Characters should grow and evolve with the story.

Creating new worlds.
Creating new worlds.

Humanity loves good stories. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be so many books published, movies filmed and TV series renewed long past the date they stopped being relevant. We love forgetting about our everyday life and losing ourselves in the problems of fictional characters for a few hours. Sometimes we just need a distraction, but sometimes seeing these characters grow and overcome their troubles helps us face ours. That’s why stories are so important.


I receive a lot of review requests from self-published authors, so I have been reading a lot of new books lately. And I have noticed a worrying tendency – a lot of books tell a story, yes, but forget that a story is first and foremost about character growth. In the past 2 weeks alone I had started and dropped about 7 books because there was no character progression. They were well written and well-edited. Things were happening, the story was moving, but the main characters remained absolutely the same. It felt like nothing affected them at all. Unfortunately, that is the best way to lose my interest and make me put the book down.


I don’t know about you, but to me, all stories are primary about character growth, no matter the genre in which they are written. Even in mystery novels, the detective investigating a story is irrevocably changed by what he finds at the end of the book. The hero who sets off to rescue the princess / save his kingdom / just go on an adventure comes back older and (hopefully) wiser than he was at the beginning of the book.


Harry Potter starts book 1 as a naive twelve years old boy who is ignorant about the wizarding world and the role he played and still has to play in it. By the end of book 7, he is a radically different person: he has grown, not only physically, but also mentally. He has suffered great losses and found love and friendship along the way. He has matured and discovered what his priorities are and what he is willing to sacrifice for the people he loves. That’s why his choice to go to Voldemort and basically let him kill him to destroy the last horcrux is so significant. It shows that character growth.


The story doesn’t have to be as dramatic as that though. I have finished watching an excellent Korean drama called Queen of Reversals, and it’s all about everyday life. There are no life or death situations, no care chases or serial killers, but the story still pulls you in and keeps you wanting more, making you watch episode after episode. Why? Because it’s all about character growth. The story itself is simple and easy to relate to. A successful woman falls in love and marries after a whirlwind courtship. She gets pregnant and becomes stay at home mom while her husband struggles to earn a living. Unfortunately, he is nowhere as smart and successful as his wife has been, which puts a strain on their marriage, so she is forced to go back to work after 5 years, starting basically at the bottom of the ladder again. The whole story is about her struggle to go back to the top of that ladder again and to regain her self-confidence. A lot of things happen along the way, like her marriage failing and ending in a messy divorce coupled with problems at work that she has to overcome. Nothing earth-shattering. Just everyday stuff that all of us face in our lives as well.

It’s basically  a story about someone who loses everything and sees her life crumble in front of her eyes and has the strength to pull herself back up and fight for her success and happiness. Someone who gets betrayed by the person she loved, but still finds the courage to love and trust again. That’s why we can relate so well, that’s why we root for the heroine and cry and laugh with her until the end of the series.


That’s the point of the story, to make the characters change and evolve. If they don’t, then “Houston, we have a problem.” And I have noticed that a lot of first-time writers tend to overlook that character growth for some reason. They throw everything into the story. They add mystery after mystery, twist after twist. They up the stakes, throw dragons, armies and the next apocalypse at their protagonist, but forget that everything that happens MUST change that protagonist somehow, even if it’s in small ways.


If the heroine never learns from her mistakes and is just as loud, obnoxious and clueless at the end of the book as she was at the beginning – I’m sorry, she is not someone I can be bothered with. I want to read about fleshed out people, not  cheap video game characters who never evolve, but just level up and get better gear.


A good story is about characters. It’s about their journey and their trials. About how they grow and learn. About how they become a better person in the end… or turn into a monster. Doesn’t matter which way they go, as long as they evolve. Give me a good character arc with a satisfying ending, and I will be happy. But no amount of car chases and explosions will keep my interest if your world is populated with cardboard cutouts frozen in space and time.


That’s why when I start working on a story, I don’t think “what’s this story about?” I think “What do I want my characters to learn with this story? How do I want them to evolve?” I find it that the story just sort of comes to you once you determine your character’s arc.

The Writer’s worst enemy – self-doubt.

