Big Announcement!

Hello everybody! I have big news. Like, really big.

Many of you have probably noticed that everyone else on Tales of the Lonely Sun has a personal blog. And that I do not.

Well, I did not.

Announcing: Polka Dot Pens! Polka Dot Pens is my personal blog where I’ll be sharing about my personal writing projects, doing tags, and fangirling. If you want to get to know me, and my writing, better then that’s the place to be! I hope to see a lot of you there!

I also plan to do several NaNoWriMo updates over the next month, so if you’re interested in joining me for that, hop on over!

Four Brandon Sanderson Books to Add to Your TBR

Hello dear readers! After I read Skyward by Brandon Sanderson a while back, I’ve been reading quite a lot of his other works. There are still a ton that I haven’t gotten to yet, but here’s four of the ones I think you should check out!

1. Skyward – YA

Skyward is book one of a science fiction trilogy (book three hasn’t been released yet) that takes place on a different planet. Main character Spensa longs to become a fighter pilot in the planet’s defense force, but her late father’s status as a coward and military deserter make her job pretty difficult.

The Characters. I can not convey to you in this post how much I love the characters in this book. There’s not a single one I didn’t at least like, and I was attached to all of them in different ways for different reasons. They’re all so unique from the other characters in YA stories. Spensa with her small stature, somewhat abrasive personality, extreme threats and believable motivation. Rodge, who learns to find his own passion and voice throughout the book. Jorgen with his strict rules and regulations, who is just trying to be the best flightleader he can be. M-Bot was hilarious. Doomslug was adorable. I could go on and on.

The Plot. The plot was exactly what it needed to be. It was well paced, and flowed nicely. But above all, it put the characters in the exact positions they needed to be in. It let them shine in certain situations, revealing their capabilities and passions. It beat them down at other times. This story didn’t pull it’s punches, and it left the characters questioning their beliefs, but also rising up to accept the challenges set before them. I do not cry easily when it comes to reading, and if I do it’s usually on rereads of series. However, on my first time through this book, I teared up several times.

The Setting. I admittedly don’t usually care a ton about world building. If its interesting, great. If its lacking it wont make or break a book for me. This world building was interesting, and I loved learning about being a pilot right alongside Spensa, as well as the unique challenges the planet presented to the characters.

2. The Rithmatist – Middle Grade/YA

This steampunk-esque mystery takes place in an alternate version of our world and features one of the most unique and intriguing magic systems I have ever read. Main character Joel as always been intrigued by the Rithmatists that share his school campus, as the duels they have by bringing chalk drawings to life. He wishes more than anything that he could be one of them, but he missed his chance. This book will eventually have a sequel, but for now is a satisfying standalone.

The Characters. Though I didn’t get as attached to the characters in this book as I did to the ones in Skyward, they were still interesting and fun. I really felt for Joel, and his interactions with Melody were hilarious. The two of them had a rocky start, but managed to become friends over the course of the book.

The Plot. As far as mysteries go, it did it’s job. I legitimately thought I had discovered who the villain was when I was about half way through the book. I was so very wrong. The twist was excellent and well earned. As far as endings go, the last scenes is one of my favorite conclusions to any book ever. It was so satisfying and adorable, despite not being romantic.

The Setting. This setting managed to combine the accessibility of a contemporary with the wonder of a fantasy story. It was truly masterful and very intriguing.

Elantris -Adult

Elantris, though geared towards adults, is appropriate for teens as well. It is a little less accessible than the previous two books on this list, as the extensive world building and more complex magic system make it a more complicated read. Set in a fantasy world, it is told from the rotating perspectives of three characters. Raodin, a prince who “dies” in the first few pages and is sent into the city of Elantris. Sarene, the woman who was about to marry Raodin before he was sent to Elantris. And Hrathen, a priest who was sent to convert an entire country to his religion, before they are destroyed. This is a standalone with no planned sequel.

The Characters. Raodin was such a refreshing main character. A man who is truly a good person who attempts to make the best of a truly horrible situation. Sarene was also a great character, smart and stubborn and very capable. Hrathen was a little less interesting to me. I understood his motivations, but didn’t relate to him.

The Plot. The plot was unique and interesting, allowing the characters to shine and grow, much like Skyward. The mystery elements, though not the focal point, were very well handled, they kept me wondering and were resolved very satisfyingly.

The Setting. I wont say much about the setting, since learning about Elantris alongside Raodin was one of my favorite parts of the book, but it was interesting and really highlighted the story as a whole.

The Way of Kings – Adult

Disclamer: this book is huge. Its probably one of the biggest books I’ve ever read, and its definitely the most complex and intricate. Because of it’s size, I was worried it would be a slow book that didn’t keep me invested. I was very wrong. This book is an epic fantasy. Like Elantris, it’s adult category is not because of mature content, but rather it’s complexity. It is the first book in a series, in which three books have been released, with the fourth due to come out this year.

The plot is difficult to summarize, so here’s the official blurb:

According to mythology mankind used to live in The Tranquiline Halls. Heaven. But then the Voidbringers assaulted and captured heaven, casting out God and men. Men took root on Roshar, the world of storms. And the Voidbringers followed…

They came against man ten thousand times. To help them cope, the Almighty gave men powerful suits of armor and mystical weapons, known as Shardblades. Led by ten angelic Heralds and ten orders of knights known as Radiants, mankind finally won.

Or so the legends say. Today, the only remnants of those supposed battles are the Shardblades, the possession of which makes a man nearly invincible on the battlefield. The entire world is at war with itself – and has been for centuries since the Radiants turned against mankind. Kings strive to win more Shardblades, each secretly wishing to be the one who will finally unite all of mankind under a single throne.

