Monday, June 29, 2015


Today's one of those in between times, where it's not a new month so I don't want to start a new series, but the previous series is already over... Which gives me just enough time to tell you about one of my favorite writerly organizational tools.

Sticky Notes

If you'll recall, I've posted this picture online before. As you can see, I have very many notes on my desktop, reminding me what needs to be done, ideas I've had, or some such other information. What you don't see is that there are actually far more notes than meets the eye. I've stacked them -- many of them -- and some are even hiding completely behind others, because I don't need them right now.

And that's what I'm here to tell you.

Especially for writers, it's of vast importance to maintain organization. If your personal life is sloppy, chances are your writing will be too. Sad to say, but it's true.

So here I offer you four reasons to use sticky notes and keep your life a little more organized:

1. It works like a checklist

 So when you finish something that's written on a note, you get to close it. It's a very satisfying feeling, getting to hit that little X because the task has been completed. It may not sound like it, but just wait until you give it a try.

2. They're difficult to forget or ignore

Especially if you're like me and you have a dark wallpaper on your desktop, having brightly colored sticky notes means I have a really hard time looking away from them. They're just sitting there staring at me all day long, and I literally cannot ignore them. I must do what's written there so I can make them go away.

Have I ever closed all of them? Well that's another story entirely.

3. You can have as many as you need

 Since they're on your desktop and not on your desk, it hardly matters how many you have out there. And if you're worried about people peeking over your shoulder and seeing the rainbow that is your screen, you can make them disappear whenever someone else is around.


4. It's a good place to store those pesky side ideas

For most of us writers, we don't just have one idea at a time. We have several. And sometimes we can't entertain one, because we're so focused on another. So, write a little reminder to yourself on a sticky note, and as soon as you have time to come back to it, it'll be waiting for you.

How do you guys use your sticky notes? Let me know in the comments!


{Rani D.}

Friday, June 26, 2015


On the last day of this series, I thought it'd be fun to bring up a movie I'm sure only a few of you have seen:

The Great Race 

It's one of my favorite silly old movies, and I recommend it to anyone who wants a good laugh. But it's also a story that shows us one simple idea about villains:

They need a sidekick.

1. Sidekicks take some of the pressure off the villain

Sometimes there's so much going on in a story that it's easier if the villain has someone they can rely on -- and that's where the sidekick comes in. This is a character who's also villainous, but who works with the main antagonist to make sure things are getting where they need to go.

For a story like The Great Race, Fate needed a sidekick if he was going to screw up enough times to make the story interesting. But for serious writing, your villain might need a sidekick to keep them on the right track and keep them moving forward.

2. Sidekicks can be the comic relief

Especially in things like The Great Race, sidekicks can be around for nothing more than added comic relief. Let's face it, in a lot of movies, we need to have a character who can be a little silly. Especially in stories that have a lot of darkness, a heavy weight cast over them, a screw-up sidekick can be just what the doctor ordered.

3. Sidekicks can take the more brutal beating... and still come out unscathed

Because they're not the main antagonist, readers tend not to put so much pressure on sidekicks. This means that we can send them into battle far easier, and expect them to come out with no problem whatsoever -- and the reader just might buy it.

For The Great Race, it meant that Max could dress up like a friar and beat people over the head with a metal pole... and it was still believable.

What did you guys think of this series? I hope it was fun for you -- it sure was fun for me! If you have suggestions for my next topic, drop a comment below!



Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Only one more post until we're done with this series! Can you believe it?

Today we're talking about a story that has far too many characters... and how the writer was able to make it work.

The Lord of the Rings

Tolkien was a fan of having a LOT of characters. If you've read the books, you'll have a far better understanding of what I mean. Sure, the movies have several characters too, but the books have so many that it can be hard to keep them straight.

And yet, somehow, he manages to do so... As long as you're paying enough attention.


1. Keep their names distinct

How often did you get confused between Gimli and Legolas in LOTR? For me, it didn't happen once.

If you keep your character's names unique, and keep them to where they match their owner, it makes everything a lot easier on your reader. If your characters have this distinct name quality, readers are able to pick up on it and separate them from the others in the story. Sometimes it also helps to have your characters define their names, and have them match it perfectly.

2. Separate their plots

In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien did this by breaking up the fellowship. The characters all split off into their own plotlines, with their own battles and their own struggles to face -- but they were all still fighting toward the same cause. This helped readers to know that Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas were in one group, Merry and Pippin were together, and that Sam and Frodo were on their own (okay, on their own for the most part).

