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

Know the Novel Linkup: Part Two

This is the story of how I died. Also the story of how I can’t remember much about November except the fact that I have written so, many, words. As of at this moment I am at 30k. Whoo! Not totally sure how I made it, but, hey I’m here so why not have some fun.

Christine has posted the next part of her Know the Novel Link up! You should totally join if you are doing Nano, or if you have a WIP you want to showcase! Go check out the details here!

And now for…

Within Valai

1. How’s the writing going overall?

Bwahaha! You mean how the story is actually going? Or how I am feeling about it? Cause… There have been a few days where I wanted to throw my story out the window and never write again!

Confession, I hate writing beginnings. It isn’t the first line that bothers me so much as the first 20 pages. Yup. Writing those few twenty is like pulling teeth. It is awful and it happens every. Single. Nano. I actually ended up completely stopping one day and going to another project altogether because I hated my story so much.

But I did come back. I did make it through those first twenty pages, and I am enjoying my story again! I am suspiciously thinking that my main problem was that I started my story in the wrong place. Namely way too early. Because now that things are actually happening it is fun!

So, I guess overall it has been good, and I like where the story is going so far.

2. What’s been the most fun aspect about writing this novel so far?

Terrence and Kerina! Their interactions are the absolute best. My favorite scenes are when the two of them are together. I have to work really hard to make sure that my whole book is not just the two of them talking…

Their relationship has begun to take on a life of its own. AND I LOVE IT! It isn’t quite what I expected, but it is more than I had hoped. Terrence loves to spend time with her, but while Kerina likes his company, she also spends every moment terrified that he will learn her terrible secrets. So all the subtext behind what they say and the hidden emotions are just so fun! And their banter, and the way Kerina is like the only person able to make him laugh and… Yeah, I should move on now.

3. What do you think of your characters at this point? Who’s your favorite to write about?

Kerina is finally becoming a regular person! Yay!!! Ever since I started this story sooo many years ago, Kerina has always been my trouble child. I found it hard to latch onto her motivations, her emotions, and basically everything about her. She just always felt so flat. And I couldn’t find a way to bring her to life. Now, that is not to say that I have finally found the perfect piece that totally brings her to life, she is still a little flat and totally angsty and girl would you please lighten up?! But it is getting there. She feels more like a real character than she ever has, and I might actually like her now!

Terrence is a bit different than I expected him to be. A little less preoccupied with stuff and more focused on the here and now. I had created him to be a bit more introspective, but he refuses to spend hours thinking about stuff. Soooo. Yeah. He is still my favorite though! I love spending time in his head, and his chapters are always waaay longer than Kerina’s. (oops.) He is so much easier for me to write. I dunno, the words just flow easier. He has also become more fleshed out in this draft, and is more like a living breathing person than this weird ink and paper doll.

4. Has your novel surprised you in any way?

Considering how much planning I have done for this, one would think that nothing would catch me by surprise. Well. I still was.

They have all been little things though. Little nuances of characters here and there are different then the way I expected them to be (looking at you Kerina). My first plot point may have ended up being something different, and an event I thought would be a huge deal ended up not being such a big deal after all. Ya know, normal writer problems.

5. Have you come across any problem areas?

You mean other than wacky characters, plot holes, and terribly slow beginnings? Um. I am beginning to realize that some of my side characters, and all of my side plots, and not as fleshed out as they should be this far along in my novel. As in they have barely made an appearance. Too many characters, not enough brain space.

I am going to try to give my characters some more screen time, esp. the ones who come more into play later. But I have a feeling that all of those are going to have to be fixed during the editing stage. (sorry future self) Ah well, Nano drafts are supposed to be messy, right?

6. What’s been your biggest victory with writing this novel at this point?

Kerina is not a paper doll! After so long with struggling to find this character, I love that I have begun to see into her character. Though less bubbly than I imagined her, she has become more convoluted and interesting, while still keeping to a more artistic personality.

She is less of a puzzle to me than she was before I started. If that is the only thing that happens during Nano, those thousands of words will be worth it.

7. If you were transported into your novel and became any one of the characters, which one do you think you’d be? Would you take any different actions than they have?

I would be Kerina. Hands down. Though I wouldn’t say we are exactly alike. She is the only girl in the novel so… Yeah. (I am still trying to decide if that is a problem) We also share a rather important trait. We both worry waaay too much. Worry about what other think of us for the most part. She is terrified that if anyone else finds out who and what she is they will hate her. So she has built up a mask to show to the world, hoping that they will accept her.

If I was her, I think I would worry less and do more. But maybe I am just kidding myself and I would still worry too much.

8. Give us the first sentence or paragraph then 2 (or 3!) more favorite snippets!

Phooey. Consider yourselves lucky because I never share my unedited stuff. *deep breath* Here we go! (please excuse any weird grammar, I try but…)

‘If they were lost, then Terrence had failed. Again. Or he was reading the map spread out on the table in front of him wrong. He glanced at Colen and Wizard Gyre. If either of them were confused, it wasn’t showing on their faces. Maybe the squiggles and lines made sense to them, while he was wracking his brain trying to remember map class all those years ago. Was that one of the ones he had skipped?’

‘Terrence scrambled up the hill that guarded the end of the valley. The place where mountains made way for the plains. He couldn’t reach the peak fast enough. The rest of his men were far behind, their steps slowing as they reached the extent of their territory. The moment familiarity ended and the unknown began.

A few more steps. He could see his goal. Stumbling over a rock, Terrence reached the summit. There it was. The sight he had been dreaming of. Stretched out before him was the plains of Sunlight. Nothing but grass reaching out towards the horizon. The horizon. The place sky reached down to touch the land, its blue arc glorious to see.

An unfelt wind swept over the prairie, bending the tall grass to show their golden sides to the sunlight. Sunshine from above meeting sunshine from below.

He sighed, this was home.’

‘“When was the last time you saw the plains?” Kerina asked.

“A week after Torroc came to power,” Terrence replied. He had entered the mountains for the first time with Gyre as a mourning boy who dreamed every night of his sister and of flames. Only the smallest hope of coming back kept him going.

Now he was leaving with a battalion of men at his back, and a way to take back his country. Something he had barely hoped for all those years ago.’

9. Share an interesting tidbit about the writing process so far! (For example: Have you made any hilarious typos? Derailed from your outline? Killed off a character? Changed projects entirely? Anything you want to share!)

I have not actually killed off a character as of yet. I have had a bad habit of that lately, so I am very proud of myself!

So, I think I mentioned earlier that I took a day off because I couldn’t stand the sight of my story anymore. Well, during that day off I went a finished a novella that I have been writing for months. I had tried to finish it before Nano, but it hadn’t worked out. I took that day to finish my novella. Finishing that gave me the momentum I needed to get back into Valai and chop half a chapter so that I could get back to the story I wanted to write. Let me just say that there were many, many words written in those two days.

