My Conflicted Thoughts on the Keeper of the Lost Cities Series // Unlocked Sort-Of Review

A couple disclaimers before I get into the post:

  1. This is a SPOILER review! There will be many spoilers from Unlocked and some from the previous eight books of the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, so if you don’t want things spoiled for you, come back and read this later!
  2. This fandom in particular is full of very passionate people, myself included, with very strong opinions. I will be as considerate as possible with my opinions in this post, but please keep in mind that these are just my opinions. You don’t have to agree! I welcome discussion in the comments, just keep it kind and considerate!
  3. I will be mentioning the notorious ‘love triangle’ in this post, but it is not the main point of this post because I don’t believe it should be the main focal point of the series as a whole. Just to get it out of the way, I am Team Keefe. This doesn’t mean I hate Fitz, and it doesn’t mean I love every aspect of Keefe. I’m not here to start a fight, just share my thoughts.

Alright, now lets get into my review!

Just to be clear, I’m going to mostly be discussing the novella portion of Unlocked, not all the fun extras that take up the first half of the book. Cool? Cool.

I have been following the Keeper of the Lost Cities (KotLC) series since before book five came out. There was a time where I would have probably called this my favorite series. I went to the book signing for Flashback, I have fought hard for my side of the love triangle, I have had deep conversations about character motivations late at night with my friends. And because of all that, this series will always have a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf. However, just because I’m a fan doesn’t mean this series doesn’t have some… issues. As I’ve gotten into learning more about story craft, and taken a step back to objectively view this series these problems have begun to be a little more obvious to me. Yet I still buy every book when it comes out.

Well, almost every book. You see, I didn’t preorder Unlocked like I usually do with the new KotLC books. Instead, I got it for Christmas and read it in the span of a few hours. This was because I had lost a bit of my faith for the series. And I’ve finally figured out exactly why.

A very common discussion in the books is when the characters are making a plan to fight whatever big bad has shown up and they say something like “It doesn’t feel like we’ve gotten anywhere.” or “We haven’t made any progress!” or something like that. And… that’s true. See, I’m obsessed with character arcs. They are one of my favorite topics of conversation, by far. People growing and changing over the course of a story is my JAM.

The thing is, when it comes to this series, something Unlocked truly taught me is that these characters haven’t really had any arcs over the course of all 8.5 books. Sophie supposedly “found where she belonged” in book one, but since then has just kept mentioning how she feels she doesn’t fit in within the elvin world. Fitz apologized for his temper back in Exile, but since then we have seen very little progress when it comes to him learning to direct his anger. Keefe had the best and most full arc of all the characters… until Unlocked. Instead of learning from when he ran away in Neverseen, learning from the love his friends had shown him for the past years, he ran away again. This felt like one of the biggest steps back in the series so far. Instead of proving his transformation by granting him another opportunity to run and seeing him reject it, he just… did it again. As far as the other characters go, Biana had an arc in book one but hasn’t changed or even had a ton of page time since then. Tam maybe learned to be a little more trusting? Linh finally learned to test her powers and then also pretty much disappeared from the page. Dex finally let go of his Vacker grudge in Neverseen, which is the most stable and satisfying arc of the whole series, but then he too got set aside for a while. He did however have a more prominent role in Legacy, and he was my favorite part of Unlocked.

See what I’m saying? What progress has been made? Even when it comes to the villains they haven’t really made any huge strides forward.

Now there was major character transformation in Unlocked, on Keefe’s part. But it wasn’t forward progress. He doesn’t even sound like Keefe anymore. He’s retreated inside himself, lost his voice in more than one way. Sophie also had some change in Unlocked, becoming more confident. But she’s still insecure and comes across as rather petty in several circumstances.

I’m not saying these transformations aren’t understandable, these kids have been through a LOT, and these are all valid responses to grief and trauma. However, when every book presents another major blow and the characters respond the same way or even worse than they have before, it doesn’t prove to the reader that they can change. It makes the series as a whole seem like one progressive downhill battle where danger and trauma keep getting thrown at the characters like they’re some kind of proverbial punching bag and they never learn to do anything about it.

As a byproduct of all this, this series feels… directionless. Te only real progress that is ever made is in regards to the love triangle, and that’s been dragged out for quite a while. It has become the main focal point of the series, the only aspect of the story that is constantly progressing. And it’s gone on for a very long time.

If Sophie finally got through her ‘oblivion’ and realized people genuinely cared about her and it helped resolve her insecurities that several boys are into her, then it would feel more important. It all comes back around to the lack of real character arcs. And yet…

And yet I still, without fail, have the most emotional reactions to reading this series than most any other series in existence. I laugh out loud, I squeal, I gasp, I even cry. I literally leaned back in my chair and braced myself in Unlocked when Sophie first walked into the healing center and hit Keefe with a wall of emotions. I felt Keefe’s desperation to make it stop. And when Dex cried for his little brother? I teared up too. I cried way back in book one when Sophie thought she wouldn’t get adopted and was feeling abandoned and unloved. I have lived with these characters.

