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Character arc–you might have heard the term. It’s what your character learns or overcomes in your story. This is particularly important in series fiction, but even in stand-alone novels, it often becomes the central focus of your book.

For the sake of this article, we will focus on series fiction that doesn’t have an absolute conclusion by the end of the first book. In series fiction, character arcs become an essential part of the writing process. You might be asking, “How do you draw an ‘ending’ out of an unresolved plot, to continue into the next book?” Character arcs might be your tried and true answer!

Your Character’s Inner Conflict

Plots have conflict, of course. But on a smaller scale, your characters also have conflicts, and they don’t always coincide with the overall “big picture” conflict in your story. Example? Let’s say you’re writing a YA book where the main character saves the world from aliens. It’s a 4-part series. Your main character starts out as a bit of a nerd, and afraid of “being herself.” No matter what happens with the plot, by the end of that first book, your character should come to terms with her inner struggle–“being herself.” Perhaps she discovers that glasses are cool and not geeky, or that being a math-nerd allows her to detect the alien invasion. Even if the plot continues, it gives the reader a sense of conclusion.

In the end of each book, your character should reach a kind of catharsis–an emotional “conclusion” of sorts–that he or she has overcome the burden they started out carrying. Characters arcs are all about inner conflict and inner resolution, and harnessing this will make your book an overall more satisfying read.

Where to Begin

In the first chapter of your novel, your character has probably expressed some insecurities or doubts about him/herself. Those insecurities might even be subconscious–meaning, you wrote them into the first chapter without really thinking about them (which is a natural and very writerly thing to do), and then forgot about them as you continued with the plot. Or perhaps more accurately, you never took the time to fully define what you were truly writing about.

If we want to strengthen our characterization, we must go back through that first chapter and find that event/feeling/thought that gave our character doubt (inner conflict.) That is the beginning of our character’s “arc.” Similarly, if you’re a planner and you’ve already plotted your novel, plan the character arc into that first section of the book. Draw a literal picture of an arc. At the beginning, it should say “Josie–hates wearing glasses.” In the middle will be the “catharsis” (that moment where Josie realizes glasses are cool), and then “Conclusion: Josie realizes wearing glasses might be better than having none.”

The Struggle

Throughout the middle of the book, as much as your character might be chasing down a criminal or defeating some great evil, there is also the internal struggle (coming to grips with a deceased relative, realizing popularity is a facade, etc.) There should be a pivotal moment in your book when the main character realizes their demons and begins to overcome them. This pivotal moment is called “catharsis” in literary terms. It literally means “a release of emotion.” Your character must release their previous demons…even if it’s a small piece of the larger plot-puzzle. Going back to our example of Josie, perhaps she discovers the boy of her dreams likes girls in glasses, or that her glasses have some sort of magical ability that allows her to overcome a great evil.

The Conclusion

Bride and groom with a white wedding bikeParticularly in series writing, the conclusion of your first book may not resolve the actual plot. So then how do you finish the book in a place of “closure?” (Readers crave closure, just fyi.) A great suggestion–you allow your character to fully resolve whatever emotional issue presented itself in the first chapter. Perhaps Josie travels through her entire arc–she starts out hating her glasses, realizes halfway through that her glasses can help her defeat some great evil, and by the end, she prefers her glasses over having none. Reslvoing that character arc gives your reader the closure they are yearning for, without having to resolve the entire plot.

In Summation

Characters are born from inner conflict. That’s what draws the reader into the story. Once you are done with your first draft, I highly recommend going back to that first chapter–or whichever chapter a main character is introduced–and discovering their inner conflict. Once that inner conflict is defined, draw it through the entire story to a moment of “catharsis” when they face their inner demons and conquer them. Then, in the end, the main character fully resolves their inner conflict. The story will feel complete, even if it’s part of a larger series where the larger plot continues.

Answer below! What is your character’s “arc”?

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Beta-Reader: some poor sap who has to read through the roughest draft of your manuscript and red-pen it into oblivion. Luckily they love their red pen (and you, the author, do too.)

I see a lot of authors working with as many as 10 beta-readers. Now, since creative types can get flaky and life can always jump in the way, that might be a good safety net to make sure at least one person gets through your entire manuscript in the time frame you need.

But after 4 years in a Creative Writing program, taking endless semesters of workshops, by the time I was ready to find a beta-reader, I knew exactly the kind of person I wanted.

Beta-Reading: Quality over Quantity

4 years of writing workshops in college taught me one thing–many people, including other writers, aren’t always great at giving advice to improve your writing. It depends on their own skill level as writers and their own experience in critique groups. If your beta-reader has never been part of a writing workshop, you might not want to expect very much going in.

For this reason, I don’t usually recommend bloggers as beta-readers, as most respond to a story via “gut reaction.” A “gut reaction” is not necessarily a “critique.”

This is a good start. But beta-readers do more than this.

Beta-readers don’t do this. Copyeditors fix grammar. Beta-readers critique stories.

I came out of my English program knowing with cold certainty that if I could find one excellent beta-reader who knew more about their craft than “writing from the gut”…one who’s studied creative writing or taken some literature courses, who preferably has some sort of training in higher education, and who takes the time to really pick a story apart…I could improve my work.

If you can work with someone like that, you don’t need a huge critique group. You really only need that one person.

See, I went through many semesters of writing groups where I only got very useful feedback from about 5 people in a 30-person class. Maybe the other 25 people weren’t trying. Or maybe they just weren’t very advanced with their own writing, so when it came to critique, they usually stuck to the obvious: “this phrase is overused” or “the story ends too fast.” Everything they said came from reading the story on a surface level, and critiquing from a place of gut reaction. Mix together 25 different gut reactions from different people, and who can you trust?

Everyone has something different to say about how to improve a story. In the end, you want to use someone’s advice who really knows what they’re talking about.