‘Valai’ isn’t actually the title of my story. It doesn’t have one. But since I needed to call it something I decided to give the name of the country the book is set in to the novel. Because to be perfectly honest, the only thing I hate more than beginnings is having to title things. So until further notice, my story is called Valai.

10. Take us on a tour of what a normal writing day for this novel looks like. Where do you write? What time of day? Alone or with others? Is a lot of coffee (or some other drink) consumed? Do you light candles? Play music? Get distracted by social media (*cough, cough*)? Tell all!

I work every morning from 8:00 to 1:30 so needless to say, I don’t write in the mornings. I try to write as soon as I can in the afternoons. But lunch comes first. Then a couple life things like do laundry or something like that. So often I don’t get started until 4ish. (awful I know) I also have to work myself up to a writing session so sometimes I procrastinate a little too much.

I will write for a while, have dinner, then sit down and write some more! I try to finish writing by about 9:00, 9:30. Well, I tend to run out of ideas by then and am ready to wrap up so I can go to bed. Like I said, I work in the mornings so a good nights sleep is really helpful!

I have my water bottle nearby and music going most of the time. Though I might try writing without music today, because sometimes I get more done if I don’t have that distraction. Other than that… I write alone, with my sister, I write at the dining room table, on the couch, on my bed, wherever the mood strikes me that day! I will say that some of the best writing times have come at the dining room table. (don’t ask why I don’t know)

Phew! That was more than you probably wanted to know about my trial and tribulations while trying to write 50,000 words in a month. Unfortunately, I will not be finished with this novel by then. It has decided to turn into a monstrosity that will most likely be around 100k by the time it is finally done. (somebody help me)

How are you all’s Nano’s going? Or if you aren’t doing Nano, how is your lovely stress free November going? 🙂

Shaina Merrick

The Tales of Lunoor: Extra Tales

Was anyone wondering what exactly happened to poor Belissa, Lord Beldons sister? Well here you go. Just remember what happens to curious minds…

The echo of a pixies giggle was the first sign that she had gone where no wise man dared to tread. The soldier ignored the sign and trudged on. Her heavy boots sunk into the moist earth with every determined step. She kept her fists clenched tightly at her mail clad sides. Refusing to touch the mossy sides of the trees, to raise her fingers to the golden rays of the sun that filtered through the leaves to the forest underneath.

A breeze sighed through the underbrush and wisped her hair around her face.

“Come, “ It whispered into her ear. “Come with us and be happy. “Be free.”

She shut her ears to the voices that couldn’t hurt her. Ignoring the second sign.

Another breeze tousled hair flattened by a helmet long since tossed aside. Joining her sword on the forest floor. Both relics of a war she had left behind forever.

She stepped over a clear, chuckling stream. Keeping her head up so as not to see her grimy dirt streaked reflection. The marks of a battle she had fled from.

The air she breathed into her lungs was heavier on this side of the stream. Every heave of her chest took a little more effort. It was only that she had been walking for so long. But she refused to sit on the grassy bank. She could rest when the war was far enough away to be but a distant memory.

She was the only sign of war in the forest. The trees were still unbroken, the ground unmarked by hundreds of stomping feet. Marching off to yet another battle in the never ending war.

There was one battle weary soldier here, one who batted aside chattering pixies like flies. Flies didn’t dare enter this part of the forest.

“Come,” The pixies coaxed deaf ears. “Come with us. Come be happy.”

“I could use some happiness,” the soldier said unknowingly. Unable to hear the triumphant laughter of the pixies who flew ahead of her to ready the path.

The trees grew in twisted shapes here, unlike the straight trunks of the forest behind her who reached up to the sky in joy.

Faces appeared in the nooks of the crooked limbs. Smiling and winking at the heedless woman.

The air underneath the trees was close and warm. The woman stopped to remove her armor, leaving the worn and dented metal underneath a tree, alongside another pile of armor long since rusted beyond repair.

“It didn’t do me much good anyway,” The woman said with a shrug, walking with a spring in her step. “A war can’t make me happy.”

“Come with us instead,” The faces in the tree cooed. “We will make you happy.”

“The King didn’t make me happy either,” The woman told herself, beginning to walk alongside a whispering stream. Her next sentence was muffled. “All he asked us, his ‘loyal soldiers’,” she spat out the words. “To do was fight in a civil war. To uphold a promise he made to defeat the Rebel and undo the evil he has caused.” The dryad in the stream murmured her sympathy. The soldier kicked a stone that squealed as it bounced away. “I can’t believe I bought into that.”

“Come,” The dryad lifted her white head from the water. Beckoning with long fingers and a charming, sharp toothed smile. “We will right your wrongs. Come.”

The woman plodded along the stream.

Fluttering wings announced the pixies return. They teased her hair and tugged at her clothes with their tiny hands. The woman sighed out the last bit of the determination in her eyes. The steel in her gaze  fading to a dull eyed stare. The dryad laughed in delight and splashed back into the stream.

The faces in the trees crawled out onto the branches and chattered from their perches, “Keep going. You are almost there. Come and be happy!”

“Be happy,” The soldier muttered in response. The pixies fingers tugged more insistently. The naiads spoke louder. The dryad laughed longer. All fell on deaf ears. The soldier’s eyes saw only the path in front of her. The grins and sly winks going unheeded.

The soldier stumbled on to a chorus of faeries whispering, “Come, come and be happy.”

“Be happy,” the soldier repeated, stumbling over a log who glared at her retreating back.

Tripping over another stone, the soldier stumbled into a sudden clearing. The chorus of shrill voices stopped. The pixies flew away, the golden sunlight reflecting off their wings in sparkles of gold. The woman blinked in the bright sunshine that put every leaf and tiny blade of grass in sharp relief.

The bubbling stream went silent as it made its way to the center of the hidden meadow. Pooling at an old stone archway.

The stones of the archway were covered in wet moss. The cloud of sparkling pixies guiding the soldier alighted there. All silently watching the woman.

The dryads head lifted out of the water just before the pool. She grinned, a fierce smile copied by the carvings peeking through the moss warning the woman of the place no soldiers ever dared to touch.

The dryad beckoned to the woman who lurched forward to the archway. Barely heeding when she splashed into the pool.

Now the view through the arch revealed itself. A castle stood on a faraway hill, its flag waving proudly in the wind that rustled the treetops of the forest below.

“Home,” The woman whispered. She sloshed through the pool, eyes so focused she did not heed the lack of sound. She stretched out her arm to touch the place destroyed long ago.

A spindly hand grabbed her ankle in a vice. The woman frowned and tried to lift her foot. She looked down at the grinning dryad. A film fell from her eyes and she beheld her faeries guides for the first time.

