The Rebellious Writer: I’m Taking a Break

No, I am not actually taking a break from blogging. Not a planned one anyway. You never know what could happen on Tuesdays…

If you are a writer, you know what Writers Block is. It is not an actual wooden block sitting on your fingers and cackling at your bleary eyes. This is much, much worse. A wall inside of your brain keeping you from the words. Or at least the good words. There are no ideas, nothing worth writing at all in your brain. Just a wall, taunting you with its despicable firmness.

And how do we get rid of Writers Block? “By writing of course!” Say the chirpy writers with a cute notebook in hand. “Just keep slogging away,” intone the serious writers dressed in black and a faraway look in their eyes.

I tried. The wall has been a constant companion in my journey as a writer, and I have chipped away at it, day after slogging day, hoping that someday I will reach the end.

Did I ever reach the end? Sometimes. I would also be five thousand words in to an unnecessary series of scenes that would need to be cut. The only reason they existed was to get me out of Writers Block. Cutting out all those words you just slaved over is depressing.

Or, if I was lucky enough to write words that kind of go with the story, they would have to be completely rewritten because they are, in all honesty, trash.

Yes I said trash, about my own writing. Don’t gasp so loud, I can hear you.

I don’t write well while I have Writers Block. Big surprise. The wall is just too intimidating, too big. And I got really sick of forcing the words to come. I know writing isn’t easy. But does it have to feel like torture?

So I stopped the torture. I stopped staring at the wall day after day and did something else entirely. I guess you could say I gave up. Which let me say right here and now was only possible because I don’t have a writing contract. No one is depending upon me to write thousands of words a week. Thank goodness!

I didn’t completely give up on my ridiculous novel, just took a really, really long break. I checked in on the wall every now and then, just to see if it was still there. Yep still big, yep still big, yep still… Hey, I’ve got an idea!

And just like that, the wall was gone. I was past Writers Block, and with a lot less headache than normal.

Sitting there and putting words on a page isn’t necessarily going to make Writers Block magically disappear. It isn’t The formula, just a formula. And I for one don’t find it useful.

Stories aren’t made up of formulas. They are made up of imagination, starry eyes, and something no one can put their finger on. Stuffing your story, and the creation of your story, into formulas will smother it.

So don’t. Don’t buy into the idea that you have to/must sit down and conquer Writers Block. Do your brain a favor and step back. Let your creative juices steep and simmer. Maybe you have been staring at the same black and white words for too long. Tried to wring something interesting from the same old ideas one too many times.

Get into the sunshine and see some color. Ideas don’t just come from other stories. They also come from sunshine and people and real life experiences. Take a break. It can be as long or as short as you would like. However I would recommend you stay away until thinking of writing doesn’t make you cringe inside. When you have an idea, when you are ready to pick up your story again, that is the time to come back.

So get out there and do something that doesn’t smell like writing!

In other news, I reached 101 followers on this little blog! Thanks guys, I never thought I would get this far. Honest.

Shaina Merrick

To Plan, or Not to Plan

I know, I know there is a blog post about plotting and pantsing somewhere on this blog (in fact you can find it here). But I am to the terrible middle of my novel, and I have to talk about this again!

Basically, I plotted the entiiiiiire story, in great detail. Down to who was falling in love with who at which time. Subplots, story beats, this beautiful outline had it all!

And then I forgot to look at the plot. And then my characters decided that their ideas were better than mine (glaring at you Terrence). So there I was, blithely writing along without looking at my plot. Just when I decided that I was at the midpoint I went and found my plotline and compared the two.

Cue me banging my head against my desk.

The story has meandered in and around the entire plot, sometimes missing plot points, sometimes finding them, and taking its sweet time to get to, in my plot, the second pinch point or a little bit before the midpoint.

Wut.

All that work, and I am not even at the middle yet?

Which got me thinking, is it even worth the trouble of plotting the entire story if I can’t follow it? Or won’t follow it. This plot has fallen to pieces as the story has meandered along.

There are things that I came across while I was writing that I think are better. Points that make more sense, scenes that I never would have thought up if I hadn’t written it. My story is stronger because I didn’t follow the plot. I hope so anyway.

So what the heck was the point of plotting it all out in the first place? Color coding did not guard against stray plot bunnies, bullet points did not fill in my glaring plot holes. There would be much more peace of mind, then and now, if I hadn’t created a plot that I now have to redo and wiggle around to fit where the story is going.

In this particular instance, I think it would have suited me much better if I had created a basic plot, with basic beats, that was easier to flex and wiggle when I went off the path. Now I wish I had a time machine to go back and tell myself not to bother with it.

All this to say, there is nothing like putting words on a page and figuring out what works with the characters and story the best. I didn’t know what worked for my story until I wrote it. Which I know is unthinkable to some of you. But there you go. I needed to write the story to find the plot for the story. Does it mean there will be lots (and lots and lots) of editing later? Yes, unfortunately. I will have to go track down all those plot bunnies and missing characters and put them back in place. But in the end, my story will be stronger for all that rambling and meandering.

Excessive planning did not work for this story. Perhaps it will for a different story. Maybe I will get better at following my own plot. But while I am dreaming, I would like calorie free chocolate.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: What’s in a Name?

I hate naming my characters. The whole process is a head achy bother. While some authors happily scour baby naming books for that perfect name, I flip through the pages with a scowl. And finding names that mean something in particular? That sounds like torture.