An excellent example: I wrote a short story for one workshop where I left the ending intentionally open-ended, sort of like Pan’s Labyrinth, where you’re not sure if the main character went on to commit suicide or if she really returned to the fairy realms and became a princess.

One person in the critique group said: “This is confusing, you need to rewrite the ending of the story so it has a conclusion, it feels like you sort of just petered off. You should rewrite this so as not to confuse the reader.”

Another, more experienced writer commented: “Nice use of ambiguity. I appreciate how you leave the ending up to the reader. I think you can improve a few sections in the middle to make the conclusion more powerful.”

The first response was from a young writer who is still used to thinking only in terms of black and white: either a story has a conclusion, or it doesn’t.

The second response was from someone who understood what I was trying to do with my work. They a) evaluated it, b) had knowledge of other short stories that used the same technique, and c) made pointed suggestions how to improve the story, within the style I was attempting.

If you’re serious about improving your craft and making your latest book the best it can be, it’s not enough to have a beta-reader who simply says “I like this” or “I don’t like that.” You want someone who understands what you are trying to do with your work, where it fits in the bigger scheme of things, and the small, key things you can change to improve it.

7 Traits of a Perfect Beta-Reader

Because I am introverted, I tend to keep most of what I do a huge secret, even if nobody cares. Totally normal, right?

Because I am introverted, I tend to keep most of what I do a huge secret, even if nobody cares. Totally normal, right?

1) First, their own writing should blow you away. You should read their work and think–wow. I feel inspired. I’d love this person’s input on my own writing. And since most of us are indie-authors, you should try reaching out to these other indies and see if you can strike up some sort of beta-reading arrangement. Choosing old high school friends or family members probably isn’t the best idea, unless they are also writers, English teachers/professors, or very critical and analytically minded readers.

2) Find someone specific to your genre. Someone who writes literary fiction probably isn’t going to appreciate your paranormal romance novel unless they’re also a huge fan of paranormal romance. Make sure to pick a beta reader who has a special passion for your genre.

3) As stated before, pick someone with an extensive knowledge base. A lot of readers don’t really know what goes into writing a novel. They know basic stuff like “main character” and “plot,” but as for more technical things like active/passive voice, foreshadowing, themes, motifs and character arc, they might not have much to say. For this reason, I can’t emphasize enough–pick someone who knows more about writing than you do. And if you can’t find someone like that because you have limited resources, pick somebody who reads a TON, is usually very analytical, and at least understands the finer aspects of storytelling.

4) Find someone who also enjoys your work. I’ve ran into some beta-readers who think critiquing a story should be a “sassy” or “snarky” experience. This isn’t helpful to anyone. Find someone who nurtures your work and who believes in you as a writer, not someone who tears you down. Of course beta-readers can have a sense of humor and that can make the whole experience a lot more fun. But if someone is outright mocking your work, chances are they might be overly critical, and I’d ditch them and find someone with a better attitude.

5) Be careful of overly critical people. During my Creative Writing major, particularly as I hit my senior year, I found some feedback to be spot on (meaning, I saw immediately how it could improve the story), while some seemed overly (or uselessly) critical. For instance, nitpicking at tiny word choices or character names. A good beta-reader will give you a good mix of both: big-picture plot feedback, scene feedback, and maybe word choice here or there, just to strengthen that last sentence. Starting out, it might be hard to know the right balance. You might go through one or two beta-readers before you really click with one.

6) You and your beta-reader are a team. So speak up! Ideally, you’ll even become friends. If you have an issue with a scene in your own book, or maybe a certain character arc, but the beta-reader doesn’t mention it, write them an email. Ask questions. Start a conversation. A good beta-reader will take the time to write you back and discuss their thoughts on what might be improved.

7) Trust your gut instinct. In the end, your beta-reader’s word is NOT set in stone. If you feel like you want to change that scene, trust your instincts. This is your book, after all, and you have the last say. Similarly, if a beta-reader targets a section that you think is essential to the story–perhaps you have an idea of what’s going to happen at the end, or in the next book, and you really can’t justify changing that scene–then don’t. Again, as the author, you have the final say. And be confident about your own writing instinct. Feedback is just someone’s opinion, and sometimes opinions don’t mesh. There will be plenty of everyday readers who will appreciate whatever scene you leave in.

How Many Beta-Readers Do You Really Need?

If the world were an ideal place, I’d say find 1 person–a mentor of sorts–who meets all the qualifiers above. That way you have two targeted minds (author+beta-reader) working to streamline the same novel, and both voices blend to create a powerful reading experience.

But knowing how creative types can be flaky and how life can get in the way of a writing schedule, it’s good to have 2 or 3 solid, trustworthy writers on hand to beta-read your book. It helps when they’re up to speed with your series, or if you’ve read their books, so you can both make informed decisions about working together. I’ve made several wonderful friendships with beta-readers and I always have my eye open for a talented, lesser known author who might be added to my team. But I think, if you can get really solid feedback from 1 or 2 people, your manuscript will be fine. I wouldn’t suggest picking more than 4 people because then opinions will become conflicting and confusing, and as we discussed before, you might not be certain whose opinion is “best” for the story. So keep it simple. Keep it quality. And keep having fun!

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Ebook pirating: the act of distributing an ebook for free around the internet, thus “stealing” royalties from whomever wrote it (unless the author died like 80 years ago, in which case, go crazy.)

I’ve seen a lot of authors posting opinions about pirating lately and I thought I’d add my own two cents. A recent email from included a “template take-down letter” that authors can send out to pirating websites to have their ebooks removed. The author who shared the template stated thusly:

“I regularly send out [take down notices] when I find sites, and yes it’s a pain, but if you don’t care about people getting your books for FREE that’s up to you. Personally, I find it infuriating.”

