Guest Post: How I Increased Narrative Tension by Giving My Protagonists Psychologically Realistic Flaws

Noah Lemelson is a short story writer and novelist who lives in LA with his wife and cat. Lover of Science Fiction, Fantasy, New Weird, and Punk. He received his BA in Biology from the University of Chicago in 2014 and received his MFA in Creative Writing from the California Institute of the Arts in 2020. He has had several of his short stories published in both print and online magazines, such as Allegory, Space Squid and the Outsider’s Within Horror Anthology. Visit his website here to learn more about him and his upcoming book.

I’m not into the whole Chosen One thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to toss a hot take that all Chosen One narratives are bad. Like any trope they can be done well. But it has been done, and done, and done, and done some more. When I sat down to write The Sightless City (then “Untitled Lazarus Roache Project”), I wanted to tell a story about comparatively normal characters, not heroes chosen by gods or destiny. But normal does not mean boring. Too often books allow their protagonist to become dullest character. It’s a genuine challenge to make sure your point of view character is not just some window with legs, but a full and complex human being (or fantastical human being equivalent).

My strategy to make my POV interesting was to make each protagonist flawed in some significant way. They would be united in their opposition to Lazarus Roache, but I wanted each of their struggles to be individual and internal. They had been wronged, but they were not passive victims, they had active flaws that got them into their situations, and make it more difficult for them to escape.

To both explain what I mean, and to give a hint at how to write realistically flawed characters, let’s talk about the self-narratives. We each have a narrative about ourselves, explanations for what we have done, what we are doing, what we will do, and why. Often identities are a big part of this, labels either given to us or chosen by us (often a bit of both). These self-narratives give us a sense of who we are, and influence our future decisions, but they aren’t necessarily “true.” I’m not saying they’re always “false” either, obviously. It’s just that self-narrative are, like everything in society, constructions, ideas that are sometimes based on facts, sometimes on emotion, but often come from a blurry mix of reality, emotion, and expectation.

Marcel Talwar is a war hero. He fought to free Huile, giving up his leg and losing his friends in a fight for freedom. This is the identity he was given and one he embraces fully. But there is another narrative, another possible identity. Marcel Talwar is a war criminal. He caused thousands of brutal deaths. This alternative reading of his actions, as factual as his other identity, is abhorrent to Marcel. He does not actively consciously consider this possibility, and I don’t explicitly call him out on it in the book, but on some level he is aware of this darker narrative. This other interpretation does not make him question his war hero status, quite the opposite. He is so utterly convinced he is a war hero because the alternative possibility is so horrid. This leads to a massive emotional block preventing him questioning from his own decisions and the outcomes of those decisions. This is a significant character flaw. Marcel is a good person, in that he tries to be a good person and do good things, but he can be blind to reality when that reality threatens to unravel his self-narrative.

Sylvaine also has her own issues with self-narratives and identity. She is a Ferral, a beast-person, discriminated against her whole life. Ideally, she might find pride and security in her identity, and create a positive self-narrative, but she is unable to. Instead, she seeks to reject her Ferral-ness and prove, to the world and herself, that she is something more. This self-defense mechanism has found its focus in Ætheric Engineering. Ferrals are stereotypically considered primitive and simple. Engineering is the exact opposite of that, civilized and intelligent. She believes subconsciously that if she can just become an engineer, that will prove she is not just a mere bestial Ferral. She believes it will prove, to the world and herself, that she is deserving of respect and dignity. That’s not to say her interest in engineering is not genuine. She does actually love engineering, but her obsession is colored with a desperate self-loathing brought on by years of bullying and discrimination. Of course, this is what makes her inability to control æther so devastating, it’s not just the death of a dream, in an assault on the identity she is trying to claim, a cut into an old and deep wound. She keeps trying again and again to become an engineer, each failure just building more self-loathing, and as her desperation grows, as does her willingness to make questionable decisions if she thinks it might make her a real engineer.

