Positive Progress

Hello everybody! Happy middle of February!

I am super excited to write this post because today I get to tell you about one of my favorite things: progress! Also, it was a beautiful, sunny, nippy day outside today, so spirits are high.

As per usual, I’ll try to chunk this out into pieces, so let’s go!

Kudos to anyone who knows who this is, btw. He’s my fav. “Leeet’s go!”

Writing

As anyone who has been keeping up with the blog knows, one of my big goals this year has been to learn a lot more about the craft of writing, specifically with plotting.

I mentioned this resource last time, but I’ll say it again, in finding The Story Grid, I have hit an absolute gold mine with this. At the risk of sounding like a fanatic (guilty), I’ll try not to talk too much about it (this post) but to say that in reading the book and checking out the podcast, I feel like I have been given a language, a way to talk about stories and writing that quantifies things I’ve felt for years only as vague intuition, and that having that language has been one of the most freeing experiences I’ve ever had as a writer and already feels like it’s helping me launch years ahead on my writing journey.

BUT, that isn’t the main point of this post. The main thing I want to mention is that, besides the progress I’ve seen just in being able to see and categorize what’s been in front of my face all these years, I’ve also been able to see how much of this I’ve already been doing right.

As a writer without a whole lot to my name in the realm of published work (this blog not withstanding, having just reached its two year anniversary of having two posts every month, and being mostly consistent for some time before that, woo woo!), it can be easy to assume that I’ve just been doing something wrong, that my writing just isn’t good enough. But in going through a lot of the steps of Story-gridding my book out, I’ve been pleased to discover that, hey, my stuff isn’t as bad as I thought!

As any artist can tell you, that is a huge relief. To know that I’ve actually been getting some things right, that I don’t have quite as far to go as I thought, is such a blessing. There’s nothing like a victory to keep you going. I thank God for all the times He’s come through with victories in the past (usually right when I was about to give up), and for the skills and time He’s given me to get as far as I’ve come. We’ll see where we go from here!

Spiritual Life

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, after a year of squidgy, lackluster squirming, another big goal of mine this year has been to grow in my faith. I’ve wanted to grow in digging up and healing old wounds, in believing His promises for me (both in God’s more global and personal promises), and in growing the love in me enough to extend it to others.

And, to my great pleasure, I have been making progress there too.

There are a couple of stages to this that have been really helpful. I outlined some of them in my original post about this, but I think it’s helpful to mention them again here, if only to talk about them from a place of greater experience than I did the first time.

First, identify the lies. One of the greatest weapons I’ve found (well, been given by my mentor, who in turn got it from God) against the enemy’s lies has simply been to know the truth. Digging into the Word (and actually thinking about it and how it’s true and what that means for my life instead of just checking a box off my to-do list) has been exceptionally helpful in this. For example, if the Bible says God loves me and that He loves mercy, then I can believe it. I don’t have to believe a lie that God is some Almighty Smite-r in the sky or that He doesn’t love to forgive me or show mercy. I can just choose to believe it.

Second, spend time with Him. One of the things that has really changed lately has been my willingness to seek out and spend time with God. As someone who is really goal-oriented, it can sometimes be hard for me to set aside time with/for God that could be “going towards something else.” But when I believe the things He says in His word, it takes away all of my excuses (work, busyness, striving, shame, fear, etc.). Not only that, but it makes me want to spend time with God (whether that’s while I’m at work, writing, hanging out, or just spending time with Him).

At my clearest, I understand that God loves me, that He’s wild about me, and that all of the things I care about, all the things I love, matter to Him and were put in me by Him. I understand that nothing could replace or be more valuable/important than spending time with Him; that letting that time heal and fill me is the only thing I really need; and that the only way to ever achieve any of the things I want in a way that will actually be satisfactory is through complete, joyful, and unrelenting surrender to Him.

Slowly, I am learning how much God loves me and how much He cares.

And when I understand that, how could I not open up? How could I not give Him my all?

Now, I’ll admit that I’ve still got a ways to go in this area. I certainly haven’t completely dug out all the junk in my basement, and I’m sure there are lies or areas of my life where I believe them that I don’t even know or recognize yet. But I can trust that God will be faithful in those areas, that He is and will be merciful as I learn to see and repent of them, and patient as I grow in sight to see them. Amen.

To a similar end, I have also been growing in joy.

Some of that, I suspect, is from an increase in sunshine and the fact that I have been gifted several large swaths of time to work on writing or working out or spending time with Him. But, I think God has also been changing my heart. Something I just read this morning was Ephesians 5:19-20 “…Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Note the phrase “for everything.” Not just blessings, not just progress, but everything, trials and struggles and annoying things or people too. I await with great anticipation the day where maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to do this. Maybe not in this lifetime, but if not, for sure the next!

Anyway, this post is starting to get a little long-winded, but I just wanted to share some of the fruit I’ve been seeing so far this year from both God’s mercies and my own co-labors with Him. I hope your year is going just as well!

Thanks for reading!


So, how about you? Have you made progress towards your New Year’s goals this year? Given up? What areas have you been growing in and where would you like to see more, goal or not? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want to see more content like this, feel free to follow me here or on social media using the links below!

