Many paths to a destination that looks different to every author.

It’s Spring break here in Utah, and my family and I spent a lovely weekend glamping (glamorously camping) at Zion park. Now, our style of camping veers from that of a hardcore person, like dramatically. But it’s something that works for our family of several kids and aging grandparents. According to my youngest kid’s words, it was the most epic vacation we’ve ever been to, and the memories we made will only become sweeter with time.

Which made me think of the path to publication because I’m an author, and I’m always thinking about the stories I’m working on, the ones I cheat with because I won’t have time to write them for a good couple of years, and the paths I took to get to this point in my career.

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Now, I’ve been writing aiming for publication for more than a decade, and my first books will come out next year, one in January and another one in the spring.

This doesn’t mean that I haven’t been able to share my writing with my readers before then. Last year I had an essay published at Uncanny Magazine, which was the highlight of my year. I’d been submitting short stories to Uncanny for a long time, but it was a personal essay what finally opened the door to this amazing publication for me.

A friend of mine introduced me to an educational products company that bought several of my short stories for young readers, both in English and in Spanish, and developed them in multi-media, including audio and educational software. Teacher friends often messaged me to tell me they’ve come across one of my stories at school, and that was always a thrill that kept me motivated to keep writing for children.

Like I stated in the title, the writerly destination looks different for each author, very much like the Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter.

My main goal was always the possibility to connect with at least one reader, and I know that even when being published in the educational market wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I stated this wish, the purpose of my writing was fulfilled, even if it was through a trail I hadn’t even anticipated when I started writing.

Still, I wanted to see my stories in a printed book.

For years and years, I worked on middle grade and young adult novels, but the first piece of writing that got me a publishing contract was a poem I pitched as a picture book¾which eventually went to a multi-house auction and earned me two-book deal with HarperCollins. The wish of seeing my name on a book is coming true next spring!

I’m so grateful for the unexpected blessing, and true to my Slytherin nature, I still wanted more. I wanted to sell a novel, but selling wasn’t much in my control. Although I was very close to selling a novel several times (Revised and Resubmit by editors, going to acquisition meetings for a couple of my stories), this goal kept eluding me. Until my agent came to me with an opportunity to write a book by a very well-known publisher¾a dream house! The editor provided a concept, and I auditioned for the opportunity to develop it. By auditioned, I mean, I wrote a full synopsis, and a partial, and we sent it off. To my surprise, we got an offer! I wrote that middle grade novel in record time, and I just sent off copy edits last week. I even saw a potential cover a few days ago, and I’m still reeling with happiness.

Now, although I didn’t come up with the original premise of this story, it still came out of my heart. When I reached out to a friend of mine asking if she thought I should make the main character a Latina girl, she reminded me to stay true to myself, and I did, and my character is one of the dearest to my heart. Although I was working with an already established concept, I had the liberty to literally color it at my pleasure, and I’m so happy with the results!

I’m excited to share more about this project that releases in January when my editors give the OK.

I never expected my first novel to come out of an in-house need, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to take this different path that will lead me straight to my main goal: connect with readers.

When my novels didn’t sell although my writing received great feedback, I researched on different options, and I was surprised at some alternate paths I had never considered before. Besides self-publishing, with which a lot of authors find much success, I came upon the concept of book packagers.

A book packager is a company that develops ideas, often high-concept, and find an author to execute them. Then, they sell it to publishers. The book packager retains the rights to the piece, and the author often receives a flat fee for writing the story, but the author’s name often appears on the book cover. Take a look at your shelves. A lot of favorite best-sellers were conceived by a packager who worked in collaboration with an author. Sometimes the author is already established, but many times, this kind of collaboration can catapult a debut author’s career. Some book packagers to note are CAKE Literary (founded and directed by industry powerhouses Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton), Glasstown Entertainment, Alloy Entertainment, Working Partners, Etc.

Other authors work with I.P. (intellectual property), that is, they’re asked to write a story in an already established world, like Star Wars or Marvel.

