The Nitty-Gritty of Alen’s War

Here it is: the Big Blog Post about my upcoming novel, Alen’s War. And this one will be fun.

Let’s begin with the updated blurbWhich is probably the strangest word in the English language. This is likely the version that will end up on the back of the book, but suggestions are welcome before I finish the final cover design:

Alen, the son of the king of Agran, is given a simple secret task: find an insurrectionist named Galer and bring him back quietly to the capital for trial, but in a series of tragic mistakes Alen sets off a full-blown civil war. Now Agran is out to have Alen’s head for a wereguild. To save himself and his homeland, Alen and a small group of fighters  must capture Galer once and for all. Yet their own dark secrets haunt them at every turn and foil their plans.

What else can I explain here? I find it hard to classify this book as anything beyond the generic “fantasy.” It has a young protagonist on a quest, and much of it takes place on beautiful pirate ships and frozen seashores. However, the whole plot revolves around a war that began as a rebellion. So what do I call it? I call it my fantastical YA war story that feels like historical fiction about vikings.

And now for the real cast of characters. Some of this might be a repeat of my introductory post, but there’s also some new stuff, so stick around. Oh, and I’m doing the dream cast this time, too.

Name: Alen
Personality type: ISFJ
Dream cast: …Alas, I could not find the perfect actor for my young protagonist!

     The prisoner lifted his head, the deep look of hurt still hanging in his eyes. “Then what will you do to me now?”
     Alen grinned. “I hope to save your life.”

What can I say? Alen may be a son of the king of Agran, but he’s by no means a normal prince. He is adorable, but not too soft; uncertain, but not a chicken; fierce, but not too impulsive. In short, he is every “good kid” when he or she was sixteen years old. Strangely enough, loyalty is simultaneously his strongest asset and his worst fault. It is the quality that propels him forward to accomplish his mission and yet holds him back from truly achieving the truth. Alen feels that letting go of the past is disloyalty, so he has to keep everything inside of him, pushed down where he cannot forget it.

Name: Brandis
Personality type: ISTP
Dream cast: Richard Armitage

That torch, though. (credit)

     “Do you believe we will win?” Alen asked.
     Brandis turned sharply, as if surprised and even offended. “Do you disbelieve it?” he returned, and Alen nearly withered at the frown that Brandis gave him. Then Brandis laughed. “Well, so do I.”

Okay, I admit it: Brandis the raider is my favorite character I have ever written, and that’s coming from an author who has written over thirty unique characters in one fantasy world. He is (dare I say it) Long John Silver, Coriolanus, and Faramir all rolled into one- although I wasn’t thinking of all those characters while I wrote him. To be honest, I wrote Brandis specifically with Armitage in mind. Brandis is the enigma that refuses to be solved: the friend who betrays and then apologizes; the killer who rescues people from fires; the raider who speaks like an English professor. And all that is resolved in his dark secret.

Name: Turomar
Personality type: INTJ
Dream cast: Harry Lloyd

I know… another Robin Hood actor. If only he would lose the mustache. (credit)

Still Turomar stared out at the grey sea. “I do not need love.”

Ah, my resident Mastermind. In many ways, Turomar the strategist is me gone wrong. That is, if I had been abandoned and rejected for all of my life, I would have the skewed worldview and priorities that Turomar does- all of which may explain why he’s a close second for my favorite character. Turomar may have a few acquaintances, but he refuses to let anybody into his life for fear that he will be written off as worthless or rejected altogether.

Name: Galer
Personality type: ENFJ
Dream cast: Matthew Macfadyen

Just ignore the gun. They haven’t invented that kind yet. (credit)

“Each of us failed Agran once, whether in word or in deed, and even after all the good we could do, there is no going back. Never.”

My sister teases me about the central antagonist, calling him “Enjolras,” and I can admit that there is some resemblance. Galer does serve as the hopeful leader of a revolution who gets himself into serious trouble. Yet he is also incredibly intelligent and crafty, having many more resources at his disposal than Marius’ college friends ever dreamed of, and his influence only expands as the war rages on. In short, Galer has a chance of winning, and he desperately wants to do just that.

King Reyis
Personality type: ISTJ
Dream cast: Liam Neeson

Ah, you knew he would turn up in one of my dream-casts someday. (credit)

“Whoever promised that life would be easy?” Reyis stood up and straightened, looking again like a tall king with steely eyes and grey hair. “Certainly not me.”

