About Marcy Kennedy

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How to Use Taste to Make Your Readers Hungry for More

According to Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press, a successful small publisher of speculative fiction, one of the most common problems in both novice and advanced fiction is not enough description.

This means that, regardless of what draft you’re working on, you probably have too little description rather than too much. The fix is actually easy. Engage all your reader’s senses.

Two weeks ago, I looked at how to make your novel scratch and sniff through three techniques that let you make the best use of the scents you choose. This week, we’re going to take a bite out of taste (sorry, couldn’t help myself) with three ways to enhance the flavors in your book.

Decide When Naming A Taste Is Enough Vs. When You Need to Describe It

Some tastes are potent enough and familiar enough that all we need to do is name them. Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. A cinnamon-flavored toothpick. Your dentist’s latex gloves. Because they’re part of our shared experience, describing them doesn’t enhance the story at all. Instead, it becomes the kind of excess description we’re so often advised to cut.

A foreign taste, though, always needs a description; otherwise, you’re just placing an empty word on the page. In my co-written historical fantasy, our male POV character drinks a glass of kumiss, fermented mare’s milk with an almond aftertaste. Simply dropping in the word kumiss wouldn’t have heightened your sensory experience at all. In the same way that describing a familiar taste is pointless, so is dropping in a foreign word and expecting the reader to understand it. Now, even though you’ve likely never tasted kumiss, can you imagine the sharp tang, like buttermilk gone bad, and then just as you finish swallowing, the slight sweetness of almond lingering on your tongue and in the back of your mouth.

(This is actually a perfect example of the confusion I often see in writers who are told both that they need description in their story to bring it to life and also that description slows down their story and they should cut it. The right kind of description doesn’t slow the story down at all. Unnecessary description does. Do you see the difference in the two situations above?)

The trick in describing a taste is to do it in a way that doesn’t break POV and end up feeling like author intrusion. For the example I used above from the manuscript Lisa Hall-Wilson and I wrote, we got around this by having our male character crave the flavor of this particular drink as opposed to the wine he’d been offered. When your character is craving a particular food, or savoring it, it’s natural for them to think about the flavors the same way we would in those situations.

Use Metaphors or Other Comparisons

Our brains are wired to compare things we don’t have experience with to something we do. Taste is the sense that lends itself best (in my opinion anyway) to metaphors or other comparisons. Sometimes you don’t need to describe a taste literally to convey its essence.

“The wine tasted like liquid sunlight” (Oakley Hall, How Fiction Works).

“She spoke of fruit that tasted the way sapphires look” (Toni Morrison, Paradise).

Make It Surprising Somehow

You come home from the grocery store with a bag of what appear to be sweet, crunchy grapes only to pop one onto your tongue and get a mouthful of moldiness. Things don’t always taste the way we expect.

You can also use other senses to turn expectations upside down. Parmesan cheese smells like stinky feet and cumin smells like body odor, but both of them add a delicious flavor to dishes. And because we eat first with our eyes, when food looks unappetizing, we remember it that much more when it actually tastes good.

What food do you think looks or smells unappealing but actually tastes delicious? Have you ever tried a food that left you pleasantly surprised?

Because I want these Wednesday posts to be as helpful as possible, please answer this quick poll to tell me what you’d most like to have me write about. Feel free to select more than one response or write in an answer.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Grammar for Fiction Writers is now available from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Showing and Telling in Fiction or Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

All three books are available in print and ebook forms.

Be sure to sign up to receive email updates so that you don’t miss the remaining three senses.

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Do We Need to Be A Little More Old-Fashioned?

The Avengers' Captain America and Iron ManIf you woke up one day to find that 70 years had passed, would you be excited or would you mourn for lost friends and family and the way of life you’d known?

When we meet Steve Rogers again in The Avengers, he’s still struggling with this very thing. Back in 1942, a special serum turned him into Captain America, and in the middle of fighting a rogue group of Nazis known as Hydra, he accidentally ended up in suspended animation. He wakes up in the “present day.” The world has changed a lot since 1942.

Not surprisingly, Steve feels like he and his values are obsolete. He doesn’t understand Tony Stark’s cavalier attitude or circumvention of the rules, or Bruce Banner’s scientific mumbo jumbo, or any of the pop references the others make (except for one about flying monkeys—and he’s almost pathetically excited about finally “getting one”).