A gasp tore from her lips as she reached to her side. Her fingers grasping empty air where her sword used to be.

A giggle came from the dryad. Echoed by the pixies that rose as one into the air. The woman’s gaze went again to the archway. Yet it too had revealed its true self.

Thorns and darkness awaited her beyond the mossy stones. Darkness full of grinning eyes and glinting teeth. The woman recoiled from it, but the dryads hand stayed firm.

“No!” The woman wailed. “No! Let me go!”

“Come with us,” The dryad chortled. “Be happy!”

“Be happy!” The pixies repeated, flying over her head. Little hands were placed on the woman’s back and hundreds of little wings fluttered.

The woman flailed for the carven stones, reading their warnings even as her hands slipped on the moss. Her shriek echoed through the meadow. But there was nothing to stop her fall into darkness. The faeries laughed. The arch had claimed another life.

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Shaina Merrick

To Begin

One of the most important bits of any story is the beginning. The part that convinces a reader to keep reading, or to shut the book and move on with their lives. The blank page that keeps writers trapped in fear. We know beginnings are important, we know they must portray character, setting, plot, and tone all without info dumping, we know that a good beginning will keep readers, a bad beginning will deter them. As writers, we are acutely aware of all of this. And that awareness keeps us frozen, staring at the empty page and waiting for the perfect words to begin our stories.

It doesn’t have to be that hard. Don’t laugh, yet. Beginnings have the possibility to be easy. Well, easier anyway. Now, I am no expert on this. On anything to be perfectly honest, but I do have an idea of what a good beginning is, and what a good beginning isn’t.

It all boils down to a couple of questions to ask yourself as you are settling down to begin your epic novel.

What is the most important part of this story?

Don’t tell me the characters. You haven’t thought about it yet. Think about it. What, in your book, is most important? Is it the plot? Is it the setting? Is it the theme? Or is it your characters? When you have answered that question, you know what to showcase in the beginning. If your setting is the most important part of your story, you will most likely want to start with a description of said setting (don’t scoff, many classic novels start out with description). If it is your plot, get that plot started right away!

Cut straight to what is important and leave out the fluff.

Is this story plot driven or character driven?

For the sake of this post, we will not be discussing the differences and potentials of each kind of story here. Suffice to say that plot driven stories rely on the plot to drive them forward, character driven stories, the characters.

If your story is going to be plot driven, you will want the plot to start off with a bang. Plop your reader in the midst of a gun fight, have the inciting event start two pages before the novel begins. However you do it, make sure events are happening from page one. This is a plot story after all, there isn’t time to be introspective.

If you have a character driven story, you will, most likely, start at more of a leisurely pace. Your inciting event can start a few pages down the road. Breath, introduce your readers to the characters they will be hanging out with for a few hundred pages. Don’t worry if things seem a little slow at first. Just worry if they stay slow when they aren’t supposed to be.

Since we are all about to being new projects, I thought it would be worthwhile chatting about beginnings. Don’t stress writers! Your beginning will be awesome. Are you guys ready for Nano yet? I am pretending that I am, also trying not to hyperventilate as November 1st looms ever closer. Eep!

Good luck everyone!

Shaina Merrick

Writing Prompt Contest Winners!

Remember that contest I told you about a while back? You know, the one with writing prompts? Well, the results are in, and I am pleased to announce the winners!

I had a super fun time helping to judge this contest along with Cassandra Hamm. The lovely lady who hosted the contest. We met at the Realm Makers conference a few months ago, and bonded over deep conversations and pizza. She is a great writer, and I loved judging the contest alongside her!

Cassandra Hamm is a writer who has always been fascinated by the inner workings of the human mind. She received her B.S. in psychology and continues to apply her knowledge to her characters. In case the reader is wondering, no, she does not psychoanalyze everyone she meets. One of her passions is helping other writers, and she does so through her work as a Community Assistant for the Young Writers Workshop and a teacher for Young Writer Lessons, both of which are affiliated with The Young Writer. She can be found online at https://cassandrahamm.com, where she posts prompt-based stories meant to entertain, encourage, and inspire; on Instagram at @cassandrahammwrites; and on Facebook as Cassandra Hamm, Author. 

In fact, this contest was to celebrate the fact that one of her own stories got second place in a Story Embers writing contest! Check out ‘The Will of the Sky’ here! It is pretty awesome! *nudge nudge*

It was so cool to see how each person came up with a completely different story for the prompts! No two stories were alike, and I was blown away by the creativity. Let me tell you, it was so hard to choose a winner! Everyone’s stories were so amazing. Decisions decisions…

But we did come to a conclusion, but before I reveal the winners, here are the prompts if you want to go read all the entries for yourself!

The Instagram entries:

Prompt 1

Prompt 2

Prompt 3

The Facebook entries:

Prompt 1

Prompt 2

Prompt 3

And now, for the prompts winners. Drum roll please…

Prompt #1

Image taken from Pinterest

Our Instagram winner was…

‘The tormenting heat of the sun beats against the barren kingdom. Thin gusts of wind sweep over the sand of ancient stones, bones of the dead peeking into sulfurous air. The faint thrust of his leathery wings and the shifting of his every bone echoes over the muteness of the ghosts. Slit eyes bore into the souls of every dark crevice, ripping exotic shadows of the past into the foreboding silence of the present. For in the heart of the reapers’ kingdom, memories of life bow to the carcass of death. ‘

~Kaylee Clay

This beautiful entry by Kaylee (@kk_the_bookdragon) is full of scary mystery. I love the descriptions in this story. It pulls you in and doesn’t let go until the end.

Our Facebook winner was…

‘It had been just another noise in the desert, probably a creature dying in unfamiliar, hostile surroundings. But after the bone beast had flown over, no one could unhear that desperate, aching sound. It echoed in the mind, raising memories of sorrows and lost dreams, like spectres called from the beyond. So the towns fled to the deep subterranean caverns in an attempt to dampen the cries and to bury themselves from hauntings created in their heads.

Only little Keili understood the cry, understood why the beast screamed as it flew. It wanted to die but couldn’t.’

~Ariel Jackson

Wow, what a story! Ariel Jackson spins a tale of heartache. A creature who is seeking something it can not find. Death eludes him, and the bone beast’s cry brings others into it’s despair.

Prompt #2

This picture has been used with permission from Purple Dragon Prompts

Our Instagram winner was…

‘ “It’s the center of the universe,” the sage had whispered to me, as he indicated a tattered map of the desert.

Not the literal center, of course. The gravity at the center of one galaxy would instantly crush my frail, mortal body.

Then again, the villagers in this area didn’t understand gravity. They didn’t even understand what it truly was: the place where all worlds converged. From there, I could go anywhere. Find anyone. Find HER.

“It’s the center of the universe,” he had said.

