they came before pretty bold statements, like: “this matter is between you and God” (I THINK this matter is between you and God) and “this matter is often left out of Christian pep-talks” (I THINK this matter is often left out of Christian pep-talks).

Why did I insert those?

I have a tendency towards doubting my own opinions and thoughts, especially about big stuff like I’m blogging on this week, or more abstract things like literary analysis (sorry, AP Lit teacher!).

“I think” is safe. It points out that this is only my puny little opinion, and isn’t necessarily right.

Of course, it IS my puny little opinion and not necessarily right. That’s why I put it there. Even if it’s only my opinion and not NECESSARILY right doesn’t mean it COULDN’T be right, though, or I wouldn’t be writing it!

Over and over, the same theme comes back to me in my spiritual walk, and it is summed up quite nicely in this phrase: Be Strong and Courageous (Joshua 1:9). As Christians, we are commanded NOT to be afraid, NOT to be dismayed, because our God is with us WHEREVER we go.

My favourite heroes are Strong and Courageous (The Doctor, Robin Hood, even Reepicheep [though he also annoys me]). Alex and Brett Harris’s “Rebelution” is focused on DOING HARD THINGS...which requires strength, courage, and boldness.

I’m a naturally timid, shy person who doesn’t want to talk unless she’s sure of what she is going to say, who hates saying things that are stupid or incorrect, and thinks too much of what OTHERS might think. Still, through love of OYAN, God is pushing me outside of my comfort zone, to lead, to speak, to sell curricula.

If God is with me wherever I go, do I need to hide behind “I think”?

Will I say things that are wrong?

Oh yes.

Will I say things that sound stupid?

If the past is any indicator, YES.

Will I say things that people disagree with and hate me for?

What did Jesus do?

There’s your answer.

Love God, love people, love Truth, live strong, live bold.

Live courage.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Week of OYAN: For Love of OYAN

I think users of the One Year Adventure Novel program have a tendency to talk about it with almost a reverence. I know I do. I’m a junkie for the webinars, the shirts, the workshops, the workshop DVDs, and anything else that comes out with that name on it.

I can’t vouch for everyone else, but I can vouch for myself on the reason I’ve become this way: the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum has literally changed my life.

When I asked mom about that “novel writing class” she’d seen in the homeschool newsletter weeks before, I wasn’t expecting everything that would follow. I didn’t know it was a curriculum-in-the-making. I didn’t know my teacher would become a writing mentor to me. I didn’t know that he and his wife would become my dear friends. I didn’t know I would write a book that would catapult me onto a roller coaster of a spiritual journey. I didn’t know that I would attend a workshop to meet friends from faraway places that I had never seen before. I didn’t expect to say yes to running a critique group and giving a speech to the whole workshop. I didn’t expect take a job.

I most certainly didn’t expect to say, yes, I WOULD run an OYAN booth at the homeschool conference near where I’m moving.

I’m the shy girl who was terrified when we drove up to that old strip-mall for the first class, the timid writer who just wanted to finish the novel she started when she was 8. The doubtful student who peppered her teacher with emails just to make sure she was doing it right.

If someone had told me that I would be doing all those things in three and a half years, I don’t think I would’ve believed them.

But I have and I am.

For love of OYAN.

OYAN gave me confidence in writing. Mr.S. taught me how to tell a good story, how to get from page 1 to the elusive words THE END. He taught me how to edit, and how to share my writing with the world. He gave me the tools that would make my Forest of Lies spiritual journey possible.

He told me I could change the world.

That, more than anything, was what I needed. One of God’s greatest gifts to me in the past four years has been One Year Adventure Novel--the curriculum’s tools, the mentor’s guidance, the community’s encouragement.

I can’t promise the kind of change I’ve gone through to everyone who purchases the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum; for one thing, the hand of God was so apparent in all of it that I’m sure I can’t contribute it to OYAN alone (though the godliness of its creator certainly shines through). But you know what? I can almost guarantee you will learn two things:

1)First drafts are always rough and

2) Write them anyway.