It doesn’t look like there’s much that can break up the gloom surrounding what should be a golden boy character. But on their way to the flying ship, Agent Coulson tells Steve that they’ve updated his Captain America costume.

“Aren’t the stars and stripes a little old fashioned?” Steve asks.

Agent Coulson looks him straight in the eyes. “With all that’s going on in the world, people might want a little old fashioned.”

Throughout the movie, Steve comes to realize that Coulson was right. People are starting to not only want a little old-fashioned, we’re starting to need it.

And it’s not about the evils of technology. Technology isn’t evil. It’s not about needing to reconnect with nature and unplug. It’s not about retro becoming the latest fashion trend or collecting records or bottle caps.

It’s about reviving some old-fashioned values. I suspect that, like me, a lot of people long for the return of some of the things we’ve lost.

I’m only 30, but when I was a child, stores in my town were closed on Sundays. Was it an inconvenience if you wanted to buy something? Yes. But didn’t we always manage to survive until Monday? And wasn’t that a small price to pay to give everyone a day of rest, a day focused on friends and family?

I miss the idea of a day of rest. And a 40-hour work week that gave you enough income to live off of. Not only live off of, but raise a family on.

I miss when a handshake meant something, people did what they promised, and you could leave your doors unlocked.

I miss teamwork. Days when it wasn’t about getting ahead as an individual by stepping on others, but rather about working together to make sure everyone achieved their goals. We didn’t feel the need to shout to be heard. We didn’t feel the need to sing our own praises because we knew that if we did a good job, someone else would sing them for us.

Those are the type of things that made the good old days good. Those are the things that are now old-fashioned, and those are the things I think we need to fight to get back.

I’m an optimist, but even I know that I can’t turn back time. I can’t change society to make stores close on Sundays again, and we can’t safely leave our doors unlocked even in small towns anymore.

Captain America couldn’t force Tony Stark or any of the others to accept his values either, but he chose to act on what he believed, and by the end of the movie, however subtly, it was his example they followed, even Stark. The man who “didn’t play well with others” worked as part of a team, and even risked sacrificing himself to save the world.

While I can’t change the world, I can change me. Like Captain America, I can still live by those old-fashioned values.

I can refuse to work seven days a week because my body and my relationships need that day of rest. My handshake and my word can still mean something. And I can support others and let my actions speak for themselves. I have control over me.

And maybe, just maybe, if enough of us change ourselves, the world will one day follow.

What old-fashioned value do you think needs to be revived? How are you helping to bring it back?

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What’s the Point of Fairy Tales?

Tales of Beedle the Bard fairy tales from Harry PotterLast weekend I sat down with a long-awaited treat—The Tales of Beedle the Bard. If you’ve read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or watched the movie, then you’ll recognize The Tales of Beedle the Bard as the book of wizarding-world fairy tales containing “The Tale of the Three Brothers” (who owned the Deathly Hallows).

Before I tell you what I thought of the book, I think we have to answer one essential question. What’s the point of fairy tales?

Like all stories, fairy tales are meant to entertain, but that’s secondary. Unlike today’s novels, their main purpose is to give a moral in a way the audience will remember. They exist to teach a clear lesson.

In this, the stories in The Tales of Beedle the Bard only partially succeed.

I can hear the argument now. Yes, but The Tales of Beedle the Bard are supposed to be fairy tales for wizarding children, not Muggles. People can’t actually perform magic, so you can’t expect a moral for us.

Paranormal romance author Kait Nolan (who I interviewed last year on her YA fairy tale reboot Red) pointed out in her excellent “What Makes a Fairy Tale?” post that what sets fairy tales apart is that magic or some kind of enchantment is basically required as part of the story. That magic doesn’t lessen the need for a universal truth. “Variations of the same stories can be heard all over the world,” Kait wrote, “because they spark something in our imaginations and hearts, such that we’re still telling stories that originated hundreds of years ago.”

Magic, enchantments, and witches show up all the time in fairy tales. The Tales of Beedle the Bard aren’t unique in that way. And they’re not exempt from needing to teach a lesson to anyone who reads them.

Okay, you might say, but The Tales of Beedle the Bard are just supposed to be something fun and extra for people who loved the Harry Potter books.

I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. (Don’t believe me? I ate Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.)

