Friday, November 28, 2014


Courage has probably been my biggest stretching point this year. Courage and trusting the Lord. But, honestly, the two have coincided, for the most part. I’ve been learning to take steps that I’m a little scared to. And often along those steps I know God is saying “Trust Me.” There have been plenty of personal examples of courage for me this year – from small things like saying hi to someone to larger things like going to a job interview and following through on an amazing opportunity that’s a little bit terrifying. This has definitely been a year of learning to be courageous.

“Courage,” according to, is “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty,danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” I personally find that definition to be a little off, but it is still mostly true.

  • Courage isn’t foolishness, running heedlessly off into danger – I think we often confuse courage with stupidity, and they are not the same thing at all. Courage isn’t choosing to to go running off into danger just because it’s scary. "Too many people consider themselves daring when they are only delirious." ~ Anonymous
  • Courage  isn’t ignorance, choosing not to gather facts and observe – Courage is choosing to understand a situation and go into it anyway because it’s important. “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” ~ E.F. Schumacher
  • Courage is standing up for what’s right – Sometimes the hardest things to do are the ones we know to be necessary. “Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.” ~ Confucius
  • Courage is not always popular – Courage often looks like the opposite of what everyone else is doing. But even in the moments when it’s hard, stand firm, because a majority opinion is rarely right. “The opposite for courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.” ~ Jim Hightower
  • Courage is biblical – “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” ~ Joshua 1:9; “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” ~ 1 Corinthians 16:13

So, what about you? Where have you applied courage recently? Let me know in the comments; I’d love to hear from you!

Courage quote

Friday, November 21, 2014

Would Your Readers Cry if Your Hero Died?

When scanning Pinterest, I often come across posts that talk about crying when a character dies. So many of them take the tone that says other people find it strange. I’ve never once had someone say it’s odd that I cry at sad parts of a story, but apparently some people have. The thing that always crosses my mind when reading those pins, though, is that authors should be thrilled to have readers cry at asad-98450_640 character’s death.

Not that we’re sadists, of course. At least, I sure hope not. I don’t find pleasure in causing people pain. The part that makes me happy is that readers feel emotionally connected enough to my characters to cry. Not everyone cries, even when they are sad, but we’re striving for connection. And readers can connect regardless of whether they cry or not.

Nonetheless, crying is a universal sign of grief (or extreme joy in some cases). It is a clue that emotional investment is at play. There’s a story in those tears.

Story in tears

With that in mind, I want to hear your thoughts on what makes you connect to a character, especially a hero/heroine. But first, I’d like to lay out a couple of stereotypes to be wary of. 

The Hallmark Hero

I do enjoy Hallmark movies, and there are some beautiful, well-made ones out there. But the vast majority of the ones I’ve watched, recently at least, have perfect heroes and heroines. Somehow I still get emotional about the stories, but it’s not because of the characters. Don’t make perfect characters; it’s difficult to connect to someone who has no flaws.

The Arrogant Attitude

I say this one with a caution stamp all over it, but I think it is something to think about. Obviously, readers can care about an arrogant hero (Tony Stark, anyone?), but it’s usually because of some characteristic below the surface, not because of his/her arrogance. Pride is quite off-putting, and it is thus difficult to connect with a prideful character. Not impossible, of course, but if a main character is more arrogant than most, he’s going to need a redeeming quality somewhere that is more emotionally engaging.

So, what do ya’ll think? Do you cry at emotional parts while reading/watching movies? What tends to get you the most? What kind of heroes and heroines do you like to write? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Add Another Dimension: Online Graphics

Today I’m ecstatic to share with you some tips on making graphics for Pinterest, other social media, or, especially, your blog. I’m sure you’ve heard the advice that says use pictures in your blog post. I’ve suggested this myself. There are multiple reasons for this, but one of them is to make your posts easier to share, especially on Pinterest. Well, many bloggers take that to another level by not only including pictures, but creating graphics specifically for a post. I do this relatively often, though not necessarily for every single post. So here are some thoughts on creating graphics for your blog. But first, a graphic. Hehe.

