Sunday, May 28, 2017

Character Types: The Character Everybody Detests

Bookworms and book dragons alike tend to be a very diversely talented group. From carrying twenty-five books at once and ordering five more books online that we don’t need to travelling halfway across the world to visit the inspiration for a fictional setting, it seems like we know no bounds!

And we all have differing opinions on our favorite characters and stories. I like Star Trek; my sister likes Star Wars. I like Han Solo; she likes Kylo Ren. You get the picture. Sometimes it seems like disagree on everything.

Until we inevitably come across that one character…

If you’re looking for a blog post that’s full of benevolent characters and their happy endings, I 
suggest you close this tab. Today I will be focusing on three examples of The Character Everybody Detests, though it is certainly not limited to these: Q (Star Trek: Next Generation), Umbridge (Harry Potter), and Lord Denothor (Lord of the Rings). Here are just a couple of the traits that they seem to share:

1) The Character Everybody Detests can turn even the kindest bookworm into a book dragon and make them want to drop said character off a cliff or at the very least stab said character with a fork.

Please tell me I’m not the only one.

And the very thought that I might actually want to stab somebody with a fork is disturbing. After all, I’d never want to purposefully hurt somebody. What are these characters doing to me?

Because let’s face it…

2) They delight in the suffering of others.

And when they do, I’m not very sympathetic.
Every time Q shows up, he ends up putting the crew of the Enterprise through some bizarre challenge.

Umbridge makes Harry write using his own blood and torments the entire school.

Denothor might be the exception to this one. He may make people suffer, but he certainly doesn’t seem to take delight in anything.

3) They have at least one incredibly annoying trait.

For Q, it’s his arrogance and hypocrisy. Not only does he have immortality and god-like powers, but he also flaunts it. Constantly. Then gives everybody a hard time for being mortal and being poor decision makers. It’s no wonder nobody wants him around.

For Umbridge, it’s her like for the color pink. Just kidding. Pink is okay in and of itself, I just don’t care for it. Rather, it’s the way she tears everybody down and enjoys it.  

For Denothor, it’s his favoritism towards Boromir and hatred of Faramir. And poor leadership. And misery. And the time he told Faramir he wished he were dead. Not. Okay.

4) Sometimes, they may seem right.

In one of the opening episodes, Q puts humankind on trial for its crimes against the universe, and the crew of the Enterprise has to acknowledge that the humans on board are not perfect.

Even in all his misery, Denothor was trying to lead Gondor against the armies of Mordor, even if he was going about it all the wrong ways.

5) Yet they still avoid the truth.

Q’s refuses to acknowledge his arrogance and often blames other races for the problems in the universe.

And Denothor refuses to acknowledge that he actually cares about Faramir until it’s too late.

6) They can still teach you.

Q’s arrogance and games led to belief that mortals and immortals alike can learn to be more open-minded.

Umbridge’s oppression led Harry to teach his peers about Defense Against the Dark Arts. Despite her tyranny, the students came together in a way they hadn’t before.

Denothor’s bitterness almost killed Faramir, but it helped Pippin find the true meaning of courage.

In the end, the Character Everybody Detests can teach us a lot of things, like what it means to be cruel and what it also means to stand up against such cruelty.


Film references: Star Trek: Next Generation

Literary references: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and J. K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series.

Let’s chat! Who are some of the characters you detest? What have they taught you?  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

3 Methods for Outlining Your Novel

I was twelve when I wrote my first novel, and let me tell you, it stunk. (See I Can’t Believe I Wrote THAT.) And not because I was twelve. I believe twelve-year-olds can write decent novels or even great ones. Age is not a determiner of quality fiction. Yes, practice helps, but that’s an argument for another day.

Perhaps the biggest quality I was lacking when I wrote my first novel was an outline. When I went to write my second one, I ended up writing and re-writing the beginning seven times because I had no idea where I was going. I probably drove my writing friends crazy when I announced, “Yeah, I re-started my novel. Again.” That’s when I realized I needed to change something. I needed to get serious about my craft. So, I created an outline.