I’ve always been a writer, and I always will be.

But I will be forever in debt to the curriculum that took me to the heights of excitement, hardship, and adventure that awaits beyond chapter 1.

I’m an OYANer...
...and this is my story.

Image source.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Week of OYAN: 115 (Repost)

This is something I wrote after the results of last year's OYAN Novel Contest were announced. I don't know when this year's will be announced but I wanted to applaud EVERYONE who entered this year's: you're all amazing. And, finalists, semi-finalists, and those who don't're still amazing. Here's why.


One hundred and fifteen. CXV. 115.

I remember when there were seven of us, shivering in an old strip mall, unwilling to take off our coats, learning that, when writing at least, murder was good.

I remember when there were five of us, the entries, the suspense, the morning I realized I wrote a book.

I remember when the forum consisted of 5 members - Mr.S., Mrs.S., me, and two dummy accounts controlled by Mr.S.

I remember when we hid behind plastic bushes when we realized there were new people on the forum, where before our seven voices had echoed in the vast auditorium.

1,172. One thousand one hundred and seventy-two.MCLXXII.

I could go on. But there's really something I want to address.

There were 115 entries to the third annual OYAN Contest, approximately 30 semi-finalists, 8 finalists, 3 top prizes, and 1 one winner.

Of course, all due congratulations to those who finalized (go Grace!) and placed. But this is for the others.

Because, placement or not, you're awesome.

The truth is, you'd be awesome even if you hadn't written a novel. As far as I know, you're all God's children--and even if you aren't, He's still chasing you.

But let's focus on the novel. Lots of you write for His glory. Lots of you write to change a world, to rescue a dying people. All of you choose to do something hard, something not very many people do, because you thought it was worth it.

It is worth it.

I've brought it up on this blog before, I think, but let me be blatantly honest: the 2009 contest devastated me. After all the hype, the best I could do was finalize. It's taken me solid months to recover. I'm glad it happened, though, even though I felt again the pangs of why couldn't I win? last night. Before, I'd said that I'd write for the glory of God alone. 2009 put that to the test. I realized that's not really why I wrote. It was part of the reason, sure, but it wasn't the only reason. I had other motives, or at the very least, other wishes.

Writing is a lonely occupation. Most of the time, you're left with you, story issues, and the uncaring and always completely unhelpful computer screen. This loneliness is why I think the writing forum has been so good for me, and countless others. It says you're not alone. We're in this together. We're going to change the world.

Writing is also hard to stamp as "good." When do you know that you've done it? When your writing is worth something? How do you know? Publication? Sells? Reviews in newspapers? Bestseller lists?

Student contests?

When I went into 2009, I was hoping for some kind of confirmation that I was doing the right thing. If I'd won, I'd probably gone: "yes! This means I'm a writer."

It's harder, though, when you don't get confirmation. You only keep going because you think that that's where God has lead you. You have to learn to say: "okay, no one may ever notice it, but it's worth it because You told me to do it."

It may sound insane, but it's taken me almost a year (in some ways, more) to come to the point where I say: "okay, God, this is in your hands. Show me what to do. Help me not need worldly confirmation."

Don't get me wrong, this lesson isn't fully learned. I think I'm being directed towards writing a screenplay at the moment. Last night, though, I could help wondering, thinking...God, could I write another novel? Please? Can I have another go at it?

Because I still want that confirmation. I'm a perfectionist. I want the top spot. I want to know that I really know what I'm doing, because hey, I placed first.

Maybe I don't really know what I'm doing. Maybe I'm still hoping for too much glory for myself. I don't know. But, last I heard, God said screenplay. I need to stick it out. Maybe it'll change the world. Maybe it'll change my heart. Maybe I'll just learn. But whatever the future is, it's good, because it's God's plan.

So, to the 107 who didn't place: you're awesome and amazing. You wrote, you struggled, you edited, you almost went insane. You're God's, and, whatever the world says, what you wrote is of immense value. Whether he has the life of a writer planned out for you or not, this last year wasn't wasted. You did terrific. You finished. You learned. You entered. He loves you.

