Good characters are vital to any story. Think about all the TV fandoms—“Game of Thrones” comes to mind, as does “Supernatural” and the Star Wars franchise. Why do people go absolutely crazy over these shows? They love the characters. And so I’m here today, dear readers, to tell you how to create a multi-dimensional, heartstring-pulling, compelling fictional character.
There’s no way I’m getting this done in 500 words, so I’m just going to cover the basics.
Every character, be they the hero, the villain, or the guy who gets honked at for cutting someone off in traffic, needs three qualities. They are:
Everyone is good at something. Your character’s strengths are the things they’re good at or admirable qualities they possess. They might be smart, athletic, kind, funny, or attractive. They might be good at making friends or sword-fighting. Everyone character needs strengths—even the villain. The truth is that even the most despicable person has things you can admire about them—even if it’s simply their determination to reach their goal.
A quick word of warning: your characters should not be good at everything. There are three general categories your character’s strengths will fit into: intellectual, physical, or intrapersonal. In other words, they can be smart, athletic, or social butterflies—but never all three. Pick one, or two at the most, because perfect characters are boring.
To counteract your character’s strengths, they also need flaws. Thanks to a YouTuber (Ellen Brock, I believe), I now know that your character’s main flaw should be something rooted in their backstory. For example, Alynn’s character flaw is her extreme workaholic nature. She developed this after her mother was kidnapped and she basically had adulthood thrust upon her at the age of nine.
The flaw can be anything—pathological lying, a bad temper, depression—as long as it can be linked to something that happened in the character’s past. In most books, the character flaw is resolved as part of the book’s plot and/or the character’s arc.
Obviously, your character is going to have more bad qualities than just their flaw. They’re human, after all, and humans have bad qualities. Be it slouching, procrastinating, swearing, or constantly tripping over things, your character will have little things wrong with them that are called quirks.
Not all quirks are bad. I twirl my hair a lot. This is a quirk, and the only negative consequence to it is split ends. Another word for a quirk would be peculiarity, or something that makes that character unique. Quirks can be useful. My mom has the habit of clearing her throat, and it came in handy when my child self would get separated from her in Walmart.
Well, there you have it! The three things any character needs to be well-rounded and emotionally compelling, in less than 500 words! If you were a fictional character, what would some of your quirks be? And if you belonged to a fandom, which one would it be? Tell me in the comments below! (Also, feel free to ask questions, be they about the blog post or Where the Clouds Catch Fire in general.) God bless you, dear readers—and don’t forget to like us on Facebook!
Even though Rowan rarely accepted charity, he took up Colum’s offer to spend the night. Perhaps it was because a gentle rain had set in during dinner, or because the woods were too wild for camping in, or because the O’Shaughnessy family was simply too friendly for anyone to decline their offers of hospitality. However this miracle happened, Alynn was glad of it. She awoke the next morning to the smell of Kiva making breakfast.
Alynn pulled her dress on over her undershift and draped her plaid over her shoulder. She pinned it in place with a horseshoe-shaped pin, then tied it at the waist with a rope. Her belt had worn out two houses ago.
“You’re awake early,” Kiva said, stirring the stirabout. “Did you sleep well?”
“I did,” Alynn nodded. She dug through her family’s trunk, careful not to make too much noise, until she found her comb. She worked it through her strawberry-blonde tangles.
Rowan entered through the back door with a bucket of water. He smiled at Alynn. “I can’t thank yer family enough,” he told Kiva softly. “We’ll be leavin’ as soon as Tarin wakes up. I need to hunt for a job.”
“You’ll stay for breakfast,” Kiva said.
Rowan gave a smile that he didn’t mean. “I’d hate to intrude.”
“And I’d hate for the black pudding to go to waste. You’re stayin,’ Mr. Rowan, if there’s anythin’ I can do about it.”
Rowan hesitated, and Alynn smiled. He’d never turn down black pudding.
Tarin sat up, his hair as wild as a rat’s nest attacked by a stoat. “Lynder, where are we?” he asked.
“We’re still at Mr. Colum’s house,” Alynn said. She brushed Tarin’s hair while he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “In Barrygone.”
Tarin looked around. “Something smells funny.”