Writing is an art, and the point of art is to evoke emotion. So, despite all the technical faults I can nitpick about this series…. it does it’s job. It makes me feel. It isn’t perfect, no book ever is. But every time I crack open a KotLC book, it feels like coming home.

There are many things I would change about this series, but there are a TON more things I would change within my own writing. Every writer out there, especially me, has things we need to work on. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Shannon Messenger’s strength is making me feel real, deep emotions. And that’s an amazing talent that should be celebrated. So I’ll keep coming back, again and again. And if that character arc/progression issue is finally resolved? All the better.

Who else is ready for book 9?

Talk to me! Have you read Unlocked? What did you think? If you disagree with anything I said, let me know in the comments, I’d love to have a discussion! (You can even ask me why I’m on Team Keefe)

Know The Novel Part III: A Girl of Two Worlds

It’s officially December. NaNoWriMo is over. What am I going to do with my life now?

Keep on writing, that’s what. My next goal is to finish my first draft (maybe by the end of the year? We’ll see.) But first, it’s time for the third and final installment in Christine Smith’s Know Your Novel Linkup!

1. Firstly, how did writing this novel go all around?

Better than I could possibly have imagined. Not only did I hit my word count, but I also still love my story and the words that I have written. Yes, there are many edits to be made. Yes, my entire first chapter takes place in the wrong country and I didn’t realize that I needed to change it until a couple days before the end of NaNo. Yes, there are run on sentences and spelling errors and scenes that are a bit of a mess.

But I still love it.

I was amazed by two things when I went back to reread everything I had written. One was that I had written a lot more than I thought I had. Breaking it down into little 2k-ish a day chunks made it a much more manageable goal, and I hadn’t realized jut how many words 50k is until I went back and read it. The second was that I didn’t hate it. The last time I wrote about this much in a manuscript, I…. didn’t like it. That was because of my lack of outline and writing knowledge that made that version of the story a total hodgepodge of random events that wasn’t cohesive at all. This time, it feels like a real story because I stuck to my plan, and I am so glad I did.

2. Did it turn out like you expected or completely different? And how do you feel about the outcome?

The story itself pretty much turned out as I expected, but there were a few surprises. The surprises fit the story, though, because I took the time in October to do as much preparation as possible, so I really know this story. I am SO HAPPY with the outcome. I’m officially an outliner for life.

3. What aspect of the story did you love writing about the most? (Characters, plot, setting, prose, etc.)

Ooh, this is hard. I think its a tie between characters and plot, since they’re so closely intertwined in this story. I’m a very character-driven writer, so it’s hard for me to separate the plot (AKA, the choices the characters make) from the characters themselves. So I think I’ll say my favorite part was the transformative journey of my characters, because I refuse to choose.

4. How about your least favorite part?

Descriptions. I’m not too terrible at writing descriptions, its just something that is super hard for me to work into my first draft. I need to see the whole scene laid out before me before I can get into descriptions. I spent way too long staring at the wall trying to decide how to describe various rooms before I just gave up and left it for Future Jorja to deal with.

5. What do you feel like needs the most work?

Probably the descriptions, like I just said. There’s also some plot things I need to iron out. Minor details and world building and the like.

6. How do you feel about your characters now? Who’s your favorite? Least favorite? Anyone surprise you? Give us all the details!

I still love them all! In fact, I love them even MORE now that I really know them. Picking a favorite seems totally impossible, I legitimately have no idea. I’ll write one scene and Ava will be my favorite, then in the next scene it’ll be Kara. Oh wait, then it’s Liam, or CJ, or Shawn or Ross.

My least favorite character is probably… Rai? You guys have never heard of him, because he’s a side character in the book that doesn’t get much page time and isn’t very important.

They literally ALL surprised me at one time or another. I mentioned the Shawn fiasco in my Know the Novel Part II post, in which Mr. Side Character decided he wanted to be Mr. Major Character, and now he is. I have no regrets. I think CJ was the next most surprising. His personality is different than I had originally planned. He became this soft-spoken, patient doctor-in-training who pushes his fears aside constantly and is acutely aware of his own flaws, and I love this version of him so much more than the one I had planned. He’s really what the story needed.

7. What’s your next plan of action with this novel?

Finish the draft! Then I’ll do some preliminary edits and set it aside for a little while so I can come back to it with fresh eyes. I’ll probably start another project during the time I have it set aside, I have several half-outlines sitting on my computer waiting to be fleshed out. The hard part will be choosing which one to pursue next.

8. If you could have your greatest dream realized for this novel, what would it be?

I truly hope that this novel will change someone’s life. It would be amazing to get an email or a letter or even have someone come up to me in person at a book event (that’s another dream of mine. Book tour? Yes please.) and tell me that this book means something to them. I’d probably cry.