Of course, its not just enough for these characters to have flaws, to have contradictions in their self-narratives, but these flaws need to manifest as actual conflicts in the plot. (I mean you could have a fully internal narrative, that might be interesting, but genre conventions for fantasy mean that at some point, something in the world has to change in meaningful and usually violent ways). So in comes Lazarus Roache, who, unlike the protagonists, is not trying in the least to be a good person. He is able to manipulate the protagonists not through simple threats or bribery, but by playing on their self-narratives, and their desperation to be the person they think they are.

So then the tension of the story becomes two-fold. 1) Will my protagonists defeat the villains. And 2) Will my protagonists be able to work through the inner contradictions own sense of self? But these two conflicts are interconnected, failing to stop the villains can push them deeper into holes of their own psyche, while these flaws can in turn prevent them from effectively fighting the villain. To resolve the external conflict, they have to overcome their internal ones, and those are often much more complex and difficult to face. And I think, also more interesting to read about.

Urban Fantasy vs. Magical Realism

Hello writers! How have you all been? It’s been a while, I know, but I have just been lost in a sea of work. Kindle Vella is launching next week, and I have been working on my fantastic Ivy Labyrinth project that I mentioned to you all a couple months ago. I did an entire post on tips for writing urban fantasy, and it seemed to be reasonably enjoyed by all of you. But as I was writing the first few episodes of my serial, I realized I wasn’t actually writing urban fantasy. It had similarities, but it did not quite fit based on what I had read about the genre. I went searching for answers, and I discovered a new genre for me: magical realism.

Today, I’m going to share with you a short comparison of these two genres so you don’t make the same mistakes I did when starting a new project.

Urban Fantasy

In urban fantasy, the setting is most commonly a urban city although I have seen a few instances where the setting is a major or even rural town. Whoever and whatever your fantasy creatures are, they should live in the city and interact with the population, but their true magical identities are unknown to mortals. They should integrate seamlessly into the universe and fly pretty much undetected. Until the main character discovers them, of course, and gets drawn into their world and their struggles. My favorite example of urban fantasy is the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare.

Magical Realism

In magical realism, fantasy and reality operate side by side. Magical elements blend into the real world like they are one and the same. Through the main character’s eyes, magic is presented as fact, as something that always has been and always will be. Sometimes the author doesn’t even explain how the magic works! They operate through the eyes of the main character who sees magic as an everyday occurrence, encouraging the reader to accept it as such as well. From what I have read, magical realism often contains a social or political critique of society. In my opinion, this doesn’t have to be an overly obvious factor. For me personally, I’m still trying to figure out where or if that element fits into the piece I am working on.

So there you have it: my very quick breakdown of urban fantasy vs. magical realism. I hope this helps some of you when figuring out which subgenre your story fits into. Happy writing!

Preliminary Tips For Writing Urban Fantasy

Hello writers! I’m finally winding down my semester, which has been the most chaotic yet. I apologize profusely for not putting out as much content in the last six months. There has been a whirlwind of things happening. The most recent one is the subject of this post.

When Amazon announced their upcoming Kindle Vella platform, I was super excited. I am writing something entirely new for the platform. The piece is actually an idea that I worked on in middle school and am now revamping and upgrading to a young adult urban fantasy serial. Urban fantasy is a genre that I have always enjoyed reading, but I have never tried to write it before.

Then again, I had never tried writing epic fantasy before I wrote my first book.

So I have done some research into what it takes to write urban fantasy, and I want to share that advice with all of you.

Tip #1: Setting Matters.

On every site that I read through, writers pinned setting the most important aspect of urban fantasy stories. In fantasy, the setting always acts as another character in the story. It should be well thought out and well developed. I spent eight months working on the worldbuilding for Chasing Fae due to its complexity. Urban fantasies are set primarily in cities, though some take place in an outer suburb or something similar. These cities can exist in the modern world, but they could also be set in an alternate world or universe. Authors often draw from real-life urban environments to construct the most realistic setting. Some even play around with the era, taking a city from the past and bringing magic into it.