On a world scoured down to the rock by terrifying hurricanes that blow through every few day a young spearman forced into the army of a Shardbearer, led to war against an enemy he doesn’t understand and doesn’t really want to fight.

What happened deep in mankind’s past?

Why did the Radiants turn against mankind, and what happened to the magic they used to wield?

The Characters. There is a lot of characters, far too many to mention here, so we’ll just focus on the main character, Kaladin. His struggle is so real and raw. His past haunts him, pushing him to try his best to protect those around him, and to blame himself when he can’t. Remember how I said I don’t cry much while reading? Well Kaladin’s arc and struggle hit me hard several times, and he has become one of my favorite characters. Ever.

The Plot. Masterful. Intricate. So vast it’s hard to explain here, yet still remarkably easy to follow and to be invested in. It’s worth the time you’ll have to invest to read this book.

The Setting. This setting brings the “epic” to “epic fantasy”. Everything I said about the plot applies here as well. It’s intricate and vast, and I can’t wait to explore more of it as I continue the series.


I’ve really enjoyed reading these books, and I’m sure I’ll continue to love diving into Sanderson’s novels as I continue to check them off my TBR.

Have you read any of these books? Would you like to in the future? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Introducing: Radiate Literary Journal

Hello dear readers! Today I have the privilege of sharing a new website, and new opportunity for young writers, with all of you!

Radiate Literary Journal is a site where young writers can submit writing pieces. Those pieces will then be edited by the Radiate team, and posted on the site.

I happen to be one of the Fiction Editors for Radiate, and I’m excited to read the pieces that are submitted!

More Information on Radiate:

Our Mission:

Learning: We provide feedback on each submission so writers can learn from their peer editors. Our goal is to let young writers share what they are learning with each other and feature unique submissions.

Growth: “If I waited for perfection I would never write a word.” -Margaret Atwood. Helping young writers reach their potential by sharing their work.

Community: We want to connect student writers. Young writers are the future of literature. Radiate wants to be a thriving community of young writers sharpening each other’s skills.

FAQs:

Who can submit to Radiate Literary Journal? Any student ages 13-22 is encouraged to submit their poetry, prose, essays, or nonfiction to Radiate Literary. We accept works up to 10,000 words and prefer never-published material.We don’t pay for work as a volunteer organization, but we do provide exposure to the writing market for you and and your work and valuable peer feedback from Radiate editors

What do you look for in a piece? Our editors are qualified volunteers that have been instructed in how to best help writers succeed in polishing their work. They carefully select the pieces that have shown the most excellence or growth to showcase in each issue of Radiate Literary Journal. Here’s what they look for in a piece:

  • A complete story arc
  • Life-like characters
  • Inspiration/motivation
  • Excellent use of language
  • Good rhythm and rhyme (if applicable)
  • Comfortable story flow

Can I give feedback on a piece? Absolutely! We love it when young writers share their skills and opinions with each other. If you have feedback on a specific piece, leave a comment or email the editor-in-chief Grace C. at6biobee04@gmail.com. If you want to join our team of editors, please apply. We are always looking for new team members dedicated to helping other writers become great.

How can I get plugged in to the Radiate community? Thanks for asking. A few ways you can get involved are by leaving comments, joining the team, subscribing to the journal, or submitting your work. We also encourage readers to share with their friends so that the Radiate community can continue to grow. As we do, we’ll host contests and community events that you can get involved in.


Here’s the link if you want to check it out: click here.

Until next time,

We Wrote Like Jonathan Stroud for a Day

Hello, dear readers! Welcome to the 50th post on Tales of the Lonely Sun! Today we’re doing a little collaboration with me (Jorja, here) and Mya.

Mya and I both love the Lockwood and Co. series by Jonathan Stroud. We’ve both talked about it on this blog before, because it’s amazing. Go check it out if you haven’t!

Recently Mya was on Jonathan Stroud’s website and found his writing schedule. You can check that out here. We both thought it was awesome and decided to try it out.

So you can keep us straight, Mya will be in bold and I’ll be in normal text.

One day. 5 pages. A whole lot of tea.

Jorja’s Writing Day:

My writing desk. Ooh. Aah.

My usual daily word count goal is an easily attainable 500 words. I picked this number because its something I can hit even when I’m not feeling motivated, which allows me to make continuous progress. 500 words often ends up being about a page to a page and a half of writing per day (unless I feel like writing more). 

All that being said, five pages is a lot for me. Especially because I use a fairly small font (Fanwood Text in Google Docs) and single space my work. So I had my work cut out for me. 

One thing I knew I needed to do was to plan out what I was going to write the night before. I do this every night because if I don’t… I don’t write. I’m becoming more and more of a “planner” as time goes on. So that’s what I did. The night before I planned out much more than I usually do, trying to make sure I could get five pages out of my outline for the day. I finished that up at around midnight. 

The next morning I had some work to do, separate from writing, for my church. I got a bit of a later start than Mya, but I decided I would just write a little longer if I needed to. I got started writing sometime between 10:30 and 10:45. 

For the most part, the writing day went great! I was in the zone most of the day (that doesn’t always happen, it was a nice surprise) so I didn’t stop to check the time. I remember I ate a sandwich for lunch, but the break wasn’t more than 10 minutes. I knew I needed to get back to writing as soon as possible, to keep my streak going. 

I had minimal interruptions, a steady stream of music playing in my headphones, several glasses of iced tea (its 100-degree weather over here, hot tea is not an option), and five total pages by around 3:00. My total word count came out to 2,750 words, over 5x my daily goal. 

