My brain has a tendency to stretch every story idea that comes to mind into a novel, no matter what it is. Novels have been my preference an...

My brain has a tendency to stretch every story idea that comes to mind into a novel, no matter what it is. Novels have been my preference and go-to length for most of my writing life, and for good reason: I love to read novels! But recently I've been challenged by my creative writing classes at university to write short stories. Though it's been difficult to shift my thinking into the shorter form, I've discovered numerous benefits and had a lot of fun as well!

In fact, I've enjoyed it so much I now believe all writers should practise writing short fiction, whether short stories or flash fiction or poetry. Even if you never write more than one, there are amazing benefits and skills developed in the process.


1) Finetune Conflict

Short fiction often focuses on a single conflict or a moment of one. Some writers even suggest that short stories are finding the climax of a story and trimming everything else, which is true to some extent: short fiction at its best delves into a heightened moment where conflicting forces clash, whether those are external or internal.

By writing and practising short fiction, you learn to build up, complicate, heighten and resolve conflict within a few hundred or thousand words. That's not a skill to be underestimated. As novels take hundred of pages to resolve tensions, often the art of learning how to handle a conflict by itself is lost amongst other concerns and subplots. Short fiction is an excellent refresher in how to use all the stakes, drama and emotional impact a single conflict can offer.

2) Tightens Prose

I'll be the first to declare I'm a wordy writer; indeed, I often over-inflate my prose with unneeded details and phrases. But short fiction doesn't give you the luxury of a large and flexible wordcount. Like in poetry, every word matters, and writing short fiction forces you to look at each word individually and justify its purpose.

For overwriters like myself, it can be a challenge to keep short fiction from expanding into novels when the words start flowing, but it's a needed challenge. By giving yourself a wordcount limit for your short fiction, you'll learn how to tell the best story you can with as few words as possible.


3) Understand Stories' Weights

Some stories require more page time than others. As I mentioned earlier, my instinct has always been to turn each story idea I get into a novel, but writing short fiction made me realize not every story needs to be that long. Some have a hundred thousand words to tell in them, some only two hundred. What's important is learning that there are stories better suited to short lengths, and some to long.

Writing short fiction has honed my ability to assess new story ideas for whether they have the weight of a novel, a short story or something inbetween. Such an understanding can save writers so much time: rather than trying to wrangle a small idea into a novel, it can become a short story, and give just as much joy.

 Do you write any short fiction? Do you enjoy it or prefer to write longer works? What writing are you working on at the moment?
Have a lovely day! <3

I'm the kind of reader who truly enjoys well-crafted morally grey characters or antiheroes: simply put, their nuances and choices fascin...

I'm the kind of reader who truly enjoys well-crafted morally grey characters or antiheroes: simply put, their nuances and choices fascinate me. But there's a fine line between creating a unlikeable character who readers love to follow, and an unlikeable character readers don't like at all. As a writer, how do you make sure you stay on the right side of the line?

When you expect a reader to bond with a character who they'd never like or tolerate in real life, a base for the reader-character bond has to be established on something other than kindness and morality. Personally, I will trail an unlikeable main character to the ends of the earth if I understand them, am amused by them, or think they're clever. Even better if it's all three!




1) Make Them Understandable

It would be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to find a person in this world who is purely good or evil: we all make decisions and moral choices throughout our lives that leave us streaked or mired in grey. Even so, it's human nature to judge others and their actions, including characters. If an unlikeable character is to be understood, they must have understandable, sympathetic and intricate reasons behind their immoral choices.

For example, a character who decides to kill because they like the feeling of blood on their hands is downright repulsive, and arguably a villain. But a character who kills because he believes it's the only thing he's good at and the only action of worth he can offer to the world, is far more interesting. Additonally, his selfdoubt is a sympathetic connection point for the reader.

A character's self-justification for their actions, based on reasons that strike to the very core of their hearts, and ones which readers can relate to on some level, will hook readers in. The same applies to any character, even those deemed likeable. Readers will stay with complex and understandable characters far longer than any other, eager to learn more and more about them.

2) Make Them Funny

I'll admit it: if a character is witty, sarcastic, or tells incredible jokes, I immediately like them. There's something about humour that disarms people, and the same applies to characters. Readers love to be entertained and laugh to balance out any other dark themes or topics that might be explored in the story.

If you browse the reviews of many popular books, you'll notice a theme of reviewers raving about how much they love funny characters. Reviews might even be littered with quotes of their witty remarks. For example, in Margaret Rogerson's 'Sorcery of Thorns' Nathaniel and Silas are adored for their perfect comedic moments and comebacks, making readers attached to them despite their darker tendencies.

3) Make Them Clever

Nothing frustrates readers more (especially myself) than a character who is dumb. Readers want to be surprised and thrilled by a story's plot, or at least feel like they're not spending a hundred pages waiting for a character to pick up on the same clues they did.

Even if a character has a cruel streak, and isn't particularly funny, if they're intelligent and sharp-witted, personally, I'll be eager to follow their story. A smart character promises a smart plot and plenty of twists and reveals I didn't see coming. For example, Ramson in 'Blood Heir' by Amelie Wen Zhao may not be kind, but his intelligence and ability to navigate a difficult underworld made me drawn to his character's story.

