How Advice from a Chess Grandmaster Can Transform Your Writing

One of my favorite classes that I took at a homeschool co-op during high school was a chess class taught by a local grandmaster. I learned many different chess openings, position tactics, and endgame tactics, all of which improved my chess strategy.

One day the grandmaster was explaining a game he won against another high-ranking chess player. He pointed out that one move in particular was important because it served multiple purposes. His words stuck with me:chessmasterpost

“In chess, a mediocre move only does one thing. A good move does two things at once. But a great move does three things at once.”

This advice not only changed how I play chess, it transformed the way I write.

Pinned by the Single-Minded Approach

Often, when we begin writing a scene, we want to accomplish one specific goal—to have a character explain a massive plot twist or the villain enact a stage of his evil plan. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf started reading when he was four, started writing fiction when he was six and hasn’t stopped doing either ever since. After growing up with seven younger siblings, he eventually found himself graduated and attending Patrick Henry College, where he plans on majoring in literature with a minor in pedagogy (it’s a fancy Greek word for education).
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels that have worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as fun as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. Plans for obtaining those impossible goals include listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer, ignoring college work so that he can find time to write, and avoiding coffee at all costs.

Creating a NaNo Outline When It’s Already November

Early October came and went and you said you had a month to prepare.

Mid-October came and went and you said you had two weeks to write a short outline.

The end of October came and went, and now you’re here in November with no outline, no plot line, and a looming deadline.nanooutlinepost

Take heart! Not all is lost. Most stories are about someone trying to gain or accomplish an objective that someone else doesn’t want to happen. That means your story only needs three elements to be a success: a hero, a villain, and a goal.

All right, let’s get to it. You have precious little time to waste writing yourself into and out of corners, plot holes, and poorly developed story worlds. You need an outline. But it doesn’t have to be super detailed—just a rough map that will guide you from word one to word fifty thousand. And that’s exactly what we’re going to figure out. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Brandon Miller
Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.

Three Types of Foreshadowing

There are three kinds of foreshadowing. There’s covert foreshadowing, where the shadow doesn’t appear clearly until the light of past events illuminates the hidden clues. There’s overt foreshadowing, which streams before the event, giving hints but veiling the true shape of what will occur. Then there’s event foreshadowing, spreading the scenario like multiple faint shadows from the vashta nerada in Doctor Who.foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is, put simply, a warning or indication of a future event. 

1.  Covert Foreshadowing

Covert foreshadowing happens when the possibility of an event is hinted at enough that the result doesn’t feel like a sudden shift in the story. If an aunt is going to turn out to be an undercover agent in the climax of a story, brief mentions of her skills or quirks throughout the book is a great way to foreshadow her reveal. Readers probably won’t realize the meaning of the clues until they’ve reached the end, but once they know the truth they will wonder how they didn’t figure it out. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Hope Ann
Hope Ann is a Christian wordsmith, avid reader, and dedicated authoress. Her time is taken up with writing, reading, archery, knife throwing, playing with inspirational photos, helping care for the house and eight younger siblings, and generally enjoying the adventures of life on a small farm at the crossroads of America. She has self-published fairy tale retellings on Amazon and is currently working on several projects including a fantasy novel and futuristic trilogy. You can find out more about Hope and her work on her website as well as links to download her first Legends of Light novella for free!

Writing Synopses

By Anastasia McTague

Lots of young writers have had to tangle, at some point or another, with the terrible synopsis—a means of distilling the entirety of a story into a few intriguing sentences that quickly and easily explain the plot. If you haven’t yet had to write a synopsis, you’ll likely need to do so in the future. Due to the size of many stories, condensing them into a few catchy lines is often frustrating. Hopefully the method outlined in this article will help shed some light on the synopsespostsubject, and take some of the frustration out of the activity. I call it the Expounding Method, because there are surely other ways to write a synopsis, and you shouldn’t feel limited to doing it this way. It’s just an option and a place to start.

The first step is to boil down the plot to one line.

What is the most important, most basic aspect of the plot? Who are the primary characters? What do they need to do, and how do they go about trying to do it? Play around until you get a sentence that sums up the gist of your story. As an example, let’s say the one-liner is:

A group of ancient warriors destroy Lian’s village and he sets out to stop the killing.
[Read more…]

Are Cliches to be Avoided?

