Top 5 Blog Posts in 2016 (and 5 of My Other Favorites)

2016 was… something else. Needless to say, a lot of us are eager for it to end and are looking to 2017 with bated breath, whether hopefully or anxiously. I’m leaving my assessment at that.

I’m not going to post next week in light of the holidays and everything that needs to get done, but I wanted to leave you with an end-of-the-year post that wasn’t New Year’s Resolution-flavored. On a whim, I thought a good idea would be to look at this site’s statistics and see where I’ve come in a little over a year.

The numbers were interesting, as it turns out. I’m probably revealing more numbers than other writers in my position would or even should, but I’m fairly proud of them, so I’m going to share. Between 2015 and 2016:

  • I published more posts (22 vs 30, not including the one you’re reading right now);
  • The number of page views more than doubled (527 to 1,070);
  • And the figure that astounds me the most: the number of visitors to the blog came short of tripling, but still got pretty close (236 to 602)

Once I was done being impressed with myself, whether deservedly or not, I took a look at what WordPress’ numbers were for individual blog posts. I was specifically curious about which posts took off and seeing what, if anything, I could learn from that information (which, admittedly, is a little biased against pieces that I wrote closer to the end of the year). It was nice to look back over everything again, and while there were some that I wasn’t surprised to see, there were a couple of posts and numbers that blindsided me.

In order from the least to most popular, here are the five posts that you guys looked at the most (all links will open in separate windows or tabs):

5. Social Media and Me (February 11, 2016)

This was one of my surprises and a case of “look how much has changed.” At this time, I had taken the latest in a series of steps toward being more serious as a writer and branched out into a few social media sites for networking purposes. This post was a reflection on how I used Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Instagram.

I’m still on all four of the sites, but have evolved a bit. I do about the same things on Twitter, but I’ve gotten a little more outspoken and at times even political. Not much has changed on my public Facebook or Goodreads pages. Instagram I’ve grown into: I’ve even added it to the list of social media sites that I advertise my blog posts on, which I didn’t think would work until some of those proved to be my most popular Instagram posts. As for what I use the most, Twitter is without a doubt where I do most of my posting, interacting, and mindless scrolling.

4. Bookworm Tropes and Clichés I’m Sick Of (February 17, 2016)

Another shocker for me. I can’t remember the precise event that inspired this particular rant, or if it had been building for a while, but I definitely needed to get something off of my chest. Here, I took issue with how bookworms and other literary types of people get portrayed and dissected the stereotypes accordingly.

I like my analyses and that I use anecdotal examples. While specific media instances of where particular tropes do and don’t work might have been good, I’m glad that I didn’t go that route because it might have come off as attacking particular creators, which I try to avoid. Beyond that, I still hold all of those same opinions: these five tropes still kind of irk me (and for the same reasons), and what I feel about bookworms being some of the most informed and insatiably curious groups of people still rings true to me. I would also like to add that I think we’re some of the most empathetic as well, but that point wouldn’t have worked with the tone.

3. “That Makes Me Feel Better about My Writing” (April 6, 2016)

I’m not terribly surprised to see this on the list, but I’m a little surprised that it didn’t rank higher. It actually went over pretty well with my friends on my personal Facebook page (even the ones that normally don’t interact with what I post from my blog), who were mostly curious to see how I would defend both E.L. James and Stephenie Meyer. Here, I dissect the idea of seeing a single line from someone’s novel, using it to make an assessment on your own writing abilities, and how unfair that is.

I actually consider this one of my favorite posts. I stayed as neutral as I could on both authors I talk about, which even at the time I thought was impressive because of how controversial both of them are. I stand by all of the arguments and analyses I made. I think, when I talk about the publishing industry and how difficult it is to make it, I was fair without sounding bitter. I still admire the young adult author community on Twitter and their positivity, especially in a world that increasingly needs it. I still need to work on silencing my inner critic (for myself and other writers) and focus on creating more, but I feel like every artist has that problem.

2. What Makes a Good Film Adaptation? (March 16, 2016)

At first, this one being on the list at all, let alone at number two, surprised me. It’s not that I thought it was a bad post, I just didn’t remember it standing out as particularly good. After seeing what came in the number one slot, though, and the fact that this post was riding on its chronological coattails, the numbers made more sense. This post is exactly what it sounds like: criteria that, in my opinion, make a film adaptation of a book good.

I still stand by the points that I made. I think the examples I used are good ones, even if I did get a little angrier than necessary about The Scarlet Letter and made an unfair jab at erotica writers (sorry). Beyond that, though, there’s not a whole lot to say here other than this: Wow, that was a lot of typos. Where on Earth was my editing brain that day?

1. Book Review: The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M.H. Boroson (March 9, 2016)

This wasn’t a surprise for me. I expected to see this one somewhere on my top five list, and felt fairly confident that it was going to be number one. Sure enough, it was, thanks to particularly intense engagement from both readers of the blog and social media. Boroson himself liked and shared the review; a lot of my Facebook friends liked what I had to say and appreciated the recommendation; and this post went over really well on every social media site that I had shared it on at the time and still occasionally gets likes on Goodreads.

This is another one of my favorites, and I’m still quite proud of it. The tone of the post might come off as gushing, but I had so much fun with this novel that it was hard to find anything to be critical of. If I do more book review posts in the future, I’ll probably use this post as a guideline because of how well it went over and the kinds of points that I made. Book reviews are kind of fun, especially if I can recommend what I reviewed afterward, so I hope to read another book that inspires me like this one did.