I’m not going to pretend that these are the only three methods for outlining your novel. You also have the synopsis, where you summarize every important plot, and the Hero’s Journey, which follows the twelve stages of a story as explained by Joseph Campbell. (See A Boggus Life for an analysis of the latter.) The following are three methods that I’ve found work best for me:

1) The Plot Arch

One of the most basic forms of outlining, I first encountered the plot arch in my creative writing class in college. It’s simple, to the point, and leaves so much up to the imagination when it comes to writing the rough draft.  

Pros: This quick method is a great place to start. This method can help keep you on track even if you’re a panster (somebody who doesn’t like outlining).

Cons: If you’re very detail-oriented, this method might be too vague. It doesn’t tend to include important details like setting or minor characters.

2) The Chapter-by-Chapter Outline

If you have a general idea of how long your chapters tend to be (or how long you want them to be), this can be a great method for outlining. On average, my chapters tend to be anywhere between 1800-2700 words (or 6-9 pages). So, if I want to write a 60,000-word novel, I’ll plan to have 33 chapters, or 35 to allow for leeway.

Here’s a general chart with word count goals to help you plan for a certain number of chapters. When it comes to calculating, I prefer to go with the minimum words I tend to write. It’s better to overwrite than underwrite, as editing tends to cut large chunks anyway.

Pros: You can regulate how many chapters you want in your novel. Personally, I like 45. It’s a large enough number to sound decent for a novel, and short enough so that I can edit two or three chapters in later drafts. The chapter-by-chapter method is also one of the best to help you reach your word count goal.

Cons: This method can be difficult if you’re not regular with your chapter length. You might want to start a new chapter in a different place during the writing process. Chapter endings and lengths can change in later drafts.

3) The Scene-by-Scene Outline

I like to play out my favorite scenes in my head, and the scene-by-scene method allows me to write them out as they come to me instead of getting bogged down with coming up with fill-in-the blank pieces when I’m feeling particularly inspired.

The easiest way I’ve found to use this method is to write each scene out on a notecard. That way I can include a synopsis of the scene, the setting, the time of day, and the characters present. Then, I organize them by labeling where they go in the story (e.g. Inciting Incident, Turning Point, Climax, etc…).

The original outline for Breaking a Thief. The final product had many, many more scenes.

The outline for Breaking a Thief as organized by plot points (opening, inciting incident, etc...).
Complete with one little card for backstory. 

Pros: It’s flexible! If you don’t know where a certain scene goes in your story, you can still write it out, and fill in the blanks later. You can even rearrange scenes with ease at the outset. And if you’re like me, you don’t have to think in a linear fashion. It’s also great for organizing details.

Cons: This is perhaps the most time consuming of all the methods, as several scenes can fit into one chapter, and you might end up having far more scenes than chapters. It can also be difficult to fill in the blanks should you deviate from the outline while writing, which is almost inevitable. Another downside is keeping track of all the scenes, especially if you write them all out on notecards.

Recently, I’ve gone for a hybrid of some of these methods, using the plot arch to start and writing down a couple of my favorite scenes. The more novels I write, the more I realize that no method is perfect, and some methods work better for some people and even some novels. So give it a try! Stick to them or combine them. But most importantly of all, have fun with it!


Let’s chat! Which of the above method sounds most appealing? If you’ve written a novel before, what’s your favorite method for outlining? Have you tried any of these? 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

6 Literary Terms I Wish Existed in English

The English language is beautifully complex. But there are times when language falls short of feelings and concepts. Some things can’t be explained with words, no matter how hard we try. And some things can be explained but are too wordy.  Word precision—it’s a wonderful when it’s available!

Here are just a few, excellent literary terms that do exist:

A person who thoroughly enjoys and collects books is a bibliophile (me!), just like a person who thoroughly enjoys movies is a cinephile (my family members).

Feels—the emotions you can’t put into words after you finished a particularly good book/movie. Yes, that’s an actual definition.

Mary Sue—an underdeveloped fictional character, not gender specific. Usually happens to be an orphan with a tragic backstory and morally upright.

Palimpsest—a manuscript written over an older text on the same parchment. 

Palindrome—a word or a phrase spelled backwards is still the same phrase.

Petrichor—the smell of rain on dry ground. I know it’s not technically book-related, but I like rain and I like this word!

Trinity Syndrome—a strong female character who becomes inexplicably weaker than the male protagonist.