“It’s black pudding that Miss Kiva’s makin’ for breakfast.”
Tarin made a face, and Alynn gave a sympathetic smile. She wasn’t terribly fond of black pudding, either, but it was a welcome break from stirabout.
Alynn helped put breakfast on the table. Rowan ate quickly, then left to find at least a decent day’s work. Alynn ran her fingers over her rosary necklace and breathed a silent prayer that he would find a job. But she didn’t have time to worry. She helped Kiva wash the dishes, then went with Fiona to weed the garden.
“Do you like gardens?” Fiona asked.
“I don’t mind them, but I prefer spinning. Da’s got a spinnery. Sometimes, he lets me work with him. Wool makes yer hands soft, and it smells good.”
Alynn smiled. Not everyone enjoyed the distinctive barnyard odor of wool, but it reminded Alynn of her grandparent’s house in Limerick. “My Granddad was a shepherd,” she said. “He and Nan always had soft hands.”
“That must be grand. My Nan, she’s got claws like a banshee.” Fiona made a face, and Alynn caught herself giggling.
“Fiona, are you workin’ or talkin’?” Kiva demanded. She’d been working in the patch of dye plants. “It’s nigh to noon. What have ye finished?”
“The watercress, parsnips, and onions, and we’re halfway through the garlic,” Fiona announced.
“Grand job,” Kiva said. “Alynn, where’s yer brother?”
Alynn’s heart skipped a beat as she stood and scanned the yard. “Tarin!” she shouted. She saw nothing, she heard nothing, and fear started mounting within her. “Tarin, where are you?”
“Lynder!” cried a faint voice. Alynn spun around to see Tarin, followed closely by an unusually cheerful Rowan. Alynn gasped.
“You found a job?” she asked.
“I did!” Rowan said, taking Alynn into his arms as she ran to hug him. “And I found a house, not too far from here.”
“Where are you workin’?” Kiva asked.
“Harald Otarrson, the horse breeder. We’ll be livin’ on his croft.”
Kiva nodded. “I wish you luck.”
Rowan kept talking—probably thanking Kiva for the hospitality—but Alynn tuned out. Harald Otarrson was a Norse name, Norse just like the man who had kidnapped her mother. Part of Alynn was frightened, and part of her was livid. She squeezed Tarin’s hand until he squirmed, gave her thanks to Kiva, and clung to Rowan’s hand as they left for their new home.
The croft itself was beautiful. Horses grazed on grass greener than any dye, and stone walls kept them inside. But the hovel Rowan led them to was falling down.
The door hung precariously from one hinge as Rowan opened it. It reeked, as if dung had been used instead of mortar between the stones. The wattle-and-daub roof was still dripping from last night’s rain, and part of the wall looked as if a tree had fallen on it. Leaves and trash were strewn across the straw floor.
Alynn took a deep breath and blinked. Perhaps, if everything was cleaned and the bed was made up, and the roof was repaired, it would look more like a home.
“Tarin, fetch some firewood,” she said. “I’ll see if I can’t borrow a broom.”
Pen or pencil? Screen or paper? Coke or Pepsi? Writers have to make a lot of choices. And while people are curious as to what's best when it comes to platforms, writing utensils, and the great paper/screen debate, I can only answer their questions with what works best for me.
I started writing my first book in a notebook. I was ten when I started, and I remember sketching the single illustration at my sister's kindergarten graduation. I also remember walking dogs and saving money to buy my own computer, because my notebook was a pain in the butt. My grandmother actually bought me my first computer--a purple HP Pavilion which faithfully served its purpose for six years.
I prefer writing on computers for multiple reasons. It's faster to type than it is to write, it's a whole lot easier to edit your work, and it's easier to share with others. I'm not picky when it comes to my choice of computers. I currently use a Dell Inspiron. It's nice, and I like that it's a touchscreen, but you have to remember to turn it off periodically or it goes a little crazy. It also doesn't have a DVD drive, but I'm pretty sure they aren't standard anymore.
And as far as writing programs go....Word really is the best. I'm still using Office 2010 because my dad bought it a long time ago. OpenOffice is a good alternative, but for novel writing, I'm actually starting to use yWriter. (You might have heard of a similar software called Scrivener. yWriter is basically the same, just free and more dated.)
