Writing: Architects and Gardeners

 I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners.

planting panel 1.png

The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up.

planting panel 2.png

The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows.


And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.


~ George R.R. Martin


Illustrations by © 2016 Stellular Scribe
If you’re interested in my illustrations; get these designs on a t-shirt or as stickers at Redbubble! Thanks. 🙂

How Writing Poetry Has Helped My Fiction

If you pop by my blog often, you might notice that I write a lot of poetry in my spare time. Like, a lot. I think the current count is at well over one hundred poems in just this past year. Lord, whatever you do, do not go back and look at the early stuff. I was fifteen and angsty and I don’t want to talk about it.

With this is mind, it might also surprise you to know that poetry really isn’t my forte. I spend many more hours of the night writing novels, elaborate stories, and all sorts of whimsical fictions.

I picked up poetry by accident.

I’ve been working on my current novel for about a year and a half now (slow and steady wins the race — right?), and about mid-way through it I got to a scene where my main character was supposed to overhear a stranger sing a song that he recognized.

I did the only thing I could do, and whipped out the ol’ rhyming dictionary.

Oh, it was garbage (I can say that now), but something about that shambled-together, trite, melodramatic song opened my eyes to the potential of poetry. That song added an entirely new, visceral dimension to my story: atmosphere, fluidity, voice, movement.

My writing as a whole felt strengthened, so I made it a habit of jotting down poems everyday. As I became more comfortable, I experimented with more forms, styles, and meters. I abandoned a rhyme scheme; I rhymed religiously. I did away with punctuation and capitalization; I carefully molded each section of each sentence.

I know that to some people, poetry can seem scary. It feels like an entirely foreign, much more formidable beast than pure prose.

But I’m here to tell you that poetry really isn’t that different, and writing a little on the side might even help your fiction.

1. Capturing distinct sensations and imagery.

Poetry can be written for many different reasons — but it almost always seeks to convey some sort of image, be it concrete or abstract. Fiction in and of itself is the consolidation of diverse images to create a storyline.

The more poetry I write, the easier I find it to procure similes and metaphors to illustrate objects, meanings, and sensations. The more poetry I write, the more readily I reach into synecdoche, metonymy, and onomatopoeia to personify and paint scenes.

Poetry forces you to discover sharper, more powerful images. In fact, there was an entire movement in the early 2oth century where “imagists” considered the image to be the most important aspect of the written language. William Carlos Williams was well know for his simplistic yet highly evocative poetry. For example, here’s his 1923 poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Now, take away the stanza structure and add some punctuation, and you’ve got a beautiful sentence that could strike color into any prose: “So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens.”



2. Perfecting pacing. 

Whether you’re writing free verse or a meticulously metered sonnet, poetry is all about pacing. Every choice must be deliberate yet effortless — not too short, not too long, avoid superfluous words, and use just the right amount of description to get your image across.

When I write stories, I often have difficulty managing the pacing. Sometimes I’ll get so wrapped up in a plotline or a particular paragraph of characterization that the end result will be either too long, too dull, or too disjointed.

Poetry has taught me to let my writing breathe. Every word must have a purpose and serve to move the story forward.



3. Balancing different emotions. 

I surprised myself with this one — I thought that I had my characters all figured out. I thought that they were well represented as emotionally complex individuals. I thought I was something special for creating such substantial individuals.

Yeah…then I started writing more poetry, and realized just how flat they actually fell.

I wrote poems — lots of small, un-extraordinary poems — that forced me to tap into emotions that I had never considered before. I truly experienced my characters through their eyes, and I delved into dark, unfathomable parts of their hearts and bright, mysterious places alike.

To give an example, here is a poem called “Wrecked” that I wrote over a year and a half ago:

They left me folded in sheets
of sand — wrapped in molding bandages
on the bed of the shore, with the surf
licking my frozen toes.
The gull who weeps for his friends
long dead is much like me — a nomad
with no name and no clan;
a roamer rejected by rose-ravished
words. Here I waste away,
repeatedly bitten by the wind’s sharpened
teeth — left to rot.

I discovered something intensely hopeless about the character this poem was written about. Something savage and vain, yet somehow wistful.

After this poem, I wrote that character anew — and for the better.



4. Writing with the natural rhythm of speech. 

Rhythm is separate from pacing in that it deals with the fluidity, eloquence, and overall cadence of a piece of writing. In poetry, some semblance of rhythm is almost unavoidable. The same should be said for fiction and other forms of prose.