 

So those five were the posts from 2016 that have gotten the most views. The fact that they were all posted within three months of each other is strange and probably statistically significant, but I’m not the person to make that call. A couple of them absolutely deserved the honor, but there were some other posts among my personal favorites that didn’t make the list. Just because I didn’t want them left out, here are (in no particular order) five of the posts that I liked a lot that, for one reason or another, just didn’t get as many looks:

In Defense of the “Wimps” (March 23, 2016)

Outside of “What Makes a Good Film Adaptation?”, this is the only post to date where I feel that I successfully pulled off bringing in a specific example of non-book media to talk about the craft of storytelling. I liked my analyses a lot as well as the fact I was able to bring in the manuscript I had at the time, although the latter was in a bit of a mean-spirited way, in retrospect.

Formulas, Plots, and Narratives (July 13, 2016)

This managed to strike a balance between creative and analytical that I had a really fun time with. I don’t often go explicitly academic on this blog, and here I broke down archetypes and examples in literature while bringing in my own process and thoughts about the writing business. It felt like my “smartest” post, and I was very pleased with the result.

Writing Dreams (July 27, 2016)

Where “Formulas, Plots, and Narratives,” was one of my more intellectual posts, this one was much more of a heartfelt one. The fact that the post came about as a result of an interview was serendipitous, and my points were authentic and I still hold them dear. For those that were concerned about whether I got that job: I did not, but that’s ok, because my writing career has been moving forward.

Research and Real People (February 3, 2016)

I felt as though this post authentically brought in my work in progress without being heavy-handed about it or giving away too much. This post also felt, to me, like the best in terms of bringing in my thought processes while writing and researching. I’d like to be able to do more posts like this one that talk about my process, research, and work, but the stars didn’t align for it this year.

This Post Does Not Contain Spoilers (September 14, 2016)

I’m not sure if I can put my finger on any one reason why I liked this post. It was pretty fun to write; it was light, which was a nice change from some of my normal content; it made its point simply; and I stand by what I said. Between all of those factors, it stands out in my mind as a favorite.

 

Do you have a favorite post of mine? Did it make either of these lists? Feel free to talk about it in the comments!

 

I’m glad you’ve stuck with me through this year, and I hope to see you in 2017 for more posts like this (and some new and exciting ones, too)! Have a safe, happy, and healthy New Year!

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I’m a Terrible Blogger (and You Might Be, Too)

That’s quite the claim. Let’s start from the beginning.

I’ve gotten a lot of practice writing blog posts, both for myself and for other people. I’ve been curating my little corner of the blogosphere for a little over a year now. With experience comes knowledge, and wow, have I learned a lot. Above all else, though, I’ve learned that I’m really bad at being a blogger.

I started this blog as a sort of website or content hub for more current writing so that anyone who comes across my name on the internet will associate it with something other than a handful of college projects and some social media profiles. In the event that I get published, this will eventually become a place to talk more about my work itself, upcoming projects and events, and other Official Author Things.

For now, though, I exist in this weird blogging limbo, and by all conventional wisdom, it’s not pretty. Here are some of the ways that, when it comes to my own blog here, I’m really terrible at this job. Maybe I’m not alone in this, but let’s find out.

I didn’t start with any ideas about my audience, niche, or focus.

I didn’t have a crystal-clear vision when I started this blog. It’s not that I didn’t think about it for a while—I toyed with different ideas before deciding on the site’s current form—but I could probably have sat back and considered it more. It’s kind of the chicken-and-egg phenomenon I alluded to earlier: I need a place to keep my writing for publication purposes, but until I get published there isn’t much I can talk about that doesn’t already exist online somewhere.

A lot of the advice out there involves focusing on a niche category and putting a spin on it so that it isn’t identical to everyone else’s site. Additionally, there’s a lot of emphasis on being an expert with something to share with an audience. Expert? Me? Not quite. I’m an expert on not being an expert, sure, and I can talk about the “behind the scenes” kind of stuff all I want, but I didn’t start with an audience in mind because I had no idea who would benefit from my kind of approach.

I wish I had started this blog after I started doing freelance work (even though the blog is what got me there), because I learned a lot about writing for audiences in that process. I learned a lot about reader personas, the imaginary but fully-developed individuals with names like “Samantha” and “Richard” who have ages, education levels, careers, and their own sets of objectives, hopes, dreams, and obstacles. I studied these people and learned how to write to them and for them so that they could enact changes in their lives. If I had thought to do the same thing for myself, I’d probably be in a different place right now.

As far as what I know about my audience? You’re predominantly Americans, and you really seem to like my posts about NaNoWriMo. If you’re here, have stuck around for a bit, and aren’t related to me by blood or marriage, I’m guessing you’re a writer or other artistic type of person in a similar boat as me: stumbling along the path to whatever “making it” means to you and wanting some confirmation that you’re not alone. Beyond the very basic demographic information that WordPress gives me, though, I don’t have a target persona that encompasses everything you collectively are.

Schedule? What schedule?

That’s not entirely true. It’s changed a couple of times in the last year, but I do have something of a loose schedule. At this point, my schedule is “Every other Wednesday, for the most part, except when it’s not,” but that’s subject to change. The reasons for “it’s not” are generally life events that took precedence over the blog, but those are not acceptable excuses in the blogging world.

