Emotional Extremes & You (Us, actually. All of us.)

Happy Friday, writers! As the Christmas season rolls in, time seems to creep along in preparation for what’s just over the horizon. If you participated in NaNoWriMo, you have my sincerest wishes that it went well–if you met your word count, congratulations! If not, don’t beat yourself up about it.

Speaking of overused phrases used to address emotions, that’s what this week’s post is about; I’d like to briefly discuss the fine line between truly conveying the subtle way any specific emotion overtakes a character, and the flipside, what happens when you smear it on thick as molasses in winter. (Forgive me, I just finished reading Saving Wonder by Mary Knight and the beautiful idioms are feeding my chicken-fried heart. The wheel’s spinning but the hamster’s dead. Brilliant.)

For my own NaNoWriMo novel, the interpersonal and internal conflict for the protagonist is very emotion-heavy, and the story is told in first-person present tense–a self-imposed reckoning of my own abilities, since evidently I hate myself. We’re talking long-term conflict that’s carried with the MC over the course of the novel, issues that are looming and essential to the story. No one tells you exactly how hard it is to write present tense emotions like that without sounding like you’re giving stage notes for an actor:

Anger boils inside of me. I dig my nails into my palms, biting back the things I want to say, but shouldn’t.

Chills run up my back and arms. The unknown is what frightens me–too easily can I envision those beady eyes in the darkness, watching my every move.

Moments like these… aren’t very good. Or, at least, they translate from the page weaker than we’d like them to, and I’m not happy with the way these moments continually unfold in my first draft. Not for a narrative running over 50k words. It’s undeniably difficult to restrain from using phrases that we tend to see assigned in third person stories–it makes my hair stand on end–but no one, realistically, speaks like that. Given, it would sound more casual if it were owned by the narrator, for example that gives me chills, but even then, the sentiment is tired by stating the emotion in first-person.

After taking reading and writing seriously over the past few years–as a craft to be consumed and regurgitated–I’ve found a pattern in first-person books that handle emotion really well. My favorite example of how sustained extreme emotional turmoil can see a story through from beginning to end is, without contest, Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner. It’s a nightmare-come-true story about a young man named Carver Briggs who loses all three of his best friends due to a car accident he may have inadvertently caused via texting.

(If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s my favorite YA novel and offers a visceral, cathartic experience. But I’m easy to make cry, so take that last bit with a grain of salt.)

In a flashback scene, Carver relives the moment in middle school when he met one of his now-deceased friends, Blake. As the heartfelt dip into the past ends, Zentner gives us this:

We go and eat lunch. He shows me his YouTube page. I tell him about my stories. We laugh.
We laugh a lot, actually.

And that, right there, is just one minuscule example of how Zentner manages to show Carver’s mourning, regret, longing, indescribable grief–deftly, through a freaking flashback. The accident has already happened, his friends are already dead, yet he’s remembering their good times through the lens of someone who already knows how that story ends. It’s brilliant, and seems effortless when read, but is difficult (for myself, at least) to put into practice.

That’s part of why Goodbye Days so successfully manages to marry the emotions of the story’s events to the character: being human isn’t an experience that happens to you, it is you. When you feel mad, or guilty, or happy, it affects every other part of your life–you take on life as a series of reactions, viewing everything that happens to you through that lens. Overwhelming emotions aren’t typically something you slip into for one scene, and then from which you become a blank slate the next minute.

I’m guilty of this. It’s hard to remedy, easier to take those throes in the moment and let it fluctuate like a roller coaster. But if we can keep that tapestry woven–let every. single. action. of our characters reflect their headspace and serve as gentle reminders of where they came from, and where they’re going…? Well. I find it hard to believe our stories wouldn’t be stronger.

I worked one of Zentner’s signings for the release of this book, before I even read it. Was just then trying to become a writer. He signed, Tell a good story.

Dialogue #2 — Why Is My Dialogue Awkward?

This week in the “holy shit I’m going to pull my hair out” section of writing frustrations: dealing with dialogue that is on the same level of awkward as watching a straight person introduce their friend’s girlfriend via “and this is Lily’s… roommate.”

As I said in my last dialogue installment (which was uhhh four months ago hahahahaha let’s not talk about that), I really love writing dialogue, so it’s infuriating to me when I try to write it and it’s just not working. Everything feels stilted, jolting along like a malfunctioning steam engine. To counter that, I’ve come up with some questions that help me, and will hopefully help you too.