Graphic for Graphics blog post 5

It’s easy to go overboard when creating graphics. There’s so much you can do, and it can be really fun. But overboard is not going to help you. When creating graphics, remember one thing: SIMPLICITY IS BEST. So, with that overarching theme, let’s get into some details.


When you set out to make a graphic, think about it for a moment. What’s the point of this graphic? Is it to share to Pinterest as a standalone picture or quote? Is it to illustrate a blog post? To link to a blog post? Why you’re making this graphic is important in establishing how you’ll make it. Here are some examples of graphics I’ve made for each case that I’m happy with:

Standalone for Pinterest

Picture montage Shakespeare and Bilbo quote

Though they’re small, you get the gist. I made each of these specifically to pin a quote I wanted to put on Pinterest. You can find the actual pins here and here. The thing to remember with Pinterest is that it’s all online and visually driven. Complicated graphics are tiring to the eyes online, so when the whole point of the graphic is to be seen, you especially want to be simple. If the text of your pin is long, then you’ll want a background that is similar all the way through. You wouldn’t want a crazy mix of colors, because text is difficult to overlay legibly in that case. If your text is short, you have a little more flexibility. But make sure that the section you place the text on is simple.

Illustration for Blog

History Quote

 The text in this is a quote from the blog post it’s found in. I included it both for the purpose of giving the post a picture and for pinning. With blog illustrations, you want to keep in mind the same things as for pins. Since this is something people are supposed to see as they read through your post, make it readable. Don’t make the text too long, make the background uncluttered, and make the picture big enough to see.

For Sharing a Blog Post

Since I have a graphic for this post, I won’t include another example. It’s simple, has my blog’s name in the corner (that’s optional, but it probably helps with exposure), and has the title in large, legible text. You’re trying to catch someone’s attention in a good way so they’ll read the actual blog post. So, if something detracts from that purpose, get rid of it.


Okay, now that we’ve covered different purposes and looked at some examples, let’s get specific. To illustrate the different elements of making a graphic, I’m going to share some of the stages I went through in making this post’s graphic. First of all, there are plenty of places to make graphics for free. In the past, I’ve used Poster My Wall, which is a simple grab/upload-a-background-and-add-text kind of thing. You could also use Canva, which gives some options for more detailed work. But my personal favorite is good old Microsoft Publisher. You have more options there than you might expect, and by saving your work as a JPG, you’ve got a picture at your disposal.

Picture Montage graphics post

Usually I don’t go through this many rounds of work on my blog graphics, but this time my brain wanted to go a couple of different directions, so the results were all over the place. I created it entirely in Publisher.

  1. This was the original picture that I picked out for this graphic when I started the whole process. It looked neat and was the best vaguely-out-there picture I could find to capture the idea of dimensions. I decided on using “Agency FB” font early on in the process, and the color matched the picture without blending in and disappearing. I like to pick a simple color scheme for my graphics, usually only two colors, and I like drawing at least one of them out of the picture I’m using as a background. I messed with this version for a long time, but I finally decided that it didn’t have enough black space for the text. It kept running into the picture in a way that didn’t feel balanced to me.
  2. So, I started messing with cropping and adding black space, which led me to scrapping the original picture and going with a pure black background instead.  I added a striped border to the top and bottom and made it the same color as my text, which is still Agency FB. As for the arrows, I honestly don’t know why I added the one on the left to begin with. I must have been meaning to add a line of some sort, but I don’t think it was supposed to be that line. Still, I liked the effect, so I added another one. My blog name is usually one of the last things I add, so I obviously hadn’t finished that one completely. It bored me a bit, though, so I changed it again.
  3. At this stage, I went back to a picture. I love the colors in this one, and because they were totally different from my previous color scheme, I changed the font color to yellow. My blog address is also yellow, though somewhat darker because it’s on top of other colors. I didn’t like my previous font with this picture, so I changed it. I like this one because it has adequate blank space at the top, and the font color ties the text to the picture. I came really close to using this graphic, but then I was drawn back to the previous one.
  4. In an attempt to solve the boredom problem I previously had with this graphic, I added a crazy spiral. But then it was way too crowded. I had lost my simplicity principle, and I didn’t like the result at all.
  5. So, after removing the spiral, I messed around with the font. Number #5 is an example of my Agency FB, blue font with an outline effect. It looked super cool in Publisher, but, as you can see, it’s very difficult to see as a picture. Previewing your work is incredibly important. I added my blog address in purple down in the corner because I liked the contrast. Besides, I like using my blog colors (orange and purple) when I put my blog address on graphics. It adds a bit of continuity.
  6. When I really thought about the purple that I was using for my blog address, I realized I liked it a lot, so I decided to apply it to my title. Lo and behold, I had the contrast I needed. I was no longer bored by my graphic, which had previously been all the same color. Contrast is great for graphics, but it doesn’t have to be a drastic contrast.

