Preptober, Week Three

It’s week three of Preptober, and it’s finally time to start writing! 

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I suggest a whole week at least of brainstorming before starting a novel. Maybe this is just my method. But my method’s gotten me four published books, so I guess it’s working for me.

That being said, how you chose to free write can vary dramatically based on your writing style and personality. Today I want to talk about some tips for making the most of your brainstorming Preptober week.

Freewriting is your best friend 

Being a student of Natalie Goldberg, I firmly believe that freewriting is the best way to get to the core of a project. So every day for the next seven days I encourage you to free write about your novel project.

Do it by time

A lot of people like to free write by time. This is pretty simple, you set a timer and write for that set time. I like doing this myself, among other methods.

Do it by number

That being said, I also love a numbered list. I’ll write lists titled 20 things that can happen in this book. Or, ten jobs my character might have. Twenty ways this character’s voice is different from the other character. Whatever I can think of.

Now is the time for writing exercises

I love a good writing exercise. And during the brainstorming session, I do a ton of them. It’s a way to understand my world better before I dive into it for 30 days. There are tons of different writing exercises if you’re interested. I would definitely suggest checking out the Writing Excuses podcast for some starters.

Don’t stop for an entire seven days

If you’re anything like me, you’re going to want to jump the gun. After about three or four days of freewriting and exercises, I’m feeling like I’m ready to start working on my outline. Maybe even dive into my rough draft.

Over the years I’ve learned to ignore those feelings and keep freewriting for the entire week. 

Yes, you probably have some great ideas. Yes, it’s exciting to start a new project. Yes, nothing feels like progress until it’s words on the page. 

Keep free writing anyway. 

The reason is simple. You are going to want as much raw thought on the page as you can get. When I’m writing I refer back to these freewriting notes often. Even better, I’ll surprise myself as I free write. As I dig further and further into the story, I uncover things I might never have thought of. It will benefit your book to give yourself as much time as possible to play on the page.

It doesn’t matter in the slightest if your ideas are bad

If you are going to be writing pages and pages of freewriting, some of your ideas are going to be bad. I know we often say there are no bad ideas, but I think we all know that’s bullshit. Saying there are no bad ideas is like saying there are no worms in any wild cherries.

Wild cherries are still worth picking and enjoying, still warm from the sun. 

So what if all your ideas are bad?

Spoiler, they’re not. We’re always our own worst critics. We are always going to be hard on our work, even if it’s good. Even if it’s great.

Trust me when I say that your ideas are worthwhile. Yes, some of them are going to be bad. But not all of them. Not even most of them. 

I hope you have fun during your week of freewriting. I know I will. Remember, writing is supposed to be fun. So have fun with it. And I’ll see you back here next week for the final task of Preptober. 

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Preptober, Week Two

We’re one week into October, and one week into our Nanowrimo prep. If you missed last week, here’s a link to get you started. 

In week two, we once again have just two tasks.

1. Set up your project on the Nanowrimo website.

2. Make sure you have all the physical things you’ll need.

Okay, don’t freak out. Yes, I’m suggesting you announce your Nano project on the website this week. Note that I didn’t suggest that you know what your project is going to be. You don’t have to know the title, or even what genre you want to write in. 

You can literally label your project anything you want, and not be tied to it at all. You can just put untitled project number 69 if you want. It doesn’t matter.

So, if it doesn’t matter, why am I telling you to do this? Because it’s a concrete action that you’re taking towards your goal of writing a novel. You can see it right there on the screen, and so can everyone else. You are locked in now, you’re writing a novel. It’s on the internet.

Now, it’s time to consider some physical considerations. You don’t need a lot to be a writer. Just something to write on, and with. 

If you’ll be writing your novel on paper, consider what kind of paper you want. I like college-ruled notebooks and le pen felt tips.

You can of course type it. This is easier because you can check your word count without having to count the whole damned things. So if this is the way you’re writing, get yourself a word processor and play around with it a bit. I like Dabble, but there are tons of options.

Another thing you’ll want to consider is where you’ll be writing. Do you have somewhere at home to write? Do you need to go to a coffee shop or library? Do you need a desk, lap desk, or just a better chair? 

Think also about the little things you might need but not think of. I, for instance, like to outline things on index cards. Even if I’m typing my novel, which I’ll be doing this year, I still need pens to brainstorm on paper. 

I’m not saying these are all things you’ll need. But I am saying you should consider how you want to write, brainstorm, and do all the other things related to your project. Make a list, grab what you’ll need, and get ready to start writing. 

That’s it for this week. See you again next Friday when we get into some actual writing.