The impetus behind this piece of advice is that you need to update frequently, and if you’re not dedicated or passionate enough to write about something several times a week, blogging is not for you. And really, I understand that: regular updates mean that you’re on people’s minds, that you prove that you have time management skills, and that you actually care about your content and readers. I think these are all great things for a writer to be, have, and do.

On the flip side, though, there’s also advice to know your limits and to avoid doing things that you dread. In all honesty, trying to come up with enjoyable content once a week, let alone more than once, kind of stressed me out when I was first starting out the blog. I tried to take on too much too soon, and my writing suffered for it. I started to avoid all writing because I was scared of the blog, which is the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen. So I’m working with a schedule that, for now, works for me. I could increase it to once a week in the future, but that probably won’t happen until after December ends, because this is a really busy month if you’re a musician.

I write too many words.

If you’ve been around here long enough, you know that I love my words. It’s not that I can’t stick to word count limits (because I absolutely can), it’s just that, for my personal work, I don’t like to have limits like that. It’s why I’m a prose writer and not a poet.

Conventional blogging wisdom seems to peg 500 as the word count sweet spot, although the range goes from 300 to 1,000. A lot of my freelance work for clients runs from 400 to 1,000 words with some going a twitch beyond that. My posts on this blog generally run well over 1,000 words. I do see the benefits of tightening up language to meet certain requirements, but for what I do on my site, it doesn’t feel authentic.

One thing I could stand to do more of here is search engine optimization. It’s another one of those things I got more comfortable with as I took on more freelance work, and when I started this blog I was aware of SEO as a concept, but didn’t implement it at the time. Being careful about the words that I put in, and using more effective words rather than a sheer volume of them, would probably bring more traffic.

Another thing that I learned in my proverbial freelance journey is that I write way too long of paragraphs. In the age of the internet, there’s a lot of advice about breaking up long blocks of text because they’re hard to read on computers, tablets, and phone screens. Short sentences and paragraphs are in vogue, as are bullet points and lists. You’re supposed to write for people who are reading in quiet moments in the checkout line and on their commute rather than dedicating their full time and attention to something. While I have practice with both, I just find being creative easier when I have more room to play.

How am I supposed to read this? It doesn’t even have pictures!

This is another point that I see people of conflicting opinions about. A lot of blog advice lists praise attractive images and photography for catching the reader’s eye and giving them something other than paragraphs to look at. Some posts, however, deride images as being clutter and distractions from your content, which should be the thing that people come to see.

I keep my amateur photography to Instagram, but don’t really share many images on this site. There just isn’t very much to look at when it comes to me and my process, and there are only so many pictures of my desk that I can take before someone realizes that it’s the same thing all the time. Sharing images of the things that I research would be cool to do, and probably something for you to look forward to, but not much of my research has been “field work” kind of stuff, and I’ve been hesitant to use images from other sources because copyright rules for images can get sticky.

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Case in point: This is where the vast majority of the magic happens. It’s not very remarkable. [Image: A small desk against a window with partly-closed blinds. The desk has a desktop monitor, keyboard, computer mouse, and coffee mug on it.]

I complain.

Including on this post, actually.

Most of this advice comes from a place of either “don’t air public grievances unless that’s your brand” and “don’t pick fights with people on the internet.” These pieces of advice are quick to point out that online personalities who go on rants are popular because misery loves company, but that you’ll go farther by being more of a positive influence and an inspiration to the community you seek to build.

I’d like to think that my negativity is more from a place of self-deprecation and pessimism than actual bitterness, and that this is how it comes across to my readers. I was also hoping more for an honest and authentic approach that felt more like “this is what no one tells you about how the artistic life looks for someone just starting out, so let’s commiserate about it” than angry ranting. Whether or not I’ve achieved that is up to you.

…Email list? Friends?

I’m a shy introvert that never was good about making friends or approaching people to ask them for something. I acknowledge and respond to comments here and talk with people on social media, but actually making contacts in the way that people mean when they say “networking” hasn’t been something I’ve done all that well. It’s something that I’ll start pushing more toward in the future.

According to most of the blogging advice I read while preparing for this post, I should have started a weekly e-newsletter the moment my blog went live. I didn’t do it then because I was still getting my footing and I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of generating what would effectively be another complete post in email form. That, and I didn’t have any products to sell or events to update people on: why would I need a newsletter? After those first few months, it just became a matter of putting it off.

A one-year plan.

The thing about writing-related blogging is that your plans rely on the implementation of other plans. My plan for the future of this blog is to keep on posting every other week when I’m able, possibly bumping that back up to once a week once the holiday season wanes. I’ll probably start reaching out to other bloggers and optimizing what I already do here. I’ll work on getting the current manuscript done and sent out so that I have something to promote and talk about.

As for a timeline for that? I don’t have a clue. Writing is not an easy industry to predict, and life can always get in the way. Every time I make a schedule or a timeline, something inevitably comes up. So for the next year, I’m aiming for forward momentum and just kind of hoping I don’t fall on my face in the meantime. I’ve been told by a few friends that I’m pretty good at getting back on wagons I fall off of: whether you call that stubbornness or persistence, I know I have that on my side.

So what do I do right?