I made a lot of progress in my story, including introducing a character I love, working out the details of my magic system, and deepening the motivation for several of my main characters. 

I considered this a total success! While I won’t be writing this way every day, it helped me gauge a lot about my personal process. I now know my capabilities and more details about how I can make my writing day as productive as it can be. 

“Getting that first draft out is a horribly hard grind, but that (perversely) is where the joy of it lies. There is nothing better for me, nothing more uniquely satisfying in the whole process of making a book, than the sensation at the end of each day—good or bad, productive or unproductive—when I look over and see a little fragile stack of written pages that weren’t there that morning.” -Jonathan Stroud

Mya’s Writing Day:

I don’t have a consistent writing routine or daily goal (yet), but I usually write late at night. Jonathan Stroud’s routine starts at 9:30 am and ends at around 5. Which is a significantly longer “work day” than I usually have. 

At 9:30, I sat down with my laptop on the back porch. Technically Jonathan Stroud says he likes to write inside, but I didn’t feel the need to make everything exact. I went through two mugs of tea during the first phases of the day: staring out the window, rereading yesterday’s work, and attempting the first line multiple times. I wasn’t expecting words to come easily to me in the morning, but they actually did! I was quite productive up until lunch and had a good time. 

Then came after lunch. I moved inside due to the heat and tried to begin writing. This is when brain-deadness set in. Stroud seems to get back to work right afterward, and I did also, despite feeling kind of stuck in my story. I pushed through until around 6, which is later than he ends the day. My progress was a lot slower during this chunk of time and I got distracted easily. 

In total, I wrote 1530 words, which came out to four pages. A page short of how much Stroud tends to write everyday, but for me personally it was a pretty good total.

“Each day I kept strict records of what I achieved; each day I tottered a little nearer my goal. Five pages per working day was my aim, and sometimes I made this easily. Other times I fell woefully short. Some days I was happy with what I got down; some days I could scarcely believe the drivel that clogged up the page. But quality was not the issue right then. Quality could wait. This wasn’t the moment for genteel self-editing. This was the time when the novel had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into existence, and that meant piling up the pages.” -Jonathan Stroud


J: I encourage any of you writers out there to try something like this. Pick one of your favorite authors, see if you can find their writing schedule online, and try it out! You can learn a lot about what works for you, and what doesn’t. You may find a trick that you would never have thought to try that works super well for you, or you may spend the day not writing anything. Either way, experimentation is super helpful. There’s a channel on YouTube called Kate Cavanaugh where she tries out the schedules of many famous authors, and she has a lot of helpful tips. 

M: It’s a great way to see if the routine is something that helps you, even if you think you already know how and when you like to write. I was surprised that I worked so well in the morning, so I will probably start working then on a regular basis. The afternoon was not a good time for me, so I would stick to late evening writing sessions as well.

J: Another positive part of this is you can sometimes do more than you thought you were capable of. Maybe you can write 5,000 words in 4 hours. You’ll never know unless you try.

“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” —Christopher Robin

M: The routine wasn’t perfect for me, but it was definitely worth trying. I ended up writing more than I usually do and thought about how I want to go about scheduling my writing. I only did it for one day, but it still had a positive impact on my novel.

J: Doing it with a buddy can also be super helpful. Mya and I had a steady dialogue throughout the day, updating each other on word counts and struggles and scenes. It was great for motivation. We even did some writing sprints with Carlye. 

M: Plus, it was fun to experience firsthand the process my favorite author uses to write his amazing books! In general, writing with friends can be super helpful and a good bonding experience. 

J: All in all, it’s a total adventure and I totally recommend it!

M: I’m planning to follow more of my favorite authors’ routines in the future and see how else I can improve my writing sessions.


(Quote sources: https://nanowrimo.org/pep-talk-from-jonathan-stroud; https://parade.com/935628/parade/winnie-the-pooh-quotes/ ) 

A Plethora of Quarantine Reviews

Hello dear readers! I have been reading a lot lately. I have a stack of library books that comes up to my knee on the floor of my bedroom, with more to come. So I figured I would review a bunch of books today. Five to be exact. This is going to be a pretty long post, so let’s get right into it.

Moonscript by H.S.J Williams

3.5/5 stars

Blurb: “It is said that Darkness is empty and whatever vanishes into its depths is lost forever. I know this better than anyone. For I have suffered here in the shadows, and there are none who might find me.”

Seventy years. Seventy years the elven prince has been lost to the darkness, assumed dead by his people and endlessly broken for a book that connects to the hidden realm of his ancestors, a land untouched by evil.

And now a light in the shadows. A chance for freedom. But those willing to help him come from the unlikeliest of worlds.

The orphan girl, yearning for a loving family, and the boy who won’t leave her side. A healer maiden given an unexpected chance for a life beyond narrowed expectations. A grieving creature flown far from home.

They all search for something and now their fates are tied to his. If their quest for life can pull him from the dark mire in which his soul drowns, then perhaps he can be saved.

Or else he will drag them all down to a fate worse than death.

The beginning of an epic saga, MOONSCRIPT is a journey of innocence, despair, and redemption.

Overall:

I have friends who loved this book with every fiber of their being (Looking at you, Hannah) but I didn’t love it. I didn’t dislike it, I didn’t dread picking it up every time I read it. I did finish it. I just didn’t get super into it. 

There are a lot of people out there who do and would love this book. If you love large scale adventure stories, elves, and great themes, be sure to check it out. Fans of Lord of The Rings, this book is right up your alley. 

What I loved:

Themes: The themes in this book were presented very well. You’re are never too far gone to be forgiven, there is a family out there for everyone, the loyalty of friends. Overall, the themes were great. 

