Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Facing Your (Writing) Fears

I like fantasy books and movies. I like getting lost in worlds I've never been in, meeting characters that can do fantastical things, magic, explosions, a place where people aren't always being watched by the every day things that we are forced into like school and work. I like imaging that just beyond the next tree in long forgotten woods is the entrance to a magical world, that the next store shop is covering up the entrance to a quaint little alley of wizarding supplies, that beyond the next mountain range hides a village of little folk living in the mountain bases. 

So naturally, when I decided to write, I wrote about the own worlds in my head. I made up fantasy stories about ordinary people doing incredible things and about shimmering magic and horses and everything in between.

But as I start to plot out my next novel, I realize that I've also been hiding behind all of the big fight scenes, the swords and the magic because I've been scared. Scared that I won't measure up when I start writing about the real world.

See, the next novel I want to write is a YA contemporary. I have a cast of characters that have been with me for four years and all this time, they've been getting stronger. Plus, I work at a police department so I've been picking up on a lot of things about drug informants and I think it is all so fascinating.

What I'm saying is I'm going to stretch my legs and try writing out of my comfort zone and I can't wait to see what I discover. I still have more fantasy novel ideas. I'm not at all done with them. But for now, I want to try something new.

If your struggling or scared of an idea you've had, maybe you should try it too. Anyone have any tips for taking on your writing fears?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Discussion: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Like most of the world, I feel in love with How To Train Your Dragon in a way I could have never imagined. Everything about that movie was perfection and though I thought it looked like a cool concept, I never expected to love it the way I did.

So I was more than a little skeptical when I heard there was going to be a sequel. Then I saw the direction they were going. They decided to start this story five years later which made Hiccup a young adult. I'm not sure if it is ever confirmed but I imagined he was around 17. But I got really excited for their character designs and for the fact that they could now tell an entirely new story.

Hiccup and Toothless in How To Train Your Dragon

Hiccup and Toothless in How To Train Your Dragon 2

And boy did they! I'll get into some spoiler-y plot stuff soon but suffice to say, this movie is wonderful. I'm not going to review it per say, but I wanted to touch on some of the things I loved about it. Again, there will be spoilers ahead.

1) Hiccup and Astrid's relationship

I love, love, LOVED the portrayal of Hiccup and Astrid's relationship in this movie. From the moment they get on screen together, there is this naturalness with them that feels real and the movie makers left us loads of little clues about this. For instance, Hiccup begins the movie with one braid in his hair but when Astrid sits next to him, she braids another strand which stays there the rest of the movie. We already know that Astrid wears her hair in braids so it feels so natural that she would braid his. He has two braids in his hair for the rest of the movie. Also, when she sits down next to him, he hands her his pen without any comment. You get the feeling that they have a routine, that they know what the other is thinking and I love that. Not to mention, we get to see how much they trust each other.

2) Hiccup and Toothless

Alright, you knew this one was going to be on there. In the first movie, the link between Hiccup and Toothless was beginning to form but by this movie, it is fully formed. They are one, thinking in unison, understanding each other and it is amazing to watch. I loved seeing how much they each rely on each other, Hiccup because he can move so much faster with Toothless and Toothless because Hiccup helps him fly. The fact that neither are complete without the other is this amazing bond and so much deeper than another boy and his pet story.

Because Hiccup and Toothless have such a tight bond, I found it really interesting that the movie decided to test them. Having Toothless kill Hiccup's father while under the influence of the alpha dragon, Bewilderbeast, was one of the most interesting things I've seen happen in a kid's movie. That is DARK on a level I never thought I'd witness. I understand that Toothless was being controlled and that this is really his first time dealing with something like that but I was shocked. Having their bond tested in such a visceral way was so sad to watch and I got really upset watching Hiccup shoo Toothless away when Toothless was trying to figure out what was going on.

I'm not sure I can entirely blame Hiccup for not wanting to figure Toothless for what he did and I could have watched an entire movie of them trying to find their way back to each other. I was satisfied with the ending, that Hiccup's willingness to forgive Toothless and trust him even though the recent past indicated that he shouldn't is what gave Toothless the strength to fight against his very nature but I would have loved to see more on that. Watching them fall back into trusting each other instantly, seeing how Toothless would save Hiccup without any regard for his own life and knowing Hiccup would do the same because without one, there really isn't the other, was so incredible.

3) The Comedic Relief of Ruffnut

This is a kid's movie after all and it is dealing with some really heavy stuff. It was nice to have Ruffnut coming into her own, noticing boys and providing a little bit of comic relief in the middle of the story. The parts with the boys were really funny but my favorite moment was when Ruffnut and Tuffnut get their dragon back and the head her brother rides on comes over to her and she pushes it away because she only likes her side of the dragon.