While you shouldn’t always write “how you talk”, you should always write with the rhythm of speech in mind. What I love about poetry is that it is intended to be read aloud, and therefore must have a certain “flow” about it that cooperates with the voice.

Simply put, the more poetry you write, the more fluently you will consider the world around you and your subject matter at hand. You’ll find your own unique rhythm!



5. Committing. 

Maybe this is just me, but poetry actually inspired me to write more prose.

I got on a schedule of writing poetry, becoming overcome by a deep impulse to translate my newly realized emotions, sensations, and images into fiction, and buckling down to work on a story.

I’m by no means a poetry connoisseur. I’m also nowhere near being a fully functioning, organized member of society.

But somehow, poetry made me commit. And I will forever be grateful because of it.

typing over.gif


So, what are your thoughts? Do you write poetry? Fiction? Do you find any meaningful connection between the two forms?

Thanks, and happy writing! 🙂

© 2016 Stellular Scribe


Top 10 Worldbuilding Resources for Writers


Imagine that you’ve just sat down to dinner and someone sets an enormous plate of all your favorite foods in front of you. Mmm. For me, it would be baked ziti, my dad’s famous purple potatoes, and bread. Lots and lots of bread.

Supporting everything — from the meaty bits to the peas and corn to the loaded baked potato — is your trusty, sturdy plate. Your plate might be beneath everything, it might be obscured by the pasta or muddied by the gravy, but it’s everywhere, upholding everything, keeping it all together, all the time. Your plate is vital to your dining experience, even though it’s not the part that you actually eat.

In fiction writing, the surrounding world is vital to your reading experience, even though it’s not the center of the actual plot.

The plate is the world, the ziti and potatoes are your plot and characters, and this is my attempt at a worldbuilding metaphor.

Terrible analogies aside (I apologize profusely), I’ve compiled a few of my favorite go-to sites for inspiring rich worlds in my writing. Dig in!

1. For names:

A list of this nature would not be complete if I didn’t introduce you all to FANTASY NAME GENERATORS

Holy mother of Middle Earth, this site never ceases to amaze me. From every fantasy, sci-fi, realistic, and ridiculous character name you can think of to the names of bridges, film studios, space stations, weapons and the like, FANTASY NAME GENERATORS has everything you need to get started on this vast worldbuilding frontier.

If you’re suffering severe writer’s block, they even have description generators of castles, societies, cultures, holidays, and diseases.

2. For beginnings:

Behold the majestic CHAOTIC SHINY, for here all great nations are born!

Ok, but seriously, this site has made me think about worldbuilding in ways that I never thought possible. Here you can build constellations, establish laws, develop civilizations, and map out demographics.

My advice would be to play around with some of the generators until something piques your interest (I found the crowd generator very helpful for writing descriptions of citizens in a village), and then see where it takes you!

3. For languages:

What’s the saying? “The limits of my language are the limits of my world” [x]. Well, never fear, because now your world can be limitless as you craft languages with SCRIBOLY.

Building a language from scratch is no easy feat, and depending on the depth of which you want to go in your writing, it doesn’t have to be time-consuming! Maybe a character will sprinkle their speech with foreign words, or maybe the language is only used in passing. To keep the meaning and syntax consistent, try out SCRIBOLY by typing in your desired phonemes and translating your text.

No world is dominated by just one language, so if you have more than one culture/civilization, play around with the word patterns and see what unique sounds you can generate.

4. For maps:

Beware! Here be maps at POLYGON MAP GENERATION

If you can’t seem to get a solid image of what the geography of your world looks like, flip through some random map designs until you find one that works for you. Knowing the layout of your world is important for keeping cities, trade routes, and ports consistent as your character traverses the land.

5. For religions:

Every respectable universe needs to have an abundance of religions to tear it apart. Or maybe it’s one to unite it? You decide at BELIEF SYSTEM GENERATOR.

This site is especially interesting because it breaks down the origins of your world according to beliefs, minor/major deities, nuances in afterlife, morals, rituals, and clergy. Again, I’m not saying that you should copy every detail that you randomly generate — it’s just a great place to start.

What’s more, you can even compare multiple religions side by side to see how they might interact in your potential world.

6. For mythology:

A lot of what shapes culture comes from the wild tangles of imagination and the supernatural. Draw from a plethora of real world myths to inspire your own folklore and legends at ANCIENT MYTHOLOGY.

