What and When [Blogging Tips by Ellana Turell]

A great post and some fabulous tips from my dear friend and fellow OYANer, Ellana. Enjoy!


***

 

I spent several days trying to decide on a topic for this Guest Post. Then I realized that in my own blog I always planned What and When I would Write weeks ahead so that I never ran into this problem.

So I thought, perhaps others would enjoy reading a few tips on planning ahead with their blogs?

My blog is primarily geared towards my art. As a result everything I’m sharing will reflect that. Whatever your blog’s focus is, you could easily apply these same techniques.

photo

 

1. I like to keep things organized when I plan things. I begin by running off calendar templates with whatever month/year is appropriate. (Click here for a website full of free calendar templates in different styles, designs, and sizes.)

Four months ahead is a decent length of time to plan ahead for me, but this is only a suggestion. Whatever you write down to go in a slot 3 weeks ahead of time can always be switched out or removed.

2. In the picture above, it’s not the clearest, but you can see I have 4 different colors. Each color represents something.

Blue- Facebook (I have a Facebook page for my art where I share links to my blog)
Red- “Special” occasions (movie/book coming out, holidays, special event I’m going to, etc)
Green- Specifically blog post related
Black- Objectives for the month

Every Tuesday I try to post a few sketches that I’ve done over the week. This is something I can fill in all the Tuesday’s of the month instantly. In the same way I know that every Thursday/Friday I try to post a piece of writing of some kind (poetry, writing prompt, short story, etc). Because I know Friday is a major work day and I’m often busy Thursdays, I leave myself 2 days to post something.

That’s 2 blog posts every week. That’s approximately 8 “Green Posts” every month.

I mark down “Red Specials” because often they make good subjects for art or blog posts. For example: I’m going to see The Return of the King outdoors with a live orchestra playing the background music. This is a fun blog post waiting to happen.

Your blog could also be a way to motivate yourself. This is where the “Black Objective” comes in. Each month I try to focus on a larger artistic piece that takes a longer span of time to create. I don’t always fulfill my objective, but it takes away my most common excuses that “I’m don’t know what to draw” or “I’m not inspired.”

My Black Objective for this coming August is to create a Doctor Who piece since Season 8 will be airing on the 23rd. I’m tying in something I love with something that goes towards being productive with my art and blogging about it. 

3. Not everyone will want to or be able to post at this rate. How often you post doesn’t have to be set in stone and plotted to the day, nor do you have to choose one topic for each day. I find it easier to have a specific goal in mind so that I’m not swimming in 20 different ideas with no idea on when to execute them. Structure and limitations keeps you from feeling overwhelmed and creates a consistent feeling with your reader.

There are many who might post 3 months apart and then twice in one week. This isn’t a bad thing, I follow several blogs like this (and enjoy them!). But personally, from a Bloggers point of view it’s easier to plan ahead.

4. Keep In Mind– There will be times when you will fail to stick to your schedule. You will get tired of forcing yourself to write something up every single Thursday, or you’ll forget. And sometimes you will betoo busy. And that’s okay. Your blog should never take priority over your Real Life, your family and your education should never be pushed aside because you want to keep up on your quota.

This past April my life did a downward plunge into hectic work and family events. As a result since April 15th I’ve posted ONCE. So much for that glittering array of 8 posts per month right? However before that I managed to stick to my schedule 90% of the time September 2013-March 2014. That’s not something that should be ignored.

Now things are calming down a little, I know I have time to do a few posts each month again. Maybe I’ll aim for 4 posts per month instead of 8 for a bit. Maybe that’s a better goal to stick to in the long run.

Sometimes it’s good to pull away from things. As long it’s not covering up an excuse to be lazy and scroll through Pinterest all day (I might have some guilt over this).

5. You have to ask yourself if you have a message worth sharing. This is when you look at what you’ve done. If it has becomes a sea of blog posts all clamoring for attention, how many of those posts have something genuine to say? When you have 5 posts planned that could be transformed into 1 complete and fulfilling message… Which would have more impact?

Writers have their keyboards and napkin scrawls, gardeners have their gloves and sunburned necks, I have my pencils and brushes. We are all artists with our chosen set of tools, how we share our work with the world is up to us.