One of the most important elements of developing your settings is where the magic and urban world meet. Writing Tips Oasis conveys it best: “There are two different ways that you can portray the city: as it is, or as it would be because of the magic”. Magic can either be hidden in plain sight or portrayed out in the open. It has to be perfectly blended with the modern world. Technology like airplanes, the internet, and cell phones are often utilized by characters from the mortal and the magical world. At the same time, the magical institutions should have their own set of rules and technology that work together with or alongside the mortal one. I’m still learning about what that looks like!

Tip #2: Choose your lead protagonists wisely.

Whether or not you are choosing one protagonist or multiple protagonists, it’s important to find those characters that you can showcase “unique, but accessible” points of view. Whether they are mortal, vampire, or dragon shapeshifter, your characters need to feel believable to your reader. The magical aspect should not define your character. Instead, they should be given a full personality. They should have desires, strengths, weaknesses, and that one thing that keeps them going during the day.

I am planning on writing my Kindle Vella story from four perspectives. Serials specifically lend themselves well to multiple perspectives. One will be a mortal woman, one is a male dragon shapeshifter, one is a naiad with siren blood, and the last is an elemental fire mage. There are quite a few more magical races that I am including, but I don’t feel the need to have each of them have a main voice. Hopefully, I’ll be able to showcase many of them through secondary characters.

Tip #3: Pacing Is Important.

Though there is a variety of advice out there about what kinds of urban fantasy plots are the best, the pacing notes seem to all be the same. Readers of urban fantasy expect their stories to have a healthy dose of action. Of course, there need to be quieter moments to allow readers to breathe, but this genre tends to be fast-paced. Subplots are also important to help bring layers to the story. Romance is often a chosen subplot, but it’s important to make sure that you don’t let it take over the story. That may transfer your story into paranormal romance! Writers’ Digest adds that urban fantasy is sexy; a good sex scene or subtle eroticism teased throughout the book keeps the reader’s heart pounding.

I’m looking forward to tackling this story idea. Any one else who enjoys reading or writing urban fantasy? Any advice you want to share with the rest of us?

Happy writing!

Structuring Your Novel – Save The Cat! Beat Sheet

This month, I have been primarily focusing on getting Chasing War into a place where I feel confident that over the next few months, I can make it amazing. This sequel has tested me a lot already in the drafting stage. The story is good, but there are much more problems than when I was drafting Chasing Fae. Maybe that’s me though; there may have been just as many problems back then too. 😀

A few weeks ago, I just knew something was wrong with the book. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what it was. At first, I thought it might be a bunch of missing plot points. Maybe the book needed more substance? But that didn’t quite feel right. Although I needed much more character development, this was a second draft, and something more was missing. I took to Twitter to ask for help. An author, Shawn T. Anderson (@ShawnTWrites) told me about Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody, a book about novel writing. He told me it was a great diagnostic tool for plot problems.

I did some searching and ended up on Samantha Gilbo’s website where I found a great step-by-step guide on how to outline your novel using Brody’s book. It included a free beat sheet that I would highly recommend you grabbing; it helped me visualize the process much more clearly. I don’t want to directly copy over what she has said, so I’ll give you a basic overview and have you read her article on your own.

Act 1: The Beginning

  • Opening Image – A scene that shows the protagonist in her world before the adventure. It can be an introduction to your main character or if it’s a sequel like my book, a showcasing of the new state your protagonist found themselves in at the end of book 1 before everything changes again.
  • Setup – Multiple scenes that reveal the protagonist’s current life and the world around them with all of their flaws. Sometimes you may introduce supporting characters or some sort of initial goal for the character to work towards.
    • Somewhere in there, there will be a scene where your main theme is stated, something that hints at what your protagonist will learn over the course of your book.
  • Catalyst – A scene where a life-changing event happens to your main character that launches them onto the path of the rest of the story.
  • Debate – Several scenes where the protagonist debates what to do next.
  • Break Into Two – A scene where the protagonist decides to accept their new role, embark on their new adventure, and/or otherwise enter upon the point where everything will change.