All this isn't to say that paper doesn't have its place. I use paper for outlining plots, character development, and drawing things like maps and timelines. I also store random notes on sticky pads. At the moment, I have a sticky pad listing the full name of a Welsh character (their patronymics go back five generations).
And when it comes to paper--pens or pencils? I had someone ask me this question on Quora once. I typically use mechanical pencils. I can't stand not being able to erase things. But pens have their place. I actually have a pen with a llama topper sitting in my pencil holder right now. I probably named it Kuzco. I watch too many movies.
I personally listen to music while I write. I don't know why. Instrumental music is supposed to boost creativity, but at the moment I'm listening to Thousand Foot Krutch, which doesn't exactly fit into that category. It still does a good job of masking the sounds of my sister playing with her friends out in the loft and my dog whining outside.
And for the age-old debate, Coke or Pepsi? Forget it. I don't do caffeine. (So don't even bother asking me if I drink coffee. I don't.)
What's your favorite writing medium? Do you drink Coke or Pepsi? Tell me in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
The oxcart ride was so rough that Alynn would have been less sore if she’d have walked. Nevertheless, she was grateful for the chance to rest. She slid off the cart and stretched her aching joints, and even Tarin made a face as he jumped down.
“Lynder, I’m hungry,” he said. “Do we have any more cheese?”
“I’ll check,” Alynn promised, even though she knew she wouldn’t find anything. “What about some watercress?”
“But I want cheese!”
Alynn checked the horse’s saddlebags one last time, and once again found nothing. “We don’t have any,” Alynn said. “We’ll get more. Don’t worry, Tarin.”
“It’s nigh time for tea,” Colum said. “Come eat with us, will you, Mr. Rowan?”
“I hate to intrude,” Rowan replied, which was his way of declining charity.
“Whisht, we love the company,” Colum said. “Run to Miss Kiva, lassie, and tell her we’ll be havin’ friends over!”
“I will, sir,” Alynn nodded. She ran into the spinnery, then into the room behind it that was so much like her home in Limerick, and looked around.
Colum O’Shaughnessy’s house was a perfect home. There was a pot bubbling over the fireplace, and a cat sleeping on the bed, and two girls playing with dolls on the floor. Everything was warm and cozy. Mrs. O’Shaughnessy was slicing bread at the table.
Nervously, Alynn rapped on the doorframe.
Mrs. O’Shaughnessy looked up. “Come in, child,” she said pleasantly. “Is it cardin’ spinnin’ you need from us?”
“I’m Alynn McNeil, and Mr. Colum said my father, my brother, and I could eat with ye tonight,” Alynn replied. “What can I do to help, Miss Kiva?”
“Stir the stew, if you’ve a mind to. Fiona, put the baby in her cradle and come help.”
Alynn stirred the stew as she was instructed, then looked beside her. A girl about her age, brown-haired and blue-eyed, was staring at her.
“How are you gettin’ on?” the girl asked. “I’m Fiona.”
“Set the table,” Kiva instructed. Fiona bounced off, and Alynn looked back at the stew. She’d have to be careful around Fiona. She’d learned long ago that girls her age were generally friendly, and the more friendly they were, the harder they were to leave. Usually, though, they’d leave her alone if she ignored them.
“You said yer name was Alynn, didn’t you? Where are you from? Are you stayin’ here?” Fiona babbled. She danced around the table, her skirt swirling, as she placed five bowls on the table. “Mum, we don’t have enough bowls.”
“Share one with Seamus, then,” Kiva said.
“Alright.” Fiona smiled at Alynn. One of her top front teeth was missing, and Alynn caught herself smiling back at her. She quickly checked herself and stared back at the stew.
“It smells good, doesn’t it?” Fiona asked. “That’s because Mum put lots of meat in it. It’s fierce good. I’ve not met a person yet who doesn’t like Mum’s stew.”
Tarin flew through the door. “Lynder, Mr. Colum says that he’s ready to eat,” he said. He looked at the stew, then the bread and cheese on the table, and grinned at Kiva. “You make good food! Can I have some cheese?”
“Tarin, whisht,” Alynn snapped. “I’m sorry, Miss Kiva. That’s my brother, Tarin. He should know his manners by now.” She glared at Tarin, but he smiled sweetly and hugged her legs.
