How to Grow Your New Blog

Published October 3, 2016 by nruhwald

My blog has officially been in existence for six months. Yay! It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve managed to slightly exceed my goal of ten new followers a month. Here’s what I’ve learned about blogging.

Make It Easy…

…for your readers. Sorry, blogging isn’t easy. Well, it’s not super hard either, but it’s not easy.

Your blog should be designed to make everything you want your readers to do as easy as possible. Basically, you want your readers to get to know you, read your material, and then share your material. The easier it is for people to do these things, the more likely they are to actually do them. So…

Tell your readers who you are and what kind of blog you’re running. Right away. Your readers should be able to tell what niche your blog falls into the instant they land on your blog. Your About Me page should be easy to get to, one click max. And you can also have a mini About Me section on your home page with a text widget.

And regarding home pages, unless you’re trying to convert your blog into a website that happens to have a blog, I don’t think you should have a static home page. Which leads me to the next point.

You should make it as easy as possible for someone landing on your blog to start reading your content. I like blogs I can start reading without having to click on something first. No static home page, no read more thingee.

Depending on what kind of blog you have, though, a “read more” tag may be right for you. But I don’t think you should present your readers with something other than a blog post upon reaching your site.

“Read More” things are good for one reason, however, they allow readers to access your content library, and makes it easy for your readers to tell what you write about. I use a “top posts” list for the same purpose.

After someone has read your material, you want to make it easy for them to like, comment, and share with as little clicking as possible. Everything should just be out in the open and available. I would also suggest you not make it necessary for readers to input their email etc before they comment. This will scare off some people, just for the nuisance factor. Or they may not want to give you their information. Then you lose the chance to connect with your readers. That’s bad.

Community is your friend

The other bloggers are not your competition. For now, they will be your primary audience. Further down the road, partnering with other bloggers will allow you to increase your reach. Guest posts and whatnot.

Reblogs are similar to guest posts, but they are a bit more one-sided. From what I can tell, a reblog has limited capacity to lure the audience of the blogger you are reblogging onto your site. However, you will earn huge brownie points with said blogger, which are also valuable. They will definitely notice you, and may be more likely to return the favor.

Surprisingly enough, the best way I’ve found to generate interest in my blog is to behave like a rational human being. Be social.

Read other people’s blogs, “like” posts, and comment. Improving someone else’s stats won’t hurt you. A great way to generate interest in your blog is by showing interest in someone else’s blog. When someone goes through my blog and “likes” every post they come across, I think: “wow, this person obviously has great taste. I wonder what their blog is like?”

I’ll definitely visit them. If I like their stuff, I’ll “like” and perhaps comment. I may even follow them. Plus it’s really interesting to read what other people write.

Proofread

I cannot say it enough. Proofread a million times. Especially if you have a writing blog, you must prove you can write before anyone will take your work seriously. You want to be taken seriously.

What tips would you give to new bloggers for growing their blog?

 

 

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We are Peculiar People

Published September 25, 2016 by nruhwald

pretendI don’t normally participate in the daily prompt, I prefer to write about what I planned to write about. I suppose one could tailor the post to fit, but that seems so contrived somehow.

Fortunately, this week I didn’t really know what I wanted to write about. Fortunately, daily prompt came to my rescue. This prompt is perfect because so much of my life has been about pretending.

As a child I spent much of my time in a pretend world, I suppose that’s why writing novels, especially fantasy, came so naturally. Not the technique of writing a novel properly, but the creative process.

Even now, I may not be daydreaming all the time (though I often am), but much of my life is pretend. I pretend I know what people mean. I pretend I didn’t hear what someone said across the hall from me. I pretend I really want to write a blog post on the one day I reserve as a homework-free zone. I pretend I’m absorbed with whatever I’m listening to on my Ipod, and not listening and watching out of the corner of my eye.

That may sound a bit creepy, but we writers are observers. How can we replicate life if we do not observe it?

Besides, as Patrick Hood is fond of pointing out “it’s not eavesdropping if I can’t help it.”

It is only in observing other people that we realize that everyone is pretending. Pretending they’re really listening, pretending to pay attention in class, pretending everything’s okay. Sometimes, you also find out they’ve been watching you, too.

Pretending is necessary to the writer’s craft. Writers must know how to pretend, or else I suppose just write non-fiction.

But everyone pretends. Everyone sees that other people are pretending, at least if they care enough to look.