The more I looked, the more I realized there are many paths to my main goal I had never considered before. Of course, not all paths will work for or appeal to all writers, but if you don’t know about them, how will you know if they’ll appeal to you?

I encourage you all aspiring and established authors to look at all the options you have to share your writing with the world. You never know what will spark for you.

When my family was in Zion’s, the best views and greatest experiences didn’t happen while driving on the paved highway. It wasn’t until we ventured on the trails, that we discovered views we could have never imagined before.

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YamileMendezYamile (prounounced sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is an immigrant writer and reader, a dreamer and fighter, a Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA graduate, a 2014 New Visions Award Honor Winner, and one the 2015 Walter Dean Myers Inaugural Grant recipients. Born and raised in Rosario, Argentina (cradle of fútbol), she now lives in Alpine, Utah with her husband, five children, and three dogs, but her heart is with her family scattered all over the world. Find her on twitter: @YamileSMendez and online: yamilesmendez.com.

The Power of Descriptive Language

When it comes to descriptive language in fiction, some authors revel in rich, detailed descriptions, while others prefer a minimalist approach. But most writers agree that well-crafted descriptions, no matter their length, build worlds that come alive in our hearts and minds, creating an immersive experience for the reader.

I love this quote by Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

In my mind, this advice reaches beyond the standard catch phrase of “show, don’t tell.” It teaches us to imagine ourselves in our characters’ circumstances, to see what they see, feel what they feel. To draw on personal experience, tune in to every emotion, engage every sense. Then, after sifting through that wealth of data, to capture and re-create those circumstances by putting words to page.

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Think of your favorite novels, the ones where you’re left blinking in surprise at your real-life surroundings when you finally put the book down. Whether the story took place in your own hometown or on an alien world, the author’s skill with building and conveying the setting doubtless played a role in drawing you in.

What types of descriptive language are most effective? What techniques? Are adjectives becoming a thing of the past, or should you use as many as you want? I suspect that every writer will give you a different answer. It can be dangerous to get caught up in the game of what’s “okay” and what isn’t: counting adjectives and adverbs, using words other than “said,” or agonizing over whether you’re allowed to describe what a character is wearing. So much depends on personal taste, style, and instincts.

Don’t ever stop honing your craft. Find critique partners. Always do your research. But please allow yourself some freedom of expression. The debate that’s currently raging in the literary world about what authors are and are not allowed to write about is a sure path to self-doubt and creative stagnation.

Maybe your description of a spaceship’s corridors will be sterile and crisp, with clipped phrases and stark language to convey the coldness and loneliness of space. Or maybe you’re writing an epic space romance where the main character waxes poetic on the infinite beauty of the stars.

At the end of the day, your goal is to create an experience for the reader that is both visceral and vicarious. How you achieve that is the real trick, as any writer well knows.

There is no perfect way to write. But I will close with a favorite passage from one of my absolute favorite books, The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud:

“Long gray hair lay thick and lush across an ivory pillow. It cradled a gaunt white face, the skin flowing like wax beneath our candlelight. It was the face of a woman; an aged, wrinkled woman—bony, with a nose curved thin and sharp like the beak of some bird of prey. The lips were closed tight; the eyes, too.”

In this one short passage I count 13 adjectives (14 if you count curved as an adjective vs. a verb) and two similes. And it’s freaking fantastic.

Enough said.

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Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.

 

How Will Your Setting Affect Your Fight Scene

One thing in fight scenes that I often find is overlooked (or at least not as utilized as it could be) is the setting. Setting is crucial to a fight scene since where your characters are greatly affects what they can do and how they will fight. This is particularly applicable to fantasy, but if you have two characters get into a sword fight in the middle of a large, flat, empty section of land with no one and nothing in it, they can pretty much to whatever they want. They can draw their sword and swing it wildly.