Descriptions: There was a lot of setting description, some of it beautifully poetic. I could imagine every place the characters went. 

What I didn’t love:

Characters: The characters are where I really struggled with this book. I felt that the only character who truly had an arc was Errance. And, other than small paragraphs at the beginning of each chapter, we never really got to see the world from his point of view. My favorite character, Kelm, was a sweet and honest young man. While he was a rather flat character, I did enjoy it when he was on the page. All in all, I never really got invested in the characters, which made the rest of the reading experience less immersive and less suspenseful. 

Plot: I didn’t dislike the plot of this book, per se. I just I never really got into it. The reason for that, however, is because I didn’t really get into the characters. 

I was given an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. These were my honest thoughts. 

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

5/5 stars

Blurb: A sinister Problem has occurred in London: all nature of ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters are appearing throughout the city, and they aren’t exactly friendly. Only young people have the psychic abilities required to see-and eradicate-these supernatural foes. Many different Psychic Detection Agencies have cropped up to handle the dangerous work, and they are in fierce competition for business.

In The Screaming Staircase, the plucky and talented Lucy Carlyle teams up with Anthony Lockwood, the charismatic leader of Lockwood & Co, a small agency that runs independent of any adult supervision. After an assignment leads to both a grisly discovery and a disastrous end, Lucy, Anthony, and their sarcastic colleague, George, are forced to take part in the perilous investigation of Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted houses in England. Will Lockwood & Co. survive the Hall’s legendary Screaming Staircase and Red Room to see another day?

Readers who enjoyed the action, suspense, and humor in Jonathan Stroud’s internationally best-selling Bartimaeus books will be delighted to find the same ingredients, combined with deliciously creepy scares, in his thrilling and chilling Lockwood & Co. series.

Overall:

This book had been sitting on my TBR for ages, due to a friend of mine with obvious great taste (Thanks, Evie) and when Mya got the first book for me for Christmas (Thanks, Mya) I finally got around to reading it.

I was skeptical at first since paranormal fiction had never even been on my radar as something I would read. Ghost hunting teenagers? Not my cup of tea (British pun very much intended). Or so I thought. 

I was very wrong. This book had me hooked in seconds. 

Fans of Sherlock, immersive world-building, engaging character development, and a touch of horror (I don’t generally like horror, and I liked it) would love this read.

What I loved:

Characters: I. LOVE. THESE. CHARACTERS. The Screaming Staircase is told in first person from the perspective of the fiery Lucy Carlyle. The other two main characters are the fearless Anthony J. Lockwood and sarcastic George Cubbins. All three of them stole my heart, especially when they were all together, arguing about cookies or ghosts. Lucy’s narration and perspective on the other characters made this book so immersive, and her sass and stubbornness are amazingly portrayed. Anthony Lockwood is a secretive character whose past is elaborated on as the series continues. Despite the mystery surrounding his childhood, his personality is clear and very entertaining. And then there’s George Cubbins. Though he first comes off as abrasive, he quickly grows on you and his humor makes potentially dark scenes a lot lighter. 

Plot: Despite the fact that I would read about these characters doing literally anything, the plot is super unique and engaging. It showcases all of the character’s flaws and quirks so wonderfully and had me invested and intrigued right up until the end. 

Description: Atmospheric is the only word. All the settings in this book were so vivid, from the streets of London to the clutter of 35 Portland Row to the eerie haunted houses the characters visit throughout the book. I could also imagine each character with extreme clarity. 

Flashbacks: I rarely see a more excellent use of flashbacks than is utilized in this series. They reveal so much about the characters and add so much depth, without wrecking the flow of the overall story.

Suspense: Not gonna lie, parts of this book (and the whole series) legitimately scared me. I’m a total wimp when it comes to horror of any kind, so it’s not much of a surprise. However, the humor in this book balanced the suspense out beautifully. It succeeded in having me on the edge of my seat without giving me nightmares. 

Themes: The characters certainly grew over the course of the book, and much more so over the course of the series. Themes like learning to trust yourself and others, dealing with grief and fear, and many others were showcased. It added another layer of excellency to the books. Although they didn’t change my life or inspire me greatly, they contributed very well to the story.

What I didn’t love:

Ending: I didn’t have a problem with the ending, just the fact that it ended. 

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally Carter

5/5 stars. All the stars.

Blurb: April didn’t mean to start the fire. She wasn’t the one who broke the vase. April didn’t ask to go live in a big, creepy mansion with a bunch of orphans who just don’t understand that April isn’t like them. After all, April’s mother is coming back for her someday very soon.

All April has to do is find the clues her mother left inside the massive mansion. But Winterborne House is hiding more than one secret, so April and her friends are going to have to work together to unravel the riddle of a missing heir, a creepy legend, and a mysterious key before the only home they’ve ever known is lost to them forever.

Overall:

Ally Carter is one of my favorite authors, so when I heard she was writing a middle-grade book I was thrilled. I had high expectations for this book, and they were blown out of the water. It’s like everything Ally Carter had ever written was building up to this glorious novel. 

I smiled throughout this whole book. 

What I loved:

Characters: These characters stole my heart and didn’t give it back. They will have it for all eternity. April is the perfect main character for this story, and she was the perfect balance between clever and a kid. Violet is a shy girl who is amazing at art and really grows over the course of the book. And you can’t mention Violet without mentioning Tim, her “guard dog” during her time in the foster care system. Each little glimpse into is past casts him in a new light and I can’t wait to learn more about him as the story continues. Next is the adorable Sadie, inventor extraordinaire, even if her inventions often… malfunction. And finally, Colin. Up and coming con-man, British, and probably my favorite character in the book. They all have their pasts and quirks, but my favorite thing about these characters is that they’re kids.