It was at this site that I first read about Zoroastrianism, and from there was inspired to create a series of fables for my novel. Most of what we create is based off history, so why not take a look at some of Mother Earth’s greatest stories? May it be Japanese mythology or Mesopotamian superstitions, I’m sure that something in the archives of ANCIENT MYTHOLOGY will inspire you.

7. For tropes:

Some writers try to avoid tropes like the plague. I say, take advantage of them! Find something done before and make it your own at TV TROPES.

Explore different world settings (Medieval European Fantasy or Space Opera?), cultural ticks (Martyrdom Culture or Immortality Seeker?), and religious whims (Robot Religion or Easy Evangelism?). Of course, I’m not advocating for anyone to adopt these tropes (they’re called tropes for a reason — because they’re overdone), but I think that sometimes the most ground-breaking, striking worlds are ones that take tropes and twist them.

giphy (1).gif

8. For questions to answer:

SFWA has composed an extensive and impressive list of questions to keep in mind when worldbuilding. Please, read through the questions. You’d be surprised at some of the seemingly mundane things that really make a world pop.

9. For asking questions:

Can’t come up with the right answer to one of those questions? Go ahead and ask it at STACK EXCHANGE WORLDBUILDING. This is a great site for getting technical. I myself am woefully uninformed on physics, and if not for these forums, my world would probably lack gravity.

10. For music:

What’s a rich world without a rich soundtrack? Head on over to 8TRACKS or another internet radio of your choice and check out the fantasy, writing, and soundtrack tags. Sometimes, the right mood music can get you in the right frame of mind for making up cultures.

Be sure to check out my personal music suggestions on Music Mondays!


Ah, there’s nothing like a hearty plate of well-done worldbuilding.

Good luck, and happy writing! 🙂

© 2016 Stellular Scribe

You Are The Fairy God-Author

I’m going to share a little secret with you guys. I know, I know; this might come as a shock to some of you. Prepare your pearls for clutching. Ready your forehead for smashing your keyboard. Just hear me out.

Fiction is a lawless realm, and you are the Fairy God-Author.

procure wand

Ahem. Allow me to elaborate.

This might come as a shock to you because I know so many writers who insist that there are rules. That there is a logic that has to be followed when writing. That you can’t just make mumbo-jumbo up and expect it to fly. Writing, they say, doesn’t work like thatThere needs to be a method to the madness.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you are a freakin’ Fairy God-Author, that you have a wand, and that you can wave it whichever way you please.

  1. As a writer, you have the right to wave that wand.

    change color

So many people approach creative writing like it’s some wild beast that they have to contain. On the one hand, I can understand that. The creative process finds its genesis in discombobulated emotions, flashes of imagery, and unstructured ideas. We want to control these impulses, to put them into an entity that can be deciphered and, after much editing, enjoyed.

The result, however, is not necessarily bad writing — but rigid writing. You’ll eventually get to a point where a character is in a pickle or a conflict remains unresolved, and you’ll find yourself grasping for a logical resolution.

Here’s where it’s ok for you to take a step back, elaborately unsheathe your wand, and teleport into that scenario guns blazing. Don’t cage the creative beast; observe it in its natural habitat.

2. Don’t be afraid to shake things up.stop the car

This is going to be the hardest bit to swallow. I know it was for me.

It’s ok if nothing makes sense at first.

I think that the biggest moment of clarity for me was when I sat down to write the climactic scene of my novel, and realized that I could literally do anything I wanted. This might seem conspicuous, but please understand: I had been deliberating over this particular scene for months. I had been building it up in my head for so long that when it came down to writing it, I was stuck. I couldn’t think of one plausible way for my main character to get out of this situation alive, and I certainly couldn’t just kill him off.

That’s when I gave myself a friendly slap on the wrist and said, “Darn it, I’m in charge!” and wrote something so ridiculous and out-of-the-blue that it kind of actually worked. After that, I progressed through the falling action feeling unstoppable.

Many great writers of the past were so great because they threw caution to the wind and wrote unapologetically. A prime example is Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a winding and nonsensical rollercoaster ride, but it lives on as one of the most enchanting and prolific children’s stories to date.

Sometimes the most creative writing is the weirdest. And the weirdest writing is almost always the most memorable.

3. Consider the consequences.spell will be broken

Let’s not kid ourselves here. If Special Agent Dangerface decides that the best way to eradicate an evil-doer is to burn down the entire city, then he’s going to have to face some undesirable consequences. Same goes if Jenny Goody-Two-Shoes wins the school talent show by riding in on a pterodactyl. I’m sure scientists will have a few pressing questions for her.

