More Books Writers Should Read—3. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic isn’t specifically a writing guide, but creativity is an essential part of writing, so I decided to include this book on my list. Elizabeth Gilbert shows us that creativity isn’t something to dread or an implement of suffering, but rather creativity should be embraced as something divine, fun, and magical. Through courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, and trust, we can reach the divinity of creativity and develop more wholesome lives.

Big Magic-More Books Writers Should Read

  • “A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and . . . [an] interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.”
  • “Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome.”
  • “Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do . . . There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still—your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
  • “I don’t sit around waiting to write until my genius decides to pay me a visit. If anything, I have come to believe that my genius spends a lot of time waiting around for me.”
  • “The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust—and those elements are universally accessible. Which does not mean that creative living is always easy; it merely means that creative living is always possible.”
  • “Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes—but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work.”
  • “What you produce is not necessarily sacred, I realized, just because you think it’s sacred. What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.”
  • “Your creative work is not your baby; if anything, you are its Everything I have ever written has brought me into being. Every project has matured me in a different way. I am who I am today precisely because of what I have made and what it has made me into. Creativity has hand-raised me and forged me into an adult.”
  • “Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living.”
  • “I think a lot of people quit pursuing creative lives because they’re scared of the word . . . they quit as soon as things aren’t easy anymore, as soon as it gets painful, or boring, or agitating. They quit as soon as they see something n their minds that scares them or hurts them. So they miss the good part, the wild part, the transformative part—the part when you push past the difficulty and enter into some raw new unexplored universe within yourself.”

Check out my blog post tomorrow where I will share a writing guide that uses psychology to teach writers what readers want from their story.

More Books Writers Should Read—2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott provides a unique take on teaching writing by making her writing guide a memoir, too. This combination of life lessons and writing tips offers a deeper perspective on being a writer and learning to write well. In Bird by Bird, Lamott covers the insecurities many writers have, pushing through your lousy first drafts, and the classic bird by bird story of how we need to take the immense task of completing a novel one step at a time.

Bird by Bird-More Books Writers Should Read

  • “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed.”
  • “Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t—and, in fact, you’re not supposed to—know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.”
  • “Something must be at stake or you will have no tension and your readers will not turn the pages.”
  • “You need to be moving your characters forward, even if they only go slowly.”
  • “As you learn who your characters are, compassion for them will grow. There shouldn’t be just a single important character in your work for whom you have compassion. You need to feel it even for the villain—in fact, especially for the villain. Life is not formula fiction. The villain has a heart, and the hero has great flaws. You’ve got to pay attention to what each character says, so you can know each of their hearts.”
  • “Metaphors are a great language tool, because they explain the unknown in terms of the known.”
  • “So if you want to get to know your characters, you have to hang out with them long enough to see beyond all the things they aren’t.”
  • “To be a good writer, you not only have to write a great deal but you have to care.”
  • “Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly.”
  • “I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good enough at it.”
  • “You are going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing.”
  • “Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.”
  • “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”

Keep an eye out for my next blog post on Monday where I will share a book about embracing your creativity.

More Books Writers Should Read—1. 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias

In August 2016, I presented a series of blog posts called Books Writers Should Read, where I recommended six great writing guides. Today, I am going to extend that series by suggesting More Books Writers Should Read. Keep an eye out this week and next to learn about four more great books that can help improve your writing.

Do you have a great story idea that needs a plot? Do you want to learn more about the patterns found in successful stories? If so, then check out 20 Master Plots. Ronald B. Tobias covers what plots need in order to outline a story that is satisfying to yourself and your readers. He also reviews 20 of the most common plots, using classic literature and films to show the different elements of these plots and the directions they can take.

20 Master Plots-More Books Writers Should Read

  • “If you strike out without any idea of destination, you’ll wander aimlessly. But if you understand something about the kind of plot you’re trying to write, you’ll have supplied yourself with a compass that will know when you’re wandering and warn you to get back on track.”
  • “Plots have endless possibilities, so there must be endless plots.”
  • “Plot is story that has a pattern of action and reaction.”
  • “Three thousand years of generating plots has given us some common denominators that hold up as a general rule. And like all general rules, they frequently are broken. Pablo Picasso was on target, however, when he said we must first learn the rules to know how to break them.”
  • “Whereas life allows in anything, fiction is selective. Everything in your writing should be relative to your intent.”
  • “What all writers have in common is a method. Once they get the method down, some of them then write a book about it. Those books should be title “This Is What Works for Me,” because readers who respect certain writers too often take their methods as gospel. These methods may be tried and true for those writers, but there’s the mistaken assumption floating around that if it works for one person, it must work for everyone else, too.

“Not so.

“There’s a method for each of us. The writer must know how he works and thinks in order to discover which method works best.”