So, why didn’t I go with #6? I only changed a couple of things. One was the effect on the font. That one is embossed, while I ended up putting no effect on the final product. I just preferred the crisper lines I got without embossing. I felt that it fit my topic and graphic better. The other change I made was very subtle. I wanted to make my blog name stand out just slightly more than it did. I felt I was losing it among the stripes. So, I added a rectangle over each of the borders, filled it with the same color as the stripes, and then made it mostly transparent. This softened the effect of the white stripes, allowing my blog address to not get lost.

Hopefully you got something helpful out all that. Here’s some summary, along with the thoughts that didn’t come out earlier:


  • Consider why you’re making this graphic and decide what you want it to accomplish before making it.


  • Keep your backgrounds simple. If you use a photo, make sure it has blank/similar space for text. But don’t be afraid to use colored backgrounds, either. I like using Publisher’s background tools for mixing colors.
  • Don’t use fancy text. Straightforward fonts are best – I use “Book Antiqua”, “Bookman Old Style”, “Bell MT”, and “Copperplate Gothic Light” most often. If you want to simulate handwriting, as I sometimes use with notebook/notepad backgrounds, I suggest fonts like “Monotype Corsiva” or “Papyrus.” Fonts with excessive loops will just be annoying on a screen, though.
  • Use a simple color scheme, with colors that both match and contrast, to some degree, your background. Don’t use colors that blend in too much or hurt the eyes.
  • Use elegant lines. If you want to stagger your text on different lines, go ahead, but make it match up somehow, maybe diagonally. I don’t suggest jumping all over the graphic, because that feels chaotic. Whatever you do, remember that those of us who use English as a first language read left to right.

So, what do you think? Did I use the right version of this post’s graphic? Ultimately, graphics are largely a personal preference. What you like may not be what someone else does, and what someone else likes may not fit your idea of what graphics should be. That’s okay. Create the image you want to represent yourself, and be happy with that. Just remember:

Simplicity is best.

Now, let me know in the comments: what do you like in graphics? Do you like creating graphics for your blog/Pinterest?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Don’t Kill the Writer: The Art of Critiquing

I got my first taste of giving and receiving feedback on stories when I started interacting on the One Year Adventure Novel online forum a few years ago. Before doing that amazing program, I had never finished a novel draft. And I had never received a critique of my work before, either. When I finally got the courage up to post my OYAN story on the critique board, that all changed. And it wasn’t all pretty. One of the first responses was pretty harsh, and reading it really hurt me. Finding out that the person who gave it was known to be somewhat grumpy and overly harsh helped, but the sting remained.

Authors can be a rather sensitive lot. I’m sensitive naturally, but that tends to go into hyperdrive in reference to my writing. And many, if not most, writers are similar. So hearing any criticism of our writing can be difficult. But without critiquers, beta-readers, or whatever else you want to call them, it’s difficult to make our stories the best they can be. We need feedback; we just prefer not to be sliced to the bone and left bleeding in the process.

The Art of Critiquing

On Wednesday, author Jill Williamson posted an excellent article on giving a critique over on Go Teen Writers. I promise that my article was planned weeks ago, though, so I’m not stealing her stuff, even though our advice will probably overlap. Anyway, back to the topic: as writers and readers, how do we go about giving and receiving helpful critiques?