Good ol’ Reyis. He is Alen’s father and also the king of the second-largest kingdom in the world, so despite playing a relatively small role in the story, he was a great deal of fun to write. He’s not exactly the most touchy-feely parent in the world, but he always does what he knows is best, and if he doesn’t know, he will find out. I can appreciate that kind of attitude.

Arila
Personality type: ESFJ
Dream cast: Lily James

Of course it’s Cinderella. (credit: IMDb)

Alen felt the dagger at his side. Maybe it had no real magic, but Arila surely did, and it was enough for him to keep fighting.

You knew I couldn’t write a book without any estrogen, didn’t you? Not, that is, without getting complaints from my romantically-minded mom. Again, as a bookkeeper at the capital, Arila has a relatively small role in the story. However, while she does play something of a love interest (at least at the beginning), Arila mainly serves as a sort of impact character, the one on whom the message depends. And she is really quite a sweet girl, which makes for a sweet subplot.

That’s all, folks! I’ll be doing some interviews at other blogs as the big day approaches, so keep an eye out for those. You can also preorder the Kindle version of Alen’s War or hold out for the paperback in July.

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Why I Wrote an Encyclopaedia (and Maybe You Should, Too)

Okay. I promise we will have a real post in a few seconds, but first things first. I have gotten this question way too many times, and now I have to clear it up:

Yes, Elkay and Kylo have the same surname. No, that was not intentional on my part. I don’t know about J.J. Abrams.

Get it? Got it? Good. Now on to this week’s real topic.

Let’s be honest again, my writing friends: sometimes we overlook the bloopers in our work. Of course, we don’t realize it until we are happily reading an official paperback copy of our newly-published book. Then we see the blooper, and we panic. It’s too late to contact CreateSpace! Everyone will see this terrible continuity error or plot hole, and they will discredit our work forever! Our books will never be read!

Of course this is all hyperbole, but we writers are very good at exaggerating things. It would seem that we’re also very good at writing bloopers. Wouldn’t it be easier to skip these painful experiences altogether? Wouldn’t it be wonderful never to make any stupid mistakes like that? Ah, wishful thinking.

Or is it?

I have to keep track of a lot of little details that fit together to give my stories a sense of realism. For example, we’re coming up on Ivora’s birthday on 24 May (and Elkay had better not forget this year). The cannon was invented in Lord Vien’s city in 1218, but didn’t catch on in Agran for another hundred or so years because it was so expensive to make. The infamous Farran’s last name was Fenden, and he was an INTJ like me, albeit a more romantic one.

None of those details ever turned up in Son of Ren, but as the author, I needed to know them for myself. But I can’t possibly memorize all of those things or scribble them on misplaceable note-cards as I go. How in the world can I remember all of this random but important information? Because I have an Encyclopaedia. Always, always spelled with a capital “E” and the archaic “ae.”

The Encyclopaedia is basically like the internet. It is a slave that reminds me of random useless things and keeps track of all the details that I would otherwise forget. What should I do with this epic battle scene that didn’t make the cut? Encyclopaedia. Where did I record the laws of succession for Agran? Encyclopaedia. How much older was Sardar than Elkay? Encyclopaedia.

My Encyclopaedia is just another Google Document with a table of contents. I have a timeline of years, historical summaries for each kingdom, a collection of legal codes, a list of character names and etymological origins, the rules of my magic system, and of course an index of deleted scenes. In the past I even had a calendar of holidays that were unique to my world.

Now I might sound super-organized and nerdy. Well, I am not super-organized, not when it comes to writing. However, making this kind of system is really quite achievable, even for a busy college student like me who has to keep up with a lot of other responsibilities and hobbies. And I didn’t write all of it in a week; I created the document in 2013 and have been expanding it ever since as I write my books. You have no excuse: if you have time to write books and stories, you certainly have time to record little details like this as they come up.

As for the nerdiness… let’s face it: writers are nerds.

How do you keep track of all the details? Have you ever forgotten a detail and written a terrible blooper? Share in the comments!

In Which I Reveal a Title, Plot, and Characters

Life struck last week, and by life I mean wisdom teeth surgery, clep tests, and some form of head cold. Maybe it’s time for a nice easy update. Oh, I know- how about a writing update? This is a writing blog, after all, and I did promise to write blog posts about my works-in-progress.