A lot of my more valuable life lessons come from my experiences as a musician. The one piece of advice that I think most applies here? “Fake it ‘til you make it.” It’s beautiful, it’s simple, and it works for everything from music to writing to adult life in general.

If you make a silly mistake, own it loudly and proudly. You’ll know that you’ve made a mistake, but no one in the audience will know unless you point it out. You might have stumbled, but if you act like it’s part of the show, it might as well be.

So I might not have done everything I was supposed to. In fact, according to the most common tips, there are very few things I even got remotely close on, let alone right. But readers, especially those of you that have stuck around for a while: would you have known any of this if I didn’t write well over 2,000 words poking fun at myself for it? Probably not, because that’s part of my voice, which is the thing you’re here for. You’re here because, for one reason or another, you want to hear what I have to say, regardless of whether it fits into a formula or checklist.

Let’s hear from some other blogging rebels.

Are you a blogger that goes against conventional wisdom? What rules have you broken? Are you going to start following them or no? Do you have any advice of your own? Feel free to share your stories in the comments!

Performers and Politicking

Buckle up, dear readers: this is the most political that I’ve gotten on the blog to date. It’s also the most that I’ve publicly discussed current events. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

The United States has undergone some significant political upheaval this month. Regardless of where you stand on the matter of the election, we can agree on that much. A cultural upheaval came along with it, and between those two phenomena you have very passionate people being very vocal and often aggressive with each other. One common target for frustration and aggression, from both sides of the proverbial political aisle, seems to be entertainers.

Whether someone writes books, plays music, or acts, there seems to be this notion that they need to do only that much. With a few exceptions, it seems that high-profile celebrity creators can get away with speaking out about relatively politically neutral causes—starving children and planting trees are almost universally considered good as long as the associated policy or financial details are glossed over. But for moderately popular artists, or even celebrities taking stances that are more explicitly political (or that have become political in recent years), there are cries for creators to mind their own business and stick to writing/acting/playing.

I’m not sure when or where this started, but it’s not just a way that fans think. I went to a writing conference where one of the penultimate pieces of advice was to stay neutral, especially if you’re an unknown. Unless you plan on developing a brand related to politics or religion, you completely stay out of discussions on the issues. Either own it completely or don’t touch it at all.

I understand this from a business standpoint, especially as a new writer. You want to win as many people over as possible in order to build your brand and audience. Politics and religion are divisive, and if you own either as a writer without having it be a part of your brand, you’ve knocked out a significant number of people that might otherwise have given your work a chance. This neutrality is at least part of the reason why writers online (myself included), when they’re not posting pictures of their pets or food, will either only post writing tips, insights into the business side of the industry, or calls to “Buy my book!” I imagine that something similar happens in other creative industries, but my question is whether or not that should be the case.

What got me thinking about this was the appeal by the cast of the Hamilton musical to Vice President-elect Mike Pence after the November 18th, 2016 performance. Once again, there were cries for actors and writers to stick to entertaining people instead of talking about policy or social issues. Even people who didn’t support the GOP candidates in the election were quick to point out that the theater is not the place for that kind of discussion. There were suggestions to take Pence backstage and address him privately rather than make a statement at the end of the play, or else to get in touch with him in a phone call, email, or place other than the stage. There was a theme, in the comments sections that I scrolled through, that actors are there purely to entertain, and that audience members didn’t pay for what many of them called a “lecture.”

My stance on the matter? The audience didn’t pay for the lecture—it was after the show’s conclusion during the time when people would be leaving anyway, as opposed to during the show itself, when I could maybe understand having an issue with it. More than that, though, is that I’m of the belief that the stage, as well as art on the whole, is the perfect venue for such statements.

There’s historical precedent for entertainment as a means of commenting on politics and world issues. The entire purpose of a jester was to deliver bad news in a palatable way (for the jester as a political figure, the heading “The Importance of Being Jest Earnest” will be of particular interest, but the entire excerpt of Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World is an interesting read). The jester was not just someone that cracked jokes or told happy stories in the throne room: they were one of the only people in the kingdom with the ability to deliver news to the rulers that no one else would. They were the only people that could criticize or satirize the people that ruled over them. Sure, they were entertaining and kept people smiling while they did it, but they used what little power they had with humor, creativity, and amiability to be on the side of both the King and his subjects. Without that platform to speak out, a lot could have gone wrong.

Artists are citizens of the world and the country, too. What we see, feel, and do out in the world becomes a part of our work in one way or another. By not getting involved or engaged in one way or another, we run the risk of not being able to create the stories that inspire positive change and touch people’s lives for the better. And if we don’t care about something enough to pay attention to it, let alone speak out for it or fight for it, how can we care enough to write about it? If we’re not aware of what other people, including our fans, are experiencing or feeling, how can we reach them with our work?

I don’t have the greatest track record for being brave. I’m hesitant to even engage in online debates, let alone attend protests or political rallies. I write about people that are braver than I am and hide behind them. I took the writing conference advice about staying neutral, being delicate about my words, and hiding my views readily because it fit my personality perfectly: you probably noticed it in this post. For the longest time, though, it’s felt wrong because I know I need to fight for the things I care about. If I can’t back up what I say or write with my actions, then how good are my words really? It doesn’t matter how well I write if I’m not saying anything of value.

I’m a coward. I always have been, and that’s not going to be an easy thing to change. But I’m also working on becoming a kind of modern-day jester: one way or another, I’m going to have to find a way to use that power. It’s my responsibility to reflect the world in my work and do my part, however small, to make it better.