We are peculiar people.

via Daily Prompt: Pretend

Welcome to Desylvar

Published September 19, 2016 by nruhwald

Watch your step, though. It can get weird in here.

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This the first in a series of posts about the world I have constructed for my novels: Desylvar. It seems appropriate that I begin at the beginning, and present you with Desylvar at its most basic level, as everything else about Desylvar is based on this foundation.

Later on, I will tell you about how faerie society works. Personally, I don’t find humans as interesting, but I may write some about them, too. Today, I’m going to tell you about what I believe is the most important question a story-world can answer.

What separates the bad guys from the good guys?

Desylvar is not an “us” versus “them” world. In too many stories, the good guys wear white hats (metaphorically) and the bad guys wear black hats, and everyone lies, kills, and sometimes even tortures in order to get their way. The good guys are not good, they are simply better, or not as bad, as the bad guys.

However, Desylvar is based on moral and spiritual laws (you could call them laws of magic if you like) which apply to everyone as impartially as the law of gravity.

Even if an antagonist in Desylvar were never confronted by a protagonist, that antagonist would eventually suffer personal destruction as surely as if they had injected themselves with a virus. If a protagonist steps over the line, even unknowingly, there are consequences.

Neither are protagonists at a disadvantage because they choose to adhere to these spiritual laws. Those who choose evil often believe they have chosen freedom and power, but this is an illusion. If a human on Desylvar chooses to utilize the power of evil faeries, for a time they may experience great power, and believe they are free to do as they like. Eventually, though, they come to realize they were simply being used themselves, with no greater freedom than a slave.

The protagonists may not personally possess great power, but neither do the antagonists. The protagonists owe their allegiance to someone else with great power, but unlike evil faeries this master does not seek their destruction.

The protagonists are the protagonists because they are in alliance with the one who created those spiritual laws in the first place. The Seelie faeries call this person Eloheim. I’ve borrowed the Hebrew word for God here. So long as said protagonists continue to abide by the spiritual laws (the equivalent of not jumping off a cliff) they are protected. Nothing the Unseelie do can touch them.

This is the most abstract of the posts I’ll be writing about Desylvar, but I think it is also the most important. Some time ago I read a post by a blogger I respect (whose name escapes me), which said that only an experienced writer should attempt to write an allegory in the fantasy genre. Too late.

I don’t think I could write something without expressing myself in it. Although I have discovered how difficult writing an allegory is, I think I have some pretty great teachers in the novelists I read.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, date TBD, on faerie-circles.

 

Stumped by Stress

Published September 11, 2016 by nruhwald

beach-1085999_640For many of us, the beginning of September brings with it the beginning of a new school year, and whole boatload of stress. Today I’d like to talk about what effect that stress can have on your writing.

For me, stress tends to bring my writing output to a screeching halt, or something very much like it. The first week of school is not a good writing week.

How do you deal with that? Gaps in writing output are bad, right?

I have heard some experienced writers say that, with practice, it is possible to harness whatever emotions you’re experiencing and channel them into productive writing. Needless to say, I have not yet achieved that state of emotion-harnessing. There’s the odd time I escape into my writing just to get a break from whatever is going on, but most of the time I retreat into something less demanding.

Writing has its own stresses, and can be both emotionally and mentally taxing. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, trying to write, particularly trying to write well, may be next to impossible.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? If you don’t deal with the stress and stay in that non-writing place for an extended period of time, yes. But taking a break from your project for a while can actually be good for both you and the project.

Sometimes ideas just need some time to simmer.

This last week, I did no writing at all. But I realized that I had telegraphed a particular event in my novel instead of foreshadowing it.

For those of you who don’t know, telegraphing is essentially being too obvious. Foreshadowing should just be a hint, I pretty much told the reader exactly what was going to happen later. That’s bad.

So if you find yourself stumped by stress, whether because of the start of school or another reason, don’t freak out about it. Maybe a little break to recharge while you ride out the storm is just what your story needs. Just make sure to come back as soon as possible.

via Daily Prompt: Stump

Meet Winnowna

Published September 4, 2016 by nruhwald

Hello everyone. This month I would like to introduce you to my female protagonist, Princess Winnowna Illusia, who I’ve recently discovered whilst doing research for my post on plot points is actually my MC. Originally I had written her as a supporting sub-MC to Patrick Hood, but what do you know? Characters do what they want.

