Sunday, December 2, 2018

Subplots & Storylines - October and November 2018

Questers, it has been A Very Long While since we caught up! How was the tail end of your autumn? Did you stuff yourself with Thanksgiving turkey? Tackle NaNoWriMo? Do you have snow yet??? I do!

My October and November was a long stream of homework interrupted by a few fun things, so I'll spare you the monotonous details and stick to the good stuff.

Life Subplots

Thanksgiving! It was good and full of food. And it was in October, where Thanksgiving is supposed to be. *winks at all my American pals*

Tons of homework--oh wait, I said I would skip that part. Except I will say that my heaviest course involved talking to a dozen strangers over the phone, running around scheduling interviews, conducting marketing research surveys, and writing some major papers. Heh.

I went to an escape room. It was a bank heist theme and yes, I did escape. Funny thing is I managed to pass this off as research for school. (Long story.)

I turned twenty-three!

Started Christmas shopping and had some soul chats with friends and listened to a lot of music. New favorites include Imagine Dragons' Origins album and a bunch of stuff by Mat Kearney.

Screen Storylines


Once Upon a Time, Season 6 - just one episode
Nothing new to report here, really. I've been moving so slowly through the season that it's hard to update the S&S posts with anything meaningful.

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Tomorrowland (rewatch)
During a tough stint of school deadlines when I was too exhausted to read, I took to watching 20-30 minutes of this before bed. I accidentally forgot to finish it, though . . . Whoops. Fun movie, though!
<3 p="">

Fantasia 2000
A change from my usual fare. This one was at times funny, other times poignant, and generally beautiful in a turn-of-the-century-animation way. My favorite piece was The Firebird.

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Inception (rewatch)
I've told people for years that this is one of my top favorite films even though I'd seen it only once. In October I watched it for the second time and remembered why I love it! Intense and paradoxical, the plot keeps you on your toes and the characters are fantastically well-defined.

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Ant-Man and the Wasp
Scott Lang makes me laugh and this sequel was a nice breather after the intensity of Avengers: Infinity War. But that post-credit scene . . . !


Once Upon a Time, Season 6 - again, just one episode
See above.

And it looks like that's all I watched in November! Wow. I guess I really was busy.

Page Subplots


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Crazy Love // Francis Chan
A nonfiction audiobook? When does Tracey ever listen to one of those? When she spends two hours on the road every day, that's when.

This wasn't quite as good as I was hoping. It did have some great portions. I especially liked the beginning that reminded me of the bigness of God. There were more good reminders scattered throughout, but overall, some chunks seemed to be written to make me feel guilty rather than to inspire true change. Yet that wasn't the purpose of the book as the author described it. So . . . 3.5 stars, I think.


From the Mouth of Elijah // Bryan Davis (reread)
From the fiery devastation of an erupting volcano to bullet-riddled battlefields to madcap dashes through one portal after another--sacrificial love once more leads the way. Lauren’s journey is particularly poignant in this book, but the entire cast of heroes demonstrate incredible faith too.

And it was fun to see Matt and Lauren become more accustomed to their heritage, preparing them for the crazy adventures of the next two books. 5 stars!

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If We Survive // Andrew Klavan (reread)
This was a reread and another audiobook, which was excellent. I already loved the book, but it was so fun to listen to it five years later. One of my favorite Klavan books!

High points include dear Will (who just wants to do the right thing, gosh darn it), Palmer Dunn (ex-Marine pilot full of snark and major skills), Meredith (the calm, stately friend who mothers everyone), the South American jungle setting, and the theme of "pointing your soul to God" in moments of great danger and worry. 5 stars!

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Fawkes // Nadine Brandes
I HAVE BEEN LONGING TO READ THIS FOR MONTHS. AHHH. I held off buying it until Realm Makers in July and then . . . let it sit on my shelf for three months, obviously. But it was so worth the wait and the hype!

First of all, historical fantasy. I need more. Seeing the streets of 17th century London running with color magic was SO PANCAKE-FLIPPING COOL. Thomas was a fantastic protagonist and Emma pulled off "kick-butt heroine" without being annoying. (She was actually fabulous.)

The plot was twisty, the full cast of characters sparkled with life, the magic system was fun, and the White Light took me by surprise in a good way. 5 stars!

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Haven // Mary Lindsey
I am definitely not the target audience for this book. Steamy paranormal romance is not. my. thing. But I got this in a PageHabit box (I was subscribed for two months last year) and it had author annotations and I felt obligated to try it. So I did.

You can check out my full review on Goodreads, but basically this was a Twilight-reversal with a troubled teen moving to a small, creepy town (of course) and "falling in love" with a female werewolf (who was aggressive and unlikeable and walked around naked after shifting back to human form, #thanksbutnothanks).

I say "falling in love" with quotation marks because neither party had much personality going for them, but neither one cared much because hey, all it takes to build a relationship is making out, right? Gag me now.

The first 50% of the book was packed with clich├ęs. The midpoint involved Rain, the protagonist, being disgustingly pushy with Freddie, the werewolf. And the rest was exceedingly bloody. 1 star.