Making a character clever, if nothing else, is giving them a trait readers can admire. If the rest of their personality and actions is despicable, letting your character be intelligent at least ensures readers will remain with them to see how their schemes unfold, or how they reveal others'.



Do you enjoy writing or reading unlikeable characters? What makes you bond with characters that are morally grey? Do you have any book recommendations with unlikable heroes?
Have a wonderful day! <3

Hello friends! Today is a very exciting day because Quill Pen Writer is officially four years old! I wanted to thank each and every one of ...

Hello friends! Today is a very exciting day because Quill Pen Writer is officially four years old! I wanted to thank each and every one of you; those who are new, those who followed along as I found my style and voice, and those who give every kindness in the comment section. I so appreciate all of you for coming over every week and letting me share my thoughts. You're amazing!

As a special thank you, I thought I might share a short story I wrote recently: Five Tolls. Hope you enjoy!


Five Tolls
by Melissa Gravitis

There was a corpse by Ezee’s door.

Peering into the murk of the apartment hallway, she tapped her broken nail on the doorframe. The stench of old wine and fresh blood held stiff the rows of doors on either side. No sign of the customer who had deposited the rug-swallowed corpse.

A chill nipped the back of her neck, for clients knew to stay and tell Ezee where they wanted the body found, or where it should disappear. River or earth? she’d ask as they thumbed their purse drawstrings.

But it was just the corpse, and a small pouch on the rotting planks.

“Abrax?” Ezee called. She scooped up the pouch and sorted through its contents; two silvers stamped with the king’s dagger jaw and low brows. She bit into her tongue to trap a sigh. What a cheap-boot, her mother would have muttered.

Ezee strangled the voice before it could sneak in again.

Abrax nudged aside her arm, and blinked at the rolled rug. “Where we puttin’ him?” His skinny fingers ran around the edge of his compass. Four years ago they’d stolen it off a lady whose neck had been snapped, fingers still tight around its smooth gold coating.

“River. Get the weights.”

They ducked back into their room. Frost snuck through the grimy windowpane and pinched the windowsill with white fingers. Between their two beds – Abrax’s heaped with soft furs he could stroke at night – Ezee had wedged a chest, a basin of now-frozen water, and a knife sharpener. She fished out a pair of gloves from the chest while Abrax grabbed the weights beside the wheezing fire.

“Should I feed it?”

“’Less you want to lose your toes when we get back.”

The fire cackled as Abrax slid two logs onto spitting embers. Then he slung the weights over his shoulders and tucked the compass into his pocket. “You didn’t talk to anyone. ‘Bout the body.”

“No.”

“How we know it’s the river, then?” Brown eyes, big and wide enough to make her think he was still six instead of sixteen, grew worry lines. This wasn’t in the rules.

“It’s cheaper. Easier.” Ezee slid on her lumpy gloves to shake off the cold, then stepped over the corpse. “Come on, I’ll grab the feet.”

Abrax moved to the other side of the corpse. With the grunt of three they lifted either end, and started marching him down the hallway. It was a him, with the denseness of the weight; women’s feet, and especially their boots, were never this heavy.

A door cracked open as they trudged down the hallway. The reek of Kern’s poisons floated out with his rasp, “I’ll 'ave one for you next week.”

“I’ll have the shovel.” She kept walking backwards, head craned to spy if any of her usual friendly and good-citizen neighbours were going to try and fling open their doors into her head. 

“Ezee.” Abrax always said her name like it was something to be held during these bitter nights, not the hard recommendation on the streets. “He smells like a da.”

Breath cramped in her lungs. “What?”

“Smells like Da’s woodsmoke, but richer. Like he got the good stuff.” Abrax’s arms were relaxed as he held onto the corpse’s upper end, as if he barely felt the weight. His eyes were in another place, another time. Where parents cared.

Ezee’s spit was flooded with all the joy of a rotting lime. “Your nose’s better than mine.”

He smiled. “I know.”

***

They carried the corpse into a patchy attempt at a garden. The night’s snow smothered any grimace of green or brown, a pillow held over nature’s mouth until it gasped then kicked then stilled. Cold dragged frigid teeth down Ezee’s spine. She bared her own at it.

Abrax lowered his nose to the rug and took a deep whiff. “Da’d like the stuff he smoked.”

“Stop talking about Da,” she snapped.

His head drew back, eyes widening. Then his fingers started twitching around the corpse, back and forth, back and forth, his breathing quickening.

“I’m sorry, Ab. I’m sorry.” Ezee’s boots sunk into snow as she swallowed. “I didn’t mean it, I’m just cold, all right?”

Abrax’s fingers twitched harder. The corpse began to slip. “You yelled at me.”

“I didn’t mean to, the cold---”

“Don’t yell!” He clapped his hands over his ears. The corpse thumped skull first into the ground. Her brother’s fingers twitched until he grabbed hold of the compass and started stroking its smooth edge.

Ezee closed her eyes. She should’ve known better, should’ve been better. She pulled Abrax out because of the yelling, the bruised knuckles and bruised chests, the hard words about him having a broken head. It wasn’t broken. Just different.

She lowered the rest of the corpse into the snow and made her words soft as his furs. “I’m sorry. I broke the rule by yelling.” Her breath formed a trembling white cloud between them. “I love you.”