I have noticed that since I started writing almost 2 years ago, I am a more susceptible to extreme mood swings about my work. I can be on cloud nine one day about finally finishing that first draft, and absolutely hate is the next day because I’m certain that it’s just a load of crap and I just want to press DELETE and set my computer on fire.


Correct me if I’m wrong, but this must be a problem common to all creative people. I think it’s largely due to the fact that writing a book, creating a painting, or composing a beautiful song often takes a lot of time. Most of that time is spent toiling in our own corner, alone with our muse (if we’re lucky and that sucker actually deigned to grace us with his presence), our thoughts and our doubts.

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

It’s hard work and there is no instant gratification. You might get praise and admiration once that book is published, that painting is showcased or that song is played. Or you might get critiqued and ridiculed. Either way, there is no way to know until it’s done and out there for the world to see. Until that day, we simply have no way to know if what we create is any good or not.


It can be especially daunting when writing a novel, because it takes a LONG time. From the moment this plot bunny on crack happily hopped into your brain and wreaked havoc in it until the moment the finished novel is published, months if not years can pass. You spend time researching, creating your world, getting to know your characters, outlining the story to discover where it’s going. Then you sit down and write that horrible first draft with your own tears and blood. Then you have to edit it to resemble an actual novel that other people might want to read. Then you send it to beta readers who shred it to pieces. Then you get it back and edit it again. Then you send it to the editor who shreds it to pieces. Then you rewrite it yet again. That’s why you really need to be in love with our story when you start writing, because you will be spending  A LOT of time with it.


In any case, that’s a lot of work and a lot of time for insidious seeds of self-doubt to start creeping in and growing roots. And soon we start hearing that little voice in our head telling us that nobody will read what we write anyway, because it’s worthless, so we might as well give up now and spare us time and future humiliation. You know the sad part about it? Eight out of ten people who started writing a book will listen to this voice and give up before they even finish their first draft. And an overwhelming majority of those who actually finish it will be to scared by the prospect of dreaded revisions to pick it up again…

revision angst

Self-doubt is the slayer of dreams and the murderer of books. It’s an insidious monster that is very hard to fight against.


I must admit that it caught up with me about 3 weeks ago. I suddenly noticed that I wasn’t really motivated to write or edit anymore. I knew I needed to do it, but there always seemed to be an excuse NOT to do it. Dinner needs to be cooked, the day job is hard and demanding, the next episode of my favorite series is out… And when I would sit down to edit Mists, my thoughts would turn down the dangerous path of self-doubt.


The following thoughts would start crowding in my head. I’ve been writing non-stop for almost 2 years, but what do I have to show for that? One short story published in an anthology. I have three finished first drafts, but none of the novels is fully edited and nowhere near ready to be released. It feels like I have achieved nothing. And that feeling was dragging me down.


So what is the best weapon against self-doubt? First of all, find someone who will cheer you up. Even though writing is a solitary profession, we are never completely alone, especially with the internet at our fingertips. Talk to your family if they support your dreams, or your friends, or that special beta reader whom you share all your ideas with. Get on Twitter or Facebook and shout out to other writers – you will be amazed at the level of support and understanding you will get.


But most importantly, try to look at the situation in a positive light. In my case, instead of thinking about what I haven’t achieved in two years, I looked at what I managed to accomplish. I had a short story published. I wrote 3 more short stories in the same series. I actually managed to finish 3 full-size novels. I have at least 3 more novels in various stages of planning. I am so close to finishing my rewrite of Mists that I can almost see the publication date… If you look at it this way, I actually managed to accomplish quite a lot in those 2 years. And what do you know? I am motivated to finish editing that novel now!


I am interested in your opinions as well. Do you experience self-doubt? What do you do to fight it off?

Fair Game (Alpha and Omega 3) by Patricia Briggs.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5


A lot of things happened in Fair Game. The werewolves have finally announced their existence to the world, much like the fae had done over 50 years ago. With the light of the media scrutiny trained on them, the werewolves have to be on their best behavior, so the offenses that ended up with just a trashing or verbal warning are now punishable by death. And it falls to Charles, the Marrok’s enforcer, to carry out the execution.