I didn’t used to be this way. A long time ago I slammed random letters together and made up all the names I pleased. In the ensuing years, I have either gotten wiser, or lazier. I haven’t totally decided which. But I never, even in those years, liked searching for a name.

Nowadays, if you listen to all the writers, names are one of the most important things about a character. For some authors, they don’t have the character until they have the name, and for others, it completes the character.

To all that I say phooey. Why name your characters? Ernest Hemingway didn’t in ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. His character had a name, that was used all of once. The rest of the time, he was known as the ‘old man’. And the other character was ‘the boy’. No names, but you knew who they were perfectly.

And have you ever had this conversation? “I really like this one character, he is so nice, and the one time he saved his best friends was epic. What was his name again?”

How many times have you forgotten a characters name, but you did like the character? Probably more times than you can count. What you remember is what he or she did and said.

In my own writing, I don’t name a character until it is absolutely necessary. When I have no other choice but to come up with a name. And then I might.

In all honesty, I wrote an entire novella without one single name. No one had a name, only descriptors. I don’t think any of my characters suffered from a lack of a name, they trotted along just as well without one.

So really, what is the importance of a name? It is not necessary for the character. They can develop just as well without one. And since I don’t really need one, I suppose I don’t need any of those special ones either. The ones that mean a billion things all at once that perfectly match my story. Ain’t happenin’ folks.

Though I suppose they can be helpful for the reader to keep track of who is who. But isn’t that what a descriptor is for?

Okay okay, in all seriousness, we probably shouldn’t drop names altogether. As much as I would like to. I think all our readers would revolt. My current novel would be a wash of pronouns and confusion.

I just wonder if they are truly the big deal some writers make them. They are not strictly necessary to the character or the novel.

Now if finding the perfect name for a character gives you a thrill, then don’t let me stop you! However, if you are anything like me, and naming people and things are a chore, let this blog post be your excuse not to. Or at least, to procrastinate it longer than you already have.

You’re welcome.

Shaina Merrick

The Tales of Lunnoor: One Night

Hello hello! I am back with another tale from the realm of Lunnoor. Not terribly much happens this story. But, well, I guess you will have to read it for yourself.

He turned the helmet over and over in his hands. The one oil lamp in the tent gave everything in the tent a golden glow, just barely keeping out the dark of the night.

Beldon touched the helm to his forehead. Two days of searching with a grumbling Lannie at his side, and this was all they had to show for it. One small bit of proof that Belissa had vanished into the fairy realms. His stout hearted sister, the one who faced every danger with a sword in her hand, coerced away by pixies. He should have been there, his aching heart cried. But he knew better. Someone had to stay to make sense of the chaos his father had left behind him. The elder took on the parents burdens, while the younger went off to war.

Beldon gently put the helmet back on his bedside table. This was all that was left of his family. The once illustrious family of Beldon reduced to a half rusted helmet and one son. And it would end with him. Some glorious battle he would find himself on the front lines, and on that day, he wouldn’t look back. Was else was there to do with a son who had lost everything?

  • * * *

“So what was I supposed to say?” Lannie paced back and forth in front of the kings throne. The lamp light pooled around her feet, she was walking through golden water. “He held the helmet like it was a lifeline, and sorry was not going to be enough!” She grabbed the hair on each side of her head and pulled. “I just stared at him like a loon, and hoped that a faerie didn’t come right at that moment.”

She spun on her heel to face the king, “What would you have done?”

“Some grief is too deep for words,” the king said with a sad smile. An opened letter lay on his lap, momentarily forgotten when his daughter stormed into the room.

Lannie released her hair, but she sighed and nodded. There should have been something she could have done. Hadn’t she seen family after family get the news that there loved one had died in battle? “How was this different?” She muttered and frowned at the king without realizing it.

Again and again she had found the words to say to grieving families. The ones who crowded at the door with smiles to receive a letter, only for their hopes to be killed by a single piece of paper. And then, when faced with one man in the forest, everything left her.

“Did you find the faerie gate?” The king asked. Lannie jolted from her reverie, and in her confusion answered before she thought.

“We did.” She winced and looked down at her toes. The one subject she had been hoping he would not bring up. “Though it doesn’t matter now, tomorrow we will be too far to send scouts, and we can’t spare an expedition.”

The one she and Beldon had been on was only sanctioned because the army needed a rest, and because he petitioned the king every day. Every, single, day. The only person who went to the king more was Lannie. Would that all change now that he had what he wanted?

“So it wasn’t destroyed?” The kings voice was gentle, which made it worse.

“We were close,” Lannie looked down at her dusty boots. “I could hear the whispers. I would bet my sword it was just around the bend in the stream.”

She trailed off. She loved her father, she would do anything for him, say anything for him. She took a deep breath and plunged on. “I drew my sword, ready to destroy the accursed thing. We were so, so close. Except I didn’t dare go alone, and Lord Beldon refused.” Lannie scowled as she pictured his grief stricken face, shaking his head no matter what she said.

“Why did he refuse?”

“He said he wasn’t ready,” Lannie growled. Her anger burned away all her earlier sympathy. “That now was not the time. And he wouldn’t move.”

Despite all her cajoling and convincing, she even yelled, and he stayed rooted to the ground, staring at his sisters helmet.

“Did you command him?”

Lannie squeezed her eyes shut, she didn’t want to see her fathers disapproving face. “I shouldn’t have. I was angry, and afraid that any moment the whispers would take him too.” She took a deep, shuddering breath. “I commanded, and he walked the other way.”

