Writing Endings and Saying Goodbye

Endings: one of the hardest parts of the writing process.

When you commit to writing a novel, you’re not just putting words on paper– you’re embarking on a journey. You’re diving into the hearts and minds of real human beings (even if they’re not biologically human– don’t give me that excuse) and seeing the world through their eyes, pushing them through the joys and hardships of life, watching them grow and bond and develop. Some live and some die. But even the best novel ever written has to end somewhere.

Of course, writing an ending doesn’t meant you’re saying goodbye for good– these are your characters, and this is your story, so they’ll be with you forever! But the same doesn’t exactly go for your readers; they’ll expect and want a good ending when it comes to that. So here are three tips to make your ending impact your reader as much as that long-ago first line.

#1: Coming Full-Circle

This is when the first line/beginning of your story ties in with the ending by including the same phrase or situation. I LOVE it when books come full-circle, especially with long series!

Here’s an example from Jill Williamson’s Mission League series (which I really recommend, by the way!):

Beginning: The first book opens with Spencer playing basketball with C-Rok and his “gang” in the park. This hook, while seemingly small in the long course of the four-book series, does serve to lead into the major events that bring Spencer into a new– and much more thrilling– chapter of his life.

End: The very last scene of book four at the end of the series brings Spencer back to the old park and once again playing a game with C-Rok and his boys. In this way, this series brought the story full-circle.

I had another example coming your way, but I conveniently forgot what it was while writing the above xD

#2: Waiting ’til the End

Here’s a don’t for endings… Please don’t wait until the last minute to tie up an alarming subplot or storyline or questions the reader might have. Please do that BEFORE the resolution of the story, or at least long enough before the very last scene that you don’t end up just telling the reader what really happened. Say you’re writing a romance story, and earlier on in the story someone disappeared in suspicious circumstances.

If the very last scene is a wedding or proposal scene (because let’s be honest here, most romance stories do end that way), it would be jarring for you to suddenly mention “and as it turned out, Bob had not died but in fact had just been taking a really long time at the grocery store” whether that be spoken directly or in the narrative. Readers become disgruntled when their questions aren’t answered in a timely fashion (or at least I do, especially when I don’t like super-sweet romantic ending scenes).

#3: Give room for further development

Remember, this may be the end of your story, but it’s far from the end of theirs.

Your characters will still keep living and growing even without their stories being committed to paper, or at least you can give the illusion of that by teasing into their future lives in your ending. I mean, you could just have a really big dramatic climax and then they calmly walk off the battlefield, but I’m sure we all prefer nice, solid, resolute endings where we can feel fully satisfied that the end is just the beginning.

It also gives the reader a nice, solid, resolute feeling of the story having actually ended– by not ending the characters’ lives (I mean that in the most figurative way possible). Every person continues growing and learning throughout every stage of their life– unless they don’t, but we’re using positive change arcs in this example– and single arcs are really just capturing one stage. That way, the readers can feel as if these characters are moving on to another.


And with that… the time has come for a rather bittersweet announcement.

This post is my last here on TotLS. I’ve had such a wonderful time among this community and the other three girls, and I’m so happy for this experience. But, yes, for multiple reasons, I’m officially leaving the TotLS team this week. I’ll still be posting on my personal blog, Imperial Scribis, and I’ll be putting up writing-related stuff from time to time, so come say hello!

But this is my goodbye on this amazing platform. So cheers, everyone, and don’t forget to always be a happy camper!

Until we meet again,

~ Merie Shen

When Writing: You Do You

Suggestions and tips and advice and all that are helpful and whatnot, but when it comes to looking at your own story and deciding where to use them and where not to– well, that can be a problem.

For example, I just used the word and six times in the above sentence. Add the but, you have seven conjunctions. There are people all over the world who would die if they saw something like that happen in a book.

There are people who would die if you decided to put a love triangle in your book, or if you killed your main character, or if you set your historical fantasy in 1836 Sweden. There are people who will tell you to do this, don’t do that, and for heaven’s sake remember not to ever use the word very unless you absolutely must! They will die otherwise.

But here’s a secret…

They won’t die.

Unless, of course, a serial killer uses grammar rules to their advantage, in which case you may as well disregard the rest of this post, considering a person’s life is a great deal more important than your next book. *throws hands up* I’m sorry, but it’s true. It may be hard for us artists to admit that there’s a world outside our own sometimes, but believe me, you’d regret not taking this seriously.

Anyway.