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“What is this?” Matilda said severely. “The princess will be announced at any moment.”

Princess Winnowna winced at yet another tug on her hair, trying to catch a glimpse of Matilda through the swarm of maids hovering around her like bees tending to their queen. “It is the collar. Ouch. It keeps catching my curls.”

The maids worked quickly, disentangling the raven locks dangling from Winnowna’s intricate hairstyle, all the while leaning over the voluminous skirt of her dress to avoid marring the jewel-studded silk.

The magnificent costume was her duty to wear, but Winnowna feared she would never be equal to it. The gown seemed to swallow her whole, while the collar snatched at her hair like a pack of malicious pixies.

Winnowna forced a smile when the last curl was free of the ornate metal collar rising up from the shoulders of her gown. “There. Is my tiara straight?”

Matilda tilted her head, studying the ornament. “Yes, Your Highness.”

The trumpets blasted outside, and the herald’s voice echoed in the courtyard. “Her Royal Highness, Princess Winnowna Illusia of the Kingdom of North Caladavan.”

The princess stiffened, but raised her chin and prepared to walk out onto the balcony. Soon the memorial ceremony would be over, and she could again try to pretend the sacrifices never happened.

Matilda hurried behind Winnowna and took up her train. Winnowna walked through the gauzy curtains onto the balcony, followed by Matilda and the rest of her courtiers. The crowd in the courtyard below shouted and cheered.

Winnowna smiled and waved to her people. Matilda settled the train on the smooth marble balcony and took her place at Winnowna’s side.

“Goodness,” said Winnowna. “One would almost think they were pleased to see me.”

“Your people love you, Highness,” said Matilda.

Winnowna looked up at the adjacent balcony, where her father and mother stood in attire yet more regal and extravagant than her own. A rare sight, to see them together. In all her life the king and queen had not spent more than a few days per year in each other’s company.

A somber hush fell over the crowd as the dracona majora, chief sorcerer of the Inner Circle, ascended to the top of the podium in the courtyard below, flanked by two acolytes.

Winnowna’s fingernails dug into her palms. The dark-clad figures of the Inner Circle haunted her gilded youth and childhood, an ever-present reminder of the sacrifices plaguing her land, and of the possibility that her turn might one day come.

Sometimes she dreamed of banishing them all when she became queen, but she knew better. The Inner Circle held great power, given to them by the Great Dragon and its servants. No one dared cross them in all of Caladavan’s history, nor was such a thing likely ever to happen. Winnowna did not pray to the Great Dragon as some did, but she knew its power was inexorable.

“People of Caladavan,” the dracona majora’s voice echoed in the crisp autumn air. “Today we gather to remember our lost royalty. The blood-children, sent by the will of the Great Dragon into the terrible waters of the gulf, and there murdered by the monstrous strangeling Captain Harbinger.”

Strangelings, part human and part faerie, were another of Caladavan’s plagues. Fortunately there were but few of them on the mainland now, though there were monsters and full-blooded faeries enough to make up for it.

The dracona majora continued, “On this day, as we remember the blood-children, it is perhaps fitting that I announce one more to be added to their number.”

An uneasy murmur arose from the crowd.

Winnowna let out a slow breath through her teeth. The last two blood-children had been from North Caladavan. Surely it must be time for someone from South Caladavan to be chosen.

“I announce with deep regret, Princess Winnowna Illusia shall have the honour of serving the Great Dragon as the blood-child.”

She grasped the balcony rail. Her blood seemed to evaporate from her body, leaving her cold and hollow. She did not know whether the shriek rending the air came from her own throat or her mother’s.

The crowd’s murmur grew into a roar of anger. The palace guards rushed in to beat back the angry people and usher the dracona majora and his acolytes to safety.

None of this was real, it couldn’t be. She was going to vomit.

Winnowna pressed cold lips together and swallowed hard. She turned and ran back inside, shrieking, “Libby! Get me out of this. Matilda, help me get this thing off.” Winnowna began pulling at her elaborate hairpiece. “Libby, where are you?”

Libby scuttled forth out of the lounge adjoining Winnowna’s dressing parlour. The lady dressed identically to Winnowna. She served as an emergency stand-in for events in which Winnowna was not expected to interact closely with the crowd. In this case, Winnowna had a different purpose in mind for Libby.

