Friday, May 30, 2014

Archetypes in Mythology

I'm a mythology nut. I've been that way for a long time, and it comes out in my writing (I mean, I'm writing a book filled with Trickster gods right now). But one of the things I find most fascinating about mythology is the archetypes behind the stories.

For example, almost every culture has some sort of creation story. Whether the gods created people from mud or corn or starlight will differ from culture to culture, but the general idea remains the same. It's fascinating to me to look at all the different takes on the same idea, depending on where the culture grew and how it was influenced by the world around it.

But mythology isn't just great for leisure reading or psychological study. It's a great place to find inspiration, too. Looking for a religion for your aliens? Why not study Japanese myth for inspiration? Need a new god for your not-Tolkien-esque elves? Try looking at Polynesian stories for ideas.

Do note that I don't recommend stealing the myths themselves (unless you're writing about those particular peoples/myths), but looking at how different cultures see the world can be a fascinating insight into how the human brain works. And it's a great exercise in looking at archetypes and how they can be used in different ways. Compare Loki and Anansi, both Trickster archetypes, to see what I mean. Or, if you'd rather, look at Zeus and Odin--they're both the Strong Leader/Father-type archetypes, but their stories are very different.

There are so many different cultures and different mythologies in the world. Some of them are harder to research than others (just look at the number of Greek myth books versus the number of Maori myth books, for example), but I think all of them are worth our time as writers.

When Emily's not writing or drooling over mythology books, she's probably playing Pokémon or getting ready for Comic Con. Find her at or on Twitter @EmilyKSinger.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Heroes and Villains

One of the reasons I love genre fiction is that I love the epic battle between heroes and villains. Those forces of will and power make me giddy with excitement, whether it's the Hercules myth, Harry Dresden, or Katniss Everdeen.

These are my favorite archetypes, and they are almost always what I look for in books that I read for fun. Now, that doesn't mean that I'll avoid a book or even claim that it's a bad book if neither of those archetypes are present. But primal feelings course through me whenever I find a great display of archetypal heroes vs. villains.

Archetypes can be touchy, though. If they fit the classic example too closely, they get boring. If they deviate too much, they come across as over-thought. Much like a proper pizza dough, they have to be JUST the right thickness to come across as excellent, without getting spread too thin.

What else do we need on this epic pizza, though? How about the sauce (a classic story that follows a traditional pattern? Or maybe something spicy with hints of new-world ingredients)? Good cheese is a must, but not too much or it becomes stringy. (In this example, cheese is the web of subplots that tie the main plot together.)

Toppings: Pepperoni (a mentor/caregiver), black olives (love interest), and bacon (the quirky sidekick who happens to be the REAL reason we're reading). The pizza is our hero and his quest, and dipping sauce for the edge-crust is our villain. Dip that crust until the villain is gone!

With all of the options out there, the possibilities are endless! Concoct your own recipe, try out all the ingredients together, but try (if you're entice me, anyway) to make sure it's an epic battle between Hero and Villain.

Giles is hungry, now, and wants pizza. But instead he'll write. Like you should do. Now. No excuses.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Editing vs. Rewriting

If you've listened to this week's episode, you know that my self-editing process has, mostly, consisted of completely rewriting everything. Not the best editing process in the world. In fact, it might just be the worst.

It's time-consuming, and it's great for discouraging myself (I mean, rewriting the same chapter ten times really makes me feel like it's terrible). It's a great way to never get anything actually finished.

The point of editing is to polish and dress up a piece so that it's the best it can be. Inherent in that is the idea of an end-point, a moment when you can sit back and look at your piece that's ready for publication, or posting online, or whatever you're doing with it.

So, basically, this is a "do as I say, not as I do," type post. I really, really encourage people to not follow my example of rewriting everything. Take some time off from a piece before you begin editing, and try to do it little bits at a time. Sometimes rewriting is necessary, but most of the time more simple editing will get the job done.

This is where beta readers and critique groups and other feedback comes in. having someone else look at your work can help you figure out what needs full-on rewriting and what just needs some tweaking or fixing-up. It's hard to tell when you're close to your work (as most creators tend to be), and letting someone else take a look can be the most helpful thing in the world.