Part of what made the Harry Potter series popular was we could still relate to the stories even though we couldn’t perform magic and would never need to fight a dark wizard. The stories and characters transcended the details of the magical world to tell a story of a boy who longed for a family that loved him, who just wanted to fit in, who struggled to figure out the line between right and wrong, and who learned that some things are worth fighting and dying for. You don’t need to be a witch or wizard to relate.

The lessons in Harry Potter, while secondary to an entertaining story, are what made it so loved by people who wouldn’t otherwise read a fantasy. It’s also what makes them re-readable.

If you didn’t like the Harry Potter books, The Tales of Beedle the Bard aren’t worth reading.

For those of you who are curious, here are the five tales in the book.

The Wizard and the Hopping Pot

A wizard refuses to use his magic to help the local Muggles. His cooking pot starts to hop, sprout warts, cry, and otherwise show the wizard that the people he refused were suffering. Eventually he gives in, and once he helps, the pot returns to normal. The wizard moral seems to be that wizards should help Muggles. I guess we could really stretch this to the Muggle moral of “we should help those less fortunate than ourselves.”

The Fountain of Fair Fortune

Three witches and a knight overcome obstacles to try to bathe in the Fountain of Fair Fortune, which is supposed to give good fortune to one person per year. They get through the obstacles based on luck and, in the end, none of the three witches need to go in because their problems are already solved. The knight goes in and, made brave, proposes marriage to one of the witches. They all leave happy, and “none of them ever knew or suspected that the Fountain’s waters carried no enchantment at all” (35). The moral would likely be that we make our own good fortune in life, but the fact that a lot of things in the story happen due to luck rather than skill or hard work actually dilutes this moral.

The Warlock’s Hairy Heart

A wizard thinks people act foolishly when they fall in love, so he takes his heart from his chest and locks it away. Left in isolation, it grows withered, dark, and hairy like a beast. When he finally takes it out again, he ends up killing a maiden and cutting out her heart because he wants to replace his with hers. The wizard moral is that even magic can’t make you invulnerable to every physical, mental, and emotional pain. The Muggle moral could perhaps be that, if we don’t open ourselves up to love, we shrivel and become savage?

Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump

A king wants to be the only one in the kingdom to possess magic, so he gives an order to hunt down all magical folk. An old witch tricks him into rescinding this order. Honestly, while this is a cute story, I can’t figure out what the moral for magical children would be. As for the moral for us non-magic folk…“don’t lie” is the best I can come up with, but it doesn’t entirely fit the story.

The Tale of the Three Brothers

Three brothers cheat death by building a magical bridge over a dangerous river. Death gives them each a wish. The aggressive first brother wants an unbeatable wand. The arrogant second brother wants a stone that will bring the dead back to life. The wise third brother wants to remain unseen by Death. The first and second brothers end up dead because of their wishes. The third brother meets Death as an equal once he’s old. The moral for magic folk and Muggles alike is that death is inevitable. The best you can hope for is to postpone it until you are old and live a full life. This is the best of the fairy tales in the book, and the only one that I think works perfectly.

Do you think I’m wrong about the purpose of a fairy tale? If you’ve read The Tales of Beedle the Bard, am I being too harsh?

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Four Little-Known Factors that Could Destroy Your Blog’s Chances of Success

Are you frustrated because your blog has plateaued?

Maybe you took part in a class or joined Triberr, saw a jump in stats, but now things have leveled out again, and you can’t figure out why you’re not growing the audience that other bloggers seem to be. Or maybe you know your content is well-written, but you’re not getting the attention that less well-written blogs are.

You might be making one of these major, but easily fixable, mistakes.

(1) Your Blog Posts Aren’t Focused on a Single Topic

You can talk about a wide variety of things on your blog, but when you write a post, it needs to be laser focused on one topic. Even if you do a list post like my What Groundhog Day Can Teach Us About Contentment (or like this post for that matter), you still have a single topic. Contentment lessons from a particular movie. Things that might be hurting your blog.

If you throw multiple unrelated topics, or loosely related topics into one blog post, not only will your reader feel overwhelmed but they’ll feel confused about what you’re trying to say. Your post won’t stick with them as well as it would if you focused, and if it doesn’t stick with them, they won’t be as likely to share it and talk about it.