Charles has never been keen about killing, but at least before he agreed that the crimes were on par with the punishment. Now, they are not, but he still has to kill those werewolves for his father’s sake. So instead of being angry at his father for making him do this, his anger turns into self-loathing. Charles is spiraling down into depression and Anna doesn’t know how to help him. Thankfully, the Marroks sends them to Boston where a series of murders point to a serial killer. They will be part of a joint task force between FBI, werewolves and fae, because all the victims were half-fae, but the latest one was a werewolf.


There are many things that I liked about this book. First of all, we get a greater insight into this interesting world and about human interaction with the other species. It was interesting to see the contempt and indifference with which they treated the fae and how the justice system was designed to protect humans first and foremost. Which brought us to the conflict at the end of the book that I won’t talk about because major spoilers 🙂


Of course, the situation is in part the fae’s fault as well, since they chose to only show the least powerful and non-lethal of their kind making the humans believe that the fae were pathetic weaklings happy to live in their reservations that anyone could bully around. I’m interested to see how the next book will read now that the stakes are up and the fae are done playing nice.

I also loved the giant step forward in character development Anna took since book 1. She was a scared and broken girl in book one, beaten almost to the breaking point. She started dealing with some of her psychological problems in book 2, notably her fear of Alphas and other dominant werewolves, as well as discovering what it means to be an Omega. In this book, we see her finally into her own. I love the person Anna has become. I love that even though she is usually a mild and non-conflictual person, she never covers or bows down to other werewolves or humans or fae. I love that she has her agency and that she isn’t afraid to act upon it. She drives the story of this book, with Charles and the other characters just getting dragged in her wake.


So why did I give this book only 3.5 stars then? Because despite the awesome world development and character progress for Anna, there are some flaws that I simply couldn’t overlook. And the biggest one of them is Charles. He was an awesome character in the first 2 books, but I think that the whole angst over killing others was overdone and dragged for way too long. It had started in book 2 and got only exacerbated in book 3. I get it that he feels like a murderer now. I get it that he feels like some of the executions he was forced to carry out were unjust. But he’s been doing that for most of his life, so why break now all of a sudden? And especially, why try to sever all emotional ties with the person who acts as your anchor? I felt like we were rehashing problems that had already been discussed and solved between Charles and Anna in book 2. So while this book was a progress for Anna’s character, it was definitely a regression for Charles. I had to fight the urge to yell at him for the first 3/4 of the book.


The second thing that really rubbed me the wrong way is the fact that Anna gets kidnapped… again. Good God, how many times is it now? One or two per book? It’s really getting old. Why does she always have to be rescued by Charles? She is a big bad werewolf as well, please let her get out of a sticky situation on her own for once! I especially hated it in Fair Game because her kidnapping served no other purpose than to make Charles realize that he needs to screw his head back the right way. Really? This is such an old trope that I had to roll my eyes.


So all in all, it’s a solid new installment in a series that I still love, but it’s weaker than the first 2 books, in my opinion, even though I appreciated the new world developments. I just hope that the next book will be better and kidnapping-free.

Linesman by S.K. Dunstall.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I must admit that I absolutely loved this book. It’s one of those books that grabs you from the first page and doesn’t let you go until you are done with the story. Needless to say that I spent a few sleepless nights finishing it up and was rather useless at work the next day because I just couldn’t put it down.

Humanity has spread through the cosmos and populated numerous worlds, all thanks to the Line technology – a technology humans had found on an alien spaceship and successfully replicated. The lines allow spaceships to travel through the void, making travel in space instantaneous. There are a total of 10 lines on a ship and each one is responsible for a different function, but the most important ones are line 9, which takes the ship in and out of the void, and line 10, which allows the ship to travel through the void to another destination.

However, nobody really understands how those lines work or why only certain people have the affinity to repair and maintain those lines. These people care called linesmen and they are ranked from rank 1 to 10, by the number of lines they can interact with. Level 10 linesmen are the rarest and the most important, thus the most sought after.