How do you edit your work? How do you know you've hit the 'end-point' for a piece?

When Emily's not writing or rewriting, she's hunting down the nerdiest things on the internet and pretending she's a Time Lord. 

Find her at or on Twitter @Emilyksinger.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Stifling Creativity?

In my early days of writing, I knew several other writers who insisted that editing is a way to destroy, or at least distract from, creativity. If it's not perfect the first time, it's never going to be perfect, and if deep editing is required, the writer "obviously" doesn't have enough talent to make it in the real world.

I wonder how that worked out for them...

Anyway, those of us who actually understand the creative process realize revision and editing are two of the most vital parts of making our work the best it can be. Without taking the time to improve what's written, that creative work will, at best, get put up on an obscure website or at the bottom of the "free" bin on the Kindle store where a few people will wander by, glance at it, and move on to something else.

Now, if you ask me, that is more stifling to creativity than putting in the effort to make the first draft into a second draft. Then turn that second draft into a third, forth, and eventually final, revised draft that is so awesome people get inspired to create their own creative work.

Editing is how creativity shines. It doesn't stifle creativity. In fact, laziness is what stifles creativity, more than anything else in the world.

So go! Write something, draw it, form it from clay or wood, then polish it, finesse the lines, and fill them in with color and beauty.

Giles tries to be creative 24/7, but it turns out his editing time is more limited than he'd like. Nevertheless, he pokes at his keyboard, fixes his writing, and starts all over again as often as he can.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Self-Editing for Non-Writers

I have the weird, alien characteristic of loving to work on research papers, fiction books, articles, biographies – not just write, mind you. Work on. I’ve helped many people reconstruct and edit essays and short stories for school projects. In general, they all hate me. “How can you possibly like this?” and “Why are you smiling? This isn’t fun!” are two very familiar comments in my world.

While I adore writing and editing, I am completely aware that this sets me apart from the general public. My non-writer friends hear the words “Did you edit it yet?” and give me a look normally reserved for snakes escaping from the zoo.

The problem with self-editing is that it is incredibly daunting if you don’t know how to do it. Many people hate it because there always seems to be something to tweak. You write and write and write and end up back where you started. And, frankly, sometimes it feels like you made it worse.

How can you learn to edit if you don’t even know where to start?

First, you need distance. I know all you procrastinators will probably hate this, but it’s true. In order to see if your writing really did what you want it to, you have to be able to see the big picture. Whether that’s letting it sit for a month or a day, try it. You’ll be amazed what problems you spot once you haven’t been peering at them up-close for six hours in a row.

Second, practice on other people. If you’re in college and have to write a lot of papers, pay attention to your classmate’s work and how they do things. Look especially for phrasing and formatting that turns your stomach; once you know what doesn’t work, it’s easier to write better from the get-go.

Third, don’t try too hard. I really can’t stress this enough. Of all essays and books and theses I’ve edited, the Number One Problem is usually this: people write for effect instead of meaning. Stop writing so you sound cool or to hit a word count. Maybe you’ve seen this meme floating around Facebook:

When a writer writes just to hear the sound of their own voice, they sound like Kronk. I love Kronk, but you really don’t want to sound like him when you’re writing about the technological advances of the laser beam, or introducing us to your epic fantasy world of dwarves and elves.

Make sure you read your work out loud and listen for awkward phrasing. If what you read doesn’t lead to your goal, delete it. If it sounds weird, re-word it. Self-editing can be a painful process, but once you get the hang of it, it can make a world of difference. 

What kinds of strategies do you use when you edit your writing? Let's talk about them!

Michelle's mom says that she started correcting people before she even went to kindergarten, but that timing is up for debate. She tries not to be a Grammar Nazi, but sometimes it just slips out.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Critique Groups and Publication

A while ago, Giles touched on The Art of Critique, but I'm going to expound on it a little bit in today's post. Because our critique group did an awesome, amazing, mind-blowing thing this week. Well, technically, a few months ago, but I got the news this week.