6. Further Suggestions to Expand Your Blog:
-Guest blog posts
-Blog tours
-Small giveaways
-Share through all media like Facebook, Instagram, etc.

Do any of you guys have specific methods when it comes to blogging? Do you plan ahead to the day, or write as the moment calls for it? I’d love to hear what you have to say.

 

Ellana Turrell’s accomplishments include: Almost completing an entire novel, playing the piano, and drawing on a level that satisfies her perfectionist tastes. She is a drinker of coffee and poetry. The Lord of the Rings is her favorite story in all of time and space. You can follow her blog here, or connect on Facebook.

The Adventures of One Hobbit

My life has currently been a blur of happenings. Last week, my family and I moved from our home in southern Missouri to Kansas City, and this week (in just two days!!!), I am flying to Virginia to visit my wonderful boyfriend and help him move out for college. (I’m 80% packed and utterly thrilled!)

 

I’m kinda taking a break here to ramble for a bit on a few of the marvels that God has performed in my life over the past year. Being an author, I’m a fan of stories, and He has been writing an amazing one.

 

Almost exactly one year ago, my family made the decision to move out of southern Missouri, our home of six years. We felt God calling us into Kansas, and prepared to follow His voice. In a leap of faith, we began packing our house into boxes, ready to move in the following months to a place He would show us. I have to say, I was pretty psyched about this development, being OYAN alumni, and seeing as how the curriculum and everything it entails is based in Olathe, KS. Being there would provide me with some stellar opportunities, I knew. But it seemed only a few weeks after we’d made our decision that things surrounding the move came to a standstill.

 

Last fall, my dad and I went out to the East Coast and drove through Virginia and North Carolina, during which time I met my boyfriend, who, at that time, I had been friends with through OYAN. We’d had an ongoing friendship for a little more than a year at this point, and when I returned from the trip, I realized something terrible: I had a crush on a boy who lived a thousand miles away. Like, an actual crush. Great.

 

After some headdesking and asking myself how I could possibly be so silly, I prayed about it. Like, “Okay. So God, what do I do?” and He said, “Keep going.” And I was like, “Are you serious? He’s a thousand miles away! That’s insane.” In my mind, this was pretty much a kamikaze crush. But He said, “All things are possible”, to which I replied, “Um, if you say so….” But I was still reluctant. Despite all of my doubts, I felt God’s voice. There was something different here. But how did I know he liked me? Less than a month passed before I learned the answer to that question. (At this point, I think God must have been saying, “I told you so.”)

 

Last winter, newly in a relationship with an amazing man, my life started to change dramatically. The early parts of Sam’s and my relationship were a little rocky. After all, a thousand miles is kind of a large roadblock to work around. We became proficient texters, and probably came close to sucking the life out of  my family’s internet with nightly Skype calls.

 

But there were still some problems. With half our house in boxes, we were still marooned in southern Missouri, and Sam and I were facing a four-year, long-distance relationship. And amidst all of this I started to wonder where God was at. Why weren’t things just…happening? How were we going to solve these problems?

 

We weren’t.

 

While my family prayed about our house, Sam and I prayed about our own problems. God’s answers were very consistent. “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles…” He kept reminding us that all things were possible. But I didn’t see how, with Sam going to school in Eastern Tennessee for four years. And getting into another college would be next to impossible.

 

That Christmas, everything changed. In an extraordinary turn of events, the opportunity opened for Sam to look into a school in Kansas—just where we’d be moving!…well, someday. But it would have to be soon, we calculated. After all, God was really working. A few short weeks later, Sam made it into the school with a scholarship and everything. It seemed things might finally be in motion.

 

Seemed. Months passed. My family prepared to make an offer for a house an hour away from the college, but someone else had already signed a contract. It seemed that God was throwing up more roadblocks than ever, despite the fact that it was more clear now than before that this was our path. But the right paths are not always the easy ones.

 

A couple more months passed before we got the green light to begin looking for places to live in Kansas again. Being the oldest of five, I was continually elected to stay home with the little kids while my parents and a couple of the older ones went to scout out the Promised Land. They hunted mainly around the city where my dad has some business associates, about forty minutes from the school. Though we’d still be lucky to be moved out before the first of the semester. Then one evening, while they were out hunting, I got a text.

