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