And, though this may sound extremely superficial, I love you. When I was driving to orchestra last night, an hour and a half before the webinar, God filled me with love for all of you--even though I've never met most of you. He has a plan, and it's beautiful. Learn, love, discover.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Week of OYAN: To OYANers (Repost)

I wrote this last year and posted it the day of the contest deadline. Lots of OYANers loved it, and it has firmly remained my top-visited page since it was posted. Plus, I still mean it. Rock it, OYANers!

To OYANers

Because you dare.

You dare to write a novel in 9 months.

You dare to Mean Something in a meaningless world.

You dare to show Truth.

You dare to stare at a piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.

You dare to stumble around, trying to make characters come alive.

You dare to make them suffer, to make the Something to Want worth something.

You dare to create conflict.

You dare to try to knock over your Something to Learn with a sledgehammer.

You dare to make your Black Moment black.

You dare to make the characters you love hate you.

You dare to make the Showdown the toughest thing yet.

You dare to make it a Battle of Ideals.

You dare to let your story leave the perfect sanctuary of your mind and come out into the imperfect world of letters, words, and sentences.

You dare to share it with the World of Writers, to learn how to make it better.

You dare to go back to your squalling brain-child, to edit and revise.

You dare to forego adverbs, passive voice, and expostulated.

You dare to lose some hair in the process.

You dare to then submit it to judges, to let others see your words, your heart.

You dare to write the adventure of a lifetime.

And then, you dare to do it again.

Because, you know, the world doesn’t end on August 15th.

There are more stories to be written and more hair to lose.

And loads more to dare.

Love to all,


Monday, August 15, 2011

Week of OYAN: Winners

To all entrants of the 2011 OYAN Contest.

For the last week, my most frequent One Year Adventure Novel-related thought has definitely been: oh, I’m so glad I’m not entering a novel this year. God, bless those who are!

Because I know the panic, the self-doubt, the fear, the wishes you’d spent more time editing than socializing, the why the heck did I write that?! moments, more panic, more self-doubt, more fear.

It’s funny that every entrant of the OYAN contest, past and present, has felt that way, because every novel to be entered in the contest this year (and previous years) is something extraordinary.

Most adults dream of writing a novel “someday.” Very often, “someday” never happens. That’s because writing a book--even getting from crappy page one to crappy THE END--is enormously hard. I don’t think the non-writer world realizes this. It. Is. HARD.

If you’re entering the OYAN contest, it means one major thing: you finished a novel. Think about that. You. Finished. A. Novel!! (And you’re a teen, to boot.)

But it’s more than that. I would guess 99.7% of entrants have also EDITED a novel. Good writing is rewriting. You put effort not only getting out the brilliant novel that exists in your head onto paper (where it turns into a mediocre to straight-out bad manuscript), survived that process, but then you also tackled that monster head on and made it better.

This is all pretty awesome stuff. But there’s more.

You had a purpose in it.

You survived that process because you have a heart for this. You had a story to tell, and it was worth all the hair-pulling to get there. You most likely wrote because you want to help a dying world. You showed a positive ideal-- love, forgiveness, courage, truth--winning out over hate, revenge, cowardice, lies. You didn’t give the hero’s story goal to him on a gold platter. You made him EARN it. You showed that goodness has a price and that goodness is worth that price.

But there’s even more.

You’re being brave. Recklessly, rashly, fool-hardy brave. You’re Robin Hood defying the Sheriff, The Doctor saving the Earth, Frodo entering Mordor.

Writers live for readers, but the hardest thing we ever do is let our writing be read. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but it’s facing that fear and overcoming it. You know everyone can’t win. You probably assume you can’t win. But you’re entering anyway. That takes guts. Your offering your heart in paper form to judges, and they can’t all be winners. There is always second place, finalists, semi-finalists, and those that don’t make the cut at all. And it could be you.