Then there is Ean Lambert who, while a certified 10, is a joke even among his peers. He came to the cartels late in life and pretty much taught himself how to communicate with the lines. And his method is very unorthodox to say the least. He sings to the line, because he perceives them as music, not as energy like all other linesmen. And he is persuaded that the lines are sentient. No wonder everyone else thinks he’s crazy. Until an alien ship appears in human space and it has a line that only Ean Lambert can hear and interact with…

I absolutely loved Ean. He has a huge chip on his shoulder because he has always been made to feel inadequate. Because of his origin as a kid from the slumps. Because he came to the cartel house as a teenager instead of a small child. Because his methods are unlike the standard methods thought by the cartels, thus are considered wrong. Because he’s always been the laughing stock of his peers.

What I love is that even though he doesn’t have much self-esteem at all, he still refuses to bend and conform to the “traditional” way of doing things. When it comes to the lines, he will always do what feels right, even if it means singing until his voice breaks and everybody looks at him like he has a few screws loose in his brain. He loves these lines, and amazingly enough, they return that feeling. I am happy with the personal growth Ean goes through in this book and that he finally finds a place where he belongs and where he is happy.

The world of Linesman is also really complex and interesting. There are several different factions and world alliances that are at the brink of war, and the appearance of a potential new weapon has all of the scrambling to get to it first.  Political alliances are brokered and broken, tensions run high, and skirmishes threaten to degenerate into a full-blown armed conflict.

There is a sense of urgency throughout this book that keeps your turning the pages, because you want to know what happened to Ean and the crew of the Lancastrian Princess and make sure that they are all okay.

Anyway, I strongly recommend this book to all science fiction lovers and I’m looking forward to Book 2 that’s supposed to come out in February.

Why I write my first drafts longhand.


Several people on Twitter asked why I write all of my first drafts longhand since it’s so much quicker to type it directly into Scrivener. While I answered them, there is only so much you can fit in 140 characters. Plus, I think that this is a good topic for a blog post.

I have been a writer for almost two years now, so I think that I have pretty much found a routine that works best for me. I went through a long process of trial and error to get there, but I’m pretty happy with what I have now (though every process can be perfected indefinitely). So maybe my ramblings and explanations can help someone else who is struggling with their productivity and is still looking for the best way to put words on the page?

Anyway, here are some of the reasons why I write my first drafts longhand.


1. You can carry a notepad and pen anywhere you go.


I work full time as an Office Manager and writing happens on top of that. My writing time can happen any time I have a spare minute: it could be during a 15 minute coffee break, during lunch, in the bathroom (yes, I have been known to go to the loo with a notepad, shock!), or in bed when my husband is asleep. So with this erratic schedule, it’s much easier to carry a small notepad and a pen in my purse than a tablet / netbook.

Plus, I need a normal keyboard to type fast. I hate the touch screen keyboard on my iPad, plus it seems like it can be laggy. Nothing aggravates  me more than to type up a whole sentence and wait for it to show on screen… only to notice that I mistyped something halfway through and have to break the flow and go back to correct. GRR. I know that some people don’t pay attention to mistakes when they write down their first draft, and mostly I don’t either, but when I notice one, I can’t just press on without correcting it first.

Also, a small notepad is easier to fit on the table during lunch than a tablet / netbook, especially how small the tables in some restaurants are.  And if I spill a drink on it by accident (it’s been known to happen), I only wasted $4-5 instead of $500.

Blue blood on the page!
Blue blood on the page!

2. Keeps you focused on the task at hand.


Don’t know about you guys, but when I sit at the computer, I can find a million things to keep me from writing. I would start writing something, then decide to look up a word on google, then read an interesting article, then check on Twitter, oh and Facebook just buzzed me that there is a new post, and where did 3 hours of my life go? End result – almost nothing written and lots of time on stupid stuff.

When I am alone with my pen and paper, I HAVE to focus on what I’m writing instead of letting my brain flutter around like a butterfly on Red Bull (especially if I leave my cell in the purse and resist the temptation to check Twitter every 15 mins as well). So I get a lot more writing done in 1 hour with a pen and paper than sitting in front of my computer, even though my typing speed is much faster than my writing speed.

Usually, during my 1 hour lunch, I manage to write about 600-800 words (and eat something as well, most of the time). As an example, I’ve been trying to write this blog post for the past 3 hours and I barely got to the midpoint. Granted, it’s Monday and I have a lot of work to do as well, but I also spent a lot of time procrastinating on the internet instead of writing.