In the space of a moment, her angry words had cost her an ally. As soon as they had left her mouth, the words had tasted of ash, a taste that filled her mouth all the way back to camp. Beldon would never word with her again.

“Royalty is not a right to leadership,” the king began.

“It is an opportunity to serve,” Lannie muttered and slowly cracked open her eyes.

The king was not angry, though his eyes were sad, and that was worse.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I will go apologize.” Though it would nothing but appease her own conscience. Her and Beldon’s alliance was beyond any repair.

“Stay a moment and look over this map with me,” the kings rose from his throne and gestured to the large parchment map on the table. “Where is the faerie portal, do you think? And do the scouts need to be warned?”

  • * * *

Beldon unstrapped his sword and laid it on his cot. Then he paused, staring at it yet not seeing it. Lannie had wished for it to spill faerie blood. She did it every day, marching through the forest as if she could not hear the whispers. Could she not hear the voices that dragged down his geet and made his efforts seem useless?

He could hardly speak because of them in the forest, and she wanted to go farther. Beldon shook himself and began to unbuckle his leg braces. Their alliance was over. She would never consent to work with a man who heard every whisper. Who may someday follow in the footsteps of his father and sister.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: In Defense of Purple Prose

If you have been writing for any amount of time, you have most likely heard this phrase. Purple prose, the bane of every writers existence. A catch all word for any time an author is writing just for the sake of writing. There isn’t a reason for the paragraph or page (or chapter, looking at you Victor Hugo) of words and description. It is there because the author thought it sounded pretty.

Boring!

Or so they say anyway.

Writing advice now tells us to slash all bits of purple prose out of our writing, to take out anything that doesn’t have three different reasons to exist. Every phrase, every paragraph, must have a purpose other than to look pretty.

On the surface, the advice sounds great! Of course I don’t want to info dump, or to bore my readers with descriptions of characters and places that may or may not have anything to do with my novel.

But then I wonder, what would happen to a classic novel if I did that?

Far From the Madding Crowd would be a short story. O Pioneers would cease to exist. Both are chock full of lavish descriptions that only have loose ties to the story. Do those bits of purple prose have to be in those novels? Absolutely not, the story would go right along without them.

But so would half of their fans. We love those stories because of the descriptions, because of the way they were written, sometimes just as much as what was written. Can you imagine Fahrenheit 451 without the streams of thought and wonderings about the world? It would be a completely different story.

These stories were defined by their beautiful prose, and I think that if we took that out, those stories would cease to be beautiful as well.

The point of purple prose is to be beautiful. And when it shows up, it makes a story beautiful as well.

No no, I am not advocating info dumps, or random descriptions thrown in at random times. Unless of course you are Victor Hugo or Thomas Hardy, who can do whatever they want and still become famous.

What I am trying to say, is that prose is worthwhile. Writing for the sake of words is why we became writers in the first place. In essence, to write is to have a love affair with words. Prose is what makes our bare bones of a story into a work of art. The color in the picture.

Prose is where the voice of the writer comes into play. How you write descriptions and explain characters is uniquely your own. If you follow the bare minimum, your story will sound like a million other stories out there. Prose is what makes it stand out from all the rest.

So don’t be afraid of it. Throw in a bit of purple prose. Write because the words are pretty. If it ends up being too much, there is always the backspace.

Shaina Merrick

The Tales of Lunnoor: Lannie and the Brownie

Welcome back to the dangerous world of Lunnoor. Where Lannie meets a brownie, and hates him immediately. Enjoy!

“There’s a brownie in Lord Gabriel’s tent.” Lannie plopped down on the bench beside Emmy. Her friend paused with a forkful of pancakes halfway to her mouth. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

            Lannie drummed her fingers on the rough wood of the tabletop. “Nope. Lord Gabriel was wearing all of his clothes inside out and had no shoes on.”

            Emmy stuffed the forkful in her mouth and glowered at the rest of the mess tent, sparsely filled with a few early morning risers. The sun had just peered over the treetops when Lannie had seen Lord Gabriel. Emmy would have laughed at the ridiculous sight. Lannie just felt sick to her stomach.

            “It’s too early in the morning for this,” Emmy grumbled around another bite of pancakes. 

            Lannie rolled her eyes. “The sun is up, time to get to work.” She leaned around her friend to check for her bow. Good, Emmy was armed.

            “Breakfast first,” Emmy said. “Want some?” She held out a plate with a few pieces of pancake drowning in maple syrup.

            Lannie shook her head. “Eat fast.” They didn’t have time for this. Their only hope was that the brownie was alone. A whole family of them would drive the entire camp mad.

            “Considering how fastidious he is, the brownie must have been there for a while,” Emmy said thoughtfully before taking another leisurely bite.

            Lannie almost snatched the plate away from her. Could she eat any faster? “The creature has been in Lord Gabriel’s tent a month at least. He just joined camp a week ago.” That was her excuse for not noticing it until now. She had never been so close to swearing as when she had seen Lord Gabriel. Pixies, naiads, dryads, fine. She could battle them all day, warn against just obvious evils and people would listen. But brownies? Lannie scowled down at the table, scarred from countless meals.

            As soon as the danger was over, she was going to strangle Lord Gabriel. She stood up. “Come on, we need to go before our whisper-spelled lord decides that a sword sticking out of him is a good fashion choice.”

            Emmy shuddered, but she stood up. “Don’t make jokes like that, Lannie. It’s not funny.”