“Perhaps,” I whisper, with a strained, hopeful smile, “it can find the center of mine.” ‘

~Carrie-Anne Thomas

Excuse me while I go blow my nose. How did Carrie-Anne (carrie_anne.thomas) create such sadness in only one hundred words? Even though it is heart breaking, I love this story and the tiny bit of hope at the end. I truly hope that he is able to find the woman he is searching for.

Our Facebook winner was…

‘She could see nothing.

Well, that wasn’t quite true. There was dust. There was wind.

There was more dust.

Senra clutched the gauzy veil closer, her parched breathing shallow through the thin material.

Somewhere, the green lands still existed. Water and grass and men with glittering swords and greedy eyes.

She turned her back to the wind. A slight veiled figure clutched their cave entrance. “M-mother?”

Senra wrapped her daughter in an embrace. “You’re safe here.”

“But…”

“Hush.” She buried her face in her daughter’s hair. /You’re the center of everything. And I won’t let them touch you./’

~Hope Ann Schmidt

Such a beautiful depiction of motherly love! This mother will do literally anything for her child, even cross the world to a place where they can be safe. Congrats Hope Ann, this is a lovely story!

Prompt #3

Image taken from Pinterest

Our Instagram winner was…

‘Some say it means dire things for any who walk beneath its shadow.

Some say that signs can be read in the cracks of its sun-brittled bones.

Some say it is a gateway to the spirit lands.

But it is none of these; only the lonely remains of a great earth-shaker who lay down and died before my father’s fathers were born. I have seen more like it, in the clefts of the great mountains, and fed them with my hands. Their lips are gentle.

So I listen to the foreigner ramble on and on beside me, and I smile.’

~ Verity A. Buchanan

Verity (@verityb.writes) wrote a vivid tale that leaves me wanting to know more! Earth shakers, legends, and foreigners all come together to create a story world that I would be happy to get lost in! I hope I can learn more about it someday!

Our Facebook winner was…

“Yo yo, gangsta.”

“Yo, wassup.”

“Been a few hundred years. Felt a breeze lately?”

“Nah, this sand hasn’t moved in weeks.”

“You can still see?”

“Sure!”

“Sure. Tell me what’s over the horizon, then.”

“An old man.”

“Out here?”

“Don’t scoff. I see an old man walking in the lightning.”

“Sure, that checks out.”

“Don’t believe me, then.”

“… What else is happening?”

“The bones are shaking off the sand.”

“Ressurectin’?

“‘Course.”

“What about us?”

“We’ll fly again. No more stone birds perched on an old man’s spine.”

~ Hannah Brown

From the first word, this story made me laugh. Hannah did such a great job with the characters voices. The bounce right off the page and into your ears. Those familiar with the Bible may recognize an allusion to Ezekial 37 and the story of dry bones.

Weren’t those stories awesome? This contest was so much fun! If you would like to join in the fun, I am pretty sure Cassie is planning another contest for November 6th-ish. Keep an eye out for that! I hope to see your story!

Shaina Merrick

Know the Novel Link Up Part One

The wonderful Christine Smith has created a writerly link up for Nanowrimo! Yay! Which is next month guys. (I’m not thinking about it, I’m not thinking about it) Anyway. Her link up is all about the beautiful stories we are all writing, or attempting to write as in my case.

It is a three part link up series, the first part is the introduction. Where I get to introduce you to my royal mess of a novel and all of its poor characters. Fun! Prepare to scratch your head and wonder what on earth I was thinking when I started this project. I don’t have an answer for you. Let me know if you come up with one!

Without further ado… Onto the questions!

1. What first sparked the idea for this novel?

Wellll, a long time ago, when I was younger than I am now and when I still had dreams of being rich and famous, I had a scene in my head. The scene was all about a girl who had been hurt by magic and was struggling to heal. I wrote the scene down, and the next one that had the same characters. At that time I didn’t feel up to doing the novel. But I wrote down each scene as it came to me in a notebook. And then eventually I got around to figuring out what happened around those scenes.

2. Share a blurb!

One night changed the future of Valai. A night of betrayal and soaked in blood. The youngest prince alone escapes the rebellion, and he is forced to run to the mountains.

Terrence vows to take back his throne and defeat the usurper who killed his family. But planning a war is harder than it seems. Terrence needs an army at his back, and the only one to be found is in Trium. A country wracked with its own change as a new king takes the throne. A king unwilling to help in another countries civil war.

The only bright spot in Terrence’s journeying is Kerina. The niece of a forester who knows the mountains of Valai like the back of his hand. She waltzes her way through life, bringing sunshine into Terrence’s plots plans. Yet like all things, she is more than she appears to be. And she may be the only thing standing between Terrence and his enemy. Behind the throne is a shadow, a shadow who has placed a price on Terrence’s head.

3. Where does the story take place? What are some of your favorite aspects about the setting?

Most of the story takes place in Valai, with a jaunt or to outside to other countries. Valai is known by its wide stretching plains that threaten to swallow you up if you aren’t careful. On one side the plains are bordered by a ridge of mountains that hold secrets. Or so the rumors say.

Yes, there are elves. When I first began this novel there wasn’t a story I wrote without ’em. However these elves are nomads, wandering the plains in gypsy like caravans. If you search for them, you will only find them if they want you to.

I think the most interesting part about this particular setting is the magic system. It is all within the mind. Almost everyone in Valai can talk to each other in their minds. Some can only speak with immediate family members, other can speak with family and close friends. The most powerful mind speakers are the wizards, they not only can speak with a complete stranger, but can make you fall asleep. Or perhaps see things that aren’t there. They can do anything within the limits of the mind. Things like changing dirt to a flower don’t work too well.

Of course, then there are the ones born with immunity to magic. But no one talks about those people.

4. Tell us about your protagonist(s).

Let me introduce you to Terrence, my poor displaced prince who has been hiding out in the mountains with his small band of men. He is the last royal in Valai, and as such the full weight of taking back his kingdom has fallen onto his shoulders.

Prince Kai from the Lunar Chronicles

This guy, he tries so hard to help everyone and shoulder the responsibility alone. And yet, it doesn’t work. He can’t do it all, and things keep falling apart. Which isn’t all his fault, but he never sees it that way. He blames himself for not paying more attention in class, but why did he need to when he wasn’t supposed to be king anyway? Yep, a second son forced into becoming the royal heir.

In his head Terrence holds up his elder brother and father as the perfect standards for kingship. Every decision he makes is held up to that standard, and every time he fails he thinks of how they would do it better. And it all get worse when he meets Kerina.

Kerina is an artist. She enjoys painting sunsets and forests and would prefer not to get mixed up with the displaced prince thank you very much. But her uncle thinks otherwise, and she is forced to go on with them.