3. Make sure they remember each other

Merry and Pippin, throughout their plotlines, continually brought everything back to Frodo and Sam. They were frequently talking about their friends and making the audience aware of the fact that they missed their compatriots. This helps us to link the stories together, to make sure that everything is still unified under the same story, but keeps it all separate enough that we still understand what's going on.

Can you guys think of other stories that work like this? I have a few off the top of my head, but I'm curious if you know any -- leave your answers in the comments!


{Rani D.}

Monday, June 22, 2015


Today, we're talking one of my favorite things:


And we're talking about them through one of my favorite old movies:



As I'm sure you know, sometimes in our stories, the villains end up with such a backstory that they're difficult to understand. I've seen it happen many a time, where there's too much going on and the villain becomes more interesting and complex than the hero...

And I'm sure I don't have to say this, but that's not generally a good thing.

Simplify your villain

1. Give them one specific "theme"

For Jaws, this is literally a theme. Duh-dun. Duh-dun. Duh-dun. You get the point. We all know exactly what's coming when we hear that music -- and we should know something of what's coming when there's a scene with your villain. They need to be so memorable and real that there's no doubt in our minds of what's going through their heads, of what really matters to them and what they're fighting for -- even if it is insane.

2. Give them a simple backstory

With Jaws, this is easy. The villain is a shark. It's already villainized by popular culture. People are terrified of sharks for some reason.

Your villains need to have that, too. They need to be something that inspires fear, something that we want to avoid and fight against. Because if they're not, then they just fall flat and nobody cares. Short version, we need to care about your villain too.

3. Give them an opposite to fight against

In Jaws, the shark was fighting against Brody. Well, sort of. It's not a perfect metaphor. Bear with me. Your villain needs someone who doesn't have that simple backstory, someone who we care more about because of their huge story, to fight against. Jaws did that by showing us various parts of Brody's life outside of his career, but there are many other ways to do it.

The point is, there needs to be an opposite.

What are your favorite simple villains? Let me know in the comments!


{Rani Divine}

Friday, June 19, 2015


You know how some stories have so many plotlines that it's hard to keep everything straight, and you end up getting really confused and not wanting to read it ever again?

We don't want to write those stories.

What we want to write are stories that are cohesive, that have plots and subplots, but aren't overly confusing.

You know what movie did that really well?


The question is, how did they do it so well?

1. Character development

Even though they had a lot of story going on, even though every level of the dream had something else going on to make it confusing, they made sure the characters were grounded in who they were, in what they were doing, and in what was going on.

If your characters understand what's going on and relay it properly, there's a better chance that your readers will understand it as well.

But all that comes from you being grounded enough in your story to know and understand every single plotline.

2. Humor

Every so often, the writers of Inception threw in something a little silly, something that would help the moviegoers to know exactly why things were the way they were (remember in the one dream where it's raining -- it's raining because the person who's dreaming needs to... erm... he has to pee).

Humor is memorable. People like things that are funny, and they more easily come to memory. So if you're struggling to make everything make sense, maybe you need a silly character who can sometimes state what's going on in a humorous sort of way.

3. Grounding information

Inception started with a dream. They let us know from the very beginning what the story was going to be about, and that we were going to need to pay attention if we were going to catch everything.

That's what you'll need to do, if you have so many plotlines. You'll need to let your reader know from the beginning that they're in for a ride, and that you're going to bring them out safe on the other side if they'll hold on tight enough.

That's what makes Inception so brilliant, because they did every one of these things to a masterful level. (In my opinion, so did The Matrix, but fewer people agree with me on that one)

What movies or books do you guys like that are written this way, with so many plots that it should be confusing, and yet it makes sense in the end?

Leave your answers in the comments!


{Rani D.}

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Show of hands -- how many of you have seen V for Vendetta?

It's one of my favorite movies, not because of what it stands for or because of the power within the words, but because of V himself.


I'll tell you.


1. Sometimes evil has to be defined

In the beginning of V for Vendetta, it's hard to tell what exactly is going on. In many ways, it's difficult to see the good through all the evil. That's what makes the story interesting. There's not a whole lot of good going on -- really, it's a little like evil fighting worse.

In those cases, we have to define what we mean to be evil. Who's really evil in the story?--V, or the government he's fighting against?

If you've seen the movie (or read the comic book), then you have your answer.

2. Sometimes it takes a bad guy to show everyone what's really right

Sutler is the real evil of the story, but most people seem to have submitted themselves to the notion that his way is right, that it's the only way. There's fear in the world, sure, but how could it be any other way?

Enter, the terrorist--V.