            Lannie bounced from one foot to the other. Why was Emmy moving so slow? “I wasn’t joking.”

            Emmy stretched, then rolled her eyes as she picked up her bow. “If you are in such a hurry, go get Lord Beldon.”

            “I tried, he’s still out on guard duty.”

            “This job wasn’t enough?” Emmy made a face. “That man is a glutton for punishment.”

            Lannie decided not to her tell her what she thought about him.

            A man with a familiar round face hustled up to clear Emmy’s plate. He beamed at the two of them even though Emmy had dripped syrup all over the table. “A brownie showed up today,” he shared cheerfully. “He is doing all the dishes for me! I haven’t had such a relaxing morning since I don’t know when.”

            Emmy’s jaw dropped. Lannie almost cursed for the second time that day. “You do know what they do to human hosts.”

            “Help them?” the man said hopefully, his smile fading a little.

            “First, they drive them mad; second, they convince their hosts to kill themselves.”

            The man leaned back, his round face looking more like a moon every second. “He would never,” he spluttered.

            “We will drop by your kitchen later,” Lannie promised and led Emmy away from the still spluttering man. No matter how attached he was to it, it was a faerie bent on his destruction, and it had to go.

            The sun had climbed above tree-covered hills. The new rays of the morning warmed the earth underneath it. Lannie took a deep breath of the invigorating, cool morning air. She was going to miss the foothills.

            “Now we have two,” Emmy sighed as they strode in step towards Lord Gabriel’s tent. “This just isn’t my day.”

            Lannie snorted. “Make it your day. Two brownies, patrol, and we have to pack. Tomorrow we break camp.”

            “Glorious!” Emmy’s fist pumped the air. “Goodbye, naiad infested streams! Where are we going?”

            “Two days into the plains,” The King had only just told Lannie this morning. “The Rebel has captured a strategic town.”

            “He has a name you know.”

            Lannie glanced at her friend. “His actions have made him unworthy of it.”

            Emmy was staring at her, compassion in her eyes. But she didn’t say anything else, just squeezed Lannie’s arm.

            Lord Gabriel’s tent was on the opposite side of camp from the mess tent, as well as about as far away from the King’s tent as you could possibly get. The walk gave them ample time to watch the beginnings of the breaking of camp. Boxes and barrels appeared out of nowhere to be stuffed with all the worldly possessions they had. The tents left unoccupied by the last battle would be taken down and distributed by their neighbors.

            Lannie turned her head away. She had already delivered too many condolence letters. There were enough tears in her memory to drown a dryad.

            There were two guards around Lord Gabriel’s tent, distinguishable even without its flag. Where had he bought such a bright orange cloth? Slouching guards with crooked helmets and half undone armor. Brownie work. One of them was eying his dagger in a way that made Lannie shiver inside.

            “Pull yourselves together,” she barked. The guards just eyed her warily, until the one in the center saw her badge. Then he snapped to attention. Lannie glared at the other one until he followed suit.

            “Messenger Lannie!” the one with the dagger greeted her. “Lord Gabriel is out at the moment, but I can pass along any letters.”

            He sounded too cheerful for someone with bags under his eyes.

            “No letters!” Emmy chirped from beside her. “We are here to fix your brownie problem!”

            “We don’t have a brownie problem,” The other guard said. Then sneezed, his helmet sliding forward over his mop of curly hair. “Ever since that brownie showed up, our job has been as easy as pie!”

            “You mean other than the nightmares?” Lannie asked blandly. “Or the incessant muttering in your ears that comes from nowhere and everywhere all at once?”

            The guard with the dagger shifted from one foot to the other.

            “I suppose you have also neglected to see Lord Gabriel’s outfit this morning.” The guards exchanged a look. “As well your friend here’s unfinished suicide note.”

            The guard with the dagger blanched, though his voice was angry. “How did you know about that?”

            The other guard gaped at his companion. “What?”

            She hadn’t wanted to be right about that. “You have a brownie,” Lannie said, though she tried to keep her voice gentle. It didn’t work well. “The rest comes from the territory.”

            “Let us do our job and your problems will be solved in no time flat!” Emmy cut in.

            The guards didn’t move.

            “Are you sure the brownie is the cause of our nightmares?” the guard with the dagger asked. His eyes glittered with hope. Good. A talk with the King and he would be alright.

            “Positive.”

            He stepped aside. The curly haired guard grunted, but the other shot him a look, and that was the end of that.

            When they stepped inside, the multiple open boxes of neatly folded clothes, as well as the made bed were just as Lannie expected them to be. Not a speck of dust anywhere inside the orange tent. Unless you counted the crumbs on the brownies face.

            The fat brownie stopped stuffing a roll in his mouth just long enough to squeak in surprise before darting under the bed.

            Lannie drew her dagger and marched to the far side of the bed. Emmy nocked an arrow to cover the near side. Months of working side by side took over. They didn’t need to speak to know what the other one was going to do.

            Emmy nodded to Lannie. On a silent count of three Emmy strode forward while Lannie dove underneath the bed, going headfirst into a nest of thread and food. Once inside its nest, the so-far-silent-to-her whispers began. The whisper song you could barely hear, but somehow still knew the words to. A haunting lullaby begging her to listen.

            Lannie ignored it and stabbed at the brownie. With a nest so close to Lord Gabriel’s head, Lannie almost felt respect for a man who had avoided insanity for so long. Almost.

