Characters Know Best

Have you ever spent a lot of time plotting out a story, complete with a timeline and outline, only to have your characters hijack it? This happened with the first story in my YA fantasy series, set in my world of Pentallia. I spent months outlining, drawing up character sheets, and writing out scenes in a concise timeline, only to have my three main characters take my work and pitch in the garbage. 

That first story was written in first person POV, and frankly, it didn’t work, for me, the characters, or the first publisher I sent it to. I’m currently rewriting it, in third person, and without an outline. My characters don’t respect those. I’m also planning to go the indie author route, with help from Wicked Whale Publishing. 

But back to those characters who laughed at my huge binder of work. I still have it, but broke it down into multiple smaller notebooks and four Pinterest boards specific to their world. I refer to those things when my characters, my people, take me somewhere in their world I’m not quite familiar with. For the most part, I just try to keep up.

And you know what? Something amazing has happened along the way: my people actually know what they’re doing. This second version is so much better than the first. I have discovered I am not a first person POV writer. I have also realized that by letting my people go free to roam, they have it all worked out. Now that doesn’t mean it won’t need editing – it will. But it does mean that the story is much clearer, and the flow is right.

So where does this leave you? Do you have a huge binder filled with outlines and timelines your people won’t cooperate with? Why not try writing a chapter without referring to the binder (or notebook or Scrivener or whatever) and letting your characters do what they want? They might disappoint you. They might anger you. But, and this is why you should try it, they might surprise you. Mine did. They may wander on occasion, and I have to help them back to the task, but they seem to be getting it right. 

Maybe yours will, too. 

Adding to the Toolbox

I’m sure most of my fellow writers have heard of Scrivener, and probably quite a few of you use it. I had read about it in some of my self-publishing books, but decided to give it a try only after a fellow writer I admire told me how much she liked it. I thought that if I liked it too, I could add it to the author toolbox that Stephen King encourages us to build. 

I am using the free trial, and all the reviews on the software are right: there is a pretty hefty learning curve. But after using it today with my fantasy series, I must say I am a fan. I absolutely love the corkboard feature. I’m looking forward to using the name generator as well, when the time comes for that. Once you get the hang of it, the software is pretty easy to use.

I still like Word for working up chapters; in Scrivener instead of scenes, I’m using chapters as well. I like that Scrivener keeps everything for a story together; I might not have to utilize so many notebooks just for one story. Being able to have all your notes in one “binder” is also helpful, as my fantasy world of Pentallia is sprawling, with lots of people and places. 

If you’ve thought about trying Scrivener, but been on the fence, I encourage you to at least try the free thirty day trial. You might find it worth adding to your author toolbox, too.

Playing Favorites

We all have a favorite book, or many favorites, if you’re like me. And as writers, we also have favorite characters that we’ve created, whether it’s a hero or a villain (sometimes, they’re both). We often times don’t want to admit this, because we could be accused of playing the favorite game, but it is  true, isn’t it? 

Case in point: in my YA fantasy series I’m working on, there are two young men that I love writing equally well. One is a soldier, and one is an assassin. I would never tell them they are both favorites, because characters have egos just like writers. If you haven’t found this to be the case, just wait. There will be a character someday who demands a lot of your time. And somehow, he or she becomes a favorite. 

The problem with having a favorite, or favorites, is that sometimes you have to let them go for the betterment of your story, and you don’t want to. You know you should, that their death will raise the stakes, but you just can’t do it. Friends, you have to. If it makes your story that much richer, that much more riveting, do it. You will feel bad. You might even cry. But if it causes you that much pain, consider what it will do to your readers. I know, over the course of my fantasy series, I will lose some characters who have become very dear. But their death will enrich the stories, and it will be worth it.

So remember, when it’s time to say goodbye, to let them die, how much more amazing your story will be because of it. 

Show Your Nerve

I bet, at some point in our writing lives, we’ve all had someone say something like, “Really? A writer? You?” Even if said with good intentions, it can make us falter. We start to doubt. Are we really capable of becoming a writer? The answer is a resounding YES. 

Why? Because, my friends, you took the first step to becoming a writer by simply doing the hard part: writing. Anyone who has the guts to put down on page or screen the words that want, need, to come out, has the courage to keep doing it. 

I know this because I wrote fan fiction for years. Back in 1999 or so, I discovered Voltron fan fiction on the web, and around 2002, I finally got up the nerve to write my own and post it to a well-known fan fiction site. I got quite a few reviews; most of them were kind. I then started writing Gundam Wing stories, and found the readers there not so gentle. But I leaned. I took advice. I wrote better. And eventually, I started working on my own original work. Now, though I still get occasional requests for more fan fiction, I work solely on my original fiction.

We all get down about our writing. We have hard days when the words gum up and our characters stomp around upstairs and throw tantrums. But oh, remember a day when it all comes together? When you got that review that made you shout with excitement? That’s why we have to keep our nerve. We need to be brave. 

We need to persevere, because we are writers, and no one can tell our stories but us. 

Opening Portals

As most of us know, world building is an important part of creating our stories. Without a world of their own, where do our characters act out their journeys? For those of us who write fantasy and science fiction, this is particularly important, but it’s also important to writers who work in historical or realistic fiction. 

So how do you, as the world builder, go about doing it? I write fantasy fiction. My first novel is called Lift, and it’s about a carousel of magical horses. It’s set in the here and now, in Michigan. But there is still plenty to do in regards to setting scenes. Michigan’s weather is tempestuous, and I use that throughout my novel. There is a magical house, that may or may not be pleasant to live in. Each piece of your world needs to work together to create the overall sense of belonging.