Here’s the Deal

I’ve done that whole “scourge the internet for free romance novels and favorite MP3’s” thing back in high school. Why? Because I didn’t have a job or income and my family didn’t spoil me with buying me tons of stuff. Now most of the files I found came infested with viruses and I ruined quite a few PC’s before I finally had my own paycheck. Then I could just buy the 99-cent books and MP3’s on Amazon instead of wasting hours searching online and transferring files to my kindle. I mean…99 cents. Who cares, right? Less than a Starbucks coffee.

And I think most of the pirating world is like this. It’s mainly propelled by teens who don’t have easy access to credit cards. And they’ve got to be a little desperate. I mean, do you have any idea how hard it is to find pirated files that don’t have some sort of malware included in the download? Then you have sites like Scribd where you can find all sorts of stuff, but mostly trashy romance, and half the files are read-only and can’t be easily downloaded.

Try Looking at it This Way

Let’s say someone downloads Sora’s Quest for free (as it is offered on Amazon and other ebook retailers, and as I’ve purposefully distributed to other free ebook sites, just to make it easy to find.) Then this reader has the gumption to hunt down the rest of The Cat’s Eye Chronicles from anonymous free websites and get a pirated download….Well, chances are they’re a teenager. Chances are they have very low income. And chances are I will make a fan for life.

I would rather have 1 fan for life than spend an hour out of my day chasing down pirated versions of my books.

I mean, in the end, if you’re a budding author looking to build a fan base, isn’t it all about exposure?

That 13-year-old who just downloaded my series online for free might come back as a 21-year-old and buy the rest of my books because they remember me, because whatever I wrote stuck with them, and because now they have the money to easily buy it from Amazon, or a bookstore, or what have you.

And even if you’re Patrick Rothfuss or George R R Martin, why sweat it? They’re established authors. What do they care about pirated ebooks? I’m sure they’re making plenty of coinage off their royalties already.

To be clear, I don’t condone pirating. I, too, have bills I need to pay and I’m sure I’ve lost quite a few thousand dollars to pirated ebooks. I also no longer attempt to download free music or movies because of my new-found “royalty awareness.” Pirating is stealing, folks. But I’m not going to be infuriated by it, and I’m not going to waste precious time chasing down free ebooks on all these websites. Because pirating is never going to stop. As long as there are teenagers without jobs, and as long as there are disabled people, veterans and retirees living off social security, there will be pirating.

So I’d rather have that one new reader. I’d rather have a fan for life. Because guess what? I’m not going to stop writing. I’m only 25. What will my canon be by the time I’m 40? With each book I publish, I make a few more dollars a month, I put aside a wee bit more money, and I live a better quality of life. And what makes those sales possible? Fans. Especially young readers who love YA Fantasy, and who like Sora’s Quest enough to scourge the internet for a free ebook. Because maybe they’ll start a Pinterest board, or a Tumblr site, or recommend me to their friends, or get their parents to buy my books. Or maybe they’ll post about The Cat’s Eye Chronicles in some forums and chat rooms. And maybe one day they will come back around and find me, and rediscover my books, and buy a nice set for their shelves (or Kindle), because now they have that money to spend.

But don’t be pirates, guys. It’s illegal. Just sayin’.

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This article was featured in Self Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #44!

If it hurts your brain, you're on the right track!

If it hurts your brain, you’re on the right track!

I run across writing prompts all the time on the web. After my Creative Writing program, I don’t find many of them helpful in so far as challenging and improving a writer’s craft. Many writing prompts are just too comfortable. They focus on flexing your imagination instead of developing your technique.

Here are 4 amazing prompts I used in my Creative Writing 300-level workshops that will both challenge your writing and hopefully improve it.

1) Write from the perspective of an inanimate object.

The point: too often, we find ourselves only focusing on our main character when we write. We forget that a single scene has limitless possibilities. A desk, a flickering light, a wall clock, a house, or even a city block can have its own personality.

-Write a 1-page scene from the perspective of a house observing the people who live in it.
-Write a story about two inanimate objects falling in love.
-Write a story where a street becomes the main character.

Flex your characterization skills to include more than just ordinary people or animals. Practice describing a setting or environment that embodies its own character and atmosphere.

2) Write a story out of chronological sequence.

The point: As novelists, we are often focused on beginning, middle, and end. Sometimes mixing up the scenes can add a lot of life to a story. What if a book started at the “middle,” and worked its way back to the beginning?

-Write a 3-5 page story where the scenes happen out of chronological order.

If you’re not sure where to start, begin your first scene at the end of the story. Try to work backward (or forward?) from there. Read Catch-22 if the concept of this seems confusing, or watch the movie Momento.

3) Write a single scene from 3 different “distances.”

-Write a single scene about a character meeting a friend over coffee.
-Write the same scene from farther away: a person across the street observing two friends meeting for coffee.
-Write the same scene at an even farther distance: a person reflecting on that one time, years ago, when they met their friend for coffee.

The point: experience the difference between each of these scenes. Learn the strengths and weaknesses of each one: “in the moment,” “from across the street” and “from years and years ago.” How do the scenes change? Which do you feel is the strongest perspective or time frame? Which felt more “safe” to you and which was more of a challenge? This helps you break out of the mode of always writing from one “distance” or one sense of time.

4) Write a story that includes 3 dictionary definitions.

Use a definition from a dictionary in a 2-page short story (or scene). Try using this technique 3 different times throughout the text. Make sure your definitions fit the context of your story.

The point: explore new narration techniques. Think outside the box. Shake it up a bit!

And most importantly, have fun!

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Distance and focalization in narrative.

Distance and focalization in narrative.