 

They’d found a place and signed a contract. I sat at my desk for a few minutes, shocked. One year, and just like that? My mom sent me the address and told me to Google it, so I did, to discover that it was seven minutes away from the college. One week later and here we are.

 

Right now, I’m crying as I write this, because everything on this page was something that I once thought impossible. And I’m saying all of this because I was wrong. Don’t ever be quick to say that something can’t be done. It can. Don’t ever doubt that the impossible can happen to you. It will. Impossible things happen every day, and the same God who wrote the adventure of this hobbit is writing yours. You just have to be brave enough to take the first step out your door, because it’s true; you don’t know where you might be swept off to.

 

But then, that’s part of the adventure, isn’t it?

Heroes Out of a Box

So this is kind of a follow-up post to a couple of my previous articles, Why is Bad Fiction So Popular? and 4 Lies That YA Romance Tells Teen Girls. Someone made a very interesting comment that sparked some thoughts that I’d like to share. She pointed out another very common trend in YA romance: whiney “heroines” who can control their groveling boyfriends like puppets by playing the “damsel in distress” card.

 

This can be seen in a lot of modern YA romance, and YA fiction (though mostly romance). The main female characters are weak, insecure, and emotionally unstable. They think their lives are horrible, and that they are unlovable. Sound familiar? Many teenage girls struggle with these emotions, which is probably why these characters get written in the first place.

 

Emotionally distraught characters seem to be relatable. While it’s unfortunate, it’s the truth. Another piece in the riddle of why bad fiction sells could be exactly what I’m talking about in this post. These “whiney heroines” can get away with anything; despite the fact that they are convinced their life sucks. And in YA, they always end up with a spectacularly perfect boyfriend to solve all of their problems. As if by changing their Facebook status to “Damsel in distress,” they are somehow entitled to a knight who will slay all of their dragons.

 

A common trend in these types of characters is the lack of any sort of real character change.  There’s nothing wrong with a character that is emotionally instable, or weak. They’re relatable, and relatable characters are good. However, a relatable character is only good so long as you are able to take something away from their story. Characters only have true meaning if they can teach you how to become a better person. These whiney female leads are not that type of character.

 

Notice I didn’t say “heroine” that time. That was deliberate. These girls aren’t heroines. They aren’t entitled to heroes and perfect boyfriends. And as much as it’s written in fiction, even the epitome of boyfriends will not solve all of their problems. You can’t just expect to pull your hero out of a box when you need him. He’s not your pet.

http://gpfarah.com/gpfarahcom/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/man-in-box2.jpg

It’s a well-known fact that teenage girls have complicated emotions that change a lot. A LOT. It’s true. We can become insecure over meaningless things. And the culture knows that. Through these books and characters, it feeds the insecurity and emotional instability. It tells girls that, “This is just the way you are. You can’t get over it. You can’t beat it. You just have to accept it, and let some knight in shining armor come along and fix all of your problems.”

 

It doesn’t work that way. There’s no possible way that a mere man can fix all of your insecurities. The only perfect hero out there who can solve these things is a Man who died to know you. He is the only one who can help girls beat these insecurities in themselves. Don’t live with the lie that “This is just the way you are.” You’re not. You’re stronger than that. As a woman, you can beat those things.

 

Another misconception that these whiney characters create is the idea that that sort of persona is attractive to men. “You’ll only get a perfect boyfriend if you act like [insert name of whiney female lead here].” The truth is, acting like Bella Swan is only attractive in fiction—to fictional boyfriends like Edward Cullen. Guys understand that girls are emotional, but that does not make it attractive to wallow in self-pity and plead your case as a damsel in distress. Only real heroines deserve real heroes. And real heroes don’t come out of a box.

 

In today’s culture, girls are constantly being told that, you’re not good enough. You’re not pretty enough. You need to look like so-and-so and act like so-and-so. God only made you to be one person: you. He didn’t make you to be Bella Swan or any other character. He made you with the strength to be who you are and nobody else. He calls you to be brave, to stand up, and to say no to the insecurities that want to swallow you. He made you for so much more.

 

God wants you to be a true heroine. Because you are precious. You are beautiful. You are strong. You’re talented. You’re smart. You’re capable. This is your story. It’s up to you to decide what kind of character you want to become. Be the one who deserves a hero.

