Iron & Glass, the author’s journey (part 6)

I wanted to discuses one of the touchier topics of writing: when does inspiration become plagiarism? Yikes. Plagiarism is such a scary word and has some heavy consequences. In some ways the word has been defined; in most ways it’s pretty vague, especially in the “stealing ideas” department.


In creative writing, plagiarism becomes a nightmare. Other stories inspire writers all the time. They’ll borrow ideas and “make it their own.” Sometimes, the inspiration is so clear readers can point it out; other times the story takes off on its own. Often authors get accused of being “inspired by” a story that didn’t inspire them at all. This tends to happen with popular series, and readers will accuse authors of borrowing/stealing ideas that aren’t really that unique.


Three of the worst offenders (remember this has nothing to do with the authors of these series) are Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight. Anybody notice how many books get accused of copy one of these? If a book has a magic school, the authors must be ripping off of Harry Potter (note: the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, founded in 1888, was the first magic school I’ve heard of). If the book has a situation where kids must kill each other to escape something, the author must be copying The Hunger Games (note: Battle Royal did something similar before Suzanne Collins and before both came the Theseus myth, which is thousands of years old). And any sort of paranormal romance is obviously a Twilight knock off. Right?


As an author, such accusations can get annoying. Someone may have gotten an idea before ever hearing/reading it somewhere. Authors can also feel boxed in because of this, and they can fear adding certain elements to their story because others might accuse them of copying someone else.


Before I ever heard of Star Wars, I wanted to have a protagonist who ended up being the kid of the story’s “big bad”. After I finally watched Star Wars, I decided against doing that for years. I didn’t want to “steal” the idea, though I had a similar one years before seeing it there. Now I realize that idea isn’t particularly unique. Start Wars is just one of the most popular franchises to have utilized it.


Because I talk about what authors can do about this mess, it is important to remember the other side of this: people actually borrowing/stealing ideas from others. This happens all the time. Some believe every story is part of one great story that never really ends. Ideas are borrowed and re-shaped all the time. Usually, authors are pretty up-front about their inspiration, telling people what stories launched their own. But, a few times, you get people who basically re-write the book, which does feel like stealing or a fanfiction.


So, how do you navigate these tricky waters?


Well, for one, I wouldn’t let another story prevent you from adding something to your own. If you thought of the idea, that’s great. Don’t sweat it too much. You could always tell people if they asked. You could even blog about where that particular idea came to you. If you’re pulling an idea from a book you love, give the book credit. Let everyone know your book was, in fact, inspired by different book. Just make sure your story is your own. Don’t write a fanfiction with altered names. There are no black and white rules when it comes to this, so use your best judgment.


Lastly, don’t worry about getting accused too much. More than likely, it will happen. If you write a paranormal romance, people will say Twilight inspired you; write a dystopian and sudden The Hunger Games inspired you. On and on it goes.


For the record, a no specific books inspired Iron & Glass. A scene in a movie? Yes. A CD? The sound of it, yes. And sitting under a tree. That’s what started Iron & Glass. I already wrote about that, but forgot the CD parts. Opps.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Like I said, it’s a tricky one.


Brandon Sanderson

“Fantasy has had some problems with being too repetitive, in my opinion. I try to read what other people are doing – and say, ‘How can I add to this rather than just recycle it? How can I stand on Tolkien’s shoulders rather than stand tied to his kneecaps?'”

This man is a genius. Of course, so was Tolkien.

Iron & Glass, the author’s journey (part 5)

The Importance of Appearances

I’m on vacation right now (go me!), so this blog will be a little shorter.

I want to mention the importance of character names and appearances. Most authors I’ve read about/know spend a long time picking the perfect name. Usually, an author picks a name for how it sounds or for its meaning. A name needs should “fit” the character, match the story’s tone, and, usually, have a significant or relevant meaning.


Lets take the name Savannah. It sounds beautiful, but it means “barren wastelands”. Now this meaning could work in a number of situations. Say the story’s about the fading human race, so there’s a high need and value placed on fertility. So I write about a barren female, which brands her as a Savannah (I like this idea! I may use it with another story idea I have). Sure, that works, but you probably don’t want to name the female lead in a romantic comedy Savannah

Names can go beyond an interesting meaning or sounding cool. When you’re picking out names, decide what purpose you want your names to serve.