Another dream of mine is to actually get published. Holding an actual physical copy of my book in my hands is another thing that would probably make me cry.

9. Share some of your favorite snippets!

*Desperately sifts through manuscript searching for snippets without spoilers*

This is one of my favorite lines:

Fortunately, it wasn’t hard to find the Taylors.
Unfortunately, they were in the direction everyone else was rushing away from.

And here’s a conversation between three of the Taylor siblings:

“You have the house key?” Kara asked.
Liam reached in his pocket and pulled out a small silver key. “Of course.” He tossed it towards Kara.
“You say ‘of course’,” Ben said, “Like you didn’t forget it last time.”
“Geez, that was one time.”

And one more, for good measure:

She passed the guitar back to the man. “Thank you for letting me play it.”
“Will you be back in town square tomorrow?” he asked. “I’d love to hear you play again.”
She shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. I’m leaving later today.”
“With the Taylors?”
“Yes, how did you know that?”
“They can be pretty easy to spot.” He pointed behind her.
She turned to see Kara. She had climbed on top of the overhang of a storefront, blue hair shining in the sun. Ava couldn’t hear what she was saying, but it was clear she was addressing the crowd.
“I have to go,” she told the guitarist.
He nodded. “I wish you luck on your travels, Miss Ava. I hope you pass through our little town again some day.”
“I do too.” And she meant it. She offered him a parting smile before rushing towards Kara.
“-brothers are getting it ready to leave with us. The flamedeer will not longer be a threat to you, the forest, or the buildings of this town.” She was talking in a clear, confident voice, as if climbing buildings and giving speeches was something she did everyday.
And maybe it was.

Yes, all three of those snippets had to do with the Taylors. Part of that is because I love them so much. Part of it is because a lot of the other characters have many spoilers associated with them.

10. Did you glean any new writing and/or life lessons from writing this novel?

I talked about what I learned from NaNo in my post last week. I learned so much about my process this month, and about writing in general. There are some things that, no matter how many books/lectures/videos/blog posts you read or watch on writing, you simply can’t learn without doing. I learned my process of overcoming writers block in a matter of minutes, and how to break down goals to make them more achievable, and how much work I can get done in a set amount of time. These are all things I am going to keep applying to my writing life, even now that NaNo is over, in an attempt to create a lasting habit that helps me achieve those dreams I talked about back in question 8.

Thanks for joining me on this crazy ride! I plan to share more about my writing process and projects as time goes on, but I’d also like to know what you want to see from me! Book reviews? Writing advice? Q&As? Character interviews? Something else? Let me know in the comments!

I WON NANOWRIMO!! // NaNoWriMo 2020 Update

I still can’t BELIEVE that I can write that title, but here I am.

50,000 words is more than I have ever written in one manuscript, and instead of taking over a year, it took less than a month. I’m still kind of freaking out.

It was six o’ clock in the morning on November 28th, and I had about 2,500 words left to write. I knew I would have time when I finished my work shift to write in the evening if I needed to, but I didn’t want to, since I prefer to write in the mornings.

At nine o’ clock, I checked my word count. And I was at 50,007 words.

I immediately made myself a chai latte and ate some cookies to celebrate.

I am SO excited! I accomplished so much this month. I haven’t finished my first draft yet, I still have a little ways to go before that, but I finally stuck to my outline enough that this is a cohesive story, and one that I truly LOVE.

I also learned so much, about my own writing process and about story craft in general. I learned how to write parallel scenes to showcase character transformation, how to differentiate the voices of point of view characters, how to hold tension within a scene. I learned that I need something to drink while I’m writing, weather that’s water or tea, and that I work better in the mornings.

I learned that I am capable of hitting 50k.

So, yeah. That was my adventure. I hope you all enjoyed following along on my NaNoWriMo journey! I have one more post to do in my NaNo series, which will be Know The Novel Part III. I’m looking foreward to sharing more about A Girl of Two Worlds, because this story has already captured my heat and I hope it will grow to capture some of yours as well!

If you have any questions for me about NaNo or my WIP, let me know in the comments! I might answer vaguely because of spoilers, but hey, it’s worth a shot, right? If you did NaNo, let me know how it went! And remember, all progress is good progress, even if you didn’t win this year!

Thank you all for your support this month, it means a lot to me!

Know the Novel Part II: In the WIP!

It is officially time to get into Part 2 of Christine Smith’s Know the Novel Linkup! A Girl of Two Worlds is coming along splendidly and I’m so excited to share more about it today! Let’s get right into it, shall we?

1. How’s the writing going overall?

Really well. I’ve been consistently surprised with how easily the words have been flowing, which is a HUGE relief.

I’ve hit a couple snags, because that’s inevitable, but I’ve made progress every day and I can see the story coming together.

2. What’s been the most fun aspect about writing this novel so far?

Exploring characters is my favorite part of doing most things, whether that’s watching movies, reading books, or writing books. I don’t have a true understanding of any of my characters until I write them. I can fill out character profiles for years on end and still not truly grasp who they are until I see how they react in certain situations. So exploring all of these characters that have changed so much over the past two years has been really fun and rewarding.