Back in March, I submitted a short story to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2014 Anthology. I started writing a story to fit the theme of Crossing Colfax entirely too late for comfort, so the entire process with fraught with self-loathing and panic. But I miraculously had enough time to send the story to my critique group twice before the due date, and that made all the difference.

Our group is a little different from most, as Giles touched on in his critique post. We don't sit silently through our critiques--we actively ask for clarification and suggestions, and that works well for us. It doesn't work for every group, and it's something we have to be careful about, but so far it's been helpful.

Our group is also interesting, because each of us has a different critiquing style. One of us is really good at tiny, nitpick details. One of us is great at big content issues. One of us is a grammar whiz. One of us has wonderful, thought-provoking questions the rest of us tend to overlook. It's a great mix, and all things that we need to look at in our pieces.

The first draft of my short story wasn't terrible, per se, but it definitely wasn't publishable. Taking it to critique group helped me sort out exactly what I wanted to say, what my character's growth should look like, how to write a better ending, what did and didn't make sense. Basically, they helped me take a jumble of ideas and turn it into a coherent short story.

A short story that's now been accepted for publication in the anthology.

So, when people tell you that critique groups are helpful, it's kind of the understatement of the year, in my opinion. I wouldn't be standing where I'm at right now without the help and support of my critique partners. I wouldn't have even dared to submit the short without their belief in my writing (and their listening to my whine and cry and pitch a fit about the actual writing of the story; sorry, guys).

If there's one piece of advice I have for writers seeking publication, it's find a group of other writers who are at or slightly above your current writing level and let them tear your work to shreds (aka, give you constructive criticism). Forming/joining this critique group has been the best thing to happen to my writing.

And, hey, Beyond the Trope wouldn't be here if it wasn't for that group!

Emily never in a million years thought she'd be the first Beyond the Trope member to get published. She can't thank her critique partners enough--and maybe she'll bring them more cookies at some point. 

You can find her and her new serial novel at or on Twitter @emilyksinger

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How I Became an Extrovert

When I was young (in high school and late teens), I wasn't just shy or hesitant to talk to people/find new friends, I also got most of my energy by staying at home and chilling out in front of the TV. I was a true introvert, though not as introverted as some. I enjoyed hanging out with people, going to parties, and even craved relationships, but I still needed my alone-time to recharge.

I'm not like that nearly as much as I used to be. Sometimes, I like to be alone to recharge. Watch TV, play video games, or read a book. But more often than not, I'd rather be around people. Human connection, relationships, community: these things help me recharge more than alone time does. I was thinking about this the other day because I USED to be an introvert and now I'm more extroverted. And I wondered if I was the only one. I also know that there are people who want to become more extroverted, so maybe my process can help them (though I sincerely doubt it since people are SO different, and there may be more to my transition than I realize).

So where did it start?

I got a job in retail. As a kid, my first job involved human interaction, but not in a way that forced me to be proactive about approaching other people. And, yeah, I was geeky in high school with friends who didn't always go out of their way to include me, which left me COMFORTABLE with being alone. But in retail, as a sales person, I was required to approach people. Over and over again, even if I sounded dumb, even if they judged me, even if I embarrassed myself last time I talked to them and they might think I'm an idiot now. I didn't have a choice. Either talk to them, or starve.

After three years of that, I got more comfortable with myself. I found it easier to talk with people, and when co-workers were hanging out and doing something that sounded like fun, I didn't feel like I was intruding if I asked them if I could join them (which would've been odd, anyway, since they made it clear that I was welcome to hang out). It also helped that most of those people genuinely wanted me to go out and hang with them, but I still felt a bit awkward about it. Like I didn't belong.

Nine years later, I don't hang out with most of them anymore, but that's how life goes sometimes. However, one of those guys is my best friend, and I drive 45 minutes every Monday to hang out and play D&D.

But back to the transition.

My wife helped me more than I can imagine. I had a couple of bad relationships that ended poorly, and my self-esteem was shot when it came to the relationship department. Granted, those girls weren't the only ones to blame, and it took me two years after the last breakup to realize that I was an immature, selfish jerk. But that realization helped me to understand how to love my wife selflessly. And now that I'm married, I have a better understanding of how I'm supposed to interact with other people. Therefore, I feel more comfortable around other people.