 

Readers, I’m thankful for you. If you’re someone that’s celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, have a great one. May your travels be safe, your conversations civil, and your meals delicious.

Research, Role-Playing, and Running Out of Time: NaNoWriMo 2016

It’s November, which means it’s NaNoWriMo season again. I’ll be just as busy as I was last year, which means I’m having some doubts about my ability to finish, but the month is still young. Having done a series of posts tracking my progress last November, I’m probably not going to subject you to something similar this year. However, I’ll probably still have a lot to talk about in terms of writing because I’m not actually writing a novel this month.

If you read my 24-hour blog post (you brave soul), you probably saw that I was working on a campaign setting for the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons despite the fact that I’m in the midst of playing my very first campaign, which will continue for at least another year. Thankfully, I’m only writing a single story arc and not the entire campaign. But still, how did that happen?

The idea was proposed by one of our college buddies, who got into the game a little before we did and is an avid listener of the podcast The Adventure Zone. Inspired by the podcast, he thought it would be fun if we wrote and played our own campaign in that style. My husband contributed the idea that our group of four could each take a stab at being the Dungeon Master, and this eventually morphed into the more concrete plan of each of us writing the story arc that we would run the other three through.

We also established somewhere in there that my portion of the campaign will be up first. While I don’t have a start date, I figured I would have to get this thing done sooner rather than later. So here I am.

At the time of writing this post, I haven’t actually penned a word of it yet. I have my looseleaf notebook filled with scratches of worldbuilding, research, and ideas, but as far as actually typing it up or doing any more substantial writing, I haven’t done anything yet. What I’ve done is a lot of research and overthinking.

I’ve talked before about my relationship with D&D as a writer in the form of building a character without a world. Now, I’m building a world for outside protagonists that are going to come in. It requires a lot of thinking to construct a world that’s more likely than not going to explode when it touches the player characters. That, and I haven’t done much high fantasy worldbuilding: even my most magical or sci-fi worlds are grounded enough in present-day reality that I don’t need to build from the ground up. Here are some of the things I’ve been worried about in my attempts to balance writing with planning a game.

  1. Railroading

The bane of players everywhere, railroading is the phenomenon of the game master forcing players down a linear, predetermined path in defiance of the inherently collaborative nature of RPG games. As a writer, I need to be cautious about doing that: I don’t write choose your own adventures, after all, and I’m reluctant to let go of ideas. While I’ll need all of the ideas I can get to achieve the 50,000 words required for a NaNoWriMo victory, I have to wonder how many ideas are too many, both in a practical narrative sense and in a railroading sense.

  1. Starting, ending, and the overall plot.

There will be a lot of cooperating with people on this (literal and figurative) adventure, both as player characters and as DMs. While I don’t need to worry too much about how to start my adventure (which will probably happen in the form of “You all meet in a bar”—sure, it’s a cliché, but it works for our purposes), ending it is going to be a challenge: I’ll need to wrap up my story arc, decide when it’s reached an appropriate dénouement, and not only switch out and properly set up the next person’s story but come up with justifications for one player character to leave and get replaced by my player character.

There also may or may not be an overarching plot to the entire universe. This might not get developed until after I wrap up NaNoWriMo. If it exists, I’ll have to wind pieces of it into my story arc, but it’s possible that, as a person that holds a quarter of the entire story, I’ll have to be the one to introduce it.

  1. Mechanics.

One of the people in our group has never played the game before, so I’m sure part of my story will involve organically teaching things like combat, skill checks, and other role-playing staples. On my end, this will involve making sure that I have these details locked down: I’m playing the game now and I feel like I have most everything, but I’ve never had to teach it before.

I’ll also need to crunch some numbers to make sure that my encounters are challenging without turning the players into carbon-based smears on the floor of a dungeon somewhere and that the rewards make sense. While I love lycanthropes thematically and really want to play with them, the wererats we recently encountered in our main campaign made me realize that they are not easy to deal with. That group was a large team of fourth-level characters, and the one I’m about to play with will not only have fewer people but be weaker. I probably won’t focus on the particulars of how to fix that during NaNoWriMo itself, but I’ll need to have an idea of what I’m doing so that I’m not totally clueless when I go back into it.

Speaking of lycanthropes, my researching didn’t lead me to anything substantial about fifth-edition combat rules for player characters infected with lycanthropy. I’m throwing together new rules just in case someone happens to stick their hand in a werewolf’s mouth, and I only just learned the existing rules. The things I do for love.

  1. Locations and environments

Part of the reason I prefer writing things grounded in reality is so that I don’t have to make maps. Geography is not one of my strong suits, I barely have a concept of distances and how long they take to traverse, and I have honestly gotten hopelessly lost in an area 10 minutes from my apartment and needed to be rescued by some very nice neighbors. If I ever encounter you alone and I hurry by you, it’s not as much that I’m scared of you as it is that I’m scared of having to provide directions.

Luckily, I don’t think this group is going to be a bunch of sticklers about geography. I used this method for making my overarching map, which is great if you need to make fantasy maps. Now I need to decide on how the immediate adventuring areas are organized and figure out how to paint beautiful pictures about them with my words.