His fingers slowed around the compass, breaths beginning to steady again. “We gotta get rid of him quick. The da. It’s a rule.”

Ezee pushed up what she remembered a smile looked like. “Yeah. So let’s not break any more.”

A bell toll fractured the frosted air. Its booming brass ripped through the ground, squeezing Ezee’s heart as she counted its pounds. One. Two. Three. Not the time then. Four. Five.

The last toll rang out to the earth’s shudder.

Her mouth went dry. A single moment of wintry silence held, and then the cry came from every corner of the city.

“The king is dead! The king is dead!”

Abrax’s mouth opened. He looked down at the corpse, neatly bundled in a rug and sinking into the muddy snow.

“No.” Ezee shook her head, clawing back her nervous laughter. “It’s not possible.” Their clients were predictable as dogs; they dealt in small murders. Wives, husbands, unwanted relatives, the man at the tavern who might have cheated at cards.

No one who knew the king knew Ezee. The palace was in the district of swept paths and warm fires and bloated bellies, not hollow ones.

“It’s not possible,” she repeated, because truths knew only silence.

***

“Let’s check his face.”

“We can’t.” Ezee tracked the steady strides of a man coming down the main street. They’d halted at the end of an alleyway breeding mould and soot to wait in the shadows. Most nights only drunkards stumbled across the cobbles to pitchy ballads, and they would forget Ezee and Abrax by dawn, but this hour was the kind of gritty midnight every fool would remember. She had to be careful.

“If we check, we’ll know he’s no king. We can show people if they think he is.” Pride entered Abrax’s voice, the same stirring he got any time he tried to help.

Ezee almost said no, that it would be stupid to let anyone see any corpse’s face; getting rid of bodies also meant making sure the witness level stayed at zero. But… It wasn’t like it could be the king.

“Fine. Quickly.”

Material rustled as Abrax peeled back the layers of rug to look at the corpse’s face. Ezee stayed focused on the street, waiting for a break. Her nerves tingled. If only she could have dumped it in the alley for the dogs, let them take care of the body. But Kern had seen them leave; if word got around that she hadn’t done it properly, she’d lose business.

The room would be gone. Bowls empty. There’d be no furs for Abrax and even her touch wouldn’t settle the shadows digging hungry talons into his sleep.

“We’re clear. Let’s go.” She tried to tug the corpse forward, but it didn’t move. “Ab?”

Nothing. 

She turned her head.

Abrax was propping the corpse's head up by the neck. A head covered in the wiry hair of sixty winters, flecks of blood caught in a white beard. The man’s jaw was that like a dagger, cutting into a single point, while bushy eyebrows sunk heavily onto the purple lids of new death.

“It’s a coincidence,” Ezee choked out. “Just another old man.”

Abrax whimpered. “I saw him. In the parade, last year. It’s him.” He set down his end and threw back layers of the rug. He grabbed hold of a swollen wrist. A golden ring carved with the flames of royalty took a sickly yellow sheen in the moonlight. “Look!”

“It’s a trick.” The edges of Ezee’s world spun. “That’s… no. It doesn’t even look real. Must be a fake.”

He ripped the ring off the stiff finger and bit down on it. “Gold.”

Ezee’s breaths turned shallow. The bell rang again, five hammerings that shook the city’s core. “Wrap him up. And put that ring back!”

They tossed the layers of the rug back on then secured them with shaking hands. Once the dead king was balanced between them, Ezee turned to watch the street once more. Candlelight flickered to life in apartment windows above. The air pulsed with the building rhythm of footsteps and creaking doors.

“Run.”

They bolted across the street, boots sliding through frozen mud and muck. Her breaths were stripped bare by the cold. The corpse held loose then tense between them, until they broke into another small alleyway. Moonlight dripped onto the cracked cobblestones, each drop a reminder of the passing seconds.

The city was waking.

***

“It’s the same as with any other body.” As Ezee lugged the king to the river's edge, she made her voice smooth as combed fur. “Being a king doesn’t mean he can’t sink to the bottom. It just means we need to be a little more quiet. And quicker.”

“Like rats?”

“Like rats.”

They set the king down and Abrax untangled the weights from where he’d slung them around his shoulders. In the shadows from the tenements looming over the riverbanks, his movements were ripples in the darkness. To the right, the river slid through the city like a snake of ice, mumbling darkly beneath a nearby bridge as they chained the body. Corpses liked to float and bring attention to themselves, but when you locked them up, they became prisoners of the river floor.

Ezee tried to steady her thundering heart by sucking in the brittle, crisp air. There was no reason to panic, everything was fine. Just fine. She glanced at the tenelement windows overlooking the river – dull with faint candlelight, and closed. More than fine.

“Done.” Abrax clicked together the final weight, eyes red. “He was a da, I told you. I told you I smelt it.”

“And now his daughter’ll be queen. Come on.”  They took their ends of the corpse, then Ezee waded into the river shallows. The hit of ice water jolted her heart against her ribs.

Abrax only toed the water. “She’ll be sad.”

“Royals are different. Not like us, Ab.” The river sucked at her waist, but for the king to be truly buried, both of them had to go deeper.