“You shouldn’t be mad that I’m hungry,” he said.
“Oh, stop,” Alynn scolded, smiling. She filled a bowl with stew. “Sit at the table, will you?”
“I will.” Tarin climbed into a chair just as Rowan and Colum came in. Alynn filled the rest of the bowls with soup and was grateful to sit down with her own bowl. She’d only half-filled it, in case Rowan or Colum wanted extra.
“You’ve got to be hungrier than that, child,” Kiva said as she eyed Alynn’s bowl, and she gave her an extra ladle of soup.
Colum prayed for the food, and the adults all began talking about Rowan and where he was from and the weather there and the price of rent and livestock at market. Alynn tried to listen.
“I don’t get grown-ups,” Fiona said. “They talk about boring things. Don’t you think that?”
Alynn savored her bite of stew. She nodded.
“You don’t talk much, do you?”
“I talk,” Alynn insisted with her mouth full. She swallowed before she continued. “I just don’t get the chance to do it much.”
“I’m always at home workin’. I can’t talk to Tarin, because he’s too little.”
“You don’t have any sisters?” Fiona asked.
“That’s a fright. I’m sorry.” Fiona gave a sympathetic smile, but then her face brightened. “I can be yer sister. Will you like that?”
Every part of Alynn wanted to say no, that she’d only leave again, and she’d hurt them both. But Fiona’s shining eyes and hopeful smile changed Alynn’s “I won’t” to a quiet “I think that’s grand.”
Hello, dear readers! Here's an excerpt from Where the Clouds Catch Fire. Tell me what you think in the comments below!
Alynn woke the next morning not knowing a thing about the Norsemen’s meeting the previous night or their dashed plan to attack the monastery that morning. She went about her morning chores with the newfound joy of salvation in her heart, setting breakfast on the table just as Lukas came in from taking care of the animals.
“I surveyed the blizzard damage,” Lukas remarked, wiping snow off his boots. “Nothing worse than at least four inches of snow, thank the Lord. And…what, may I ask, is this ye’ve set on the table?”
“Parsnip porridge,” Alynn answered, hoping that she didn’t sound too ridiculous. “I finished a bag of oats yesterday, and the root cellar’s snowed over.”
Lukas stirred the pot over the fireplace suspiciously. “Indeed. How’d ye make it?”
“Grated, boiled, and seasoned parsnips,” Alynn answered. “It’s as ready as it’s ever going to be.”
Lukas sat down across from Alynn and bowed his head. “Precious Lord Jesus, we thank Ye fer a good night’s sleep, and fer protecting us during the blizzard last night. Thank Ye fer accepting Alynn into Yer family, and fer another beautiful day to grow closer to Ye and serve Ye. We pray that Ye’d bless this meal and the hands that prepared it—and keep us from food poisoning. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.”
Lukas opened his eyes to see Alynn glaring at him through angry turquoise eyes that snapped diamond sparks. “Food poisonin’?” she repeated. “Really?”
“I’m just teasing ye, but if ye’d just been served stirabout made out of parsnips, ye’d ask the same question.”
“But food poisonin’? Not even Tarin could ruin a parsnip that badly,” Alynn defended. “I’ve already test-tasted it, and I’m still alive. Don’t worry. Just try it.”
As he apprehensively took his first bite, Lukas seemed to choke as he put his hand over his mouth, forcing himself to swallow. “Och, goodness!” Lukas coughed, drinking half his mug of water. “What did ye add to this after ye tested it?”
Surprised, Alynn took a bite of something that had the bitterness of gall and the texture of vomit and spat it back into her bowl. “Faith! Lukas, I’m sorry…you might have been right about the food poisonin’. Will—”
“Alynn, calm down. It’s not that bad—”
“Not that bad, indeed!” Alynn contradicted. “My father could cook better than this! I can’t see how—it was melted snow, parsnips, and parsley, it shouldn’t taste that bad!”
Lukas looked up at her with a start. “We don’t have any parsley.”
Alynn paled. “We don’t?”
“Show me what ye used.”