With great, Fairy God-Author power comes great responsibility. Some choices might come to back to bite you. There might be plot holes, jarring changes in tone, developments that don’t contextually make sense.

If you go trigger-happy, the spell will eventually break. This is inevitable.

…but it’s not the end-all, be-all of your story.

4. Work the crazy while you can.schmexy

Because that’s why we have second drafts: to tone down the preposterous, smooth over the mood-breaking, and fill in the plot holes.

What I’m trying to say is— have no reservations. Be unapologetic. Work that wand.

If you’re in a jam and want to make up some ridiculous scenario to get out of it, go for it. If you’re running dry on inspiration and are willing to do anything to move on to the next part of your story, go for it. If you want to write absurdly, go for it. If you want to write orderly, go for it.

You just might surprise yourself with what you come up with.

Some people might say that this is lazy writing. I don’t believe in lazy writing. If anything, lazy writing is when you don’t write at all.

Good luck, and happy writing! 🙂

© 2016 Stellular Scribe

Writing: The Voice

"A Girl Writing" by Henriette Browne
“A Girl Writing” by Henriette Browne

Writing is equal parts pain and pride, ease and effort, ardor and acceptance.

The pain is drawn from words, which torn from the heart, bleed raw and wet on the page. The pride is preened with the belief that what we write will elevate us and last longer than our own selves. With ease, the sentences mold to each other in fluid-fashion, and with effort, the ideas that bind us refuse to be transferred to mere words. Writing is an art, that without ardor, has no hope of ever communicating with the world. But writing is also a confession; the acceptance of what we fear, what we love, and what we want.

So how do writers write? Ernest Hemingway is credited with saying, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” This can be interpreted in more than one way; writing should come from within, honest and raw and real and never forced. But there is no such thing as a perfect writer, who can spew out sentence after sentence without questioning their syntax or sense. To write well, a level of ferocity is required. If necessary, a writer must rip out the words, showing no mercy, and possibly damaging themselves in the process. To write is to feel, and to feel is everything; heartache, desolation, vivacity, elation.

In short, writers must extract their voice. There is no formula to writing, no set of guidelines that one can refer to when questioning where to put this word and how to convey that idea. Sure, countless resources and advice can be found in books and online, but none of them can give a writer voice. The voice makes the writer, and essentially dictates how one writes. But voice is not limited to writing; it communicates through all forms of art.

"Walking" by Shintaro Ohata
Walking” by Shintaro Ohata

For example, Shintaro Ohata, a Japanese multimedia artist, found his voice through depicting little things in everyday life. By pairing sculptures with paintings, he captures a unique light in his portrayal of everything from convenience stores at night, city roads on rainy days, and even fast-food restaurants at sunrise. On his most recent showing, “Polaris”, Shintaro Ohata says, “I named this exhibition ‘Polaris’ because I long for something absolute and firm like ‘Polaris’, which is always very bright and seems to be situated in the same place of the universe at all time.” His voice lies in his use of different mediums to portray the beauty that can found in simplicity.

In many ways, visual artists, such as as filmmakers and sculptors, go through the same process as writers when it comes to finding their voice. They feel the same conflicting emotions; the uncertainty of what will come of their work, the passion that goes into creation, and in the end, what the piece is really all about; the confession. It is the confession that communicates with the target audience, grasping their attention and gravitating them towards the idea, the art, or the product. And it is the confession, the pain, the passion- that makes the voice.

Begin at the Beginning: Writing

‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said, very gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’

-Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

So you’ve got your characters. A good grasp of your plot. Perhaps your mind is even wandering to the sequel. You’re all set to hit the ground running, head first into the first chapter. But then-

Perhaps even harder than the end is writing the dreaded beginning. Sometimes, it just doesn’t come naturally. You know what you want, but you don’t know how to get those pesky words on the page without overwhelming, boring, or confusing the reader.

Is there a wrong way to write a beginning?

The short answer: no.

The long answer: no, but- there are elements that characterize a good beginning that need to be taken into account.

1. Get the reader to care.

No one wants to read a story that opens with Mary Sue preparing her breakfast cereal and thinking about watering the porch plants. I’d drop that book in the heartbeat. But who knows? Maybe on the next page Mary Sue packs a hand revolver in her purse and leaves for her work at an underground drug cartel. I’d never know that, because the opening scene didn’t make me care.

Keep the reader guessing. If they’re not curious about what happens next, then you’ll never get them to flip the page.