Act 2A: The Middle (Part 1)

  • B Story – A scene that introduces a new character or a series of supporting characters that will ultimately help the protagonist on their journey.
  • Fun and Games – A multitude of scenes where the protagonist either succeeds or fails in a series of events that show off the new world they have been thrust into.
  • Midpoint – A single scene where the above section either ends in what Gilbo describes as a “false victory” (if the protagonist has been succeeding so far) or a “false defeat” (if the protagonist has been failing so far). Gilbo provides some great examples in her description.

Act 2B: The Middle (Part 2)

  • Bad Guys Close In – Depending on which direction your midpoint takes, the next several scenes will show an impactful turn in the protagonist’s path. In the situation of a “false victory”, everything will go downhill from there. In the case of a “false defeat”, things will slowly begin to get better and better for your main character. In either choice, the external bad guy (antagonist) or an internal enemy (like fear or a false belief) are closing in.
  • All is Lost – A scene that takes your main character to their lowest point.
  • Dark Night of the Soul – Multiple scenes where the protagonist takes time to process everything that has happened so far. This usually brings forth some revelation that ushers them into the story’s finale.
  • Break Into Three – A scene where the protagonist realizes what they have to do to fix the external story struggles as well as their internal struggles.

Act 3: The End

  • Finale – The protagonist takes matters into their own hands in this multi-scene segment and solves their dilemmas. Gilbo breaks this out into five separate parts, which I would highly recommend reading about in her article. I found it super helpful.

My Results

After reading over this format and filling it out for Chasing War, I found out what my problems were! Turns out, the issues with the draft had to do with structure rather than plot. I ended up making a sheet to rearrange the entire first half of the book. The inciting incident needs to occur earlier, and magical lessons needed to be spread out throughout the story. In the process, I found seven places to add new chapters that would connect subplots better. When I wrote everything out, I instantly felt this wave of relief and honestly, thrill wash over me. I had solved my problem!

All in all, I would highly, highly recommend using this method if you are having problems with plot or structure in your novel. It absolutely revitalized my excitement for this sequel. If you try it out, let me know how it goes!

Tackling A Fairytale Retelling

Hey everybody! I’m back! I finished up my last class of the semester on Friday, and now (despite exams), I have much more time to concentrate on my writing and on this blog. I have been trying to brainstorm topics relating to writing fantasy that readers would be interested in. I have a few, but if you have any ideas or topics that you would love to read about, please shoot me a comment or a message!

For today’s blog post, I want to chat about a subgenre of fantasy that I am thinking about attempting: the fairytale retelling. After the Chasing Fae trilogy, I’m considering taking on a Robin Hood retelling. It is one of my favorite childhood stories, and I have some pretty solid ideas to take the story in a new direction. It’s a subgenre that I enjoy reading, but it has to be done right. So I have been exploring the web for the best tips for writing a fairytale retelling, and these are the top three that I found.

Tip #1: Read Your Chosen Fairytale Carefully.

Before you take on your fairytale retelling, you must read the original! Whatever the story or fairytale may be, find the original version and read it from cover to cover. Make some notes on the various elements of the story. Essentially, you have to take stock of what you have to work with: characters, general plotline, what details of the world are available. It may seem tedious, but you want to capture every detail you can so you can build from there.

Tip #2: Figure out what you want to change.

Next, you’ll want to decide how much you want to change for your retelling. Here’s a few ideas you may want to think about:

  • Whose perspective do you want to tell the story from? Will it be the protagonist, or will you take it from a different perspective?
  • Do you want to update the setting? For example, will you be changing the time period to the present day? How will the world change?
  • How do you want to enhance the characterization? How can you make the main characters more full, more well-rounded to suit your purposes? What minor characters might jump into the spotlight?
  • What is your twist? What is your unexpected element that is going to make this retelling unique?

Tip #3: Build a world around the story.

One of the things that is interesting about classic fairytales is that often the setting can be quite nondescript. You hear about the “beautiful castle” or the “rolling hills”, but it has very little other details. This gives you the ability to dream big with your worldbuilding. That is one of the things that I am most excited to tackle in a fairytale retelling. Take this opportunity to take those little details and go wild. If you want more inspiration on how to take your worldbuilding to the next level, check out my Worldbuilding tab for worldbuilding questions and tips.