The final ingredient in this recipe is my writing group. They were extremely welcoming when I first joined. And they included me pretty quickly, asked me questions rather than waiting for me to approach them for conversation, and pulled me out of my shell. That was almost four years ago. Now, I can walk into one of those events, and if I don't know anyone, I can find at least one person to talk with. Yes, we have something to talk about (one of the perks of sharing a passion like writing), but the idea of approaching them doesn't terrify me.

I have an event to go to this weekend. And I'm really excited. Spending time with other writers will get me pumped up to write again.

Then there's Denver Comic Con. We HAVE to talk with people while we're there. Or else we're wasting our time. I'm looking forward (as intimidating as it may be) to walking up to some of the guests, introducing myself, and asking them if they'd be willing to sit down with us for a brief conversation. I may be exhausted by the end of it, but I'm more excited about this than I have been about anything for almost six months.

That's my story, for what it's worth, and I hope there's something in there that encourages a few of you. Feel free to ask me questions, and I'll see if I have helpful answers. Also, we'd love it if you shared a bit of your story. Are you an introvert or extrovert? Do you enjoy conversing with other people about topics you're unfamiliar with? How do you approach public events?

Giles wants to meet you in person. If you're at Denver Comic Con, come by the Beyond the Trope table to say hi. He may even put together a BTT meet up for one of the con evenings.

Monday, May 12, 2014

'Til We Meet Again

This post has very little to do with writing, or reading, or, really, anything podcast-y. I had what you might call an awful, terrible, gut-wrenching week over the past seven days. Because of this, I honestly can't come up with anything creative I want to talk about. My mind is fried. So, instead of a word nerd geeking out about something lighthearted or discussion-worthy, I want to share with you the story of an amazing woman: my grandmother. 

This is the love story of an invincible woman. It began on February 24, 1924, on a cold, tiny houseboat in Friesland, The Netherlands.

Bertha “Bert” Struiksma was born the fourth child of John and Sadie (née Cnossen). The first World War was over, but Europe was by no means calm. In 1929, John decided to move his family to the land of opportunity.

The Struiksmas landed in America on Bert’s sixth birthday. Not everyone gets an entire country and a new home for their birthday, but Bert did. Her family emigrated to Minnesota and became farmers there.

Of all the things that Bert loved, her father was at the top of the list. She loved her mother and her brothers and sisters, but above all she was dedicated to her Heit, her dad. Every day she got to help him with the animals in the barn was a great day. She helped him in every farm they worked on, from Minnesota to Iowa and South Dakota. By Bert’s 18th birthday, they were once again in Minnesota.

Turning 18 isn’t always a big deal, but what happened that year changed the world forever.

One Wednesday night, Bert skedaddled to church. She was late, and it didn’t look like there were many seats left. Just as she was about to tuck herself into the back, Ted Steensma shoved over an entire pew of people to make room for her.

As Bert slid into the row, Ted smiled at her. “So are you going to the young people’s society tonight?” he asked. “Only if you’re going to come and get me,” she said. It was the beginning of everything, but Bert didn’t know it for sure until Ted bought her a blanket and a set of dishes. That’s when things got serious. Even so, Ted didn’t seem to move fast enough for their siblings – when the two lovebirds were 20, Ted’s brother Andrew helped him propose with a very eloquent, “So why don’t you guys just get married already?”

So they did.

Bert was vivacious and smart, and you would never know that she had skipped high school to become a nanny. After getting married, she and Ted farmed until 1953, when they moved to Artesia, California, to be near to family and friends. That’s all they seemed to do, really: find family and friends. Wherever Bert and Ted went, people loved them. Bert was sassy, Ted was mischievous, and together they were an unstoppable force of fun and laughter.
Though one of her greatest regrets was buying a soda on a Sunday, Bert more than made up for it by adopting her two daughters, Linda (in 1955) and Kathy (in 1961). While in California, Bert cleaned houses while Ted worked for a feed company. They stayed there for 18 years before moving to Pella, Iowa. They both worked at Pella Rolscreen Windows, leaving their fingerprints on houses all over the world.