Multiple topics also don’t give you the room to properly expand any of them. Your readers will go away feeling like you made them a promise and didn’t fulfill it.

(2) Your Titles Stink

I hate to be so blunt, but it’s the truth. Have you wondered why your carefully crafted blog posts aren’t getting many click throughs from Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking sites? The problem might be your title.

With 500,000 new blog posts published per day on WordPress.com sites alone, we can’t afford to use vague or boring titles if we want our blog to stand out in tweets or in someone’s Google reader. Worse, if you’ve written a bad blog title, any shares you get from Triberr or from the social media buttons at the bottom of your post will be wasted. Both tools use the title you’ve given to your post unless those sharing it know to fix it. Most don’t or won’t take the time.

What counts as a boring or vague blog title (and tweet)? Here are a few I pulled from my Google reader, email inbox, and Twitter stream.

New blog post!

Raise your hand if you can identify with this post

A short list and 10 great links

This may be a random thought

ROW 80 Update

(There were others, but I tried to pick ones that couldn’t be easily identified so that I didn’t hurt anyone.)

(3) You’re Focusing Your Social Media Time on the Wrong Sites

We can’t be on every social media site without burning out or becoming an automated spam bot. We need to carefully choose the two or three sites that work best for us. But how are you making your decision about where to focus?

If you’re only looking at hits, you’re doing it wrong.

In March, StumbleUpon ranked fifth on the list of top referring sites for my blog. My first thought was “I should learn how to use StumbleUpon. If I’m getting this many hits without being actively involved, imagine what would happen if I started focusing on it.”

But hits don’t mean everything.

When I looked at my site analytics, I found that people coming from StumbleUpon stayed less than 45 seconds (not long enough to carefully read my post, read any of the comments, share, look at other pages, or comment themselves). In other words, they weren’t engaging. They weren’t the kind of traffic I’m looking for. If I focused my attention there, I’d be wasting my time.

For those of you who are investing time into Pinterest, are the people engaging or are they empty hits? People who don’t engage also don’t share and don’t return.

(4) You Aren’t Focused on Others

This goes beyond just making relationships with other bloggers through talking to them on social media, sharing their content, and commenting on their blogs (all of which are important).

What’s the take-away value of every post you write for the person reading it? If you hadn’t written it, would you care enough to read it?

For example, if you build a deck over the weekend, don’t just tell people you built a deck and share pictures of the progress. Unless they’re your family or best friends, they won’t care (sometimes even those people won’t really care and will only read the post to be nice). However, if you use your story about building your deck to give your readers the five biggest mistakes to avoid when building their own deck, you’ve made it both personal and valuable.

The take-away doesn’t always need to be practical in a physical sense. Sometimes it can be emotional, psychological, or spiritual. Sometimes it can be entertainment. The point is, the post is focused on them, not on you.

What’s your biggest blogging struggle? Which of the above points (if any) would you like me to turn into a full blog post?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Point of View in Fiction is now available. (You also might want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.) All are available in both print and ebook.

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How Do We Know If Someone Has Truly Changed?

Once Upon A Time on ABC

How can we tell if someone has truly changed? How many chances should we give someone before saying “no more”?

The knotty nature of authentic change is a theme Once Upon A Time comes back to again and again. Sydney Glass has the chance to change from being Regina’s spineless, love-sick toy to a man of honor, but allows her to continue to use him. Emma changes from someone who’s alone because of her fears to someone who’s slowly building friendships and desperately wants to get back her son.

Each layer of Mr. Gold’s story especially returns to the nature of change.

In “Skin Deep,” we find out that Mr. Gold isn’t only Rumplestiltskin, but also the Beast to Belle’s beauty. She falls in love with him the way we knew she would, and believes it’s still possible for him to change. And she thinks she’s found the way—true love’s kiss.

Instead of escaping when given the chance, Belle returns to him and kisses him. The curse starts to break, and Rumplestiltskin jerks away. He demands to know what she’s doing. He has his chance, but he refuses to take it.

We see it again in “The Return.” Disgusted by what his father has become, Rumplestiltskin’s son makes a deal. If he can find a way to get rid of his father’s magic that doesn’t hurt either of them, his father has to agree to do it. When his son finds a way to take them to a world without magic, Rumplestiltskin turns him down. He has the opportunity to give up the power that’s making him cruel and evil, but he won’t.