I’m not saying that you should punctuate every other sentence with a very and an exclamation point. No, that’s just plain annoying and you’ll give yourself a headache. I’m also not saying that you should completely ignore any advice fellow authors, published or otherwise, throw your way– because first of all, what would be the point of this post since I’m technically giving you writing advice, and second, that’s not a very smart idea. People really do have good advice, and you should take it to heart.

But only if it will make your writing better.

For example… my personal writing style is kind of, well, old-fashioned. I like third-person omniscient and using outdated fancy words and giving a narrator’s input into the story. Until, like, last year, I was under the impression that omniscient, since it was so underused and all that, is supposed to be this untouchable, sacred art that only the greatest of the great (read: classics) are allowed to use. Which of course I realize is rubbish; anyone can try their hand at it and see if it suits them. And now, I realize that it does indeed suit me, very well, even if I certainly don’t talk like that in real life. For me, an omniscient narrator seems to create a sort of personal bond with the audience– I would say it’s like the narrator becomes friends with the reader first, and then the reader starts to care for the characters because the way the narrator describes them is that charming.

I’m using this as an example because, sadly, 3rd-person limited and 1st person have become the ruling POV styles in literature. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but there’s always that awkward moment when someone leaves out omniscient as a viable writing option. I’m telling you, if you love omniscient, do it and join the club.

What about tropes? Sigh.

What about tropes? Tropes are tropes, nice and useful little things that no book is without. Clichés are different in the way that they are using a trope the same exact way over and over again and trust me, that’s one thing readers do NOT enjoy reading. Because cliché isn’t you. You have your own style of writing, your own characters, your own storyworld and specific message to share through your writing. Art is all about self-expression. You’re not going to express anything if you copy someone else’s message down to every last plot device. That will leave the readers feeling dissatisfied and wondering what they even gained from your story, if it’s the exact same story that 100 other writers have told in the same year.

So, you do tropes your way. Wanna flip a love triangle on its head and kill the central character? Do it. Turn the love interest into a villain instead of the other way around? Feel free. Kill your main character? PULL A VERONICA ROTH AND HAVE NO REGRETS.

As a Christian, I just wanna say to all my fellow Christian writers– if God put a story on your heart, then tell it your way. The beautiful thing is that the same message can be shared so differently in so many fresh, unique perspectives. Cool, huh? That’s why we like art. It’s your little gift so use it wisely.

Also remember, the world don’t need Christian literature, it needs Christians writing good literature. Thanks for that, C.S. Lewis. So if you don’t want to mention God every other page in your story, you don’t have to. On the other hand, if you for some reason wanna preach at your reader, then… *whispers* your loss *backs away* (I mean, if writers preach, then what are preachers for?)

This post is already getting long, and I’m sure you’ve got the gist of it by now. So remember: when writing, you do you. PLEASE, PLEASE DO carefully consider every piece of advice and feedback people give you if you trust them. If you don’t, then… just please don’t take that attitude. Practice discernment and pray for wisdom. The end. *bangs gavel*

Always be a happy camper,

~ Merie

The 7 Deadly Character Sins, Part 2

Last-last week we discussed three character flaws that need to make more appearances in fiction. Today, to complete the discussion, we’ll be talking about four more!

As I mentioned in the linked-above post, no character struggles with only one major flaw. And as I can’t stress enough, some flaws make appearances to only some people, depending on both the character and the people in his/her life. So do keep that in mind when you’re working with character development.

#4: Unreliability/untrustworthiness

Often the main character in a large cast is shown as a dependable person. They’re totally willing to shoulder the burdens of anyone around them. Other characters trust them– usually they’re the ones with trust issues.

Let’s change that around and say your MC trusts the people around her and wants them to trust her too… but they don’t. Not because of her race, background, their own pasts, or other common foundations for trust issues– but because she’s displayed signs of being unworthy of trust. Dishonesty, for example. Betrayal. Maybe she’s too prone to accidents and has to prove that she can handle whatever they’ve got for her.

Being considered unreliable in a group of people whom you consider reliable is a hard thing to persevere through. It also gives room for backstory– what did she do wrong, or what is she doing wrong, that other people think she’s not worthy of trust? This is such an unexplored issue, and it’s real, too. Plus there’s a number of positive traits needed to push through this kind of situation, so it makes for a pretty arc!

#5: Blind loyalty

This could apply to so many situations. I’m actually quite surprised it doesn’t show up very often in the dystopian books I’ve read (then again, I don’t read that much dystopian, despite what I say about my appreciation for the genre!). Generally speaking, the [quite few] dystopian heroes I’ve read begin with a neutral worldview concerning their situation. By the end, at the part where they endeavor to break free of it, there’s no love lost. It would be pretty interesting to see more instances of blind loyalty to a corrupted regime, especially if they’ve never even had exposure to a different kind of life.