Waiting for the Next Book

 2. Engage the reader in the world.

Basically, you’ve got to slap your setting in the reader’s face. Don’t overwhelm them, but make sure they know where the character is, because there’s nothing worse than being introduced to a well-rounded character and having no idea where the heck they are. They could be floating in space, for all the reader knew. Immerse them in the time, place, and atmosphere with sensory details and perception through the characters. Remember; show, don’t tell. It’s especially important to avoid purple prose here, because excessive adverbs and flowery, useless words are a big turn-off and distract the reader from the central conflict.

3. Make the tone known.

You have to ask yourself; what do I want the reader to feel? If your writing is light-hearted and witty, and you want the reader to feel light-hearted and witty, then by all means, make the beginning light-hearted and witty. As Alice LaPlante says in her book, “The Making of a Story“,

A common problem one sees in beginning work is that a story will begin in one vein- say, serious and realistic- and then turn to slapstick comedy, or science fiction, or some other kind of tone. Whatever the feeling you want your readers to get from the piece should be apparent from the very first sentence.

There’s nothing wrong with having a dark fantasy with comedic undertones, you just have to maintain a balance throughout your writing- and that includes the first scene.

4. Present characters and their problems. 

Reader, meet my friend, character. This is his/her problem.

Introducing a character is always a big moment, for the reader and the writer, and in the opening scene, its execution is doubly important. The character has to leave an impression on the reader, even if they don’t say anything in that scene. Make the reader feel something about the character, whether it be admiration, embarrassment, anger, or pity. For main characters, hash out the basics of what their situation is/what they’re going through.

Again, this is all about getting the reader to care.

john green5. Keep it active and apparent.

Never, never, nevereverevereverever make the opening scene a festering vat of info dump. I know I said that there’s no wrong way to start a story, but info dumps are a crime against fiction. You may have an elaborate history and rich culture designed for your world and characters, but never use the opening scene to plop it all upon the reader. It’s overwhelming and distracting. If you have backstories and origins, weave them into the plot naturally.

The opening scene should be clear and concise. The reader should know what’s happening and who’s doing what without risk of confusion. Make it enticing and exciting, but don’t drown your reader. Please. For all our sakes.

Whether you’re planting your reader right in the middle of the action or introducing them to your fictional world through a thought-out narrative, the opening is crucial to establishing your story. Don’t treat it like any other scene; give it thought, give it character, give it heart. And remember, first drafts are called ‘first drafts’ for a reason! Take a deep breath, and just write.

Good luck!

For all your creative writing needs, I recommend reading “The Making of a Story” by Alice LaPlante. A lot of the advice I give in this post is inspired by her insightful chapters about everything from character development to revision.

10 Random and Wonderful Sites For Writers

For writers, the web can be a distracting and overloading frontier, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all cat videos and social networking. Us scribes must sift through these diversions to even catch a glimpse of the incredible resources there are out there. Hey, writing in the modern world isn’t a feat for the faint of heart.

writing is hard

Many of you have probably already tapped into the internet’s writing goldmine, but today I’m going to supply you with ten sites that I have found tremendously helpful. Some of them you may have heard of and even frequented, others not.

So, in no particular order, here are ten random and wonderful sites for writers.

1. WriteWorld

  • Even if you don’t have a Tumblr, WriteWorld is still a fantastic site filled with all sorts of writing goodies. From words of the day and writing tips to image, sentence, and writing blocks, WriteWorld provides helpful references and lists to help stimulate the muse within all of us and dropkick the dreaded writer’s block into yesterday.

2. The Bookshelf Muse / Writers Helping Writers

  •  Undoubtedly, one of my most refreshed web pages during the period of writing my last book was The Emotion Thesaurus and the Physical Attribute and Character Trait Thesaurus on The Bookshelf Muse. Since then, they’ve moved to another amazing site, Writers Helping Writers. Seriously, go check them out. There’s a lot of good stuff there.

3. Writers Write

  • Writers Write is another great resource, and they cover everything from character development to articles on tone and plot. One of my favorite posts of theirs is Cheat Sheets for Writing Body Language.

4. The Most Epic Character Chart Ever

  • Exactly what it sounds like. This expansive character chart is a great tool for fleshing out characters. The Writers Helpers is a beautiful writing blog that gives solid advice and references.

5. Fantasy Name Generators

  • This gem of a site supplies diverse, weird, and wonderful name combinations, for everything from characters to countries, taverns to mountains. It’s not just for fantasy, though, and even has a description generator that can supply lovely writing prompts.