I think the writers of Once Upon A Time keep coming back to the theme of change because we as people are forced to come back to these questions every time someone we trusted hurts us. I also think the writers, perhaps without knowing it, stumbled on part of our answer.

The motivation to change can’t be external.

Our love can’t make someone change. Blackmail or threats can’t make someone change. Not really. Any appearance of change will only be temporary.

I believe in second chances. I believe that people can change. But they have to want it. For their own sake. Outside forces might act as a catalyst, but the desire to change has to rise from within us.

Rumplestiltskin claims he’d be willing to change, but when it comes down to it, his heart still values his power more than his loved ones. Yet each time he walks into an episode, I’m rooting for him to find redemption almost as hard as I’m rooting for Regina to get her just desserts. One of the reasons I still have hope for him is that we see this balance shifting. We see the struggle happening within his heart. He’s passed up every chance he’s been given so far, but some people are more stubborn than others. It takes more for them to decide to change, and it’s dangerous to give up on people too soon.

As part of his backstory, we see that, even once he loses his son through his own cowardice, Rumplestiltskin refuses to accept it. He blames the Blue Fairy for stealing his son. When he thinks his son has finally returned to his life, though, it forces him to face how it was truly his choice that separated them. He’s the one who needs forgiveness.

True and lasting change involves not only desire but also taking responsibility for how our own decisions brought us to the point we’re at.

Even with those two lampposts, the path to change is long and windy and often unclear.

Since I don’t have all the answers, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. What helps you decide if someone has truly changed? How many chances do you give before drawing the line in the sand?

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Battleship – More than Just a Board Game?

Three things entice me to watch a movie in the theater–an amazing plot, connection to a book I loved, or a romance that gives me stomach flutters. Even better if you can put those things together.

But I’m going to watch Battleship in theaters. Why? For the same reason I watched Battle: Los Angeles in theaters. My husband is a man who loves to see things explode on the big screen. Doesn’t matter to him if there’s any plot at all as long as the movie is full of stunning pyrotechnics. Since I love my husband and he sometimes goes to watch movies with me that rank really low on his list, this is what I’ll be seeing in two weeks.

So here’s my question for you–would you rather play Battleship the board game (like me) or watch Battleship the movie (like my husband)?

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How to Make Your Novel Scratch and Sniff

Sense of Smell in FictionDo you want your reader to feel like they’re part of your world? Do you want your setting to stick with them long after they’ve closed your book?

One of the best ways to bring your fictional world to life is to use all five senses. Because each sense comes with its own unique strengths and challenges, today I’m starting into a new series to give smell, taste, touch, sight, and sound their due.

The trick with smells is that if you include too many you can burn your reader out the way you deaden your nose if you smell every candle in the Yankee Candle store. (Not that I’m admitting to having done that, but in case you were wondering, my favorite is the Buttercream.)

Three techniques can help you make the most of the smells you choose.

Connect the Smell to an Emotion

Smell can be one of the most powerful senses in your fiction because of its ability to evoke emotions. You probably associate certain smells with memories, people, or places. I hate the way the dentist office smells like burning hair. The smell comes from the singed protein of teeth being drilled, and I associate that smell with pain. If I’m stressed, the warm scent of a clean dog will calm me down because I associate it with the comfort I find in my Great Dane when I throw my arms around her after a hard day.

Think about your own life and what smells evoke memories and emotions. Why do they have that effect on you? You don’t need to duplicate that precise smell in your fiction (you should find one that belongs organically to your character), but by paying attention to how smells intertwine throughout your life, you can learn how to build them into your stories.

If you’re struggling with how to naturally slide in necessary backstory, smell can be your saving grace. As Roni Loren recently pointed out in her post on How to Dish Out Backstory in Digestible Bites, something needs to trigger a memory in order to introduce backstory. Because of how memories cling to scents, smells work as a perfect trigger.

Choose One “Showpiece” Scent

In Ted Dekker’s The Boneman’s Daughter, the serial killer is addicted to Noxzema. I think about it every time I wash my face. That’s the staying power of giving a single scent a starring role.

This isn’t just for fiction writers. For non-fiction writers, you can create the same lasting memory by finding the one key smell to grab your readers. It could be the difference between a forgettable article or chapter in your book and motivating your readers to act. Are you writing a parenting book? What smell defines motherhood for you? How did that smell grow and change with your child? Differ between sickness and health?