But there aren’t really places like that. Parking lots have cars. Runways have airplanes. Even Nebraska has dips and rises and barbed wire fences and cows that would need to be taken into account. Chances are, if you’re writing a fight scene, there’s going to be something in your setting that needs to be taken into account.

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Take a crowded bar. If you have a character challenge another to a sword fight in a tavern, they might not even have enough space to draw their sword. Swords are long and take quite a bit of space to draw. Crowded taverns are often short on space. They are filled with tables, chairs, dishes, food, and other people that might end up as collateral damage. If you need to have a fight take place in a setting like this, you might have to modify things so that it’s physically possible to fight. Maybe they take the fight out into the street. Maybe the ceilings are high and they fight on the tables. Or maybe your characters don’t care about collateral damage and are willing to kill and destroy to get what they want. But you as a writer need to be aware of the situation and know how the setting will affect the way they fight.

The way people fight changes based on their setting. I used to co-teach a martial arts class full of teenage boys. They’d trained together for years and were all higher rank or black belts. Since they were more advanced (and less likely to hurt themselves) we would sometimes let them try out new things. Fighting with different weapons. Simulating different settings. That sort of thing.

One day, we pulled out the ground mats to simulate fighting on top of a building. The rules were that the first person to step off the mat lost (ie, fell off the building). Suddenly these boys, who had spent years kicking and punching together, completely changed their fighting styles. Kicking put them off balance in a situation where balance was vital. Instead, they were grabbing each other by the shoulders and trying to throw their opponent off balance and off of the “building.” A different fighting style for a different situation.

There are even variations in martial arts styles based on the setting they were developed in. For example, there are some subsets of Pencak Silat that were developed in slippery rice fields. Practitioners of those styles use low stances and are often quick to go to the ground in a fight. Their style of martial arts developed in response to the specific challenges of their setting.

If you have an action sequence in your story, how will your setting affect that? How can you use the unique details of your setting to add authenticity to your fight scene?

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20180131_162833 (4)Jenilyn Collings loves to read and is always looking for books that will make her laugh. She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She enjoys watching Korean dramas, BBC period pieces, and thinks Avatar: the Last Airbender is the best show ever made.

The Character Who Wants you to Wait

By Patricia Friedrich

I don’t like to stare at the blank page. And typically I don’t.

When writing either fiction or non-fiction, I usually take a bit of time thinking in an unstructured manner about what I am going to write. Ideas come to me while I do the dishes, when I walk, or as I work on something else. I rarely take notes on them. When I feel ready, I sit down and start writing, usually quite linearly. Some days are more productive, others less so, but once I sit down to write, I usually write. I tend to reach that stage already having a good sense of who my character is, although she will usually turn out to be more multifaceted as we further our acquaintance. As a pantser, I let things happen and often find that a character, put in a given situation, will reveal themselves anyway.

Not this time. I have now met my first character who wants me to wait.

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I know the basic facts about her: where she was born, what she does for a living, who her parents are. But she is a quiet one, and she is taking her time before telling me more. So while  I wait, I am looking for clues in others who have some of her traits—in movies, in books, in life. What can these other characters share with me that will allow me to know my own character better?

Sometimes it is a gesture, something in their eyes. Other times it is a belief or a like. Of course none of them is her, but they offer me hints, or little pieces of this jigsaw puzzle. Building her has become a bit like waiting for wine to reach its perfect season, when complexity of aroma and subtlety in tastes are at their peak.

This is something we are getting increasingly unaccustomed to. Our culture is one of immediate action, immediate response, no delayed gratification, no patience, no waiting. Digital modes have trained our brains to want to know everything and to want to know it all now! In the 1960s and 1970s, psychologist Walter Mischel became well known for his Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in which children were given one marshmallow and told that if they waited, without eating it, until the researcher came back into the room (usually 15 minutes later), they could have another marshmallow (or sometimes a cookie or pretzel). The test correlated the ability to wait for a bigger reward later to various measures of success in future life.

Would we all fail the marshmallow test now?

