Why Are Themes Important In A Story, And How Do I Find Them?

Despite being a writer, I couldn’t stand English classes. We rarely did any creative writing, mainly academic. We read endless books, which for me, wasn’t horrible except when they just weren’t interesting. (Don’t even get me started on Catcher in the Rye. How is this a classic?) I would get in trouble all the time for reading something else from the library during class.

My hugest pet peeve about English classes, however, was ever present: English teachers’ burning desire to always find the themes of a work of literature. I could never understand what the necessity was. Why did it matter so much that I, a 14 year old child, understand the intricacies of what an author intended to drive forward? How did the teachers know if they were even right about the author’s intentions? What if a writer writes just because they want to tell a good story? I just wanted to enjoy a book, not get into endless discussions about imagery or central themes. (Also as an introvert, round table discussions were my nemesis.)

As I began to write, however, I realized that it was possible for both my English teachers and I to be right about themes in writing. As a writer, my initial goal wasn’t to push forward some central idea let alone several themes that would ring true throughout my novel. But as I wrote the story, I realized that certain ideas naturally began to come to the surface and show examples throughout the book. So perhaps themes are important after all because they drive the story in the undercurrent where enjoyment blends into the importance of reading.

Why Are Themes Important?

I am beginning to recognize that themes are important because they capture the heart of your story. They present a moral or a lesson or teach the reader something about themselves or their fellow man. They represent pieces of advice from the author about what’s the best way to live. Themes also allow readers to connect to the story better. Without some truth and something of real world importance and connection to make your readers want to see your characters grow and change, your book will never get picked up off the shelf.

In Chasing Fae, I’m starting to formulate what my themes look like. PSA For future readers of my book, here’s the real answers to what my story stands for.

First and foremost is a lesson about the people who may not look like much, but at the end of the day are much more powerful than one would believe them to be. Don’t underestimate the dark horse. Don’t underestimate the quiet people around you because they just might be doing the most in their lives. I also want to communicate how family is what you make of it: if your family is chaotic and messy, then you can always create your own. Blood only means so much; it’s trust, loyalty, and love that builds the strongest family. I also want to talk about what it means to build up trust in someone and learning to trust.

These themes are still evolving, and I suspect they’ll transform into more clear thoughts as I move through the publishing process.

How Do I Find The Themes in My Story?

Let them come to you.

In my opinion, it doesn’t often work to have three or four ideas for themes right off the bat before you start writing. Perhaps you’ve got a basic idea of what you want your readers to draw from the story, and that’s okay. That’s fantastic, actually; go ahead and run with that. But you don’t have to know right away exactly what kind of messages you want to send to people. Enjoy writing your novel first. That’s the most important thing.

Then, while you’re revising and editing, let yourself start looking beyond the plot and into the heart of the story itself. Trust me, even if you’re not sure you’ll find answers there, somewhere in the revision process you will. They will find you, and most times you’ll realize that’s what you wanted to say all along.

And if it’s not.… change it! It’s your book.

Happy writing!

A New Project: The Book Creators Program

Over the next year, I’m going to be embarking on a new writing journey that I am so excited to share with you all. Last month, I joined the Book Creators Program, an open source program created by Professor Koester of Georgetown University to guide student and young professionals to write and publish a nonfiction book. I ran into this opportunity on a flyer in the cafeteria, and being the writer soul that I am, I couldn’t resist signing up.

Over the course of the next 5 months, I’ll be working on researching, interviewing, and creating content for an approximately 25,000 word first draft of a nonfiction book that parallels something that’s either important to me in my life or to what I want my future career to be. I will have the opportunity to work with a developmental editor as I begin writing and focusing my book. Around February, I’ll have the opportunity to work with New Degree Press, a hybrid publishing option that helps authors set up a presale campaign to pay for the production of the book. I’ll work with an editing team, a marketing team, and learn all sorts of valuable publication information. And if all goes well, I’ll have a published book in my hand by July 2020 and for sale on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

Reading the information packet is an absolute whirlwind. I can’t even fathom how all of these pieces come together in such a specific period of time, though I imagine it takes longer for some writers. I’ve had my first two class sessions with the professor and a large group of writers, and I think he’s absolutely brilliant. To come with a project to motivate young writers to create and actually publish something early in their professional career with minimal cost to the author is really special. I’m excited to get started.