Writing Without Excuses

I’ve known since I was ten years old that being a novelist is what I wanted to do. From the time I completed the rough draft of my first novella at age eleven, there was no doubt in my mind that I would be a writer. But in the last eight and a half years, I’ve learned that there’s a lot more to being a writer than just writing. Being a novelist is not always an easy job.

 

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been trying to begin the transition from writing as a hobby to writing as a job. I’ve started telling myself, “This isn’t for fun anymore.” And while I still enjoy it (a good thing, since I tend to expend a lot of brain cells on it), I’m training myself to think of it as work: as the beginning of a career. And there’s a huge difference between hobbies and careers.

 

Writing for a hobby means you can write whenever you feel like it. You write when you’re inspired, when you have a good idea, or when you just want to have fun. Writing as a career means you write even when you don’t feel like it. You write when you’re not feeling particularly inspired, when you think all of your ideas are worse than Twilight, and even when you aren’t really having much fun. You write because you know this is what you want to do. The truth is, even if you enjoy writing, writing is hard.

http://hollykays.com/Writer.jpg

I’m going to be honest here. It’s taken me a long time to decide to begin making the push to transfer from hobby to career. Why? I’m a lazy writer who likes to write “just for fun.” When I’m not inspired, I don’t want to write. I like to sit on Pinterest, looking at cute kitten pictures and DIY crafts as much as the next person. I know, what a surprise, right? But after attending the OYAN Summer Workshop last month where they spoke on what it takes to get published and to build a career, I realized I needed to start changing some stuff if I really wanted that.

 

Basically, I needed to stop making excuses for why I wasn’t writing.

 

Excuses are easy, though! I can think of a whole list of them right now:

I’m not inspired.

All my ideas are bad.

I just can’t think of the right words today.

There’s always tomorrow.

I need to brainstorm more. (On Pinterest.)

…and about a million more.

 

I’ve used every one of these at some point, but recently, a different excuse has become convenient for me: “I’m too busy and I don’t have time to write.”

 

Right now, I am busy. My family and I are preparing to move to northern Missouri in about four days, and the following week, I’m flying out to Virginia for my boyfriend’s sister’s wedding, plus an extended visit before helping him move out to Kansas City for college. That’s right: mega busy. Right now, it’s really easy for me to say, “I don’t have time to write.”

 

However, I realized something. I can write a 1,000-word blog post in roughly 20-30 minutes, give or take a little. And if I can write a blog post in twenty minutes, I could write a thousand words on my novel. When I came to this realization, I started setting aside time-segments during the day to write. Fifteen minutes. Sometimes I can’t write very much in fifteen minutes, but that’s okay. Some days, I actually don’t have time to write, and that’s okay too. Those days just aren’t as common as I was making myself believe.

 

Over the past two days, amidst packing to move and preparing for travel, I have written nearly 2,000 words, all in the space of about an hour. That’s more than I’ve written in weeks, and I did it in fifteen minute segments. So this is my advice to other teenage writers looking to begin the transition from hobbyist to career author:

 

  1. Tell yourself, “I am a novelist.”
  2. Stop making excuses.
  3. Remember that this is a rough draft.
  4. Stop making excuses.
  5. Limit distractions (i.e. stop looking at pictures of cats.)
  6. Set aside a time segment, be it ten, fifteen, thirty minutes, and write. Every day.
  7. Stop making excuses.
  8. Tell yourself, “I am a novelist.”

 

Because if you really want to be a novelist, then you will be a novelist. The only person stopping you is you. So start being one.

Photo credit: Holly Kays Writing and Photography

Getting Rid of Phone-Call Dialogue

Something I have been looking at in fiction lately, both in the books I read, and in the books I write is dialogue. In the past, I have struggled with writing good, well-rounded, believable dialogue between characters. I didn’t understand what made conversations go from meh to good to really great, and after studying it, I’ve realized that a large piece of it is depth. Depth in dialogue is what makes it authentic and genuine. And I don’t mean that your characters have to always be discussing their deepest passions and life’s secrets. Depth simply means layered.

http://www.reading-body-language.co.uk/pictures/main-image-body-language.jpg

The layers of good dialogue are more than just what I’m going to talk about today, but I want to start with body language, because I think it’s one of the most important parts in realistic dialogue. Funny, since it’s not even verbal. But that brings me to my first point: at least 55% of all communications are non-verbal. I mean, think about it. Picture talking on the phone with someone as opposed to talking to them face-to-face.