Even though you’ll have other scents in your book, weaving one key smell throughout, changing it, playing off of it in moments of tension, ties your entire story together and imprints it on your reader’s mind. The next time they smell that scent in the world, they’ll think of your book.

Contrast a Good Smell with a Bad One

Choosing two antagonistic scents can be done simply to make both smells stand out more than they would on their own, complement a theme, or subtly support what’s happening inside your character.

In my co-written historical fantasy, our main male character is torn between the desire to sleep with his new female slave and the desire to obey his new God who forbids it. He commands her to strip off her tunic, and when she does, the scent of sweat and cypress invades his nostrils. The opposing scents mirror the struggle between his opposing desires.

In The Hunger Games trilogy, President Snow smells like blood and roses. He uses the roses to cover up the fact that his breath reeks of blood, and this becomes a metaphor in a way for how the beauty and glitz of the capital tries to disguise the repulsiveness of the country’s situation. Suzanne Collins could have just had him smell like blood, but the contrast with something as beautiful and symbolic as roses made the smell of blood that much more grotesque. And Katniss is never able to think about roses the same way again.

What smell brings back a strong emotion for you, either good or bad?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Grammar for Fiction Writers is now available from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Showing and Telling in Fiction or Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

All three books are available in print and ebook forms.

Be sure to sign up to receive email updates so that you don’t miss the remaining four senses.

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Do You Ever Feel Like You Don’t Fit In?

How to Train Your DragonIf you’ve ever felt like you don’t fit in, you have something in common with a Viking teenager named Hiccup.

Hiccup is the scrawny, clumsy, yet creative son of the Viking chieftain in the Dreamworks movie How to Train Your Dragon. No one quite understands Hiccup’s unique ways of doing things. More than anything he wants to kill one of the mysterious Night Fury dragons who attack his village, because he thinks that if he does, he’ll earn his father’s respect and won’t be the laughingstock of his tribe any more. All of Hiccup’s attempts to fit in only make him stick out more, and the girl he has a crush on thinks he’s a loser.

At times I’ve felt a lot like Hiccup. I grew up a sparrow in a family of blue jays. I desperately wanted them to like me and be proud of me. I wanted to feel like I fit in and was accepted, but I couldn’t hide how different I was. Like Hiccup, my weirdness always reared its head at the most inconvenient times.

But Hiccup figured out quicker than I did that, when you’re willing to be yourself, you’ll find truly creative solutions to the problems you’re facing.

One night, during a dragon attack, Hiccup manages to use one of the weapons he’s created to bring down a Night Fury, but no one believes him. He goes out looking for it on his own, planning to cut out its heart and bring it back as proof.

The only problem is that, when he finds the dragon, he can’t kill it. He’s the first Viking in 300 years who wouldn’t kill a dragon. He sets it free instead and thus begins a friendship that seems to prove he’s the world’s worst Viking. The dragon, who Hiccup names Toothless, shows him everything the Vikings thought about the dragons was wrong, and eventually their friendship helps save the village.

If Hiccup had been like every other Viking, the cycle of Vikings killing dragons and dragons killing Vikings would have continued until one wiped the other out. It’s always been the people who are brave enough to be themselves who come up with the greatest innovations.

Leonardo da Vinci. Albert Einstein. Steve Jobs.

And, eventually, if you stay true to yourself, you’ll find people who like you for who you are.

Near the end of How to Train Your Dragon, the girl Hiccup likes asks him what he’s going to do about the fact that his father has chained up Toothless and is headed to destroy the dragons’ nest.

“Probably something crazy,” Hiccup says.

Her lips quirk into a smile. “That’s more like it.”

She and the other Viking teens help Hiccup because, over the past weeks, they’ve learned to like him just the way he is, quirks and all. In the end, he also earns his father’s respect. He never would have earned it by trying to fit in.

I wish I could tell you I earned what I wanted from my extended family, but I haven’t yet. I have seen a little progress, a little hope. Even if they never come to accept me, I have a husband who does, and parents and a brother who believe in me. And in being myself, I’ve found friends both online and offline who like me just the way I am, in all my nerdy glory. For all of you, I’m very grateful.