  • “The foundation of comedy is deception: mistaken identities, double meanings, confusion.”
  • “Put your main character between a rock and a hard place. That’s the true source of tension in fiction.”
  • “Your character will come to life by doing, not by sitting around and telling us what she feels about life or about the crisis of the moment. Do, don’t just say.”
  • “So what does this quest for originality mean? Find a new plot that no one has used before? Obviously not, because plots are based on common human experience. If you found a plot that had never been used before, you’re into an area that is outside of the realm of shared human behavior. Originality doesn’t apply to the plots themselves but to how we present those plots.”
  • “The skill in making obstacles is not just presenting hurdles for your character to run over, but hurdles that somehow alter your character. These are life experiences that teach your character something about his quest and something about himself.”
  • “Generally it’s good advice for any writer to start a scene late and get out early; that is, don’t drag your reading through every detail leading up to the action, and don’t ‘hang around’ after it.”
  • “Plot is the form your idea will take; give it shape and substance as you write. Whatever you do, however, don’t be a slave to the plot. You are not in the service of it; it is in your service. Make it work for you.”

Keep an eye out for my post tomorrow where I will share a book that is both a memoir and a writing guide.

Book Review: The Vicar’s Daughter by Josi S. Kilpack

Misunderstandings escalate into a tangled web of love triangles in the regency romance, The Vicar’s Daughter by Josi S. Kilpack published by Shadow Mountain Publishing. In this story of love, letters, and family, Cassie’s attempts to help her sister go awry when she falls in love with the man she intended for her sister.

The Vicar's Daughter Blog Tour Image via Shadow Mountain
Image via Shadow Mountain Publishing

“The confidence Lenora needed would only come through success gained through action she was too nervous to take. Cassie, however, could take that action and write letters on Lenora’s behalf.”

Summary

Cassie will never be able to get married. Her parents insist that only one daughter should be out in society at a time, and Cassie’s shy older sister, Lenora, isn’t going to catch a husband anytime soon. But when Lenora has a chance encounter with the young bachelor, Evan Glenside, Cassie sees an opportunity. Cassie writes letters to Evan in Lenora’s name in hopes of forming an attachment between him and her sister. But things fall apart when Cassie realizes that she is falling in love with Evan.

“Think over what you have done. Look for the ways in which you turned straw to gold and be glad for the grace of our Lord, who saves us from ourselves.”

Review—5 Stars

I received a copy of The Vicar’s Daughter from Shadow Mountain Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Josi S. Kilpack once again produces a delightful regency romance. She did such a masterful job at drawing me into the story that I often forgot I was supposed to be reviewing it. Kilpack also does amazing work at escalating conflict upon conflict until you agonize over whether the characters will ever find happiness or not.

“There is joy yet left for you, Cassie. Do not miss it simply because you cannot see past what cannot be.”

I always feel the best characters are the ones we can sympathize with, and Kilpack created several such characters. I could really feel their pain, guilt, and embarrassment. Cassie’s journey from being headstrong and childish to humble and sympathetic was especially well done. I also loved how the story’s plot twists and resolutions were unexpected and perfect at the same time. Great job!

To see more reviews of The Vicar’s Daughter, check it out on Goodreads and Amazon.

Writing Prompts: The Easter Edition

Spring has sprung and Easter traditions are abound, from dyeing boiled eggs to recounting Jesus Christ’s resurrection to watching the four-hour long movie, The Ten Commandments. But between tales of Peter Cottontail and eating marshmallow Peeps, try to get in some writing time with these Easter writing prompts:

Easter writing prompts

  1. On an Easter egg hunt, Shannon finds a check for a billion dollars inside one of the eggs. What does she do next?
  2. Instead of getting candy in their Easter baskets, Thomas and his siblings get food that would have been eaten in Jesus Christ’s time, like hummus and lamb. Recount their experience.
  3. Derrick has no artistic skill whatsoever, but somehow he accidentally joins a hardcore Easter egg dyeing contest. He realizes that the prize money can pay his rent next month, so how does he win?
  4. The Easter Bunny goes on strike this year. Who will save the Easter holiday?
  5. Debbie’s family celebrates the Passover but never Easter. Though eight-year-old Debbie loves her family tradition, she really wants to eat some of those chocolate bunnies. How does she sneak one into her home?

Do you have more ideas for Easter writing prompts? If so, then share them in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Book Recommendation: Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson

A Western fairy tale meets an Indian-inspired culture in Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson published by Henry Holt and Co. in 2010. In this story, two sisters receive two very different gifts from a goddess, and through their journeys, they must discover the faults within themselves and how to use their gifts.