6. Chaotic Shiny

  • It honestly feels like this site has everything. Here’s the description from their homepage:

Chaotic Shiny is a generator site aimed at people who write, game, or live in fantasy worlds of their own creation. Grappling with writer’s block? Need a character on the fly? Party just walked into a tavern and you want it to be a little more exciting than normal? Want to flesh out a setting with some detailed religions? Chaotic Shiny is the site for you.

7. 8tracks

  • I am obsessed with 8tracks. Just when I think I’ve gathered all my favorite mixes for my writing playlist, I’ll find another one that I like even more. If you’re one of those writers who absolutely must have background music playing at all times, 8tracks is what I’ve found to be one of the best places to make a mix to fit the mood. Just type “writing” into the explore section, and you’ll get thousands of playlists made by other writers. If you need somewhere to start, check out my account. As their website says,

8tracks is the best place for people who care about music to make & discover refreshingly human playlists.

8. Rainy Mood

  • I’m a sworn pluviophile, and pairing Rainy Mood’s gentle rain (or raging thunderstorm) setting with music from 8tracks makes for the perfect writing atmosphere. Just my opinion.

9. Inklewriter

  • Inklewriter is a wonderfully enjoyable site that allows you to write interactive “Choose Your Own Adventure” style stories. It makes for a great writing exercise and can be helpful to those of us who struggle with finding the perfect ending. I absolutely adore books where the reader makes the decisions, so Inklewriter is like a playground for me.

10. Doll Divine

  • Ok, I know what you’re thinking. Doll Divine, that’s a site full of girly fashion games. What does that have to do with writing? I’m a visual person. When I create a character, I like to illustrate them in as much detail as possible, both in words and artistically. But sometimes, I want a fast way to actually see my character. Sure, Doll Divine has kitschy wedding dress up games and the like, but they also have a lot of really great generators that can be used to design your original character. Got a fantasy character? Try their Game of Thrones and LoTR doll makers. Steampunk? They’ve got games for that. Warriors? Royalty? Dragons? Make it all and more with Doll Divine.

So, there you go- ten of my favorite sites for writing. Some of them might not be that obvious, but writing is a strange craft. We can find inspiration almost anywhere, if we look hard enough. Happy writing!

good luck


The Ever-Present Plea For Diverse Characters in Fiction


We all know that it’s desirable, and necessary to create a society of open-mindedness and acceptance. So why, in 2014, is fiction with diverse characters so hard to come by? In my perusals of the bestselling bookshelf, I’ve found that protagonists are mainly comprised of white, heterosexual, ‘attractive’ characters. That’s not to say that there aren’t books with beautifully diverse characters and concepts (because, trust me, there are many gems out there), it’s just that compared to the norm, they are in short supply.

Before I jump headfirst into the issue of ‘diversity’ in literature, let me say that I’m not condemning authors and the way they write. A big part of writing is the  freedom to express one’s inner musings and designs without risk of conviction. So, please, write to your heart’s content about what you want- but all the same, take into account diversity.

What I classify as a diverse character is (but not limited to) someone who:

  1. comes from a rich and distinct culture
  2. doesn’t fit into society’s limited idea of “beauty”
  3. is racially and ethnically diverse, in both appearance and manner
  4. identifies with a different gender, sexual orientation, etc. (essentially, the LGBTQ community)
  5. defies the standard for gender (example: women taking up leadership roles)
  6. is emotionally varied (in other words, a character who has real emotions, vulnerabilities, and strengths)
  7. has disabilities (whether it be physical or mental)

Obviously, diversity isn’t limited to just race, though race does play an important factor. We live in a world swimming with different cultures, languages, values, and mindsets. So why shouldn’t literature reflect this? As the renowned English crime writer, D. L. Sayers, said:

The vital power of an imaginative work demands a diversity within its unity; and the stronger the diversity the more massive the unity.

Diversity doesn’t diverge characters: it unites them. It’s a bringing together of the beautiful, the ugly, the easy, the tough, the different and the similar elements of life. Writing is in many ways the most powerful relayer we have. When we read, we are impacted. We are impressionable creatures, and whether it be voluntary or not, we absorb what we read. That’s why diverse characters are so important.

This is important in all literature, but especially so in YA. May it be fantasy or science fiction, historical or contemporary, young adult books play an essential role in shaping the younger generation’s minds. Being a young adult myself, I always get excited when I come across a book with a main character of Middle Eastern descent, or one that centers around the life of an individual who is genderqueer. The reason? Life is diverse. The world is diverse. And it’s about time that people start growing up accepting this fact.

