Shared Post: Story Hospital on Developing Your Writing Voice

Voice is a skill to be developed, like any other writing skill. Give yourself permission to stretch it and challenge it and expand it and enhance it.

via #82: Getting Bored of Your Own Writing Voice — Story Hospital

(Hi all, I’ve been swamped with work for the past week or so and it’s not letting up any time soon, unfortunately. In lieu of one of my own posts, I’d like to share a Story Hospital post that I really enjoyed reading and that taught me a few things. Hope all of you have a great week! – Cinnia)


Five Overused Things in Romance Novels

(Written partly because I finally had the opportunity to read a good romantic story last week and was pleasantly surprised when none of these common things cropped up)

  1. Describing a male love interest as an “Adonis” or “Greek God”
    I mean, first of all, this is a lazy way to avoid describing how someone looks. I get that description isn’t easy for every writer to do, but this one thing is incredibly overused and relatively easy to cut out of the writing during the editing process. Unless the person is literally a Greek God, and even if they are, maybe try to find a photo or drawn reference for the character’s features and use that when describing them.
  2. Lest the previous point give the wrong impression, this does NOT mean waxing poetic about a character’s hair, eyes, and the outfit they’re wearing (down to their shoelaces) for several paragraphs.
    I mean many of us are probably guilty of staring at a crush for too long, but infodumping details on a reader is going to bore them to tears and they’re much more likely to skim the material than remember it.
    When introducing a character, try to space out the descriptive details a bit and work them into other parts of the story rather than when the reader first meets them. Look up one of the many writing guides on describing characters to see more detailed ideas on how to do this.
    Also, please, please, please don’t keep repeating someone’s eye/hair/skin color several times unless it’s 100% relevant to the plot. I promise, the reader got it the first or second time.
  3. Snooping on the love interest while they’re bathing/swimming/etc. and ogling their body in full detail
    For a while, I hoped this creepy trope had died out by the mid-2000s, but then I saw it in works published in 2015 onwards (happening to both male and female characters) so, no, it has yet to be killed with fire. Blech.
    First of all, I don’t care if a character is super attracted to their love interest: Creeping on them during a private moment kills the romantic vibe because it violates consent between the characters. How is the reader supposed to trust that consent won’t be violated in other ways?
    In other words, if the love interest doesn’t consent to voyeuristic observation, don’t include it in the story to show attraction because it quite frankly isn’t.
  4. Once they do get close to becoming or have become a couple, protectiveness =/= possessiveness.
    I kinda feel like there must be some confusion on the part of some writers between the two characteristics, but they are NOT the same. Also, the latter one is a big red flag of toxic relationships, not healthy ones.
    Some protective characteristics: supports partner through crises, helps them if they are at risk of harm, knows when to express concern and offer help but (most importantly) knows when to back off and let their partner do things without their involvement.
    Some possessive characteristics: knowing (and following) their partner’s every move, threatening to harm their partner or another person if the other person even makes prolonged flirtatious eye contact with their partner, and refusing to back off when their partner wants to handle a problem on their own.
  5. Treating romance as a magical band-aid for other personal problems
    Okay, here’s a typical romantic plot I’ve seen: Girl meets Boy. Boy has mental health problems. Girl and Boy fall in love. Boy’s mental health problems magically disappear from the story.
    Admittedly, I picked the more sexist version of this trope a la “my love can fix him” but it’s unfortunately common. I think mostly why it crops up so much is because a) some writers might wish it really was that easy to fix mental illnesses and b) a failure to consider characters’ lives outside of their relationships.
    Point being: Love is not a magic fix. If someone is dealing with serious problems at the beginning of a story, then they need to continue to deal with it after they have a partner, just like in real life, healthy relationships. Otherwise, the problem in the story just feels like a gimmick thrown in there to add angst, which does a disservice to readers who want to read about characters who struggle with similar problems.

(Crosspost from my other writing blog)

Image credit: Alejandro Avila

Figures of Speech Writing Challenge

(Based on The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth)

Here’s something Forsyth inspired me to make to experiment with style and see what to add or remove from my writing toolbox.

For each of the figures of speech, try writing a few sentences (or more) using it. If you have the book, that’ll be handy since it has many examples of each type to get you thinking. Otherwise, a browser search plus the book’s Wikipedia page will be handy. Try not to focus on writing the best possible responses as much as practicing it and getting a feel for how it sounds in your writing. Good luck!