The idea I’m working on right now is tentatively titled Bringing History Home. It is going to explore this concept of personalizing history.

Historians are always searching for ways to bring history to the people, ways to make people care about the past and its impact on the future. But in my experience, it always appears that they are trying to accommodate some denominator that will hit the largest amount of people the same way. I want to take a look at what it means to bring history down to the individual and touch each person in a way that fascinates them. So far, I want to investigate interactive and living museums, such as Colonial Williamsburg; history through the arts, like the smash success that is Hamilton; and discovering history through genealogy. I’ve got a lot of ideas that are simmering, and it’s exciting.

Writing Book #2 of my fantasy series, querying for book #1 (and hopefully participating in Pitch Wars!), and writing this at the same time definitely seems like I’m staring up at a massive hill with no real knowledge of how to get to the top. But I’m up for the challenge. I love all of these projects, and I know that with hard work, I am absolutely ready.

I’m an author. That’s just what we do.

Questions To Ask Your Beta Readers

Hey everybody! Sorry for my brief disappearance; it has been a crazy week and a half. I was back in my hometown over the weekend to do a performance with alumni from my high school, and then I ended up back at school for a hellish three test week. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to balance five classes. I want to dedicate enough attention to each one, but I definitely feel a little behind. But now I’m back to blog posts! Today, I want to cover some questions that you may want to ask your beta readers when you give them your book.

Beta readers are a crucial component of the writing process because they offer insights into what is working and what isn’t from an outsider’s perspective. You can only read your own book so many times before you become blind to its faults. But in order to figure those out, you need to know what questions are best to ask! So, I’m going to lay out a list of good questions below for you to pick and choose what you really want to know about your story. Feel free to take all of them or select the ones that fit your concerns about your story the best!

Story

  1. Did my story hold your interest throughout the book?
  2. How long did it take you to get hooked into the story?
  3. Was there any point where you felt like the story stalled?
  4. Did you notice any plot inconsistencies that need to be addressed?
  5. Did the dialogue sound natural to you?
  6. Was there enough conflict and intrigue to hold your interest? Are there places would you have liked to see more?
  7. What were your favorite scenes or chapters? Did any section jump at you specifically?
  8. Are the plot twists both believable and unexpected?
  9. How did you feel about the ending?
  10. Do you think the writing style fits the genre?
  11. How was the novel’s pacing?
  12. Was there any point that you put the manuscript down?

Characters

  1. Can you relate to the main character? Do they seem believable? Are you able to see both strengths and weaknesses that make them a well rounded person?
  2. Were there characters that needed to be fleshed out more?
  3. What was your opinion on the villain?
  4. Are the relationships between characters believable?
  5. How do you feel about the main character’s goals? Are they working towards those goals in clear ways throughout the book?

Worldbuilding

  1. Does the world interest you? Does it excite you?
  2. How were my descriptions? Would you like to see more or less of them? Do they need to be more detailed?
  3. Which setting was most memorable to you?

I hope these questions will be useful to all of you tackling this stage in the writing process. Enjoy! Happy writing!

Building Your Author Platform: Facebook Page

Welcome back to the Building Your Author Platform series! I am finally off my hiatus from this subject, and today, I want to talk about some tricks and tips on maintaining a Facebook page that gets engagements. I personally run two pages, the Fluff About Fantasy page and All in the Pantheon’s page. If you know what you’re doing, you can have these pages practically run themselves. Here is my best advice.

Tip #1: Make sure your setup allows for smooth operation.

When you’re creating your Facebook page, make sure you’re taking care of the basics. Fill out your “about” description with a quick summary of either who you are or what your website offers, depending on which purpose you’re designing your page around. Add at least one form of contact information outside of using Messenger (I chose my writing email). Let people know that you’re available to take questions from fans or contact from professionals.

Sync your website to your Facebook page. WordPress allows you to post links and a description of every post you make to your website automatically. It’s a fantastic feature that saves me a bit of time every time I create something new.

Tip #2: Send your page out to as many people as you can.