On the flip side, blind loyalty applies to good guys, too. Sometimes good guys get confused 🤷 and then their followers, who want to do the right thing, end up going the wrong direction! (Confused good guys is one of my favorite tropes!) To be honest, blind loyalty on good guys is more of a naïvety problem than anything else, I think.

#6: Greed and Discontentment

Yet another one of the actual 7 Deadly Sins! Some people just always want more. It could be anything– money, fans, land, fame, books…? I mean, how hard is it really to just be content with what you have? We always want more. Sometimes that leads to some unsavory situations. (And not only villains are greedy! Remember, one point of these characters arcs are to show that villainous inclinations can be overcome! Good does overpower evil)

#7: Foolishness

Also known as the opposite of wisdom. There are so many ways to interpret this idea, but in short, humans are fools 😂 And that means book characters are too.

This is not the same as stupidity– which is such a controversial subject I’m not even gonna go there (and it doesn’t really count as a flaw). Likewise, wisdom and intelligence aren’t the same thing either, so there you go.

Wisdom is something that comes from God and, essentially, getting on with life (though even those two are different types of wisdom).

That brings us to an interesting dilemma… Fools can’t write about wisdom, can we?

Is this entire post a sham?

That’s up to you to decide.

Always be a happy camper,

~ Merie

The 7 Deadly Character Sins, Part I

Flaws… every character needs them. And yet sometimes it can be so difficult to lay even one on someone you wish was perfect.

So sometimes, we take it easy and lay “small flaws” on them. Mya calls them “justifiable flaws,” and I couldn’t agree more. By justifiable, it means we don’t have to dislike the character because anger can be justified (which extends that idea to anger management issues, justifiable or not). Worry can be justified (in the sense that we all worry, and it would be strange for someone not to). Feelings of worthlessness can be justified (is this even a flaw at all? rather, it stems from several flaws and becomes a troublesome mindset that further enhances the flaws that fuel it).

Sometimes, we give our character only ONE major flaw. But can you really look around at the people in your life and say that they have one core flaw that’s the bane of their existence? I like to think about it as four, sometimes even more, separate sides of a character: the person they see, the person they want others to see, the person others actually see, and the person we, the author or readers, see. Each side could contain different flaws or different aspects of a flaw. Some of them are concealed to the character himself, others to the outside world or even us writers. (And now that I think about it, this is a topic we should definitely save for another time!)

Think about villain backstories. A lot of stories carry that ominous feeling with how a character starts out with one small flaw that slowly takes over them and turns them into this villain. Sometimes they’re irredeemable, and sometimes they have redemption.

But what if, just what if… your character begins his or her arc with full potential to become a good or a bad guy?

Here are seven character flaws that could turn your hero into a villain.

#1: Envy/Jealousy

Behold the green-eyed monster that overtook some of the most infamous villains in literature! In fact, I reckon the vast majority of antagonists all had, at some point in their lives, experienced envy that drove them to the deep end. (And it’s an actual one of the 7 deadly sins 😉 )

But here’s the thing.

The green-eyed monster doesn’t always win.

And envy…. happens. A lot. To people who seem content, who no one would guess feels resentful about anything, who are 100.99% supportive on the outside. And yet they don’t end up like the Wicked Queen. They struggle with it, yes, but in the end they don’t lose themselves to it.

Perhaps we all need a reminder that envy is only as dangerous as we let it.

#2: Laziness

Also one of the actual 7 deadly sins, laziness is commonly overlooked in modern fiction as befitting a main character’s arc. And yet it is such a thing with bad guys who let their henchmen do their dirty work, and lazy rich people who make the common people labor for them, and that side character who doesn’t really do much but is there for comic relief and that’s all good. Right?

Why?

I’m one of the laziest people I know (now you know why this post came out so late -_-). I procrastinate. I feel unmotivated. And I certainly don’t have all (or any) of the grim determination it takes to save the world, which is exactly what our characters do every day. Imagine how much… harder… it would be to… save the world if your character wants nothing more than to sleep in ’till mid-afternoon… or to stay indoors and read all day, or… I don’t know. I’m strangely not feeling motivated enough to give a third example…

#3: Cowardice

Ah. Now that’s a word that makes us all cringe.

Let’s face the truth. We don’t want to write about a cowardly character. A coveting one, that’s hard but we’ll manage. A lazy one– hey, at least it’s relatable. But cowardice? No… why?