The Seventh Door // Bryan Davis (reread)
Since I've been rereading all twelve books in these interconnected series this year, the parallels between The Seventh Door and Circles of Seven were even more apparent this time around--which was really cool!

There are some deeply sad scenes (the abortion clinic, for those who've read it) and some thought-provoking ones (the missile) that I enjoyed. Lauren plays a crucial role here, and the book ends on a tense note. 5 stars.

Written Storylines

In October, I dug up an old flash fiction piece and rewrote it. It's called Dead Magic, and working on it was a breath of fresh air! I submitted it to Havok Publishing so we'll see if anything comes of that in the near future.

For a teaser, here's the first line:

The door of Sebastian's Magickry opened with the tinkle of a bell precisely fifteen minutes after closing time.

Hello, December

It's been a good but very full two months, and I'm so ready for Christmas break! How about you, questers? What have I missed in your corner of the world?

Monday, November 12, 2018

Dust & Clay

Photo by Paul Robert on Unsplash // Graphics mine

On the days you feel lifeless

You are more.

When all you hold is dust

There is more.

When your mind whispers lies
And the mirror tells you lies
And the world screams lies

Look for more.

Still, Eternal One, You are our Father.

We are just clay, and You are the potter.

We are the product of Your creative action, shaped and formed into something of worth.

Isaiah 64:8 (The Voice)

Clay is common. It's dirt. It's walked on, buried, and disregarded. It's worthless.

But the moment an artist scoops clay onto the potter's wheel and shapes it into something, that clay is imbued with value. Someone with expertise and creative vision has turned it into a work of art, and the artist's fingerprints are all over it. It has become a beautiful expression of the creator's heart.

It matters.

One day the Eternal God scooped dirt out of the ground,

sculpted it into the shape we call human,

breathed the breath that gives life into the nostrils of the human,

and the human became a living soul."

Genesis 2:7 (The Voice)

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

You are not worth anything based on what you are made of. You are worth something based on who made you. The Artist's signature on your soul is living proof. The breath in your lungs--which isn't yours--is proof.

I am dust

You are God

I am breathless

Till You fill my lungs

-Dust, Steffany Gretzinger

I feel dusty sometimes. No matter how hard I try, my earthiness persists. I would rather be a vessel of polished marble or wondrous crystal, but instead I am a jar of clay. Yet I am worth more than a marble vase created by an amateur sculptor, because I was crafted by an expert artisan, and somehow He saw fit to place the treasure of His life within me.

But this beautiful treasure is contained in us--cracked pots made of earth and clay--so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen as coming from God and not from us.

...So we have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day.

2 Corinthians 4:7 & 16 (The Voice)

Breathe life today, friend. Walk through the dust and keep your chin up, because you are made worthy. You are an exclusive art exhibit on display in this world, authenticated by the Artist's unmistakeable touch.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Writers: How to Engage the Five Senses

Writers, have you ever received a critique saying that your story wasn't immersive enough? Have you ever heard, "Show, don't tell?" Have you ever struggled to convey your story's setting in a way that doesn't devolve into paragraph upon paragraph of dry exposition?

And readers, have you ever read a scene that felt like talking heads in a white room, with nothing to paint a picture of the surroundings? Have you ever felt detached from the main character, like you've become an outside observer instead of being welcomed into the character's deepest thoughts and feelings?

If you said yes to any of those questions, I've got a technique that will help you!

The writers among us, that is. The only help the readers will receive is an understanding of one reason why they may not click with a story. Sorry, guys.

Let's talk about THE FIVE SENSES.

Before you roll your eyes and tell me, "Yes, yes, we learned this in kindergarten," hear me out. Your story is lush and alive and teeming with creativity . . . in your mind. The challenge of writing is to transfer that vision to the page. It's harder than it looks. You have a living movie reeling through your thoughts, but the page? The page is blank until you start putting that movie into words.

And some things get lost in translation. I've written story elements that seemed so clear and obvious in my mind, only to have beta readers get confused.

I've written descriptions I thought were the most brilliantly vivid words to grace the page, until I reread it the next day and found it flat and lifeless.
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I've been writing long enough to have gotten better at this over time, but it's still something I wrestle with, particularly in first drafts. It might be a skill we writers will never perfect, but can continue improving.

So how do we transform lifeless prose and blank white rooms into that Technicolor movie in our heads?

Engage the senses.

Sight. Sound. Smell. Taste. Touch.

When you draw on all of them, your setting--and more importantly, your character's experiences within the setting--will come alive.

You may find yourself leaning on one or two of the five senses and neglecting the others. I depend most heavily on sight, as do most writers, I suspect. My default is to describe what the setting looks like. Perhaps that is the most important sense most of the time. After all, if the reader cannot picture what a place looks like, it's very difficult to choreograph action or ground a scene.