His face fell. His boots edged into the river, hands around the king’s neck through the rug. “Isn’t that a rule? Be sad when you lose something?”

A light flared to life on the nearby bridge. The clump of footsteps on cobbles, the rattle of window locks.

Come in deeper, she nearly screamed. Now.

But Ezee only tightened her grip on the king’s ankles. “You’re right, she’ll be sad, but this is our rule. Come up to your waist.”

His eyes flicked back and forth, then he slowly, slow as water freezing, came in up to his thighs.

Ezee’s boots shuffled along the river's pebble floor, her teeth chattering. “Deeper, Ab. Deeper.” They were almost there. They just had to make sure the body couldn’t be seen from the---

“Oi!” A woman leaned out of a window above, clutching a candle. “What're you doing?”

More windows nearby snapped open.

Abrax’s eyes widened. Ezee’s heart slammed her chest, bruising it a frantic purple. She let go of the king with one hand and grabbed hold of her brother’s. Her voice dropped. “This is a new rule. You’re running home, and you’re not going to let anyone see you.”

“No new rules, no new rules…” His voice grew shrill.

She stroked a centering circle on his palm, a path of comfort over and over. “I’ll finish here. You need to make sure the fire doesn’t go out at home. That’s the most important rule of all.” When he didn’t move, she withdrew her hand. “Ab, please.”

His shoulders shook, but as the voices grew more demanding above, he backed up to riverbanks. “Most important,” he whispered. Tears swelled in his eyes, shoving pain into Ezee like an elbow to the gut.

Then, one hand on his compass, he ran.

“Someone stop them,” came the cry from the window.

“Jarek! The soldiers!”

Ezee stood frozen until her brother’s shadow disappeared. She didn’t look up, didn’t say anything as numbness crawled through her veins. Then she waded in until her boots scurried for any grip on the river floor, currents yanking at the king.

“What’s she carrying?”

“I said get the cursed soldiers Jarek!”

Ezee stared down at the tips of the king’s boots poking out from the rug. She rubbed at a spot of blood until the leather was as bright as a steady, fed fire. Another day, another corpse, she would’ve run. But the eyes and shouts above were nails, each holler nailing guilty to her skull. Everyone was watching her, not Abrax. He could make it. 

If she ran, soldiers would follow her home. They'd take Abrax. Kill them both.

The water clawed at her, froth tumbling against her tunic.

She let go.

Within a blink, the river sucked the king down and away.

Ezee shivered and waded back to the banks now filling with yelling, stumbling people. The numbness spread from her feet to every nerve, the silence of feeling louder than any of their screams. Run, her heart pleaded, for him.

But looking into the night from a window high up, it was easy to see things. Things could be imagined, like that two waded into a river instead of one. A murderer's confession would put to rights those mistakes.

Ezee pulled off her wet gloves and met city's burning gaze. “I did it,” she shouted. If a chasm wasn’t opening in her, silencing the echo of I love you, Ab, she would have cried. But dripping tears, was not a rule.

There was another, one warm and soft as furs, that was.


So Ezee coated her voice in malice and screamed as soldiers burst onto the riverbank, “I killed the king.”


I hope you enjoyed this peek into Abrax and Ezee's wintry world! Thank you all again for your continual support and encouragement on the blog; I wouldn't still be doing this without all the amazing friends I've made through it. So thank you, thank you, thank you! <3

Usually this date on the blog marks a special milestone for me: Quill Pen Writer's blogoversary. But this year it conicided with an even...

Usually this date on the blog marks a special milestone for me: Quill Pen Writer's blogoversary. But this year it conicided with an event that holds far more importance than a blogoversary ever could: Easter. In honour of it, I've decided to postpone this blog's celebratation to next week, and celebrate the most beautiful, sorrowful and special event to ever take place on Earth.

All this week several songs repeated over and over in my mind, entangling with the scripture I read in the most beautiful ways. There are so many truths, so much pain yet so much joy, wrapped up Easter. When Jesus died for our sins, so we could be saved and become children of God, he knew a suffering so deep midday became deepest night. And when he rose again, the whole heavens roared with victory.

I have no stunning words, no dazzling wisdom to share, only the echoing of my heart. May you find as much joy and peace in the verses and song below as I did. <3 


"It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out in a loud voice, 'Father into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last."
Luke 23:44-46

"'He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'"
Luke 24:6-7


"For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
Colossians 1:13-14


See the King who made the sun
And the moon and shining stars
Let the soldiers hold and nail Him down
So that He could save them

See Him there upon the cross
Now no longer breathing
Dust that formed the watching crowds
Takes the blood of Jesus

Feel the earth is shaking now
See the veil is split in two
And He stood before the wrath of God
Shielding sinners with His blood

See the empty tomb today
Death could not contain Him
Once the Servant of the world
Now in vict'ry reigning

Friends, I pray that you've had a beautiful Easter spent with our Saviour Jesus. <3 What truths have struck you most this year? How has God worked in your heart?

Hi friends! If you're surprised I've returned (seemingly) from the dead, so am I, but mostly because I never intended to take a two-...

Hi friends! If you're surprised I've returned (seemingly) from the dead, so am I, but mostly because I never intended to take a two-month hiatus in the first place. I'd like to apologize first and foremost for going silent on the blog, but I didn't realize how much I needed to take a break until I did. Now, however, I've had a long soak in the well of creativity, and I'm eager to come back and chat with you all!