He's the bad guy to them, but through his actions, maybe she shows some of them what's really right. Maybe their eyes start to be opened to the truth, maybe they gain some courage through seeing him fighting against Sutler.

3. Sometimes a man who's projected as a villain is actually the hero of the story

In some stories, it's difficult to tell who the real villain is, and who's the hero. V for Vendetta is that way because V, the villain, the terrorist, is one of the heroes. He might be a little crazy in the way he's going about things, but he's doing what's right. He's teaching people the light, in his own insane way.

And sometimes it takes a villain to do that, because a real hero wouldn't have the guts to do it.

What other stories can you think of that are this way? Leave your answers in the comments!


{Rani Divine}

Monday, June 15, 2015


Today, I want you all to challenge your ideas of what's...


Have you ever seen Sanctuary? It's a show where Dr. Helen Magnus works to protect the people and beings among the general public who are known as abnormals. They're people with powers, or creatures we never thought were actually real -- and to Dr. Magnus, they're perfectly normal beings.

But it takes a special kind of story to be able to support creatures like that.

1. Normal is an objective word 

For Helen, abnormals are normal. She is one, in a way. She's lived hundreds of years, and hasn't really aged. During all that time, she's worked to help those who aren't so fortunate as to appear human.

Humans have this weird thing about inclusiveness. We don't like there to be other species that match us on the foodchain, other beings that might be just as good as us. But who's to say that there aren't aliens out there, aliens that might even be better than us?

To make a story with that kind of alien, you'll have to create your own form of normality. What's normal to these creatures? Obviously, it's not us. Humans need to become the abnormals. 

2. To make a new normal, sometimes you have to make better human beings

For this, one of my best suggestions is to look to Star Trek. There, humans and aliens work side by side in almost every episode (if not every episode). They're a part of each others lives in every possible way -- because the humans there are better than a lot of humans here.

3. To make this new normal seem truly normal, sometimes you'll have to write in an unfamiliar POV

Which means, you'll have to write it from the POV of what we humans might consider abnormal.

Think about it, though. A lot of stories are written from the POV of the abnormal, fighting against the normal. What if the abnormal and the normal were united, fighting for their own cause, side by side? What if people saw abnormality as the beauty hiding within the normal?

There's a lot that can be done, when we challenge our ideas of normal.

Leave some of your ideas in the comments -- I'm curious how many thinkers we have here!


{Rani D.}

Friday, June 12, 2015


Show of hands: who's seen Stargate?

Those of you who have, you'll have a leg up on everyone else for this post.

Those of you who haven't... don't worry, I'll explain everything.


This is for you historical science fiction writers. I know there are some of you out there, and I have to say, I really can't wait to read what you have in store for the world.

Stargate did something interesting with historical fiction, something that intrigued me to the point that I just had to make a blog post about it.

Aliens in history.


Read on, my friends. Read on.

1. Sometimes actual people from history make more sense as aliens

Case in point, the Pharaohs. Stargate posed that the Pharaohs of Egypt were actually aliens who came to Earth and enslaved the humans of Egypt. In all honesty, that makes more sense to me than a lot of the actual Egyptian history.

(for the record, I very much enjoy learning about their culture in particular -- I'm not saying their history is stupid, because, well, have you heard ANY of the U.S. history?) 

2. Sometimes actual events from history make more sense if aliens were the cause

What if Hitler were an alien?

For that matter, what if King Arthur was an alien?

Things start to make a little more sense, don't they? That's what I enjoy most about science fiction historical writing. We can take actual (or plausible) events from history and pose them in a new way, a way that wouldn't actually change the way things happened in history, but would change the implications of it. 

3. Sometimes the way the world developed... makes more sense if aliens were involved

Ponder the internet, for a few moments. After a while, it starts to hurt my brain. It doesn't make any sense, and yet almost everyone uses it almost every day.

What if the internet was brought to us by aliens? I dare one of you to write a story about that and submit it to Mavguard Magazine, because I REALLY want to read it.


{Rani Divine}

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


I'm excited about today. So. Freaking. Excited.


Because today I'm basing my post on one of my absolute favorite movies -- one that blew my mind the first time I watched it.

The Illusionist

But what can writers learn from this movie?

That would be my favorite type of main character: the unreliable narrator.

This is a narrator that doesn't tell the reader the truth, essentially. It's a narrator who lies, and frequently doesn't even realize they're lying.

And they're incredibly fun and challenging to write.

My hope is that in the three points below, you'll have a basis of where to start in the creation of your own unreliable narrator:

1. Create two truths

The real truth, and the truth as your narrator sees it. For example, Eisenheim tells us two truths throughout the whole of The Illusionist. There's the truth of what's really going on, and the truth as he would like us to know it (if you've seen the movie, you'll know what I mean -- if you haven't, you really need to cause it's so good!)