Alynn got up, picked a bag out of the spice cabinet, and handed it to Lukas. He looked at the leaves inside of it, sniffing them curiously. “This is milfoil, Alynn,” he corrected.
Alynn’s eyes widened in surprise. “What? But—but it looks just like parsley, how can it…?”
“The Lord made it that way, I suppose.”
Alynn took the bag that Lukas handed her, tied it again, and put it away. “I’ll make curds tomorrow.”
“I could always make griddle cakes,” Lukas offered.
Alynn sighed. “I might have to take ye up on that offer. I’ll give this to the pigs.”
“Alynn, ye’ll do no such thing,” Lukas declared. He rose from the table and was at the cupboard before she could object. “Somewhere on the top shelf…in the back…I know we have some honey…there it is.” He sat back down and set a covered jar between them. “We are going to make this work.”
Cautiously, Alynn took a spoonful of honey and stirred it into her porridge. “Is it supposed to be this thick?” she asked. “Does it melt?”
“Ye act like ye’ve never seen honey before.”
“Lukas, I grew up patchin’ clothes with barley sacks, not sippin’ tea with the governor’s daughter. Of course I’ve never seen honey before!”
“Then pardon my asking,” Lukas said, stirring his bowl vigorously and tasting it. “Much better. How’s yer fried cabbage coming?”
“Fish oil doesn’t work. The pigs wouldn’t even eat it.”
Lukas hid his half-smile by taking a drink. “If ye can dig through the snow and get to the root cellar, how does stirabout sound fer tomorrow morning?”
“Better than parsnip porridge.”
“Aye,” Lukas nodded. He picked up his drinking mug. “To fallbacks.”
“We’re going camping tonight!”
Alynn McNeil couldn’t help but smile at her little brother’s antics. Tarin skipped beside her, holding her hand. “Will there be wolves like there were last time?” he asked.
“I hope not,” Alynn said.
“Aw,” Tarin mourned. His freckled face fell for a moment, but them he smiled again. “Maybe we’ll get to hear them sing! Da, why do wolves sing to the moon?”
Alynn looked up at her father Rowan, leading their rented horse. His eyes were distant, like they usually were, and his face was blank and expressionless.
“Da,” Alynn repeated. Nothing changed in Rowan’s appearance, so she tugged his sleeve. “Father!”
A spark of life jumped back into Rowan’s eyes for a moment. “What is it, Lynder?” he asked.
“Why do wolves sing at the moon?” Tarin asked again.
“Because—because wolves can’t always be together,” Rowan said. “But when they’re apart, they sing to the moon. When all the wolves, all across Ireland, sing at the same time, it’s like they’re singing together.”
Tarin smiled. Rowan picked him up and carried him on his hip. A journey of two and a half miles was difficult for Tarin to make on his five-year-old legs.
Part of Alynn wished that Rowan could pick her up and carry her, too. But she was eleven, already entrusted with running the McNeil household, and no one with that responsibility should be carried like a toddler.
“Can I ride on the horse?” Alynn asked.
“Me too?” Tarin asked.
Rowan looked at the horse, already laden with all the worldly goods his family possessed. “I don’t think there’s room for ye.”
“But I want to ride the horse,” Tarin said.
“But you can’t.”
Tarin grumbled and buried his face in his father’s royal blue and forest green plaid. Alynn wished she’d have kept her mouth shut.
As Alynn glanced at the forest that surrounded them, she became aware of a noise that was gently lifting itself above the clip-clopping of the horse’s hooves on the path. It sounded like a rumbling, too constant to be thunder, and at times what sounded like a man’s voice.
Suddenly, the rumbling was so close to Alynn she could feel it, and she turned to see the face of an ox, mere inches from her.
Alynn screamed, and Rowan snatched her out of harm’s way. The ox took a few confused steps backwards on the hidden side-path it was on, lowing as it went. A man jumped out of the ox-cart and started shouting at it to calm down.
“We’re fierce sorry, lassie!” the man said as soon as his ox was quiet again. “It’s hard to see anythin’ on these blasted forest paths!”
“No trouble,” Alynn breathed. She was still trembling as she clung to Rowan like a squirrel to a tree.
“Wayfarin’ strangers, are ye?” the man asked. He ran a hand through his hair, a wild cross between blond and brown. “Ye aren’t headin’ to Barrygone, are ye?”