Now that you’ve created a Facebook page, you’re going to want people to see it! Start by sending invites to like your page out to all your Facebook friends, whether that’s 50 people or 500. Post the link on your personal Facebook and your Facebook story. Get your friends to share it too. Post the link on all of the other social media platforms that you use. Even if you only get 5% engagement from the people who follow you, that’s fantastic. Facebook is a platform that is fairly difficult to build up a following for a page unless you’ve already got a decent amount of work out there in the public eye.

If you’re willing to spend a bit of money, using Facebook Ads to reach more people can be incredibly useful for branching outside of your immediate and secondary circles. While I haven’t put out an ad myself, I have played around with selecting an audience for an ad. And let me tell you, you can narrow the focus down as much as you want to by age, location, and common interests; to name a few. I’ve got a saved audience for young fantasy writers to target once I’m ready to put out my first ad.

Tip #3: Create new content.

As I mentioned before, Facebook is notorious for making pages difficult for others to see without you throwing it in someone’s face via yourself or ads. However, one technique that I’ve noticed does get you a little more reach is creating new content. Content that can’t be found on your website or any of your other social media platforms.

On the All in the Pantheon page, I conduct interviews with each of the gods to dive deep into who they are, what they stand for, and how they feel about the mortal scribe writing for them. It’s an added touch that breaks up the monotony of getting a stream of blog post after blog post. People like to see something new and different, and they love to think that they’re the only ones who are seeing it or the first ones who will ever see it. I’m working on coming up with ways to bring interesting things like that to spruce up the Fluff About Fantasy page. I’m open to suggestions!

At the end of the day, a Facebook page is easily manageable with just a little bit of effort per week. Add to your repertoire. You won’t regret it.

Happy writing!

Politics and Trade: The Upper Realm

Political Alliances

There are two major political alliances in the Upper Realm: the Alliance of the Rose and the Alliance of the Lily. Within these alliances, trade flows relatively smoothly, and each lorddom comes to each other’s aid when called in case of war or extreme conflict. While trade does occur outside of alliances, it is limited in scope.

Alliance of the Rose:

  • House of the Day
  • House of the Sun
  • House of Light
  • House of Water
  • House of Earth
  • House of Peace

Alliance of the Lily:

  • House of the Evening
  • House of the Moon
  • House of Darkness
  • House of Wind
  • House of Fire
  • House of War (note: The House of War does operate primarily independently from the other Houses. However, when it does trade, it is with these Houses and there are legends of past administrations coming to the Alliance of the Lily’s aid. Although that hasn’t occurred in generations)

Trade

When I started working on this world, I knew I wanted to understand how trade flowed between lorddoms and between realms. So I did something a little crazy. I wrote down a multitude of crops, magical items, and other goods that might come up at some point in the story. I made an intense trading list of who produced what, who was importing it, and which producers were exporting. Although it sounds complicated, it actually reads well. It allowed me to summarize a lorddom’s best crops and exports in a separate document which then would be used to understand the individual cultures of the Twelves Houses.

Take a look of this overview of key items!

Magical items/artifacts: Produced by the most magically potent areas of the Upper Realm. Imported by the House of Fire, the House of Earth, and the House of the War. Few items present on the black market of the Middle Realm.

Amulets: Usually produced in areas with gemstone mines. Half of the houses produce, and the other half important. Items present on the black market of the Middle Realm.

Protective charms: Produced by the House of the Moon, House of Light, House of Peace, House of War, and House of Fire. Imported by the remaining houses. Few items present on the black market of the Middle Realm.

Clothing and Materials: Cotton, cotton fabric, and cotton clothing can be found across all twelve Houses as well as the Middle Realm. Silk is only produced by the House of Peace and the House of the Moon and is very expensive, reserved for the upper echelon.

Wheat: A main staple of a Three Realms diet. The only House that does not have the acreage to produce their own wheat crops is the House of Darkness. They have no choice but to import. This puts a great strain on their economy and their people.

Fruit: Most fruit is produced in the House of the Day and the House of the Sun. Their climates and geography are best suited for growing fruit, hence the bountiful harvests often showcased at local markets. These fruits drive their economies: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, apples, and tomatoes. The House of Fire also produces a decent amount of fruit, from plums, to oranges, and peaches.