3. What do you think of your characters at this point? Who’s your favorite to write about?

My characters have been in my brain chatting away for two years now, so I love them all dearly.

Its so hard to choose a favorite. It changes from scene to scene sometimes, but at the moment I’ll probably say my MC Ava. She has this umtameable wanderlust, and her optimism and joy makes her so refreshing as a protagonist. I have written some pretty darn melodramatic MCs in my older writing projects, so the ray of sunshine that is Ava Clare makes me very happy. Especially in the scenes where her view of the world is challenged and she has to face cold, harsh reality. Because she always finds her smile again.

4. Has your novel surprised you in any way?

Does changing the ending count? I was planning for this to be a standalone, but the world and plot have expanded so much as I’ve been writing and now it looks like this is going to be a duology, folks!

5. Have you come across any problem areas?

Um, so I kind of forgot to write prose for a few days? *awkward laugh* HOW did this happen? I am honestly not sure. I’m generally an underwriter, in the sense that description is generally on the back-burner and I add it while I edit/revise. However, I didn’t realize that I spent several days (the 15th through the 17th, I believe) writing dialogue heavy scenes. And by that I mean scenes that were like 98% dialogue, with the remaining two percent being dialogue tags. I look back and cringe, and now that I’m conscious that I occasionally slip into the habit of just avoiding prose (and I call myself a writer…) I am much better about including it while I’m writing. Which has really been helping with my word count, which seems like a no-brainer, but apparently I had forgotten about how helpful it is to describe magical places and character thoughts when it comes to hitting my word goals.

Something that helped me was writing a scene where my MC Ava was alone, and thinking through several difficult decisions. It helped me to get realigned with her voice and motivation, and therefore get back into her head. Plus, she went on a couple little adventures that I think revealed a lot of her personality, so that was fun.

6. What’s been your biggest victory with writing this novel at this point?

Showing up. Actually sitting down to write every day, and making it a priority. I have far surpassed the amount of words that I have written in such a short amount of time, and I’m nearing the point that it will be more words than I’ve ever written in one cohesive manuscript because I haven’t had any massive outline-changing revelations. Everything just feels right, despite the bumps in the road. This is the story I want to tell, and I’m actually telling it. I count that as a huge victory.

7. If you were transported into your novel and became any one of the characters, which one do you think you’d be? Would you take any different actions than they have?

For SURE Karaline Taylor. Kara has always been the most like me although we do have some traits that are totally opposite. I mentioned last week that she has the hair I wish I could have, but she also has very similar motivation to me. She’s a hardcore individualist, she wants to be herself in every situation. Which often means saying, doing, or wearing things that leave other people sort of weirded out. (Why yes, I do have a cape that looks like butterfly wings that I wear to church. What’s weird about that?) We are different in the fact that she’s more hardcore than I am. She’s a lot more blunt and competitive, and kind of reminds me of my younger self in that regard.

I would take some different actions than her, most of which are super spoilery to talk about, so let’s just say she needs to learn to let some things go.

8. Give us the first sentence or paragraph then 2 (or 3!) more favorite snippets!

My first sentence is going to change, it was really just about writing the first words on the blank page, but at the moment here it is:

People really live like this? Ava thought, staring up at the ceiling of the manor.

Here’s my first snippet, it comes from my first chapter and happens right after my MC Ava and her brother Ross narrowly escape from… a place that I will not disclose at the moment. (It’s not prison)

Ross slumped onto a makeshift seat of crates, bleeding and exhausted.

Ava smiled weakly and took a seat across from him. She pushed the button that collapsed her staff and shut off it’s electricity, then rubbed her swelling ankle. “That could have gone worse.”

Ross’ laugh was the best sound she heard all day.

This next snippet is in Zeke’s POV, and happens fairly soon after the previous one.

Zeke hopped down from the truck, then remembered why they were sitting up there in the first place. “Do you need help? I’m sure I can find you crutches or something.”

Ava lifted up her wounded foot until her leg was was parallel with the ground, and cocked her head to the side, studying it. “What am I going to do with you?” she asked it.

“Not walk on it, that’s what.”

“Some crutches would be nice, then, yes. Please and thank you.”

And for the third and final snippet, here’s a piece of a conversation between Ross and Shawn. I haven’t talked about either of them much, so first introductions are in order. As I mentioned earlier, Ross is Ava’s older brother. He’s a very charming and daring (*ahem* reckless *ahem*) 21 year old. Shawn is his best friend, and often acts as a voice of reason. That is, when Ross decided to listen to him.

Ross rolled his eyes. “We weren’t being shot at. If we were, we’d be dead. As it is, we are perfectly fine.”

Shawn met his eyes with a deadpan stare. He didn’t need to gesture to his broken arm, his point was clear.

“Mostly fine,” Ross amended.