Why, I ask you, are we afraid to write about cowards who learn to not be cowardly?

The truth is, we want to write about noble characters who do noble things and have noble arcs. Hey, I understand that. I cringe when a character is described as cowardly. But most people… well, aren’t exactly born noble (by blood, maybe, but not by heart).

Many characters learn how to be noble from their family or from past experiences. But sometimes… you know, sometimes we can be bold and see what happens to a character who is not only accused of being a coward but who also actually is one.

And only bold people write impactful books.


That was a long post, so I’m splitting it in half and delivering Part II to you next time. Until then, I hope you find this post interesting and helpful! 😉

Always be a happy camper,

~ Merie

Author Interview with H.S.J. Williams

Hello, everyone! Today I have the pleasure of interviewing the lovely H.S.J. Williams, author of one of my favorite reads of 2019! We haven’t featured a published author on our blog for a long while, but today I present to you 2020’s first author interview.

Welcome to TotLS! Before we begin, please give us a brief introduction of yourself.

Hi! I’m H.S.J. Williams, author of FAIREST SON and MOONSCRIPT, but you can call me Hannah! I have always loved telling a story, whether by word or art. I taught Fantasy Illustration at MSOA art school, and now I bring people joy in a floral department! The Northwest is my home, where the beautiful outdoors inspire my imagination (and the rain inspires me to stay inside and write). Besides writing and art, I love animals, watching a really good animated show, playing beautiful video games, and reading a great book!

I’m so excited to have you here today, Hannah! And without further ado, the interview…

1. When you first wrote FAIREST SON, what inspired its gender-swapped aspect and Fae-themed setting?

Well, for one thing I prefer a story about a hero rather than a heroine. Or at least one where they both have equal importance. I also enjoy a good ol’ prince in peril twist, so when writing a retelling, my first question was how it would work if the classic gender roles were reversed. I.E. Snow White is a prince, the Evil Queen is an evil king, the Hunter is a huntress. The fae setting just came with my general love for faerie worlds inspired by such  books as THE TALES OF GOLDSTONE WOOD and WILDWOOD DANCING.

That, my dear happy campers, is why I so enjoyed this book (among other reasons, of course).

2. When you’re feeling discouraged, what keeps you going through the long process of writing a book?

My characters. Even if I don’t want to write, they will NOT shut up. I actually think of them as my friends, they’re so chatty in my head. And if I’m not writing, I usually am drawing, which can be a huge help  in creating inspiration for a scene. Plus, my lovely writing partner, Bryn, is always there to give me a good poke to get going.

When your characters are loud enough to keep you going, you know you’ve done a good job!

3. How do you go about worldbuilding?

Absorbing from similar worlds, mainly. Whether from books, movies, or even video games. If there is something super specific, I’ll look it up.

*shamelessly admits to being inspired by video game worlds*

4. #1 tip for writing a fairytale retelling?

Retell the original story, not another retelling. One of the most common mistakes I see in the fairy tale genre is retelling the Disney movie instead of the old tale. While it can be fun to include some nods to famous retellings (which I did), some readers will notice and may not like it (and they didn’t). And they definitely will not like it if there is no whiff of the original story.

I cannot. Agree. More. It’s especially painful for those of us who do actually read fairytales! Do your homework, peeps.

5. What’s something (an underused trope, subgenre, theme, etc.) you wish you’d see more often in fiction?

Kind, courageous, strong, and IMPORTANT men. They are certainly not extinct in fiction, but they have largely been replaced by broody jerks, self-absorbed peacocks, and passive fellows. In fact, I just created a list of my Top Ten favorite heroes from the screen. https://www.hsjwilliams.com/post/top-ten-favorite-heroes-visual-edition

Very much yes to all of the above (check out that post, by the way!).

6. What’s your least favorite cliché in modern fiction and why?

Ich. Steamy romance. Usually it’s based on lust instead of love, and it distracts from the greatness of a character, often reducing them to stupidity and selfishness. Plus, as a reader, I just do NOT want to be present for even a descriptive kiss scene. Cause let’s face it, how uncomfortable would it be to watch friends make out in real life? Therefore, I’d just as soon let characters have their privacy. XD

I 100% agree, especially about the real-life characters part. Why would you want to read about something you wouldn’t want to see?

7. Which books or authors first got you into reading and writing?

Oh! Gosh, I was greedily grabbing books before I could read! I probably would say THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA since they were some of the first read to me? THE LORD OF THE RINGS though was when I knew that I wanted to write my own books.