That’s all for now, friends. I’ll write more posts soon! Happy writing!

Bringing Characters Back For The Sequel

Hello friends!

Now that my first book is out in the world, it is time for me to turn my attention to writing book 2. As I have gotten back into the swing of writing a first draft again, I am realizing that there are just as many, if not more elements to consider in writing a fantasy sequel than writing the first book or a standalone. The world that I have created has to be maintained while I am also elaborating on places the reader has already seen and creating new destinations for them to enjoy. I must create an entirely new storyline that must bring people in just as much as the first one. But most importantly, I need to recapture characters that I have already created and let the reader see more. This is the topic I am going to be addressing today. I want to share a little bit about what I am learning in the early stages of starting the sequel to Chasing Fae.

Lesson #1: Keep Details and Initial Personalities Consistent.

Readers have seen Grace move throughout the Three Realms for over three hundred pages, and they have a distinct idea of who she is and the kind of decisions she tends to make. When the second book begins, I don’t want to stray too far from that, at least in the first chapter. I feel like it’s important to re-ground your reader in the main characters you have already introduced, particularly the protagonist. I enjoy books that take a moment to subtly reacquaint the reader with where they are, who they are with, and when the story is picking up from before diving in only a couple of pages later. I am hoping that I will be able to accomplish that with the beginning of Chasing War.

Lesson #2: But Don’t Forget Your Characters Need To Have New Arcs.

In Chasing Fae, both Grace and Aiden went through visible major shifts as people from the beginning to the end of the story. Those two arcs were closed, not to be reopened again. Instead, I have to now take both of those characters to new places and work in new character development. It isn’t enough to show them in their newfound state from the end of book 1; as an author, you have to reintroduce new challenges and states of mind that will push your characters to transform in unique ways. And remember, that transformation should be as varied and complex as the first time around. Grace had quite a few failures that brought her development as a person backwards before she found ways to push forward. I plan on doing more of that to keep things interesting.

Lesson #3: Elaborate On Secondary Characters.

In a sequel, it is important to take some time and explore those secondary characters who will continue to be instrumental in the overall series arc. I am so excited to build on those characters who took on small to medium sized roles in Chasing Fae. I have so many fantastic plans for bringing a couple of those people into the main plotline and giving them a full arc for readers to explore alongside Grace’s.

Lesson #4: Introducing New Characters Is A Must.

It matters just as much to create entirely new characters as it does to elaborate on the characters that are already present. Many of the secondary characters that will be showcased in book 2 were mentioned briefly in name only or perhaps had a very small cameo near the end. I am not sure if I consider writing them to be elaborating on previously established people because there is so much that the readers do not know about them. I might even consider them to be brand new characters for people to fall in love with. But on top of that, I do plan on bringing in one or two solid unheard-of-before-this-book characters to make sure that I get that element of fresh blood in the sequel.

These are my preliminary observations as I work on drafting. I may update this as I learn more through my writing. Until then, happy writing everyone!

An Interview With Roy Huff

Roy Huff

Roy Huff is a Hawaii-based best-selling author, peer-reviewed research scientist, and teacher. After overcoming significant childhood adversity, he moved to the islands and hasn’t looked back. He’s since earned five degrees, trained on geostationary satellites for NASA’s GOES-R Proving Ground, and written numerous bestsellers. He stumbled into writing, but what he didn’t stumble into is his love for all things science fiction and fantasy. Later, he contributed a series of fiction and non-fiction books as well as widely shared posts on how to design life on your terms. Despite early challenges, he embraces optimism, science, and creativity. He makes Hawaii his home, where he creates new worlds with the stroke of a pen and hopes you’ll come along for the amazing ride. I recently had the opportunity to do an interview with him, and I am so excited to share his answers with you.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Writing wasn’t something I grew up wanting to do. It happened by accident when I was
working on my fourth and fifth degree. I had to write a creative paper for an English
class, and one of the students who read the paper said she wanted to read a whole
book on Everville. That became my first book and series.