Kerina

Generally a cheerful person, Kerina does things like skip through camp, sing in the top of a tree, and paint the back of her hands when she runs out of paper. She likes to make up stories about her paintings, and tends to hide elves and fairies within her drawings, if you know where to look.

However to get past her cheerful veneer and to the Kerina underneath is something that many have tried and none have succeeded in doing. She has no wish to let people see what is inside and then laugh at her for it. Until, of course, she meets a friend that she would rather not lose, and then has to find out how much exactly she trusts Prince Terrence.

5. Who (or what) is the antagonist?

Torroc is the man who now sits on the throne of Valai. He is a paranoid man who sees enemies in every shadow and conspiracies in every whisper. It is soon known that coming to his court is like signing your death sentence. It is not a question of if you will be accused of treason, but when.

Torroc

He has good reason to be paranoid, he did take over a county loyal to the king, and spilled a lot of blood to do it. But his paranoia reaches new levels with every passing month, and recently they have come with hallucinations as well. Which may be the work of a wizard, except he has locked them all up.

He took the throne that he believes should be rightfully his anyway. It would have been, if his father had not descended into madness and was forced to surrender the throne to his younger brother, King Rond, Terrences father.

Yet his greatest fear is that he is descending into madness as well.

There are some who question how he gained the power to take the throne, and those ones will be the first ones to fall to the what lurks in the shadows behind the throne.

6. What excites you the most about this novel?

To be able to finish it! I have been working on this book for years. In fact a few Nanos ago I tried to write it. (don’t kill me for doing the same novel twice, please) However the ending, and to be honest the middle too, has eluded me. This year I will finish it! Even if it takes 100k and all nighters! (okay lets be honest, I probably won’t pull an all nighter, I do have a day job after all)

Seriously though, I am excited to get back to my characters. Terrence and Kerina have been strolling around in my head for so long, I know them better than any other characters I have ever written. They feel like home I guess, they are what I always come back to after the first thrill of another novel has worn off, when I finish a book and wonder what to write next I always think of them. This story is destined to be written, and I hope this year is the year their story will be completed.

7. Is this going to be a series? standalone? something else?

*glares at novel*

You will stay put as a novel. Got it?

Glad we understand each other.

8. Are you plotting? pantsing? plansting?

Plotting aaall the way. This particular novel has gone through extensive world building, character mapping, and plotting. It also has two half drafts to its name. I will brush everything up before I start, but I can say right now that this novel is about as plotted out as it gets.

I am still planning on being surprised by something though. Something always happens that I don’t expect. Always.

9. Name a few things that makes this story unique.

The magic system is one that I personally think is unique. It is all within the mind, and everyone can mind speak. Well, almost every one… It might be hard to juggle mind conversations and real conversations, but I want to try!

Other than that, it is a standard tale of epic journeys, battles, dangerous mountains, and displaced royalty.

Oh, and King Nerl. I can’t forget him. Not that I could if I wanted to.

Nerl

Let me introduce you to the bratty king of the neighboring country of Trium. Terrence and Kerina travel to the kingdom of Trium to ask for help. He and Terrence are old friends, well, that is stretching it a bit. They knew each other when they were kids. They may have also hated each other. So it may not be too much of a surprise for them to realize that Nerl doesn’t exactly want to entangle himself with the civil war of another country.

He also might, might, have a crush on Kerina. But he would kill me for saying that. So don’t tell.

10. Share a fun “extra” of the story (a song or full playlist, some aesthetics, a collage, a Pinterest board, a map you’ve made, a special theme you’re going to incorporate, ANYTHING you want to share!).

For once, I do actually have a pintrest board! Enjoy!

Welp. That is my story. My hope is that I will finish the story, and it won’t finish me. Here we go to Nano!

Shaina Merrick

Battles End, Battles Begin

Tada! After long hours of writing and editing (though I do apologize for any missed typos), I give you the first story of Lunnoor. For a tiny bit of preface, this is the story arc that will be the backbone of it all. Most of the Lunnoor stories will feature Lannie and co.. Though a few of them may have other characters and other plot lines. However, they will all tie back into Lannies stories, and the story of the war for Lunnoor. Enjoy!

Image result for public domain silhouettes of a flower

Lannie slammed her sword back into its sheath. The clang resounded over the muddy battlefield. Part of her winced; she was putting a dirty sword away, but there was not a speck of grass not trampled and every a rag of her own clothes was covered in filth. At least it wasn’t her messenger garb that was ruined. Rain cleansed everything except the battlefield.

Trying not to see the carnage of the battle, she hunted for her dagger. The churned up mud threatened to devour the dead men and weapons scattered on the ground, but she searched anyway. It was right where she had left it, sticking out of a blue-cloaked rebel. Lannie wrenched it out of him, then threw up on his boots. She wiped her mouth and peered at the wounded around her, but they cared only for the approaching medics. Medics who didn’t have time to give her a second glance. The sun was going down, and they had to find as many of the wounded as they could before nightfall.

The sun was low enough in the sky for its rays to be tinged in red, covering dead and living men alike in scarlet. Scarlet like the blood Lannie had just spilled. Her stomach heaved again at the memory of it.

“This isn’t winning,” she spat as she sheathed her dagger. “I defy any man who says such a thing.”

The medic closest to her shrugged but didn’t look up from the soldier he was giving a drink of water. The soldier had a spear sticking out of his side. It was going to be the last drink he ever had. “I think the official verdict was a stalemate.”

“That’s even worse,” Lannie snapped. All these men dead, and for nothing. They hadn’t gained a foot towards the capital. Another day they were stuck in the foothills with the faeries, another day their people languished underneath the rule of a madman. Another battle like this and the rebellion against the King would turn into a civil war.

She gritted her teeth and turned on her heel. Striding towards their side of the field where colorful tents housed the officers, and her father. Known to others as the King. She needed answers, and there was one place where she was going to find them.

Lannie stepped over a half-buried shield that was still attached to its owner, trying not to look into the mans empty eyes. She did, of course, no matter what she told herself, she always did. Those eyes haunted her dreams, but she had to look every single time. And if she looked, she had to shut them. Gritting her teeth she used her grimy glove to close his vacant eyes. Giving a dead man respect was the least she could do.

A few steps later a rebel lifted his hand to her, “Water.” He whispered, “Please.” His shoulder had been pierced with an arrow. His face was tense with pain, but he would live. Lannie stepped past him. He had killed how many of her people today? And yet…

She was scowling as she gave it to him, but he didn’t seem to care as he lifted her canteen to his mouth. Without bothering to wait for him to give it back Lannie strode forward.

The sun was halfway set, the angry clouds around it flamed orange and red as it sent out its last rays of light. Blasted rain. Lannies first battle in months, and she had fought enemies and the fear that she wouldn’t be able to distinguish friend from foe in the downpour.