Plot: This book had a mystery element to it that propelled the story along in a series of questions, answers, and more questions. The characters drove the plot, which made it much more engaging. Saying much more would give away some of the excellent plot twists, so I’ll leave it there. 

Themes: I’m a sucker for found-family stories, and this is the epitome of that trope. It leaves you with that warm and fuzzy feeling and is one of my favorite themes ever. Your family isn’t just who you’re related to. That’s just the best. 

Description: Although the descriptions aren’t as atmospheric as books like The Screaming Staircase or Caraval, Ally Carter used them as a way to expand on April as a character, and how she sees the world, which I just loved. 

What I didn’t love:

I have no complaints. Ally Carter is a genius.

In 27 Days (Blink) by Alison Gervais

4.5/5 stars

Blurb: Hadley Jamison is shocked when she hears that her classmate, Archer Morales, has committed suicide. She didn’t know the quiet, reserved guy very well, but that doesn’t stop her from feeling there was something she could have done to help him.

Hoping to find some sense of closure, Hadley attends Archer’s funeral. There, she is approached by a man who calls himself Death and offers her a deal. If Hadley accepts, she will be sent back twenty-seven days in time to prevent Archer from killing himself. But when Hadley agrees to Death’s terms and goes back to right the past, she quickly learns her mission is harder than she ever could have known.

Time ticks away as Hadley looks for ways to not only talk to Archer but to know him on a deeper level. But just as she and Archer connect, a series of dangerous accidents starts pushing them apart. Hadley must decide whether she is ready to risk everything—including her life—to keep Archer alive.

Overall:

Carlye and Mya recommended this one to me, so I grabbed the kindle copy from the library. It’s safe to say that those two know what they’re talking about. I read it all at once, almost walked into a few walls too, I couldn’t put it down.

What I loved:

Characters: I found the characters in this book interesting. Main character Hadley could have had some more internal conflict, in my opinion, since most of her conflict was linked with Archer. Archer was developed very well, and his huge Italian family was absolutely amazing.

Plot: I knew from the blurb that this book was going to be very unique and deal with some heavy topics, such as suicide. I thought it was done very well, and was presented in a very considerate and realistic way. It focused on the real effects and consequences of suicide and was very impactful.

Themes: The themes in this book were tied so closely with the plot, so I feel like I already touched on them, but again it was a very impactful read.

What I didn’t love:

Pacing: The pacing was a little off for me during certain parts of the book. The climax especially felt a bit rushed.

Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book? By Ally Carter

5/5 stars

Blurb: Have you always wanted to write a book, but don’t know where to start? Or maybe you’re really great at writing the first few chapters . . . but you never quite make it to the end? Or do you finally have a finished manuscript, but you’re not sure what to do next? Fear not — if you have writing-related questions, this book has answers!

Whether you’re writing for fun or to build a career, bestselling author Ally Carter is ready to help you make your work shine. With honesty, encouragement, and humor, Ally’s ready here to answer the questions that writers struggle with the most.

Filled with practical tips and helpful advice, Dear Ally is a treasure for aspiring writers at any stage of their careers. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at how books get made, from idea to publication, and gives you insight into the writing processes of some of the biggest and most talented YA authors writing today.

Overall:

This is the only non-fiction book I’m reviewing today, so I wont be going over characters and plot and stuff like that.

This book was super helpful, and I recommend it to writers everywhere. It had really great perspective on plotting vs panting, editing, outlining and a bunch of other stuff. It had solutions to so many writing problems that I was having. I also loved that it wasn’t just Ally’s answers, she got input from a ton of other authors to, which showed a lot of different methods. 10/10 recommend.


Woo, that was a long post, but I hope at least one of these books interested you. I can vouch for the fact that they’re wonderful time-passers during quarantine.

Until next time,

First Chapter Formula

Hello dear readers! Today I am sharing the results of my research on the topic of writing the first chapter.

I recently tackled the first chapter of my book because what I had previously written as my first chapter was, in a word, boring.

To combat this I read the first chapter of several of my favorite books and took notes on what they included. Once I got about six books in I began to notice a pattern. Then I checked my notes against 9 more books. I read the first chapter of 15 total books and came up with the following “formula”. Formula is used loosely in this context, of course, because when it comes to art, rules are made to be broken. But this “formula” is tried and true and can be used as a great springboard for your story.

Most of the books had most of, if not all of, the following things:

Main Character’s Personality:

Arguably the most important thing to showcase in any first chapter is your main character’s personality. If you will be writing from several point of views, you may or may not want to introduce this in the first chapter, but make sure your reader starts to get an idea for who the main character is. One book that does this really well is 100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons. (you can read my review here if you haven’t already). She makes sure to showcase Tessa’s fierce independence very quick;y so that the readers know who Tessa is and what her struggles are.

An Average Day:

Eleven of the fifteen book I studied began with the main character going about an average day. One example of this is Cinder by Marissa Meyer. When we first see Cinder she is living her normal life. Struggling with her cybernetic limbs, working her stall in the market, and generally having a rough time. Which brings me to the third part of the formula…

Main Character is Dissatisfied:

This is another common component of first chapters. The MC is living their normal life, but they are often dissapointed in one way or another. Take The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. We see Percy Jackson on a school field trip, a relatively normal activity, but for Percy as a character, he hates it. He hates school in general, he’s getting picked on and he is not happy with that aspect of his life. This is often a bridge to…

Internal Conflict:

Something commonly introduced in first chapters is the internal conflict of the main character. Even if it’s only hinted at, this aspect of the first chapter, if included, is a great way to keep readers interested in your story. Internal conflict is what makes readers relate to and empathize with the main character, so its often used as a hook right at the beginning of a story. For example, in Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger. We see Sophie, on a field trip and not exactly happy about it (I just now realized how its kinda like The Lightning Thief). We instantly see Sophie’s desire to belong, to be a part of something, to fit in. It acts as a very effective hook.