What does your fantasy writing process look like? What do you find the most effective? What do you find the most difficult? 

I used to marathon write. Now I write in smaller doses but more frequently. Typically, I
write in the morning after my daily journaling. I write in quiet, without distractions while
drinking coffee. I also tend to write new content in the morning and edit in the afternoon.

What is one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

It’s never good enough, so you have to be willing to have the courage to publish. You
must be committed to improving, and it helps to get comfortable with rejection and
negative reviews and feedback.

What is your best worldbuilding tip?

Include all the senses. Read what others have written, and practice your craft.

How many books have you written?

I’ve published four fiction and one nonfiction. That number will be up to five fiction on
July 2 nd , and six fiction likely in August. I also have a first draft of the final book in the
Everville series. At the moment of this interview, I’ve published five books in total and
written seven. I’m currently working on my eighth book.

Can you tell us about your latest project? What inspired you to write it?

I’m currently expected to publish a time travel book, Seven Rules of Time Travel, in mid to late July. Additionally, I just put out the books 1-4 box set of Everville. The Everville series
started from that single creative writing paper. But the time travel book has a lot to do
with my love for both science fiction and fantasy.

I grew up in very challenging circumstances. Both my father and grandfather died young
under tragic circumstances. I struggled under abuse and poverty for much of my
childhood. Fantasy and books were an escape. Thinking about escaping into other
worlds or being able to have knowledge of the future and do things over again was a
way to cope with ongoing trauma.

Who is your favorite author and why?

That’s a question I cannot answer. It’s like asking what’s my favorite food or place to
visit. There are so many, and singling out one would not do the others justice. I’m big on
J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, George Orwell, and others.

How do you market your books? How much interaction do you have with your
readers?

I engage fans on Twitter @realroyhuff and Facebook. I also have a mailing list, where I
email fans periodically about projects and interesting facts and interests in my life at
https://www.royhuff.net I also do periodic promotions, like the massive June 18 th Free
Kindle promo of Everville: The Fall of Brackenbone and the 99 cents Kindle Countdown
Deal for Everville books 1-4 boxed set. I will be taking top spots on Amazon, so be there
or be square.

What words of wisdom do you have for young people who want to start writing
their first book? 

Show up, publish, iterate. Read what others have done. Find a mentor if possible.
Develop constructive habits and a routine. Reflect on your routine. Find ways to focus
and strive to improve that focus. If you get stuck, write anything, but keep writing. Don’t
let others tell you whether you should write to market or write what you want. You can
do both. Do what you want to do. Even if you don’t’ believe in yourself, have the
courage to show up and write anyway. Everyone starts somewhere. Some people may
believe it talent, but talent is just skill. And skill can be developed with deliberate
practice, reflection, and mentorship.

Check out Roy Huff’s books, and follow him on social media!

Social Media

Instagram & Twitter @realroyhuff 

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/realroyhuff

Website: https://www.royhuff.net/salvationship

Promotions This Week!

Everville: The Fall of Brackenbone: Free (June 18-June 22)

Everville Boxed Set Books 1-4: 99 cents (US & UK, June 18-24)

Buy links

Everville: The Fall of BrackenboneAmazon

Everville Books 1-4 Boxed Set

Tips For Character Building

I’m back! I took some time off there to celebrate my mom’s and my boyfriend’s birthdays as well as to finish revisions for Chasing Fae. Last night, I submitted my book for copyediting, and it is one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced. At first, I was really nervous because after this, I can no longer change any content of the book. But now I am realizing that Chasing Fae is ready. It’s ready to be seen by the world, and the story is just perfect the way it is. I can’t wait to see how copyediting turns out!

Now that Book 1 is wrapping up officially, it is time to look towards Book 2. And for me, that means creating new characters and new storylines. Over the past couple days, I have been working on a few secondary characters who will play some major roles in the remaining two books of the trilogy. While I was working on those, I ended up explaining to a writer friend of mine how I like to approach my character building and my thought process during that stage. I thought I would share those thoughts with you today.

Tip #1: Consider your character’s flaws before their strengths.