Above all, diverse characters shouldn’t be written for the sole purpose of being ‘diverse’. They should be written as people. I’ve come across many novels that throw in a few diverse side characters just to make some statement about ‘culture’ or ‘society’. This is all well and good if done in moderation and good taste- but if you are going to incorporate characters like this, make them more than just a message. Make them people.

When it comes to diversity in fiction, there are no end of arguments and comments that can be made. I could go on for another ten paragraphs about the lack of diversity in fantasy alone, or detail the reasons why some writers don’t feel ‘qualified’ or ‘obligated’ to write diverse characters. But perhaps I’ll leave all that for another post.

In the end, write what you want to write- just remember to write widely and diversely.

Do you think there is a need for diverse books and characters? Do you try to write diversely?

Writing is a Sensory Affair

The Writer's Cage
“The Writer’s Cage” by Florence Ma

Writing is painless. Said no one ever.

More often than not, words take a little coaxing to get past your reeling thoughts and onto the page. Sometimes, you have everything planned out in your head, and know exactly what you want to write- but your fingers remain frozen over the keys, refusing to cooperate with your train of thought. Other times, you’re raring to go, and ready to string sparkling, eloquent sentences out onto the blank page- but you have nothing to write about, and zero inspiration. Basically,

A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.

– Sidney Sheldon

Never fear, my fellow scribes, for you’re not alone in this plight. I used to be a “wait till inspiration strikes” kind of writer. Sometimes I’d go for weeks without writing a single word, and when I did sit myself down to write, I’d spew out a few pitiful sentences and then be on my way. I told myself that writing without motivation wouldn’t produce results, or at least not ones that I’d be satisfied with. I told myself this, and I never wrote anything. Don’t wait around for inspiration; go hunt it down and tear its guts out.

Everyone knows that incorporating the senses into your writing is essential to crafting a story that comes to life on the page. But what about using the senses as inspiration for your writing? I used to write my stories and poetry while sitting at a hard desk with nothing but the sound of a humming fan for company. Not exactly the most stimulating writing environment. I learned from my slump, though, and discovered a few things that you can do to heighten your senses during writing.


Sound is probably one of the biggest inciters of inspiration in my writing, and perhaps one of the most accepted on this list. Music elicits the emotion within us; it immerses us in a world that is all our own, one where the outside is nothing and it’s just you and your thoughts. Compiling and listening to a soundtrack that fits with the project you’re working on is a creative and fun way to further delve into the minds of your characters, the world your story takes place in, and the bigger ideas you’re trying to get across. 

There are an endless amount of resources and online radios that supply music playlists, but the one that I’ve found the most satisfying is 8tracks.com. It has amazing playlists in every genre imaginable, about every topic imaginable. Whether you want to listen to movie soundtracks, instrumental pieces, emotional piano ballads, indie rock…you name it, they’ve got it. You can check out my account for a few of my playlists, or go exploring on your own. For example, search the explore section for “epic + battle” and you’ll be supplied with an endless list of playlists that will set you in the perfect mood for writing a war scene. 

If you’re a pluviophile like me, the sound of rain immediately places you in a peaceful frame of mind. Rainy Mood is perfect for those days when the sky is clear, and paired with the perfect playlist, sets the mood for a writing session. Other synthetic auditory sites that I recommend include Soundrown and A Soft Murmur.


I’m a visual person. I like to map out scenes by illustrating settings and develop characters by painting their portraits. Obviously not everyone is going to opt for this, but you can’t deny that writing is a visual affair. When you write, you want to be able to picture the scene in its entirety, from the colors to the shading to the smallest details and nuances. Seeing is believing, even if you’re only seeing it in your mind.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am very passionate about colors. Yes, colors. Colors are what breathe life into the world around us. They set up the mood for a scene, an idea, or an emotion. I could probably go on and on about my deep devotion for striking colors, and how they inspired my last book, but perhaps I’ll save that for another post.

I’ve found that picture prompts are innovative ways to generate that “spark”. I suggest browsing sites like DeviantART where endless archives of artwork are just waiting to kindle the inner workings of your mind, or checking out Flickr for a vast selection of photography and multimedia art. The tumblr Write World, which posts daily picture prompts, is another great resource for writers.


Scent as a stimulus isn’t exactly what comes to mind when you think about writing, but in truth, it adds a whole new dimension to creating the ideal mood. Aromatic tea and scented candles are surefire ways to get me in the writing mode. If you really want to get into it, try these author scented candles. Ever wondered what Charles Dickens’ candle would smell like? Apparently tangerine, juniper, and clove.