Maybe this character is my own marshmallow experiment. She is asking me to give it time at the moment for a better outcome later. And like the good student I am, I’m going to wait.

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Patricia Friedrich is a Professor of English (Linguistics/Rhetoric and Composition) at Arizona State University. She is an expert in the spread of English throughout the world, a researcher of peace in relation to language, and the author/editor of six books, including The Sociolinguistics of Digital Englishes and award-winning The Literary and Linguistic Construction of Obsessive-compulsive Disorder. She has written many chapters in other books and articles in such periodicals as Harvard Business Review and World Englishes. Her short fiction has appeared in literary journals such as The Linnet’s Wings, Birkensnake, and Gray Sparrow. Her novel manuscript, The Art of Always, won first prize in the “Realizing the Dream” competition as a mainstream fiction work (RWA’s Desert Rose Chapter). She is represented by TZLA Literary and Film Agency and lives in the greater Phoenix area with her family.

Looking Back on Published Novel #1

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Here are 10 things, in retrospect, that I think/feel about my first novel, and/or how my first book makes me feel about publishing in general. How’s THAT for a random lead-in for a top 10 list?

  1. When someone tells me that they’ve picked up The Next Door Boys, I cringe a little. I didn’t know how to write. I was given almost no edits. I only HOPE that the reader gives me another chance so they can see that I got better! (Every time I hear “got/get/getting/feel better” I think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I don’t see this as a problem, more like a delightful brain-quirk).
  2. There is nothing like getting that first big YES – I don’t care where or who it comes from. SOMEONE LIKES YOUR IDEA ENOUGH TO PUT MONEY AND TIME AND EFFORT BEHIND IT! That yes never gets old, BTW. And if it does, you should probably step back for a reality/gratitude check. (That sounds way more judgy than I mean for it to, but I’m leavin’ it anyway).
  3. Boy, did I have no idea how little most authors make. And by most, I mean about 95% of authors. (I’m going to exclude category romance authors here b/c their sales are distributed slightly, but just slightly, more evenly)
  4. My first royalty check (for ebook pre-sales) was 42.00. I was still thrilled. My second check for about 1250, was actually less thrilling because it made me realize how little an hour I made on those words.
  5. The characters in my first novel will always hold a special place in my heart, even though I wish with the power of a thousand fiery suns that I could re-edit/re-work the language. The lesson I’ve learned the hard way again and again is this: DON’T RUSH YOUR PROJECT.
  6. I’ll be honest and say that I knew nothing about contracts and also that I would have probably signed away my life to see my book on the shelf. Fortunately, I wasn’t asked to do that.
  7. My first novel was not the first of my novels I saw on Barnes bookshelves, it was one I co-wrote with Nyrae Dawn. My first novel saw the inside of LDS bookstores, and a few Barnes and Nobles in Utah. I lived in Alaska at the time, so…
  8. The impatience to get a second book of a series out in the world, is a force to be reckoned with.
  9. I wish I’d have stood up for myself more in edits, timelines, etc. I wish I’d have spent more time on my novel BEFORE I submitted it for publication. I wish I’d have gotten an agent before I signed my first contract (Only not my first agent, an agent who knows what they’re doing).
  10. As much as I wish I could tweak the inside of my first novel, I do still love the outside. And the longer I’m in publishing, the more I realize that a good cover is something to be cherished, because authors rarely have much say in the final version that comes out into the world.

So, this has been fun reminiscing. I wish I’d have gone to conferences and found more writing partners and friends BEFORE I signed that first contract. I wish I’d have dared to have bigger goals before that first book came out. I wished that I had sat down at some point to see where I wanted my writing to go, rather than being so consumed by the story. At the same time? I do miss the days when I could write with reckless abandon, without hope or understanding of  the heartbreak and/or work that would come after. That being said, I wouldn’t change what I do for anything.

Happy Writing!