Names can become clues. In Iron & Glass (the e-book comes out August 18th!)the main character’s name, Calissa Delano Lavalle, is a piece of the story’s puzzle.

Names can add to culture. Brandon Sanderson does this in The Stormlight Archive. The noble names try to sound symmetrical. So Shallan (alla) Davar (ava) belongs to a noble where as Torfin is a common man.

Names can add to culture through sound too. Take A Song of Ice and Fire for example. The Targaryens (Rhaenys, Viserys, Daenerys) sound extremely different from the Starks (Jon, Sansa, Eddard).

Okay, now onto character appearances.

Appearances can say as much as names. Usually my character’s appearances reflect their personality (or culture). An obvious would be a redhead having an impulsive personality.

It’s all in the eyes though. Really, they can be extremely important. Think about how often authors use eyes to indicate something is different. Jace from The Mortal Instruments and Edward from Twilight have golden eyes (not just to look pretty). Why? One has too much angel blood, the other won’t drink human blood. Eyes can indicate something supernatural or really easily, and create an interesting character appearance at the same time.

Of course, just like names, appearance can build culture. If you’re writing about anything supernatural, do these creatures look different from humans? How so?

Are you writing about a make-believe place in a destopia or fantasy? Okay, then are they races or species that look different? Do some countries tend to have darker hair and skin but lighter eyes (wouldn’t that be pretty!)? Does a hunted or hated/ loved and desired race have physical characteristics that set them apart?

Calissa, protagonist of Iron & Glass has green eyes and blond hair. Why? Not just because it looks pretty, I’ll tell you that much. There’s a purpose behind it, but you’d have to read the book to figure it out.

Again, Iron & Glass comes out on August 18th!

And let me know if you have any questions!

Iron & Glass, the author’s journey (part 4)

How to Start a Story

What’s worse, starting a story or ending one? One pulls the reader into the story; the other lets the reader go. While a writer needs to make a good first impression, but, for me, that’s easier than ending a story. Ending a story means wrapping up the entire novel with the perfect paragraph or line. Also, as an author, you have to let the characters go–unless you plan on writing more about them. Endings are–excuse me here–final.  But you start a novel, you’ve got thousands of possibilities and opportunities.

Deciding at what point in time the story should start can be difficult. Some fantasy novels, like David Gemmell’s The Sword in the Storm, start before the main character’s birth. Other books span generations, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude. Some novels start with an action or emotional scene, a flashback, or some mundane task. Basically, a novel can start anywhere.

So how do you round it down? You have to know your genre. Most YA novels don’t span generations. Odds are you don’t want to start the novel before the protagonist is born. And so on and so on. Understand what your readers expect and play off that.

But doesn’t mean you should open your novel with a gener’s cliché. Fantasy tends to start with a battle/action sequence, a prologue, or a mundane task (like gathering wheat). While popular in the genre, there are problems with those beginnings.First, who cares? The reader isn’t invested in the battle sequence. They don’t understand who’s fighting who, and they don’t care. The scene looses potency because the reader isn’t invested in the world, characters, or plot yet. Prologues generally scream, “Nothing really interesting will happen in the next hundred pages so I’m throwing you a bone for now.” In fantasy, setting up a world, plot, and characters can take hundreds of pages, so prologues seem like a good idea. However, authors should be able to move the story while building the world. The mundane tasks open? Right. I’m guessing everyone can see how that’s a problem. No one really wants to read about someone else gathering wheat or whatever. Still, mundane tasks can let the reader know who this character is before something really traumatizing happens to them.

I just contradicted myself. And that’s going to happen a lot with writing advice because there is no “right” or “wrong” way. Every story is unique, which means no advice applies universally.


Here’s what I do.


First, identify the genre. Remember, when you start a story, you’re starting the story. Anything past what happens in the first page becomes a flashback. Normally, you don’t  write about every day of a character’s life, so pick out the important parts to highlight. If you read Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, you’ll follow the story of a young boy. Hobb doesn’t just write about any random day in his life, but the important ones, the days where something significant happened.

Okay, so pick out a moment in time significant to the character. Keep the genre in mind. If it’s YA, don’t go too far into the past. Pick something that will launch you in you into your main plot line. If it’s Fantasy, well, you can start at the character’s birth if that moment is important to the character’s life.

I started Iron & Glass with an event that sends a rift through Calissa’s normal life, forcing her to change her daily activities. These changes allow the plot to move forward.