The world for Lift has been easier to create than that of Pentallia, the world my fantasy series is set in. But in some ways, Pentallia has been more fun, because it’s not part of our world. I am an avid Pinterest user; each story has its own board. Because Pentallia needed to be built from scratch, I currently have four boards devoted to it, and I’m not sure that’s even enough. Its helpful to have pictures that represent my characters, wardrobes, and places. I also maintain a board solely for quotes that remind me of my characters. 

Is all that necessary? For me, yes. You might find using Pinterest tedious, or worse, a nasty time suck of your limited writing time. Every writer has to learn what works for them, and do it. Our main goal is to create new worlds, portals, for our readers to get lost in. 

Find what works, and exploit it. Your readers, your fans, will thank you. 

It’s Okay to be Strange

Every single person on the Earth is unique. This applies to every writer, too. Each one of us has a story, or three or ten, to tell, and only we can do it. Even if given the same basic plot and characters, each of us would twist it until it was different from everyone else’s. 

I grew up reading primarily horse stories. I showed horses, did 4-H rodeo, and rode trails. But trying to write a horse story? It didn’t go as well as one would think with so much real horse experience in my life. Instead, I’ve been blessed with a definite bent toward fantasy, so that’s what I’m writing. Once you’ve come to terms with what kind of stories you’ve been given to curate, your writing path, while not easy, should be clearer.

And we know that writers sometimes lead interesting, if not weird, lives. That’s okay. Give yourself permission to be strange, to dabble with different stories and elements, or do wacky things. I probably wouldn’t recommend going to the local cafe in your undies, but hey – once you do it, people will just roll their eyes and whisper from the corner of their mouths, “Well, you know she/he’s a writer.” 

So it’s okay to be a little strange. Don’t be afraid to try something new. You never know what you can accomplish until you do it.

Who You Are

I just finished watching Moana for probably the fifth time. Her journey was the catalyst for me choosing the path of an indie writer. The music is beautiful, the scenery captivating, and she is inspiring. Choosing to go the indie route was not a decision I made lightly. It’s not for everyone. But after watching this movie, I realized that I wanted to be an indie writer and author, and I’d been holding back because I feared failure. 

I am working with a writer/publisher, K. R. Conway at Wicked Whale Publishing, so I’m not really on my own. But much of the work still falls to me. It’s exciting, though. Ms. Conway answers all my questions, and she’s very encouraging. I enjoy working with her. 

What has inspired you as a writer? Is there a movie, song, or book that speaks to you? We all need encouragement, because this writing thing can be arduous at times. We might feel like we’ve chosen the wrong path. Hang in there. Let yourself be adventurous. Be willing to try something new. 

And above all else, ask yourself: who are you?


I think it’s finally spring here in west Michigan. The birds have been returning, led by the robins and geese. A random snow shower might still pop up uninvited; Michigan can be, after all, quite tempestuous. But the grass is greening up, the horses are finally shedding their heavy winter coats, and the ORV park out at Silver Lake opened this month.

Which means it’s difficult to concentrate on not only my work at the library, but also on my book, Lift. First in the Flying Ponies series, it’s sitting on my old desk in my office at home, waiting for me to complete its editing. I know I need to buckle down and get to it, but the warm weather keeps calling me outside. Our kids are taking lambs to the county fair this year, and last night we worked on building their pen. No editing was accomplished.

I don’t actually mind editing. I know whatever I do now will only strengthen the story. My first reader gave it a good review, and also pointed out some things that need fixing, which is what a first reader should do. I have a plan of action to fix what’s broken. Now it’s just a matter of getting down to it.

The first story in the Pentallian Chronicles is coming along. The rewrite is much better than my first attempt at telling the story. And I’ve started making notes and finding character pictures for a future story (more on that in a future post). Unfortunately, none of that is helping get Lift edited. So it sits on my desk, half of it highlighted, the other half waiting. The highlighting is to help me make sure all of the various plot threads make it all the way through the book, and don’t suddenly drop off or stop. So far, everything looks good.

But the sun still calls, and the dunes are beckoning, as are the trails. My horse needs brushing to get all his winter fuzz off. There are so many other things I’d really rather be doing than sitting at good old Wellington (my desk) and pouring over a manuscript. Still, it has to be done. I have to find the motivation. The Flying Ponies deserve a chance to shine. Their story should be told.

So in the end, the dunes and trails will have to wait. My XJ and my horse can chill in the sun a little longer. And once Lift is done and sent off to my publisher, then I too can go play in the sunshine.


Legal Pads and Highlighters

The time has finally arrived: the time to edit. I’ve let Lift sit for five weeks, and now it’s time to get out the yellow legal pads and different color highlighters, and get down to brass tacks. 

Editing may not be as much fun as the actual writing, but this is when your story will really start to come together. You’ll be able to trace all your subplots and see what is working and what really needs to be scrubbed. I am looking forward to the read-through of Lift because it will be new again. Will my characters be as fun and crazy and whimsical as I thought they were? Will the carousel horses be as magical as I remembered? It will be interesting.

So onward to the editing, and may the book not be in as terrible of shape as it could be. 

Whirl – a Prequel

I am proud to announce that the short novel Whirl is available on Wattpad. Whirl is the prequel to my upcoming novel Lift, which is the first book in The Flying Ponies series. The first chapter of Whirl is on Wattpad, and as I finish chapters, they will be uploaded. 

Choosing to become an indie author has been both exhilarating and scary. I’m not sure how this is all going to turn out, but it’s exciting. I hope to garner interest in Lift by offering Whirl on Wattpad. I would love for you to check it out and let me know what you think. 

Have a wonderful week!