“We are,” Rowan said. He offered his hand for a handshake. “Rowan McNeil.”
“Sure, how are you gettin’ on? Name’s Colum O’Shaughnessy.”
“We’re grand,” replied Rowan, which was the farthest thing from the truth he could have said. “How about yerself?”
“I’m grand, grand.” Colum hopped spryly into his oxcart and smiled. “I’m headin’ for Barrygone myself. I could give yer wee lass and her brother a lift, if they’d like.”
“Yay!” shouted Tarin, sliding down from Rowan’s arms and climbing into the oxcart. “Lynder, it’s full of wool!”
Alynn came around to the back of the oxcart and sat carefully, making Tarin sit down beside her. “You must own a spinnery, Mr. Colum.”
“That I do! You’ve a smart lass, Mr. Rowan!”
“She takes after her mum,” Rowan said. Alynn heard the clip-clopping of the rented horse’s hooves, then a shout from Colum, and the ox cart started moving with a jolt. It bounced over every dip and pebble on the dirt road, and Alynn clung to Tarin for fear he’d fall off.
“Lynder,” Tarin asked, as if he couldn’t feel the bumps, “are we going to stay in Barrygone for a long time, or are we movin’ again?”
Alynn gazed up at the sky. There were a few clouds, but not enough to hide the pure blue of the sky. A sudden beam of light dazed Alynn as the sun peeked out from behind a cloud.
“The sun’s shining,” Alynn said. “That means Jesus is smilin’, and I’d say that’s good luck.”
“Good,” said Tarin, cuddling closer to his sister. “I want to stay here.”
Alynn smiled. She prayed and wished with all her heart that they could stay. Even so, she’d learned never to tell Tarin they’d never move again. Lying was the one sin she didn’t enjoy bringing up in confession.
So we’re leaving for an indoor waterpark today.
My mom loves to swim. My sister loves to swim. My dad loves to pretend he’s on the beach, and I usually enjoy swimming once I get there. (That might involve being thrown into a pool while I’m fully clothed, but that’s another story.) Honestly, though, I’m a little apprehensive about going.
Let me back up. A long time ago, we lived in northern Illinois, so far north that we could get to the Wisconsin border in less time than it took us to get to the nearest Walmart and back. And so, since we didn’t have the option of swimming for too many months of the year, my parents used to take my sister and me to the Wisconsin Dells every so often.
I remember Camelot a little bit, and Key Lime Cove a little bit more, but the last one my parents took us to was called Chula Vista. We didn’t stay at the actual Chula Vista resort—our hotel was more of an actual hotel, with a topless mermaid painted on the wall of our room. Oh, and there was a Jacuzzi tub. Except that the bathroom was apparently too small to put it in, so it was in the main room.
Chula Vista was amazing. It had a Mesoamerican theme, and I remember going around the lazy river singing a homeschool history sentence about the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs. The slides and kiddy playground were fun, but the best part was a water coaster that was so high above everything else, I mistook it for an air duct. It was called the “Flyin’ Mayan,” and I must have ridden it six or seven times. Here's a picture:
My little sister hadn’t been feeling well. All I knew was that she’d been running a low-grade fever, which meant that one of my parents stayed home with her and let her swim in the Jacuzzi while I played at the hotel pool.
On the last day of our stay, we went back as a family to Chula Vista. We had a wonderful time until we were all dried off and bundled up, ready to head out into the wintery Wisconsin world and go home.
And then my sister threw up.
The staff was wonderful and cleaned everything up while my mom tended to my sister in the restroom. I just remembered standing there, slightly freaking out, and looking so scared and out-of-place that a staff member asked if I was okay.
Now, the Chula Vista Incident is just another thing for our family to laugh about. Nothing like that’s happened since, and I’m praying it won’t happen in the future. I guess I really don’t have too much to be apprehensive about…besides my irrational fear that the stair platforms will break down while we’re standing on them and I’ll fall to my death on nonslip concrete. But maybe, that’s something everyone worries about.
What’s your favorite vacation story? Do you have an irrational fear of waterpark stairs breaking? Let me know I’m not alone in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don’t forget to like us on Facebook!