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Preptober, Week One

Alright, it’s the first day of October. And this month is dedicated to exactly two things in my house. Celebrating Halloween as hard as possible, and getting ready for Nanowrimo. 

So this year I’m going to take you along for the ride with me, in a four-week course that will let you hit the ground running on November first. I’ve done Nanowrimo or Nanoedmo every year for the last eight years. And I never lose.

Why don’t I ever lose? Because I plan my life and my project in such a way that failure is not possible. 

If you’re with me, we’re starting today. This week, you have two tasks. 

1. Make your plan of action.

2. Get your people together.

Let’s break these down.

Make your plan of action

Especially if you’re new to the whole novel-writing thing, you need to make a plan for how this is going to happen. Because it’s sure as hell not going to happen by accident. Especially if you have other responsibilities. Like, you know, a life.

So you’ll want to ask yourself these questions. 

When am I going to write?

What projects do I need to wrap up before November to make space for this?

Are there any days I know right now I won’t be able to write? What days will I work ahead or catch up?

What are the other obligations that I still need to meet like work, school, finals, or home care?

What I’m saying is this. You are going to have excuses aplenty to not write. Get rid of those excuses by planning for them, not succumbing to them.

Find your people

This is broken down into two groups. Who are you writing with, and who is supporting your writing?

Do you have any friends, online or IRL who want to write with you? Nanowrimo is always better when you have other people participating with you. Start talking to your buddies now, and see who’s going to join you.

More important even than that, though, is your in-person support team.

Who’s going to help you out during November? My support team is my husband, who will help me out with the house and give me space. My best friend, who will be there for emotional support. And my group of friends, always ready for weird questions at random moments. 

Make a list of your support team. Ask them if they’re ready for that. Let them know what you’ll need of them. Do you need your mother-in-law to watch the kids an extra hour a week? Do you need your wife to make dinner on a night that would normally be yours?

You need time to prep. Your support system does too. And if you’ve got to do something extra to support your loved ones in return, best to know that early. 

So that’s it for this time. You’ve got a week for these two tasks. I’ll see you back here next week for a new assignment. 

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Banned Books Week, 2021

Banned books week kind of snuck up on me this year. Here it is, and I don’t feel prepared. 

But I will be! And as always, I’m here to bring you a list of the ten most banned books of 2021. 

All of the information from today’s post comes from the banned books week website. Please check it out by clicking on this link here.

10. The Hate You Give, by Angie Thomas

9. The Bluest Eyes, by Toni Morrison.

8. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

7. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

6. Something Happened in Our Town, by Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins

5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

4. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

3. All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

2. Stamped: Racisim, antiracism and you, by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds

1. George, by Alex Gino

Now, let me tell you why this list upset me more than most years. 

For one thing, there are two classics on the list that I was required to read in school. Trust me, no one in my school was emotionally scarred or broken by reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Most of my peers, sad to say, weren’t paying attention.

Some of us were moved. Some of us remembered that story, and the lessons it taught us, for the rest of our lives. 

A lot of these books were banned because of LGBTQ content. I don’t understand how in 2021 there are still so many people that see homosexuality as a choice, not to mention as a bad thing. I honestly feel like banning LGBTQ books is just an act of cruelty. People who ban books like this don’t want that community to feel like they belong. 

I notice many of these books are about racial disparity. This is a conversation we need to have. We can’t fix problems we don’t know about. And honestly, I’ve spent too much time over the last two years saying, “I had no idea that happened.” 

We need to know about Black Wallstreet. We need to know about Juneteenth. Not because we should feel guilty, but because we need to understand the scope of the situation. We cannot fix what we do not know about. Nothing is ever going to get better if we act like racial issues don’t exist. 

Finally, I’m concerned that a lot of these books are for children. There are people who seem to want to put blinders on children. This is a disservice to the next generation.

So what do you think? What banned book are you reading this week? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Why Loki didn’t work

We talked about Wandavision, and how it collectively broke us. We talked about Falcon and Winter Soldier, and how it revealed dark truths and personal growth. Now, let’s talk about Loki.

I’d describe Loki as the Booberry of the Halloween cereal trinity. It’s fine, but if there’s Count Chocula or Frankenberry I’m grabbing those first. 

We watched Loki, but it’s hard to say I can remember a lot of it. It just didn’t grab me in the same way most of the other Marvel content. So let’s break it down and talk about what didn’t work.

First, though, I do have to say that there were several really good characters in Loki. Mobius, played by Owen Wilson, was a good character. He had hopes, dreams, friendships. He cared about his job for good reasons, which allowed the world to shatter his reasons to the four winds.

Unfortunately, the time and care that went into this character didn’t transfer into the rest of them. One prime example is Sylvie. 