8. Which classic has inspired you most in your writing journey?

The works of Tolkien. Not just THE LORD OF THE RINGS, but also THE SILMARILLION. I love THE SILMARILLION, but it also makes me SO MAD because it’s SO TRAGIC. I blame it for all my stories of tortured elf princes in need of a hug.

9. What is your best advice for writing unique heroes/heroines?

Study them. Study them like they are your new best friend. What makes them happy, sad, angry? When do they laugh or cry? Go ahead and put some of your own traits into them. Traits of your family and friends. Write letters from their perspective to other characters. Treat them like a real person and not a plot device. They will bloom before your eyes.

That’s it! Thank you so much for the interview, Hannah!


ADD FAIREST SON ON GOODREADS || BUY FAIREST SON ON AMAZON

ADD MOONSCRIPT ON GOODREADS || PRE-ORDER ON AMAZON

Visit Hannah’s author website HERE!

Have a great Friday + weekend, folksies! SIGNUPS FOR THE WRITING CONTEST HAVE CLOSED. 🙂

Always be a happy camper,

Merie

5 Things to Remember When Crafting a Strong Female Lead

Let’s face it: no one wants to read about a weak hero.

Who stays weak. And never learns how to pull himself together and deal with whatever’s coming his way.

No matter the gender, if you’re writing a change arc, protagonists always start out weak somewhere. If your protagonist has no weakness, well, not only is s/he an impossible dream whose story must wholly consist of other people’s mistakes, but s/he is also not ever going to develop. And what kind of lame story is that?

So you want to write a good, strong story with a good, strong protagonist. What’s more, you want it to be a female protagonist. And obviously, since females are more oft-overlooked than males (even in fiction, it’s either that or reversed), this female protagonist of yours has got to be able to take care of herself… or at least be getting there, anyway. She’s gotta be strong and capable but relatable. Right?

It’s really not that hard, if you know what makes a female protagonist strong. (At least, not any harder than writing usually is, you know?) So here’s a bunch of things that might be helpful with that.

#1: What traits make her a strong woman

Far too many authors seem to portray their “strong women” as always fierce, ferocious, and snarky. Now really, there is nothing wrong with a female who knows how to kick butt. But why is it that these same strong women don’t know how to comfort people? Why do they not recognize the power of mercy and compassion? Why do they get away with saying rude or disrespectful things to their superiors?

Some traits that, simply put, make any protagonist a strong protagonist: compassion, patience, kindness, gentleness, courage (which is not the absence of fear but rather the ability to overcome it), understanding of weakness, humility… I could go on. You can refer to the Bible for a full list, if you like. Besides that, to my understanding, many other popular religions do mention these character traits as well. (Although, of course, being Christian, and writing on a God-centered blog, I would obviously recommend the Bible as the most reliable source of this kind of information. 😉)

#2: She cannot rely on herself to be strong

This is one of the more controversial topics in this list, though I don’t see why. Most authors should be able to see that inner strength isn’t exactly something you can draw out from within yourself. If that were so, no author would need an entire team of supporters getting their book out into the world!

My point is, you can’t rely on yourself to be strong. Your main character would be no fun to read about if s/he could draw strength from within themselves. (After all, what then would be the point of awesome side characters?)

On the other hand, it’s important to remember that strength does not necessarily come from flawed love. Her boyfriend/male love interest may be supportive of her, but people do not draw strength from other people, either.

#3: There’s a difference between softness and weakness

Compassion and empathy are some of the most important traits of being strong, whether your character is a man or woman. Humans are empathetic creatures; that’s what makes us more than creatures, among other things. Believe it or not, compassion is not a sin. Moreover, it’s not a weakness.

The ability to forgive someone who doesn’t deserve forgiveness is true strength (and again, that doesn’t come from within her!). Why are authors so opposed to compassionate characters when our own God is a God of endless love and endless mercy? A strong female character would, obviously, strive for the character of God, rather than going the opposite way.

#4: She doesn’t need to “beat” the boys to be a hero

This is kind of tricky. Women are used to being considered “weaker” than men. In lots of situations, they do fight their way to the top. While I’m not opposed to working hard to achieve their goals, I do believe that actually fighting or being cruel is pretty detrimental in this “strong woman” case.

While there’s nothing wrong with a girl charrie proving she’s capable of defending herself, that’s not what’s going to automatically endear her to your readers. That’s an old trick, and we’re not gonna fall for it that easily. As with all tropes, make it yours. Don’t beat up the poor guys for no reason. (And don’t make it unrealistic, either…)

#5: She can’t start out all strong and ready

Unless you plan on writing a static character, in which case the story will end up centered around the plot rather than around her. Static characters (characters without a change arc) are perfectly fine, whether as side characters or even main characters, if you play it right. But again, if you want the story to be her story, then she will change. And let’s hope for the better.