I am going to sound a bit more didactic in this post, because what I am about to share with you I learned in my Creative Writing Theories 408, 412 and 409 class. What does this mean? The following includes senior college level creative writing tips that are taught by professors in a university. So in the following article, I intend to teach you some of the theory behind Creative Writing. What I am about to say is not a matter of opinion–it is a matter of instruction and advanced writing methodology. If you can understand and implement the advice given in this article, it will greatly impact your writing. Enjoy!

Narration: Not What it Seems on the Surface

When we write, we often “jump in” to the story. Whether or not we make a plot first, there always comes that tried and true moment when we put our hands to the keyboard and begin.

Often when we write, we see the narrator and the main character as one person. We might also see the author and the narrator as one person. But in the wide scheme of things, this becomes a very limiting mindset if you want to take your writing to the next level. Your main character is not your narrator. Also, you are not the narrator of your own book. So I ask the question–who (or what) is your narrator?

In this case, the question of first, third, or second-person narration becomes obsolete. For the purpose of this article, we do not care which “tense” you use for your story. Because narration, no matter from whose perspective you are writing, is its own entity in the story.

Yes, even in first person.

The Narrating Agent

Let’s take a step back.

We’re used to hearing such terms as “scene”, “main character” and “voice”, aren’t we?

I’d like to introduce you to a new triad: the focalized, the focalizer, and the focalizing agent. The “focalizing” agent is also known as the “narrating” agent and I will use the terms interchangeably in this article.

Reading tip: Don’t be scared of the word “focalized.” It is used quite intentionally. Just as a camera focuses on the events of a movie, your narrating agent (or “focalizing agent”) is the “lens” of your story.

Imagine you hold a camera in your hands. The story is playing out in front of you like a movie. You see your main character and the scene in front of you. But don’t forget the lens of the camera. The lens of the camera is your focalizing agent (narrator.)

The Focalizer

Your “Focalizer” is the main character through which we see the story. In many cases, such as third-person writing, the focalizer changes depending on which character we are using. In first person, the focalizer usually remains the same, unless you are writing first-person from many different character perspectives. Your focalizer (main character) has traits of its own. It has humor (or lack thereof), it is male or female, it has a history, a past, a present, and a future. But the focalizer remains separate from the focalizing agent. Your main character is not your narrating voice.

The Focalized

The focalized is the scene you are portraying in your book. The focalized can also be certain aspects of a scene: the description of a vase, the traits of a house, a frantic chase, the wind, etc. The focalizing agent narrates about how the focalizer (main character) interacts with the focalized (scene, object, instance.)

Brief Recap
Narrating (focalizing) agent: your narrator, the “camera” for your story.
Focalizer: your main character for a particular scene.
Focalized: the scene itself, or objects within that scene.

The Traits of Your Narrating Agent

Your narrating agent has traits separate from your main character or specific scene. Your narrating agent even has traits separate from you, the author. Although your narrating agent should have its own distinct “characteristics,” it is not usually a character in the story, unless you are writing first person (with a few other exceptions.) The narrating agent is rather a removed presence in “story space.” It is in the invisible storyteller who exists outside the story, above the story, etc. It is the lens through which we see your main character and events.

Let’s look at some examples of different narrating agents, shall we?

Narrating Agent #1 is very close to the story. The “lens” of the narrating (focalizing) agent is “up close.” In the following example, the camera is right in front of the main character. We are seeing every intimate detail of her experience inside the story. Psychologically, the reader feels like they are “inside the main character’s head.” But they are not. They are simply seeing the story from a very close-up narrating agent.

Her mouth quirked. She didn’t like libraries. The silent tension of a thousand books made her nervous. Her hands shook as she put down her garden magazine. The man across from her leaned in close, an invitation in his eyes. She found it very hard to whisper, “Shall we continue this outside?”

Narrating Agent #2 is a bit more removed. We still know what the main character is thinking and feeling, but now we get an idea of the nature of the library, other elements of the scene, what’s happening in the background, etc. The reader feels like they are sitting at a table next to the main character, watching the story take place like a curious eavesdropper.

The girl looked uncomfortable sitting at the table. She kept fidgeting in her seat and drawing the attention of the head librarian, a grumpy sort who found unnecessary movement disruptive in her library. The man across from her seemed amused by her discomfort and nodded to the door, offering her a way out. The girl’s whisper filled up the reading room like a cold draft: “Shall we continue this outside?”

Narrating Agent #3 is even more removed from the scene. Here, we can feel the “lens” of the camera panning around, giving us a history of the building, insight into the environment, all of which effects the reactions of the main character. The reader feels like they just walked into the library and they are gazing from the doorway at the events inside.

The Old Town Library was a wretched place full of dust and tattered pages. An ancient building, it housed books from over a hundred years ago, thumbed and stained by countless grubby hands. The reading room held a certain weight to it, a slight pressure on the shoulders which could drive a man insane given enough time. All of this added to the girl’s anxiety. After the man approached her table, the girl’s desperate whisper riffled through the silent room: “Shall we continue this outside?”

As you can see, adjusting the lens of the narrating agent can greatly change the reader’s experience of your story.

The Distance of Your Narrating Agent is Not Set in Stone

Now it’s time to really have fun. Now that we know the focalizing agent (narrator) is a camera, we know we can use it as a tool to enhance our writing. The focalizing agent does not need to remain set in stone–though it’s a fun challenge to write a short story where the focalizing agent IS set in stone, a certain distance away from the events in the text.

The point of all this is to become aware of your narrating agent and use it to your advantage. When you are writing or editing a certain scene, consider: when do I want my narrating agent to be “up close,” and when do I want it to pull back? When do I want to bring the camera into focus, and when do I want to zoom out, catching details of the world and history? When do I want to see inside the character’s mind, and when do I want to bring the environment to life?

Characteristics of Your Narrating Agency Should Remain Consistent

Do you want your narrating agent to be ironic or funny? Do you want your narrating agent to interrupt at odd intervals to offer more information about a certain person, a certain place, or a history? Do you want your narrating agent to be poetic and haunting, or fast and furious–young like a teenager, or old like a grandmother?