I thought a female Loki was a clever idea, at first. But honestly, I can’t tell you one damn thing about her that distinguishes her. 

And I don’t mean I can’t distinguish her from other Loki variants. I mean I couldn’t tell you what makes Sylvie different from literally any character. She’s like Selene from Underworld or Alice from Resident Evil. We just do not know anything about them. You could literally swap out either one of these women for Sylvie, and it wouldn’t change the story at all. She was, in a word, boring. 

We also don’t see a lot of growth in our world’s Loki. At least, no more than we’ve seen in the Marvel movies. And this is what I’d consider the cornerstone flaw of this show.

The character of Loki transitioned a lot from his first appearance to his last. He went from being compared to Hitler by an old man who had for sure survived the Holocaust, to being a hero who gave his life to save his brother. 

And this took several movies! We were given time to see the complexity of the character. He loved and hated his adoptive family. He wanted to be accepted but didn’t want to have to try too hard. This was an important story arch for him that impacted the rest of the world around him.

All of this great character growth was smooshed into a few moments, scattershot here and there through a series that consisted of six episodes. 

Finally, the biggest issue I had with this show was the constant talking. Not talking about anything interesting, mind you. Just talking. 

Especially between Sylvie and Loki. It appears that whoever was writing this series thought the only interesting characters were them, and the only interesting thing they could do was fall in love with each other. Which I, at least, didn’t care about in the slightest.

I’ll be honest, I left the show feeling cheated. Here we have an awesome premise. Time cops, making sure that there aren’t a million evil timelines going on. Someone to step in like Abed in the best episode of Community and grab the dice out of the air. So many cool things could have been done with that! We could have seen alternate timelines where literally anything could have happened.

Instead, we get a lot of sensitive talking done by two people who aren’t that interesting, followed by a lot of things blowing up that we don’t care about because we don’t care about anyone who’s affected by them.

Time for the wrap-up. Here’s what we can learn from Loki.

One clever character doesn’t make a show.

You have to make your characters actual people for your audience to care about them.

It would be nice if something, you know, happened. 

So that’s it. What did you think of Loki? Let us know in the comments. 

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Why Falcon and The Winter Soldier works

Released this spring over six weeks, Falcon and Winter Soldier was a huge hit. I certainly watched every episode. It wasn’t as funny as Loki. It wasn’t as emotionally devastating as Wandavision.

But it was great. It was a solid political intrigue terrorist story, with some superhero antics thrown in for good measure.

Let’s talk today about why it works.

I want to start with the primary antagonist, Karli. She is a terrifically written antagonist. 

Notice that I don’t say bad guy. Because Karli isn’t what I’d consider a bad person. She’s a person who’s lost hope in the world. 

After the blip was corrected, millions of people were displaced. There are not enough resources to go around. Karli’s barely surviving with her friends and what little family she has left. She’s not a bad person. She’s just trying to get someone, anyone to take this situation seriously. And it is serious. People are dying.

Kind of like now, in real life. But I digress.

Karlie is the perfect example of a person with good intentions who does horrible things. We don’t want her to succeed, but we also don’t want her to suffer. Part of this is achieved by the fact that she’s young and adorable. Come on, what melts a heart faster than curly hair and freckles?

The other part is that she’s a genuinely loving person with real familial attachments. We see her hanging out with her friends. We see her mourn the passing of the woman who raised her. We care about her because we can see that she cares about the world around her. This is not detached from the horrific things she does. If anything, it’s a direct relation. She loves, and so she feels like she has to kill. 

Of course, Karlie’s just part of the story. As it’s been pointed out online, we spend a lot of time (maybe too much) seeing the character growth of Sam and Bucky.

Sam is angry at a lot of people. And he’s got every damned right to be. He’s saved the world as an Avenger, and no one can even help his family save their boat. And now, everyone wants him to be Captain America, and represent a country that has treated him badly.

This storyline delved into some deep issues I’m not fully qualified to discuss. The super-soldier serum being tested on unwilling black men is too close to actual historical events for my comfort, frankly. If the popularity of this show does anything, I hope that it shines a much-needed light on some disgusting moments in our history.

As he comes to terms with helping a nation that has not helped him, Bucky’s going through a very different evolution.

He has done terrible things. He’s killed innocent people. And the fact that it wasn’t him committing these actions doesn’t matter to him. His body was used, he’s just as much of a victim as anyone. But he still buys lunch for the old man whose son he murdered as Winter Soldier.

These character arches are a big focus of the show, and I was thrilled to see this. We need more stories of growth and change. Yes, explosions are fun. Yes, aerial battles are awesome. But fiction is supposed to tell truths while telling lies. And I’m thrilled that such a mainstream, popular show talked about some hard truths. 