No one can be 100% strong in all areas; it doesn’t work that way. She can start out strong in some areas and, throughout the story, learn how to grow in those areas as well as become stronger in her weaknesses. Reversely, no one at the beginning of the story is 100% weak in all areas. That would mean there’s no hope, and there’s no such thing as no hope.


Remember that even if your character is strong, she’s not perfect. Even in her strongest areas she can still be weak and stumble sometimes. But that’s human. (Even if your character isn’t biologically human.) It’s relatable. That’s what makes them strong, because they’re able to keep going even when they’ve fallen too many times to count.

So go on and show the world what she’s made of!

Until next time,

Announcing the Story of the Season!

It’s finally time for the post you’ve all been waiting for!

Our winter story contest will be announced later this month– keep an eye out for that; we’re really excited about it! Before we continue, we want to thank all who entered! Your stories are amazing, each and every one of them, and we offer our sincerest congratulations to the winner. 🙂

Now we’re going to keep this short and sweet.

And now… without further ado… here’s the story that won the contest!

BY HANNAH SCHUCK!

Congratulations, Hannah 🙂

For those of you interested in reading this story, click the graphic above and it’ll take you to the page! We hope you enjoy!

And don’t forget to enter the giveaway we’re hosting during this blog tour (U.S. and Canada only– so, so sorry, international folksies! Yes, this IS Merie here)!

~ CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY ~

Always be a happy camper!

Book Review: The Taken by Inbali Iserles (Foxcraft Book One)

About the Book

Isla and her brother are two young foxes living just outside the lands of the furless — humans. The life of a fox is filled with dangers, but Isla has begun to learn mysterious skills meant to help her survive.

Then the unthinkable happens. Returning to her den, Isla finds it set ablaze and surrounded by strange foxes, and her family is nowhere in sight. Forced to flee, she escapes into the cold, gray world of the furless.

Now Isla must navigate this bewildering and deadly terrain, all while being hunted by a ruthless enemy. In order to survive, she will need to master the ancient arts of her kind — magical gifts of cunning known only to foxes. She must unravel the secrets of foxcraft.

Review

The Foxcraft Trilogy is a middle-grade animal fantasy inspired by the renowned cunning of foxes. It’s perfect for fans of the Warriors series, the Wings of Fire series, the Redwall saga, or Wolves of the Beyond series, as well as anyone who just loves animal stories in general.

This series has been one of my favorites since I first read The Taken in fifth grade. Whenever this time of year comes around, I always revisit the gorgeously immersive world Iserles weaves with this trilogy. As a lover of animal fantasy, it didn’t take much to make me fall in love with this concept and this series.

The characters were wonderful. Isla is young and impetuous, but it’s such an adventure to see her grow throughout the course of this book. Her memories with Pirie are so sweet and I love sibling relationships, especially brother-sister relationships, so naturally I adored that part of the book. But by far the best character is Siffrin. Siffrin captured my heart from page one (okay, not actually. it took some time, but he grows on you). He may be cocky and arrogant, but he won’t be as much by the time we reach the end of the book. 😉

The plot was engaging and not too complicated, though there were plenty of obstacles to keep us reading. (Note: It does end in a cliffhanger, and Isla does not find Pirie at the end of the book.) The ending drove me fairly insane trying to wait for the next book.

The worldbuilding was absolutely enchanting. Iserles describes her world with vivid imagery, in a beautifully real but dreamy way. I love how she incorporates belief systems into the different types of canines (dogs loyal to man, coyotes worship the sun and moon, wolves revere their ancestors, and foxes… are atheist. apparently).

Content warnings: some violence, since these are animals with canine instincts. However, it’s middle-grade, so there’s not much left to say there. Other than that, the only concern you might have is the fantasy magic aspect. The entire concept is treated as a natural enhancement of a fox’s cunning, though, so it’s more friendly than, say, Wings of Fire or Harry Potter.

All in all, five stars. Recommended for ages 9 and up.


My apologies for the late post; time and schedule got really slippery today! Hope you find this review helpful and maybe take a look at the book, especially if you’re into middle grade. Even young adult readers would enjoy this.

Until next time,

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A Reason for Everything: What Makes Your Story Matter

One of my favorite parts about reading is that moment when I realize how everything ties in together. You know when the protagonist is plodding happily through the story, minding his own business, when something seemingly unimportant happens to him that you couldn’t care less about. Then, later on near the climax, the author unveils the truth with a dramatic flourish, and ta-da!