But you’re doing it anyway. And you know what?

You’re a winner in my book.

God bless you all,

Image Source.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

First Words

Quintessence is currently 52 days old. I finished chapter 4 a few days ago. Also, today is the day before official PANIC DAY of OYANers Everywhere (aka, the OYAN contest deadline). So, in the midst of my usual cheerings-on, I have this thought.

Well, I have about 366 days until next year's contest. I need to have Quintessence written and edited by that time. I'd better get cracking. Here I come, Chapter 5!!

Hywel:I'm not ready for chapter 5!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that's the first unbidden commentary of Hywel's popping into my head. He's probably the earliest character of mine to do that. Of course he would be arguing with me.

My response? (After I jump up and down because he's chatting with me already.)

Oh, that's what you think. Who said you're in charge?

[Hywel's smarty-pants but unoriginal comeback edited out]

P.S. Sorry I disappeared off the face of the earth. Actually, I was in North Carolina, which is probably less exciting. Hope to be posting more soon!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Weekend Fun: I Want a Butterfly Room (and the Saga of Selling a House)

A Story (Almost) In Pictures.

Something You Should Know: I consider myself a girly tom-boy. I like to look pretty, like dresses...and then like things like Robin Hood, Lord of the Rings, and Hamlet. Conflicted? Maybe. But I don't usually ask for butterfly rooms...

So, my second-to-littlest sister had a birthday on the 31st. She turned six. You should know something about birthdays in Nai's family: IF we have guests, they're cousins. Since our cousins moved away, we now basically have family-only parties. We don't have many presents. And they're always themed and highly-decorated, especially with a kid in this age range.

Adelle wanted a flag cake and butterfly decorations. Okay, can do. For the first time in forever, I raided the marker box and got to work on the print-out butterflies myself (our printer is black and white--so we have to find coloring pages and color them for the decorations!). I probably spent 3 hours coloring and cutting out butterflies (I had a lot of fun). And you know what? Small colored and cut-out butterflies are adorable. See:

So, butterflies went up all over our dining room. As we put them up, I mentioned that I had decided I wanted a butterfly room. I mentioned taping butterflies all over my room, or painting them all over my room, or coloring them all over my room. I just had this whim. So, have party, take down decorations (we're trying to sell the house, so it's best NOT to have that kind of thing up for too long!). Second-oldest little sister takes all my little butterflies (and then some). I go into my room to this:

Oh look, you get to see my tiny-but-I-love-it blue room.


And my Doctor Who fandom.

And my foil, Robin Hood, Narnia, Hamlet, and MORE Doctor Who fandom!

And more Doctor Who fandom. Sheesh...oooh, and see that binder? That be the first two chapters of Quintessence. Yep. And the bottle? It came all the way from England. I bought it in Tesco. When it had lemonade in it.

Then, we got a call for a showing today (which was later canceled...yeah, I'm upset), so I had to take my butterflies down.

My room is boring again. And no, that circle on the wall isn't there in real life.

But where did I put the butterflies?

In here, on top of my Hamlet game. Haha! I still have them!! Take THAT showing people!

So yeah. I still kinda want a butterfly room...

Thursday, August 4, 2011's a Historical/Cultural Study of 11th-13th Century England?

Ish? (Because sticking "ish" on the end of anything makes ambiguity that much better.)

That is what I'm calling it for the moment, at any rate. AND IT'S DONE. I think. Now, I shall interest/bore (hopefully the first) you with the details! I realize as I type this that it isn't REALLY done--I have just selected all of my reading material. The specifics--and that will be where you lovely readers become something of a part of it--I'm still working on.

Here, however, is my backbone...

My Teaching Company Great Courses. (This site is DANGEROUS for the Learning Buff, by the way. There's also a 70% off sale on a lot of things right now...great thing to take advantage of! I did.)

Medieval World” ~ Professor Dorsey Armstrong (DVDs)
--An overview of the Middle Ages, but focused on England and the life of the average person.