No one could get enough time with Ted and Bert while they lived in one place, so it’s a good thing they retired. They bought a motor home and toured the country, visiting family and friends from coast to coast. Bert loved her family almost more than anything in the world and loved to visit them in Colorado and Tennessee whenever she could. One day she would be in Tennessee with Kathy or in Colorado with Linda, and the next she would be in California, hobnobbing with her brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews. When Linda and Kathy married and Bert got sons-in-law, she was delighted. She loved her whole family without question or reservation.

She was thrilled beyond belief to gain granddaughters. Savanah, Michelle, Briele, and Stephanie always knew they were loved by their Bepa. She was the one they ran to when a spanking was near, and she was the one who taught them they could be snarky while still being kind-hearted. Bert was an active participant not just in life, but in living. When people were around her, they couldn’t help but be inspired to laugh and to live better lives.

Ten years ago, Ted and Bert moved to the Clermont Living Center in Denver, where they set up shop in a small two-bedroom apartment that had just enough room for them and a cat the size and temperament of a small lawn mower. Bert stayed as feisty as ever and she spread her love to everyone she could. She considered all the young workers to be her adoptive kids and grandkids. There were few mealtimes at Clermont when Bert didn’t grab a server by the arm and say something like, “This is my son. Isn’t he great?”

Of all the things Bert loved, from her Heit to her husband, her daughters to her grandchildren, Jesus was loved the most. People knew she loved Him even as she teased them, and somehow that made the love even more precious. There was nothing she wanted more than to do what was right and to believe God’s love for her and her family. She prayed fervently for everyone around her and if people ever crossed the line, she would very sternly remind them to follow Jesus and go to church on Sundays. Bert loved her Savior so much it overflowed from her heart to everyone around her.

Bert Steensma, aged 90 beautiful years, passed away on the morning of May 6, 2014, after a weekend of family visits and an morning of hymn singing. There was no pain – only the answer to God calling her home. She leaves behind her husband of nearly 70 years, Ted; daughter Linda Graham and son-in-law Mark and their children Michelle, Briele, and Stephanie; daughter Kathy Tate and son-in-law Larry and their daughter Savanah; an amazing extended family of siblings, nieces, nephews, and more.

Michelle is sad that her grandma is gone, but everything is going to be OK. Better than OK, really, because no one could ever forget a sassy lady like Bert.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Emily's Research Tips

Yes, we're still talking about writing what you know. No, I'm not sorry.

If you've listened to this week's episode, you know that we talk about research filling in the blanks for what you don't know. I cannot stress this enough. You're an English teacher who wants to write about an astrophysicist? Research! Google is a great place to start, but it's not the only place.

Talk to people who have the experiences you want to write about.

Read personal blogs and websites from folks who do what your character does.

Go to the library and check out some books on the topics you need.

Shadow someone for a day, if you can.

Seriously. Research is actually one of my favorite parts of writing fiction (weird, I know). I can learn so much looking up something for a story; it's like being an eternal college student without the grades and debt hanging over my head. In other words, it's awesome.

This goes for everything, from careers to injuries to writing a diverse cast. Do your research.

But don't get bogged down in it! I once made the mistake of getting so caught up in the research for an historical fantasy that the piece never got written. It's a fine balance between creativity and research, and you have to find what works for you and your process.

Now, get out there and learn something new so you can write about it! 

Emily is a huge fan of writing outside her own experiences (and not just because it means she gets to research more). She also loves writing things with diverse and crazy casts, to the point where she sometimes has entirely too many characters. 

She's starting a new serial novel at on Mondays, thanks to Michelle's prodding, and also posts normal things there on Wednesdays. Otherwise, find her on Twitter: @emilyksinger

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What We Feel

I'm a big fan of emotional writing. Get me to laugh or cry, and I'm hooked. As long as I care.

For my own writing, this isn't as easy to accomplish as I would like. I'm not someone who tries to make a movie-scene out of my narrative, but that's only because I've learned that selective descriptions are the only way to make a scene work on the page. Too many details, or too few, and the sequence fails. Every time.

However, I experience emotional reactions to movie scenes. Many of them are strong emotional reactions. THAT is what I try to get on the page.