  • What are they talking about? Dumb question, I know. But you’d be surprised how often you can write dialogue and later, realize it doesn’t really… mean anything? Or at least doesn’t add anything. To evaluate this problem, it can be good to assess the two levels of “what are we talking about?” First, there’s the surface level: two people are arguing over where to go to dinner, a group of people doing a project together need to decide how to go about it, etc. If it’s a necessary conversation, something you need to transition or to give the reader information about what’s going on, that’s fine, you don’t have to go any deeper than that. But there’s also the second level: two people are arguing over where to get dinner, and it gets way more heated than it needs to be, and the reader knows: this isn’t about dinner, it’s about the fact that they’re behind on their bills and she just lost her job and they can’t afford to go to dinner but they’re trying to pretend like everything’s fine. A group of people need to decide what to do their group project on, but the reason they can’t come to a final decision is because the one member who held them all together dropped the project, so they go around in circles, unable to confront the fact that they can’t get it done without that one member. In other words, it’s the difference between what’s being said and what’s being implied. When you find yourself asking the question “what are they talking about?” maybe follow the question up with “is there something bigger going on here?”
  • Does this conversation reveal something about the characters? Sometimes, you’re writing a scene that is very much about having to convey some basic information to the reader about, say, how this heist is going to go down. But that doesn’t mean it can double as something else. A lot of really good dialogue is revealing in a way that doesn’t matter in the moment, but is good to know for later. If Laurel, Tony, Michelle, and Andrea are planning a heist, and Michelle leaves in the middle to go pick up McDonald’s, we know that she perhaps doesn’t care much about it, or doesn’t take much of anything seriously, or just really likes McDonald’s. If Tony yells at her for it, we know he is taking this the most seriously, has the most explosive temper out of all the them, etc. Then let’s say Laurel defends Michelle, says they’ve all been working at this for awhile, maybe they should take a break, we know she’s the peacemaker. Maybe all Andrea this whole time is sit silently in the corner, but that alone is also very telling: she doesn’t get into petty arguments, she can’t be bothered, you get the idea. Maybe this isn’t important right in the moment, after all, the main thing you want from the scene is to explain to the reader how the heist is going to go down, but these elements are important for later; we need to know how they function as a team, and dialogue is a great way to convey that.
  • Are they talking to the right person? Maybe you’re writing a scene, and you know it’s essential, you know it’s revealing–that’s not the problem. It’s got some of that good juicy character backstory, or it’s that moment when the character finally snaps, but still, it’s not quite working. It doesn’t punch the way you want it to. Ask yourself: who is the character talking to, and why? Let’s say Gwen has been struggling with, hmmm, some deep moral questions in relation to their Catholicism (can you tell I’ve been watching the new season of Daredevil?). You as the writer think, oh, they should definitely be talking to their best friend about this, he can help. Or, they should go talk to their priest, right? Do some good old-fashioned confession. But maybe Gwen is feeling too closed off to go to their friend, is questioning their faith too much to go to their priest (I should really just tag this as Daredevil spoilers at this point). So they find themself in a old records store at 10pm, buy a Grateful Dead track, and they ask the clerk if she believes that God forgives everything. Maybe the clerk answers with something profound, maybe she tells Gwen to go the fuck home and sleep off their existentialism. The point is, Gwen couldn’t ask that question to the people who might come to your mind at first thought. Perhaps they couldn’t say it to anybody at all, and end up going home to their unreasonably cool looking loft for a broke-ass lawyer without a law firm in NYC and drink half a bottle of scotch and ask the stale air if God forgives. Wow, that got dark. ANYWAYS,


These are just a couple questions that might be important when writing dialogue that’s not working, maybe they’ll work for you, or maybe you’ll need to develop your own questions. Either way, I hope these were helpful for you. Join me in either two weeks or four months, who the fuck knows anymore, for my third installment in the dialogue series.

Minutes vs Moments: When Measurements Can Damage Your Storytelling


This entire post–the whole freaking thing–is sponsored by the word: minutes.

I’m not going to give specific titles, as I don’t like being in the business of shaming authors, but there have been more than a few instances where I will be reading a scene and something like the following sentence happens:

He picked up the stone and was silent for a few minutes as he looked at it.

Okay. So, on its face, this is a fine sentence. It gets the point across–there is a pause while the character observes something. The issue I take with it, is that “a few minutes” is a staggeringly long time compared to what the author was likely going for (perhaps a few moments?). Let’s assume “a few” could even be interpreted as being as short as two minutes–120 seconds.