So what happens?


Well, let’s read the “back of the book” first:


Lights glare in her eyes; she tries blinking them away. Her foot swings in front of her—screech! Her world spins. A warm liquid touches her skin. The moan of a siren, the smell of wood, the beat of a heart, a cold body beneath soft fingertips—cold; bodies are supposed to be warm . . .

Ballerina Calissa Delano Lavalle lost her mother in a car accident, and now she struggles to dance. Her coach recommends Calissa take a break, but, without dancing, nothing can distract Calissa from her mother’s absence and the distance her father’s placed between them. Calissa tries pulling the unraveling threads of her life together, but even her friends slip away.

Weighted with the past, she cannot move forward, until something new invades. Animals have started following Calissa. Her life takes a dangerous turn where the supernatural becomes real. Two beautiful and undoubtedly lethal boys will change Calissa’s life, tangling her past and future, endangering her friends and family, and forcing Calissa to search inside herself and discover what it means to be human.


So in the first scene Calissa struggles with her dancing lessons,  thinks about the accident that killed her mom, and gets asked to take a break from dancing until she’s healed. Right off the bat I establish two conflicts she’ll have to work through: her mom’s death and dancing. I establish she’s a dancer  and that her mother’s dead. I also remove her from dancing lessons. Dancers practice for hours daily, so Calissa could never move forward in her story if she got stuck in the studio. So I pull the reader into the action, into her life and story while disrupting Calissa’s life to move the story forward.

Cool, right?

Anyways, as I said, it’s different for every story. I’d love to answer any questions about where to start a story, or any story questions at all really.

Remember, Iron & Glass comes out on August 18th  and will be available on Smashwords.




















Iron & Glass, the author’s journey (part 3)

Characters are the heart of your story. If they aren’t real to you, they won’t be real to the reader either. Your telling the characters’ story, so you’ll want to know who they are in order to tell it. That, however, isn’t always easy.

There’s lots of way to bring your character to life, and, for me, every character develops in their own way. Sometimes I understand the character from the get-go; other times I have to wait until the character decides to “let me in” so to speak. Either way, and every way in between, there are tricks to uncovering a character, to peal back the layers and see what they’re made of. I’ll tell you about some of my methods, but they’re just suggestions.

Calissa–protagonist of my novel coming out on August 18th Iron & Glass– sure took a while to fully flesh out. She did not barge into my head and start yapping away about her life story. No, I had to puzzle her out and discover her piece by piece. So, the big question, how did I do it?

Before I can refine a character, I need to know the bare bones. Who is Calissa at her core? If you can’t answer that question, you probably need to sit down and think for a while. You need to know the essence of your character before you can really grasp him or her.

If you don’t know, think of mock situations, place your character inside them, and then figure out how they would react. You could pick a  typical situation: fight with a best friend (would she/he fight with a best friend?), a hold-up at a bank, the death of someone important—that escalated quickly.  Anyways, you could also take a scene from a book or movie and throw your character into it: how would she/he react? Now write the scene out or play it out in your head, then decipher what the characters reaction says about him/her.

Let’s force Calissa into a hold-up situation, since the other actually happen to her in the novel.

Okay, she stands in line waiting to make a deposit (or whatever). A crazy guy storms in with a gun and tells everyone to get on the ground.

What’s going through Calissa’s head?

She’s scared and obeys the guy, telling herself to calm down and think. Then she starts trying to rationalize the situation, figuring out the odds of living and dying based on her actions and the gun-man’s. If she thinks she can take him out, she’ll stand up and do it. If not, she’ll wait it out. She won’t try and talk to the man; she doesn’t believe that will work. The clerks should hand over the money. After all, lives at stake and you can’t put a price on those. The police can track down and catch the lunatic later.

Is she concerned about the other hostages?

Not really. No more than your average decent human being would be. No hero complex here.

Does she fear death?

Nope, but she fears what will happen to her dad if she gets hurt/dies.

Here I could go ahead and say the bank has a security plan in place, and, safe behind bullet-proof glass, the clerks refuse to give up the money and call the police. The gun-man starts to shoot people every hour, and the police surround the bank but fear going inside—and on and on it could go.

But, I don’t need to get to convoluted in my little scenario. I’ve learned some good stuff.