Again, not as easy as it sounds. But exploring my own emotions, picking words that evoke those feelings in a particular setting, and then weaving them into character interactions: that's how I try to get emotion on the page. What my characters feel is closely related to what I feel, even if I've never experienced their situations before.

This week we're talking about writing what you know. And how to fake it when you don't know. This is how I fake it. And so far, I think it's working.

Giles follows the "Fake It Till You Make It" method in very few areas of his life. But where he's faking it, he's making some serious progress. Which means he's not really faking it anymore.

Read his ramblings on Mondays and Fridays over at High Aspirations.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Write What You Know (Or Think You Know)

Tomorrow’s podcast is all about writing what you know. This topic is actually under quite a bit of debate in the writing world. I mean, I’m a fiction writer. A creator. I should be able to write about anything, right?


Tolkien wrote an entire, brand-new language and created an imaginary history spanning ages. Austen wrote quirky perspectives about social circles in England. In fact, many of the greats used elements of their specialties in their writing, and those elements, in part, are what make their works so wonderful.

The trick isn’t to only write what you know. If all authors did that, we’d only ever read deep, introverted books about real life. And real life isn’t that exciting (usually, there are always exceptions).

Writing what you know can mean writing versions of real life, whether yours or a friend’s. It can also mean using your Master’s degree in forensics to write a mystery thriller. At the very simplest, it can mean giving your protagonist a dog that acts like your dog. I often vaguely assign a person I know to a character I’m writing, which really helps when I get to a tricky scene. Instead of completely making up a reaction from a pretend person, I simply think of that friend and what they would do in that situation.

Sometimes writing what you know can simply be writing something that means a lot to you. One of the things I want to bring to the world is an intelligent, real female protagonist who doesn’t turn into an idiot when a love interest walks by. I plan on writing many of these types of girls, because it strikes so near to my heart.

On the other, less organic hand, Google can tell you a lot of things you don’t know. I call those times “Dear Google” moments. Sometimes you need to know how long a horse can gallop or canter before it keels over. Or how much blood you can lose before you black out. I've spent hours looking up IEDs, blunderbusses, and the amount of accelerant needed to create a certain blast radius. If the government hasn’t figured out by now that I’m a writer, I’m definitely on some kind of list for suspect Google searches.

In some ways, the adage of writing what you know can feel confining. The trick is to balance it with things other people know as well as things that you pull out of the air. It’s that balance of truth and imagination that will hook readers in and keep them reading until the end.

What are your favorite things to write about or read?

If Michelle only wrote what she knew, all her characters would be sarcastic, speak French, and have a strange affinity for wearing black skinny jeans with DIY moccassins. Her writing schedule keeps her really busy, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Writing Routines

One of the pieces of advice I hear now and then is to create a 'writing ritual' or 'writing routine.' In other words, create some sort of routine that you do every time you sit down to create: drink a cup of tea, write in the same chair, light some yummy-smelling candles, listen to your writing playlist, etc. Basically, just find something that you can do often enough that it immediately puts your brain into artistic mode.

Personally, I adore this idea but I've never been able to pull it off. I get sick of the same kind of tea every day. My work schedule is unreliable, so I can't necessarily write at the same time every day. I'd go crazy if I listened to one playlist over and over.

I tried to do the 'write for half an hour first thing in the morning' thing, but even that caused issues when my nighttime schedule went later than usual.

Long story short: routines and I don't get along very well.

Which is why this article about "The Myth of the Artist's Creative Routine" struck a cord with me. Long story short, the article makes the point that it isn't the artist's routine that makes great art--it's the artist themselves.

"There is no secret ingredient to artistic success; no magic routine for producing art." I think that's something that all creative people need to take into account (as hard as it is to hear).

The only way to make good art, to achieve any sort of artistic success, is to consistently work at your craft, and not be afraid to fail. Which isn't easy. But, then again, the easy road's overrated.

Emily claims to be organized and good at planning, but that's not necessarily the case. Just don't let the others hear that. There are only so many places a cyborg halfling can hide.

You can find more of her half-baked rambles at her website or on Twitter.