Your Setting

Surround yourself with things that make you want to write.

This is a lesson I’m learning more and more.  As you learn more about the world, you begin to find a million things that lead you in all directions.  Watching a foreign film makes you want to learn French.  Reading about adventure makes you want to travel the world.  Meeting a champion juggler makes you never want to juggle ever, and that’s that.  All these are great.  If you’re like me, you know that most things are within reach, and with a little work you can achieve them.  Learning French, traveling the world, never juggling— all worthwhile goals.

But do you remember the moment you decided you wanted to write?

If you’re a different kind of artist, or your career lies elsewhere, substitute your dream whenever I say the word “write”.  This applies to anything.

As a kid, I read a lot of Brian Jacques books, and I’ve posted before about how much they mean to me.  Through reading and imagining, I began to dream about writing my own stories.  For the past four years, that’s what I’ve been doing, and I love it.  I love daydreaming about it and pushing toward that goal.

The path has its ups and downs, though, like anything.  You start off shot from a cannon, propelled by your amazing inspiration and genuine love for what you’re doing.  Then, of course, comes the letdown when you actually realize you’ve got a long way ahead of you.  But you pick yourself up and keep moving, and you enjoy the work for a while.  Then you poke your head up and look around, and start comparing yourself to other people, and you wonder what you’re actually doing. Continue reading “Your Setting”


Getting Rid of Parents (Fiction Only)

Many difficulties come standard in the task of writing child protagonists.  To a certain point, a person is a person no matter how small, but there are subtle differences in younger characters.  Their behavior can be slightly different from that of an adult— less logical at times, or not quite sure of morals yet.  Their physical limitations, of course, must differ.  A ten-year-old boy cannot take the same amount of knocks on the head as the adult hero of an epic fantasy (there is considerable debate on whether the hero himself can take that many hits realistically, but the point remains).  Most importantly, however, there is a child’s place in society to consider.

Any middle grade fantasy will grind to a halt when the child’s parents decide she can’t cross the street without permission.


But books about children have been around for centuries, from the Brothers Grimm to C.S. Lewis.  Many people have solved this problem for their stories, many different ways. Continue reading “Getting Rid of Parents (Fiction Only)”

An Ode to Brian Jacques

When asked about my favorite author, I used to say, without hesitation, Brian Jacques.  He wrote so many books, each of them vivid and wondrous and fun to read, he never left me without something to sink my literary teeth into.  His books inspired me to write.  His books inspired me to read thicker and thicker books (until I hit Robert Jordan— perhaps a little thinner now?).  His books, each of them, struck my emotions, struck my imagination, without failing me.

And he wrote animal fantasy.  Go figure.

These days, I say I enjoy Dumas, or Tolstoy— at least, when I’m talking to college admissions people.  These days, I say I enjoy Brandon Sanderson, or Cornelia Funke— at least, when I’m talking to people closer to my age.  Tolkien, Lewis, Flanagan, Riordan, Wells, D’Lacey, Stroud, Paolini, Hulick, Mull, Colfer…  The list of great authors will never end.  I don’t want it to end, as I continue to discover the Marcus Zusaks, the John Greens, the Laini Taylors, the Patrick Rothfusses (Rothfi? Rothfa?).  I always want the list to keep growing.

But my favorite author?  It always comes back to Brian Jacques. Continue reading “An Ode to Brian Jacques”

Dear YA Authors

Dear YA authors,

I graduated from middle grade fiction a long time ago.  Hardly knowing what was to become of me, I left the world of short, heartwarming stories about orphans and cats behind and invaded the unknown land of death, kissing, and trilogies.  I used to bemoan the absence of books over 300 pages, but now the shelves are chock full of long books.  Not only that, but no author stops at a single book– they always write at least three books per series.  I thought that was great.

At least, until I realized I wanted something else.

Series are great.  It’s always nice to follow the same characters through a few books, watching them as they grow over time.  Trilogies likewise.  Trilogies have a distinct format that makes it enjoyable to see two opponents fight each other for three books in a row.  It’s a great feeling, when you reach the end, to know that the main characters have finally won out against all odds.  They can finally live.  Regardless of the predictability of a trilogy– with its charming first book, its slightly sagging sequel, and its dark and bloody finale– a trilogy makes a nice, tight boxed set that looks great on any bookshelf.

But after a while, trilogies get tiring, don’t you think? Continue reading “Dear YA Authors”

My Cardinal Rule Explained

Since I published my highly controversial TCWT post, I have been getting all sorts of complaints about what I call my “cardinal rule”.  It states:

When you can’t think of anything to do next, add a duck or some explosions.

I, of course, took that famous extra step and made it an exploding duck, but that’s beside the point.

In the days since I published that post, I’ve run into several people who didn’t know what to write next.  What did I tell them?  I quoted my cardinal rule.  Infallibly, they answered,

I don’t think ducks or explosions will fit in very well with my story.

That’s where you’re wrong, my friends!  Ducks and explosions are symbolic, and I am probably the only person who could ever take this literally.  For the rest of you, however, there requires some translation. Continue reading “My Cardinal Rule Explained”