Vegetables: Another staple of the Upper Realm diet are potatoes, produced mainly in the northern half of the realm. Other vegetables such as peas, carrots, and corn can be primarily found in the House of the Sun and the House of Earth.

Furs: The best winter furs are found in the mountain regions: the House of the Evening, the House of the Moon, and the House of the Wind.

Coal and Oil: Possessed by the House of Earth, the House of Fire, and the House of War as well as select regions of the Middle Realm.

Salt: Salt is a key resource to a society thriving. Yet only two of the Upper Realm Houses (House of Wind and House of Water) have access to a consistent salt mine. This is where the Middle Realm comes in. Not only do they have a multitude of salt mines, but they have enough to supply their people and the Upper Realm on their own. This is what keeps the trade relationship between the Upper Realm and the Middle Realm alive.

I hope you found this as interesting as I do! Let me know in the comments below what you think!

Note: This is, of course, still a work in progress especially because I’m not as well versed in politics and economics as I would ideally be. I’m always open to hearing constructive criticism on my worldbuilding!

How To Plan Out A Series

One of the most popular ways to write fantasy is through a series. Readers enjoy series because it offers them a chance to stick with the same characters over an extended period of time. They get to watch them evolve through a series of events and become very attached to their survival and happiness. Series keep us on edge every moment, waiting for the next book to come out or waiting for the final conclusion. If you’re thinking about writing a series of your own, here are a few tips to help you out.

Step One: Map Out Your Plot

One of the most important things about writing a great series is making sure that your story can be carried over several books. Now if you’re just starting out with an idea, it can seem like a lot to think about right off the bat. But if you’re looking to plan a series, I imagine you have at least some basic idea of what major events happen when. Use those to understand whether you’ve got enough story.

Think about how many books you want to write. There’s no magic number (although three is quite popular); each story idea is unique. Remember, each book needs to have its own plot arc: a clear purpose that is worked towards over the course of the novel definitively fulfilled at the end. Then on top of that, each book needs to contribute to the overall series arc. The series arc itself also has its own purpose that must be worked towards at each stage. If you can see all of these main elements, congratulations! Your idea has enough substance to write a series.

Step Two: Get To Know Your Characters

I talk all the time about getting to know your characters on an intimate level. I’ve suggested creating character profiles and conducting an in depth interview with your character. When writing a series, this is especially crucial.

Over the course of your books, you’re going to be playing around with multiple important characters and multiple big character arcs. Outside of your main character, several secondary characters are going to have significant arcs that will influence the story. In each book, your main character will go through a change. You have to clearly see that change each time you pick up the next book and introduce a new change that will begin to play out. Your secondary characters will evolve over the course of the series, and each book doesn’t have to have a specific change for them.

In order to accomplish this, you need to absorb your characters’ personalities, motivations, and goals. You need to know them better than you know yourself. Using the tools I’ve linked above will assist you.

Step Three: Consider your world.

Your worldbuilding will need to be detailed enough for your readers to learn new places and new details each time they pick up an installment. Think about the Harry Potter universe and how expansive it is, how J.K. Rowling introduced us to new places and magical aspects every time we picked up one of her books. Take the time to ask questions about your world and dive deep into everything from geography down to individual family life. Your magic system will also need to be built to last as it will be a crucial backbone as your characters move throughout your fantastical universe. Dream as big as you want.

Are you ready to start? Happy writing!

Creating Subplots

A great fantasy story must always incorporate more than just a main plotline. Smaller stories and adventures should be included to give more insight into the characters and build up to the climax of the main story. Subplots tend to show progress and growth in a character without necessarily being part of their main journey or goal. These subplots can focus on the main character and their secondary goals or a secondary character and their own storyline. All subplots should relate back to the main plot and intersect the story in some way. That could mean relating back to the main themes or showing progress in the characters that are essential to the main journey.