Now, feel free to listen to this video I found (which, yes, I did search “annoying 2 minute video” to make you see my point, sorry) and you let me know if you think 120 seconds is an appropriate amount of time for a character to exist in liminal space while they think of how to respond to another character. If you were talking to someone, and they abruptly stopped talking, after probably around 15 seconds you’d try to engage them again. Unless our character is looking at something of great detail or intricacy, I highly doubt he needs minutes to come to a general conclusion.

woman and man wearing brown jackets standing near tree
“You’ve been watching that bird for the past two Hozier songs, Elena. If you’re still not done, would you mind if I at least make a phone call?”

Exception! If a sentiment like this is followed by non-dialogue descriptors of the environment, or thoughts going through a character’s head, this is likely fine. It’s when it happens in the middle of an otherwise fast-paced scene or dialogue that it’s jarring and distracts readers (or maybe just me, pedantic asshole that I am).

Phew. Let me take a deep breath as I segue into the bigger point I’m building to, which is that exact measurements rarely add anything to the story, unless you are able to pull it off tone-wise (a la Dahl). Allow me to defend my claim.

Say we have this sentence in a book:

The corrugated metal sign was only two feet tall.

I see why the author has chosen this wording; they have a very precise estimation in their head of what said sign looks like and wish to project it exactly. But I would argue that this is almost never more powerful than other methods of description they could use:

The metal sign was low to the ground, and easy to miss.
The sign barely came above her knee, its serrated edges threatening to add more holes to her jeans.
Tall grass obscured the writing on the reflective sign, and bugs crawled freely on its face.

Not only do these convey the same idea, but they help set the scene more effectively than giving exact measurements. Instead of forcing numbers and estimations into the readers’ heads, instead find other ways to say what you will. Be wary when you fall back onto using units of measurement in your writing: feet, miles, cups, kilometers, pounds, cents– these words can act as red flags and give you an opportunity to be more lyrical.

P.S. As much as I just railed against these words, there is obviously never a set way to write. If you insist on writing with exact measurements, or it fits your tone better, or you just want to keep writing this way out of spite for me, then please do! I just wanted to address this topic for those who might be interested in observing their own writing style in a way they might not have considered before.

fuck ur language conventions

Are you ready for a rant post? No? Too bad. Let’s start, as all white girl raging does, with a little bit of Shakespeare.

Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your Majesty
According to my bond; no more nor less.

That’s from King Lear, Act I. Spoken by his daughter, Cordelia. Fucking brutal, yeah? Also, eloquent and lovely and all the other descriptors that people pull up when talking about Shakespeare monologues. You know what else is eloquent and lovely?

Maud went to college.
Sadie stayed at home.
Sadie scraped life
With a fine-tooth comb.

The opening lines of “Sadie and Maud” by Gwendolyn Brooks, inarguably one of the best poets of the 20th century, and the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize. You may begin to understand where I’m going with this, but one more for the holy spirit:

The U.S-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country — a border culture.

That’s Gloria Anzaldúa, in her book “Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.”

Now, if you showed someone the Shakespeare excerpt next to the Gwendolyn Brooks excerpt and asked them which one was the better piece of writing, which one do you think they’d choose? If they’re indoctrinated with high school English classes, probably Shakespeare. Everyone knows that Shakespeare is The Standard to live up to, right? Right?


OH DAMN, bet you didn’t see THAT coming, did you? It’s not like I was projecting my intentions from the very first syllable or anything. Here’s the thing about Shakespeare–or Dickens or Chaucer or [insert-any-old-white-man-here]–being revered as The Best: it doesn’t leave room for diversity of perspective, and by extension, diversity of language.

Here are two fun terms that you may or may not know: Standard American English (SAE) and Edited American English (EAE). SAE refers to the “standard dialect” that “most” Americans use. EAE is this same concept, only written down and, you guessed it, edited. The concept of a “standard dialect” is, to put it mildly, fucking wild. It implies two things: one, that there is a standard to be met, and if said standard is not met, that your speech is subpar; and two, that there is a single dialect that an entire country should be using.

The demographic most likely to both speak and enforce SAE is, shockingly, the white upper class. The idea that it is something that should be taught in a standardized form dates back to grammar schools, a convention of the late 19th and early 20th century, where there was a massive emphasis on correct spelling, writing, and speech without regard for actual comprehension of the mode and manner of communication. Working class people looking to move up in the world sent their children to grammar schools so that they would learn how to speak and write “properly,” i.e., like the upper class.

This problem persists today, wherein people with dialects that are outside of the “norm” are often considered uneducated by their oppressors and punished for it. Communities of color and low-income communities receive the worst fallout from these stereotypes.