So here you go: this is the first official post on the subject of my non-sequel, and I have few bits of news to share. Hang onto your hats, kids, because it will be an awesome ride.

First and foremost, I have chosen the title. Drumroll…

ALEN’S WAR

Yes, Alen’s War it is. I was trying so hard to avoid YA-cliche titles and still score decently high with this neat little titlescorer that I overthought it. At last, after boiling the story down to its essence, I’m satisfied that this title does the trick.

Secondly, what on earth is the story about? Right now I can only give you a rough summary. Yet who knows? I might end up keeping this as the basis for my official blurb.

Alen, the son of the king of Agran, is given a simple secret task: find an insurrectionist named Galer and bring him back quietly to the capital for trial. Yet with one tragic mistake Alen destroys a town and helps Galer to set off a full-blown rebellion. Soon Agran is embroiled in civil war and Alen himself is captured by raiders, who only lead him to wreak more havoc on his homeland.

When Alen finally returns to his father, he realizes that Agran is out to have his head and that his only hope for acquittal is to do his part and fight to end the war. He recruits Brandis, an old companion from his raiding days, and Turomar, an ill-disposed surveyor with a brain for strategy. All three of them want to end the war, but their own dark secrets haunt them at every turn and foil their plans.

Finally, characters. I have a small cast this time, at least compared to the twenty named characters in Son of Ren. (Why, yes, I did write an encyclopedia of names; how under the sun did you guess?) This time I have room for a few details on the characters themselves; namely, a picture of how I imagine them, their personality type, and a few thoughts about them.

Alen is a little older than this, but it’s close enough. (image credit)

Alen: ISFJ. I love writing this young esquire because he is so much like my sister Grace Olivia. Alen is innocent and pure-hearted, yet it is his fierce loyalty that causes him so much trouble. And he’s adorably naive about pretty much everything except literature and crossbows. My hope is that we can all identify with Alen to some extent.

Galer: ENFJ. The aforementioned insurrectionist was the hardest to figure out. Even as I type, I still have questions about the finer points of Galer’s personality. At heart, though, he and Alen are one and the same: they both are pure-hearted and loyal to their country. It’s just that their loyalty leads them to fight on different sides.

Brandis: ISTP. I chuckle every time I think about this raider. He loves weapons and has a dark sense of humor, yet he still speaks with the vocabulary of Shakespeare and keeps dark secrets hidden behind his smirk. Even in my imagination he was such an enigma that I had to figure him out.

Turomar: INTJ, the schemer. He’s just an architect in a seaside town, yet he has the mental capacity to end wars. At the same time, Turomar has a lot of emotional and ethical issues to work through. He has a dark past and focuses all his strength on making his own future bright, and he thinks no one can be trusted to help him with that.

That is all I can tell you right now. No more spoilers.

Want to share about your current project? Do you have any questions about mine? You can write it all in the comments.

MBTI: How It Can Help Your MC

Note: If you are unfamiliar with MBTI – the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – or missed Part 1 of this series, click here. Once you’ve read that, this post will make much more sense!

Once upon a time, there was a young author named Hannah who never had any struggles with characterization. She had in her head a wide array of staggeringly diverse characters, each with their own imagination, goals, and personal history, and even a few annoying habits to make them stand out. You see, she was one of those obsessive plotters who writes a biography for every one of them.

No individuality- just like the whole Star Wars hero-quest cliche, come to think of it.

Yet when Hannah sat down at her desk, armed with a laptop and her favorite peppermint coffee, and wrote the story for real, all the characters’ individuality was gone! They fell flat. She couldn’t put her finger on the reason, but her characters lacked that all-important sense of realness. No matter how much she rewrote and edited, they all just felt the same. So Hannah finished her peppermint coffee and buried her head in her hands, thinking, “I am a horrible writer.”

The end.

Now if this has never happened to you, mazel tov. You no longer need to read this post. If, however, you are the kind of writer who struggles with characterization, I’d like to encourage you that it’s a normal problem. The problem isn’t a lack of imagination. The problem is the writer’s own personality filter. Every time you sign up to write a character with a different personality from your own, you are agreeing to take on a whole new set of traits, values, and thought processes. And most writers don’t even realize it.