 

On the phone you might notice….

  • Tone of voice
  • Voice inflections/enunciation
  • Laughter
  • Tears
  • Grunts
  • Sighs

 

All of these communicate emotion in speech. “I’m fine; just tired,” she sighed, is one step into the layering process. Her sigh suggests that she is indeed tired.

 

“Get some sleep,” he told her.

“I wish,” she said, her tone oozing sarcasm.

 

Now, if you were on the phone, you’d be able to get a sense for her mood by the tone of her voice when she says, “I wish.” You’d recognize the sarcastic edge. There are certain degrees of emotion that you can pick up from being on the phone with someone.

 

But face-to-face, you’ll notice more….

  • Tone of voice
  • Voice inflections/enunciation
  • Smiles
  • Eye contact
  • Hands on hips
  • Eyebrow twitching
  • Twisting hair
  • Gait
  • Stance
  • Arms crossed
  • Facial expressions

And the list goes on.

 

“I’m fine; just tired,” she sighed, lowering her gaze to the floor, shoulders slumped.

“Get some sleep,” he told her.

She smirked. “I wish.”

 

Facial expressions and body language add a whole new layer of depth to dialogue. These two things can take a conversation from “phone-call-dialogue” to “face-to-face dialogue”, changing the entire dynamic and deepening the perspective. Good dialogue makes us feel close to a character. It allows us to sympathize with him or her, and what they’re feeling. And while we can sympathize with people over the phone, it’s generally a lot easier for most people if they’re standing face-to-face, because you’re able to pick up on a lot more emotion that way.

 

Notice the differences in these two conversations. In the first one, we can tell that she is tired and sarcastic, both because we were told. But in the second one, we see that she is tired, sarcastic, irritable, and possibly depressed, or maybe stressed out about a deadline. These non-verbal subtleties add incredible depth to dialogue, because they make it real. This is where the principle of “show don’t tell” becomes very applicable. It takes a conversation from “phone call level” to “real life level” in just a few words.

 

I’ve read a lot of books, some of them even good ones, where 80% of the dialogue is phone call dialogue. A bunch of chatter with a nice “ly” adverb tacked on every few paragraphs to communicate the underlying emotion of the conversation. It’s not that these conversations can’t work, but in my opinion, they aren’t the best, or the most enjoyable to read. They aren’t deep enough. Unless, of course, your characters actually happen to be talking on the phone. (Though personally, I’d still kill the adverbs.) And it also isn’t to say that you need a modifier in the form of a gesture for every line a character says. A few well-placed gestures in a conversation will convey the mood in much more depth than an army of “ly” adverbs.

 

Basically, write what’s authentic to the situation. If your characters aren’t on the phone, kill the phone call dialogue. Add a sprinkling of gestures and facial expressions. Deepen the emotion. Draw your reader into the conversation.

Pompeii: [A Dreaming Hobbit Review]

*WARNING*

Contains spoilers. Proceed at own risk.

 http://righteousfilm.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/fawefaafewf.jpg

 So it’s been a really long time in coming, but I’m finally writing a review about this movie. My boyfriend and I went on a date to see it, back in March, and frankly, I’d just forgotten about it until now.

 

The movie Pompeii is a historical fiction set in 79AD, the year that Mount Vesuvius erupted, in the city of Pompeii. The story follows a gladiator named Milo through his journey of vengeance upon the Romans for destroying his homeland and his people, the Celts, and his quest to save his true love from a fiery death.

 

Characters:

The main character, Milo, was orphaned as a little boy, when his village was burned, and his people slaughtered by Roman soldiers. Albeit a cliché backstory, it was well-established, and provided him with a predictable vendetta against Rome.

 

After witnessing a brief few minutes of Milo’s backstory at the beginning of the movie to get our feelz going, we take a time-jump to when he, along with a bunch of other slaves, are being transported from an outlying city to Pompeii to be sold.  Along this journey, the caravan comes upon a carriage with an injured horse. Milo, being of the Celts (or, as they called them in the movie, The Horsemen), is good with horses, and offers to help. It just so happens that this carriage is transporting the wealthy daughter of a Pompeii noble, Cassia.