You go, “How did I not see that coming? That made no sense and now it makes so much sense! This author is a mad genius!”

Even if you’re not a big fan of mystery or other plot-twisty genres, you still want to give the readers something unexpected. You want to show the readers that you knew what you were doing, and you can do it well. You want to bring the fresh and the unexpected to a world full of same old, same old. You want to write that story.

You want to write a story that makes sense.

You want to write a story that doesn’t compel you to keep track of a million unconnected tracks.

You want to write a story in which everything that happens matters. Because in any good book, not only do the individual events happen all for a reason, but these reasons flow together into a story… behind your story.

And here are some good ways to make that happen.

your key to success: foreshadowing

Every writer knows what foreshadowing is. And every good writer should know how to implement that into his or her story.

The dictionary defines foreshadowing as to show or indicate beforehand; prefigure. Basically, foreshadowing is like dropping extremely subtle hints along the path that leads to the twist to which the author alludes. If done right, your reader will have no idea that you were foreshadowing until the big reveal hits them, and then they’ll realize it with a bang.

the water is rippling long before anyone realizes the sky is falling.

This post is not about foreshadowing. In deliberately foreshadowing, you’re usually looking for the hints that will prepare your readers for an unexpected outcome without giving it all away. This post is about taking what you have and adding little tweaks to the tiniest details of your story, making them all point toward the big reveal– in short, also deliberate foreshadowing, but by weaving together all the loose ends instead of adding more thread.

the useless… made useful

Our protagonist, Sam, is in trouble. He’s trying to flee from the dungeons of the mad King Bob after being falsely accused of treason. The main plot of the story is Sam’s fleeing for his life, but along the way he runs into a turkey farmer named Enoch.

A secondary plotline forms. Enoch is angry that a team of rogue scientists have stolen all his turkeys for some kind of genetic experiment. But the experiment has backfired, and the turkeys escaped, and now there are hordes of mutant robot-turkeys tearing through the flying island kingdom of Stoblegnome, which is not at all a very pleasant situation.

After Enoch saves his life, Sam swears upon his honor as a Stoblegnomian to pay him back. In doing so, he agrees to help Enoch root out the scientists’ secret headquarters and figuring out a way to destroy their lab of evil science.

Right now, it appears that this subplot has nothing whatsoever to do with the main storyline– and if it continues as such, the book will be split in half, and the readers will be wondering why the whole thing matters at all. You can have them wondering that at some point, but not for long, or they’ll lose interest, and you don’t want that; do you?

Well, there you bring out the handy-dandy plot twist. Boom! As it turns out, King Bob has sent a whole team of special operatives to hunt down the creator of the mutant robot-turkeys. But the evil scientists twist the evidence so that it all points to Enoch, who raised the turkeys. At this point, Sam is still indebted to Enoch (for a Stoblegnomian’s word is as good as his honor), so now he must clear his new friend’s name, catch the real baddies, and at the same time avoid being caught by King Bob’s men. Now King Bob and Sam have a shared goal: to bring down the organization who started this mutant robot-turkey business, but neither of them are in a good place to accomplish their goal.

give everything a reason to exist.

For example, if you’re going through a point in the story where something should happen because of the story you’re writing– we’ll call them genre beats, the points in every story of a particular genre that readers will expect from the genre– and you lay it down just because it should be there, then… that’s not a very good reason for it to exist. The best way to think of it is as a fairytale retelling. Each retelling, being based on a particular fairytale, is expected to include elements from the original story to make it an actual retelling– the poisoned apple from “Snow White,” the ball or festival in “Cinderella,” a curse for a birthday gift from “Sleeping Beauty.” If you write a “Rapunzel” retelling and lock her up just because that’s how all Rapunzel retellings go, you’ll have to think of a better way to implement that into the overall story. You still have to make it yours.

So why not add the predictable parts of your story into a plot twist that comes on later in the story? Maybe Rapunzel was locked up because she could spin strands of her hair into gold, and King Midas is searching for the legendary girl who can make him the richest man in the world. Who knows? 😛

sometimes you have to wait

Sometimes you’re writing a story that will take more than one book. Or sometimes your book is just really long.

It might be a while until you reveal your dazzling plot twist, and what if readers lose interest before then? What do you do with that random thing that popped out of nowhere?

Give it another use.