The High Middle Ages” ~ Professor Philip Daileader (CDs)
--A more balanced overview of both the politics and the everyday life in Medieval Europe.

My collection of historical books, mostly scavenged from the used section on Amazon, but also from the half-price book store in my area.

The Year 1000: What Life was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium (An Englishman’s World) ~ Robert Lacey & Danny Danziger

England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225 ~ Robert Bartlett

1215: The Year of Magna Carta ~ Danny Danziger & John Gillingham

The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century ~ Ian Mortimer

Life in a Medieval Castle ~ Joseph & Frances Gies

Lost Country Life: How English Country Folk Lived, Worked, Threshed, Thatched, Rolled Fleece, Milled Corn, Brewed Mead... ~ Dorothy Hartley

I'm especially excited about England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, as is probably evident by the post on it. I discovered it awhile back through inter-library loan, but it was great fun to finally have it--and, I hope, read it in its (or almost its) entirety. Which is 600 pages. I know, we're a weird breed, us historical fiction-ists. Anyway, moving on...

"Application." (Ish again.)
--I'm really hoping to get my beautiful Medieval dress pattern from Patterns of Time done this year, and as I'm studying this time period, I finally have a good excuse. (Who knows how much the fabric is going to cost me, though!!)
--Blogging. I'll probably be putting up a tab soon with this information in it, and I'll likely give small reviews of the books and resources I've chosen to use, as well as any interesting tidbits I discover or re-discover about this period.
--The Anglo-Saxon World by Kevin Crossley-Holland--it's an anthology of Anglo-Saxon ballads/literature. Though my time period is basically after the Norman invasion, I'm really fascinated with Anglo-Saxon culture, too...probably helps that my beloved mentor character is a Saxon...
--Robin Hood, Robin Hood ballads, books on ballads, music, etc...I have a couple of websites that I might use for this kind of study, as well as hunting down more Robin Hood books--I always love a new take!
--I might actually edit Forest of Lies like I've been talking about for 2 years. Heh. See how that works out for me.
--I'm not really a cook, so this should show just how much I'm obsessed with this time period: Gode Cookery has a bunch of Medieval-era recipes translated for modern kitchens, and I might hunt down a dish or two that are country- and period-accurate.
--Maybe I could even get my bow out again. Muwaha.

In other words, it's a good thing colleges like, among strong classes, interesting and unique interests. Because I certainly have those. Not sure exactly what I'm going to call this class on an application...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Am A Dragon

And Eustace Clarence Scrubb is my role model.

To explain: I recently re-watched The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I didn't really like it all that much when I saw it in theaters, and it didn't get any better with a re-viewing. While I think The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe still managed to strike the core of the story with changes and Prince Caspian was a good movie that wasn't in the least C.S.Lewis, Dawn Treader basically failed to be either.

To clear this vague green-misted sludge from my mind, I decided to listen to Radio Theatre's audio drama while working on coloring butterflies for my sister's birthday. Lots of things hit me square between the eyes with that direct comparison, but the biggest one was Eustace's "un-dragoning"--which has several distinct differences from the version in the movie. (Honestly, I'm not sure how they could have done the book version and really left it "PG"...but it seems like something better could have been concocted.)

The differences:
1) Eustace is visited by Aslan not because he has a sword in his side and it needs to be taken to Ramandu's island for cliche plot purposes, but instead after he decides to do an extremely selfless thing--fly away and hide, FORCING the ship's company to leave without him (because in the book, all of the dragoning and un-dragoning happens while on Dragon Island), since it's too much of a nuisance to bring him with them (even though they're trying their hardest to figure out how to bring him). He doesn't "earn" the right to come with them because he can pull their boat...he decides to stay because he knows he's a nuisance, and always has been.

2) Eustace really tries, HARD, to get out of his own skin. THREE TIMES. It's not a pathetic scratch. It's actual peeling of his snake-like skin off three times. It becomes obvious that he needs Aslan to do it for him. And he becomes so desperate that he lays down and lets him do it.