Consider these questions as you write. The more you are able to separate your narrating agent from your main character and the events in the story, the more control you have over your writing voice. As you change the traits of your narrating agent, you will see the pace of the story change, the quality of descriptions (or lack thereof), and how the setting of a scene can effect the main character (how the focalized can influence your focalizer, and vice versa.) This is great! It’s all connected and controlling your narrating agent allows you to easily adjust the voice of your story. Change your mindset about narration, and watch your writing grow before your eyes!

Flex Your Writing Muscle: Exercises Using Narrating Agents

Test your new knowledge with these simple exercises taken from my Creative Writing workshops.

Exercise #1: Write a scene from 3 different “distances.”

Your scene: your male main character just got into a fist-fight with his father in front of a bar. (500-750 words)

-The first scene should be “up close,” an intimate conversation or a blow-by-blow account of the event.
-The next scene should be written from farther away–pretend you are sitting across the street from the main action and write the scene as you see from across the street.
-Your third scene should be very far removed, as though you are reading it in a newspaper or hearing about it long after the fact. Imagine your narrator is recounting a story it heard from a friend.

Exercise #2: Narrate outside your comfort zone. (500-750 words)
-Pretend your narrator is not human. For this exercise, your narrator is a house. Describe the events in the upper bedroom. Describe the same event as though it happened last night, last year, and 50 years ago.

Exercise #3: Give your narrating agent some personality. (500 words)
-Your narrating agent is extremely grumpy. Describe your main character having coffee with a friend.
-Your narrating agent is very educated. Describe your main character getting lost in a very strange part of town.
-Your narrating agent is humorous and lighthearted. Describe a bus going over a bridge into a river.

The point of these exercises is to help the writer develop their voice and understand how to use the narrator to bring depth and focus to their work.

Brief Recap

-Your narrator is not your main character. It is also not the author.
-Your narrating (focalizing) agent is like a lens through which we see the story
-Your narrating (focalizing) agent can be close to the text or very far away.
-Your narrating agent can change its focus throughout a story, pulling in close or panning the environment. (Careful with this, as you want to keep somewhat consistent throughout your story.)
-Your narrating agent doesn’t have to be human. It can have characteristics, but it is not a fully developed character in that sense.
-Your narrating agent exists solely in “story space” and controls how the reader perceives the text.

Last of all, have fun! Experiment! Enjoy!

Free mini workshop: Feel free to post your Narrating Agent Exercises in a comment below and we can discuss your writing!

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1) I don’t know what to say.

I see a lot of authors talking about “How to Plot Your Novel” or “Tips to Good Characterization” but honestly, whenever I try to explain my craft, it comes out a chaotic mess. Which probably means something about how I write my books, but eh, when you’re this crazy, why pick it apart? I spent 4 years in an English major and I’ve taught writing courses and tutor children so you’d think I’d have something to say on the subject. But seriously, if you want to write a book, just write it. If you’re stuck at writer’s block, just keep writing. If you lose motivation, just keep writing. And if you don’t plan to edit your novel, quit now.

Opie, cutest and dirtiest pitbull on the planet.

Opie, cutest and dirtiest pitbull on the planet.

2) My life is boring.

Honestly, I’m not that exciting, despite living in the middle of TV Land. Warner Bros. is a block from my house, Disney about two blocks, ABC, Nickelodeon, Lionsgate, HBO, etc. just a few blocks past that. Half my neighbors work in the studios. Me? I stay cooped up indoors all day writing. So unless I’m going to write endless blog entries about how cute my pitbull is (trust me, he’s cute), I don’t got a lot going on. Oh, we built a new fence today. Gripping!

3) I want to keep things upbeat.

I feel if I start blogging a lot, I’ll start ranting a lot. I have a lot of crankiness to offer the world. For one, I just started a new low-carb diet. Low-carb can be rearranged to spell Crab Owl. So yes, I feel like a Crab Owl, which means everything is getting on my nerves. Other authors are getting on my nerves. Amazon is bugging me. My writing is being annoying. My dog keeps barking at nothing from our front porch. There’s construction on my street every morning. My best friend hasn’t called me in a week. So yes, I am irking big time right now.



4) Sometimes, I write half a blog post, then decide it’s stupid.

I sit down filled with all this joyous enthusiasm wanting to share something mushy and meaningful about my writing. And then I get halfway through and think–who the heck wants to read this crap? You guys want my books, not my inner joy-joy monologues. And then I start craving bread and wanting to stuff a whole package of noodles down my face, so I eat snap-peas like a maniac because there’s 6g of sugar per serving. And then I leave my post in drafts because it’s all a bunch of piddly-puddly nonsense.

I need this in my face right now.

I need this in my face right now.

5) I hate following the crowd.

I’m just not a team player. The moment I see a lot of people doing something, I’m immediately repelled by the activity. This probably comes from all the deep-seated issues I had in highschool with cliques and cool kids and whatever. When I see a lot of people all jumping on the bloggety-blog bandwagon and writers trying to consolidate themselves into any sort of group, I dig in my heels. I became a writer because I didn’t want to be part of any group. It’s a solitary activity devoid of other people and I like that. I don’t have “writer” friends because I’d rather not build any sort of writing posse. (I’m a bit of a hypocrite, since I have a small online close-knit writing group called The Runaway Pen, but I picked those people because they’re awesome, humble, and they’re all really good writers, and let’s face it, self-publishing is hard to do alone.)

Adam Lambert always knows what to say.

Adam Lambert always knows what to say.

6) I don’t know what readers expect of me.