3. Helps organize your thoughts.


I don’t know about you, but I have noticed that writing longhand forces me to organize my thoughts better, which in turn results in a cleaner first draft that requires less editing afterwards. Writing longhand gives me the opportunity to think about the scene I’m working on, choose the right words and commit them to paper. While my hand finishes one sentence, my brain is already working on the best wording for the next one.

As I said, I can type really fast, but sometimes my fingers get ahead of my brain. So the resulting text is sometimes less than adequate. Don’t get me wrong, during NaNoWriMo, when I need to write 1666 words per day to get to 50k by the end of November, I usually bypass longhand and mostly write directly into my Scrivener file, but when I don’t have that time constraint, I prefer taking a much slower approach.

Plus, there is just something magical about seeing a pristine white page slowly getting covered with blue ink that motivates you to keep on writing. Seeing the words appear on a computer screen doesn’t quite have the same effect, maybe because the end result is not quite as immediately tangible (unless you print your work every day).

Creating new worlds.
Creating new worlds.

4. First round of editing when typing the text into Scrivener.


To me, that’s an added advantage of writing the first draft longhand. On the weekends, I usually try to type up everything I wrote during the week into my Scrivener file, which means that my text goes through a first round of edits almost on the spot. Sometimes I just change a word or two. Sometimes a  few sentences here and there. It also happened that I wasn’t entirely satisfied with a scene when I first put it on paper, but by the time I was typing it up, my brain had come up with a better version that ended up being a full rewrite of the original scene.

So to me, writing longhand has some definite advantages, even if the process takes longer. I think that for those struggling with concentration or motivation, this method might be beneficial as well.


What about you, my fellow writers, what are your preferred methods of putting words on paper. What helps you get through that hard to do first draft and get to the end?

Dead Witch Walking (The Hallows book 1) by Kim Harrison.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Dead Witch Walking is a solid first novel in a brand new series. I loved the characters and the world Kim Harrison has created and I thoroughly enjoyed the story as well. I have only one gripe with this book, but it’s big enough to deduct a whole star out of the score.

Rachel Morgan is a witch and she has a big problem, because until she finds a way to pay off her contract with I.S., she is literally a dead witch walking.  Nobody has breached a contract with this organization and survived long enough to tell the tale. But she has a plan – with the help of Ivy, a living vampire bounty hunter and Jenks, a pixie bodyguard, she will track and shut down the biggest illegal Brimstone operation in Cincinnati.  That ought to get I.S. off her back, no? Either way, it’s not like she has much of a choice…

Welcome to a world where a virus hiding in genetically modified tomatoes wiped out 3/4 of the human population… which made things rather complicated for the supernatural races who turned out to be immune. With the population numbers shrinking, they cannot hide in the shadows anymore and had to make their presence known.

Thus Cincinnati has been split into two very distinct cities – on one side of the river is the “normal” town, where most of the human population lives, and the other side belongs to the Hallows, where everything supernatural gathers and thrives. Oh, humans can take a walk on the wild side and venture into the Hallows, but they are not guaranteed to come back in the same state as they entered, or come back at all.

It’s a rich and interesting world, even if the premise for the apocalypse is rather silly. A tomato responsible for the end of the world as we know it, really? But the new world in which Rachel lives is complex and fascinating, with real problems and engaging characters.

Speaking of characters, a series cannot be popular without a good protagonist, and I absolutely love Rachel Morgan. She is a kick-ass heroine. No matter how many times she is kicked down, she always finds the will to get up and keep going.

I loved Ivy and Jenks. They are just as complex and interesting as Rachel and both have their own sets of problems. I like how those 3 very different people chose to stick together and help each other get through this very difficult situation.

My only complaint is that I didn’t like Rachel’s love interest. I tried, I really did, but he just rubbed me the wrong way almost from the moment he was introduced. He is too nice, too good, too everything to be believable and likable. I kept thinking that he has just assumed this “nice guy” persona to get closer to Rachel and that he will turn out to be somebody awful in the end, because of how unbelievably nice he was. Nope, seems like that’s real. Works for some, I guess, but for me, his character definitely lacks depth, especially compared to the rest of the cast.