~ Jolene Perry

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 6.17.25 PMJolene Perry is an author of young adult novels who was recently transplanted from Alaska to Colorado. She now climbs red rocks, rather than cold, grey ones. Her latest novel, ALL THE FOREVER THINGS, is a 2017 Whitney Finalist, and her teenage heart is happy.

You can find Jo on her website at jolenebperry.com. But at this time of year, most of her time goes to her duties as Chair of the Storymakers Writing Conference, held in Utah each May. And for that community, she is grateful.

Spring Back into Writing

Spring is here in Utah! I always think of my grandma during this time as she loved tulips and fancy Easter tea parties. She got all her grandkids giant chocolate eggs filled with buttercream, raspberry, or caramel. Our names were written on the top with blue and pink pastel frosting. I always picked caramel. It was a beautiful treat, that you almost didn’t want to eat, but that didn’t last long. When I start to ponder moments with her, I also remember the very last thing she said to me. One that has stuck in my core. One that quite often I remind myself to do and need to be reminded often. “Don’t forget to follow your dreams. Please take care of my girl too,” she’d said.

My grandma knew me very well and she had seen my love for taking care of those around me. She adored that, but she worried to know end that I would always put myself last. I promised her before she passed that I would make myself a priority and follow my dreams. That, seven years ago, was the day I began taking myself and my writing seriously.

Now, that we’re a few months into 2018 sometimes goals and motivation start to lag, and we need to be reminded to keep going. Follow our passions. Push through what feels to be impossible. Show yourself what you’re made of and write all those beautiful words.

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Each day throughout April, write a quote on an index card and post it somewhere so you can see it, or you can read it out loud, if you’d rather. Let’s spring our writing forward with motivation, inspiration, and allow ourselves to see where we’re growing, not where we’re falling short. Here’s a selection of quotes to get you jumping forward.

  • Write with confidence because your opinions count—Chloe Henderson
  • One of the key joys about being a writer is that everyone seems to do it slightly different—Marcus Sedgwick
  • Keep your writing time sacred—Chloe Henderson
  • It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creation— Gustave Flaubert
  • As soon as you start to pursue a dream, your life wakes up and everything has meaning— Barbara Sher
  • The prerequisite for me is to keep my well of ideas full. This means living as full and varied a life as possible— Michael Morpurgo
  • As is the case with anything that requires hard work, the more you do it the better you will become. Write as often as possible, and don’t feel you need to carry on from where you left off-you could write a scene that appears later, then you have the exciting puzzle of how to get from where you are to that scene—Chloe Henderson
  • Enjoy the process of writing and what you learn about yourself—Chloe Henderson
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started— Mark Twain
  • I write only because there is a voice within me that will not be still— Sylvia Plath
  • I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all— E.B. White
  • Break routine occasionally and surprise yourself by doing a new activity or exploring somewhere new. People-watching can be very inspiring to a writer. Imagine the stories people must tell, where they are going and what their dreams are—Chloe Henderson
  • Dream your idea into being. Don’t force it—Chloe Henderson
  • One must be drenched in words . . . to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment— Hart Crane
  • If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is— Richard Rhodes
  • Even the great writers admit to poor first drafts. You’re in good company—Chloe Henderson
  • I’ve found it helpful to spend time with my writing project like it is a person rather than a thing— Gilmore Tamny
  • Use your own experiences both good and bad—as fuel for your writing—Chloe Henderson
  • It’s better to write something imperfect that you could improve on later, then stare at a piece of paper (or a screen) waiting for “the muse” to inspire you—Deborah Nam-Krane
  • You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you’ve got something to say— F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Like life, your characters will need to go through highs and lows in order to appear as real as possible to the reader, and so that the reader will root for them and be interested enough to know what happens to them—Chloe Henderson
  • Look inside yourself, then beyond yourself and see that everyone has a unique story to tell-what’s yours—Chloe Henderson
  • I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means— Joan Didion
  • The good writer seems to be writing about himself, but has his eye always on that thread of the universe which runs through himself and all things—Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • If you have an idea just before going to bed, write it down or text/email it to yourself- because you won’t remember it in the morning—Chloe Henderson
  • Allow yourself to make mistakes—Chloe Henderson
  • Look for inspiration in your own work—seek out small clues in your writing that you can develop—Chloe Henderson
  • Don’t just celebrate your big wins. Celebrate for your failures, losses, and every little step you take that leads to the big steps. They’re all important in your personal journey—Lauri Schoenfeld

Learn from the rainstorms and remember they help to make things blossom! Keep writing and finish those stories. People are waiting to hear yours.