Now, obviously this is racist and classist as fuck. It is also, as you’ll find all prejudiced views to be, lacking in evidence that proves its veracity. Linguists have proven time and time again that SAE is not a more efficient, effective, or eloquent way of speaking than other dialects, nor does it say anything about intelligence or education. See suggested readings at the end of this post for more information, because this is still technically a blog and I can’t go on a full academic rant with in-text citations without losing some people.

Okay, so back to my dude Willy Shakes. Why is it dangerous for people to put his writing on a pedestal? Firstly, because the guy made more dick jokes per scene than a high school boy, and would have been horrified by the fact that we view his writing as “sophisticated.” Secondly, it halts the development of language to assume that older writing and dialects are inherently more beautiful  or valuable than those of modernity.

If you’re still not following, let me say it like this: language is supposed to change. If you’ve disagreed with what I’ve said so far you are a cold, stale, butterless piece of burnt toast. It’s supposed to have different dialects, none of which are inferior. Languages are supposed to blend and merge. If you work “pièce de résistance” into your everyday conversation, you’re a fancy little lad, but if you’re Gloria Anzaldúa–The U.S-Mexican border es una herida abierta–mixing tongues with all the fluidity and eloquence of a principal dancer on opening night, you’re told to “pick a language,” and “how are we supposed to know what you’re saying?” To that I’ll offer two pieces of advice: if you don’t what’s being said, either look it up, or perhaps consider that you are not the target audience. I know, fellow white people, it’s hard to imagine a world in which every piece of media was not created for us, but it’s the reality of things.

Alright, damn. Long rant. Glad I got that out of my system. I’d just like to end with saying that I am aware that I benefit from the social privilege of speaking SAE as my primary dialect, that I have written this blogpost in SAE, possibly with more swearing than my high school grammar textbooks taught me. That is to say, I am not an authority on the topic, nor have I any first-hand experience in language discrimination.

As mentioned previously, I have attached scholarly articles and other resources below should you wish to learn more from people who are far more knowledgeable than I.

Suggested readings:

Black Linguistics: Language, Society, and Politics in Africa and the Americas

Perceptual and Phonetic Experiments on American English Dialect Identification

Sociolinguistic nostalgia and the authenticity of identity

ACLU’s sheet on language discrimination and your rights

Yale Grammatical Diversity Project


“Yeah, that’s what [INSERT AUTHOR] said, too.”

I have a fine arts degree in communication design. I fought tooth and nail in a class of 40 to win one of 15 spots for it. I’d fall asleep studying in the library. I managed to scrape by my final semester in the worst throes of depression that I’ve experienced in my life. This is to say, I didn’t take my college grades lightly.

Even though my education was deathly serious to me and I sat through enough philosophy lectures for a small mammal to die of old age, ultimately I realized I didn’t want to use my degree. As you might have guessed, creative writing is not something I ever took higher education courses in—I wrote when I was a child, I wrote throughout grade school, and then I studied the structure of visual storytelling and tone for four years in university.

As someone who lived their life missing what some people might consider a necessary fundament in the creative writing process (and as someone who felt deathly dependent on knowing all of “the answers”), this realization left me feeling dangerously unprepared once I decided I wanted to write books. A lot of these insecurities I still grapple with: how am I ever going to land an agent, what if I can’t afford to attend writers’ workshops, my writing is likely terrible in comparison to others’, will anyone in this industry even take me seriously if I don’t have a masters degree in writing? That’s a lot of “what if’s” to entertain on top of the stress of writing, but that’s where I started–back before I’d drafted my kids series, back before I had any picture books written, way back before I even realized my first picture book about a caterpillar was essentially garbage.

So, what do you do? If you’re anything like I was, you assume everyone else who’s “made it,” who seems even remotely approachable has the answers for you. You keep your eyes peeled for Q&As on Goodreads and Reddit, you occasionally tweet at them in the hopes that your question is interesting enough to grab their attention, and if you’re really lucky, you attend author signings and ask them in person when the floor opens up to questions. After all, whatever they did worked, thus inherently they have some insight into what might work for you, too.

adult alone black and white blur
“I just want my first draft of my first book to be flawless.”

And this is true… to an extent. I was fortunate enough to work specifically on author signings at my local bookstore for a year, and I had the opportunity to speak with a variety of authors coming through as I helped host their events: Crystal Wilkinson, Isaac Marion, Jan Brett, John Scalzi, Greg Iles, Jeff Zentner, Kevin Sherry. Not only did I ask them if they had any tips for writers trying to get published, but without fail, whenever it was Q&A time some hopefuls in the audience would as well. And that’s great! If you love an author, you probably want to know how they got to where they stand now.