 

Cassia is a character who I like to refer to as a “first-frame-love-interest.” It was very clear from the moment she stepped onto the screen what her purpose in the story was. Sooner or later, she and Milo would fall in love. And the process definitely started sooner, with Milo killing her horse to put it out of its misery. (Romantic, huh?)

 

Upon arriving in the city of Pompeii, Milo meets a big African man named Atticus, who is a gladiator. Originally, Atticus hates Milo and swears to kill him, all the while striking me as a very obvious ally character. Overall, he was very shallowly developed, and seemed to show up on the spot in order for Milo to have a friend, and later, to make a heartrending death-scene possible.

 

The villain, Corvus, was, of course, a Roman. (This is going back to Milo’s personal vendetta against Romans, in case you missed something.) And coincidentally, he has this all-encompassing desire to marry Cassia. (You can double that vendetta.) His moves as a villain were, to say the least, predictable. In some scenes, he reminded me of a puppet villain, simply there for fulfilling the role of “evil guy.”

 

Plot:

In terms of plot, I already covered the beginning of the film, with Milo’s backstory and his meeting of Cassia. After the romantic incident with Cassia’s horse, Milo and his traveling party finally make it to Pompeii, where Milo, instead of being sold as a slave, is made a gladiator, due to his strength and quick reflexes.

 

In general, the gladiator scenes were pretty cliché, some of them nearly identical to the movie Gladiator. With his developed grudge against the Romans, Milo ends up deciding to lead a sort of gladiator rebellion against Corvus and his associates, who are also attempting to usurp the ruling family of Pompeii (Cassia’s family).

 

But of course, with a terrible turn of events, Mount Vesuvius erupts, sending Pompeii into disaster. In the mayhem, Cassia’s parents are trapped beneath a fallen wall, where they plead for Milo to save their daughter, who is deep in the city, in the palace. Naturally, being the hero that he is, Milo accepts, and makes it his goal to save Cassia, whom he has also fallen in love with.

 

However, there are still the Romans to reckon with. Just as the volcano is erupting, Corvus’ second-in-command shows up in the gladiator arena to fight Milo, who had shown an act of rebellion in an earlier gladiator tournament. This is when Atticus steps up to make his terrible sacrifice. As the ash rains down around them, Atticus tells Milo to run and save Cassia while he can, and turns to fight the Roman himself. Desperate, due to the impending doom, Milo rushes off to save the love of his life.

 

After a series of near-death scrapes and heroic dodging of flaming projectiles, he reaches the palace, where Cassia has been locked in a basement by Corvus, who intends to come back and force her to marry him.  Milo struggles desperately to free Cassia from the smoky basement, and, with the help of her personal maid, finally succeeds. By now, the city of Pompeii is beginning to be flooded by lava, and the tension heightens, as Milo drags Cassia out of the burning palace.

 

Then, as they are running through the streets toward the harbor to escape the carnage, who should show up but Corvus, still utterly bent on marrying Cassia. He managed to snatch her from Milo and tie her to his chariot. In a fury, Milo grabs a horse and a chariot chase commences. By this time, boats are beginning to drift up out of the harbor and into the flooding city, in the wake of the magnificent volcano eruption.

 

Just when we keep thinking that they will be completely overrun by the disaster, it is revealed that the walls of Pompeii are in fact, lava-proof, water-proof, and boat-proof. At least, they were long enough for Milo to win Cassia back from Corvus and escape the city. In the last ten minutes of the film, we see Milo and Cassia riding off into the ashy horizon, just barely beating the flood of lava in their wake. Realizing that it is hopeless to continue to flee, they decide to stop and share one last romantic moment before the flames consume them.

 

 

 

Overall, my opinion of Pompeii was not a high one. Don’t get me wrong, the volcano was spectacular, but it’s easy to see that that is where the effort and the budget in this movie went. The storytelling was mediocre at best, and terribly shallow. The characters all had poor motivation, and the story was chalk-full of plot devices. Not to mention numerous historical inaccuracies throughout the film. So unless you’re a fan of shallow, predictable, Roman-based movies, I would not recommend it.