  1. Alliteration
  2. Polyptoton
  3. Antithesis
  4. Merism
  5. Blazon
  6. Synesthesia
  7. Aposiopesis
  8. Hyperbaton
  9. Anadiplosis
  10. Periodic sentences
  11. Hypotaxis and Parataxis
  12. Diacope
  13. Rhetorical Questions
  14. Hendiadys
  15. Epistrophe
  16. Tricolon
  17. Epizeuxis
  18. Syllepsis
  19. Isocolon
  20. Enallage
  21. Versification
  22. Zeugma
  23. Paradox
  24. Chiasmus
  25. Assonance
  26. The Fourteenth Rule
  27. Catachresis
  28. Litotes
  29. Metonymy and Synecdoche
  30. Transferred Epithets
  31. Pleonasm
  32. Epanalepsis
  33. Personification
  34. Hyperbole
  35. Adynaton
  36. Prolepsis
  37. Congeries
  38. Scesis Onomaton
  39. Anaphora

(Cross-posted from my other writing-focused blog)

Image credit: Pexels

On Original Fantasy Worlds

Or, Questions to Ask When Worldbuilding

As a reader, reviewer, and a writer of fantasy, one of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that writers tend to get hung up on the worldbuilding, especially for high fantasy. It’s also curious that there appears to be a running assumption that writers must base their high fantasy culture(s) on Earth-based cultures, even if they do take a leaf from Dungeons & Dragons and Tolkien now and again.

I mean, they’re certainly welcome to do so. IMHO, drawing on inspiration from real places and people is not so different from fanfiction writers who create transformative works from an original source as well. Both have the bonus of including lots of curated wiki articles and books and experts to create a base for the writer’s worldbuilding to grow from.

On the other hand, what if writers don’t want to do that and want to create everything from scratch? Well, that’s certainly a more difficult route to follow when writing high fantasy, but not impossible. However, it will require a lot more work and careful thinking on the writer’s part when worldbuilding and editing because they must create the earth and grow the seeds of the stories all by themselves.

Additionally, this style of worldbuilding does not mean writers can avoid research or engaging careful critiquers or sensitivity readers when they are preparing to publish their novels. The style may have changed, but basic building blocks of all writers remain the same.

Here are a few questions to get fantasy writers thinking:

  • What are the basic needs of the characters? 
    • Do they need water and oxygen, like so many usual fantasy characters?
    • Or do they survive in some other way?
    • e.g. imagine a species that could survive living near a submarine volcano or on an ice planet
  • What languages are spoken?
    • How does their structure influence other aspects of the world, such as the lingua franca, character’s names, colloquial expressions, and history?
    • e.g. agglutinative (Korean, Quechua, Turkish) vs fusional languages (Spanish, Pashto, Russian) or something completely different
    • Note how all of these examples are very different as well, which might help with creating languages that aren’t essentially word-for-word codes of English or some other European language
  • What plants and animals (including insects) might be available as resources for food, clothing, etc.? 
    • It’s not high fantasy, but consider how the planets of Star Wars are so different with respect to this. Lots of unique species and fashion styles are what makes them so memorable.
  • How would the world’s politics work?
    • Do they even conceptualize politics the same way we do? 
    • Another way of asking this: Who leads? Who has power? How does context and conflict influence that?
  • When creating an entirely new species, also think about how relationships and communities might work.
    • Is the species solitary or community-based?
    • Do they welcome outsiders and ideas from outsiders or do they stay isolated and focus on preserving their culture(s)?
    • Are they nomadic or fixed? Maybe something in between?
    • What things and ideas do they value?
    • Do people stay together to raise their offspring (e.g. like marriage)?
    • Do they even have offspring?

Anyway, just some things to prod the brain to think differently for a little bit.

As always, good luck with your worldbuilding and writing!

(Crossposted from my other writing-focused blog)

Image credit: Pexels

Solid advice from Captain Awkward on social missteps

Dear Captain, Thank you so much for your blog! This might be banal and is probably a case of Overthinking It. But it is something that I repeatedly seem to worry about recently. Do you have any tips/guidelines on how to deal with the situation where you have said something that could be taken the […]

via #1066: “About That Awkward Thing I said earlier…” — Captain Awkward

(Happy new year, y’all! I’m still not entirely back to regularly blogging since I have yet to build up a backlog of scheduled posts. However, this particular advice post from Captain Awkward spoke to me a lot and I thought I’d share. – Cinnia)

#71: You Are Allowed to Write Outside Your Own Experience — Story Hospital

The question is how to go about writing characters who aren’t like you, not whether you are allowed to.

via #71: You Are Allowed to Write Outside Your Own Experience — Story Hospital

(Hey y’all, I’m bogged down with Life Stuff at the moment and don’t really have the energy to write an original post at the moment, so I thought I might share another Story Hospital response about a subject that’s very important to me as a writer. Hope you find it useful and insightful!)

Story Hospital on NaNoWriMo and First Drafts

Looking like a finished work isn’t what a first draft is for. It’s a tool to help you tell the story.

via NaNoWriMo: Why “Bad” First Drafts Are Great — Story Hospital

(I thought I’d share a link to this post now that we’re closer to the end of the month. It has many good pointers about not being disappointed in the first draft of a story. It also applies to the first drafts of many types of writing in general. Best of luck with everything this week! – Cinnia)

Stages of Making Empanadas for the First Time

Stage 1: “Oh wow, look at this quick recipe for empanada dough. It looks so easy!”