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Lauri Schoenfeld’s first love is her little clan of three silly kidlets and her wonderful hubby, Andy. Writing is a close second. She began writing poems at the age of nine, and her love for literature and music developed into composing thirty songs.  In 2014 her short story, Christmas Treasure, was featured in an anthology called, Angels from their Realms of Story.  Her favorite genre to write is anything dark, psychological, and suspenseful, but she enjoys expanding her horizons and dipping her feet in other genres as well.  Lauri teaches summer writing classes for kids and mentors teens throughout the year. She’s a Child Abuse and Scoliosis Survivor. Lauri runs a group for teen girls with Scoliosis called, The S Squad. Their motto is Strength, Support and Self Confidence.  She’s been known to dance around the house with a spoon as her microphone and sneak toppings from the ice cream bar. Lauri’s taken online classes at the Institute of Children’s Literature and was the President of the League of Utah Writers, Oquirrh Chapter for two years.  She’s a member of Crime Writers and International Thriller Writers.

Exploring a Character’s Past Wound

About five or six weeks ago, I rolled my ankle while walking to work. It wasn’t significant, I didn’t even lose my balance. Just a slight not okay and then okay and I continued on my way to work.

To you, this may seem like a non-story. People roll their ankles ALL the time. But this ankle has been traumatized. Many times. Over many years. This ankle was first really sprained when I was 14 years old, then again throughout the rest of high school. This is the ankle that I had reconstructed six years ago. This ankle still swells when there is a massive switch in the weather patterns, one that I am intentionally rehabbing once a week.

So a minor roll, a quick not even worth noticing not quite injury is, six weeks later, still sore, still slipping, still swollen. The small, non-injury is clearly an injury, and the emotions that I had after tearing two ligaments, after having it reconstructed, after trying to come back with atrophied muscles and incredible soreness are all living in the forefront of my mind.

When we are looking at why a character is the way they are, why they act or react the way they do, we need to make sure readers understand the emotional impact of events in their past and remember/recognize that even purely physical traumas can be accompanied with significant emotional contexts.

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Honoring the Past

While we don’t want to detail every single thing that has happened to a character in our book (really, please don’t), we, as the creators of these people do need to have a familiarity with what has made them who they are at the time of the story. People aren’t just self-conscious. They don’t “get big” when confronted for no cause, and they don’t shrink away in the same situation without a reason to be cautious.

Then, after you have learned/created/acknowledged this, you need to make sure that your readers have the same opportunity to understand. You need to pick the just right time that will deepen the moment of the current situation by allowing the memory of the past to penetrate the awareness we have of what made the character who he/she is.

Merging Then with Now

One of the reasons reconciling with the past is so powerful is that it can often serve as catalyst for where the character is when the story begins and where the character would like or should like to go. Their past can be something that happened a day or week ago, or it can be something that is months, years or decades old. What is important is that the character can first, learn what it is to reconcile what they did or what happened to them with the reality of the situation.

The second is to brace themselves for what the reality means for how they have to heal, and how they have to move forward. This may mean a candid conversation with themselves, and it may mean the incorporation of a therapist, counselor or trusted confidant.

The Reality of a Past Wound

There may be some wounds, some damages, that do not allow someone to heal completely. This, too, is something that needs to be explored: how will the character continue while a little bit broken? How will they adjust to a new reality that is different from what they wanted?

Exploring a character’s past with intentionality will solidify an arc and improve the quality of a story as a whole.

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Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.