But I’m gonna let you in on a secret, friends: I didn’t love all of those authors. I loved a few of them (omg Marion), but most were just people promoting their careers, and we only saw each other as polite faces in a work setting. The benefit of talking to lots of authors about their “secrets” indiscriminately—even ones I felt no butterflies over—is that I can deliver this kernel of truth that I learned to others, this granule of experience.

They all said the exact same thing, once boiled down.

Thus, I have created an untouchable formula for how to be a Successful Writer:


Success = finding what works for you + lots of effort + reading + creative partnership


That’s it. No tricks, no big secret. Just finding your own rhythm, sticking with it, consuming other stories, and getting feedback on your own. Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to take a lot of patience; the publishing industry moves at a glacial pace in itself, but all of these things are going to take time from you, as well. A metric fuck-ton of it.

The point of this post is to say that if you’re anything like I was when I started writing, you might be inadvertently wasting time by collecting knowledge from those who came before you instead of actually applying yourself. Don’t get bogged down in the preparation stages. As my own CP and co-contributor Herb might agree, preparation is a slippery slope—it’s easy to find yourself feeling endlessly shorthanded, when in reality your toolbox has been full for months. So next time you feel like you need answers from someone more experienced, pause–open a word processor–and try writing instead. You’re good to go, friends.

Character Games 101: Dice Games

Welcome back to the final installment in a series entitled Character Games 101!

Our first week we talked about learning more about your character through role-playing games, and last week we used Akinator to find out parallels between our characters and well-known ones in pop culture. This final type of game I’d like to explore in terms of its usefulness to characterization might feel similar to the first post in this series, if you play tabletop games. This game, however, isn’t aimed at helping you polish off your character–its goal is to help you create one to begin with.

Character Games #3: Dice Games

Wait! Please don’t leave. I know that at its face, a “dice game” sounds like the least amount of fun even someone in the 15th century would have. But before you click away, allow me to remind you that these dice exist (not a sponsor). If you consider yourself a storyteller yet you’ve never had an opportunity to play with storytelling dice, you should seriously consider remedying that. And you might think that having dice structure a story for you takes the fun out of the process, but I’ve found that it actually makes things more challenging; when you’re forced to fit two events or characters together, your brain has to do gymnastics to make that happen.

I’m not here to pitch those dice to you, though. I’m here to help you create a new character using a method that tabletop players will be familiar with already. We’re gonna roll a character.

Now, in RPGs “rolling” a character helps you determine stats for that character such as strength, dexterity, and charisma. But that’s narrow thinking.

Let me put that line of thought on pause while I talk about numbers. Personally, I hate numbers. They’ve never clicked with me; I don’t much care for mathematics. Just about the only thing I can find redeeming about numbers is their roles as symbols. For example, I bet off the top of your head you can list some significance of the number seven? There are the seven deadly sins, seven days of the week, seven colors in the rainbow.

So what? These concepts on their own are totally inane until you apply meaning to them. That’s where the fun is. By assigning meaning to the numbers on a die, you can create a character totally by chance. Here, let me give an example: ever seen a character alignment chart?

The real chaotic evil is that Cinna died. Totally unnecessary. 

Well, guess what? There are nine options there. Label ‘em, roll a nine-sided die, bam. Your character has an alignment. Sure, you’ll need to figure out why, but even then you can roll for an interesting backstory. Going back to the seven deadly sins: assign them to numbers, roll. Bam. Your character has a fatal flaw. What month were they born in? 12-sided die. For yes/no questions, substitute a quick coin flip. You can even use tracks from an album, or numbered pages from a book, or those horrifically addicting “what would your rapper name be?” posts floating around. It doesn’t matter! Because as more and more questions are answered, you’ll begin to see someone new take shape.

Just for fun, I’ll roll an example character. Since my dice are all still in storage somewhere, I’m going to be using this website to roll. You’ll note that it allows you to pick however many sides you like on a die, so there are no limits to your questions. Here I go…

My character hails from the southern-most part of their world. They are down-to-earth. They are chaotic evil, which makes their no-nonsense attitude even more terrifying. Their downfall is their hubris, befitting someone calm and collected, yet twisted. They have natural red hair and are non-binary. My character likes sour food, and is sensitive to smells; they are easily nauseated by foul odors. Their favorite season is autumn due to the decay (plus that’s when tangy tangerines in season, they always keep one in their pocket, dropping the peels wherever they please). They are a Capricorn, which lends the traits of patience, ambition, and fatalism to their personality. Their evil conquest is to spread a brain-controlling parasite everywhere they go, amassing followers that appear normal to the naked eye. Alas, they cannot get too close to their loyal minions, as the stench of the parasitic fungus is too pungent.