Stage 2: “Crap, I don’t have a food processor or a or a pastry cutter or a rolling pin. Well, I can just make do, right?”

Stage 3: “Get into little tiny pieces, you f*cking stick of butter. No, stop sticking to the fork. STOP. Argh!”

Stage 4: “Why is it so dry? I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to look like sand.”

Stage 5: “Okay, after adding copious amounts of water, the dough is made and now I need to let it chill for a bit I guess?”

Stage 6: “F*ck I let it chill for too long and now it’s hard as a rock. Now it’s gotta thaw!”

Stage 7: “It’s thawed and now I just realized that I’m gonna have to break it up into little pieces since my impromptu roller a la wine bottle can’t handle all of the dough.”

Stage 8: “Oh, cute little circles! I’m getting so close to finishing even though my hands feel like crap from all of the mixing and rolling.”

Stage 9: “‘Add shredded chicken and cheese.’ F*ck. I forgot about that.”

Stage 10: “Why won’t these damn empanada edges seal? Stop spilling open. Staaahp.”

Stage 11: “Look at all these cute hand pies I finally have. And it’s only 1:30 AM!”

Stage 12: “Well, time to freeze them and go to bed so that I don’t have to reflect too closely on my poor life choices!”

Inspired by a real-life experience in which Cinnia traded 5 hours of her life to make 25 empanadas because she didn’t think things through very well and forgot to follow the rule of “mise en place” before attempting anything.

Note: The picture is not mine; I got it from here. Believe you me, you don’t wanna know what mine looked like, but definitely not this nice!

Best things of 2016

Tonight starts the final countdown to this long and complex and difficult year, but instead of adding to the general negativity, I thought I’d reflect on the good things that have happened to me.

I don’t intend to diminish the bad things that have happened to people, but I do want to ring in 2017 by celebrating what made this past year a little brighter. If you have something of your own to celebrate or if you want someone to talk to about 2016, feel free to leave a comment below.

  1. I got into my professional program of choice. This was by far the greatest thing that has happened to me in a long time because it meant the years of work and choices all the way back to when I was a wee one finally meant something tangible. I still have a long way to go before I start, but I am so happy that I can pursue a career I love.
  2. My family got a puppy! (Picture included below as a gift to my followers.) It was exhausting at first since she was much like a needy newborn for a month or so, but she’s been the light of all of our lives since then. I can’t imagine my family without her anymore; she is a blessing and a joy.
  3. I started reading more books again. Maybe that would sound strange to some people who know me as an insatiable bookworm, but I stopped really reading books, even those useful for classes, for about a year and a half or so. I read maybe one or two at most during that time when normally I’d read at least one a week. Something clicked this past summer and I started to read books for fun instead of viewing them as a chore or something not worth the time investment. I’ve enjoyed so many books since then. It’s made me a better reader, writer, and thinker these past few months.
  4. I finally sought out a therapist when I really needed help instead of pretending I could continue to fight on my own. Without going into too many details, having a therapist has helped me because I had an objective outsider advising me on my behaviors and mental health. It made all the difference for my motivation. (It also helped me to see that I am very much an unreliable narrator of my own life, something I will try to work on in the future.)
  5. Through a combination of seeking out support groups and different communities, I have realized and accepted some important things about myself and others. I enjoyed the countless stories, the great entertainment, developing friendships, attending events, and feeling more comfortable in my own skin.

As for 2017, I intend to keep working on myself and to try to be a source of support and lightness in others’ lives. I want to be more comfortable with both accepting and giving. I want to read more books, listen to great music, rock the dance floor, walk the dog, and enter my career program with a spectacular start.

I wish all of you strength, happiness, and good health in 2017 as well.


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Thoughts on Skating and Failure

I grew up in the Southwest, so ice skating is still a bit of a novelty for me. Out there, you could rollerblade or skateboard, but winter sports were out of the question unless you had enough money to travel.

On the other hand, I’ve always had a soft spot for winter sports, dating all the way back to when I first tuned into the Winter Olympics on our family’s fuzzy television (Salt Lake City, 2002).

It wasn’t until I got the chance to try winter sports for myself that I realized how strongly I loved it. I love feeling the cold chill in the air and being bundled up against it in a much-too-bright athletic jacket and gloves. I love that feeling of my feet flying beneath me across the ice or the snow. I love arriving indoors, breathless and rosy-cheeked, and brewing a cup of tea or coffee or cocoa after a long workout. I’m not great, but I look forward to all of my little wintertime adventures as the days grow colder.

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