But other than that, Dead Witch Walking is an excellent read that I would definitely recommend. I already bought the second book in the series and I can’t wait to dive into it as well.

The songs that inspired my stories.

As writers, we are creative people, and everything and anything can nudge us towards the next story we absolutely have to tell. It can be a movie or TV series we saw, a video game we played, a book we just finished, or simply the way a flight of sparrows contrasted against a crimson sunset. To me, music plays a very big part in discovering new stories as well.


Let me explain. Unlike a lot of writing friends I talked to, I CANNOT write with music. Absolutely not. I don’t mind some background noise, like in a café or restaurant, or I would never be able to write on my lunch break, but as soon as there is a song with lyrics playing – it’s game over. I get distracted. I lose my train of thought and my writing session gets irrevocably derailed. I don’t know why. I would say that I start listening to the lyrics instead of writing, but then songs in a language I don’t understand (Japanese or Korean for example), still break my concentration, so that’s probably not it. Strangely enough, TV as background noise doesn’t have the same effect. Go figure.

Anyway, I don’t listen to music when I write, at least not if I want to be productive. However, music plays a huge part in the creative process anyway. All the stories I wrote so far have a particular song attached to them which acts as the soundtrack and the embodiment of that story.

Sometimes that songs comes during the writing process – I would hear it on the radio and have that “aha!” moment that tells me this song fits my story to the T. Sometimes I would find that song early in the planning and outlining stages. And sometimes I would find a song that would resonate with me for no particular reason, that I would obsess over for days if not weeks before  a story comes, and I understand that this songs belongs to it.

So today I wanted to share the songs that inspired and helped me write the stories I have written so far (and the one I’m plotting right now).


Of Broken Things:

This was the first story I’ve ever finished and it’s also the only science fiction story I have written so far. So when I heard Radioactive by Imagine Dragons, I couldn’t help but feel that it captured the mood of my story and my world perfectly. This future world where Aiden and GMS798 live in might be peaceful and prosperous on the outside, but there is still something toxic and radioactive brewing in the shadows. Because people will always remain the same, and power has a tendency to corrupt even the best of us.

“We’ll paint it red to fit right in.” That’s something GMS798 could have thought several times when he discovered that nothing really changed in the 100 years he’d been in cryo-sleep.


The Choices we make:

This story was song less for a long while, probably because I wasn’t sure where it was going when I first started writing. This is probably why I put it away for over a year and finished Of Broken Things before I dusted it off and finally managed to do an outline.

While writing my first draft, two songs stayed with me and I came to associate them with this story. It’s  Dance with the Devil by Breaking Benjamin and Demons by Imagine Dragons.

These songs both show that the characters in this story have to face some downright frightening things and uneven odds and also face their own demons in order to emerge better people on the other side, or die trying.

Shadow Hunters:

This is the latest project I’m working on. The idea came to me after watching the Korean Drama City Hunter, but it also came with a song attached to it (a song that has nothing to do with Korean dramas by the way). It’s Shatter Me by Lindsay Stirling.

This song is so perfect for this story, because it’s about young adults who still have a lot of growing up to do. They have to find their own way in this world, which takes a lot of courage, especially if that first step on the road towards the future they want means breaking with tradition or family wishes. So the fear of change that Lindsay talks about in her song is very relevant to the story.

Plus one of the characters is a gifted violin player 🙂


Still unnamed plot bunny that might be a future story:

As you can see, any story I write ends up getting at least one song associated with it. So when I happen to hear a song and it just won’t let me go, I tend to stop and think about it. Is that a story that’s trying to get to me?

This happened 3 weeks ago,  when I first heard the song Monster by BigBang.

Kpop is not something I usually listen to. First, I don’t understand the lyrics. Second, I don’t really like rap. But I kept obsessing over this particular song for some reason. I kept listening to it over and over. I even bought it on ITunes! I kept wondering why it touched me so much when I had to google the lyrics to even understand what the song was about. Then, last night, the miracle happened – the plot bunny finally hopped into my brain and made itself at home. Everything fell into place – the song and the story. So I guess I have my next project lined up after I am done with Shadow Hunters…



And now a question for my readers. Do you guys have songs that you associate with the stories you write or read? Is it just one or two songs or do you collect an entire playlist for each project?