9. Share an interesting tidbit about the writing process so far! (For example: Have you made any hilarious typos? Derailed from your outline? Killed off a character? Changed projects entirely? Anything you want to share!)

Shawn, oh Shawn, what am I going to do with you? He was a character who had a fairly minor role in my outline, and I wasn’t expecting to see him much in the novel. Now he has developed into a very important character that is integral to the plot of the story.

I’m not complaining, he’s a very fun character to write and I love his backstory so much. He belongs in this role, and I wouldn’t have to story any other way.

10. Take us on a tour of what a normal writing day for this novel looks like. Where do you write? What time of day? Alone or with others? Is a lot of coffee (or some other drink) consumed? Do you light candles? Play music? Get distracted by social media (*cough, cough*)? Tell all!

I usually wake up a few hours before the first thing I have to do in the morning so I can make sure to get writing right away with no interruptions. I make breakfast and a cup of tea and get straight to my laptop. Then (depending on how timing works out) I write in 2 one-hour sessions (or more), taking a break for a little bit in between them. This has been getting me to, or at least close to, my goal of 2,000 pretty early in the day. Then I go about my daily activities (often involving going to work) and when night time rolls around I either write the rest of the words I was missing to hit my goal, or go ahead and write some extra words. Then I read for a while, go to bed, and do it all again the next day.

Pippin sits in my lap sometimes and looks cute, which is occasionally a distraction, but one I don’t mind.

I do listen to music, I have three major playlists that I listen to, one for each of my POV characters, that help me to stay in the head of the character I’m writing. I included a link to Ava’s playlist at the bottom of this post from a couple weeks ago, and I might be sharing the other two soon.

On a sort of related note, my dad and I went all around town to every store that sells tea and bought SO MANY varieties of tea, so I’ve been having two to three cups a day as I write. Its gotten to the point that the process of making tea gets me in the mood to write, which I count as a total win.

My word count is coming along wonderfully, I’m currently at 37,480 words. I’ve done one writing session today, and I might get another one in after work.

How are you guys doing? Anyone else forget to write prose or have a character decide they wanted to be more important? XD Let me know in the comments!

My next post will probably be my November wrap-up post, unless I find time to sneak another one in before the end of the month, which will contain my final word count and some more information on A Girl of Two Worlds, so fingers crossed I’ll be able to write “I HIT 50K” at the top of that in giant, bold letters!

Happy writing, y’all!

Half Way There: NaNoWriMo Update!

Chai tea is coursing through my veins and I’m trying to decide how to explain the roller coaster that has been the start of NaNoWriMo. SO. MUCH. HAPPENED.

The best place to start is the beginning, right?

Buckle up, y’all, I’m both caffeinated and sleep deprived so this is gonna be fun.

Day 1

Was there a fair amount of staring at my new, shiny, empty Scrivener project before daring to write a single word? Yes. But the words came in time.

2,776 of them to be exact.

My goal is to try to write at least 2,000 words a day, sometimes I go over that, sometimes I don’t quite hit it, but that’s the goal.

Now, let me take you back to my first day of my first NaNoWriMo back in ’18, in which I ignored my “outline” (I use this term in the loosest way possible) and didn’t start writing my fantasy King Arthur retelling like I was supposed to.

Instead I write a science fiction prison escape. Which developed into the sci-fi fantasy extravaganza that I’m working on today. So am I grateful I did that? Yes. Did I only write like 6,000 words that ENTIRE NOVEMBER? Also yes.

So, suffice it to say that getting half of what had been my total word count back then in a single day made me pretty happy.

Day 2

I didn’t run out of steam, which surprised me a fair amount. The words just kept flowing and I didn’t hit a wall every five seconds. What is this sorcery? Could it be the power of the mystical outline? I believe it is so, my friend.

Well, and the fact that I’ve been thinking about and obsessing over this story for two years might be a factor. I don’t know. It’s possible.

This is the day that I wrote my favorite fight scene that I have ever written, which may or may not have involved my main character Ava straight up throwing her shoe. I’m so proud of her.

I wrote 2,171 words.

Day 3

I got to write in Zeke’s POV today, which was super fun. I never truly know a character until I write them. Sure, I can tell you everything from their favorite color to their deepest fear, but until I start writing I don’t know how their brain works.

Zeke is a highly logical person with a love of symbolism. If he didn’t stop himself he would sigh approximately every 24 seconds, sometimes more, depending on who he’s with (looking at you, Ross). His point of view was super fun. Writing went great.

I got 2,064 words written.

Day 4

My romantic heart cannot handle the scene I wrote on this day. I had been planning on starting the romance at the beginning of the book, but as I wrote it became quite clear that Ava and Zeke both already had a crush on each other before the story started and are both just too awkward to do anything about it.

These two children (ignore the fact that they’re both older than me) are just so darn cute.

Count for the day: 2,068 words.