Yet another reason why I should not be on the battlefield. Messengers should see people receive their letters and commands. Not have to kill them in hopes that the message gets across.

She clenched her fists, she was supposed to be the one who brought letters from home with a bright smile, or carried the Kings commands from legion to legion. The messenger legion was called to battle only as a last resort. When the battle was in danger of being lost. Which had been three times in the last two weeks. Chance had sent her away giving reports for the battles before this. Chance could bring her only so far, and being the Kings adopted daughter did not keep her from the field.

A medic cart passed her as she left the battlefield. The man pushing the over sized wheelbarrow fumbled for his handkerchief.

“You’ll get used to the smell,” Lannie said.

“I don’t think I ever want to,” the medic groaned. He glanced at her, then looked again. “Messenger Lannie?”

Lannie nodded, he was one of the only ones today who had recognized her without the soft clothes of her messenger garb.

“Was the battle so close then?” The medic asked.

“Yes,” Lannie replied and kept walking. He would find out soon enough. When he saw the amount of men that could not be saved.

She savagely kicked a clod of dirt that turned out to be a boulder. Groaning she bent down to rub her bruised toes. Her sword clanged against the side of her leg as she did. Another reason to hate swords and stick with daggers.

A short walk took her to the creek that separated the battlefield from the camp. The one way over it without getting wet was a rickety bridge. One you walked across as fast as you could and hope that it didn’t collapse. Emmy and Lannie had chosen it for that purpose. To keep people from peering into the dryad infested waters.

Emmy had taken to shooting the soulless things on sight with her bow. Lannie smirked as she crossed the bridge. She was a good influence on her friend after all. For her part Lannie skewered every naiad in and around camp with her dagger. She didn’t lose as many when she threw them at trees. But she did dump salt into every dryad haunt she found. Keeping the camp free from the faeries who wandered in looking for victims and finding an implacable enemy instead.

Her feet touched the ground on the other side of the creek as a whisper tickled her ears. She whipped her heard around and snatched her dagger out of its sheath. A few paces away a young soldier knelt on the ground by the stream. Fumbling with the straps to his helmet. Faerie bait. As if the battle had not claimed enough lives already.

“You look so tired,” a voice from the water sighed. “Aren’t you tired?” A hand rose from the stream and beckoned to the soldier. His helmet was on the ground and he reached out to touch the dryad.

Lannie snorted as she knelt to snag a rock, “You need to change your tune.” Her arm complained as she threw the rock at the slender hand. “Don’t you ever feel the need to say anything else?”

Her throw was true. The rock hit the dryad with a gentle thud. Her hand jerked back into the water and she stood up with a dangerous hiss. The soldier stumbled back from her sharp teeth.

“Get out of here!” Lannie screamed at the dryad. Raising her dagger as if she was going to throw it.

The dryad hissed again, but retreated back into the water. Lannie half heard muttered curses at the ‘faerie slayer’ but ignored them.

“Get your helmet back on soldier,” she barked.

The soldier looked up at her, eyes still clouded by the faeries spell. Growling under her breath Lannie scooped up his helmet and smacked it back onto his head.

“Keep it on until you know you’re safe,” she grumbled.

The soldier glared at her, rubbing the top of his head. “What happened?” he muttered.

Lannie raised an eyebrow, ungrateful and stupid then. Maybe I should have left him to the dryad. “You,” she poked his chest. “were just faerie bait.”

He had the decency to look stricken at least.

“When was the last time you spoke to the King?”

He shrugged and looked back at the stream. “I had never seen a dryad before.”

Lannie barked a laugh, “You had a happy childhood. Talk to the King as soon as you can. Or be lost to the faeries.”

She turned away before he could reply and marched towards the tents. He’d better listen. Or he would disappear without a trace. Just like all the others. Soul eating faeries or speaking with the King. Was it that hard of a choice?

The medic tents were a bustle of people and torches. The sun was barely a crescent above the mountain, and the medics work was just begun. Lannie resisted the urge to plug her ears against the screams and pleas of the wounded and dying men as she hurried past the tents. The trees began just beyond those tents, small things that stretched to be taller than the tents, but trees just the same. Lannie hefted the dagger in her hand and peered at each tree she passed. Any could hide a naiad. Even this close to the King.

The only tree that held a grinning face also boasted of an arrow that had sprouted in the middle of its forehead. I will have to remember to congratulate Emmy later. Though when did she find the time to shoot naiads in the middle of a battle?

Her path took her to the center of camp and straight to the large golden tent. The torches were just being lit as Lannie walked up to the tent. Illuminating the lions embroidered on its sides that tread upon the faerie folk and who men bowed to. The colors were washed in the lamp glow, one blending into the other. But in the light of day the rich colors would inspire awe. A fitting tent for the King.

The guards on either side of the tent entrance were as mud splattered as the line of soldiers and officers in front of them. Did the King join the battle? I don’t remember. Though surely the tide would have changed if he had.

Lannie walked straight past the line of tired soldiers and brightly dressed nobles. She pressed down a sneer for the latter. The only reward that should be given to those who let their soldiers fight for them.

There were a few mutters as she stepped to the front of the line. Yet another reason to keep to her messenger clothes. It kept the complaints to a minimum. The guards took one look at her face and lifted their spears to let her through.

There were more nobles and officers in the front room of the tent. More than usual, even after a battle. Well, they had never come so close to losing before. The flickering candle light cast shadows on their faces, adding years to every one of them. Though I would guess the battle added those, not the just the candles.

Silence prevailed as each sect tried to ignore the other. More guards inside kept careful watch on the men waiting to speak to the King. Lannie ignored them all and marched straight towards the inner door. The guards of this door were also mud splattered. Perhaps the King had come to the battle. I don’t remember hearing his call. Or a surge as the soldiers went to join him. He could not have been where I was. Lannie shrugged off the memories of the shouts to hold the line. Shouts that were accompanied by the screams of the dying.

Lannie strode up to the inner guards, they moved their spears for her without a second glance. Indignant shouts from the nobles were quickly hushed by the officers. They knew who she was, armor or no armor. If they had any complaints they were wise enough to keep them quiet.

“Why was I in the battle?” Lannie asked before she was all the way through the doorway. A young man in armor spun on his heel to face her, dark eyes blazing with fury. Lannie blinked, I don’t recognize this one. His armor is clean, I hope he is put on guard duty tonight.

She unbuckled her helmet and slid it off, “The whole messenger legion was hardly enough to keep the line, and…”

“Lannie,” A rich, gentle voice interrupted her. The source of the voice was hidden by the young knight. “I am glad you have come daughter of mine.”

The knight was on his knees in an instant before her. “Your majesty.”

Lannie looked up at the King, allowing her shoulders to relax for the first time since she had received the order to go to battle. His blue eyes radiated calm that seeped into her bones. The armor that covered his broad shoulders was as mud splattered as her own. Lannies heart sank, the King himself had joined the battle, and the best they had done was a stalemate?