One of the things that every strong character needs is well defined flaws. Without them, your characters will feel flat and unrealistic. While talking to a writer friend, I have figured out that I like to figure out my character’s flaws before I think about their strengths. Take Grace, for example. Some of her biggest flaws involve prejudice against the Fae, stubbornness, and an inability to trust after her brother’s death. These were flaws that directly related to the plot that I had in mind. All of these components were necessary for the story to progress and for Grace to transform by the end.

When I thought about Grace’s flaws, I felt like they easily lent themselves to finding corresponding strengths. While Grace has a heavy inability to trust, it also means that in the relationships that she engages in, she is extremely loyal. If someone meets her high threshold for trust, she is going to put her faith in them and protect them at all costs. Her narrow-minded thinking in terms of her hate for the Fae allows her to be a very comprehensive planner and disciplined in her training. She doesn’t want to take any unnecessary risks in her mission. This also connects with her stubbornness.

It is an interesting approach, but I have had good results from it, I think!

Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to really get to know your characters, even the little things.

I really enjoy getting inside my characters’ heads. I love to see what they have learned over their lives and what makes them tick. In my opinion, as a writer, it is important to sit down and truly speak with your characters. Ask them questions: not just about the big things, but about the little things too.

I like to give my characters birthdays, and more importantly, to align those birthdays with their zodiac sign. Sometimes I can pull traits from the description associated with those zodiac signs to add another layer to my characters. I’ll ask my characters all sorts of small things like their favorite color, their favorite foods, their favorite games growing up, etc. These details may not be relevant to your story, and in fact, your readers may never see this information at all. But I find that the characters feel more real when they have interests and hates and quirks that define who they are.

Tip #3: Backstory is so important.

One of the comments that I kept hearing from my editors was that there was a decent amount of space to include more backstory. Knowing your characters’ backstories helps to put everything in context for your readers. Understanding where Grace had been and what she cares about from her past moves the entire story forward and clarifies her motivations in a clear way. Backstory has to be incorporated throughout your book in conversations and in your character’s inner thoughts revealing themselves (most likely your protagonist). And you can incorporate a lot more into your book than you might think. Not so much that it consumes the actual plot, but enough to give your readers a sense of where your characters came from. So it is important to create a strong foundational past for your characters. Make sure to dedicate some significant focus to that area, and you should be just fine.

That is all of my insight for the day! Happy writing, everyone.

Writing Fight Scenes

After going through my first round of revisions with my editor, I finally feel reasonably competent enough to discuss this subject! Whether it is a simple one-on-one scuffle or a full-scale battle, fight scenes are pretty integral to the fantasy genre. They make up some of the most memorable scenes that your reader will return to over and over again, if done right. Each scene should be approached with care to ensure that the scene feels natural, but intense. Today, I want to share with you my best tips to approaching a fight scene on any scale.

Tip #1: All fight scenes must move your plot and character development forward in some way. Do not include them just to have them.

Enough said.

Tip #2: Make sure you know your players.

Who is involved in this fight? Is it two people, or several, or a large multitude of characters? The more players you have, the more complex your battle is going to be. Before you even think about drafting this scene, think about each character and their fighting style. This is influenced by their size, any weapons training they may have or lack, if they are magical, etc. I also like to take into account my character’s emotions at the time. Are they fired up and ready to attack? Are they trying to escape from something, and this is the fight of their lives? There are often multiple emotions swirling around at once: fear, adrenaline, determination, heartbreak. As a writer, you have to balance these factors as you approach the actual physical process of the fight.

Tip #3: Consider the battlefield and the available resources.

Where is this fight taking place? The battle dynamics will be very different if it is taking place in an open field rather than a forest. Consider what cover is available and where would be the best place for an army to retreat to. When it comes to resources, you need to do some research into what kind of weaponry the characters involved in your fight are using. Each type of weapon comes with its benefits and its drawbacks, and in a big battle, the writer ends up showing a lot of both sides. If this is a fight between two armies, they each may have their own combat style as a group with those weapons. This requires you to understand your world’s history. Who knew so much background research could go into a battle?