Types of Subplots

There is a wide variety of subplots to choose from when looking at your own novel. Here are a few useful ones to recognize:

  • One of the most common and most recognizable subplots are romantic subplots. The main character falls in love with a secondary character who in turn reveals a lot of intimate information about the former character’s motivations, dreams, and personality traits. Romantic subplots are often the easiest to incorporate into most genres; with fantasy, they tend to walk hand in hand.
  • Another solid subplot idea for fantasy is something brewing in the political world. My own book explores this in the way of political tension, subverting alliances, and the constant presence of impending war. This subplot is often a great way to bring in detailed worldbuilding and historical background into your story.
  • It is always a great idea to show conflict between main and secondary characters. This can include a conflict with a villain that perhaps exists on the fringes of your main plot or an argument with a friend or lover that changes the main character’s course. These subplots add depth to your characters and often can have a transformative effect on a character’s psyche.
  • Anything that showcases a character’s strengths, flaws, and motivations can be incorporated into the story as a subplot. You’re not limited to the types of ideas I’ve listed above.

A Tip On Identifying and Incorporating Subplots

When I finished the first draft of Chasing Fae, one of things I did was take several sheets of paper and draw out several large arcs. I then went through my book and labeled each event of the main plot on one arc. On the next few, I took some time to pick out the events in my novel that didn’t connect directly to the main storyline. Those, I then was able to sort and begin to create some subplot arcs. Wherever I saw gaps, I made notes on what to write to fill them in to make my subplots complete. The final arc I used to create a character arc so I could definitively see how Grace changed and grew over the course of the entire novel. If there wasn’t a logical jump between one point and another, I created a new event to add in my second draft and create a new subplot off of that.

I would highly recommend this method if you’re having trouble identifying what kind of subplots you want to incorporate or what subplots you already have brewing. It also serves as a great tool to break your story down and really gain a deep understanding of your characters and your plot.

I hope this has been helpful. Happy writing!

Writer’s Review: AutoCrit

When in search of great writing software, I happened across AutoCrit during NaNoWriMo 2018. This website was running a contest that offered three months free membership to any NaNoWriMo contestant that signed up for their newsletter. While I didn’t win, an opportunity to purchase a lifetime membership for a reasonable price popped up unexpectedly. I snapped it up, and today, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about this revision software.

First Things First, what does AutoCrit do?

AutoCrit is an editing software that helps to edit your novel in a multitude of ways. Through its unique analysis process, you can instantly get editing suggestions about everything from word choice, to active vs. passive words, and even pacing. It takes into account all of the most popular books of a particular genre and their writing styles and uses those to evaluate where your story falls stylistically within that genre. You can even compare your book directly to the writing style of a particular author. For fantasy, I know J.K Rowling is an option as well as Sarah J. Maas, my favorite author of all time. The suggestions that AutoCrit churns out are really genre-specific, something that I don’t think any other editing software can give.

Best Features

Pacing and Momentum Report – I love this one immensely because of how accurate it is. You can see very clearly where your slow paragraphs are in your story, and you can see whether you’re actively moving the story along with what you’re writing.

Adverbs Report: Do you feel like you’re using too many adverbs in your writing? If yes, this is going to change your life. It shows you graphs of your most frequently used adverbs and how many per chapter. The software also shows you if your use of adverbs is average or above average or below average for your genre. It’s a really great indicator of where your writing stands in its current state. It will even show you the exact number to get rid f to make it fall into traditional bestseller standards.

If you don’t think you’re using too many adverbs…. trust me. You are.

Clichés Report – Are you worried that your book may contain too many cliché phrases? AutoCrit will weed them out for you and mark where they are in your story. Super useful for a second and third draft.

When should I use this?

I used AutoCrit primarily for my third and fourth drafts after I had gotten feedback from a few beta readers. While I was implementing their suggestions, I began to focus on word choice more heavily than I had in the past edits. AutoCrit was the best tool for identifying the weaknesses in my writing that I, myself, as a new writer was unfamiliar with what to even look for. It pointed out clear successes and clear failures that I could then adjust to until it was where I wanted it to be.

This software does not edit for you. Every change you want to make, you make yourself. It does not implement anything for you. What it does is point out specific areas for you to improve on and make specific suggestions to improve your writing. I couldn’t be happier with it.

Pricing

The plan that I personally use and would recommend is the Professional Plan. This grants you unlimited word count and access to all of the features I mentioned above, plus a lot more. This is the plan that’s going to best suit the author. Going with the basic plan leaves you only working with 1000 words at a time (which could not work). Going with the elite offers you weekly lessons, tips and tricks from industry professionals, and marketing help once you publish. But until you’re ready for that stage or you really want some more professional assistance, I would suggest the Professional Plan. It currently runs for $30 per month. But AutoCrit is often running discounts, so be on the lookout.