Honestly, my one true love in life is writing, second true love is The Cat’s Eye Chronicles, and third true love are my readers. You guys are awesome. But I have no idea what you would like to read about on this blog. More stuff about the book series? I mean, is that even interesting? Questions? Debates? Vacation updates? My favorite kind of tea? (Peach green tea.) I don’t know. You guys are wonderful but you also confuse and frighten me for various reasons. I want to entertain you, I also want to impress you, I want to revel in the series with you but I also don’t want to seem needy? I hate needy people. And I hate rejection. Please don’t reject me for struggling through carb cravings! Damn I could use a jalepeno cheese bagel right now. GODDAMMIT.

7) Surprise, it’s me, Crash!

I hate blogging. I took over the author’s computer so I could rant about how stupid blogging is, and her dumb low-carb diet, which is driving her nuts. Look at her, she’s crying in the corner right now clutching a loaf of Wonderbread. We didn’t have Wonderbread in the Hive. But right, blogging. What a waste of words. Save it for the story, will you? If you have to update, TL, then talk about me. I’m awesome. I once skinned a tiger and wore the fur for three days so I could infiltrate a Catlin colony (I made that up.) But this is blogging, so I suppose I could make anything up. If I could travel anywhere in the world, it would be India. I want to see the Bodi tree where the Buddha reached Enlightenment. And my dog of choice would be a Great Dane. Or maybe a German Shepherd, they’re pretty vicious. TL, stop eating that bred! Oh Gawd that’s disgusting. Put the loaf down! Oh no now she’s going after the sour dough….


xoxox <3<3 <3<3 Sora here! Crash leave TL alone she’s vomiting up bread in the bathroom right now. She doesn’t need your help.

(Brb Crash is trying to force TL to vomit.)

Writing is….


posted by on Daily Life, Writing Tips

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imagesimages2images3originalLauren_Jonik_sun_and_shadows-312x250journalsindexwriting-cyclewriting+poetrysat writingquotes-writing-william-h-gass-600x411pen2013.8.25-Writing-600x400creative-writing-prompts-listonceuponatime786px-Alls_well_that_inks_well

posted by on Book News, Writing Tips


The other day, I was writing a particularly ironic scene in Ferran’s Map (a partly bitter, partly humorous conversation between Silas and Ferran, who I always think of as “coworkers who don’t like each other but occasionally get along”), and I found myself laughing and smiling as I wrote, my heart skipping a bit, enjoying the humor, really feeling the characters. And I realized, suddenly, that I don’t think many readers hear much about an author’s personal connection to what they write. Authors always talk about careers, their biographies, how they plot, “what might happen next,” what research they put into the book, where their inspiration comes from, etc. But rarely do I read about the personal joy–and slightly delusional love-affair–that an author feels for their books. Or, more specifically, their characters.

I’m certain not all authors feel quite the same about their craft as I do. I’m certain some authors don’t connect to their characters in a highly emotional or personal way, and that’s fine, there is room for all sorts of books in the world. But you could say I feel deeply invested in the characters in my stories. They bleed outside my writing into everyday life. I hold imaginary conversations with them when I’m stuck in traffic, or listening to a good song, or zoning out in the middle of a movie. I linger on their pasts, their futures, their connection to one another, how their interactions weave in and out of the plot. And when I write those scenes, I put myself in their minds, imagine what they’re feeling, what they’re thinking and why. I love them all dearly. Especially in The Cat’s Eye Chronicles, I’ve been writing the series for so long, I feel like I’ve grown up with these characters. I’ve seen them change as I’ve changed. I feel like I know them so well now. It is so strange, to be in love with these make-believe people that I pulled out of thin air. But there it is.

Another truth about writing–as you age, you just become better. As you experience life, that knowledge and wisdom of the world becomes fuel for the next story. You get to know so many different kinds of people, and sometimes you meet people who really stand out, who have distinct personalities and characteristics, and you realize–wow, I could use that in a book. Most of my characters are partially based on people I’ve known in real life, from Ferran’s chaotic adrenaline-junky nature, to Crash’s tortured and regret-ridden soul, to Sora’s bright-eyed curiosity about the world, to Lori’s disciplined practicality. I can feel all of these characters inside of me, just as I’ve met them in real life, just as I’ve asked those same big questions: “What makes you who you are? Where did you come from? How did you get here?”

The stories of people’s lives fascinate me. I am always interested to learn more about a person, their history, and what makes them tick. And I find myself constantly asking, “But what did you learn from the experience? How did you grow? Or what great mountain planted itself inside your heart to stop you from moving forward? Do you love better now? Do you love less? Have you found where you fit in the world?” These questions inform my writing, but they also inform my heart. I want to learn about people. I want to write about characters who can reach out of the story and grab you, and won’t let go. I want you to know these characters as I know them.

Writing is learning. It is a process of insight and creative analysis. It is taking the outside world and forming it into something new, laden with themes, connections and meanings, all to create a story that reflects our inner selves. It is a place I go to meet myself, to think about people and create characters who we can all connect to.

I love my craft. I love the people I write about. I am a little more than halfway through the rough draft of Ferran’s Map and as the characters interact with each other, slowly building upon their experiences, their evolving thoughts and hopes, I find myself becoming more and more excited about this next installment in the series. Finally, we can reach some sort of catharsis. Crash and Sora can face each other as equal hearts. Ferran and Lori can honestly confront their past together. Silas, Burn, Caprion, Krait and the rest of the characters continue to show sides of themselves that I never expected. I am in love with these characters–the driving force behind my work–and I can’t wait to share the next leg of their journey with you.

posted by on Book News, Excerpts


Brought to you by Becca Anne’s Book Reviews.

I was recently interviewed by Becca Anne’s Book Reviews where she asked me about my Top 10 favorite Crash/Sora moments from The Cat’s Eye Chronicles. It was such a fun list to make, I thought I’d share the article here with you guys on the blog. Enjoy!