Toads and diamonds quote-Naghali_s snake messengers

Summary

Diribani and her family suffer from poverty, but that all changes when Diribani helps an old beggar woman at the well. The snake goddess Naghali-ji blesses Diribani so flowers and jewels fall from her lips with every word she speaks. But when Diribani’s stepsister, Tana, visits the well, she receives a very different gift of having snakes and toads fall from her mouth.

“Revenge, greed, necessity: Any could be your undoing. Only think. One of the gems you spout so casually would secure an ambitious man’s future.”

So begins the journeys of the two sisters as Diribani travels with a prince and Tana hides from the cruel governor of their province. Religions clash and hearts are broken as the two sisters try to understand how the goddess wants them to use their gifts, though they soon learn things they never imagined about themselves. This is a great book for readers who like fairy tale retellings and different cultures.

“Beauty wasn’t in this body, crusted with filth and sores. It wasn’t even in the paintings Diribani had created, dry pigments arranged on flat paper. It was in life itself: the boldness of daffodils, the sweetness of violets, the resolution of diamond. Like Tana’s resolution, Tana’s priceless mix of cleverness, loyalty, and strength. Diribani had lost her way, so she would be guided by her sister’s example.”

Book Group Questions

  1. How were both Diribani’s and Tana’s gifts blessings? How were they curses?
  2. In the author’s note at the end of the book, Heather Tomlinson said that she invented the two religions in this novel, though she did use elements from several actual religions. Discuss the similarities and differences between the actual religions and those seen in this story. Also discuss how religions can clash with each other.
  3. Diribani had the unspoken wish for beauty while Tana’s unspoken wish was to keep her family safe. How did the gifts they received reflect these wishes? What did the sisters learn about these wishes by the end of the book?
  4. Compare this story to the original fairy tale, “The Fairies” by Charles Perrault. What are the similarities and differences?

What Studio C Taught Me About Writing Humor

With the prank-fest of April Fool’s Day approaching, I’ve decided to talk about how to write humor. Creating laugh-out-loud jokes, funny scenes, and amusing characters can actually be very difficult because humor is subjective. What makes one person chuckle can make another raise an eyebrow. However, I have seen successful reoccurring patterns of humor in BYUtv’s sketch-comedy show, Studio C, and I will cover some of these patterns today.

Writing humor-what studio c taught me

Combine Two Unlike Things

Whether it is a baby who is your college roommate or a video gamer who saves the world, combining two unlike people or circumstances can create humor. Under normal circumstances, these two things would not be in the same room, but because they are, they present unique, amusing situations. For an example, see a pregnant woman working as a spy in the sketch below:

Exaggeration

Exaggeration appears in most of the comedic patterns I will discuss, but it can be a category all on its own. Try to see how far you can exaggerate situations in order to obtain the most optimal funny effect. How intense can organic food eaters get? How can a mall turn into a battleground as seen in the sketch below:

Misunderstandings

Having a misunderstanding is a huge element in most romantic comedies. Lack of communication, double meanings, and other circumstances keep the characters thinking differently about certain things while the audience (who knows both sides of the story) laughs as they watch the misunderstanding get more and more precarious. See how a young man organizing his wedding misunderstands a funeral planner in the sketch below:

Slapstick

One of the simplest, most basic forms of humor is that of slapstick comedy a.k.a. physical injury and abuse. Unless you are writing for children (who find this form of humor hilarious), I would advise against falling back on slapstick too much because it is too easy and not as satisfying as other forms of humor. However, as you can see from the Scott Sterling sketch below, it does have its merits:

Take the Familiar and Add a Twist

Though humor is subjective, there are situations most people can relate to such as visiting the doctor, going to school, or learning to drive a car. By adding an unexpected twist to a familiar situation, you can make laugh-out-loud moments as we see the familiar become hilarious. Take the sketch below, where we watch the world of dating through the lens of a nature documentary:

Book Review: How to Become a Pirate Hunter by Marty Reeder

If you like books about destiny, pirates, and adventures on the high seas, then How to Become a Pirate Hunter may be for you. This book was written by Marty Reeder and published by Cedar Fort Publishing. Though I felt the style and approach to this story could use improvement, the concept is certainly interesting and unique.

how to become a pirate hunter image via cedar fort
Image via Cedar Fort Publishing

“You are just as talented as anyone else out there. You just haven’t been in the right circumstances to prove it.”

Summary

As long as Eric can remember, he has been useless. With no real talents or abilities, he just floats aimlessly through life. But that all changes when he meets Charlotte. She can see people’s natural-born abilities, and she tells Eric that he is meant to become a pirate hunter. After a little time traveling, Charlotte gives Eric the opportunity to test out his pirate hunting skills. But when Eric takes on the dreaded Willard Twins, he may have met his match.

“He found himself in an area and time period unfamiliar to him. He faced hostile foes not only in the sea, but also back at land in the forms of Governor Rose and Captain Bellview. All this . . . and Eric did not even have his driver’s license yet.”