  1. Myth and folklore

In looking for advice on writing D&D campaigns, there was always the tip to have some backstory, but leave out the specifics or anything beginning with the words “Thousands of years ago”. Have your factions, but don’t give them or their higher-ups names and detailed backgrounds unless that’s specifically and relevantly going to come up in the story. My particular campaign seems to be steeped pretty heavily in folklore that’s been interpreted in different ways by different people, so that’s something I’ll need to consider more than I have before. It’s not something I’m used to as someone whose fantasy is urban in nature (and often relies on existing mythologies), but it’s a thing I’m thinking about now.

  1. Towns

One of the surprises about brainstorming for this is that there are so many things in medieval villages. Granted, my urban setting isn’t a village as much as it is a resort town for the world’s wealthiest rulers, but they’re similar enough that I feel like I can get away with it. Like I mentioned above, I’ll need to actually make a map of this place, come up with the businesses and other areas (housing, that whole sketchy business going on underground, etc.), and know what they look like.

When I first started brainstorming, I decided that the population was similar to that of a few northern Michigan locations I know fairly well: Mackinac Island, which has a population of near 500 year-round, and Glen Arbor, which has around 800 people in it during the high tourist season. Both of these figures fit in with the population information that I could find for medieval villages, which were typically home to between 50 and 300 people but could claim as many as 1,000. Also given my experience with those areas, I kind of figured I would have a few inns at various price points at which the characters can eat, drink, and sleep; all of the summer homes of the wealthy, along with some housing for employees and barracks for security personnel; a bathhouse; some sort of temple or chapel; docks, because it’s a beach town; and a marketplace with a few shops or vendors that sell art and luxury items.

Even though I like that part of the game, this group doesn’t want to deal with rationing food or supplies, so any restaurants are going to be cosmetic and I probably won’t have much of a need for stores that sell arrows. However, I did see in my researching a lot of things that I wouldn’t have thought of: stables, blacksmiths and furriers, aqueducts and cisterns, lighthouses, armor and weapon stores, a town hall (which you think would have been one of the first things that I thought of), and clothiers. I also got an idea of what kinds of things might be considered luxury goods: things like tapestries, candles, wine and beer, spices, paintings, sculptures, and books (some of which were illuminated). Granted, in fantasy villages some of these things might be a little different (the presence of magic in any world would solve a number of issues that typically plagued medieval towns), but it was enlightening to know what kinds of things to consider when I crafted this world for these people.

I still need to stock those shops.

  1. People and politics

I don’t need to populate every square foot of my campaign with characters that have names and backstories. I know that much for sure, and I’m relieved that’s the case. But this also isn’t going to be a place where the player characters just kind of crash in between adventures: major characters and plot points are going to be here. I need to think of the character traits of a few major characters who will either help or hinder them.

I also need to know how the way the town runs could affect the player characters. Would they take kindly to some of the game’s fantasy races more than others? Are they welcoming of, hostile toward, or indifferent to adventurers, and would this change if they do things around town, throw enough money around, or really screw something up? Are these people that the characters would even want to help, and why? What do they know about that forest to the east that they’re really reluctant to go near even during broad daylight and armed to the teeth? And this isn’t even counting that forest and what’s going on over there….

 

So that’s what I’m up to for the next month in between everything else I have to do. We’ll see how this goes.

Are you doing anything creative this November?

45 Intriguing Things in My Search History

As much as I love my writing buddies, the bulk of my real-world friends have nothing to do with the writing or publishing industries at all. The overwhelming majority of them are, believe it or not, in the sciences somewhere, with musicians coming in a very close second and other creative professions (theater performance, stage and set design, visual arts, etc.) after that, not including any overlaps.

One thing that I’ve noticed scientists and artists have in common is the propensity to joke about their online search histories. With the knowledge base required for the scientists, this goes without saying, and artists can get their inspiration from some of the strangest or most disturbing places. On top of that, these two types of people seem equally likely to look something up out of curiosity, even if they’ll never use that piece of information ever again. They just like knowing things, and it’s something I can connect with as a writer who otherwise might not have much in common with them.

Unless you have a particular specialization or concentration, writers in my experience are “jack of all trades, master of none” types. We can all write, but otherwise we might not have much of a specialty, especially if we’re just starting out and haven’t found our niche. To make up for this, we tend to be phenomenal researchers and collectors of knowledge and information. I don’t believe much in the “write what you know” adage that so often gets tossed my way, but I do believe that if you’re going to write something and you don’t know about it in any detail, you need to learn.

This is something that’s become particularly true for me since I started getting more freelance writing jobs. While nothing that I research for those jobs is entertaining in the “you’re probably on a watch list” kind of way, I’m still learning and researching a lot of things that would never have crossed my mind otherwise (and confusing ad algorithms to no end, I’m sure). This even game up at a game night, where one of our scientist buddies observed that I must have a really extensive knowledge base. So, against my better judgment, I went back into my search history and decided to take an honest look at what kinds of things I’ve taken the time to learn for my art. The results were… interesting.

For your amusement, intrigue, and possible terror, here are some of the better entries in my search engine history, with minimal context (because complete context would take the fun out of it). In the interest of not sharing who I’m doing freelance work for, every result here was researched for a piece of fiction that I at least got to the planning stage of.