That's what your narrator needs to do. You, the writer, need to know the real truth (and never lose sight of it), while your narrator needs to be focused upon what they see as the truth.

Usually, this involves delusions of grandeur for your narrator, ones that your reader won't always realize right away.

2. Charisma 

People believe other people who are charming. That was one of the big draws for The Illusionist. Edward Norton is a charming guy, in pretty much everything I've ever seen him in. He has that way of making you believe what he's doing is real.

That's what your narrator needs to do. They must charm your reader into believing them, into trusting them, even while you (the writer) know from the beginning that your narrator couldn't be more wrong.

3. Remember that sometimes the illusion can be the real thing

In some cases, the illusion, the unreliability, is the actual truth. I know, it's confusing. I'll try to explain. For your narrator, this is real. This is truth. Sometimes, in order to write that, you'll need to think it's the truth as well.

I want to use an example from the movie, but I don't want to spoil the ending, so I'll just say this:

Sometimes, what's real is fake and what's fake is real.

It's our job to determine it, and to make sure the reader isn't confused in the end.


{Rani D.}

Monday, June 8, 2015


Remember in Star Wars, how Anakin is supposed to be the one to bring balance to the Force? (by the way, why did the Jedi think balance meant there would only be good? That doesn't make sense to me.)

Well, that's what we're talking about today.

Sort of.


Writing requires balance, just like the Force did. But unlike the Jedi of the Force, we're not trying to just have good. We're trying to have a solid balance between good and evil, so that things aren't swayed in one single direction.


Because we don't want our readers to be able to predict us.

With that in mind, three areas where we all need balance in our writing:

1. Between good and evil

Like I said, it's important that there be a tension between good and evil -- and that requires balance. But that doesn't mean the scales can't be slightly skewed. If you're writing primarily from the POV of your protagonist, and you want your protagonist to win in the end, then you likely want the scales to be weighed heavily in favor of your antagonist.

But if you want your antagonist to seem more human, you'll want to go closer to even-steven. 

And if you're writing from the POV of your antagonist and you want him to succeed, tip the scales in favor of the protagonist.

It's like a game of teeter-totter, and we get to play with the reader's mind while we get everything figured out for ourselves.

2. Between men and women

J.R.R. Tolkien is one of my favorite authors. He's amazing. But The Hobbit has one utterly fatal flaw: the story's main characters are all men.

All of them. All fifteen of them.

That's a problem.

Especially these days, people want to read female characters. We didn't hear from them for so long that it's time their voices be heard.

But don't just write women.

For myself, I make a rule that for every two average male characters, I create one very personable and fun female character. Why? Because female characters stand out more, especially when they're well written.

3. Between dialogue and exposition

This one is the one most people will disagree with me on, but you need to have a good 50/50 balance between dialogue and exposition. For some stories, you can get away with having more exposition or more dialogue, but the best stories are approximately 50/50.

So if you want to write a solid story that people want to read, do it half and half.

Keep it balanced.

But don't be afraid to tip the scales.



Friday, June 5, 2015


Star Trek

Okay, okay, so it technically started out as a television show... But I might as well count television in the series, so I'm going with it.

There's one phrase that epitomizes Star Trek, in my opinion:

To Boldly Go

We all recognize it, even if we haven't seen the show or the movie (I hope). But do you realize that it breaks a grammar rule?

It's a split infinitive. Which is just one of a few grammar rules I'm about to tell you are okay to break.

1. Split Infinitives

 See, the whole "never split an infinitive" rule comes from Latin. However, in Latin, it's impossible to split and infinitive because infinitives are only one word.

What the heck?

It doesn't make any sense. The rule is one that I believe should really be thrown out the window anyway, so go ahead and break it. Nobody boycotted Star Trek because Gene Roddenberry split his infinitive, and nobody will boycott you either. Promise. 

2. Commas

Cormac McCarthy, author of "The Road," didn't like commas. He didn't use them. Ever. He thought that they cluttered the page and made it harder to read.

You're allowed to do that too, if you want. Obviously, I like commas. I use them too often. But, I appreciate writers who don't use them. Honestly, many times I wish I could be like that.

Boycott commas!

3. Weeeeeeird Spellings

Sometimes when our characters are talking, they want to say weird crap that doesn't come out looking like English. Many editors would say that this is a bad thing, and that we should clean up their speech so it's easier to understand.