Let's be honest: the world is a crazy, stressful place at the moment, and many lives have been severely and negatively impacted. My work's been disrupted, university classes have been moved online, and I've been on the phone more than any other time in my life. From the bottom of my heart I hope you and your families are all well. <3

I'm hoping this post can be a casual, fun chat about recent reads and writing, and free from the stress of news. So join me, will you?



Rants About Recent Reads


'A Good Girl's Guide to Murder' by Holly Jackson: Usually I don't even consider picking up murder mysteries, but the title of this YA one was too good not to peek at the blurb. Wow, was this one a surprise! 

The main character, Pip, is trying to prove a (now dead) boy supposedly guilty of murdering his girlfriend is innocent, for her school project. Pip is incredibly intelligent and takes meticulous notes of everything, and when she begins to strike up a friendship with the 'murderer's' brother, she starts to put her whole heart into trying to prove his brother innocent. Pip is such a funny and clever character, and I loved her heart for her family and friends!

This story isn't afraid of looking at the nitty gritty of a case, and if you adore complex mysteries, spunky and smart heroines, and excellent humour mixed in with serious circumstances, I can't recommend this one enough. 

5 stars, and a new favourite!


'The Ruin of Kings' by Jenn Lyons: I'd heard nothing but great things about this adult epic fantasy debut, and the premise seemed like a winner. Unfortunately, I was greatly disappointed. While the world-building was unique, complex and fascinating, the book was... utterly confusing.

There are two reasons why: names, and the story's structure. One culture had a tradition where the first few letters of a person's name was their last name, (eg. in Khaemezra Kha is the last name), and so when there were multiple people from the same family, their names were almost identical. I couldn't keep track of who was who, and mixed with the fact that many were immortal or had switched bodies with someone, the twists fell flat when a character's true nature was revealed. I also spent far, far too long trying to understand the complex family trees.

As for the structure, there were three timelines to follow, all beginning in different places in the main character's life. So we followed Kirhin from when he is in jail, when he's a child, and when he's a slave. This meant that sometimes future Kihrin would know things the younger didn't, and any tension was lost as to whether the character would survive his past situations. Sadly, it also meant I couldn't connect to his character.

This, combined with all the content (it's definitely only suitable for adults), was only saved by the interesting world-building and Lyons' boldness to make her villains true villains. But overall, I struggled to enjoy this. 2.5 stars.

'The Shadows Between Us' by Tricia Levenseller: I wish I knew how to feel about this book. It's pitched as a Slytherin romance, and I would definitely agree that's what this is: the main characters are ruthless, ambitious, and self-centred. There is so much that is morally shaky in this book that I can't even begin to make a list.

But did I enjoy it? Oh yes.

Somehow (between being alarmed at the loose and fast morals of the couple and the ease with which they killed those in their way) I managed to be thoroughly entertained. Alessandra, our MC, is so bold and intelligent that I couldn't help but being intrigued by her and wanting to see if her plans unfolded successfully. So while I can't completely fall in love with the story, or even say it was a moral one, I have to say it was a wild ride.

4 stars.


From the Quill Pen

The last few months have been productive as far as writing is concerned. I finished the second draft in December of The Masks We Ink, a YA espionage fantasy where a spy in her enemy's lands must discover the other spy at court and end them, before they end her. Throughout uni holidays my undeniably amazing critique partner Hannah White gave me super helpful feedback, and so to the next draft I went, rewriting and reworking!

Thus, the third draft was finished last month, and just a few days ago I sent it off to a wonderful editor, Lauren Smulski, for an editorial letter. I can't wait for her feedback and see how I can improve on it in the next round of edits!

Despite it being Camp NaNo, I'll be taking it slow this month as university assignments are piling up, so rather than drafting I'll be brainstorming and developing a new story that's been creeping into my consciousness. I don't have a confirmed title yet, but it revolves around rebels-for-hire, a group of siblings, and a city based on Petra. I'm excited to see where it takes me!



Enough talking about me: how are you? How are you handling these tricky times and how can I pray for you? What books have you loved or hated? How goes your writing?
Let's catch up! <3

I'm well-known among my reading circles for having very strong opinions about covers. If I love them, I adore them and show them off to ...

I'm well-known among my reading circles for having very strong opinions about covers. If I love them, I adore them and show them off to everyone. If I don't... Well let's just say I'm the type to be vocal. Today is like a dream for me then, as I get to share a simply STUNNING cover for Emily Mundell's latest book, Faithless!

I've been following Emily's journey of writing this story for a while, and the cover is absolute perfection! To flail with me over its gorgeous artwork, scroll down...

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And down a little more...

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*drum roll please*

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I could talk about its gorgeous colours and striking details all day, but I shall hold myself back. The story itself sounds just as wonderful, so here's the blurb for Faithless:


It's hard to forget the past that’s written over your body.

Katarian refugee and dignitary, Sagaar Remus, is reunited with her husband, Damien Sparr, a convicted war criminal in the Outer Reach whose coup destroyed her country, her home, and her family. After seven years of separation she meets him in his prison cell, aghast by the atrocities he has committed in the name of his people. With her husband facing the executioner's block and conspiracy swimming around her, Saagar must decide whether to place her trust in the dangerous hands of her allies or with the man who left her to burn. But thrown into a world of terror and intrigue, can she even trust herself?