He smiled down at her, but made no move to come down off his throne. “How went the battle for you?”

“Terrible,” Lannie snapped. “I don’t understand why I had to be there.”

“It is my fault your majesty,” the knight said. Lannie frowned at him. His fault? The King gave the order. “I was en-route to the battle but was unable to make it on time.”

“The reason?” The King asked, his kind gaze shifting to the knight.

The knight shifted on his knees, “Faeries.”

“Did they attack you or did you fall prey to them?” Lannie demanded. I can understand many things, but if he was late because he listened to a faerie…

“Both,” The knight bowed his head a little lower. “My men were caught in the snare and by the time I found out about it…”

“To your feet soldier,” Lannie sighed. “The faeries have trapped better men.”

“This is Lord Beldon,” the King said as the soldier warily got to his feet. Should I have said something else? Something more tactful? “He took command when his father died on the battlefield. You know his sister, Lady Belissa.”

“Ah,” should I tell him that she is irretrievable faerie bait now? Or let the King do it?

“I will speak to you later Lord Beldon,” the King said. Lord Beldon bowed, then backed out of the tent.

Lannie waited until he was out of sight before exploding, “Why was my legion on the battlefield? We were unprepared and separated. How did we do any good?” She rubbed shaking hands over her eyes. “I don’t even know who all survived, and for what, another stalemate?”

The King got down from his throne and enfolded her in an embrace. He said nothing, just held her. Lannie let the long held back tears fall onto his shoulder.

“The field is covered with the dead and dying,” she whispered. “Their cries ring my ears.”

“I know,” the Kings voice rumbled. He stepped back and smiled at Lannie, a smile that belied the pain in his eyes. “I know the name of every man who died today. Their deaths were not in vain.”

She sighed, “Even though we were not victorious?”

“Even then,” was the quiet reply. “Is there anything else?”

Lannie shrugged, “There was a dryad near the bridge after the battle. The seventh one this week.” She released a frustrated sigh. “Add that to the two naiads Emmy and I killed today and that is the thirtieth faerie we have battled with since camping here.” Scowling she added, “It wouldn’t surprise me to see pixies show up too. And a brownie with the ways things are going.”

The King placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “You are fighting well, but it will get worse before it gets better.”

Lannies scowl became deeper. Of course, it would.

“Perhaps you should ask Lord Beldon to join your battle against the faeries,” the King added as he sat back on the wooden chair that served as his throne. “He has cause enough to hate them, as he will soon learn.”

Lannie nodded, “Emmy and I could use the extra help.” For the first time since the battle began, she smiled. “Thank you father, for everything.”

“Of course my dear.”

Lannie spun on her heel and skipped out of the tent, flashing a smirk at the waiting nobles and soldiers. With all the men speaking to the King today the faeries would be kept at bay for a while. She would have time to regather her legion and speak with Lord Beldon before they struck again.

Outside of the tent an arm threaded through hers. Lannie grinned at the dirt smeared face of her best friend.

“I saw the arrow,” she told Emmy. “Great work.”

Emmy flashed a gap tooth smile, her eyes dancing in the torchlight. The sun was completely set now, all sane people would be in bed soon if they had not already done so.

“I found the thing just before orders came, how many does that make this week?”

“Seven,” Lannies scowl returned. “If more people would speak with the King…”

“The faeries would stay away,” Emmy finished for her. “Say it often enough and someone might believe you.”

“Thanks,” Lannie grumbled. She dragged them both to a halt when she caught sight of Lord Beldon in the shadows of a tree. He was talking with another messenger, and from the way he was rubbing his eyes Lannie had a good idea of what the message was.

“Wait here,” she told Emmy and jogged towards the young lord.

“Why?” Emmy called after her, but she stayed put.

Lannie’s armor clinked together as she ran, but her approach still went unnoticed by the two men.

“How long ago did this happen?” Lord Beldon asked, his voice rough with emotion.

“Not more than a week ago,” the messenger replied. “We dispatched a message to her kin, but it was never received.”

“I was on the road by then,” Lord Beldon said. He dragged his hands over his face, it was too dark to see his expression. “Are you sure it was the faeries?”

“I was the one who searched for her,” Lannie said in as gentle of a voice as she could muster. “I found her armor and her sword deep in pixie territory. There is a known faerie gate there.”

Lord Beldon slammed a fist into his leg, “Father always disbelieved the stories, but I knew better, Belissa knew better…” He trailed off with a shake of his head.

“When you are ready to hear it, I have a proposition for you,” Lannie said quietly. “A way for you to strike at the ones who took your sister.”

“I can hear it now!” Lord Beldon growled.

Lannie gestured for Emmy to come, and as her friend walked closer she dismissed the messenger. “My friend and I have declared war on the faeries, especially the ones who dare to enter the camp. There are those who think our war is a waste of time.”

“You mean those who say that we are fools,” Emmy interrupted and folded her arms. “The ones who turn a blind eye to the ones who disappear every day.”

“But it is important nonetheless,” Lannie said quickly. “In the last few weeks the faeries have become more numerous, and it is almost beyond our abilities to control.”

“She means we are scrambling around trying to kill as many as possible in-between our other duties and even then more pop up every day.” Emmy interrupted again. “I think she is trying to say that we are losing this personal war and would like to ask you to be our ally.”

Lannie glared at her, “I was getting to that!” She turned back to Lord Beldon and wished very hard that she had brought a torch. It would have been nice to see the expression on his face.

“I understand if you think you will have too many other duties,” she added. “Or if you would like to think about it and reply another time. It is late and…”

“Yes,” Lord Beldon said. “I will gladly join your war against the faeries.”

“I am so glad,” Emmy said with a sigh of relief. “I am running out of arrows.”

“We will fill you in on the details tomorrow, along with what we have found out about the faeries in our battles,” Lannie said all in a rush before Emmy could interrupt her again. “Say midday meal?”

“I will look forward to it,” Lord Beldon said with a fluid bow. As he walked past them the light of a passing torch touched his features. His face was set like granite. The faeries would have another slayer to fear.

“That went well,” Emmy said cheerily. “Whatever gave you the idea of asking him?”

“It was fathers idea,” Lannie replied with a shrug. “And he just lost his sister to the faeries.”

“Ah,” Emmy was mercifully silent for a moment. “Should we go clean up? The dirt is making me itch.”

Lannie smiled through the sudden wave of exhaustion, “That is a great plan.”

Image result for public domain silhouettes of a flower

Shaina Merrick

Plotting V.S. Pantsing

You know how at the beginning of each how-to post the author tells you why you should listen to them? Why they are uniquely qualified to speak to you on this subject? Well. Here is a short version of that.