The maids worked in a frenzy. Off came the velvet sash, the cape, the jeweled netting from her skirt, the heavy metal collar. Doubtless they did not understand why Winnowna demanded they undress her, but they soon would.

“Libby, once I am gone I want you to run about the palace screaming. The rest of you must pretend to protect her. The guard shall realize their mistake as soon as they catch you, but keep away from them for as long as you can,” said Winnowna. “Matilda, if you would give me the loan of your plainest dress and a cloak.”

“But Your Highness.”

“We discussed this.”

“It was a game. This was never supposed to happen.”

“It is not a game now.”

 

Writing Fundamentals: Plot Points

Published August 28, 2016 by nruhwald

Plot-PointsWhat is a plot point?

Like scenes and the four stages of a novel (inciting incident, rising action, climax, and ending), plot points are another structural element of your story which you’ll need to keep track of.

For the writer, plot points are destinations. We write with the purpose of moving the characters towards the plot point. For the character, however, the plot point is a beginning.

A plot point happens when a character makes a decision which sets the story going in a new direction.

In questing stories, often in fantasy genres, plot points are linked to physical locations. In the Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, most plot points occur when Frodo decides to go somewhere, and he often adds or subtracts people from his group at this point as well.

  • Frodo begins the quest when he decides to take the ring and meet Gandalf at the Prancing Pony in Bree. (Adds Sam, Pippin, and Merry)
  • Frodo decides to go to Rivendell. (Adds Strider)
  • Frodo decides to take the ring to Mordor. (Adds Legolas, Gimli, Boromir, and finally meets up with Gandalf.)
  • Frodo decides to…

You get the point already.

Plot points are also a useful way of determining who your main character is. If you struggle with this question, try mapping the events of the story, and identify which events change the course of the story. Your main character is the person whose actions cause those changes.

The actions of antagonists and other characters happen between plot points and serve to push the main character into making her (or his) decision, but it will always be the main character who causes the story to change.

The Plot Point is Not…

…necessarily super dramatic

It all depends on the novel you’re writing. If the novel you’re writing is about the MC’s relationship between people and not a life and death situation, the plot point could be quite subtle.

I once read a book where the plot centered around a woman trying to gain self-confidence. In this type of book, a plot point could be as simple as a decision to take a self-defence course, or a decision not to attend an event.

The plot point has to be a big deal to the character, and must set the book on a new course. But it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as a character leaving a spouse, or taking a new job. That big of a move may very well be reserved for the climax.

…ever ever ever caused by something other than the previous events of the story.

I will talk about this more later on, so I’ll just touch on it now. It has to be the previous events of the story which push the main character into making the decision.

Otherwise, you don’t have a plot point, you have a plot ticket. Plot tickets are to plot points what an ex machina is to the climax. You don’t want a plot ticket.

…laid out neatly like a road map for the character to follow near the beginning of the book.

This is another kind of plot ticket, but this kind is worse because no changes are even being made to the course of the story. I have watched some movies in which the MC was told “you need to get these special items in order to defeat the bad guy. You will find them here, here and here. Off you go.”

I do not like those movies. Sometimes the sub-villians at each of the destinations are interesting enough to keep me watching, but they are never interesting enough to make me think of watching it again without groaning. The story still feels too amateurish.

Normally, these movies are intended for young children who do not know better. This sort of storytelling is marginally acceptable in videogames, but never in novels.

The plot point has to change the course of the novel. Ergo, the MC has to make a decision to do something s/he was not previously planning to do. The story takes a new direction, it does not simply move into the next phase of an already decided-upon plan.

…a complete shock to the reader

While the plot point is a complete change in the story’s direction, there are already forces at work pushing the character into taking the story in that new direction.

For instance, when Frodo reached Rivendell, he wasn’t planning on taking the ring any farther. However, the reader likely realizes that Frodo’s story doesn’t end at Rivendell, and might well have predicted that Frodo’s quest with the ring would continue all the way to Mordor.

 

Planners vs. Pantsers

Do you need to know what all your plot points are going to be in advance?

Short answer: no.

It is widely recognized that there are two generally categories of writers. Those who prefer to plan everything out in advance before they write, and those who do not. I’ve never truly considered myself a “pantser” (one who writes by the seat of her/his pants), because I do quite a bit of planning.