America always comes up with the best national holidays. Today is Boss's Day, and I've gathered a few friends of mine to discuss this strange cause for celebration.
"Let's hurry this up," Ollie mutters, straightening his tie. "There's a faculty meeting at the college, and my friend Dom is buying Texas Roadhouse afterwards."
"Where's Runnin' Horse?" Alynn asks. I'm just about to answer when Running Horse herself comes through the door. In her hands is a bark cup full of something steaming.
"Nokomis teached me," she says in English proudly, handing the cup to Ollie. "You drink, yes? It help you."
"What is this?" Ollie demands.
Running Horse just smiles and babbles into her computer microphone. The translator's voice responds with, "Here it is! I do not know how bad it is, but this is what makes you feel comfortable."
Lukas takes the cup, marvels at its construction, and takes a quick sip. "This is milfoil tea," he says. "It's a medicine that cures nigh everything. Try some."
Ollie takes a reluctant drink and almost throws up. I wince. We forgot to tell Ollie how bitter milfoil is.
"Anyway, today is Boss's Day," I say. "And I'd like to talk about something that's sorely lacking in modern America's culture--work ethic."
"Technology makes everything easier," Ollie says, spitting into a Kleenex to get the taste of milfoil out of his mouth. "We work smart, not hard. There's nothing wrong with that."
"There is, when people chose not to work smart," I object. "There's too many people looking for the easy way out."
"Is there anythin' wrong with tryin' to make things easier to do?" Alynn asks.
"Of course not," Lukas answers. "But the Scriptures say in Ecclesiastes 9:10, 'Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might....' Even if something's done quickly, or an easier path is taken, it must be done well."
Ollie chuckles. "Most of my students put more effort into playing video games than they do into their midterm exams," he admits. "You've got a point there."
Running Horse shakes her head. "A good job used to distinguish between life and death. It is good and bad to change the times."
"She's right," I nod. "Consequences of a poorly-done task are usually short-lived in today's world. It wasn't always like that. Lukas, what happened when you didn't weed your garden?"
"The harvest was terrible," Lukas answers. "I nigh starved to death that winter."
"So what is it that you do, to make sure you're workin' hard?" Alynn asks.
I smile. "When I was little, I read a poem that was originally published in McGuffey's Eclectic Primer. I still sing it in my head while I'm doing something I don't necessarily enjoy. The poem goes,
'Work while you work,
Play while you play,
One thing each time,
That is the way.
Whatever you do,
Do with all your might.
Things done by halves
Are not done right.'"
"Don't wear that shirt," Mom told me the day of my driver's test. I looked down at my shirt. It was a nice t-shirt with a picture of Minnie Mouse on it. There wasn't anything wrong with it; in fact, it was one of my sister's nicest t-shirts before she decided to give it to me.
"What's wrong with it?" I asked Mom.
"You want to make a good first impression," Mom replied. "I guess there are grown-ups who like Minnie Mouse, but that's more of a kid's shirt."
So I changed my shirt, and I still failed. I wasn't good enough at parallel parking.
But first impressions are still important. In fact, a YouTube interview with a literary agent revealed that a good agent or editor can judge the quality of a novel just by reading the first eight lines.
I swear, literary agents have super powers. I read about 75 pages into a book once before I realized the main plot of the book was literally the protagonist deciding if she was going to keep a promise or not.
Anyway, when you're writing a book--or a short story, or even an essay--you need to make sure the "first" of everything is always awesome. The first chapter, the first page, the first paragraph. Even the first sentence is incredibly important. I mean, who wants to read this book after reading this opening line?
Everyone, that's who. (The book is apparently called Blood Rites by Jim Butcher, if you want to look into it.)
It's a good idea to start a book with action. Be that prose, like the above example, or a line of dialogue, as long as it's action, it's good.
I enjoy starting my books with a line of dialogue. It poses a lot of questions for the reader to answer. For example, in Where the Clouds Catch Fire's opening line of "Lynder, what are you lookin' at?", there are several questions. Who is the speaker? Who is Lynder? What is she looking at? And why does the speaker care? (You can find out under the "Read" tab above.)