Let’s start with some general thoughts about critiquing:

  • The term “critique” actually refers to negative feedback. If you look it up in the dictionary, you’d get the impression that giving a critique is just pointing out the flaws in someone’s writing. To me, that’s not an effective method, since it tends to make the writer defensive. So, keep in mind that, even though I often use the words “critique” or “critiquers”, I’m not referring to an all-out negative blitz.
  • Critiquing is not about you, whether you’re the author or the person giving feedback. It’s about the story – making it better.
  • That being said, critiquing involves people. And these people have valid thoughts and feelings. As an author, recognize that your critiquers may (and probably do) have good thoughts that you should at least give a chance, even if they hurt a bit. As a critiquer, remember that the author of the work you’re critiquing has poured his/her heart and soul into these words. Be aware of the effect you’re having when you slice into that story.

Now, from the perspective of an author with a work he’d like feedback on, there are plenty of things to think about:

  • Don’t ask for critiques from strangers – Some may disagree, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to get feedback from people you don’t know. If I don’t know and respect this person who’s poking holes in my beloved writing, I’m not going to take their advice very easily. If I see something negative, I’m immediately going to take it personally and ignore the rest of their thoughts, even though they may have very good points. Again, that could just be me, but writers are a pretty sensitive lot, so you’re probably a bit like that, too. Now, I’m not saying you should only ask for feedback from your best friend. They don’t have to know you that well, necessarily. Two of my best critiquers are people I’ve never met face-to-face. We met on the OYAN forum, and their thoughts have been invaluable to my writing.
  • Be clear about your expectations – Critiquing a project, especially a novel, for someone, can be an incredibly daunting project. If you’ve never critiqued before and you’re handed a document filled with thousands of words, I guarantee you’re going to have a moment of “What have I agreed to?” So, as a writer, don’t leave that person with no idea of what they’re supposed to do. If you know that there’s something specific you need from this person, say that. For example, one of my critiquers is a guy, and one of the biggest things I needed his help with in Raiders’ Rise was male characters. I wanted to make sure that the guys in my story were true to life, and I told him that. In the same way, if you have things you don’t want them to comment on, mention that. Otherwise, you may end up with comments you didn’t want (related to grammar, for example) and get angry at your critiquers for something that’s not their fault. Be careful with this, though; I personally like comprehensive critiques, so I don’t like limiting my critiquers’ comments.
  • Pick diverse critiquers – Everyone looks at a story differently. Thus, having more than one person give you feedback is helpful, anyway. But it’s also good to think about the perspective each of these people will have on your story. Someone who’s been writing for five years will notice way more “writing” stuff than someone who’s only been writing for a year. But, on the flip side, that newer writer may be able to stay out of “writer” mode more easily and just read your story, instead of thinking about how they would do it. Trust me, the more you know about writing, the harder it is to just read. I prefer to not have all writers read my story, or all readers. Personally, my critiquers look a lot like this: a writer whose ability I respect immensely and who I love as a person; a newer writer who reads mostly like a reader but who picks up certain writing things as well; my sister, who isn’t into writing; and a friend with a fascinating and somewhat unique perspective who has studied writing but doesn’t actively write. Thus, some of them will notice things like weak verbs and info-dumping, while others will have their attention turned to logic and believability; some will notice emotion and some will notice theme. All of these things are exceptionally helpful to me, and though some critiquers will give more than one naturally, diverse readers help cover all your bases. I also advise having both male and female critiquers, as each gender will have a unique perspective on your story.
  • Don’t get defensive – The only time I’ve ever dealt with writing criticism in person has been with my sister, and I have a very difficult time not getting defensive about her thoughts, even when I think they’re great. Thankfully, I usually read people’s thoughts on my stories via the Web, so I can calm my reaction before I respond. I value my critiquers’ thoughts, but I also take things incredibly personally. So, even things that are meant well can be difficult for me. I’ve gotten a lot better over the last year, but it’s still a struggle. If you’re like me, understand your tendency to be defensive and learn to curb it. If you’ve chosen your critiquers wisely, then you know they don’t mean their words harshly. Don’t get mad at them, and DO NOT lash out at them. If you react defensively, find some way to calm yourself, and then respond graciously. Anger does not help friendships or writing relationships. 