Wow. See? I have an underworld-born tangerine-loving demon who forcefully inducts people into a cult of his own worship by using fungus. And a few minutes ago I had nothing.

The beautiful part of this process of character creation is that it’s totally up to you how to structure it. Don’t like one of the options in your list of ideas? Strike it out. Feel no inspiration about the result you got, no matter how hard you brainstorm? Roll again. You’re still in control. This is simply a tool to help you get the story juices flowing.

A word of warning: know when enough inane detail is enough. Having quirks for your character is fun, but if your character is so unique that they begin to sound more like something a child would dream up while rambling, maybe back off a little.

Thanks for joining me in this series of Character Games 101! I hope you had fun, or at the very least, I hope you got some good ideas. And who knows? Characterization is a love of mine, so maybe this series will rear its head again in the future. Until then, keep writing!

Character Games 101: Akinator

Welcome back to the second entry in a series entitled Character Games 101!

Last week we talked about how putting your character into a RPG can help fill gaps in their profile that you’d never considered before. This week, we’re gonna talk about what happens if we streamline that characterization process instead of expand upon it–what happens when we tunnel-vision the questions instead of wander around in them?

Character Games #2: Akinator

So, there’s a really fun website that a lot of people play with in their free time, and I’m going to link it, I promise–at the end of this post. Otherwise you’re gonna get distracted and–hey! Don’t scroll down yet! The link will lead to a game called Akinator, which is essentially 20 Questions but where, instead of guessing from the categories “animal, vegetable, or mineral” (which by the way, is an incredibly bizarre taxonomical hierarchy?), it guesses fictional characters based on your yes or no answers! Pretty neat, right?

Aside from being horrifically addictive and mindblowingly in-depth, Akinator gives us an opportunity to inspect your character in simpler ways that the moral dilemmas of RPGs might not. Does your character drink coffee? Do they know how to use a gun? Does your character have any connections to medicine? These questions–albeit bizarre to answer knowing that Akinator is not going to be able to guess your character–are a good way to get a feel for how to wrap your character into a neat little package. Akinator asks questions that cut straight to the core and sift through characteristics with sweeping generalizations, and while this may sound like a bad thing, it’s actually something of which you can take advantage.

You see, our favorite characters from literature can still be summarized in a way that might come across as insulting or oversimplified. Luna Lovegood: quirky, bizarre, intelligent. Schmendrick: bumbling, kindhearted, loyal. Magnus Chase: witty, good, brave. But to say that they can be boiled down to a few adjectives isn’t to undermine the validity of these characters… in fact, character tropes are wildly successful because they work, it works to have someone fit nicely into a box once stripped of what makes them unique.

Go through Akinator and answer the questions about your character as best as you can. Given, when you get to questions like “did you create this character?” you could just end the game by admitting it, but if you stick it out and pick another series? That’s the fun part–whether you know the series from which Akinator guesses or not, give it a shot. See what character you get. Then, once you see profiles that are similar in nature to your own character, you have a unique opportunity to compare the two and see what works about the one that is well-known. Don’t know anything about the character you got? The internet’s got your back. Goodreads, Wikia pages, and IMDB are overlooked wealths of people gushing about their favorite characters.

I did this just now with the protagonist of my kids series; I got Ivy from Ivy and Bean. Right off of the bat this is heartening, because it tells me that I’ve written a character that falls into the genre for which I’m aiming. Now, I read a lot of kids books, but never this particular series, so this also gives me the opportunity to look up Ivy, see what readers think about her and what role she plays in her books. A quick check on Goodreads lets me know that she is generally well-liked, a bookworm of sorts in comparison to her friend Bean, but the real shining point is her friendship with Bean. Coincidentally, my character’s interactions with the people in her life is also my focal point for her growth, so I will try even harder to depict realistically the interpersonal relationships of my main character.

Okay, as promised, here is Akinator! Have fun, try not to get too distracted, and keep writing!

it’s a living #3

Trigger warnings at the end. Please take care of yourself. 

Anxiety overtakes my bloodstream without permission: the pounding pulse on my wrist traces back to my throbbing heart, the heat on the back of my neck and cheeks is a heat that reminds me that I am not in control, not over my thoughts, not over my body. Anxiety climbs to the surface of my skin in the form of beat-red cheeks, a physical, burning presence that doesn’t allow me to keep my panic private.