Clichés abound in movies and books. The dashing prince rescuing the helpless princess. The mentor dying and his student going on to save the world. The villain dressed in a long black cape with a pet snake on a staff. In an effort to create fresh stories, writers – and even some films nowadays – are turning old clichés on their heads to rework the story. But should clichés be avoided like the plague or can they help a writer? clicheshopeann

A cliché, by definition, is anything which has become trite or commonplace through overuse. These can be phrases, such as ‘right as rain’ or ‘red as a cherry’. They can also be a mold fitted about a character, such as the carefree friend or the grim mentor. And, of course, there are cliché scenes: a handsome young man glimpsing a beautiful lady across a courtyard and falling desperately in love. The mentor dying. The villain telling the captured hero all his plans…

Some are a bit sickening, like falling in love at first sight. Or they can be lazy, like the villains laying out the details of their evil plots. (Don’t be offended if you have one of these scenes in your book. I’ve had them too and I’ll touch on this cliché again in a minute.) But many clichés have remained popular because they work. People connect with them or enjoy them. Who doesn’t thrill over the heroic rescue or ache for the main character as his mentor dies saving him? (Well, mentors do die a bit too often, so the emotional impact is beginning to fail. Again, more on that in a moment.) [Read more…]

Profile photo of Hope Ann
Hope Ann is a Christian wordsmith, avid reader, and dedicated authoress. Her time is taken up with writing, reading, archery, knife throwing, playing with inspirational photos, helping care for the house and eight younger siblings, and generally enjoying the adventures of life on a small farm at the crossroads of America. She has self-published fairy tale retellings on Amazon and is currently working on several projects including a fantasy novel and futuristic trilogy. You can find out more about Hope and her work on her website as well as links to download her first Legends of Light novella for free!

The Bildungsroman: What It Is and How to Write One

The transition from childhood to adulthood is an important transition that everyone has to make.  So it shouldn’t be too surprising to find that this transition is a common motif in literary works.  Coming of age stories are staples among children and YA literature, but all of this may raise some questions.  What exactly makes a story a coming of age story?  Does a character just need to be at a certain age, or does a story need certain elements to qualify?  And how do you write a coming of age novel?  This is potentially a large topic, but in this article, I’ll try to sketch out the basic elements of a coming of age novel and then examine how to do one well.  bildungsromanpost

In the literary field, a coming of age novel is often known by the German term, bildungsroman, which means a novel of formation, education, or culture.  This is an important element of the coming-of-age novel to understand:

“The story often represents a time of formation where the protagonist has to figure out who he is and where his place is in the world.  At the beginning of the book, the protagonist often has a lot of potential, but lacks refinement and solidarity of character—something he’s going to have to gain by the story’s end.”

Many times, this bildungsroman will have a plot resembling the hero’s journey.  Unpacking what all the hero’s journey looks like would take longer than I have space for in this article, but if you’re unfamiliar with the term, this video does a pretty good job of showing what the stereotypical hero’s journey looks like:

Essentially, the young protagonist is sent out on some sort of mission in order to save the community he grew up in and, in the process of doing so, end up discovering himself as well. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf started reading when he was four, started writing fiction when he was six and hasn’t stopped doing either ever since. After growing up with seven younger siblings, he eventually found himself graduated and attending Patrick Henry College, where he plans on majoring in literature with a minor in pedagogy (it’s a fancy Greek word for education).
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels that have worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as fun as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. Plans for obtaining those impossible goals include listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer, ignoring college work so that he can find time to write, and avoiding coffee at all costs.

8 Common Cliches of Coming-of-Age Stories

There is a theme which abounds across a number of genres. One in which young men are torn from their farms and thrust into events which will change the course of an age,  young women rise up to fulfill prophecies, and youths are thrown into conflicts where they must fight for their very survival. The settings and characters change, but in each story a once young and immature man or woman is thrown into circumstances which forever alter their lives and thrust them into adulthood. commoncliches

The lines around a coming-of-age story are a bit vague. In them, the main character begins as a youth and reaches adulthood by the end. This can either be the focus of the book or, as in some of my works in progress, merely a result of the character development throughout the story. But, however it’s written, the meaning of adulthood ought to be clearly depicted, not fictionalized as some modern books portray.

Coming-of-age stories are only as compelling and gripping as the plot, characters, and emotions inside it. Though the focus of this article will be on the latter two points, the first one is important because it is the structure around which the character grows. Really, ‘coming-of-age’ is only a sub-theme of the greater character development which should take place throughout any book. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Hope Ann
Hope Ann is a Christian wordsmith, avid reader, and dedicated authoress. Her time is taken up with writing, reading, archery, knife throwing, playing with inspirational photos, helping care for the house and eight younger siblings, and generally enjoying the adventures of life on a small farm at the crossroads of America. She has self-published fairy tale retellings on Amazon and is currently working on several projects including a fantasy novel and futuristic trilogy. You can find out more about Hope and her work on her website as well as links to download her first Legends of Light novella for free!