Review—3 Stars

I received a digital copy of How to Become a Pirate Hunter from Cedar Fort Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

I’ll admit that I was a little disappointed with this book. A time traveling pirate hunter is a great concept, but I felt the approach and style was lacking. For one, Eric’s character did not go through a development process. He started out feeling useless and unconfident, but when he traveled to the past, he instantly became an intelligent, self-assured leader. This change happened in a blink, and I didn’t buy it. Plus this book is about how to become a pirate hunter, and we didn’t even get to see that process.

 “And now that I’ve spent this time with you, I am more convinced than ever. No matter what you were born to do. No matter what you have accomplished here, or what you think you haven’t. You are special, Eric. You really are. Not because of your talent. Because of you.”

Additionally, the point of view kept throwing me off because the third-person limited kept jumping into others’ perspectives. This omniscient/limited mix felt sloppy, especially when it explored the thoughts of minor, unimportant characters. This point of view also contributed to a whole lot of telling rather than showing. The constant telling of what happened and what everyone thought about it made everything seem too obvious.

Eric also lacked a lot of potential internal conflict, and when this conflict did appear, it was after long intervals of nothing at all. There also could have been a lot more conflict had he experienced failures with pirate hunting early on rather than amazing successes. And he didn’t even consider the effect this whole experience might have had on his future and his family until the end of the book. Though I liked the concept of the story and its villain, overall I felt it needed some work.

To see more reviews of How to Become a Pirate Hunter, check it out on Goodreads, Amazon, or its Cedar Fort blog tour page.

Book Review: Unexpected Love by Heather Chapman, Mandi Ellsworth, Paula Kremser, & Ashtyn Newbold

You can read sweet, clean romances about marriages of convenience when you check out Unexpected Love published by Cedar Fort Publishing and written by Heather Chapman, Mandi Ellsworth, Paula Kremser, and Ashtyn Newbold. This book shares four romance novellas which show how love can grow in the most unexpected places.

Unexpected love image via Cedar Fort
Image via Cedar Fort Publishing

“He just had to get married and keep his wife alive. Sounded simple enough.”

Summary

In past eras, women were often forced into marriages of convenience due to extenuating circumstances. However, some of these people still managed to find great love within these marriages. Unexpected Love shares four such stories. A man eager for a rich inheritance grows to love his wife and her small cottage. Two people marry to save their young charges and form a loving family. A spunky, beautiful woman running from criminals marries a law man who doesn’t know the first thing about being married to her. And a scarred woman brings out the goodness and love of an angry, unhappy blind man.

“Smile. Life is an obligatory gift. We may not always like it, but we must make do with what we are given.”

Review—4.5 Stars

I received a digital copy of Unexpected Love from Cedar Fort Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

I loved the sweet, tender, and varied stories this book shared. I was especially pleased to see that not every story was based in the regency era, which helped change up the romance genre a bit. In “First Comes Marriage,” I liked the many dilemmas the characters had to maneuver around and I constantly worried about whether they would really fall in love or not. In “Beauty and the Beholder,” I enjoyed seeing Fanny and Percy’s relationship in all stages of its development and hearing their witty banter.

 “I have learned that there is a good, kind, and honest person within each of us. We only need the right people to unearth them.”

As for “Ashbrook Abbey,” I felt the transformation of the characters was a bit choppy and it would have worked better with less exposition in the beginning. “The Price of Her Heart” had a weak beginning and ending, but it had a fantastic middle and a spunky protagonist. Overall, this anthology shared feel-good stories, memorable characters, and tender, enduring loves.

To see more reviews of Unexpected Love, check it out on Goodreads, Amazon, and its Cedar Fort blog tour page.

Writing Prompts: The St. Patrick’s Day Edition

For many of us, St. Patrick’s Day is an excuse to pretend to be Irish and abuse others with pinches. But between wearing your green and helping the kids set up leprechaun traps, take a few minutes to celebrate the holiday by writing. Here are a few St. Patty’s Day writing prompts all about leprechauns, pots of gold, and pinching people.

St. Patty's Day Writing Prompts

  1. On top of losing her wallet and car keys, Danielle forgot to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. What does she do to try to avoid getting pinched black and blue by all of her coworkers?
  2. Leprechaun Seamus O’Sullivan’s pot of gold has been stolen. How does he get it back?
  3. Allie lives an average life until she finds a four-leaf clover. Her wish comes true . . . but in the worst way possible.
  4. A leprechaun actually falls for a kindergartener’s leprechaun trap. What does he do when the child finds him?
  5. Saint Patrick gets transported to the future and sees how the world celebrates a holiday in honor of him. How does he react?

Do you have more ideas for St. Patty’s Day writing prompts? If so, then share them in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.