4) Hiccup's Mother

Disregarding the fact that she is exactly Hiccup and what she does for the story, my husband and I couldn't get over the way she was animated. She was so fluid in her movement, part wild animal herself. The moment when they are riding on their dragons together and she walks across all of the dragons, using her staff as a way to cling to one with a horn or when she was on her own and uses that staff to be lowered to the ground is one of the highlights of the entire movie. She was beautiful.

5) The Moment Stoick and Valka Reunite

If there was one moment in this film where I held my breath, it was this one. There was something so natural about the dumbfounded way Hiccup's father walked toward his mother, with her apologizing the entire time, and when he reached out and touched her face, it was beautiful. I know this is a small moment in the scheme of things, a great moment embedded in 120 minutes of great moments, but there was something so touching about it. You felt a real longing, a real love, a life they could of have, blossom right on screen.

6) Hiccup's Inventions

We knew Hiccup thought out side of the Viking ship the first time we met him. His inventions were nothing compared to what we get in this movie. This time around, he has loads of gadgets he's been perfecting over the five years since we've met him and I love that this is something carried over to the next movie. He has never had brute strength on his side and must rely on his brains to keep him alive. His new fire engulfed sword is a wonderful example of that. We even get to see all the neat things it can do in a comical sequence where Hiccup and Astrid are "captured".

7) The Dragon Animation

Oh. My. God. Watching the dragon interact with human is wonderful but even better than that is watching them interact with each other. I could watch the scene where we first get to see Astrid and Hiccup together a million times because as much as I was focused on Astrid and Hiccup, I was also trying to watch the dragons in the background. They were playing fetch (with an entire tree), smelling each other and playing around. The dragon interactions were just insanely good.

I could keep going. The plot change up from Hiccup being right in the first movie to his father being right in the second one, the interesting way they fought a war with dragons, the addition of Eret (Son of Eret) learning about how amazing dragons could be in a single scene, and more make this movie INCREDIBLE. If you are a fan of dragons, coming of age stories, Vikings, cats, dogs, wolves, owls, family stories or you know, have eyeballs and a heart, I think you'll like this movie.

I want to know if you saw it. Did you like it?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Editing: Tips for Cutting Words

If you are anything like me, you write and write and write and when you are halfway done, you look up and realize that your word count is WAY over the limit. And not just by a little. I'm talking like 10k over. I feel like I am the Queen of this land. Then I get new ideas and I have to find places to cut and trim to make the word count in the ballpark of where it needs to be.

However, with this past manuscript I've been working on, I've realized that I also waste a lot of space with unnecessary words. The problem with this besides bloating the word count is it makes for a passive voice which causes a disconnect with the character. So if you're writing feels dull, try some of these tips to jazz it up!

1) Cut out as many "to be"s as possible.

I am terrible about this. Going through my manuscript and cutting out all the unnecessary places I found "was" slashed my word count down a lot. It also makes the writing feel slow because the character seems like they are just telling you what is happening instead of showing.

Ex: "He was standing in the corner."
See how boring that sentence is?

Better: "He stood in the corner."
Now that "was" has been taken out, it feels a little more active. But we can make this even better.

Best: "He slouched against the wall."
This gives us a lot more of a visual as to what the character is doing and it feels a lot more active.

The dreaded "to be" verb doesn't just strike when characters are involved either. Object get the passive voice treatment as well.

Ex: "The velvet drapes were hung on either side of the large window."
Again, we are being told about the drapes.

Better: "The velvet drapes hung on either side of the large window."
Just taking out the "to be" verb helps the sentence feel a little fresher but again, this is an inactive sentence so lets do better.

Best: "I run my fingers along the velvet drapes hanging closed against the morning light."
Now the character is interacting with the object which makes the object worth being described, we've ditched the boring "to be" verb and spruced the whole sentence up!

2) Describing items using multiple words.

This is another one that I am very guilty of. Just cutting multiple adjectives to describe one object helped get my word count under control.

Ex: "The large, tall and thick oak tree had big leafy branches that spread out high above our heads."
Holy moly, Batman! Those are a lot of words to describe a tree when we could get the idea with a lot less.

Better: "The thick oak tree had leafy branches that spread out high above our heads."
Again, this still has a lot of words to describe a tree that probably doesn't have a whole lot of importance.

Best: "The oak's leafy branches spread out high above our heads."
See how many words we cut by getting rid of all those unnecessary adjectives? Chances are, the reader is going to understand that the oak tree is "thick" and "big" based on the fact that the branches are high up. Trust the reader to fill in the blanks!

3) Cut weasel words!