Calissa is rational. While scared, she realizes fear won’t help. She accepts her situation and then decides how/if she can change it. This mindset of hers can/might apply to any hardship or fear she will face. She could get a little scared, or depressed, angry, blah, blah, blah, normal human reaction, blah, blah, blah, and then decide to take control of her own life. That’s great to know. Big insight into her character.

What else can we tell?

She likes rules—maybe even trusts them?—and thinks lives outweigh money, though she isn’t a hero. She won’t act irrational to try and save the day. She doesn’t fear death, but she obviously loves her family, maybe even more than herself—that sounds like another big thing to me.

I know a bit more about Calissa now, maybe even a lot. I can run her through more of those little exercises or I can try some different ones. If your character isn’t doing anything in those mock scenes, you may want to try these next steps first.

Ask these (and similar) questions, even for characters who don’t live in the “real” world.

Favorite song? Book? Movie? Person? Historical figure? School subject? Quote? Food? 

What season do they like best? What season best represents them?

Ex) Calissa represents winter turning into spring.

What color best represents them?

What are their hobbies? Passions?

Ex) dancing, her family,

Who are their role models?

Are they religious?

If everyone was rolling down a cliff and they could only save one person, who could it be?

Ex) Her best friend, Zoey Nicole Hill.

Given a choice, would they pick love or career?

They’ve got a genie: what are their three wishes?

And on and on and on.

Pretend this character is your new friend. What questions would you ask your new friend?

There are a million tricks out there; you can always search the internet for more.

If you have any questions, let me know! I’m always happy to talk about stories, especially character!

Iron & Glass comes out on August 18th! I’ve having an editor look it over right now, then I’m going to set up a pre-order link on Smashwords.

Till next time!

Iron & Glass, the author’s journey (part 2)

So I decided to go in-depth about how Iron & Glass “came to me”, answering the ever elusive “where do you stories come from?” question.

Here’s the thing: most of the time, my stories come in pieces. Iron & Glass did. I get one idea I really like, but I don’t think it’s “enough” of an idea to carry a story. So I mentally shelf it and wait around for another one to strike, which usually happens every few months or so. When the next idea comes, I go back to my idea shelf and see if any of them will fit together. Sometimes they do, and that’s where (most of) my stories are born. I’ve even sat on an idea for over five years before it came together with another one. Now I’m drafting a query letter for the first book (yea me! query’s are so much fun.)

Anyways, the first idea for Iron & Glass came when I watched the movie Serenity (If you haven’t heard of the movie, you’ve probably heard of the its director: Joss Whedon, as in the man who directed The Avengers). Here’s the exact scene. You don’t have to watch the whole thing (about the first 50 seconds), and warning it is spoilery! Also, everyone should watch this movie, but make sure you check out the show Firefly first, though.

Summer Glau (the actress in the scene) is a trained ballerina. And, in that moment, I decided I wanted to write about a ballerina who can look graceful while kicking the enemy’s butt. Iron & Glass was born–well, started. I spent a long time researching ballerinas (I even visited a studio, which was awesome). But, really, a ballerina who could fight really didn’t provide a great foundation for a story.

So I waited.

Then two boys came to me in a day-dream-like-thing. I sat under a tree and–bam! more characters. I knew these two boys were close (like brothers, okay?), and they had a story I didn’t know yet. I also knew something supernatural complicated things. And, my poor boys, it really complicates things for the characters in Iron & Glass.

After that, I uncovered their story (the ballerina and the boys, because I knew they connected). I’d love to say I “invented” the story, but the characters did. They told me their story, and I wrote it down.

Weird, huh?

My friends and co-works always ask, “Where do your stories come from?” Well, there you go. Iron & Glass came from me watching a movie and sitting under a tree. Sometimes I swear I get no peace and quiet. I just want to watch a movie, but characters decide to drop on in my head and strike up a conversation. Ah well, there are worse problems to have. Besides, I’d get lonely otherwise.

Anyways! There are many, many ways to find inspiration for a story: other stories, dreams, real people, real problems, and on and on and on. One time I thought, I want to write an Epic Fantasy story with my sister. Six years later, we have the first two books written, and we’re also drafting a query letter (I know, two at once! It makes me so sad).

Next week I’m going to blab about character development, the tricks I use and a bit about Calissa, the ballerina in Iron & Glass. Exciting times.

Remember, the book comes out on August 18th, and if you have questions or comments (snide or supportive!) just ask.