  1. Baby name meanings. You know you write fiction if this is in your search history. Because the internet also knows that I’m a young married woman, this means that the only ads I get on my social media profiles are for baby things.
  2. Flash point of isopropyl alcohol.
  3. Kitchen sink repair. I don’t think you know how many different kinds of wrenches exist, you guys.
  4. Airfare (Chicago, Illinois to Portland, Maine).
  5. The combination of “slaughterhouse,” “common carotid artery,” and “jugular vein.” I counted these as one list item because they’re so similar and I researched them all right in a row.
  6. Turing test. This actually came up in the same project as the above combination of words. It was for a class. My professor loved it.
  7. Sword types.
  8. Sepsis. Making up diseases like it’s my job.
  9. Enhanced interrogation techniques. That was an awfully polite way for me to put it.
  10. Spin kicks. I was trying to see if they were possible or even effective in combat or self-defense. Hint: They’re possible, but there are better things you could be doing in a situation where your life depends on it.
  11. Metals of antiquity.
  12. Lead diacetate. Specifically, what kind of applications or uses it has and where it would be possible to obtain some.
  13. Latin word list. This is my go-to list whenever I need to find a Latin word to corrupt into something magical-sounding.
  14. Greek words by first letter. Similar reasons to the above.
  15. Gender dysphoria. I was in the early stages of writing a transman protagonist and was doing some preliminary research before I really got into the story or started asking actual transmen about their experiences. It’s some of the most valuable research I think I’ve done, if not in a writing sense then in a “being a better and more empathetic person” sense.
  16. Chest binder. Exact same reasons as the above.
  17. Color vision in dogs. I’ve actually been able to come back to this one a couple of times. Allegedly they get yellow, blue, and gray.
  18. Effects of being drugged. I’ve been under anesthesia several times, so I sort of have a concept of this. However, that was in a safe, controlled environment, which this particular character was not in.
  19. Photographing translucent objects/translucent objects on camera.
  20. Disarm a gunman/attacker.
  21. Restraining orders.
  22. Crossbows.
  23. Drywall material.
  24. Homeland Security Advisory System (Code Red/Red Alert). For adapting into a fictional but similar advisory system.
  25. Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse/Biblical Horsemen. These guys have come back a couple of times in a few different forms.
  26. Archangels. They come with the Horsemen as a set, usually.
  27. Studio apartment layout (250 square feet). Just to get some ideas of how one character’s home would be set up.
  28. Sci-fi force field sound effect. You know the noise. I was trying to listen to it or figure out what makes it so I could describe it. It’s surprisingly difficult to find Foley work for a specific sound, though.
  29. Uneven bars.
  30. Abusive relationships. The psychology and behavior patterns, more specifically.
  31. Gem cuts/shapes/jewelry settings. This comes up more than you think it would.
  32. Disability. In the sense of “What would it take for an American to get disability benefits?”
  33. Wisconsin topography.
  34. Popping a dislocated shoulder into place. It’s possible if you have a trusted friend to help you, but leave it to the professionals unless you can’t get medical attention within a day.
  35. Cults/new religious movements.
  36. Tarot. Before I learned how to read cards, I looked up everything I could about them: spreads, individual cards, various interpretations, etc. Eventually I broke down and bought a deck, but I still use online resources if I need a bit of extra help.
  37. 103-degree fever in adults. This is considered a high-grade fever. Get medical attention, like, now.
  38. Stages of death.
  39. Painted buntings.
  40. Decay. I wanted some image references.
  41. Historical lycanthropy. I’ve talked about this previously.
  42. Closed head injuries.
  43. Congenital illnesses/disorders.
  44. Fantasy maps/map-making.
  45. Hostas.

I learned a couple of things from this exercise. One, that my search history is way more eclectic than it is questionable; and two, that a lot of what I look up doesn’t end up being used in nearly as much detail as I thought it would. Some of these terms ended up sprinkled in dialogue to establish a character as an expert in a particular field, but some ended up not being used at all.

Have you ever looked up anything that might raise a few eyebrows? Share your favorites in the comments!

24-Hour Blog

First things first: I’m sorry about neglecting you guys. I have some very loyal readers, and I haven’t been good about updates. The reason why that is, though, is good. I’ve been getting a lot of freelance work lately (and getting paid for it!), so things like the blog and especially my manuscript have taken a back seat to work that has more concrete deadlines and dollar amounts attached. It doesn’t mean that I couldn’t budget my time a little better, but I’m working on balancing everything.

So what do I do about that? Experiment.

If you’ve never heard of the phenomenon of 24-Hour Comics Day, you can follow the link for a more in-depth explanation. Briefly, though, it’s something like the NaNoWriMo of graphic storytelling: individual comic creators spend 24 hours on a 24-page comic, and there’s no prize other than the satisfaction of having created original content (but if you finish, there’s an opportunity for inclusion in Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum’s national archive). This year, it took place on October 1st. There are artists like Katie Tiedrich of Awkward Zombie that use the opportunity to make a journal comic of the 24-hour period, which is where today’s post came from.

I’d been thinking about doing something like this since 2015’s 24-Hour Comics Day. I wouldn’t create a comic, because while I can draw, I can’t draw well enough that people would enjoy looking at what I create. Instead, I thought I would take a similar challenge in the form of a blog post documenting a 24-hour day.

My reason for doing this was threefold:

  1. To create content for myself and shake up the blog a bit;
  2. To see if I could make my daily life sound interesting enough to be an engaging read;
  3. To really look at where I could make more time in my schedule to devote to my own writing projects.