Tension:

Next up is introducing the main conflict. This is very common to introduce in the first chapter, since it sets the tone for the whole book. Maybe it’s a glimpse of a larger problem to come, maybe it goes as far as including the inciting incident.

Sometimes the conflict introduced doesn’t relate directly to the main conflict, but it causes suspense anyway, which can help convince a reader to keep reading.

One example of this is in Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. When Stargirl, a quirky new girl, shows up at Micah High School, there’s a noticeable buzz. Everyone is whispering about her in the halls, and the other students aren’t quite sure what to do with her. This sets up the events of the whole book, since the main conflict is the school’s reaction to Stargirl’s eccentricities.

Something Unique:

Every story brings something to the table that no other book has done before, or at least presents something in a different way. Advertising this in the first chapter is used as a hook in many stories.

As an example, these are the first few lines of I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter:

“I suppose a lot of teenage girls feel invisible sometimes, like they could just disappear. Well, that’s me – Cammie the Chameleon. But I’m luckier than most because, at my school, that’s considered cool.

I go to a school for spies.”

This is obviously an unusual thing. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I don’t go to a school for spies (or do I?). It’s worth mentioning that these first few lines also serve the purpose of introducing the internal conflict, how Cammie feels invisible. Which makes them ingenious in my opinion, but I digress.

This “unique aspect” can be a situation the character is in, like in the quote above. It can be a part of the world, like in The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud. It can be a writing style like in Heist Society by Ally Carter. You know what makes your story unique, embrace it!

And Everything Else…

The rest of these things showed up less often in my research, but might also be fun to include:

  • Introduction of the main love interest
  • Introduction of other major characters (family, best friends, mentor, etc.)
  • Backstory
  • A prolouge
  • Main character’s hobby
  • Allusion to future events
  • Allusion to past events
  • Big, mysterious questions

Here’s the thing about this “formula”: ignore it if you want to. Or ignore parts of it. Don’t start your book one way or another because other people do it that way. As Merie said last week, You Do You. If you want to start your book out by blowing up the Earth, do it. Including the things I mentioned above can be helpful, and there is nothing wrong with using any or all of them, but in the end, your story is your story. And no one knows how to tell it but you.

Until next time,

3 Pacing Tips

Hello dear readers! I’m excited to say that there is officially 100 people following us here on TotLS! Thanks to all you lovely people!

On another note, today we’re talking about the basics of pacing. When I read other people’s writing, especially those who are just starting out, pacing is often overlooked. Don’t feel bad if your pacing is off, no one’s writing is perfect all the time. I struggle with pacing scenes all the time, but if it’s done right it can change stories for the better.

#1 Sentence Length

Sentence length is key to pacing. As a general rule, longer sentences are best used in slower scenes and shorter sentences are best in faster scenes.

Think about what movies show during intense fight scenes. They show attacks, short bursts of activity. The camera doesn’t stop and zoom in on a tree in the background, it stays focused on the action.

When you go into a scene try and think of what you’re trying to convey.

#2 Sometimes… Do the Opposite

Sometimes shortening or lengthening sentences doesn’t work for specific instances.

For example, lets say you’re writing a slow scene. Maybe a character and their love interest are just sitting and talking. Maybe as they’re talking one leans closer. In order to draw attention to the reaction of the other character, you could shorten the sentences.

They sat together, talking about nothing and everything. Somehow, in the midst of the conversation, she didn’t notice how close he had gotten.

Her heart beat faster. Her cheeks heated up. Their eyes met.

Is it cliché? Yes. But it gets the point across. In order to bring attention to a specific instance within the slow scene, I shortened the sentences. This contrast shows importance.

It works for fast scenes as well. Say a protagonist is fighting a small group of pirates (or something). During the fight, an important object falls out of their bag. In a movie, it would slow down and zoom in as the object falls. We can achieve a similar effect in writing by lengthening sentences.

One of them drew a sword. I drew my own, just in time. He stabbed. I parried. He slashed again and I jumped back.

Although I remained uninjured, the blade cut through the strap of my satchel. I tried to catch it, but it hit the deck. It’s contents spilled out, and the amulet glinted, almost tauntingly, as it slid away.

The amulet is obviously important, for some reason, and by taking the time to describe it in the midst of a high pressure situation it conveys that to the reader.

#3 Conflict & Cause and Effect

The past two tips have been about pacing in individual scenes. However, pacing also applies to the plot as a whole. How fast important scenes happen in comparison to other scenes is very important.

However… there is not one way to pace a story as a whole. My best tip is to always think about the cause and effect of a scene. Important events have important effects. However, they also have smaller, more personal effects. After a big battle between two sides of a war, for example, will have political impacts and effect entire countries. But, if someone close to your main character is injured in the battle, it is likely they will want to address that before the large-scale effects. This will balance out the pacing because it will have a fast paced scene followed by a slow paced scene which will make the story flow nicely and the pacing even out.


That’s all I have for you guys today! If you have more tips on pacing, drop them in the comments, I’d love to see what you guys think!