On the other hand, I can list off the top of my head, the plot points I have already written in my current WIP, and the plot point I am writing towards. I also know generally how my climax and ending are going to work. As for the rest of the plot points, I don’t have a clue. That’s not quite true, I do have a clue. But not much else.

I don’t really know how my characters are going to react when I reach my next plot point until I’m actually in the moment, so speculating on the effects of my MC’s next big decision seems like a waste of time. This is probably also why I always write chronologically.

Either way works, but for those of you of the pantser persuasion, I believe you should always write towards a plot point. This will keep your plot on track and driven by your MC.

Cousins of the Plot Point

The Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is the event that sends your character’s life in a new direction. So, in theory the inciting incident could also be considered a plot point. But it need not be, and most usually aren’t.

Unlike your climax and the inciting incident, this is the one time in your novel when something major happens which does not need to be directly caused by your MC. That said, if your inciting incident is not caused by your MC, the inciting incident will soon be followed by a plot point in which your MC decides what course to take based on the inciting incident.

Returning to the Fellowship of the Ring, the inciting incident in this story is Bilbo’s decision to run off to Rivendell and leave Frodo the ring. Soon afterwards, we have the plot point in which Frodo decides what he’s going to do about it.

However, the inciting incident can be driven by a decision made by your main character, thus making it a kind of plot point. In the newest Star Wars movie, the inciting incident is actually a decision made by one of the characters to leave his previous life. Just in case someone out there has not watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, I won’t go into any more detail.

The Dreaded Plot Ticket

Also sometimes called a plot cookie, you should avoid the plot ticket like the plague.

The plot ticket happens when a change in plot direction occurs, but it is not driven by a decision made by the MC and/or the decision is not driven by previous story events.

For instance, imagine how odd it would have been if Frodo had decided to take the ring and run off to Mordor on his own (with Sam) straight from the Prancing Pony. Weird, right? Why would Frodo do that? How does Frodo even know what he’s supposed to do with the ring? (In most plot ticket blunders, some random thing happens which lets the MC know what s/he is supposed to do. The MC gets handed a “plot ticket” essentially.)

There’s no good reason for Frodo to choose to go anywhere by himself especially given how dangerous his situation is. And beyond that, we don’t want Frodo to leave. We just got introduced to an interesting new character (Strider), and we want to find out what happened to Gandalf.

Now, fast forward, and Frodo has just seen Gandalf “die” and witnessed the destructive effect of the ring on Boromir. The fellowship of the ring is falling apart already, and Frodo doesn’t want the ring or his quest to do any more damage to his friends. So he chooses to go alone (with Sam.)

See how much more effective the plot point is when it’s driven by previous events?

 

The Plot Twist

Plot twists are very effective. I love plot twists. In fact, one of my pet peeves is reading the first chapter and being able to accurately predict the entire plot of the book (*cough* romance novels *cough*). I like surprises.

However, plot twists are not plot points. They may radically change something, but they cannot directly change the course of the novel. Plot twists come out of the blue (with foreshadowing), and plot points do not. Instead, plot twists work very well as one of those events which push the MC into making a decision which completely changes the course of the book, thus creating a plot point.

For instance, Luke Skywalker’s fight with Darth Vader would have ended the way it did whether or not he learned that Darth Vader is his father. Either way, Luke loses the fight and has to get picked up by his friends. At the time, the only thing this really changes is Luke’s mental state. Instead of being disappointed that he failed to kill Darth Vader (and relieved that he survived the fight), Luke is having a massive personal crisis.

However, this emotional trauma dramatically effects the decisions, and thus plot points, Luke makes later on.

 

 

Trying Something New…

Published August 21, 2016 by nruhwald

…starting in September. Yay!

Well I needed something to cheer me up, given that school will also be starting. For the last two months, I’ve been sharing a small segment of my novel The King’s Children roughly at the beginning of each month.

The response so far has been good. I’m extremely pleased that my readers have enjoyed reading some of my work, and am very grateful to those who have commented. So I thought I would add another more creative monthly feature.

Each month, I’m going to write an article about the world I have created, which I call Desylvar. I like reading this sort of thing about the worlds other people have created, and it’s fun to write, so why not?

Coming up…Next Sunday I will be posting another Writing Fundamentals article about Plot Points.

And after that…is the first Sunday of September, so I will be sharing another segment of my novel. This time, I will be introducing you to Princess Winnowna Illusia, my female protagonist.

That’s all for this week. Happy writing!

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