Courtesy of Pixabay

Now, moving on to advice for actual critiquing:

  • Be respectful of the author – If you’re providing a critique of someone’s work for them, yes, you are doing them a service. But that doesn’t mean you can just do whatever you want. If they ask you to specifically look for something, make sure you’re paying attention to that aspect. If they tell you not to comment on something, don’t comment on that aspect. In addition, if the author gives you a deadline of when they need your critiques back, make sure you follow through. Sure, life intervenes sometimes, but, if you can’t make that date, don’t agree to giving the critique. Authors have deadlines, especially if they’re under contract. But even those of us who haven’t been published often plan deadlines for ourselves. Respecting those as a critiquer is key to maintaining a good relationship between the two of you. Another way to respect the author is the way you make your notes. Maybe you need to work out a way between the two of you that will best work in getting your thoughts across, but think of that person when you’re choosing colors and methods. I much prefer colors that stand out from my manuscript to notes that blend in. Use a legible font; use good colors. The writer you’re helping will appreciate it.
  • Periodically make sure that you’re still being helpful – One of my critiquers is fantastic at this. Every few chapters or so that he sends back to me, he’ll check to see if he’s missing something that I need feedback on or if I need him to look for anything else in the story. As a critiquer, you are trying to help the author. So, check with them to see if you’re doing your job well.
  • Tell the things you like – Unless the writer specifically asks you to note only negative things, make sure you’re commenting on things they do well and parts that you enjoy. Even little things like “LOL” after a sentence can be helpful. The sandwich method that I learned on the OYAN forum and that Jill Williamson mentions in her article is a great template: for every negative thing you say, sandwich it with a positive note before and after. This works particularly well for chapter wrap-ups and overall thoughts. It may be easy to think that if there’s something you don’t mark, the writer should know it’s fine. But we need to see what readers like about our stories as well as the things they don’t like. Mark the parts where you feel the hero’s pain. Point out wordings that you like. Note the parts that make you laugh or cry. These are all incredibly helpful comments.
  • Gently point out things that need work – I will say that I have been blessed with kind critiquers, but some people are naturally more harsh than others, even if they don’t intend to be. When you’re critiquing, think about how you would feel receiving this advice. Could you say it more gently? But maybe you’re good at being nice: now what do you actually say? Don’t worry: it’s not rocket science. If it was, those of us with a preference for language arts would probably be in trouble. Often, the best perspective you can have as a critiquer is to look for things that don’t read smoothly. Did that section bore you? Tell them! Does that dialogue sound a little stilted? Would a sailor say what you just read him saying? Did she have red hair a moment ago and now it’s blonde? Did he learn a new skill a few chapters ago but now it’s foreign to him? Look for parts that don’t make sense, that seem out of character, that confuse you, that jerk you out of the story. These are the things we need to know about if we’re to make our stories better. Different writers will prefer different formats, but I personally like having notes directly in the text, followed by an overall impression/wrap-up at the end of the chapter/story.
  • Trust your instincts – Even if you’ve never critiqued something before, your opinions are still valid. Will you be perfect at it? Probably not. So, ask for help with form; ask the writer what they want you to focus on. Questions will bring answers, which will hopefully bring clarity to the process for you. But just because you’re inexperienced doesn’t mean that you can’t be helpful. You’ve read good books before; how does this story match up? If something sticks out to you, note that and tell why. It may be something the author is already aware of, but it may be something they totally missed, too. Don’t discount your ability to see things. Your opinions are invaluable.

Well, that got a little longer than I intended it to be, but critiquing is an important subject, in my opinion. It deserves to be expounded upon. I do want to make a quick note for those of you reading this who have critiqued/do critique for me: I wasn’t directing any of this at ya’ll. You are great helps!

For everyone else, how do you feel about giving and receiving critiques? What kind of feedback helps you? What kind hinders/hurts? Let me know in the comments!