            The brownie’s red eyes gleamed in the darkness. It hissed and batted away her outstretched dagger.

            “Get out!” she snarled. The brownie bared its pointy teeth at her. Why did all faeries have pointy teeth? Gurgling something, it took a swipe for her face. It was rewarded for its efforts with a gash on the arm.

            The brownie jumped away from her dagger’s range. That point happened to be just inside the range of Emmy’s bow.

            A solid thwack came from above. The gleam in the brownie’s eyes faded, and it slumped over, an arrow protruding out of its back. The whisper song ended.

            Lannie wiggled out of the nest. Emmy helped her to her feet.

            “Disgusting,” Lannie made a face and tried in vain to dust off the smear of frosting on her tunic. “Why anyone would want this thing in their house is beyond imagining.”

            Emmy shrugged and glanced around the pristine tent. “It would be nice not to have to clean my tent.”

            Lannie just stared at her. She couldn’t be serious. Under her fierce gaze Emmy threw her hands in surrender. “I was joking! You know what a joke is, right?”

            “I don’t joke about stuff like this.” There was no reply.

            On their way out, Lannie gave the guards instruction on how to dispose of the dead brownie. Her least favorite part; she would pull rank on it whenever she could.

            “Go talk to the King right afterwards,” she added at the end. “It will help with the nightmares.”

            The guard with the now-sheathed dagger nodded, his back already straighter now that the whispers had ceased.

            The curly haired guards looked away from her gaze, muttering something under his breath. One dream free night and they would both thank her.

            “Patrol?” Emmy asked hopefully as they walked back to the center of camp. “I think I prefer shooting naiads over brownies. They aren’t as round and furry.”

            “The kitchen brownie first,” Lannie said. She was going to cut off the infestation before it started. “I’ll stick it this time though.”

            Emmy sighed. “And then patrol?”

            “And then patrol.”

The moral of this story being if you see a brownie, run in the opposite direction. And don’t ever, ever feed one.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer and World Building

Conventional writing wisdom comes in many forms. What you read in articles, writing tips you find on Pinterest, and the advice you heard first hand from your writing partners. Put it all together, and you are told something like this.

‘Show, don’t tell. Unless it’s the backstory, then don’t show any bit of it. Though you have to plan the backstory, down to what your protagonists three year old self preferred for breakfast. You also need to plot out the backstory for all of your other characters down to the same excruciating detail. During this process, don’t forget to figure out the world while you are at it. Include as much history as you have time for. Typically at least five generations back.’

It goes on and on like this. ‘More is better’ is stuffed into every new writers brain. Detail is praised to the heavens, and if anyone dares to argue, a dozen authors swivel their heads around and glare at you. ‘Don’t you want to be a good writer?’ Uuuuum. Yes?

I could tell you that I have a naturally inquisitive mind, and like to consider all of my options before settling on one thing. In reality, I am rebellious. When conventional writing wisdom tells me I have to do something, I say ‘Ha!’ And go try to find my way around it.

Sometimes, I admit defeat and follow the advice. There is a reason some of it has been around for as long as it has. There is no way around those grammar rules guys. I tried, I succumbed, I am now teaching myself the secret language of grammar.

However! Story rules are not set in stone, and they are broken all the time!

For example…

There are those who say that you have to world build forever before you start writing. And by forever, I mean you have to know what has happened in your world for forever. Plan the legends, the races your characters will never see, and find out why the grass is green.

They have a point. Great epics like Lord of the Rings, and The Wheel of Time, have extensive world building. Those worlds are big enough to house multiple civilizations, and histories that are longer than ours. The hours and hours of world building I am sure they spent on their novels paid off. The world is breathtaking.

Here is the part where I raise my hand and say, ‘Wait!’

While world building is all well and good, you don’t have to do hours and hours of it to have an epic story.

Where are the legends of old in Narnia? There are some, a story here and there, but no where near the epics of the Wheel of Time.

What about the Prydain Chronicles? I don’t think the constellations are even mentioned, and as for legends. Not so much.

The world building in those two epic series is nowhere near as vast as the other series. And did the series suffer? No! Narnia is one of the classics we all study, and the Prydain Chronicles is called one of the founders of American fantasy. In fact, it is one of my favorite series ever.

They don’t have so much world building because they don’t need it. It wasn’t necessary to the story.

In The Wheel of Time, where every event is tied to the past and every character aware of the prophecies, not to have all that figured out and squared away would be silly. This series needed the lush, intricate world. Narnia did not.

More detail is not always better. If all the details given in Lord of the Rings was given in the Prydain Chronicles, the magic of those stories would have been lost.

Sure, you will always need some world building. You should decide if the grass is actually green in your world after all. But your story may not need pages upon pages of your worlds history.

You are not trying to make another Middle Earth. You are trying to build your world, where your characters will live and breath and have adventures. What does your world need?

Are your characters delving into the past to find a cure or a historic document? Then figure out your worlds history! Are your characters running for their lives in the mountains? Then by all means figure out in excruciating detail what plants grow there. After all, one of those plants might come in handy when you need to defeat the villain.

But if you are in the mountains for the whole novel, do you need to map out the eco system of the ocean? Or decide what the architecture is of the villages in the plains? No, no you don’t.

More detail is not better. Rather, the right detail is better. This isn’t going to stunt your novel, it is going to give it room to breathe.

Shaina Merrick

What do you think of world building? Do you do a lot? A little? I’m curious, am I the only one who dies inside everytime she looks at those sheets upon sheets of world building questions? (writer problems) Let me know in the comments below!