Faithless releases March 30th, so mark your calendars! And if you'd like to follow Emily's pre-release journey and connect with her, you can find her on her blog and Instagram

Isn't the cover beautiful?? Do you prefer covers with artwork (like this stunner) or with photographic images? What 2020 releases are you looking forward to?

One of my most distinct memories of first grade takes place on a rough concrete driveway. I was 'duelling' my best friend in the sti...

One of my most distinct memories of first grade takes place on a rough concrete driveway. I was 'duelling' my best friend in the sticky heat of a Thai summer, and got struck by the tip of his foam sword. "No!" I cried. "That's not fair! I'm Mallory; I always win." I then proceeded to force him to let me win every time.

Clearly I was a national treasure.

The 'Mallory' I was obsessed to play as came from none other than 'The Spiderwick Chronicles'; she was the sharp-tongued and talented fencer who used her sword to defeat the wicked faeries who tried to attack her family. I admired her bravery, her strength and her inner compassion.

Two days ago, I reread her story for the first time in twelve years. Did I love it as deeply as my first grade self did so long ago?


A few weeks ago, I announced each month in 2020 I would be rereading a childhood favourite of mine. When I brainstormed the list, 'The Spiderwick Chronicles' was the first to come to mind. For many years the books, and later the movie, captured my imagination and sparked a deep love of fantasy in me.

I decided to see if they held up to the test of time.

Rereading the first book in the series, and the amazing bestiary that accompanies it, 'Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You', opened my eyes to the sheer depth of worldbuilding in this series. The bestiary described all the creatures, their habits and vices, and intertwined it all with snippets of narrative that hinted at the hidden world's darker side. 

This week I spent hours pouring over the illustrations and mannerisms of creatures strange and familiar. Even if you aren't interested in the book series, I highly recommend buying the bestiary for the beautiful watercolours; they are sure to inspire any writer developing their own fantasy world!


The first book in the series, 'The Field Guide', was a little disappointing in comparison, to be honest. While I loved the world and the intermingling of lore, the characters didn't grab me the same way they used to. From a writing standpoint, there was a lack of internal monologue and showing what Jared's (the POV) thoughts were.

But the highlight of 'The Field Guide' was the atmosphere. Even with only a few descriptive scenes, I could all but feel myself wandering an abandoned mansion still touched by magic and hidden forces. Holly Black focused on tiny details to make it the setting seem like it could be the house around the corner, or down a bend in a eerie wood. 

So was it as good as I remember? Unfortunately, no. Technically perfect? No. But it still resonated with me, and I think there are two reasons why.

The book and bestiary begin with letters that play with fact and fiction, stating the story is a narrative of true events told by the Grace siblings to the authors, and that the bestiary is a gift from them. The authors are welcoming the blurring of truth and lies. They invite each reader to believe that there is magic hidden in this world, that there are other creatures who we may not be able to see, but are there.

I feel this is so, so important. We need to encourage imagination and creativity in children, to let them be open and silly and wild in their ideas; to stretch them as far and wonderful as possible. I think my first grade soul loved to dwell on the fact that these creatures in a book might be real. It was the might that mattered.


The second reason is that Mallory is the definition of a strong female character. Upon this reread, I realised how lucky I was my first grade teacher read this series aloud to my class; she was teaching all of us so much. Mallory's activeness was never called boyish, her dreams to be a professional sportswoman never called foolish. She had her flaws, as do we all, but was emotionally strong. She helped her mother and stood up for her siblings. Mallory was the kind of girl little first-grader me could admire and look up to.

It's sad 'The Spiderwick Chronicles' doesn't dazzle me as it once did twelve years ago, but it's still an incredibly important story. I like to think every word I read leaves its mark on me, and this series left a heart-shaped fingerprint. 


Have you ever read 'The Spiderwick Chronicles'? If so, did you enjoy it? What are some of your childhood favourites? Have you re-read any of them lately?
Have a wonderful day! <3

Some fictional worlds seem to take permanent root in my heart. Even years after reading 'The End', I can still imagine the landscape...

Some fictional worlds seem to take permanent root in my heart. Even years after reading 'The End', I can still imagine the landscapes that unravel in ink and paper. These worlds' histories feel ingrained in my bones, and I would willingly give every cent I have to be transported to each world for even one minute. 

'The Spiderwick Chronicles' won me over as a child, and now the Remnant Chronicles by Mary E. Pearson, Rosaria Munda's 'Fireborne' and Jill Williamson's 'The Kinsman Chronicles' hold a special place in my heart. Besides the fact that three-quarters have 'Chronicles' in their title, how did these stories' worlds resonate with me so deeply? How can we as writers create worlds that can possibly compete?



It all begins with character.

"If it doesn't affect your character, don't mention it." This is the worldbuilding rule I live by when I write and edit, for it helps keep me focused. All worldbuilding junkies (or writers in general!) fall in love with their storyworlds, and might spend weeks or months developing them, so there's this inner urge to share everything.