Day 5

I was still chugging along at a good pace. I think I wrote my Inciting Incident on this day, but I’m not quite sure where one day’s words ended and the next one began.

2,075 words written.

Day 6

The Taylors have arrived on the scene, y’all. The Taylors are some of my favorite characters to write, the whole huge chaotic family just brings me so much joy.

Del Taylor is super chill and doesn’t hold grudges even when people really deserve it. She’s the eldest of the Taylor siblings, at 20 years old, and is always there for her younger siblings.

Liam Taylor brings his dorky sense of humor and his passionate love of pasta into every scene he is in and I love him for it. He’s the second oldest, at 18 years old.

Kara Taylor is the next oldest, at 17 years old. She’s got the blue hair I wish I could have (my job wont let me dye my hair crazy colors -_-) and is simultaneously a girly-girl and a fierce fighter. She’ll let you know what she thinks, no matter what, and the others have come to rely on her (sometimes brutal) honesty.

Ben Taylor is my little animal expert. He has learned a lot about both normal and magical animals over his 14 years of life, and he uses that knowledge to add to his ever-growing array of pets.

April Taylor is 7 (at the moment, her age has changed a few times over the past couple years, as has her name) and she’s the baby of the family. She knows how cute she is and uses it to her advantage.

1,855 words for the day.

Day 7 – 10

These next few days were a blur. A blur with good word counts, but I can’t remember what I wrote each day at this point.

Day 7: 2,101 words

Day 8: 2,121 words

Day 9: 2,008 words

Day 10: 2,007 words

Day 11

This is the day I hit a bump in the road. It was hard to get words on the page and I felt like I had run out of direction. Because I had. You see, this was the day I started Act 2 of my story. Which is the part of the story where character motivation becomes really important. What I didn’t realize was that I was still trying to decide between two routes to take when it came to Ava’s motivation, and so there was no clear way to write. However, I found a solution.

My solution was the same solution I always use when I hit a wall, I grabbed my writing notebook and a pen and did a brain dump. Something about writing my thoughts out with a pen helps me define my problem and then solve it fairly easily. The funny part about this was that instead of picking between the two motivations I had been considering, I ended up going in a totally different direction. I haven’t doubted it yet, though, it just feels right.

1,766 words written in my manuscript, with an extra 6 pages of handwritten notes that I’m not counting towards my word count, but that were helpful all the same.

Day 12

I was back on track, and I managed to hit my goal in the morning before work, which meant no night writing for me! Night time writing just doesn’t work for me anymore, my brain is fried from the day and writing is slooooow. So I’ve been getting up early to write in the morning. As someone who is not a morning person, I was surprised to find that writing in the morning is great for me.

This was also the day I PASSED 25K! Guys, this is the fastest I’ve ever written this many words and I am THRILLED!

2,104 words written.

Day 13 & 14

I’m grouping these two days together because they were fairly similar, in the sense that I had something to do in the morning, then a shift at work, then something in the evening. So, my writing time was limited.

I got up before the sunrise both of these days to try to get some words on the page. I didn’t hit my daily goal on either day, but I made some good progress, and I’m still in a good spot with my overall word count. I’m hoping to make up some words on Tuesday and Wednesday, since I have a fairly free schedule those days, but I haven’t fallen behind, so I’m still good with where I am.

Day 13: 1,401 words

Day 14: 1,082 words

Day 15

That’s today! I haven’t written anything yet, since I wanted to get this post up, but writing is the next thing on my list.

As of right now, my total word count is at 27,599 words, and I am VERY excited for my planned scene(s) for today, so hopefully I can get a good amount of words in!

I’m planning to get Know the Novel Part II up pretty soon, so you’ll be getting more information on my story, my daily routine, and my chaotic characters!

Until then, if you have any questions for me, let me know in the comments! If any of you are doing NaNoWriMo and feel like dropping your word count in the comments, go right ahead! We’ll have a little encouragement party.

Time to get back to writing!

How I’m Staying Inspired During NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is in full swing, and getting in the writing mood has been on my mind a lot lately. Mostly because it can be SO HARD at times. But I’ve found some little activities that help me get grounded back in my story, and I hope they can help some of you guys as well!

1. Create aesthetics – with words!

So many blog posts and videos about ‘getting in the writing mood’ mention aesthetics and Pinterest boards. There’s just one problem. The TIME!

You sit down to find a picture of a cheery park, and four hours later you adding yet another inspirational quote to a completely different board.

So here’s what I do: write it.

I sit down to write a big epic fantasy battle scene, and right at the top of the page (or in the little note card in Scrivener’s cork-board view) I write “The smell of thick smoke in the air, the yellowing bruises of yesterday’s fight, the glint of a newly polished sword, the sound of heavy breathing and footfalls like heartbeats.” You get the idea.

A cool part of this technique is that it can also act as a prompt, in a way. Once you have your list of descriptions, you can incorporate them into the scene. This can be overdone though, so don’t go overboard with it. (I totally go overboard with it)

This works best for scene-by-scene inspiration, but could totally apply to a full project as well.