T. L. Shreffler’s Top 10 Crash/Sora Moments from The Cat’s Eye Chronicles (in chronological order.)

Note: SPOILERS for books 1-3.

1) Sora’s Quest: When Crash saves Sora from drowning.

This early part of the story is fun because Crash and Sora are still at major odds with each other. Sora and co. escape into Fennbog Swamp with the king’s soldiers on their heels. They cross a rickety bridge over a flooded river. The bridge breaks and Sora goes under. The current is too strong to swim against, and she almost drowns until “someone” dives into the water and uses a rope to drag her back to shore.

I love the surprise Sora feels when she looks up and realizes her rescuer is Crash, the dreaded assassin. She feels disconcerted to find herself in his arms, but “too exhausted to protest.” She isn’t sure if Crash rescued her out of ruthless practicality or if he might just care about her wellbeing. To paraphrase Dorian the thief: “Careful, Crash. You almost seem concerned.”

2) Sora’s Quest: When Sora saves Crash from drowning.

An ironic role reversal! In an attempt to escape the Catlin colony, Sora and Crash take a plunge from a very high bridge into an icy lake below. Crash becomes trapped under the bridge as it sinks into the lake. Sora has to dive into the icy water and rescue the assassin. For the first time, Crash begins to see Sora as not just a burden, but someone of personal strength and courage.

The words hung between them, silent, a shade awkward. He frowned, still staring at her, as though she was not quite what he expected. He cleared his throat. “I…well, thank you.”

Sora felt speechless. Gratitude? From this assassin? Not bloody likely, she thought, and yet there it was. Loud and clear.
“Of course,” she said solemnly. Then she couldn’t help it. She cracked a smile.
To her surprise, Crash let out a quiet chuckle. He stood and gave her a hand up, helping her to her feet. He picked up her cloak and threw it around her shoulders. “Come on.”

3) Sora’s Quest: The Mud Fight.

I needed an innocent reason for Sora and Crash to grope each other (lol just kidding…well partly kidding.) We spent all of Sora’s Quest receiving dark glares from Crash, then finally at the end, we see that mask slip. Lo and behold, a heart resides beneath!

Perhaps the most touching moment is right after the mud fight when Sora returns to her cabin to open Crash’s gift. “For the first time I felt fear.”

4) Viper’s Creed: When Crash and Sora first meet again after a year apart.

At this point in the story, Sora has trained for a year with her mother and I wanted to show off her skills a bit! Mostly though, I just wanted Sora and Crash to roll around on the ground together. I thought it would be a fun way for them to reunite: an epic battle, a dynamic power struggle, and then (of course) lots of awkward staring when they finally recognize each other.

5) Viper’s Creed: “Date night” in Delbar.

We get drama, romance and dinner, just like a Saturday night date! ;) First Crash and Sora argue outside the weapon shop, then they have a sweet bonding moment in the backstreets of Delbar. They discuss their strange friendship for the first time. And finally, they meet up with Burn and Laina at a fancy hotel for dinner.

I can imagine the city of Delbar so vividly in my mind: colorful paper lanterns strung across cobblestone streets, long alleys full of eccentric shops, and the wharf lined with massive seafaring vessels. Sounds like a place out of a dream. What I love the most about this magical night in Delbar is that, for the first time, you see Crash and Sora interact without some immediate threat nearby. We can take a breather from the journey and sit down on a bench to watch the ocean.

And of course, let’s not forget this extremely flirtatious moment from Crash at dinner (like a 10 on the “assassin” flirtation scale):

Sora looked at Crash curiously after the waitress was out of sight. They were sitting next to each other, so she leaned in close to speak. “I take it you don’t like seafood?” she asked quietly.
She leaned a little more toward him. “I said, so you don’t like fish?”
“Not especially,” he replied in an equally soft voice. Then a wicked glint lit his eyes. “Unless it has long, slimy tentacles and suckers, with tiny black eyes that have been boiled in soup….”
“Oh, hush!” Sora laughed. “Are you describing yourself? I think I’ve seen a few tentacles under that cloak….”
The assassin grimaced. “You’re very clever.”
“I learned it from you,” she grinned.
“We’ll have to put a stop to that.”
Sora’s grin widened. “You could always throw me to the sea.”
Crash laughed. “That wouldn’t work. As I recall, you’re a very good swimmer.” The compliment was unexpected. He had adopted a deep tone that Sora had never heard before. It sent shivers across her skin and she shifted in her seat, strangely excited.
“I could teach you,” she said.
“Why don’t we have our first lesson in the bath?”
Suddenly Burn cleared his throat from across the table. Crash quickly backed away from her, saying shortly, “Another time, then.”

6) Viper’s Creed: Sora cures Crash from a Kraken bite.

This was just an excuse to get Sora and Crash snuggling in the same bed. Lol! I love it when Crash takes hold of Sora’s wrist and doesn’t let her go. Almost makes me wonder if he did it on purpose…? ;)

7) Volcrian’s Hunt: Crash and Sora reunited on the island.

There is nothing more entertaining…than when one character thinks the other is dead! I’ll confess, these were the most fun scenes to write. We get to see a great wealth of emotion from Crash, along with the resurgence of his demon. And then, finally, that climactic reunion when Crash saves Sora from being choked to death. (Wow, who writes this stuff? So pulpy!)

That all leads up to the sweetly poignant scene where Crash and Sora hold hands by the fire. As my beta-reader put it, “Aww they’re cuddling! And it happened so naturally, too!” So much can be said through a simple touch. Crash vows never to “die again.” Sora expresses her fears about the future. And finally, our budding lovebirds promise to fight side by side ‘til the very end. Aw shucks, guys! I’m getting teary!