We all have words that we lean on. The ones we use without even thinking about it. In fact, I wanted to use one of my in this sentence and the one before this. Here are a list of common weasel words to look for and eliminate:

  • Just (which was the one I wanted to use)
  • Then
  • That
  • Suddenly
  • Very
  • Every
  • Would
  • It
  • See
  • Seem
  • Smile
That's just to name a few. We all have our own weasel words. Identifying them and then eliminating them will really help cut down your word count. I try to savor these words and only use them when they can really help make an impact.

Take "just" for example:

Bad Ex: "She just didn't know what to do."
This example is super boring and "just" sits there not doing anything for the sentence.

Better: "It's no big deal really. It's just my entire life."
In this sentence, "just" is exaggerating the point and adding a sarcastic or drastic tone. It's making this weasel word count.

"Then" is another good example that, when used correctly, can really make an impact:

Bad Ex: "Then we decided to leave."
In this example, "then" hangs there all boring. This sentence is telling us nothing. But if "then" is used correctly, it will have an impact!

Better: "She washed the dishes, scrubbed the floor, folded the laundry, dusted and straightened, anything to keep her mind off the conversation she knew was coming that night.Then, with nothing left to do, she sat on the couch to wait."
Alright, so this isn't the strongest example, but "then" does serve to show how much the character is stalling. It is telling us something about the woman.

Better: "And then the gun went off."
Wouldn't you just need to turn the page to keep reading? The nonchalant "then" in this sentence serves to add excitement.

4) Par down the dialogue tags.

I tend to add a lot of action at the end of dialogue tags which fluffs my word count. Get rid of those tags and use anything other than "she said/he said" sparingly.

Ex: "I hate you," she yelled at the top of her lungs, throwing a vase at his head.
We get from her action that she is probably yelling and loudly. We don't need to know that she "screamed bloody murder" when her actions show us that.

Better: "I hate you," she yelled, throwing a vase at his head.
We understand that she is yelling and her actions show us just how angry she is.

Those are my tips for cutting down your word count. There are even more ways but those are the things I'm guilty of. Be removing a lot of these, my character's voice becomes more active and my word count lowers. I hope it helps you and I'd love to hear about anything you've learned over the years!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Etsy Shop Spotlight: FictitiousFragrances

Ever wondered what Gryffindor's Tower smells like? What about how The Doctor from Doctor Who or Castiel from Supernatural or Thor from The Avengers smells like? Well, now you can find out and have these scenes and more filling up your house!

In this week's Etsy shop spotlight, I wanted to feature a really awesome candle maker that is using her powers to make candles for your inner nerd. If candles arn't your thing, she also has roll-on fragrances and lip balm! I ordered three scents for my best friend for her birthday and we both loved the product! Not only did they smell awesome but they were well packaged and even had a cute thank you sticker attached to it. Check out some of my favorite products and stop by the store if you have some time!

On the Etsy page, it says the listing includes:

--Two (2) 8 oz. Candles
--Five (5) 3 oz Soy Melts
Choice of:
-- Ravenclaw Tower
-- Gryffindor Tower
-- Slytherin Dungeon
-- Hufflepuff Basement
-- Butterbeer
--One (1) .3 oz Roll-on Fragrance
Choice of:
-- Ravenclaw Tower
-- Gryffindor Tower
-- Slytherin Dungeon
-- Hufflepuff Basement
--One (1) .15 oz Lip Product
Choice of:
-- Pumpkin Pasties (chapstick)
-- Amortentia (lip tint)
This is a brand new idea and I absolutely love it! I'll be ordering this pack as a birthday gift to myself very soon. You can also find these fun fragrances and more:

Scents: Bergamont zest, earl grey tea leaves, sweet herbs
Scents: Leather, Pine Branches, Bergamont, Oakmoss
Scents: Dragon's Blood
Scents: Apple, cinnamon, pastry
Scents: Fresh cut grass, Juniper, Jasmine
And if you're like me and need to smell multiple scents, you can always opt for the pick 3 or 4 scents here:

Or maybe you just want to smell like Belle from Beauty and the Beast? Then you can try this:

Scents:  Berries, tea, roses, leather
I always love finding nerdy things on Etsy and these candles pretty much top it from me! I'd love to order a few for my new room.

Are you interested any of these scents?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Where Were You the Day Dumbledore Died?

My husband and I have been listening to a podcast during our down time and they happen to be analyzing the Harry Potter movies. As they were going through the sixth movie, I felt my chest tighten because I knew what was coming. Even now, after reading the series twice and watching the movie hundreds of times, I still feel myself growing faint every time I think about Dumbledore's death. This is a death that happened almost ten years ago (wow, I feel old) and I still found myself crying when they played the audio for Dumbledore dying.

Every time Albus says "Severus, please", not begging for his own life but begging Snape to kill him for Draco's sake, I can't stop the tears from flowing.