As always, happy writing!

Writing Sex Scenes

When you’re working with a romance subplot in a fantastical universe, it is entirely probable that you will run into the questions that many writers face when creating a believable relationship.

Should I incorporate a sex scene? Where is it appropriate and where is it not? How do I create something that’s going to flow well and not sound absolutely ridiculous?

Despite my age, I’ve had a decent amount of run-ins with sex in literature, and I can absolutely tell when something sounds good and when it sounds like the author is trying way too hard. Or sometimes not enough. If done right, it can add a fiery or finessed detail to your character relationships that can allow one or more to develop and change. Sex means a great many things to a lot of different people. Just as people navigate those meanings in reality, your characters can have the opportunity to explore them on the pages of your novel. Here are some tips and tricks to help you create the perfect sensual moment.

Tip #1: Make sure your scene fits your audience.

Sex in middle grade novels is never acceptable. Let’s get that tidbit out of the way first. Easy enough to remember. When it comes to young adult vs. adult, the lines begin to blur a bit. Some prefer YA books to have more sublte sex scenes that consist of maybe a few lines to get the point across or enough language in a longer scene that it’s not incredibly explicit. Others don’t care if YA has more explicit sex scenes. Adult books can usually run the gamut including tipping into the heavier, way too much for YA kind of explicit.

Tip #2: Keep it real.

Please please please. Keep your sex scenes real. Don’t come up with ridiculous positions that would put obvious physical strain on any characters. Keep your timeline of initiation to foreplay to penetration realistic. But at the same time, don’t feel like you have to be stereotypical. Every couple has their own process and their own style of having sex, even if they have just met and it’s a quick hookup.

If you’ve got a spouse or are in a long-term relationship, try out your scene in the bedroom! Draw inspiration from your sex life. If this isn’t your thing, fanfiction is your friend. Searching your favorite pairings from books, TV shows, or movies in some of the most popular fanfiction platforms (fanfiction.net, archiveofourown.org, etc.) can yield some fantastic steamy stories. You can find one-shots to short chaptered stories to full length manuscripts. Trust me, you can INSTANTLY tell the difference between well written scenes with any kink you can imagine and absolutely horrible prose. And I mean, horrible. Scar you for life kind of horrible writing.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Tip #3: Use the right langague.

“His engorged member” is not the right language to use.

Why, why do writers choose to embellish body anatomy and sexual acts with ridiculous words that when put together, conjure some very weird mental images?

Just tell it like it is. Don’t excessively embellish your descriptions. Point A to Point B can be communicated with detail without being flowery and ultimately, unrealistic.

Have fun with it!

Happy writing!

Reference List of Writing Resources

This list will expand as I encounter new programs and websites.

Character Building

Epiguide’s Character Chart for Fiction Writers: A detailed chart that allows a writer to dive into a character’s appearance, personality, and daily life.

Labotomy of A Writer – Epic Character Questionnaire: A comprehensive interview to conduct with your character. Highly recommended.

Worldbuilding

SFWA Worldbuilding Questions: A comprehensive set of worldbuilding questions that cover a wide range of categories to fully immerse a writer in the world they want to create.

World Anvil: A place to create an encyclopedia of your world through articles, profiles, and other posts. Both a free and a paid service.

Outlining

Iulian Ionescu – Master Outlining and Tracking Tool: A high powered outlining tool that allows a writer to summarize their book and split that summary into 81 scenes to aid in the plotting process.

Drafting

Marissa Meyer’s blog post series From Idea to Finished: An article series that walks a writer through the process of writing from the idea all the way through the publication process.

Scrivener: A word-processing program designed specifically for the writer. Combines a research binder, an outlining board, and a typewriter.

Google Docs: My preferred word processor.

Revisions

How To Edit Your Novel – The Ultimate Crash Course: A crucial guide for understanding the editing process and how to tackle it.

Autocrit: An online book editor for fiction writers that analyzes your writing in the context of your genre and gives you specific tips to improve your prose.

Grammarly: An online grammar and spell checker perfect for writers of any profession.