While knowing there's a war four continents away that's raged half a century might pique the brief interest of a reader, it won't make any world feel totally real. It is through characters, through their experiences, knowledge, and emotions that the magical and unrealistic seems plausible. 

Why? Because the basic point of connection is understanding the characters' emotions. We know what it feels like to be angry, or sad, like we're being underestimated, and so on. If we can cling to characters and their reaction as the familiar in a world that's utterly alien, we'll accept whatever features it bares. And if it influences the character? We'll be enraptured.



For example, your world might have a magic system where magicians can summon flame. If your main character has magic, they won't bring a candle or lantern on their night out: they'll start a personal torch. If they showed up with a matchstick, readers would be thrown, for each touch of worldbuilding should have consequences

Consequences are, by definition, results of an action or ability. Let's take another example: in the storyworld, Group B are talked down on by Group A because Group B worships a different god. The beliefs that stem from this (whether that's hatred, or anger, or caution) eventually boils into a fight: a Group A man slanders Group B's god, and so a Group B man kills the first one. Tensions escalate. Temples are burnt down, those wearing rival religious markers are beaten, and so on. A character, who belongs to Group B and grows up during this time of fear and violence, one day is dared to enter a temple for Group A's god; he's caught and whipped. Now, grown up, this character has an intense hatred for Group A, their religion, and constantly uses their words/god's name as an insult.

A complex (and perhaps overly long) example for sure, but the above paragraph is a chain of consequences. Community social tensions lead to smaller conflicts, which then resulted in the character's actions. As a result, this piece of worldbuilding (the violent relationship between two groups because of religious differences) has affected a character's personality, speech, and beliefs.

If a reader can't experience the storyworld through a character, and who they are and what they believe, I'd argue it won't ever feel truly real. Just as we don't exist in a vaccuum and are influenced by everything and everyone around us, the same applies to our characters. Their world has had a huge hand in shaping them into who they are today.

In the end, it's about depth, not breadth.

If readers love your characters, then they'll be fascinated by the world they exist in, and how they exist in it. Drilling deep into the character's experience of the storyworld will create a social, geographical and cultural landscape so deeply entwined with the character's emotions readers will never want to leave.



What storyworlds feel incredibly real to you? Which would you love to go visit? What are your tips for creating immersive worlds? I'd love to hear them!
Happy writing! <3

"No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty... The o...

"No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty... The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all." - C.S. Lewis

The very afternoon I wrote this post, I finished reading a short collection of C.S. Lewis's essays on the joys of reading ("The Reading Life"). Not only was it inspiring, thought-provoking and at times downright funny, it confirmed my determination to start re-reading books this year. For a good few months I've considered re-reading my old favourites, and hearing Lewis praising children's stories made me yearn for them even more.



So, over the course of 2020, I'll be re-reading each month one of my childhood favourites, or books that hugely impacted my writing and reading taste. Then I'll report back if, according to Lewis, they're "worth reading" and hold up to the test of time. Am I terrified they won't? You bet. But I'm excited to embark on an experiment to see if they can reignite the same kind passion and love for story in me as they once did!

Here's the schedule of reads planned so far (subject to huge change):

January: The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
February: The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
March: Babysitters' Club by Ann M. Martin
April: Cleopatra (My Royal Story) by Kristiana Gregory
May: Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale
JuneEnna Burning by Shannon Hale
July: Raiders From the Sea (Viking Quest) by Lois Walfrid Johnson
August: A Measure of Disorder by Alan Tucker
September: Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
October: The Beyonders by Brandon Mull
November: Graceling by Kristin Cashore
December: Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson



I can't wait to revisit these childhood favourites of mine and re-experience their magic! To sign off, let me leave you with a few more priceless quotes from Lewis:

"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last. A waltz which you can like only when you are waltzing is a bad waltz."

"When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childlessness and the desire to be very grown up."

"Those of us who are blamed when old for reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us. No reader worth his salt trots along in obedience to a time-table."



I'd so love for you in join me in this challenge! 
If you'd be interested in me making this a blog party or link-up, let me know, and I'd be happy to host! 
What are your childhood favourites? Have you ever re-read them, and if so, what was that experience like? Did you fall in love with them all over again? <3 

The beginning of a new year signals change and promises of it; New Year resolutions, monthly plans, organised calendars, and goal upon goal....

The beginning of a new year signals change and promises of it; New Year resolutions, monthly plans, organised calendars, and goal upon goal. Everywhere you turn, each blog you search, is full of proclamations of how 2020 is going to be different. So as I brainstormed the topic of today's post, I couldn't help but feel that I should join in by whipping up yearly goals.

But I have a secret. I've never made a New Year's resolution in my life. I can't even recall a time I made a goal that stretched a whole year! I've always hesitated before making them, so I thought I'd explore why with you today. Is it worth it making writing goals for 2020 and every year following?


Cons:

Restricting Passion

I'm constantly surprised by the writing projects I work on in a year. Half of them tend to appear out of nowhere, grab me by the throat, and demand I write them immediately. If I had planned the stories I would work on to the day in 2019, I would never have written my current WIP and two others. If you're like me and feel compelled to follow goals without a single deviation, goals could mean losing the chance to work on truly inspiring project.