But sight alone is not enough. Your character has more than eyes--he or she has ears, a tongue, a nose, and skin, and all of these are just as busy experiencing his or her surroundings as yours are. In battle, your character will not just see an enemy horde. He will taste dirt and blood, hear the moans of the dying, feel his arms vibrate with a heavy sword strike. Cozied around a campfire, your character will not merely see the flickering orange flames. She will feel their heat and smell the smoke and hear the crackle of popping logs.

When dispensers of writing advice admonish you to show, not tell, what they often mean is that instead of cruising over the landscape with a cursory "he did this and she felt that," you should dive deep into the sensory experience.

Here are a few examples, some from my own writing, others from published books I've read.


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Throngs of people choked a road winding uphill toward the castle. [The Brightest Thread]

What do we see? Crowds, a twisty road, and some sense of a castle.

Shadows pooled between the trees. [The Brightest Thread]

We see a forest, and the verb choice gives us a sense of mystery.

Norwood stood at his dented and stained herb table, the backdrop of his curio cabinet displaying rows of green-hued bottles and jars, most of which held some sort of powder, paste, or plant. [Fawkes, Nadine Brandes)

These little details--the dented table, green bottles, powders and pastes--are potent enough to create an entire aesthetic for the room.


Low, rumbly voices filtered through the undergrowth, too muffled to make out the words. [The Brightest Thread]

In one sentence we know there are multiple speakers, they are some distance away, and they are either male or monstrous. (Correct answer: they're ogres.)

The yellow flags above me snap sharp and loud in the breeze as if to emphasize my owner's words that yes, she's quite aware such a high count is utterly ridiculous. [Storm Siren, Mary Weber]

"Snap" is a punchy verb bolstered by the two adjectives "sharp" and "loud," which together call to mind exactly the sound you're supposed to hear.

Image result for pixar gifs SMELL

The warm scents of buttered loaves and seasoned roasts were all that was left of the feast. [The Brightest Thread]

Is your mouth watering yet?

Moist air wafted past my nose, carrying the odor of a brewery--malt and hops. [Reapers, Bryan Davis]

In this scene, we're getting a sense of where the protagonist lives, and the smell of a brewery adds a unique detail.

The odor of fish mixed with the scent of roses, berries, fresh bread. Blood from the slaughter stall constricted my throat. [Fawkes, Nadine Brandes]

Ah, nothing like the blend of aromas from a seventeenth century London marketplace, am I right?


It took her awhile, but her reaction is priceless!!
He tosses a berry in a high arc toward me. I catch it in my mouth and break the delicate skin with my teeth. The sweet tartness explodes across my tongue. [The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins]

Mmm, now I'm hungry for berries . . .

(Oddly enough, I had a terribly hard time finding more good examples for this sense. It seems that the mere mention of food is often enough to conjure an idea of its taste. Other tastes often found in the books I read are blood, alcohol, salt, medicine, etc.*)

*Sounds like I read fantasy. *wink*


Aleida jumped off the log and stumbled on unsteady feet. Her skin buzzed with the aftermath of magic. [The Brightest Thread]

We all know how it feels to stumble or feel unsteady. We also get a sense of electricity with the word buzzed.

Thorns scratched her ankles and tree limbs whipped past her face. [The Brightest Thread]

Rather than just knowing the character is running through a forest, we feel the scratches of thorns and branches reaching out to block her way.

Prickly vibrations raced along my cloak from the baggy sleeves to the top of the hood, tickling the two-day stubble across my cheeks and chin. [Reapers, Bryan Davis]

Here a sensation is woven into the book's first clues about who the protagonist is (a male wearing a cloak).

All Together Now!

Now that we've seen the five senses in action, let's see what it looks like when multiple senses are used together.

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Birdsong filtered through the branches. Every rock and pine needle poked her slippers, but it didn’t matter. She was out; she was on an adventure and about to set her parents at ease. The thought of someone detecting her absence and giving chase prodded her into a light run. How good it felt to stretch her legs. [The Brightest Thread]

The only explicitly referenced senses are hearing (birdsong) and touch (poking her slippers, stretching her legs). But notice how other senses are implied? You might have pictured the forest, since branches, rocks, and pine needles are mentioned (sight). You may have even assumed the temperature (touch again) or imagined the scent of forest air (smell).

In well-written description it's not the quantity of senses used, but the quality that depicts the mood.

The important thing isn't to reel out a grocery list of sensory inputs every time your character walks onto a new scene. It's to use whichever senses are most important at the moment and let the reader's imagination fill in the gaps.

And that, my writer friends, is one way to immerse your reader in every scene you write! It's not the only tool by any means, but it certainly goes a long way in painting a vivid picture that lives and moves and breathes.


Assignment #1: If you're looking to practice this method, try reading a chapter of your current work-in-progress and highlighting every sensory description. See which senses you use most often. Consider which senses are underused. Look for places you haven't described any senses at all. Then dive in and make some changes!

Assignment #2: Crack open a favorite book and page to your favorite chapter. On a separate piece of paper, make two columns. In the first, list all the senses that the author explicitly describes. In the second, list all the extra, unwritten senses you imagine as you read. Have fun!