But not all books are started with dialogue. Let's look at the first line of Blood Rites again. Who is the narrator? Why is the building on fire? Does our narrator have a habit of setting buildings on fire? Is the narrator in the building? Will he be safe if he is? What about the others in the building?
Dang, Jim Butcher knows what he's doing.
Let's look at my Wattpad work "Find Me" for another example of a book that begins with narrative: I always jump when I hear the bang of a White Man's lightning-stick, but today, I know that something is terribly wrong.
Who is the narrator? What is terribly wrong? How does the narrator know? What does she mean by "the bang of a White Man's lightning-stick"? We find out in the next few paragraphs:
I glance around my village. My people are being herded like buffalo, and the Blue Coats are the ones driving them. They have their horses and their lightning-sticks, barking orders and brandishing knives. A young brave runs for the woods, and he is shot. I shrink backwards.
"Nimaamaa!" I cry. My mother sees me and runs to me, holding my arms and staring into my eyes. I see that she is frightened, and it scares me.
"Listen to me, daughter," she says. "You must get out of here. You must run, and I will find you again."
So those are the first eight lines. What do you think so far? If you want to read more, you can by clicking here.
So what's your best opening line for a book or short story? I'd love to hear it in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
Hello, dear readers! Today is Columbus Day, and I've brought in a few of my dearest friends to help talk about what it means. Just like last week, we have Dr. Ollie Aberdeen, Alynn McNeil, Lukas McCamden, and Running Horse.
I picked a tomato from my garden today. Just one tomato, since I'm not used to gardening in Texas yet. Since I don't like tomatoes, it's sitting on the table between the five of us. Alynn and Lukas are convinced it's poisonous, and to Running Horse it looks too much like a deadly nightshade fruit. And since Ollie's looking a little green today, our little tomato is simply sitting there, listening to our conversation.
"Who knows what Columbus Day is?" I ask.
Running Horse says a few things into her online translator, and the computer's automated voice replies, "It is a tour of the White Man."
"Does it have anything to do with clouds?" Lukas asks.
"You're thinking of cumulus," Ollie corrects. "Columbus Day clearly has something to do with Christopher Columbus, the man who discovered America. I'm a scientist, not a--" here he says a colorful word or two--"historian."
Running Horse tilts her head to one side in confusion. With the little knowledge of English she has, she pieces together the sentence, "What means--"
"It doesn't matter," I assure her. "Columbus Day actually marks the day Christopher Columbus discovered America. Which brings us to the question, how do you express patriotism?"
"We've St. Patrick's Day," Alynn says. "Father would usually get the day off work, but he'd find a job playing his timpan somewhere. And sometimes, there would be food at the church." She looks up at Lukas. "What about you?"
"If it means anything in the current discussion, I usually celebrate the monastery's founding date of July 12 by reciting the names of those who lived there before me. I do the same two days before Easter to commemorate those killed in the massacre."
Ollie shrugs. "Patriotism is kind of a lost art in modern America. I haven't heard anyone mention Columbus Day today, except that it means the banks are closed, which is a--" another choice word--"inconvenience."
Running Horse is confused again. "What means--"
"What's your opinion on patriotism?" I ask her quickly.
I try to rephrase my sentence so she'll understand it. "What do you think...about people who love their country?"
"Is good," Running Horse smiles before turning to her translator. "My people are the first inhabitants of the country. It is wise to honor us, and we remember in the state more than just a blue, white, and reddish."
"She's right," Ollie admits. "When you think about it, it is a good idea to honor the Native Americans on national holidays. But I personally enjoy the music, and the bunting, and all that crap. The fireworks give me a headache."
"What do you, personally, do to honor your country?" Lukas asks. He looks at Ollie first, and he looks a little sheepish.
"Well, I try to wear red, white, and/or blue on the Fourth of July," he says. "Heck, I'm a nuclear physicist. I make scientific advancements that keep America ahead of the game! I pay my taxes and stand for the anthem. Anything else?"
"Do you have an army?" Alynn asks.
"Army, coast guard, navy, police force--you name it, we've got it."
"You might try thankin' them, for keepin' ye safe."
I smile. Alynn's right. Patriotism isn't always wearing certain colors, flying a flag, or knowing your state flower--even though these things are honorable. Sometimes, it's doing something good for the country that's done so many good things for you.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.