I say, if they're hard to understand, make em hard to understand. It'll put your reader deeper into your story, and it'll probably be more fun to write.

But these aren't the only rules you're allowed to break. Feel free to break any and all of them -- we have that creative liberty. People like to see new and interesting things in writing, and who knows, maybe you'll be the one to start a new trend!

All I'm asking is that you please not shorten though and through to tho and thru. Why? Because those two literally make me cringe.

And I don't even know why.



Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Red or Blue?

Monday we started a series on what Rani learned and the movies (I do enjoy slipping into the third person...) -- I hope you enjoyed part one!

For those of you who haven't seen the films in question, I'm doing my best to keep things where you'll still understand my points, and I'm not giving away any spoilers. I promise. :)


The Matrix

Remember that scene at the beginning of The Matrix, when Morpheus gives Neo the option between the red pill and the blue pill?

The blue pill will make Neo forget, make him go back to not knowing anything about the matrix, and living his life as he'd always been.
The red pill will take Neo out of the matrix, into the real world, and he'll "see how deep the rabbit hole goes."

Which one would you take, if given the choice?

For me, this makes an interesting character study. It's one of the questions that I ask of my characters, when I create them. If given the choice between remaining in their dream world or finding out the truth about the matrix, what would they do?

This is what asking that question of your characters will teach you:

1. Their adventure level

A little obvious, but no less important. By asking your characters between the red pill and the blue pill, you'll find out how adventurous they are. Just by asking this one simple question, you'll find out if Sally Joe would be willing to run away from home to find a better life for herself, or if Franklin Bobby would cower in the corner and never want to leave his room again.

This, in turn, tells us how our characters will act given certain circumstances that are sure to turn up in their story. After all, something bad has to happen to them for there to be a story at all. 

2. Their ability to see beyond themselves

This one, though a little harder to measure, helps us to understand how our characters will respond given life and death situations that do not concern themselves. Neo takes the red pill because he wants to know the truth about the matrix, to aid the people trapped inside, and to save Zion.

If your character would take the red pill, ask them then why. It'll teach you something about how they view the world, about what they see in those around them, which helps us to know how they react given large-scale dilemmas, in particular.

3. Their level of dedication to life

Again, a little tricky. But if Neo had taken the blue pill, I would say that he'd more dedicated to the notion of living. Even though there wasn't much to his life, though he was pretty much a sidelined nobody before Morpheus came along, if he'd taken the blue pill he would've been choosing to stay in that life and be a part of it.

If your character would take the blue pill, they might just be the same way. Or they might be delusional and okay with it. That's a question you'll have to ask for yourself.


{Rani D.}

Monday, June 1, 2015


Now that our One-Word series is done, I thought I'd take on another fun topic that I've always wanted to do:

What Rani learned from the movies.

Okay, it's not so cheesy and stupid, I promise. In each post this month, I'll be talking about an element of a specific movie or television show, or a quote/scene from that movie, and discuss how it relates to writing, and what I've gleaned from said movies.

Trust me, it'll be fun.

To start us off...

Star Wars

A wise old Jedi Master said something once, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away:

"Do, or do not. There is no try."

True, right? There can't be "trying" in our lives -- and I'll give you three good reasons why:

1. First drafts

How would we ever get a book finished if we didn't sit down and do it? If you want to write a novel (or even a short story), if you have a story in you that you want to get out, you have to do it. There's no trying here. You either do it, or you don't do it. There's no halfway here, because either you've written a book, or you haven't.

Millions of people have started books. Maybe they say they've tried. But they haven't done.

Be one of the doers.

2. Rejection letters

These happen when we send in our work to a publisher, and they don't like it. Everyone gets at least one rejection letter per piece that they write (usually). But you're not going to get one if you don't send in your work.

The thing is, by not doing it, you're depriving yourself of a learning experience. Many places will give you detailed reasons as to why they're not accepting your piece, and they'll even suggest an editor if you want to move forward with it.

We either do it and buck up, and deal with the heartache of that rejection letter, or we don't do it and we hide behind that fear.

There's no trying here either, my friends.

3. Reviews

My first review was... Less than what I would've liked for it to be. But, just like the rejection letters, I dealt with it. That's what we need to do. There will always be people out there who don't like our work -- that's normal, trust me. What's abnormal is when writers refuse to even ask for a review, when they don't even try to find out what other people think (it's also known as pride).

The point here is, we need to do it. If we don't get reviewed, if we don't find out what other people think of our work, we're never going to improve. And, trust me on this, we all need improvement somewhere.

The moral of the story is, stop saying you'll try, and just plain do it. Yoda would be pleased with you.