Not that it matters right now, as I sit at the kitchen counter and stare at the microwave clock, watch the colon between the hour and the minute blink. It beats slower than my pounding blood, too slow, like it doesn’t understand the direness of the situation, the direness of the information it portrays.

It’s 8:37 a.m. on my day off, and Deanna was supposed to be home thirty-seven minutes ago. I woke up twenty-two minutes ago, realized she wasn’t home, and was able to convince myself she was fine for about five minutes before I ran out of safe, non-life-threatening reasons why she would be late. Maybe she missed the subway and was waiting for the next one–unlikely, she said that her boss was going to let her off with plenty of time because it was a special occasion. Maybe she got stopped by a person giving away tracts–she told me once that she liked to argue with them if she was having a bad day. But surely not even doomsday criers were handing out propaganda at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday. From there the possibilities deteriorated: she got hit by a car, she was mugged, someone bombed the subway, some creepy dude watched her serve drinks all night, followed her when she left, and–

Not even I, a veritable expert at imagining the worst, want to finish that thought.

Then, selfish selfish selfish, my thoughts turn to me. If she’s dead in an alley, what will I do without her? I can’t afford this rent by myself, even if it is the shittiest apartment in the world. Where am I going to find a new roommate? I can’t live in my car, I don’t have a car. Deanna promised she was going to teach me how to file my taxes. If she’s dead in an alley, who the fuck is going to teach me how to do taxes?

By the time the door swings open at 9:07, I’ve worked myself into such a frenzy that my first thought is robber and not oh, there she is.

She enters triumphant, with more enthusiasm in her smile than I think I’ve ever seen. It’s almost enough to make me forget my full hour of spiraling. “Sup, my dude! Sorry about the wait, but I had to stop and get breakfast for this very special day! I thought about cooking, but then I remembered that I can’t cook for shit, so it’s greasy diner food for you.”

I just stare at her, can’t even conjure up a response. I had fully convinced myself that she was dead, had already made a plan for how I was going to survive on the streets, and then she has the nerve to show up very much not dead.

She throws the bags on the counter and begins to open up takeout boxes. “We got scrambled eggs, we got bacon, we got hashbrowns, we got pancakes and waffles cause I wasn’t sure which way you swung, we got… hm… I don’t know what that is.” She looks up at me, smiles again, and then some of it slips off as her eyes scan my face. “You okay?”

Don’t you dare, I tell myself. “Yeah.”

“Rough morning?”

I shake my head. “Nah, I’m good.” I reach over and grab a slice of bacon. “Thanks for breakfast.”

“Yeah, of course. And hey, happy birthday!”

I bob my head, still trying to get my words back after the only sound I had been hearing was the pounding of blood in my ears. Start small. “I’m more of a waffle guy.”

Trigger warnings: anxiety attacks, brief mention of rape. 

Character Games 101: RPGs


I am very excited to start a new series of posts that marries the process of character development to different types of games! I am doing this in the hopes that it might 1) inspire people who aren’t confident in their characters to delve into them in a fun way, and 2) encourage those who write but who’ve never been into games to find the stories waiting for them there (video games are a wonderful medium of storytelling, but we will get to that at a later date). To start off, I’m going to talk about the most straightforward and possibly the most fun genre of gaming in which you can get to know your character

Character Games #1: Role-Playing Games

Good characters should be able to be boiled down to their most basic parts. What drives them? What are their weaknesses? What is their moral compass like? When we know these building blocks, the character is able to transcend one plane of reality we’ve developed for them and shift into any other that we like, because the circumstances through which we view them shouldn’t affect the essence of who they are. Think of “alternate universes” in fanfiction–just because your favorite Kingdom Hearts fanfiction is the one where Riku is Johnny Rotten doesn’t mean that what makes Riku Riku is any different. This flexibility of characters and their ability to translate into other worlds is what makes this first Character Game so much fun.

Take your pick of Role-Playing Game, or RPG. There are thousands to choose from: you might opt for a tabletop game, a fantasy campaign video game, a Massively Multiplayer Online RPG (MMORPG), or even just Live Action Role-Playing (LARPing). Despite what you choose, the concept is simple: play as your character. I am far from the first person to use this technique, and the reason for that is because while it is obviously fun, it also gives you and your character something to bond over, making it a great way to get to know yourself. You’ll have a story to complete together, enemies to defeat, mountains to climb. Along the way, as your character is forced to make choices you hadn’t thought of before, the gaps in their mental profile will fill naturally, which will be a boon once you are ready to return to writing.