Giving Kraven a voice

Hi All,

Welcome to February! I’ve been working hard on my goals for the year all January, and I am pleased to report there has been much progress! I feel more settled in myself as a person than I ever have, I’ve been tackling some deep-seated heart problems that need to go, and, most importantly for the sake of this post, I have been pushing hard on writing.

To be more specific, working from some of the writing resources I’ve been binging on lately (most specifically The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, both the book and podcast), I’ve been taking a closer look at the novel I’ve been working on the most lately, whose terrible, sure-to-change working title is Sovereign. I’ve mentioned this book before on here, as well as the character we’ll be focusing on today, Kraven.

If you’ll remember from my last post about him, Kraven has always been one of the hardest characters to place in this book. Originally a frail, weak-willed pushover, for a while I considered cutting him completely. Then, after writing several failed openings for the book, I realized I still needed him there. And, to my surprise, he pushed me. The more I wrote him, in fact, the more I realized that, though peaceful by nature, he is far from a pushover. It was like I didn’t really know him at all.

That was three years ago.

Now, working on what might be some major changes to the book, he’s pushing back again.

The main reason? He wants to have a voice.

Allow me to explain. See, Kraven has always spoken French (Fransec in the novel). I wanted him to speak a different language, I already spoke decent French, and so, there you go.

And, for a while, it’s worked pretty well. Having him speak a different language than the main protagonist Mira caused strain on their relationship (and allowed for the convenient keeping of a secret I needed to stay hush hush for a while); having him need everything translated through Atlan, who Mira hates, put strain and mistrust on them all; and in general, it was just a cool quirk/world-building thing for me to add.

Which is all still true.

The problem is, as I’ve been working through filling out my Story Grid Spreadsheet, which in simple terms is a spreadsheet designed to help me capture details about the story/individual chapters at large (to learn more about this whole Story Grid thing, I’d suggest watching the five training videos on YouTube as a primer, as well as listening to their podcast from episode one), I’ve been realizing just how much time and effort–and how many words–are wasted just on Kraven being understood.

Worse, since Kraven can’t really join the conversation unless Atlan is actively translating, as the story goes on, he stops doing anything. Sure, he interrupts the other two when they get into squabbles, takes care of the two mounts, and plays pack mule, but other than that, he doesn’t really have any agency. He doesn’t understand what’s happening around him, so, as a narrator or a side character, he becomes useless.

Obviously, something needs to change.

More obviously, he needs to speak English.

The funny thing is, as I’ve been considering this, I’ve been surprised at how little having him speak English actually changes things, or rather, how much it’s going to change things for the better. The worries I had about screwing up the beginning or him not being able to keep his secret? All phantom concerns.

My worries about bogging down the reader with page-consuming translations between French and English, confusing them with untranslated text, or having them lose interest in Kraven’s chapters because nothing happens in them? Much more real.

The big takeaway I think I’ve learned from all of this, borrowed in part from lessons I’ve been learning in Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, is don’t have quirks just for quirks’ sake.

To put it another way, make quirks serve the story, not the other way around.

This, as some highly absurd Neopets fanart of mine from middle school can attest, has been a lesson I’ve been long in learning. The reason it’s important is that adding extra junk into your book just for funsies distracts, bogs down, and confuses your reader.

Here’s an easy way to think of it: If you’re painting a landscape, adding a few birds here and there is tasteful. Adding in fourteen different kinds, each in exquisite detail–while it might be realistic to the number of bird species that actually live in that habitat–is going to be distracting.

Writing is the same way. Are there multiple languages spoken in the world in which my characters live? Of course. Does that mean I need to have someone speak in all of them? If it’s not important to the overall composition of the story, what I’m trying to get the reader to see or explore, no.

Now, of course there’s a balance to all of this. There are plenty of shows and books I can think of that have diverse and quirky casts and that do it exceptionally well (since I’m currently re-watching the series, Cowboy Bebop comes instantly to mind if you’re looking for an example). Or, if the point of the story is to explore things like differing cultures, language, or communication, keeping that element in would actually be really useful.

The main difference is that the stories on those shows aren’t having to fight around their character quirks like mine is having to work around Kraven’s French. Rather, their quirks are used to highlight what the show wants to tell, to feed into the story, message, or world, rather than obstructing it. For example, in one episode of Cowboy Bebop, it is revealed that Spike can swallow and regurgitate small items at will. This shows us something about Spike as a person, but also becomes valuable to the plot later in the episode. In this way, the quirk is both interesting and valuable, not just distracting.

Anime character Spike Spiegel swallows a cigarette on an episode of Cowboy Bebop in this gif. Later in the episode he spits it back out.
Swallowing nasty crap. It comes in handy. Also, my favorite anime character of all time.

Now of course this is still a skill I’m learning. Atlan, for example, still has a rather large trait/quirk himself that I’m still sorting out, though my hopes are high that I’ll be able to use that one to more effect/purpose than Kraven’s French.

In any case, it’s going to be a journey. I’ll try to keep you all posted on it along the way.


So, how about you? Have you ever had experience with stories that had too many or too few quirks? What about other forms of art? What about them did or didn’t you like? Do you have any examples of art that handled things like quirks, language differences, or miscommunication well? Let me know all about them in the comments below, and if you want more content like this, feel free to follow me here or on social media using the links below.