But what do we do when a concept doesn’t have a word? Invent it, probably. Shakespeare and Chaucer did. Even dystopia is a fairly recent term from the late 1800s. Here are just a few of the concepts that I have found that should have a singular term—or at least a compound word—but don’t. 

1) Living multiple lives in one/multiple bodies (not reincarnation).

This is becoming a popular sci-fi/fantasy trope, and honestly, it’s one of my favorites. It’s when a character lives a completely different, but self-aware life (not a dream) when they go to sleep. I’ve read a couple books with it, and I like it so much, I included it in my latest novel.

Think Avatar. When Sully goes to sleep in the chamber, he wakes up in his Avatar body. And when he sleeps in Pandora, he wakes up as his human self. It’s such an interesting concept with lots of possibilities and plot complications. But it’s not like we can tall it “Avatar” without violating copyright laws and whatnot. Besides, it’s present in other stories, like Your Name.

2) Wanting to throw your book against the wall but liking books too much to actually do so.

I’m not sure when I became that person whose so careful with books that I will try not to bend the spine of my paperbacks. I don’t like having those little lines crease the title.

But I still get angry at books. Sometimes so frustrated that I want to throw it across the room, but I can’t bring myself to do so. It could damage the pages! Never mind that it already damaged my heart.

3) Wanting to violently react to your book but being in a public place.

Ever wanted to hit a flight attendant or your train partner upside the head with the book you just finished? I didn’t think so. Even if you did, who wants to get kicked off a train? Or an airplane for that matter? 

Sure, you can silently cry in public, but what about scream or rant? Instead, you are left with all your feeling bottled up inside. It’s almost like…

4) Being in a fandom of one.

There are advantages and disadvantages to reading a book none of your friends have. Advantage—you can form your own opinion without influences. Disadvantage—you can’t talk to anybody about it.
 RJ: Please, Vincent! I’m just a desperate guy trying to feed his family!
Vincent: You don’t have a family.
RJ: I meant a family of one.
(Over the Hedge)

5) The irresistible impulse to walk into every library/bookstore you see.

The John Rylands Library, Manchester, UK

Every time I visit a new city or town, I’m on the lookout for a bookstore. Even if the native language isn’t English, I like walking into new bookstores and libraries and admiring the shelves upon shelves of books, or boats next to boats if you happen to be in Venice. If I’m with a family member, they have to drag me out. One time, a school group left me in a bookstore, which I quite enjoyed, truth be told.

Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy

6) Exhaustion from staying up far too late reading.

This is me right now. I haven’t done this in so long, but nearly every bookworm has experienced it at least once. Or twice. Or thrice. Because heaven forbid we actually follow through with reading just one more chapter…


Film references: Avatar, Your Name, and Over the Hedge.

Let’s chat! Can you relate to any of these feelings? Have any suggestions for concise words? What are some of your favorite literary terms? Are there any other feelings/concepts you wish had a term of their own? 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Luan and the Star's Daughter: A Last of the Memory Keepers Companion

I always knew that “The Sun Child” would be different from the rest of the stories, but it took a while for me to discover the poem within. Luan is perhaps the most elusive figure in the series. She may be a tempter, but she isn’t exactly a Satan-figure either. She’s more like the Fae, powerful and proud but too aloof to realize the consequences of her actions on the human race.

This poem is not a Genesis story. It may be an origin story, explaining the Memory Keepers’ beliefs in how the Gifting came to be, but it is not an allegory. The Matriarchs and Patriarchs are not meant to be Adam and Eve, especially considering there are ten of them instead of two. Likewise, there is no clear explanation of where the first humans came from, though it is implied that they were born of the stars.

Nonetheless, I have drawn from previous traditions and stories. Like the story of Cain and Abel, the acts of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs is quite bloody. And the style of the poem follows that of Milton’s Paradise Lost, with iambic pentameter, variating stanzas, and no rhyme. Unlike classical poetry, however, I have included quotations marks for each set of dialogue for clarification.

While the Memory Keepers bare some animistic traits, they are primarily monotheist. During the time that “Luan and the Star’s Daughter” was composed (2701, 1436 years before the events of Last of the Memory Keepers), it would have been viewed as heretical. After all, not only does the poem not acknowledge a single Creator, but it also references minor deities. Although the poem was well-liked by the general population, it took approximately 150 years after Fraser’s death before the Council of Elders accepted it as a piece of mythology. 