Use an ironic line of dialogue to characterize the person who said it. Or use an item in the plot to characterize the protagonist. In Guy de Maupassant’s “The Necklace,” the final plot twist is that the diamonds which Madame Loisel and her husband have been working so hard to pay for are false. The scene in which Madame Loisel is picking out jewelry for the party serves a double purpose– not only is it a main point in the story’s conflict, but it also brings characterization into it. At the time, Mme. Loisel was shallow and worldly, which can be reflected by the fact that of all the beautiful jewelry Mme. Forestier had on hand, the false diamond necklace was the one she chose.

In the same way, you can make your hints serve a double purpose as well. In that way, the readers will be very nicely prepared for the twist in store for them.


That was a long post, but I hope you found it useful. For those of us doing NaNoWriMo– well, it’s tomorrow! Try not to panic too much. 😉

Until next time,

Author Interview: Taylor Bennett (Porch Swing Girl)

Anyone here a fan of Christian contemporary?

Taylor Bennett is the author of the young adult Tradewinds series, a Christian contemporary series set in one of the most fascinating places in the world: Hawaii. So far her debut novel Porch Swing Girl and its sequel, Sand Castle Dreams, have been published with Mountain Brook Ink, and Mele Kalikimaka, a Christmas novella, is coming out this November.

I got to ask Taylor a few interview questions for this blog, so without further ado…


How did God inspire you to write YA Christian contemporary?

Taylor: As a reader, I’ve always been drawn to contemporary or “realistic” genres. That was fine as long as I was young. Most middle-grade books don’t have a lot of questionable content! (Or at least they didn’t a decade ago…) However, as I got older and dove into mainstream YA fiction, I could rarely find a book to read that didn’t have a lot of “junk” in it. So, taking a cue from one of my favorite quotes by author Beverly Cleary, I decided to write the books that I wanted to see on my shelf! I didn’t set out to write Christian YA contemporary, but through the writing process I found that faith and creativity are inseparable. As I wrote the book that would become my debut novel, Porch Swing Girl, I discovered the Lord had a message that He wanted me to share with the whole world! Now I am always on the lookout for ways to infuse my writing with His truth.

Looking around at the books mainstream YA has set out for us, it’s not hard to agree with that. Great answer, and a lot of young writers can learn from that nowadays! Which author or authors inspired you to write Porch Swing Girl?

Taylor: Ooh, there were several (including Jeanne Birdsall and Ann M. Martin, who wrote two of my favorite series of all time!) but one really stands out: Heather Vogel Frederick. She wrote the Mother-Daughter-Book-Club series (ANOTHER favorite-series-of-all-time) and her writing style has influenced me greatly.

The funny thing is, I accidentally “stole” something from her series to use in my Tradewinds series!! In one of her books, Heather introduces a pizza-delivery place called Pirate Pete’s Pizza. And…well, I guess it’s a chain, because good ‘ol Pirate Pete (or at least his pizza!) shows up in my storyworld!! I realized the copycat mistake AFTER the book’s publication and emailed Heather about it. Thankfully she told me that my characters could eat there whenever they wanted! 😉

Jeanne Birdsall’s books are amazing, and I grew up with Ann M. Martin’s stories! I’ve never read Heather Vogel Frederick, but I should so I can see the Pirate Pete thing. xD What do you think is the trademark element most unique to your works (something with which readers can identify you throughout the world of fiction)? 

Taylor: Hmmm…maybe the fact that my characters are always eating, LOL! I’m a huge foodie, so I always like to throw in references to my favorite foods—and recipes in the back of the book!

In all seriousness though, I think readers can identify my work by the way I strive to create a sense of place. Whether a scene takes place in a dusty closet at night or a crowded beach in the middle of the afternoon, I want readers to feel fully immersed in the setting. My goal is to describe things so that people reading my books will feel as though they’re watching a movie in their heads!

I could learn a lesson from that… *cough* And everyone loves food descriptions in books– no kidding, Taylor’s foodie account on Instagram has the most scrumptious photos, and I love checking out cultural cuisine from anywhere… aaaand I’m getting distracted. So my last question is: One piece of advice in regards to writing good, wholesome fiction in a world overpopulated by dark stories? 

Taylor: Find the light.

Find the good.

Open your eyes to the world around you and see everything for what it is—beautifully set in place by the One true Creator. Live out your own story—one filled with joy and wonder, and learn to find peace even in the middle of life’s darkest storms. Embrace the life you live, and see it for what God intended it to be: a masterpiece.

Beautiful answer! I love how it matches our hopes on this blog perfectly. This not only applies to life, but it’s an important truth in the art of storytelling, and art is all about sharing the truth in the most creative of ways. Thank you so much for answering these questions, Taylor!


That’s all for today, book-lovers! See you next time around 🙂

Until then,