In my lifetime, my parents or other adults would often tell me that there are moments in life that I would remember. You will remember what you where doing when {fill in the blank}. I'm sure they meant historic things and I guess there are a few of those too but the moment Dumbledore died is among them.

I had just started working at Books-A-Million at the time and they were in a flurry preparing for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. I went from new employee to heading the whole thing when they caught wind that I was a fan. Here I was, 18-years-old in my first job ever and tasked with the huge responsibility to entertain hundreds of folks showing up for the release of the sixth book in the Harry Potter series... I'd never been more excited for anything in my life.

That week I was tasked with making huge house banners (seriously, these things were eight feet each), helping every "house" plan their activities for the evening and organizing the rules and prizes for the costume contest. Plus, I had to get my costume together because Trelawney wasn't going to magically appear unless I made her. I even learned a few magic tricks for the occasion since I claimed Gryffindor which had kids from 5-10 in it.

What all this amounts to is that I had to work well past midnight when Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was released. By the time I got home and showered, it was well into the early morning hours. Not that the late hours stopped me. I read most of the night, completely hooked even though I was scheduled to work at 3 PM the next day. After only a few hours of sleep, I drove to work with the book resting in my front seat mocking me. I parked in the spot I always parked in (three spaces from the front all the way on the right of the parking lot) with twenty minutes to spare and I read. I read as Dumbledore paralyzed Harry and watched in horror as Dumbledore tried to convince Draco that there was still good in him. With three moments to spare, Snape said the irreversible words and Harry was freed from Dumbledore's spell. Dumbledore, the man who had guarded Harry and I through five books, who even Voldemort was scared of, was gone. In a world full of magic and wonder and miracles, there was nothing Harry could do to bring him back.

With tears streaming down my cheeks, I walked into the bookstore and tried to put on my apron so that I could sign in. I tried to be brave. But I was now walking around in a world where Dumbledore was no longer there to protect me and that killed me. My manager, who happened to find out what happened in the morning since she wasn't a huge fan, let me have a few moments to pull myself together but it was pretty useless. I was already gone.

We weren't allowed to read behind the counter even when the floor was empty but that night, I happened to be putting up a Half Blood Prince for my entire shift.

I remember where I was the day Dumbledore died. I remember grieving with so many of my friends who also found out, discussing it with the customers that came in and just needed someone to talk to, and trying to figure out how the Harry Potter world was ever going to be the same.

I can't imagine writing a series like that. Of crafting characters and books in such a way that I can devastate the literary world. I think as a writer and as a reader, I'm always searching for that feeling again. Because for me, the day Dumbledore died is a part of my history, not just a writer but as a human being. Harry Potter shaped me, like so many other folks, and to this day it still moves me.

So I want to know your story. Where were you the day Dumbledore died?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Writing Book Recommendations

I've read a fair share of writing books before I started writing seriously but lately, I find myself obsessively looking up articles on every facet of writing online. I want to get better for my characters, give them interesting plots and expand my horizons but I can't do without help. So I ordered a few books on Amazon which I'd like to share here with you and then, if you have any suggestions, please leave them below.

When I put out a shout on Twitter, I got recommended:

Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole
I ordered it and will be reading through it shortly.

I also purchased these:

The Thesaurus Book Trio by Angela Ackerman and Becca Pugkisi
I purchased all three of these books and can't wait to dig into them. I've been working a lot on trying to make my characters seem unique and give them interesting details. I hope these books will help with that!

I'll review them in more depth after I've finished reading. 

I'd love to hear about any books that have helped you with writing!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Etsy Shop Spotlight: Heart Felt Design

I'm always hunting around on Etsy for fun nerdy things and am amazed by the talent and creativity of some many shops I come across. One of my favorite past times is searching for Doctor Who stuff and that is how I came across this next shop.

Today, I'd like to feature Heart Felt Designs...

I feel for this shop because I think pillows are a lot more grown up looking for rooms than dolls or stuffed animals (though I have a few of those too). I just think that pillows are a great way to show off your nerdom without needing lots of shelf space. So I wanted to highlight a few awesome products from this shop that I would love to snag:

Harry Potter pillows ($30 each)
Made from top quality fabrics including anti pill fleece, allergen free fiber fill and eco friendly felt. All details are securely stitched on making this item safe for all ages. No fabric glue shortcuts here.
Anna and Elsa from Frozen ($30 each)

Supernatural's Dean, Sam and Cas ($30 each)

Link and Zelda ($30 each)

Harry Potter house ($35 each)

Aang and Appa ($30 each)

Sloth pillow ($30)
Hedwig pillow ($30)
As you can see, most of these in square and rectangular designs and are mostly $30. I think they are so stinking cute and would be perfect additions to my uber classy chairs. I can't have it too grown up in my writing room or it just won't be me.

What do you guys think of these fun throw pillow designs?

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