Tip #4: Break down the chaos.

In actuality, a battle may only last a few minutes, or it could go on for days. Both of these situations require the writer to break down the moments into digestible pieces for the reader to absorb. That being said, by doing so, a few minutes can stretch out for pages and pages. So it is important to pick the moments to showcase and the times to step back and see more of the complete picture at once. Every movement should be written in an active voice. Make your reader feel every slash and connection of a sword to another’s body or their own. Describe the atmosphere: is the air thick with the smell of blood or smoke? The most important thing to do is to keep things active, descriptive, and fast-paced without making it too manic. Convey the chaos of the fight and the whirlwind of weaponry, bodies, and emotion without letting it all blend together too much.

I may modify this article as I move forward with writing the first draft of my sequel, which involves much more battles than the first. I am looking forward to it!

Happy writing!

The Importance of Balance

It is absolutely crazy to be going through revisions again!

The entire process has been a whirlwind so far, even though I’m only five chapters in to my revisions as of the time of writing this post. Every time I work through a chapter on my own, it comes back with lots of wonderful comments and markings from my editor, Kristy. She asks lots of questions that makes me think about which sections to elongate and which to elaborate on. Every chapter has new notes to work through, and I’m actually really excited that some are starting to make me sit down and take the time to puzzle them out. Revising takes time. A lot of time. Mixing schoolwork and revising and promoting the presale campaign can be challenging at times, but I really couldn’t be more thrilled doing it.

The most interesting thing about the revisions so far has been the discovery that I held myself back! As a first time author, I was determined to not make any of the pitfalls in my drafts. I wanted to keep my backstories concise and not excessive and make sure I wasn’t describing every new character’s appearance in too much detail. I wanted to make the setting immersive, but not so descriptive that the book feels like more description than plot.

But suddenly, both my editors told me that I could be adding more! I could be doing more! All of that information that I had held back in my notes and kept from my draft can start to be integrated into the book!

Do you have any idea how exciting that is?!

So, as I am learning all of these exciting things myself, let me give you a few tips about what areas are okay to elaborate on, as long as you keep a good balance.

Area One: Character Descriptions

When I was working on Chasing Fae, I was very concerned about mentioning my characters’ appearances. I knew that while it was important to ground your reader through physical description, it had to be done in such a way that it didn’t feel formulaic. You know: hair, eye color, height, etc. all in a few sentences stashed near the introduction of the character. So I actually spread out my physical descriptions over a couple of chapters.

It turns out I did need to rework some of that, particularly for my main characters in order to give more of a physical sense much earlier. Also, it is actually really important to ground your small secondary and tertiary characters with some sort of visual element so your readers can visualize. The more I see the note, the more I begin to recognize the importance of it.

Area Two: Setting

Each moment in space and time can be talked about, even if it is only a couple of sentences. Every time there is a distinct transition in location, I find myself seeing more notes about taking a breath and letting my readers know where we are and what it looks like, what it smells like, what it feels like. I find that I need to work on expanding my writing on the different senses. I am good at talking about what my characters are seeing and what they are feeling in particular, like a light breeze or the sun bearing down on them. But I could use some work on what my characters are hearing and smelling. It doesn’t need to be in every description of a setting, but I think it does add another layer to the reader’s sense of place in your book.

Area Three: Pacing and Layering

One of the most significant compliments that I received on my manuscript from my Acquisitions editor was that my level of tension throughout the book was spot on. However, I am starting to realize that just because your tension is right doesn’t mean there isn’t more to work on in terms of pacing. My editor has pointed out to me several times over the first few chapters that there are moments where I can slow it down a little bit. I can add a few more paragraphs to clarify setting or character backstory and motivation or just take a moment to let everybody take a breath. My book is on the low end of the young adult fantasy genre’s typical word count (80k), so I have a decent amount of room to work with. The story has space for more layers, and I am finding new ways to add fresh life to Chasing Fae.

I hope that this inspires you to loosen yourself up a little bit with your descriptions in your writing. There is space! And if there isn’t, trust me, someone will tell you. Happy writing, everyone!