Until next time,

Book Review: The Blood Spell by CJ Redwine

Blue de la Cour has her life planned: hide the magic in her blood and continue trying to turn metal into gold so she can help her city’s homeless. But when her father is murdered and a cruel but powerful woman claims custody of Blue and her property, one wrong move could expose her—and doom her once and for all. The only one who can help? The boy she’s loathed since childhood: Prince Kellan.
Kellan Renard, crown prince of Balavata, is walking a thin line between political success and devastating violence. Newly returned from boarding school, he must find a bride among the kingdom’s head families and announce his betrothal—but escalating violence among the families makes the search nearly impossible. He’s surprised to discover that the one person who makes him feel like he can breathe is Blue, the girl who once ruined all his best adventures. When mysterious forces lead to disappearances throughout Balavata, Blue and Kellan must work together to find the truth. What they discover will lead them to the darkest reaches of the kingdom, and to the most painful moments of their pasts.
When romance is forbidden and evil is rising, can Blue save those she loves, even if it costs her everything?


Hello dear readers! I haven’t done a book review in a while, but I recently read The Blood Spell by CJ Redwine. I fell in love with the characters, the plot, the world-building, and the uniqueness of it. It’s unlike any Cinderella retelling I’ve read.

The Blood Spell is the fourth book in The Ravenspire Series, a series of standalone fairytale retellings, which means they aren’t necessary to read in order. Each book takes place in a different kingdom in the same world. Even though each book has a new set of characters, there are fun cameos throughout the series, so the past main characters are not forgotten. This does mean that if you read them out of order, you may not recognize the cameos when they happen. The books are still understandable on their own, but it can be fun to read them in order just to smile when the old characters show up again.

The first book, The Shadow Queen, is a Snow White retelling. The second, The Wish Granter, Is a Rumpelstiltskin retelling. The third, The Traitor Prince, is a retelling of The Prince and the Pauper. Finally, as I mentioned above, The Blood Spell is a Cinderella retelling.

Looking back on the series, it is my opinion that The Blood Spell is by far the best book. The Shadow Queen is good, but does have cliche elements. The Wish Granter is better, probably my second favorite of the series, I love the characters in it. The Traitor Prince is also good, the world-building was really interesting. They are all worth reading, but when the first three books are compared to The Blood Spell… there isn’t much competition for me.

The Blood Spell is a truly beautiful novel. Main characters Blue and Kellan are both unique and have a lot of depth. Blue is passionate, yet compassionate, which is a welcome change from some popular YA protagonists. She is also really relatable, both because of her personality and the fact that she loves food and hates mornings. Prince Kellan seems like a charming prince that doesn’t let anything get to him, because that’s a necessary facade to keep up in the nobility. However, he has really sweet and caring personality and will do anything for those he loves. He’s reckless at the beginning of the story, but seeing him develop as a character and a person was one of my favorite parts of reading this book.

The romance between Blue and Kellan is wonderfully done, and CJ Redwine, as a Christian, keeps it clean and enjoyable. Its one of the best romances I’ve read in a long time, and it incorporated so wonderfully into their character arcs and the plot. Blue and Kellan have known each other since they were kids, but do not get along at the beginning of the book. Their teasing banter had me laughing out loud on several occasions. I loved watching them get rid of the assumptions they made about each other and then falling in love. It was so, so fun and left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. Honestly, the whole book left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

The side characters were interesting as well, the most prominent two being Nessa (Kellan’s little sister) and Blue’s Grandmother. I loved both of these characters and what they added to the story. Especially Nessa, who is fierce in her own way, has an adorable relationship with her older brother, and made up her own sign language? Yes, that’s right, she’s that cool.

Another thing I loved about this book is how the plot was so developed and intriguing that the Cinderella aspects felt like they added a new layer to the plot. Rather than making up the entire plot, and therefore making it predictable, they felt necessary and unique. From the “evil stepmother” to the “fairy godmother” to the slippers Blue wears to the ball, everything has a true purpose and brings new aspects to the story.

The world-building was also intriguing, and I loved how we got to see two vastly different sides of the kingdom from Blue and Kellan’s different point of views. Blue is a commoner that is aware of the problem that Balavata (the kingdom) is having with the people, often orphans, that are living on the street. Her heart for the homeless not only reveals her character but also details of daily life in Balavata. Kellan, on the other hand, is the crown prince. He is aware of the problems the country has at large, especially with the nine “head families”, who make Kellan’s life pretty difficult. The best part of having both of these point of veiws, is that Blue and Kellan share these views with each other, which makes each of them more understanding of the kingdom as a whole, and more understanding of each other.

I could honestly go on forever about all the amazing qualities of this book. In fact, the other day Merie asked me if I had anything negative to say about it, and I was surprised to say that I didn’t. I rate it 5 out of 5 stars, and I recommend it to absolutely everyone.


Quick reminder that if you are participating in the short story contest, stories are due by March 12. Its coming up quickly! I can’t wait to read everyone’s entries as they come in!


AMAZON | GOODREADS

Until next time,

Writing Tag: Never Have I Ever

Abigail over at Books, Life, and Christ (who also happens to be one of our amazing short story contest judges) tagged me for the Never Have I Ever Tag: Writing Edition. I’ve loved seeing this tag floating around the blogosphere, and I’m excited to share my answers!

The rules are:

1. Link and thank the blogger who tagged you. Thanks, Abigail!

2. Include the graphic somewhere in your post (or make your own!). The header up there!

3. Answer the questions truthfully and honestly. I’ll try my best. 🙂

4. Tag 3 bloggers. It’ll be hard to tag people that haven’t done it yet, so we’ll see.

Never Have I Ever…

….started a novel that I did not finish.

Yes. Several times. But my current WIP will not be abandoned, I assure you.

….written a story completely by hand.