Have you struggled to fit in only to have it fail? Have you been able to finally find people who accept you and like you just the way you are?

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Are You Going to Watch Marvel’s Avengers Assemble?

Next weekend marks the release of another movie I’ve been waiting for–The Avengers!

Loki, supervillain brother of Thor, has assembled an army to take over the world. Regular forces can’t stop them, so Nick Fury decides to put together a group of superheroes. My favorite, Tony “Ironman” Stark (played by Robert Downey, Jr.), looks like he’ll bring some great humor to an action-packed movie.

If you want to learn more about the characters you’ll see in The Avengers, Jessica O’Neal has been doing a great series on her blog on the history of each, including the Incredible Hulk/Bruce Banner, Thor, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, Ironman/Tony Stark, Captain America/Steve Rogers, and Hawkeye/Clint Barton.

Has anyone else been looking forward to The Avengers? Will you be seeing it in theater or waiting until it comes out on DVD? And the most important question of all–which Avenger hero is your favorite?

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Do You Worry You Won’t Succeed As A Writer?

Do you worry you won’t ever succeed as a writer?

I do. Despite how far I’ve come, despite the goals I’ve reached, some days I wonder if those people who want me to quit are right. Some days all I can see is how far I still have to go. And lately, I’ve been struggling with a lot of fear.

This week, I had the privilege of reviewing an advance copy of Jeff Goins’ You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) for a 100-page metaphorical kick in the rear. (We all need those once in a while.)

If you follow Jeff’s blog, you know that he melds practical tips with inspiration. Even though I normally prefer practical tactics I can immediately put to use when it comes to writing advice, in this case, I think the real value of this book lies in his insights into what it takes to succeed as a writer.

I can’t sum up the whole book for you (you’ll have to get your own copy), but here are the top four tips I walked away with for what it will take for writers like you and me to reach our dreams.

(1) “The only person you need to worry about writing for is you” (pg. 27).

This isn’t new advice. We’ve heard numerous times not to write for a trend and to write what we enjoy reading. But it goes deeper than that, and I think the take-away in what Jeff has to say comes from his reasons for writing for ourselves first.

Writing for ourselves first is the only way to be authentic. We all want people to like us, but if we focus on trying to do whatever it takes to make them like us rather than just being ourselves, it’s going to show. We’ll come across as fake, and that will drive people away.

Thousands of other people are struggling with what you’re struggling with. This means that if you write about what appeals to you, it will appeal to other people as well. Always ask yourself, “If I hadn’t written this, would I want to read it.”

You’ll find your voice quicker. If you’re only worried about writing for you, the pressure of impressing everyone else goes away and all pretenses drop. Your voice has a lot to do with being comfortable in public and allowing your personality to come through.

(2) “A brand is who you are. But it’s more than that. It’s your truest self. The part people remember” (pg. 46).

We don’t brand ourselves the same way that businesses or products do because our brand includes our name, our personality, our unique quirks, and our voice, as well as our genre. Your brand is you. No lies. No games. No tricks.

Through your brand you make a promise to people about what they’ll get when they interact with you in person or in writing. I want people to know exactly what they’ll get when they come to my blog and website. In fact, I worry that I’ve split my brand too far by including both writing posts and fantasy/science fiction posts. (I’d love to have you weigh in on that in the comments.)

Brand goes beyond that though to my personality. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I’m a bit quirky and that I love to pick things apart to see how they work and what truth is hiding behind them. I’m all about hope. And I like to help. That’s me in a nutshell. That’s also my brand.

(3) “Content is not king. Relationship is” (pg. 78).

I have a feeling some bubbles just popped. What do you mean content isn’t king?

You have to have good content. It’s foundational. But you can have good content, and work yourself to exhaustion, and if you don’t have relationships with people who will spread the word about your great content, no one will come to read it.

(4) “You never fully arrive” (pg. 93).

There’s always room for improvement even for writers who are on the New York Times bestseller list. Rather than getting cocky once you’ve achieved your definition of success, keep striving to get better.

Be sure you check out Jeff’s website and pick up a copy of his new book You Are A Writer.

You are a writer if you write. But do you wonder if you’ll ever feel like a success?

I hope you’ll check out the newly released mini-books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series–Strong Female Characters and How to Write Faster–both currently available for 99 cents.

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