Book Review: O Pioneers!

I have to talk about ‘O Pioneers’, or I am going to go crazy. Let me rephrase that. I already have talked about this book to anyone who would listen, now I need to again or I am going to go crazy. Yep. It was that kind of book. I mean, how could you not talk about a book that has these kinds of quotes?

‘People have to snatch at happiness when they can, in this world. It is always easier to lose that to find.’

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O Pioneers! (1913) was Willa Cather’s first great novel, and to many it remains her unchallenged masterpiece. (I think I like it better than ‘My Antonia’, and I really liked that book) No other work of fiction so faithfully conveys both the sharp physical realities (to be honest, there are not that many of these harsh realities when you get past the first couple chapters.) and the mythic sweep of the transformation of the American frontier—and the transformation of the people who settled it. Cather’s heroine is Alexandra Bergson, who arrives on the wind-blasted prairie of Hanover, Nebraska, as a girl and grows up to make it a prosperous farm. But this archetypal success story is darkened by loss, and Alexandra’s devotion to the land may come at the cost of love itself. (have you read the book? Obviously not, because her cost was not love, not really anyway)

At once a sophisticated pastoral and a prototype for later feminist novels,
(Yeah, right.) O Pioneers! is a work in which triumph is inextricably enmeshed with tragedy, a story of people who do not claim a land so much as they submit to it and, in the process, become greater than they were.

Don’t you love how there is an exclamation mark in the title? It makes the book sound so cheerful and upbeat. To that I say Ha! No no. It was not a tear jerker. But it wasn’t a enjoyable lark through the countryside either.

What I first noticed about this book was how I wanted to write everything. Every quote, every line. I wanted all of it saved forever it my notebook. But if I did that, I would just be copying the whole book word for word, and I already have the book so… The writing was beautiful, no, it was achingly gorgeous. Honestly, I would have read the whole book just for the prose alone.

But the prose wasn’t the only thing worth reading in this book. There were also characters.

This is the book that I want to shove underneath all writers noses and say, ‘This is how you write realistic characters.’

Willa Cather created characters underneath her pen that almost jumped off of the page. I could see them move and breath in my minds eye. Their strengths, weaknesses, foibles and pet peeves. They were all there for the world to see. What I think made each and every character so imminently real was their weaknesses.

While I can not read the authors mind, it seemed to me that Willa Cather did not set out to make you like her characters. She seemed to care less really. It was more like she was focusing on showing you her characters in all of their glorious mistakes. Did it matter that they were all people with blind spots and foibles? No, it didn’t. Despite every failing, I loved them anyway.

The character that the entire story is woven around is Alexandra Bergson. She inherits the farm from her father because he knows that she can run it better than her brothers. And she does. Her farm becomes the most well off in the entire county. She is hard working, diligent, cool headed, and smart. But in the novel what characterizes her most is her love for the land. She loves this Nebraska land that is so hard to farm, and after a while, you wonder if the land knows it, and so blesses her in return. She loves it, and so it loves her.

The other characters in this novel act out a play of love and loss on the backdrop of her steadfastness. She has one love, the land, and one goal, to live on the land. The rest are action to her stillness, the passion to her calmness.

Plot wise, I would not recommend this book to anyone who must have an action plot where things are happening all the time. For one thing, this small book reaches through decades of living to tell its story. For another thing, there is much introspection allowed to the characters. Things happen, and sometimes things happen quickly, but there is always ample time for the characters to think about, and react to, that particular action.

Inside the book events build and become more intense, everything is straining at the seams, until the world snaps in a single moment, and everyone is left stunned.

I will let you read the book to figure out what that event is *evil laugh*

On the whole, I would recommend this book to anyone who liked ‘My Antonia’, and to those who enjoy slower stories with rich characters. Though I would hesitate to recommend to anyone younger than thirteen, because while nothing is explicit, a couple of the things the book deals with are not for the young.

Enjoy!

Shaina Merrick

Know the Novel Link Up: It is Written (mostly)

Nanowrimo is over! Somehow, I survived. I lost my sanity and my brain somewhere around week three, and still have to catch up on sleep (though is that even possible?).

Also, I won!!! I somehow managed to scrape out 50,000 words in the month of November. Even with an epicly slow plot, Thanksgiving, and interruptions every two hundred words. Some evenings…

To celebrate such epicness, I am doing the last part of the ‘Know the Novel Linkup’ by Christine Smith. A great link all about your nano novel, or your current work in progress! This last link up is ‘It is Written’. Or half written, as the case may be.

If you would like to join the link up, you can here!

Know the Novel Part Three: It Is Written

1. Firstly, how did writing this novel go all around?

Ummmm… Terrible for the first third of the month, okay for the middle third of the month, and great for the last third of the month! I got into a groove with writing, and finally got to the bits I was excited for. Yay snarky character relationships! I am pleased with where the novel is going, and I can’t wait to write the next half!

2. Did it turn out like you expected or completely different? And how do you feel about the outcome?

In some ways, it turned out the way I expected. No new characters or plot twists. However, some of my characters are exhibiting strange new tendencies and depth that I am simultaneously liking, and wondering how on earth to deal with. No new love stories or anything. But unexpected friendships, moral dilemmas, and conversations. Overall, I like the unexpectedness. I think every bit that surprised me ended up being some of the stronger parts of the novel. So, yay!