I don’t know if this is just me, but I feel like every writer has their special “writing” food. For me, its trail mix and tea…and when it’s really, really late- coffee. Yes, I know that stuffing your mouth with food every time you write is not the healthiest of habits, but sometimes, when you need a little extra energy, the right snack can be the difference between a blank page and a paragraph.


Touch is perhaps one of the hardest senses to pin on writing. I mean, writing is all conceptual. There’s nothing to touch, so how can it influence your writing? Sometimes just placing yourself in the right setting is all it takes to give birth to a brainchild that will grow up to be your story. Really, it’s all about being relaxed. Situate yourself in your most comfortable desk chair or couch, make sure the temperature is just right, and dress for comfort!

All in all, don’t shy away from writing because of a fear of the mediocre. Embrace your mediocrity! Because without it, you’ll never get any better.

If you are a genius, you’ll make your own rules, but if not–and the odds are against it–go to your desk, no matter what your mood, face the icy challenge of the paper–write.

-J.B. Priestly

Writing Rounder Characters

While an intricate plot dripping with voice is essential to the integrity of your writing, a story just isn’t complete without well rounded characters.

No matter what genre you write, animated characters that readers can identify with are what drive the plot and keep audiences interested. But how does one go about breathing life into characterizations written on a page? While every writer has their own style and way of tackling depictions, there are a few crucial elements of character building that must be taken into account.

1. Give your a character a realistic and enticing background, but don’t drown them in it.

Everyone loves a good backstory, but sometimes its execution is tough to pull off. Backstories make characters more interesting; they give them a certain allure that can’t be achieved through laundry-list trait descriptions. In many ways, backstories make your characters more human (if your character isn’t a human, then that’s an entirely different kettle of fish). Don’t be afraid to get to the nitty gritty of what makes your character unique. Did something happen in their past that forced them to go in one direction over another? How is their story different from a more minor character’s?

While backstory is fun to write, beware of suffocating your reader in lengthy narratives about your character’s “ravaged past” and “tortured, orphaned soul”. There is such thing as too much backstory, or at least to the point where it takes up more of your writing than the actual plot.

2. Make a lasting impression.

You want to introduce your character with a bang. No one wants to read about Plain Paul who just happens to bump into the girl of his dreams while walking to work. Been there, read that. Not a dynamic first impression. And in this craft, first impressions are everything, because it’s what makes readers want more. Give them someone to care about, or not to care about. As long as they feel something about your character from the get-go.

3. Allow the reader to form and change their own opinions.

Once you’ve gotten the reader hooked with a dimensional character, throw them a curveball. As you develop your character, your reader must be able to develop their opinions. Maybe they start liking your character more. Maybe they grow a deep hatred for every word that passes your character’s lips. Change, no matter how beneficial or detrimental, is essential for well-rounded characters. Don’t fall into the flat trap, where everything your character does is premeditated and expected. Predictable characters are no fun to read or write about. Also, don’t be afraid to make your reader’s blood really boil by something your character does. As the genius of gut-wrenching character development, John Green, says,

I don’t know where people got the idea that characters in books are supposed to be likable. Books are not in the business of creating merely likeable characters with whom you can have some simple identification with. Books are in the business of creating great stories that make your brain go ahhbdgbdmerhbergurhbudgerbudbaaarr.

4. Paint them with flaws.

Complex character traits are key to making your writing pop off the page, and that includes writing your characters with imperfections. Simply put, perfect characters are boring. Who wants to read about the perfect love interest, with his perfectly chiseled jaw and perfect gentlemanly etiquette and perfect intellect? Maybe your character has a physical defect, or maybe he or she is especially jealous or competitive. Maybe their flaws are what make them all the more appealing.

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.

-Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

5. Give them a motivation. 

A character without motivation is a waste of space in a story. It would make no sense for Frodo to take the ring to Mordor if he hadn’t been bent on protecting the Shire, his friends, and all of Middle Earth. It would be pointless for Harry to seek Voldemort’s end if his parents had never been killed and he didn’t care about the well-being of his friends. This applies to protagonists and antagonists alike. If you give your character something to care about, you’ll give your reader something to care about.

Writing believable characters is one of the scariest and most rewarding parts of writing. There is nothing more satisfying than creating a well fleshed-out character, and in the end, it’s what will make your story stand out from the rest.