2. Defend your project.

This is more of a large-scale technique, for when you’re approximately 23 days into NaNoWriMo and you’re asking yourself “why did I even start this project?”

Sometimes, we have to defend our projects to ourselves.

I have a document underneath my outline in Scrivener simply titled “Why”. It’s full of all the things I love about my story, the messages want to share, the tropes I’m subverting, the character quirks I just melt for.

When I have a great day and I’m super happy with what I wrote, I add a little paragraph to that document.

When I have a bad day and I just want to give up, I go back and read it. Preferably while listening to sappy music. That’ll always get me.

3. Daydream.

My favorite scenes are usually the ones that came into my mind early on in the process of planning a WIP. The ones that I have imagined for so long, in such detail, that they just flow onto the page when it finally comes time to write them.

However, something I’ve been trying to do recently is be that excited for every scene I write. Something that makes a big impact on my writing is when I think about the scene I’m going to write during my next writing session. While I’m at work, or doing laundry, or eating breakfast I’ll be thinking about the scene. And then I try to make sure there’s at least one thing I’m really excited about in that scene. Whether that’s two characters finally meeting for the first time, a moment of emotional payoff, or some particularly clever foreshadowing, working scenes out before there’s the pressure of trying to hit a word count makes the whole process more fun. And when it’s fun, you don’t need to fight for motivation.

If any of you are interested in learning more about my main character, Ava Clare, click here to listen to the Spotify Playlist I made for her! Warning: it’s the most optimistic, sunshine-y, happy playlist I have ever made.

As I write this post my word count is at 16,127. That’s over 30% of the way to 50k, so I’m right on track!

Well, I’m off to get writing again. How do you stay inspired? Do you do anything I do? Do you have any crazy amazing techniques that solve all writing problems, ever? I’d love to hear about them! Let me know in the comments!

NaNoWriMo: So It Begins

It’s the first day of November, which means it’s time for my writing project to completely take over my life.

I have an outline. I have character profiles. I have Scrivener themes. I have Spotify playlists.

Let’s do this.

What to expect?

I’m planning to write every day, and I will be sharing my word counts during some updates on here during the month, as well as some favorite lines and other information about my story. This is where my crazy writer brain will be revealed, so be forewarned that lots of all caps and exclamation points are coming your way.

What’s new?

This year I’ll also be doing several things that I didn’t do during my last two NaNoWriMos. The first of these things is that I’ll be writing chronologically. Due to my previous lack of any outline, I wrote out of order for quite a while. But this year I am following my outline, and it’s order.

The second thing I’ll be doing is Abbie Emmons’ Letters From Abbie emails. Her channel has been super helpful to me over my writing journey, so I’m really excited to see what she comes up with.

I’ll also be using Scrivener this year. I spent a lot of my Preptober setting it up so that my writing can be beautifully organized this month. In theory.

What’s the same?

Some things, however will not be changing. One of those things is my writing buddy, my hedgehog Pippin.

He’s a grumpy little dude, but I love him. He usually sleeps on my lap while I write.

Another thing that wont be changing is my amazing writing group. Not all of us are doing NaNoWriMo this year, but there will probably still be a few writing sprints going on this year, and I know I can rely on them for a ton of advice and encouragement.

Time is already ticking away, so I’m off to try to hit my 2,000 words for the day. Good luck to any other Wrimos out there, and if you’re not doing NaNo, I hope you still have fun following my writing escapades this month!

Know the Novel Part I: My Genre Mashup Project

NaNoWriMo is almost here! *cue the panic*

This is the first post in a series that I’m going to be doing over the course of the month, all about how I’m doing NaNoWriMo. I’ll have updates about my specific project, some tips, and quite a bit of freaking out. So stay tuned for that!

To introduce you guys to my project this year, I decided to join Christine Smith’s NaNoWriMo Linkup!

But first, let me give you guys a bit of background about this particular project.

The current title is A Girl of Two Worlds, and this is my third NaNoWriMo. My third NaNoWriMo writing this same WIP.

Well, ‘same’ isn’t exactly the right word. In 2018 I decided to try my hand at NaNoWriMo. At that time I’ve never attempted a novel-length manuscript before, let alone trying to write one in a month. I went in with out a plan and came out with a lot less than 50k. Then, from November of 2018 to November of 2019 I brainstormed and developed the story, and it changed from a simple sci-fi prision escape to an epic fantasy sci-fi genre mashup.

But come November, I once again had no outline and fell short of 50k. By a lot.

This year I was determined to change my ways. I watched videos, (I highly recommend Brandon Sanderson’s college lectures) I read books, (Save the Cat is a lifesaver) and I made an outline.

This is my year, guys. I can feel it.

So without further ado, lets get into the linkup.

1. What first sparked the idea for this novel?

No one thing really sparked the idea for this novel. As I mentioned above, this book developed and changed over the past couple years through a lot of hard work and thinking that melted my brain. I fought for every inch, and now the story has become something so much more fun than I ever imagined. 