So, the takeaway for writers is this.

Write an antagonist who’s pure enough to be relatable, but still twisted and broken enough that you can’t root for them to succeed.

Write honestly about things that need to be talked about. 

Is there a show, movie or book that you’d like me to break apart and discuss why it works? Let me know in the comments. 

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Why Resident Alien Works

Premiering in January of this year, Resident Alien is based on a Dark Horse comic. Proving once again that some fantastic writers are working in comics. It’s funny, it’s emotional, and it’s on our table today. We’re going to break it apart and discuss why it works. 

The story is simple enough. An alien intending to blow up Earth accidentally crash lands. His ship and the device he needs to blow us all to small gooey bits are both broken. But not beyond repair. He can fix it and complete his mission. But first, he has to find all the pieces.

To do that, he has to pose as a human in a tiny town where everyone knows everyone. He kills a man and assumes his form. This would have all worked out fine, and the world might have been destroyed before we got a chance to do it ourselves. But he had the bad luck to have taken the form of Harry, the only doctor in town. After, that is, the current doctor died under mysterious circumstances.

A laugh riot!

Breaking this all down to its basic elements, we have all the good points for a story to hit. We have a main character with a clear goal. We have several obstacles in his way. Plot bunnies abound here, my friends.

The show took it several steps further, though. For one, it’s a blending of some genres we don’t see blended often. It’s SciFi, but it’s also sometimes a medical drama. But it’s also a small-town cozy murder mystery. Normally if a writer were to throw all those things at a story, I’d assume they lacked a compelling storyline in just one to carry the whole way through a season.

But that’s not the case at all. The way this story is constructed, the elements of each genre build on each other. They fit together like puzzle pieces. We wouldn’t care about who killed the doctor if we didn’t see Harry taking on his patents who loved the guy. We wouldn’t care so much about the medical aspects of a small-town doctor if we didn’t have that extra element of trying to figure out who killed the doctor and why. And both of these elements would be overused tropes if we didn’t have an alien pretending to be a doctor and looking up surgery procedures on Google.

But blending unusual genres is only part of the picture. As always, it comes down to the characters.

Take Harry. We really shouldn’t like the guy. As previously stated, he’s here to kill us all. So why do we like him? 

Part of it is that we all like a flawed character. He is selfish and socially stupid. But he starts getting better despite himself, surrounded by the positive influences of Asta and D’Arcy. When we see him move past his hatred of the little boy, Max and start to care about him, this endears Harry to us. This works in two ways. First, we all love a redemption story. But it also works because the people he interacts with are likable characters to start with. I loved Asta and her dad. I want to go drink with D’Arcy, even if I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t survive the experience.

Of course, this only works if the opposite is true. That is if we don’t like the antagonists. In this case, it’s a couple of deep-cover military operatives named Lisa and David. We should like them. After all, they are trying to save all of us by catching Harry. And, for the most part, we do like David.

But we don’t like Lisa. And that’s because, right away, she proves that she has no moral compass. Or if she does, it doesn’t work like other people’s. She has no issues with killing people, innocent or guilty because they threaten her mission. And even though her mission is for the good of all mankind, it doesn’t feel like that matters to her.

Lisa feels less human than Harry. She feels like a weapon, that could be pointed in any direction. 

So that’s why Resident Alien works. It blends genres, making them depend on each other. It endears us to a character that we shouldn’t like through growth and the great use of secondary characters. And it makes us hate people we should side with by painting them as cold and inhuman.

What did you learn from Resident Alien? 

Is there a show, movie, or book you’d like me to talk about in Why it Works? Let us know in the comments.

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Why 9 Works

Spoiler warning! We can’t break apart a movie like this without giving away its twist.

9 is a little heard of film from 2009. It’s a dark dystopian film about little dolls left over after all the humans are gone. 

In this version of the end of the world, we were destroyed by our machines. This movie would have fit very well in the Animatrix. 

Much of what made 9 enjoyable was the atmosphere. The artwork is bright and dark at the same time. The little dolls have some great detail that holds up even after twelve years. And I love anything cute and creepy.

But as a writer, that’s not something I can replicate. What I can learn from is the story. 

Now, I have to say, the plot of the movie leaves something to be desired. It’s a little all over the place. At different times 9, our main character, has very different goals. It certainly doesn’t fall into a three-act structure.

While this is disorienting, it’s also not terrible. It’s just what I’d consider experimental. 9 has a set goal in mind, save his friend from the horrifying cat machine who stole him. 