In the plotting and pantsing world I am not exactly in either camp. Nor am I one of those enlightened people who sit squarely in the middle of the line with their novels. I am a metronome. Sometimes I swing all the way to the pantsing side of writing, sometimes I swing the other way. It really depends on the day.

So do I know what I am talking about when I say plotting or pantsing? Yup. Been there done both. Whether that makes me qualified to write about this is another matter altogether. I will leave it for you to judge.

Lest you become confuzzled, let me define these terms. Ones that are bandied back and forth in the writing world all of the time. Sometimes sparking an interesting discussion, sometimes a heated debate.

In simple terms, plotters plan out their story before the first draft. Pantsers plot it out while they are writing the first draft. Plotters figure out their characters, plot, and setting waaay ahead of time. They are the ones with multiple notebooks dedicated to different elements of their story. Pantsers sit down with the germ of a story idea, a pen, and a piece of paper, and figure it out as they go along. Plot outlines? Character worksheets? What are those?!

The most heated debates come when writers begin to discuss which one is better. To plot first, or to plot later, that is the question. To which I say, depends on the day?

Pantsing Strengths

At this particular moment, the novel I am working on has been completely pantsed. When I began writing it I had a phrase, and half of a character. As I wrote I found more characters, and eventually figured out what on earth was going on with this story. That is the magic of pantsing. It is like a movie going on underneath your fingers. No one knows what is going to happen next. Least of all yourself. Everything is a surprise, and the magic that keeps us writing is everywhere. It is the first blush of that story, untainted by planning, that gets you through that first draft.

Also in pantsings favor is the fact that you can start right away. No waiting until every plot point is filled and every character question answered. You don’t even need to know the theme before you write those first words. I love that. I love that I can sit down and begin, and somehow that first bit of a story idea becomes a full story.

Plotting Strengths

Now while my current WIP is being pantsed, I have many many many plotted stories in progress. Ones that were plotted withing an inch of their life before I even started the first chapter.

As with pantsing, I start with the first blush of an idea. And then I figure out what on earth I am going to do with this idea. Which means all the worksheets, all the character questionnaires, and all the theme wonderings. What I love about this method is that I get to answer all of my questions before hand. There is something breathtaking about creating a character arc and watching it unfold before your eyes. I don’t have to wait for the end of the book to find out what is going to happen to all of my characters. I can figure it out right now! Then there is writing out each and every plot point and deciding what happens when. My organized self gets a thrill out of that part! When each character arc connects to the plot points, and it is all tied together by the theme, that there is pure magic.

I must say that the actual writing of the story goes much smoother when you have it all planned out before hand. There are less writing block moments and way fewer times that your characters have backed you into the corner with less than no ways out.

Pantsing Weaknesses

What, did you think I was going to let you leave without telling you the dangers of each method? Nope! Prepare to be overwhelmed.

If you absolutely hate writers block, if even the mention of it wants to make you hide under your bed with chocolate, then don’t pants. Trust me. When you barely an idea with where you are going to go with your story, writers block springs up often. Yelling ‘surprise!’ and then wondering why you are running away screaming.

It is easier to write yourself into a corner with pantsing. You eagerly follow each and every rabbit trail, and then wonder how on earth your characters ended up on the edge of a cliff with no ways of rescue. Hm, maybe I should write in a flock of eagles?

Also, you will have to edit many many times. There is no first then second then finished draft with pantsing. Unless you are a writing genius of course. You will have to do way more after the first draft to make sure that it all goes smoothly. And that includes refining character arcs, filling in plot holes, and foreshadowing. Things that you would have already done if you had plotted. So if you hate editing, try to have some of the planning and questioning done before hand.

Plotting Weaknesses

Even with your mega plans and color coded plot your novel still might fall flat on its face. Or never get written in the first place.

The greatest weakness I have found in plotting is the fact that you are never done planning. There are always more questions to answer about your character, always more bits to find out about your world, and always more research to do. You may find yourself always plotting and planning and never getting to the first draft. And if you don’t get to the first draft, you don’t have a novel. Only a well planned project that you will get to, someday.

Also, if you have created a multi faceted plot that has planned for every eventuality and filled every plot hole and put every character in a firmly defined box, your characters will grab the reins and run away with the whole story. It seems to be the rule of all plots. The more you tack them down, the smallest thing will upset them. If I don’t make sense, I apologize.

You see, writing is a creative process. Which means you are using the creative side of your brain most of the time. You know, the side that wakes you up at 2:00 AM with a great idea. That side will refused to be tamped down, and when you least expect it will pop up with this great idea that will send your perfect plot careening off course.

Pantsing Ideas

I thought this post was long enough, but I didn’t want to leave you with all of this dismal news. My hope is that these how-to posts are useful, and so I want to give you a few ideas to make each side easier to write. To avoid each pitfall and tap into the strengths.

I have found that pantsing becomes more manageable when you take notes while you are writing. Whether those notes are in a different color within your draft, or in a different notebook, or even at the end of each chapter, write ’em. Notes will save you from wondering where your characters went, and keep you from hours of finding where you wrote down what color your MC’s eyes are.

If you are writing notes, you have a quick look at what you will have to edit later. Possibly saving you a draft, or at least a bunch of time.

This idea is to keep writers block in the corner. Keep the ending in mind. No, this isn’t me trying to finagle you into plotting. Know where you are going with your story, at the very least you will know when you need to end it. Chances are, you already have an idea of where your story is going, just fine tune it a bit. What is the goal of the characters? Are the characters going to get their goal? Or not? Figure that out, and your pantsed novel will end right on time.

Plotting Ideas

Don’t plan too much. That about sums up my advice for this side of the question. If you plan too much, your novel won’t be written. Which isn’t quite what you want, is it? We all want to finish our stories, so do yourself a favor and stop planning. Find a point that you can stop, and stop. Decide beforehand what that point will be. Are you going to plan until you have a basic idea? Until you have the whole plot finished? Answer that question, and when you have hit that point. Stop. Don’t let yourself plan any more.

Again, if you plan too much and too tightly, one small thing will make it all crash off course. Okay okay. I might be exaggerating. Your plot will probably not go crashing into a mountainside and shatter into smithereens.

However, when you are plotting, leave breathing room. Room for your characters to do unexpected things, and for unexpected people to show up. And if the unexpected happens, don’t sweat it, or try to erase it. It will be easier to put toothpaste back into a bottle than to stuff your idea back into your brain. Play with idea a bit, let it percolate. Maybe it will make your story better, even if it means that your plot will have to be adjusted a bit.

Phew. If you made it to the end of this ridiculously looong post. Congratulations! Take some chocolate strawberries. I hope it was helpful, at least a little. So go out, finish those stories! I will be over here trying to end my pantsed novel. I need to take my own advice and figure out what the ending is for this thing…

Shaina Merrick