3. What aspect of the story did you love writing about the most? (Characters, plot, setting, prose, etc.)

Characters!!! I love Kerina and Terrence’s relationship, and their growing shipness (we are pretending that is a word). I also love the beginnings of the threesome Nerl, Kerina, and Terrence. Nerl likes Kerina, though she is terrified of him; Nerl and Terrence have a sort of friends but mostly enemies relationship. Alllll the snark, mostly from Nerl. Which is nice because he is the only one in this novel who is. Heaven help all my serious characters…

4. How about your least favorite part?

Subplots. They sounded like such a good idea at the time, and now they are so frustrating! Trying to balance them all, and remember them all, is hard! I am consistently forgetting some plot thread or other and having to go back and find them again.

5. What do you feel like needs the most work?

Pacing. Blegh. my beginning is too slow, and then finally stuff happens, and then it got slow again, and now stuff is happening again! When I edit, there is going to be many, many scenes cut out because all they do is, well, give me a word count. Yeah. During Nano I have a tendency of putting in random dreams and scenes because I don’t have any more ideas and I needed two hundred words an hour ago!

6. How do you feel about your characters now that the novel is done? Who’s your favorite? Least favorite? Anyone surprise you? Give us all the details!

Technically, my novel isn’t done yet. I got about halfway in 50,000 words, and now have to write the last half. Eheh. This novel will never end…

My favorite character is Terrence. I like being in his head and writing things from his perspective. He is so interesting! Though Kerina is slowly growing on me. She is learning stuff, and I think I am getting better insights into her character.

My least favorite character is… Do I have to choose one? I kinda like ’em all. Though, Akel is being irritating. He isn’t very nice to the rest of my characters, and sometimes he is very hard to keep in line!

7. What’s your next plan of action with this novel?

Finish it. Write The End on a novel that has been in the works for years. And this time, I will do it! It will be finished! So says the procrastinating writer who already has a couple more ideas now that Nano is finished. *headdesk*

After that, time to edit! Which includes ripping out half the beginning and starting my novel someplace else entirely. And cutting out that weird dream, that was not a good day of writing, let me tell ya.

8. If you could have your greatest dream realized for this novel, what would it be?

Get it published. This is the first novel I have written that I think could be publishable material. It is interesting, needs lots of work, but the characters are slowly popping up off the page. If I do it right, this novel could be worth pursuing publication for. And that would be really, really awesome.

9. Share some of your favorite snippets!

Valon said something, but at that moment Terrences attention had been arrested by something else entirely.
There was a girl laying on the grass. A girl. When was the last time he had seen one? Maybe it wasn’t a girl. She had flowers in her hair and looked for all the world like an elf that had been transplanted to the forest.

There was a rustle above his head, then a thud at his side as the tree deposited a grinning Kerina. Her braid was covered in leaves and twigs sticking out at odd angles from her head.

“How did the biscuits taste this time?” She asked with a smirk. “I think I finally found a charm that keeps them from burning.”

He hadn’t eaten dinner yet. Now that she mentioned it, the smells coming from thirty odd plates was overwhelming. Not that he was going to tell her that.

“What is the charm?” He asked instead.

Kerina tapped the side of her nose with a mysterious air. Then shrugged and grinned again. “I don’t know, they just worked out this time.”

Terrence blinked, was she teasing him?

“You should try one,” Kerina added airily before turning around and walking off to who knew where. She was definitely teasing him.

And my favorite…

‘These buttons were going to be the death of him. Maybe he should just stuff them in his pocket and pretend bare hands were all the fashion in Valai. They were, as long as you didn’t count the court. Which could be wearing rags for all he knew.

“Wretched things, aren’t they?” Terrence looked up to a lady in a green dress floating towards him. She took his glove and began to do the buttons for him. He almost jerked away, ladies of this court were too forward. He didn’t even know this woman, and she presumed to do his buttons for him. Then she spoke again. “Minnie had to help me with them. With all the ribbons and things they have to look pretty, they should invent things so that you can get dressed in them yourself.”

There was one person who talked like that. Kerina. Even if Terrence had wanted to move, his feet were stuck to the floor as he looked down at her hair. It was fixed with ribbons woven in and out of her brown, glossy hair. He had never noticed how well green and brown went together.

Her dress swished against his boots. Silk, how well she looked in it. Just like a lady of the court. As if she belonged here.

She finished the buttons and looked up at him. Any thanks was stuck in his throat. Her green eyes were iridescent. He couldn’t look away, couldn’t step back. There must be something to say. All words had left his mind, except three.

“Good evening Kerina.”

10. Did you glean any new writing and/or life lessons from writing this novel?

I am a faster writer than I thought. When I started Nano I was under the impression that I am a slow writer who creeps along at a snails pace. When in fact, I can write a thousand words an hour. (yes yes, some of you are sniffing at such a small number, but it was news to me!)

No, I am not a steady writer. I write in spurts of creativity followed by a few minutes of staring into space. Or fifteen minutes, depending on the day. Even this blog post has been written in increments. But those increments add up, and I was finding that I could write two thousand words a day no problem (ish).

I also learned that my peak creativity is at about 4:00, 4:30, and at 7:00. Go figure, I am an evening writer. Not a late night writer, because at about 9:30 my brain decides to turn into a pumpkin and I run out of ideas.