If you count school projects, then yes. I’ve written quite a few short stories by hand, mostly for school. A couple of them were twisted fairytales that I am still quite fond of.

….changed tenses midway through a story

Not really. I mean, I’ve slipped up a time or two for a few sentences, but it wasn’t long term and it wasn’t permanent.

…not researched anything before starting a story

*awkward laughter* Yes. I hate doing research, to be honest. So, unless the story is a retelling of some sort so I need to research the original, I save my research for later.

….changed my protagonist name halfway through a draft.

Not my main protagonist, but my other MCs or side characters have had some name changes. Especially last names, those are always a-changin’.

….written a story in a month or less.

Short story, yes. Novel, no. Depending on the length and my commitment to a short story I can usually knock one out pretty quickly. Novels however… I’ll get back to you when I actually finish one.

…fallen asleep while writing.

No, because I usually write at my computer and there’s no comfortable way to fall asleep at my desk. That’s honestly my only reason.

…corrected someone’s grammar irl/online.

Who hasn’t, at least once? I wouldn’t say I’m a grammar-nazi, but I have corrected people’s grammar before.

….yelled in all caps at myself in the middle of a novel.

All the time. I’ll be typing a sentence that I don’t know how to end and it’ll quickly just change into “WHAT AM I EVEN DOING?!” or something like that.

…used I’m writing as an excuse.

Yeah, I have. Sometimes my family will be doing some sort of bonding activity and I’ll write instead, if they let me. This usually only works during NaNoWriMo, though.

….killed a character that was based on someone I know in real life.

I don’t really base my characters off of real people, so I can’t say that I have.

…used pop culture references in a story.

A few, mostly references to gaming consoles or stuff like that.

…written between the hours of 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Nope, I prefer to sleep so I can write coherently.

…drank an entire pot of coffee while writing.

Nah, coffee is a rare thing for me. I like it, but I don’t drink it a lot. The only thing I drink while writing is water.

…written down dreams to use in potential novels.

I don’t remember my dreams, so no.

…published an unedited story on the Internet/blog/Wattpad.

You mean, my greatest fear? No, if you read my writing, rest assured that it has AT LEAST had a preliminary edit, but has more likely been read and edited a LOT.

…procrastinated homework because I wanted to write.

I do online school, so either all my work is homework or none of it is, depending on your definition. And no, I always get school done first. I do jot down ideas while doing school, though.

…typed so long that my wrists hurt.

No, I don’t think I’ve ever done that. Writing by hand is a different story, however.

…spilled a drink on my laptop while writing.

Once I knocked over my empty water bottle and almost had a heart attack, but no I’ve never spilled anything on my laptop. Except Goldfish crumbs.

…forgotten to save my work/draft.

Google Docs and Scrivener are what I use for writing, and I don’t really have to save them, so no. Google Docs does it automatically, and I just leave Scrivener open most of the time.

…finished a novel.

I wish. Hopefully one day soon? Although “soon” is relative.

…laughed like an evil villain while writing a scene.

I have laughed at my own (and my character’s) jokes, but I don’t think I have evil villain laughed.

…cried while writing a scene.

Nope, I’ve had tears in my eyes a few times, but I wouldn’t say I’ve actually cried.

…created maps of my fictional worlds.

If printing out a blank map of Europe and changing the borders and country names counts, then yes.

…researched something shady for a novel.

I’ve researched some semi-sketchy medical stuff, but as I said earlier I don’t like doing research, so I haven’t looked up a ton of shady stuff.

That’s it!

I’m pretty new to the blogosphere and a lot of the bloggers I know have already done this tag, so whoever wants to do it, consider yourself tagged!

Until next time,

Learning From Procrastination

Hello dear readers! Today I’m doing something unconventional: encouraging you to procrastinate writing.

No, I’m not saying you should spend hours on YouTube or Pinterest or something with your manuscript open in a different tab. Although I’m guilty of that. More often then I would like to admit.

What I’m saying is you don’t always have to be writing on order to be making progress on your novel (or short story, or poem, or other writing project). If your creativity tank is running low and you’re out of scene ideas, sometimes you want to use writers block as an excuse to give yourself a break. Which isn’t a bad thing, until the break turns into going a couple weeks without even thinking about your writing project.

However, something that is just as important as the process of writing is the craft of writing. First drafts are rough and in need of editing, but you can make your future self’s life easier if you incorporate things like subplots and character arcs in your first draft. Which is why I recommend that you spend time learning about your writing project rather than avoiding it.

Watch videos on writing, channels like Abbie Emmons and Bethany Atazadeh (there are a ton more too, find one that works for you!) Read books like Story Genius By Lisa Cron and Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland (again, there’s dozens, even hundreds more). Read blog posts, Google your questions, and do your research. None of these things are bad things. Here’s what you need to keep in mind, though: make sure your learning endeavors don’t become a distraction. If you’re having a problem with your world-building, then look into world-building, but if you find yourself hours later watching a video on cover design, then your research is no longer applicable to your problem.

I recently was struggling with my character arcs, so I procrastinated my WIP for a while. Because of this I was out of the writing mood and the world of my characters. With each passing day it became harder and harder for me to get back into writing. When I finally confronted my character-arc problem by reading books on character arcs, taking it over with friends (Thanks, Merie!) and watching some videos, I was able to solve the problem, which caused other pieces in my story to fall into place. It wasn’t writing, it didn’t get my word count up, but it gave me direction and inspiration.

As a perfectionist that likes to see progress, it was difficult for me to see learning about writing as “counting”, but it does. You just have to do it the right way.


I hope this was able to inspire you, or at least give you some recommendations of places to go to learn about writing (seriously, Story Genius is such a helpful book).

Until next time,