Recorded by Ewan Fraser, the following poem is the origin story of the Memory Keepers. The event is also referred to as the Gifting, in which the five races received their abilities. Twelve humans, six couples, lived in harmony at the dawn of time. Then the Moon came down to the mother of the Shape-Shifters and offered to grant her a Gift so long as all humankind accepted. Two refused, so the other ten turned on them and killed them. That way, all ten could accept. The Moon, displeased with their treachery, still granted the Gifting but proclaimed it as a curse instead of a blessing.
Characters (in order of appearance)

Luan (The Sun Child)—the Moon
Vera—Matriarch of the Shape-Shifters
Patriarch of the Shape-Shifters
Glenn—Matriarch of the Memory Keepers
Angus—Patriarch of the Memory Keepers
Matriarch and Patriarch of the Meridians
Naoki—Matriarch of the Diataro
Man and Woman
Matriarch and Patriarch of the Lightning Wielders
Rin—Patriarch of the Diataro

Ancient Memory, Winter Equinox, Estimated 2701
Keepers Present: Ewan Fraser
The daughter of the Sun[1] stooped down to behold
the earth and swept aback the cobwebbed clouds
marveling at green birth. Up shoots of gold-
tinged grass, silver droopèd bells, mazy ivy,
and cold, em’rald waters lay past yonder                                                  5
hills; there’n the downs an idle girl gazed on mid-
morn light. Upon her back she lay, her white-
and-gold hair like tresses fit for stars. The Sun’s
Child, Luan thus namèd, beheld the youth from ‘far
before she tucked the clouds beneath her skirts                                        10
and spoke, “Daughter of yonder star,[2] why should
thou idle thus when thou lookest fit for bliss
beyond all care?” Up sat the girl,[3] a wist-
ful look within her eyes. “Sisters of mine
say that I dream too oft,” said she. “I came                                              15
away to behold the dawn alone.” Smiled
thus the Sun Child. “I have in mind to grant
a gift to thou, on one condition—that
to imagine forever, thine heart’s sole
joy, first thou shouldst find it in thyself to                                                20
search out thine brothers’ and sisters’ longings
and ask them too if they would take mine Gift,[4]
for it will only work when all conscious 
beings do welcome it. Dear dreamer, can thou
imagine how much thou might do e’ermore?                                            25
Thou canst be like me, pow’rful and benign.”[5] 
There shone an awe in her blue eyes, for her
mind could think up wonders to create that
she ran off to greet her peers, eleven
in all, husband and friends. The first she found
beneath an oaken shade, planning some new                                            30
shelter to build with his own hands. She told
of her request, her dream, and gathered they
their friends to whom she told her tale, to wait
on their response. They stood around a pool
aquamarine, silver-shored, listening                                                         35
to Vera utter her tale and her plea.
Most took interest in their dreams, for many
they had to behold, none too great or far,
yet spake thus her raven-headed friend,[6] “We
shouldst forget not the ordination set
down by the Sun to live as we are now,                                                   40
touch’d not by craft of altering shape or
magic strange. Remember thine true form and
do count thineself grateful forevermore.”
“Oh, Glenn,” thus spake the Star’s Daugther, “How canst
thou think this gift to change thine self? ‘Tis but                                    45
a mere means meant to enhance that which thou
posseseth already. Thou shalt never
forget another ordinance, nor word,
nor thought. Thou shalt keep and treasure them for
all eternity.” Think on the good that                                                       50
could come of her proposal the raven-
headed girl and her husband did o’er time.
“Would that we should live so long,” spake their tall
companion with skin as dark as coal,[7]
“but length of days is beyond all reason                                                55
of true life. No body could thus sustain
one thought once it is dead, for we are mere
mortals destined to die before the Sun. “
“Yet length of days,” young Vera said, “that thou
might have if thou did but ask.” Then up spake                                   60
yon stout yet e’er-perceiving Naoki,[8]
“Come now, can such a thing be wise? Permit
us to hear out the Sun Child herself. Then
we can decide our fate.” Her proposal
appeared most good to them all save the two                                     65
auburn-headed souls[9] who reserved their thoughts
even after the choleric couple[10] urged long,
swift strides should Luan withdraw her offer.
Thus they passed by the lake towards yon’ downs
to seek their fate, but halfway up the hill,                                           70
golden sheaves bending in the wind, one girl
held her husband’s hand, stopped, and made their plea,
“We came into this world wanting nothing
but life and creation thereof. Vera
encourages us to excel beyond one                                                    75
mere thought, but the power of gods is far
beyond mortals for higher reasons not
known. Let us still our passions and content
ours hearts with simple marvels of this earth.” 
“Simple are thou, Sis’,” said Angus, “deny                                       80