There you have it folks! Another successful Nano under my belt, and a scrap of sanity left to spare. Yay! Despite what I did learn about how much I can write and when, I was still left drained. My creativity has all been sucked up by my novel. To rest, and to renew that creativity, I am taking a hiatus from most writing for a couple of weeks. You will probably hear from me sometime around Christmas, or right after, and then it will be back to your regularly scheduled blog posts in January.

Have a great holiday season!

Shaina Merrick

How You Should End Your Novel

Endings. How I love to hate thee. The bane of my existence, yet the reason what I read book after book. Maybe it is because I love endings so much that they scare me so much when I am writing them.

Honestly, ending anything longer than 150 words terrifies me. I long for a WIP to end even as I am avoiding thinking about it. And now you are wondering why on earth I should be writing a blog post about it.

Because I am opinionated! And where else should I air my opinions then my blog?

Well, also because I have given this a lot of thought. Especially when I read a book that leaves me unsatisfied and grumpy when I finish it. Aspiring authors, never leave your reader feeling grumpy. They may never come back.

So welcome to How You Should End Your Novel.

Step One

An end is not The End.

Endings are not just two words saying The End. If it was, no one would ever do it wrong and you would never hear anyone complaining. Since there seems to be so much complaining about book endings in the world, there must be a right way to do them and a wrong way to do them.

We will be discussing the right way to do them. At least, the right way according to me. Other opinions may vary.

Your ending will dictate the course of your entire novel. Whether your character goes right instead of left. Why your mentor says the things he does. Basically, your entire novel is foreshadowing the end. Your job is to hint to the reader how your story is going to end, and it is up to your reader to first see, and then interpret those hints accordingly. If your hints point to a completely different ending then you have planned, your readers will end up feeling jipped.

Mystery stories are the master at this. Every single detail points to the solution to the mystery, and the end of the story. Yes, there are red herrings. The flashy hints that catch the readers attention. However, if every hint you have is a red herring, the reader will end up being frustrated and may slam the book shut out of puzzlement and never pick it up again.

The best writers are weaving subtle, real hints along with their red herrings. If you have a well done plot twist, the reader will be surprised, and then look at the book and realize that the right answer was there the whole time.

Step Two

Happy ending or no happy ending?

This is not a question to take lightly. As we have established, your answer to this question will determine every step of your novel.

For sanity’s sake, please do not throw in a tragic ending just for the sake of a tragic ending. Or because of the shock value. That is a terrible way to decide which ending to have. Terrible.

I have read a story where you are rooting for the main character the whole time, and then he dies. I was left wondering what the point of the story was, and if there was a point at all.

If you have tragedy, there must be a point, a reason. If you have happiness, there must also be a point.

Let’s look at it this way. What if Hamlet had been a happy ending? He got his revenge, the girl, and everyone lived happily ever after. While that is what I was hoping for during the play, if I had gotten what I had wanted, the play would have fallen flat. The entire point of the play was to show the affect of Hamlet’s father’s murder. How one murder turns into two, then three, and on and on. How one terrible decision leads to another terrible decision. Tragedy fit the tone and point of the play.

How about Pride and Prejudice? What if everyone had died in the end? We would hate that book until our dying days for one thing. For another thing the book would have no point whatsoever. The entire story is about finding love and overcoming pride. If the characters never overcame their pride and died, well, we would get an entirely different message. The tone of the book fits the end, the end fits the book.

Choose an ending that fits your book. And don’t be afraid of happy endings.

I think many people believe that authors are afraid of tragedies. Of killing characters and making readers unhappy. Perhaps that is the way it used to be, but at the moment I see more and more authors toying with tragedies, unwilling to give their characters happy endings unless everything else has gone wrong and they have worked really hard for it. Basically a book where everyone dies except for the love interest and the MC who magically stay alive.

Meh.

No, you should not just hand out happy endings like cookies. However, it is fine for people to be happy in your books. If they have worked hard for it, they deserve a happy ending. Lots of people are happy, lots of people have happy endings in real life. Lots of people also have tragic endings in real life. Either way, your ending should be true to your book.

Step Three

Tie up thy plot threads

This is not a suggestion. Let me repeat myself, THIS IS NOT A SUGGESTION!! There is not much in a book that bugs me more than loose plot threads the writer didn’t bother to find and tie up. At the moment, we are not talking about books within a series, we are talking about stand alone’s and the end of a series. The places where you have to search for every stray character and account for them.

Remember step one? Just because you slap a The End on your novel does not mean it is finished. You should have been foreshadowing this end since chapter one. Now consider every hint you have given to be a solemn promise to the reader.

Have you foreshadowed character one and character two falling in love? They had better go on a date by the end of your novel! Did you hint that character one is going to fall off a cliff? Find a cliff and dump him off of it before finishing your novel. By the way, red herrings are tied up when they are revealed to be red herrings.

If you give a hint, a.k.a. a promise, that has not been fulfilled by the end of the story, your reader will be left feeling unsatisfied. This includes any mysteries like backstory and world building stuff. Unless you have a really good reason why not to explain something, explain it. Give your reader the satisfaction they are reading for.

Quick Rant: Wrapping things up has a subcategory called fulfilling all of your prophecies. If you have a huge prophecy at the beginning of the book that is supposed to guide the entire plot, please, please fulfill the prophecy. There are clever ways to get out of killing your character, but honestly, if you want your hero to leave, don’t prophecy his death. That red herring is so old it isn’t even red anymore. Quick Rant Over.

There you have it. A three step process to finishing your novel well. Good luck finishing all your Nano novels!

Shaina Merrick