Here’s an example for all of you Sensing types. I plotted one of my protagonists, Elkay, as an ESTJ: a tough, steely leader with a sense of duty. However, by the time I finished the story, Elkay had morphed into an INTP: an objective puzzle-solver with big dreams. What facilitated such a change? It was myself; the ESTJ in my imagination had to go through me before he reached the paper, and I rubbed off many of my own traits to make him an INTP. Slightly different…

How on earth do we avoid this? I have a few suggestions:

Get familiar with various kinds of personalities. The truth is that you can’t write a different kind of person accurately until you get to know that kind of person. So spy on people. Talk to people. Analyze people. Be it an official temperament test like Myers-Briggs or simply an informal people-watching experiment, you must find some way of understanding how other people work. Read 16personalities.com and learn how people think, and then get to work applying this new knowledge.

Decide on an inspiration for your character. It’s permissible to have some sort of real-life basis to which you can refer as you write. Is your protagonist like Abe Lincoln? Read a book about him and get that character into your head. Find out his personality type. Is a villain like your sister? Take your sister’s personality and just transfer it to the villain (but be tactful about that one, my friend).

Write one scene over and over until you know what your character is really like. Try writing one scene multiple times, giving a different voice, worldview, goal, etc. to your character each time. It need not even be a scene that you will use in the final draft. Just play with the character, tweaking, rearranging, flipping him on his head until you find the essence of the character.

Rethink and rewrite. Sometimes a certain personality just doesn’t work for a character. Looking back, I realize that making Elkay an ESTJ would not work well at all with my plot, and it was for the best that he changed. Be flexible. You have to write more than one draft anyway; you might as well experiment with different personalities while you’re editing.

Has MBTI helped you write “real” characters? Let me know in the comments.

MBTI: The Good Kind of Four-Letter Words

I feel that the time has come for an explanation. Characterization is a strong suit of mine, as you might have guessed from reading my very first post, and even beyond my writing, I have a fascination for how people think. Therefore, when I discovered a tool called MBTI that shows how different people are wired, for me there was no going back to pantser characterization.

What is MBTI? It stands for Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality assessment that gives you a four-letter acronym (yes, more letters!) according to your personality type and temperament. Using these acronyms, people can study the different personalities and gain a better understanding of how their friends (or characters) think.

Does that sound like a lot? It’s really not that hard. All you have to do is take an in-depth online test… or just answer four simple questions below.

Well… this explanation works, too.

Are you an Extrovert or Introvert? In other words, how do you get energized- by being around other people, or by being alone? What makes you tired- being alone, or being around other people? Extroverts (E) get energy from others, while Introverts (I) get energy from themselves.  For example, I can only do one or two social events a week without burning out; I am an Introvert.

Are you Sensing or iNtuitive? Are you a big-picture person, or do you focus on details? Do you visualize the future, or do you keep your attention on the here-and-now? Sensors (S) look at what is, while iNtuitives (N) see what could be. Personally, I see big picture possibilities- after all, I write fantasy- so I am an N.

Are you Thinking or Feeling? Do you make decisions based on the end result, or do you consider the human side of things? Are you unemotional, or do you cry during movies? Thinkers (T) make decisions objectively, while Feelers (F) make decisions subjectively. I am more objective than not (most days of the week), so I am a T.

INTJ vs INTP- Ironically I have taken the Meyer's Briggs several times. I straddle the fence between J and P.:

Are you Judging or Perceiving? Do you like schedules and planners, or would you rather improvise? Are you a control-freak, or are you messy? Judgers (J) are routinized, while Perceivers (P) are more spontaneous. I make plans for almost everything, so I am a J.

Now just put those four letters together. For example, my four-letter combination goes like this: Introvert + iNtuitive + Thinking + Judging=INTJ.

Once you know your type, go ahead and read about it! You can find accurate descriptions of each personality on this page. Then take some time to read through the other descriptions, and you are well on your way to typing your own characters. Of course, once you get into MBTI theories, you may start analyzing your friends to figure out their personality types, and in extreme cases you may end up typing the characters in your favorite movies. I’ve done it, and believe me: it is perfectly fine. Anything that makes you a better writer is a worthwhile exercise… right?

Now all we have to talk about is how we use MBTI for characters. But that must wait for next week’s post…

Have you ever heard of MBTI before? Tell me your personality type in the comments!