 2. Share a blurb (or just an overall summary if you’d prefer)!

I’m so bad at explaining things in a small amount of words, but I’ll try. 

Ava Clare is a part of her older brother’s rebellion within a sci-fi fantasy world. When she’s asked to go undercover in a (supposedly) hostile environment, she agrees. Never did she know that she would find a group of friends, and learn that she might be on the wrong side of a war. If there is a right side at all.

I’ll try to get you guys something more detailed some time in the future. At the moment, I know a lot is going to change during the writing process so I’m keeping it a bit vague.

 3. Where does the story take place? What are some of your favorite aspects about the setting?

This story takes place in a world of my own creation. Its a fantasy world that has existed long enough to have advanced technology. Some of this technology allows people who don’t have the ability to use magic to mimic it. But some magic is just too difficult to reproduce. One of my favorite aspects of the setting is that one of the countries in my world has several kingdoms within it. Developing the cultures of the different kingdoms has been really interesting.

4. Tell us about your protagonist(s).

Ava is my MC, and she’s a peppy, optimistic painter. She has a magical coin that she wears as a necklace.

Zeke is a thoughtful, determined soldier. He has learned a lot about magical items over the past couple years.

Kara is a honest, blue-haired wild card. She comes from a big family and simultaneously loves them and wants an identity separate from them.

Liam is an easy-going, hilarious lover of pasta. He’s Kara’s older brother, and is generally in a good mood, unless something endangers his family.

CJ is a curious, studious wannabe doctor. He is currently in prison. It’s a long story.

5. Who (or what) is the antagonist?

This is a secret at the moment. But I will say that I’m having a lot of fun with my antagonist. I wanted to have a pair of friends who were as close as brothers that led the ‘bad guys’, and the dynamic between their contradicting arcs has been one of my favorite things to explore.

 6. What excites you the most about this novel?

The group dynamics, no question. The main characters have been joking with and yelling at each other in my head for ages now. 

 7. Is this going to be a series? standalone? something else?

At the moment the plan is for this to be a standalone with an accompanying compilation of short stories.

 8. Are you plotting? pantsing? plansting?

I’m trying to plot, I have an in-depth outline, but things always seem to change during the writing process, so I’ll call it plantsing. 

 9. Name a few unique elements about this story.

My main character is fairly unconventional, since she’s a naive and innocent little cinnamon roll. I also think that my antagonist is pretty unique. As is my science fiction/fantasy setting.

 10. Share some fun “extras” of the story (a song or full playlist, some aesthetics, a collage, a Pinterest board, a map you’ve made, a special theme you’re going to incorporate, ANYTHING you want to share!

Here’s my Spotify playlist.

And here’s a mood board I made for Ava, my main character.

That’s all I’ve got for you today, I hope you’re as excited about this project as I am!

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? If you are, what’s your project like? Let me know in the comments!

Welcome to Polka Dot Pens & A Bit About Me!

Hello everyone! My name is Jorja Ayres, you may know me from Tales of the Lonely Sun. This is my new personal blog, where I’ll be sharing about my personal writing projects and my life, as well as doing tags and fun other shenanigans like that.

I decided to start this out by answering some random get-to-know-you questions, because that seemed like the thing to do. I’m clearly an expert about these things.

1. Favorite author?

Brandon Sanderson, his books never cease to amaze me. However, Marissa Meyer and Ally Carter are both amazing as well.

2. Planner? Pantser? Plantser?

I try to be as much of a Planer as I can, because I know that outlines help me a lot, but I always end up spontaneously changing one ting or another as I write, so I guess Plantser?

3. Favorite Song?

Little Wonders by Rob Thomas. It’s in Meet the Robinsons, which I like, but the movie has nothing to do with why I like the song. I like the song because it’s the definition of nostalgia.

4. Favorite Movie?

Tangled. There is no contest, ever.

5. Favorite Musical?

I discovered Hadestown recently and it became my favorite musical very quickly. If you haven’t listened to it and you appreciate gorgeous music, real characters, and excellent story, then you need to check it out!

6. Favorite TV Show?

This one is hard… I’d say probably Avatar: The Last Airbender at the moment, but that could change within the next three minutes.

7. Currently reading?

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, its a creative take on a superhero dystopian kind of story.

8. Favorite writing quote?

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

It’s not specifically a writing quote, but it certainly applies. I have it taped to the wall next to my writing desk.

9. Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

Yes, yes I am. I have been obsessively outlining for the past month, and I’m super excited to try to hit 50k this year.

10. What’s your current WIP about?

Fear not, I have a much more in depth post about this coming soon. For now lets just say that its a science fiction/ fantasy genre mashup novel with an undercover mission, a prision break, and a tight knight group of friends.

That was fun, I hope it gave you guys some insight into my crazy mind. If you have any other questions, feel free to drop them in the comments!