It was entirely shocking to me when he failed at this. I had no idea what was going to happen after that. Which is kind of awesome. It’s kind of fun to be disoriented in the same way it’s kind of fun to be scared. 

It’s also brave to have your main character just straight up fail to do something he’s been trying to do through most of the movie. It’s realistic. We fail sometimes, at really important things. And if art is to be honest, we need to show those failures. 

I loved that, even though 9 couldn’t save his friend, he wins in the end. Because that’s a lesson we should all learn. That even if we fail at really important things, that doesn’t mean we’ll keep failing. 

Writing is about lying while telling the truth. The lie is this whole dystopian story. The truth is that one failure, no matter how big, isn’t a deciding factor for the rest of your life.

Now, you know I have to talk about characters. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t like the characters in this movie at first. They all seemed one-dimensional. This character was brave, this character was angry. They all seemed to have no more depth than that.

But that’s the gimmick. Because these aren’t separate characters. It’s only at the end of the movie that we learn they’re all aspects of their creators’ personality. This floored me. But I love it.

The main takeaway is this. 9 did two things that, if the movie hadn’t done them just right, would have been awful. They changed goals halfway through the movie and they had a cast of one-dimensional characters. And yet the story wouldn’t have worked any other way.

What we learn from this is to break the rules of writing if you can do it well. We don’t just ignore these rules out of laziness. No, I’d say that this story took a lot more effort than if the writer had obeyed the rules to the letter. If we ignore them, it should be a conscious choice. It should be to tell a great story, rather than just a good one.

Is there a story you’d like me to break apart to see why it works? Let me know in the comments.

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Seven years of blogging. Let’s level up together

It’s been seven long years since I started writing this little blog. And I started preparing to write this post by reading all of my other anniversary posts. 

Every year in the past I’ve been surprised that I’ve kept writing. But after seven years, I think I’ll go ahead and keep writing. I’ve proven to myself that I can do hard things.

What continues to surprise me, and what I’m still deeply grateful for, is that you’re still reading. That there are still people who want to follow along this journey with me. Who want to learn, or at least be entertained by me.

I am humbled by this every single day. 

Seven years ago, the realization that people were reading things I wrote inspired me to keep writing. Now, you’ve inspired me to level up.

I want to be a better writer. I want to write better. Those might sound like the same thing, but they’re not. Let me break it down a little. 

To be a better writer means to be more disciplined. To practice more. To treat my art like art and my business like business. To spend less time on Instagram and more on writing practices. 

To write better is to produce better stories. To learn my craft inside and out. To understand language, word choice, grammar, and world-building in ways that I don’t now.

How exactly I’m going to do this is still in the planning stage. But I’m doing what anyone does to get better at anything. Learning and practicing.

I’m taking all of the writing classes on Masterclass. I’m re-reading books about writing that inspire me, like Wild Mind and On Writing. I’m reading Writer’s Digest from cover to cover. I’m listening to writing podcasts like Writing Excuses and Ditch Diggers. That’s the learning part.

I’m freewriting and doing daily exercises. I’m creating a dedicated Writer’s Notebook. I’m thinking more about word choice. I’m thinking about why stories work and why they don’t. I’m making lists. That’s the practice part. 

This is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I love focusing on the words. It’s the hardest goal I’ve ever made. There’s no damned ruler to measure my progress. 

I can enter contests, and I do. I can track how many people follow me here. I can track how much of my content sells. But those are all measurements that are dependent on the opinions of others. And that’s arbitrary. I can never control other people’s opinions. I can only write good stories. Which is, again, arbitrary. 

What constitutes a good story? I don’t know, but I know when I read one. So I’m on a mission to know. To understand. 

I don’t think I’ll have a set of rules that will tell me if my stories are getting better. But I do think that if I keep at it, I’ll have a better understanding. And I think I’ll enjoy my work more.

So let’s make a deal. Let’s, each of us, commit to leveling up our art over the next 365 days. It doesn’t have to be writing.

I’ll post blog posts that will hopefully teach you something. I’ll also post more short stories, so you can decide for yourself how I’m doing. And you commit to doing one thing every week to improve your art, whatever that means to you. 

Let’s meet back here in a year and see how we’re doing. 

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Meet the AA Characters, Joan

Meet Joan

Played by Eve

Moving is never easy, let alone moving with two little kids. But for Joan, the move was necessary. Even if she had to leave behind her home and most of her belongings. Even if she had to give up her job. Even if she has to live in the spare bedroom of a human she barely knows. 

It’s better than what’s hunting her and her children. 

The only trouble is that the thing hunting them followed. All the way to Peach Springs.

You can hear about Joan in the first season of AA, starting on September second.