If you were to put your character into D&D, what race would they be? What class would they play? A thief, or a bard, or a berserker? Would they be chaotic neutral, only doing whatever served themselves, or would they be lawful good, jumping to the rescue of whomever needed it without a second thought? How would they approach a dangerous situation? Weapons drawn, diplomatic, hesitant? What kind of loot would they enjoy, if they sought loot at all? Are they agreeable with the rest of your teammates, and what dynamic do they fill in that space–what relationship do your party members have with them?

Perhaps your character wants to meet Dragon Age’s Inquisition. What are their thoughts on the control of mages’ freedoms by The Circle, by templars? Are they a city-elf in an Alienage, or a Dalish apostate (rogue mage) who can shapeshift? Perhaps a Qunari, but even so, are they born in the Qun, or are they a Tal-Vashoth, and how do they feel about their caste ranking?

If your character were to join the battle for Skyrim, would they be a Nord fighting against Ulfric, much to the chagrin of their family, or would they perhaps be a beast-race, a khajiit who (for some reason) found their loyalty with the Stormcloaks? Would they practice Magicka? Adopt children? Are they scared of draugr (mummies), or spiders, or dragons? Or maybe you play them as being terrified of werewolves, and avoid Whiterun at all costs due to the rumors floating about the city? Which of the Divines do you think they would be likely to worship, if they were to worship any of them at all?

I can pitch fun questions to you all night and day, but unless you’ve inserted your character into these worlds before, you’re missing out. Being able to have fun with the familiarization process is not only something that we take for granted, but also a hidden joy of living in the time we do, where the medium of story-telling via gaming has never been more colorful and in-depth. So, dear reader, I would encourage you to hold your character’s hand and take a trip with them. Go to Azeroth, or Albion, or Mordor. Take them into another world and see what happens. It’ll be fun.

it’s a living #2

“We should get a pet.” Deanna studies the array of nail polishes in front of her, then selects a light blue and holds it up for me to examine.

I stick out my hand at her artistic mercy. “I don’t wanna mom you here, but you are definitely not responsible enough for a pet.”

“Ridiculous. I house you and feed you–”
“I make dinner most nights–”

She pokes the nail brush in my face. “Don’t talk back to me, young man.”

Don’t talk back to me. The memory is there, for just a moment, but I drag myself back into the moment before I can drift too far. “What kind of pet do you want?”

“I thought I was too irresponsible.”


“A cat.” She smiles like she knows what she’s doing.

“Unacceptable. We’re getting a dog.”

“Fine. Name ideas?”

“Bark-tholomew,” I grin.

“Zero out of ten. I’m revoking your naming privileges.”

“Hold up–is this our dog or your dog?”

“You get feeding and bathing rights, I get playing and naming rights.” She gestures for me to switch hands.

I hold my left hand out, closely inspecting the robin’s egg hue on the right. “Sure, that seems totally fair.” I tap experimentally at my ring fingernail with my thumb, and it smears a little.

“Hey now, don’t touch your nails for a while; it’s still drying.”

“How long?”

“Mmm…” She bobs her head side-to-side. “Bout an hour? Just to be safe?”

“An hour?”

“Yeah, boy. It’s fucking paint. Never done your nails before?”

“If I had tried it would have made the goddamn front page: Dude Paints Nails; Stereotyping Father Immediately Calls for Conversion Therapy.”

She snorts, but there’s a familiar sympathy in her look. “Well you’re rocking it, so Stereotyping Father can go screw himself.”


Deanna hesitates in painting the next nail–pauses for a moment and glances up at me. She takes a breath, like she wants to say something. There’s a fraction of a second when I think she’s going to confront it–the thing we haven’t talked about since I stumbled into the bar she works at, a drunk kid spewing curses at my dad. Since she poured me a glass of water and let me babble about how if they didn’t want me, then I didn’t need to live with my parents, anyways, lots of teens live by themselves, right? Since she let me sleep on her couch, and I woke up the next morning panicking about where I was going to stay and what I was going to do, and she just shrugged and told me the couch was mine if I wanted it. Never asked for details. Never asked how I got kicked out.

And she doesn’t ask now. “Blow on them, they’ll dry faster.” She demonstrates a motion that looks like she’s attempting to mime harmonica playing.

I copy the movement, glancing up for confirmation that I’m doing it right, and Deanna gives me a thumbs-up.

I take a deep breath. “Hey, Dea?”

“Yeah, bud?”

“If we get a girl dog we can name her Lizzie Bork-den.”
“I hate you.”