us all our Gift thou wouldst, for did Luan
thus say it would only work shouldst we all
accept?” Argued they, on and on and on, 
until the Sun did set and rise and set
again until the ten men and women                                                   85
did take leave of the two they deemed dogged
and spake amongst themselves how they might obtain
the Gift yet. At last they concluded as
one mind to rid themselves of the couple,
for without conscious minds, they could not,                                    90
therefore, stand between the ten and the Gift.
A sup thus served the ten beneath an Ash
spreading its boughs overhead in gray dusk.
Thirteen fine torches placed with care by yon
fire-makers lit the night, casting shadows                                         95
upon the twelve as they dined merrily
on roasted apples, fresh-picked blackberries,
and savory herbs, all the while under
pretense of resignation to their self-
born state. After they finished, the long-lived                                  100
parents brought forth twelve drinks of sweet wine, blood-
red, prepared from within their own vineyards
upon yon’ hill. Thus Vera and her other
half uplifted their cups, proposed a toast
in feigned content, and drank they all to peace                                 105
and unity of the twelve. Little the auburn-
headed couple did know about the fruit
slipped in their drinks by Angus and Glenn ‘fore
they supped until their stomachs cramped with pain.
Thus they doubled over while Rin took up                                       110
a pointed rock and thrust it between both
their ribs, one at a time, while proud Noaki
stood by in approval. Thus did the two,
man and woman, give up their final breath,
and mark the first death. But before the blood                                  115
could yet dry, the choleric couple brought
forth two torches and burnt up the bodies,                                                    
and then buried them beneath the Ash Tree.[11]
Back came they, from the light-haired to the dark,
until they came down unto the lake, to await                                     120
the return of the daughter of the Sun.
In silence they stood ‘round ‘bout ‘till dawn when
Angus looked up and spake to his own dear
wife, “Remember thou saidst, and remember
we shalt, for all history to come and                                                   125
all thoughts therein, embedded in my mind
shalt be now and fore’er more. For I shant
ever erase this deed, hastily done
and ill conceived, from mine grief-stricken mind.”
“I doubt not our loss, dearest brother,” saidst                                     130
the choleric mother, “that harsh loss of friends
and fellowship, laughter and tales, but yet
turn thine thoughts upon how much more we shalt
gain through the promised power we’ll receive.”
Forth at last came the Sun Child, dew trailing                                    135
in her wake and said unto the final
men and women, “Here thou hast gathered thine
kindred, oh Child, but where, I might inquire,
hath thine other siblings vanishéd to?”
A silence held the ten, for they, consumed                                         140
with fear of death, did not dare to utter
their deeds before the daughter of the Sun.
Until up spake Rin, short yet proud in his
stature,[12] “Ten are we now, for those two are
no more. Here have we come to stake our claim                                145
upon the Gift thou swore to grant shouldst we
all accept. As thou can see, we all do.”
Surveyed him, Luan did, then spake, “Shrewd art
thou. From thine birth, thy beheld the swiftest
of paths to take and the most-pointed words                                      150
to speak to attain thine desires. For thine
words and ways, thou and thine life-partner shalt
receive strength beyond thine fellow man[13] to
apply thine mind to raise up palaces and
kingdoms, yet the tearing down of empires                                       155
thine offspring shalt be drawn to fore’ermore.”
To the choleric, she thus saidst, “With fire
thou buried and with fire, thou shalt fall, but
lightning shall answer to thine call[14] and the
stones shall mimic thine name now and hereon.                               160
“Thou idle child, thou dreamers,” Luan spake up
once more, “O, that I hadst thine imagin-
ation to steal thus from the gods.[15] Thou and
thine partner shalt be able to change thy shape
according to whate’er thou desirest,[16]                                          165
except thou shalt then forget thine true self.”
Then, to the raven-headed ones, she spake,
“To remember thou wished, and remember
thou shalt the thoughts thou stole. Entrust thou with
the keeping of memory all throughout the ages[17]                       170
now and forevermore. As for thou two,
both desirers of longevity and growth,[18]
fated to live; fated to die, seekers
of life, thou shan’t taste death ‘till thou watch‘st thine
own brothers rest thrice more. Thus is                                            175
mine Gift to thee according to thine heart’s
desire. Live it well, thou Children of Dust.”
As she thus spake, she faded like a mist,
and once the Sun arose, was vanished, to walk
the earth ne’ermore for spent was her pow’r on                             180
mortals herein. Her place she took within
the heav’ns where she doth dance until the Sun
in days to come shall then bestow upon
her leave[19] to regain her power once again.