Writing for a Number

It becomes dangerous when writing becomes a chore, a target wordcount to hit every day, without enjoying the act of writing itself. While months like NaNoWriMo are great for building our writing muscles, keeping up that pace for a whole year or months is draining. It's so important to keep our passion for stories thriving! Without it, writing can be a strain and the very love that drew us to craft new worlds and people disappears. 

Inflexible

So much can happen over a year; there are always, always surprises in store. Setting goals in January for all twelve months means there's little room for flexibility and rolling with the inevitable punches. It could be all too easy to fall behind on the goals and exert extra, unhealthy pressure on ourselves in order to reach them in time.


Pros:

Great Motivation

There's nothing like a goal to kick you into action! There's not a single person for whom a looming deadline doesn't prompt into working, and push them further in skill than ever before. Having a set time to finish a project, or a daily wordcount target, can stretch and build our writing muscles. On days we might usually choose to spend that extra hour watching Netflix, a deadline nudges us into finishing that project so much sooner! 

Accountability

There's something to be said for putting goals out there into the world (or the internet). The second you hit 'Publish', people are going to read them. While not all will remember the exact wording and timeline of these goals months down the line, simply having them published holds the writer accountable. As a result, goals are much more likely to be achieved and make us feel accomplished!

Higher Productivity

Pulling the two points above together, writing goals are all tailored to increase our productivity. From my experience, whenever I set small goals of tasks to achieve in one day, I'm far more likely to achieve them all and still have time left over. Goals prompt organisation, and from organisation, productivity!


In Conclusion...

Personally, I won't be making writing goals for the whole of 2020. From experience I find great pleasure in bending with the flow of my inspiration and letting new projects surprise me. But I see the wonderful benefit of goals nonetheless! Instead of yearly goals, I'll be planning what I hope to achieve writing-wise in smaller chunks: by month or week.

What's truly important here is understanding what strikes a balance between productivity and creativity for you! We all respond differently to goals and pressure; we work and create as diversely as the stories in our hearts.



Do you set yearly goals? If you have, what are you hoping to achieve? If not, how do you hold yourself accountable and productive?
Happy New Year! <3

It's that wild time of year where I check my calendar and realize there are only a few days left in 2019. Or, if you'd like to be su...

It's that wild time of year where I check my calendar and realize there are only a few days left in 2019. Or, if you'd like to be suitably alarmed, the last few days in this decade. 2019 has been a year of (slowly) moving into the adult world for me: I've now completed my first year of university, I'm training up for a new work position, and I've nearly finished my teen years. But through all that, I've been writing!

As a way to officially farewell 2019, I thought I might share the most impactful writing lessons this year and all my WIPs taught me. I've felt myself grow in my style and abilities like never before, challenged myself, and navigated the highs and lows of inspiration. But no matter how hard it was to learn these lessons, I'm grateful for every one of them, and hope I can pass them on!




1) Write What You Love


As my amazing and talented critique partner told me over the phone, "There's not enough of ((passion)) going around these days." I'd spent a few minutes explaining that post-NaNo I was in a deep rut; I had several projects I'd attempted to start editing, then began a few new stories, but nothing stuck. I grew frustrated with each project a few days in, and felt dry and uninspired. But my NaNo novel... I couldn't stop thinking about it.

My critique partner gave me permission to toss aside my rule of not editing a project so soon after writing the first draft; she nudged me towards working on my passion project. And I'm so grateful for it. My spark for writing returned, I fell even more deeply in love with my characters, and I looked forward to each and every writing session.

Writing is meant to be enjoyable. It's meant to be our passion; it might be intense and difficult, but it should be ultimately rewarding. So work on the projects that make you smile! Write the stories that bring delight and make your soul sing. 



2) Examining the 'Why' of Writing

While I was listening to an interview with Garth Nix on The Bestseller Experiment podcast, Garth Nix issued a challenge to all writers: "Are you writing to be published, or to write?" It made me reflect on the 'why' of why I write. Am I writing solely to see my name on a book cover, or because I find joy in the act of it?

As writers, we shouldn't just write what we love; we should also write for the sake of loving it. I asked myself whether or not I'd keep writing if I knew I'd never be published and the answer... Yes. I would. Being published is a dream, but dreams are simply a culmination of circumstances and actions coming together. Passion is far deeper.



3) Carving Out Time

Being at university has posed an interesting challenge for a schedule-based fanatic such as myself; I have several months a year of intense, rigorous study, and several months with little to no responsibilities. While the latter makes it easy to plan when I'll have my writing session, the former makes it near impossible. Yet, I still managed to write every day in 2019.

We have so much more time in our day then we realise. I don't mean that we actually have twenty-six hours in a day (if only), but that there are small moments we overlook as writing time. For me, on long university days, I wrote on packed trains at peak hour. Or inbetween classes and lectures. Or in the spare ten minutes before dinner. 

While I love having two hours straight to dig deep into my writing, (which I discovered is my optimal length for focus without becoming exhausted), every second has a possibility. Every minute can count. A handful here and there can turn into a paragraph, a paragraph into a page, and a page into a story. The time is there, ready and waiting to be carved out.



What writing lessons have you learned this year? What was your greatest writing achivement? (Let's celebrate together!) What story are you writing now that you love with your whole heart?
Happy New Year! See you in 2020! <3