For a moment, she saw a hollowness inside of him that was too great to bear. She looked away, unnerved. He obviously thought the worst. Expected it.
“And if I don’t survive?” she asked quietly.
His grip tightened on her hand. “Then I will go with you.”
She raised her eyes to his, looking him fully in the face, shocked. “What?”
“You won’t die alone, Sora,” he said quietly.

8) Volcrian’s Hunt: Crash and Sora in the Crystal Caves.

Finally Sora knows who Crash really is. Finally! Finally!

9) Volcrian’s Hunt: Crash and Sora in the jailhouse.

More than anything, this scene reminds us that Crash is strong. Even while being tortured and imprisoned, his control doesn’t break. Yet his vulnerability bleeds through when Sora appears. “You’re beautiful,” he says as he touches her face. And the rest of us get a little choked up. ;)

Crash’s hand touched her face. He stroked the back of his fingers along her cheek…so incredibly gently.
She flinched in surprise and looked at him. He was staring at her, his expression hard and solemn. She knew that look: fierce and calculating, like a caged wolf. It was the face of a warrior—someone much stronger than she could ever be.
“You must convince the Harpies to set me free,” he said hoarsely. Then he lightly pressed a finger to her forehead. “Use your head,” he murmured. “You’re good at that.”
Sora felt a small smile on her lips. He ran his finger down the side of her cheek again, then pinched her chin, giving it a light squeeze. “Yes, smile,” he murmured. “You must look…like you don’t care.”
But I do care, she thought. The truth of it resonated throughout her body, her eyes widening fractionally. I care a lot.
His touch lingered on her face, a silent connection that slowly warmed her blood. She had never felt so close to anyone in her entire life. She didn’t want to leave. No, she wanted to stay in the darkness, gazing at him, listening to his ruined voice.
“What?” she asked softly, trying to understand his expression. It was fiery and soft all at once, as though she had spoken her thoughts aloud—as though he had heard every word.
“You’re beautiful, Sora,” he said.

10)Volcrian’s Hunt: Crash and Sora “kissing in a tree.”

Okay, so maybe “under a tree” is more accurate, but you get the idea. We’ve waited long enough for this moment–finally, some snogging! Not that I regret taking so long to get to this point. The fire burns slowly when you’re an innocent noblewoman paired with an extremely antisocial assassin.

I love this scene for the obvious reason: all that built up tension finally released in a single explosive, passionate kiss…or series of kisses…or several hours of kissing. As the author, I’m not sure how long it lasted, since after a while I felt the modest need to look away.

And, for less obvious reasons, I love this scene because it deepens the complexity of Sora and Crash’s relationship. Their undeniable attraction to one another is contrasted with the danger of their journey. Crash is aware of Sora’s inexperience and wants to protect her, both from their enemies and himself. He feels that he is not a good enough man to “have” her; that he would only put her in danger; that he would complicate things beyond reason. This passage best sums up that depth of feeling:

She buried her face in his shirt. He made it sound so simple, so easy. “Then take away my fear,” she said, her voice small, muffled by fabric. She didn’t want to be afraid. She had tried not to be. But when he was this close, she felt completely undone.
He reached between them, tipping her head up. For a brief moment he searched her eyes, looking for something, she didn’t know what. But he must have found it, because he set his lips against hers again, softly this time, gently. He kissed her with a sense of controlled power, as though holding back something monstrously strong. She could sense the shadows shift around them, moving on their own accord, clasping her in a dark embrace, an extension of his own body. She felt completely consumed.
He broke away again, muttering against her lips. “I will do this,” he said, “until you can’t think anymore.” He trailed his lips across her mouth, tendrils of fire slipping through her body. “Then we will go back,” he murmured, “and you will sleep.”
She began to tremble, barely able to stand. His arms clamped her to his chest, strong and secure, sliding across her back. One traveled up to her neck, cradling the back of her head, adjusting her position. He opened her mouth easily, capturing her tongue, controlling her.
After a long moment, he finished his thought. “Tomorrow we will fight, and you will be safe, and this will have never happened.”
Why? she wanted to ask. Why can’t this happen?
Because he’s an assassin, her inner voice answered through the foggy cloud of her mind.
I don’t care, she thought.
You do, the voice murmured. And he knows it.
She couldn’t argue anymore. Crash’s hand wove into her hair, and then she was truly lost.
– See more at:

Thanks for reading! Now riddle me this: what was your favorite Crash/Sora moment from the series?

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From Sunday, February 23rd to Tuesday, March 4th, we’ll be having the Caprion’s Wings Blog Tour!
12 amazing blogs will be posting reviews, author interviews and fun articles about this newest installment in The Cat’s Eye Chronicles. Find out the schedule below! Links will be updated as the posts become available. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest to get instant updates about the tour. I put these blog tours together purely for the readers, so I hope you enjoy! ;)

Click to find out more about Caprion’s Wings!
Release Date: February 28th, 2014

Caprion’s Wings blog tour schedule and links:

2-23-14 | Spotlight Mimsey Style | Please Don’t Feed the Mimsey
2-24-14 | Spotlight/Excerpt | The O’Raven Chronicles
2-25-14 | REVIEW & Theme Song | Lindsay and Jane’s Views and Reviews
2-26-14 | Spotlight/Excerpt | Oh My Shelves
2-27-14 | Character 5Q Q&A Caprion | Intisar Khanani
2-28-14 | REVIEW & Would you Rather w/Caprion | TTC Books & More
3-01-14 | Spotlight/Excerpt | A World of Words
3-01-14 | REVIEW & Spotlight | Genieva’s Book Blog
3-02-14 | REVIEW & Author top 10 | Becca Anne’s Book Reviews
3-03-14 | REVIEW & This OR That with Moss | Paranormal Book Club
3-04-14 | REVIEW & Guest Post | Alina Popescu Writes
3-04-14 | REVIEW & Interview | Inkspelled Faery

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