Let's chat! Have you read "The Sun Child" yet? What did you think of this companion poem? 

[1] daughter of the Sun: the Moon, unnamed until line 9.
[2] yonder star: star of unknown origin or constellation. Not to be confused with the Sun. According to Luan, humans were born of said star, but their origin is much debated between the races.
[3] girl: Vera, unnamed until line 36. Her husband is the unnamed Patriarch of the Shape-Shifters. They are known for their preference towards fantasy. The Shape-Shifters value identity, but unlike the Memory Keepers, they refuse to name their patriarch, believing that the choice concerning the Gifting could have been made by any of them, past or present.
[4] Gift: the above event is referred to as the Gifting by the Memory Keepers. See “The Diplomat’s Daughter.”
[5] Smiled… benign: lines 16-26 are quoted in “The Sun Child” and serve as the primary theme for Ellard Coburn’s account of sneaking back into the Haven during the Diataro occupation.
[6] raven-headed friend: Glenn, the Matriarch of the Memory Keepers and wife to Angus; unnamed until line 44. They are known for their preference towards memory.
[7] tall companion with skin as dark as coal: unnamed Patriarch of the Meridians. He and his wife are known for their preference towards reason.
[8] Naoki: Matriarch of the Diataro. One of the few women named among their history. She and her husband are known for their preference towards knowledge.
[9] two auburn-headed souls: the unnamed man and woman who never received the Gifting. They are considered by all races to be the quintessential human beings and are associated with the lost, sixth wit.
[10] choleric couple: the Matriarch and Patriarch of the Lightning Wielders, known for their use of imagination.
[11] Ash Tree: thus, it received its name.
[12] the short yet proud in stature: Rin, the husband to Naoki and patriarch of the Diataro. His sons, Taro, Jiro, and Saburo founded the three clans.
[13] strength beyond thine fellow man: the Diatoaro received the Gift of strength, three times that of the other races. Although they are among the most advanced in technology because of their strength, they are also the most prone to war.
[14] lightning shall answer thine call: the Lightning Wielders received the Gift of harnessing and unleashing energy through the use of Lightning Stones. As Luan prophesied, their golden age ended with the destruction of the City of Light in 3066. Few wielders survived.
[15] gods: much debate exists concerning what Fraser is actually referencing. The Memory Keepers are primarily monotheistic, so most did not believe in other deities. It could be a reference to the beliefs of the other races, but the commonly-held argument is that it refers to minor spirits, like Luan, and not deities.
[16] change thy shape according to whate’er thou desirest: the Shape-Shifters received the gift of changing form, from basic racial alterations to complex animals. They are only limited to transform into something they have seen or imagined.
[17] Entrust thou with the keeping of memory throughout the ages: the Memory Keepers received the Gift to access memories, which take on life as though they are reoccurring. As the keepers increased in number, they divided into four studies: 1) Deep Memory, accessing ancient memories and studying history; 2) Short-Term Memory, accessing recent memories and processing details; 3) Communication, presenting all types of memories in a clear manner; and 4) Restoration, retrieving buried memories and restoring broken ones.
[18] desirers of longevity and growth: the Meridians received the Gift of long lifespans, three times that of the other races. They are the most practical and unified of all races.
[19] bestow upon her leave: Memory Keeper and Shape-Shifter legend claims that during a solar eclipse, the Sun Child will return and reverse the effects of the Gifting. Diataro legend, on the other hand, claims that this event refers to the end of the world itself.