3) It hurts. It's not a burst of magic light, it's Aslan's claws digging into the dragon's skin and peeling it off. With Eustace letting him do it.

4) The whole reason he wants to get his skin off is to take a bath, because the arm-ring he shoved up his arm before he turned into the dragon is STILL on his arm (not pulled off by Lucy ages ago), and is extremely painful. Again, it's not for plot points or because he has a sword in him. It's because it hurts. His sin hurts.

When I read (well, listened to the audio drama, which follows it almost word-for-word) it this time, I realized that I am kind of like that entrapped dragon. I'm covered in sin, and know I'm covered in sin, and try to get that sin off me over and over and over again...and nothing helps. In the end, I'm still a dragon. So why's Eustace my role model? Because of this.

"Then the lion said--but I don't know if it spoke--You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back and let him do it.

"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I'd ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know--if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away."

"I know exactly what you mean," said Edmund.

"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off--just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt--and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and softer than I had been. Then he caught hold of me--I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on--and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again."

~"How the Adventure Ended," The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" by C.S. Lewis.

So I'm a dragon. I can't pull my own skin off me, because that requires a complete biological--spiritual--change to the very structure of myself. Only my God can do it.

I just need to lay down and let Him.

Image is one of the original illustrations to accompany the book.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Poll Results!

So, I think my poll officially closed Saturday or Sunday evening; I honestly can't remember which. are the results. (As I am soon to take it down--I dislike sidebar clutter, which is why things disappear from time to time as I decide I don't really need them.)

I had 11 voters and they could each pick more than one thing (which I believe several of them did).

3 (27%)
Christianity in Writing
7 (63%)
Researching Historical Fiction
2 (18%)
Historical Fiction Resources
1 (9%)
Writing and Writers
7 (63%)
My Writing/Characters
9 (81%)
Fiction I Like (and Why)
6 (54%)
What Happened to Your Robin Hood Posts and Reviews?!
1 (9%)
1 (9%)

(Does it bother anyone else that those percentages don't add up to 100%? Not sure exactly how blogger is calculating, here...I guess maybe percentage of voters that voted for that particular option? *uses calculator* I'm genius. *is not bothered anymore*)

I honestly had no idea that My Writing/Characters (9) would score so high. Apparently, I should get back in the habit of catching those flying thoughts about my writing process, characters, and books...because currently I have about .3 ideas for what exactly to blog about in that aspect. I haven't really done any characters since my Robin post a ages ago. Not sure if I know enough about Hywel to talk about him for 500 words yet...we'll see.

Writing and Writers (7) I think I do...and recently I've been on a Christianity and Writing (7) kick, so that worked out well. I have a few more posts on that rolling around in my head but they're a bit stubborn about coming out...

Fiction I Like and Why (6): Ohhh, dangerous, there, dangerous. I'm a re-reader of the books I adore (I'm about 3 times as likely to read a book I know I like than to venture into the unknown), so I get a bit fanatical (mainly: Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and Hamlet). Actually, I did an (unfinished) series of posts on my other (dead) blog at one point on Hamlet-the-wondrous. Sure you want to encourage that?

Christianity (3): Kind of fits with what I blog about. Kind of seeps into all of my posts anyway, too!

Researching Historical Fiction (2): Oooh, whine time!! >:D Actually, I've thought about posting a "rewards of historical fiction" post for quite some time. Maybe I'll do that for my 2/11 that asked me for that.

And Resources (1) and Other (1): Well, I'll have to restrain myself on resources, then. Maybe I don't have that many actual historical fiction novelists reading at this time...or at least not my time period.

Also, it seems no one (except maybe Mig) is missing my Robin Hood posts (1), so I guess it's time I stopped feeling guilty about that.

Thanks to everyone who voted on my poll! It's given me some good food for thought in the way of my whole Operation: You focus that I've tried to keep up.

Don't worry--I'm hoping to churn out some more substantial posts this week, too! Thanks for voting and thanks for reading. I really do appreciate it.
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