10 Romance Cliches to Boycott

Romance. Generally, a genre I choose to steer clear of. Always. Which can occasionally put me in an awkward situation. Being a girl and all. I am just more of an action girl. It has always been my favorite. But I hear the word ‘romance’ and wince.  I have nothing against those who love writing romance fiction; it is simply not my strong point. (Believe me, I tried. Don’t ask about it. It was ugly.)romaticclichespost

Besides all this, I do appreciate some romance fiction; properly executed, I really love it. My favorite romance author is Francine Rivers. She is fantastic with the unexpected. I never know what direction the story is going to take, she keeps me guessing the whole time. I highly recommend her Mark of the Lion series.

Part of the reason I dislike a lot of romance is because of the way many writers handle it. So, I have compiled a little list of clichés and pitfalls in romance fiction. A lot of these I learned from experience when I attempted a romance.

1. Perfect guy falls for boring girl

The biggest cliche of all romance fiction. I am guilty of using this method in one of my stories. The nobody girl, struggling in life, not confident with her body, meets the hot, handsome, and successful guy who magically has interest in her over tons of other hot girls. Practically everyone has had this idea roll through their head while considering romance in a story. It’s pretty typical. Awfully typical. This ties in with my next point.

2. The perfect guy

This one is the worst. It is all over the place. The guy has the absolute perfect body, great career path, and is fantastic at everything. But then, sometimes you have the counterpart, which can be equally annoying. [Read more…]

Three Things You Need in Your Climax

The climax.

That point which should be the tensest, most enthralling portion of the book.  Done well, a climax can be simply stupendous.  However, there are also few things in writing that are as bad as a climax done poorly. 3thingsclimaxpost

As one example, there was a series that I was reading a couple years ago that had a ton of promising potential.  It had great characters, gave an amazingly-executed theme, had a thrilling setting, and was explicitly Christian without falling into any of the traps that Christian fiction can have a tendency to fall into.  The first book was stellar and was my favorite novel that I read that year.

But then I came to the second book, which, while it maintained much of the momentum from the first book, failed to have a climax.  It merely set up the last book and thus lacked any real type of conclusion.

I still think the first book is excellent, and still want to finish the series sometime.  But I finished the second book two years ago.  And I haven’t brought myself to read the last book of the series since then.  Despite everything that the series had going for it, it had a distinct lack of a climax.  And that lack killed everything else going on in the series.

Obviously, this isn’t the type of reaction that you want to get from the readers of your book.  While on the outset, the climax may seem rather simple—it’s where everything gets resolved after all—it can often be trickier to execute than it seems on first glance.

“And given how devastating a poor climax can be to an otherwise good book, a lot rides on the success of a climax, so it’s a part of your story that needs to be planned very carefully.”  

There’s a lot that could be said about a novel’s climax—after all, it’s a big topic.  However, as I’ve been thinking of the climax, there are three basic things that every climax ought to have.  Or, rather, three balances.  Let’s look at each of them in turn. [Read more…]

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf started reading when he was four, started writing fiction when he was six and hasn’t stopped doing either ever since. After growing up with seven younger siblings, he eventually found himself graduated and attending Patrick Henry College, where he plans on majoring in literature with a minor in pedagogy (it’s a fancy Greek word for education).
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels that have worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as fun as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. Plans for obtaining those impossible goals include listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer, ignoring college work so that he can find time to write, and avoiding coffee at all costs.

Keystone of The Matter: How to Execute Your Climax

Every element in the construction of a story is important.

The beginning catches the reader, the middle makes them care, and the conclusion satisfies. But the climax…the climax is the keystone of the whole arc. It’s the point which the whole story has been leading to, the turning where success is finally grasped, and the event from which the rest of the character’s life will lead away.keystonepost

And it needs to be done well or the rest of the story, even if it’s well written and intriguing, turns out at bit of a disappointment.

Viewed another way, if the beginning of the story is the foundation of a building, and the middle is the walls, then the climax is the roof…without which you have no house. It is the culminating event in a long chain, during which the main character must finally put to use all he’s learned during the book against overwhelming odds.

The best climaxes will tie together both internal and external struggles.

Regardless of your theme, the internal struggle, be it gathering courage, granting forgiveness, learning sacrifice, etc., is usually solved before the external struggle; [Read more…]

Profile photo of Hope Ann
Hope Ann is a Christian wordsmith, avid reader, and dedicated authoress. Her time is taken up with writing, reading, archery, knife throwing, playing with inspirational photos, helping care for the house and eight younger siblings, and generally enjoying the adventures of life on a small farm at the crossroads of America. She has self-published fairy tale retellings on Amazon and is currently working on several projects including a fantasy novel and futuristic trilogy. You can find out more about Hope and her work on her website as well as links to download her first Legends of Light novella for free!