The result is probably the longest post you will ever see on this blog, so buckle up. You’re about to learn way more about my life than you ever needed to.

I chose to document yesterday’s events. Part of this was because the time crunch of documenting and then polishing a blog post by this afternoon would keep me from censoring or editing my daily routine too heavily: there are going to be some edits and omissions in the interest of being, well, interesting, but I still have to work with what I scribbled in my phone’s notepad application. The other part of it was because yesterday was an atypical day in my life that I figured would be slightly more interesting than just reading about how I sat down at a computer and wrote for eight hours. I know the goal was for me to make anything interesting, but there’s only so much you can do to describe the relationship between a writer, keyboard, and monitor.

All of that said, here’s my crack at a “24-hour blog.” In all, an interesting experience and experiment, but not one I’ll repeat anytime soon.

Continue reading

This Post Does Not Contain Spoilers

No, really, it doesn’t. If it did, there would have been a warning.

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know that I try to be careful about spoilers. I provide what I hope is enough advance notice if I’m going to be talking about a story’s plot in detail so that readers who don’t want to know about it ahead of time can exercise appropriate caution. The reverse is also true: I try to reassure people when I don’t discuss spoilers so that they can read freely. It’s just the polite thing to do and something that nearly all fandoms and forums agree on: don’t spoil if you can help it, but if you can’t avoid it, at least tag it as such.

Personally, though? I don’t have a problem with spoilers. In fact, there are times when I will actively seek them out.

It depends on the case, of course. If I’m a late arrival to a series and need to get up to speed, I’ll watch or read it while supplementing my experience with spoilers. If it’s something like Doctor Who or a comic book with upwards of 50 years of publication history, I’ll consult a wiki. If I’ve started something and don’t like it enough to finish it but still want to know how it ends, I’ll look up the ending to give myself some closure. If it’s not something I would watch or read but am kind of curious about—I can’t stomach horror movies, for instance, but the stuff horror writers come up with fascinates me to no end—I’ll read about it. If I’m on the fence about picking something up, I’ll read reviews, which by their very nature can spoil the plot. If it’s a video game and have no idea how to proceed in the storyline, you bet I’m going to look it up. The rest of the time, there probably isn’t even a reason: I just felt like it.

About the only time I won’t go looking for spoilers is if it’s something I’m deeply invested in. Even then, I don’t take any real precautions against finding out what happens. This is the age of the internet: if you want to avoid hearing about something, you need to go really, really far out of your way.

This attitude toward spoilers seems to make me something of an anomaly. A lot of my friends will completely abstain from social media if they watch a popular show and didn’t get a chance to watch the latest episode. I’ve witnessed people block or unfriend others on Facebook for revealing plot details, even if it’s a day or two after an episode airs or is an adaptation of something else (Game of Thrones in particular seems to do this to people). I’ve tried to discuss the plots of my manuscripts with others only for them to tell me not to tell them until after they’re published and they’ve read them. I’m even married to one of these people: my husband will avert his eyes from teaser trailers and merchandise in stores and leave the room while literally reciting the entire Gettysburg Address if I’m so much as summarizing a plot in case something gets spoiled.

It’s not just individual people, either. The people who watched the first season of Stranger Things when it aired are all extremely careful to avoid talking about it. Even some creators ask that you don’t spoil their work: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 adaptation of Psycho famously changed the face of the film industry with its “no late admissions” policy. Critics were not given their own screenings, audiences were advised after the film’s conclusion not to give away the ending, and Hitchcock allegedly bought every copy of the book that he could to avoid audiences learning about the plot before setting foot in a theater.

In any case, the reasoning for the fierce protection of plot elements always seems to be that knowing something ahead of time will “ruin” the entire story or experience. And really, it can be kind of exhilarating to go into an experience and not know what’s going to happen next. Novelty isn’t an experience that I get very often, as I’m almost always late to the party when it comes to the latest thing everyone’s watching (I’m better about keeping up with what people are reading), and I see the appeal.

Maybe this is another one of those things that can be explained away with “I’m a writer,” but my reason for liking spoilers comes down to appreciating the craft of storytelling. Mysteries are fun, but so is dramatic irony: knowing what’s coming means you can details together that you might not have noticed otherwise and truly appreciate the work that went into putting the narrative together. Knowing the source material before diving into an adaptation means that you know what’s going to happen and can examine the changes and whether or not they work. I’m someone that will watch or read the same thing many times over not just because I love certain stories or creators, but because I can find all of the little things that I never noticed or appreciated before. This is part of the reason why psychologists found out that spoilers enhance the enjoyment of a story.

I’ve been asked before if I would be ok if someone only flipped to the back of my book to learn how it ended, revealed the major plot twists, looked at spoilers before even buying the book, or otherwise spoiled the plot in a major way for themselves or someone else. For one thing, as long as the internet still exists by the time I publish a book (and I’m fairly confident that it will), it’s inevitable that someone will do that, so it’s not even a matter of “if.” And for another thing, as long as someone bought and enjoyed the book, I don’t particularly care how they do it.

All I really hope is that people are nice and polite about spoilers if they use them and don’t force them on people who don’t want them. Seriously, I think I’ve watched friendships end over Game of Thrones spoilers. Don’t be that person.

So writers and non-writers alike: what’s your take on spoilers? Is a surprise worth protecting or is a twist even better the second time around?