ETJ Writes

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Small Business Saturday 2022

Hello, Friends!

This weekend I’ll be out and about celebrating Small Business Saturday at the Countdown to Christmas Vendor event hosted at the Salem Guldens UM Church in historic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  I’ll be there with my young adult novels Tedenbarr of Have Lath and Thorunn from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. I’ll be signing any copies purchased on site, and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone as we get into the holiday spirit!

More details regarding the event can be found at the Salem Guldens UM Church’s Facebook page.


Until then, happy reading!
~ETJ

No Novel is Worth Your Hands

Hey, Friends!

Today’s article is something a bit different. It’s actually a (slighted edited) transcript of the accompanying youtube video. Feel free to watch that if you’d prefer to listen, or keep reading below:


Sharp stabbing pains, burning, tingling, or numbness in your hands during or after a writing session is not normal, and you should stop immediately to prevent serious damage.

Hey, guys, ETJ Writes here! I want to talk to you today about the health of your hands while writing.

I was actually inspired to make this video by a post I made on tumblr about two years ago talking about what to do if you start feeling burning, tingling, numbness, etc., in your hands while you’re writing.

Now, I always wear these braces while I’m writing—this did not occur because of writing, um, actually my hands are fine right now, so that’s good. But a couple years ago I did something to them. I tried a new activity, and I did it too intensely too quickly, and I started to have searing pain all down the backs of my hands—both hands.

img_3931It started out in the one, and then I was using the other hand more, and then it switched to that hand too, and it was just—it was not fun. It got to the point where I really felt like I couldn’t move my hands, and given that my bread and butter is being a musician, I was kind of freaking out over the prospect of not being able to play piano. So immediately I went out, and I got these braces, and I got some help from people who worked on the computer a lot, and I want to talk to you today about what you can do to avoid damage.

This is especially important as NaNoWriMo is coming up, and a lot of you take this time of year to be like, “Hey it’s time to finally start, finish, do whatever I need to do on my novel—whether I’m on the first draft, second draft, third draft, I’m gonna use this time to get it done.”

However if you’re not someone that writes every day and you go from zero writing or minimal writing to a tonne of writing all at once, you are going to overwork your hands, and you’re gonna stress them out.

Again like I said, I was inspired to make this video by a post I made on tumblr a couple years ago. I remember I put it out—I think it was in October? And I said NaNo was on the way, and I described some things that are not good to do; just kind of a general reminder to people and what happened was . . .

Nothing.

No noise.

The post was dead silent. Then all of a sudden in like the last week of November—this is like a month and change after I made the post—the notes start piling up and piling up and piling up, until in just a matter of weeks I had over 700 notes on this post, which to me told me that people jumped into NaNo, started writing, felt pretty good for most of it, and then in the last week or so their hands started bothering them so badly they started looking for things on the internet talking about similar experiences and how to fix it, and they stumbled across my post and started reblogging it.

And by then maybe it was too late. So hopefully this video comes in time for a lot of you to be able to set yourselves up for success and not failure when writing.

I want to split this video into two sections. First I want to talk about what I do personally, and then I want to share some experiences and tips on the notes of the tumblr post, and then of course feel free to put your own experiences and your own tips in the comment section down below.


So without further ado, like I said, once I started noticing the burning and tingling in my hands I went out and I got some braces. Actually I started with the one, and then I ended up with two, and these are actually my third set because after a while they wear out, and I wear these a lot.

I don’t currently have any pain in my hands, however once you’ve damaged something there’s always the possibility of damage occurring again, and I find that if I use the computer for more than 30 minutes—whether it’s just using the mouse or typing—I start to feel a little strain on my hands. Nothing that you couldn’t push through, but it’s not good to push through that type of thing and if you push through it every day you’re going to make it a little bit worse and a little bit worse and a little bit worse until you end up at the worst possible extreme which is needing surgery. We don’t want that.

So I wear these every day on my hands whenever I’m doing any type of work on the computer. I will also wear them when gardening; sometimes I will wear them when I am writing by hand. I will wear them when I am sewing; I will wear them when I’m doing a lot of small fiddly activities I need to do with my hands, because hopefully that will prevent it.

There was a point where I had to wear these constantly every day for a period of several months until my hands got better.

img_3974Now—I’ll take this off so you can see; you can get these at Target; they’re pretty nice—there is usually a little metal thing that goes inside of here. I’ve taken that out because it’s too rigid for my hands at this point, but if your hands are really paining you, the metal will be very useful to provide support to your hands—especially overnight—but I find at this point it’s too rigid, and I don’t need something that hard so I just take the metal out.

You can also wash these easily in the dryer, particularly if you take the metal out, and that makes it really nice. Just put it in the washer/dryer; just toss it in with the rest of your regular laundry, and you are good to go.

img_3973I wear these all the time; they are the Futuro brand and they just fit my hands really well. They make them in left and right sizes—you can get braces that are one size fits all, but I have found you get better results when they’re tailored specifically to right and left hand; they come in different sizes as well, and you can get small, medium, large—I think I have a medium for my hands—and of course they make men’s and ladies sizes.

The other thing you can do as far as braces goes—you can get those ones that go all the way down your arm. It’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor if you have serious pain about which brand to get, but these are great.

Now these are cures right? Or crutches/aids. What should we do to prevent the use of these? Now again I do use these as preventative to stop my hands from seizing up, but how do we get there in the first place?

Well one of the things you have to do is get your hands ready for an extended period of typing. Thankfully since I have been playing piano since I was about nine years old and flute since I was about twelve, I don’t actually have an issue with playing flute or piano. Even if my hands are hurting, I don’t have pain doing that because I correctly have all the technique that I need for that.

What I always tell people, my students, when they are starting piano for the first time is: just take it a couple minutes at a time, five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes; just slowly work up to that. You don’t want to jump into a whole half-hour straight away or else you can create damage, and we don’t want that.

Same thing with writing. Right now it is the middle of October. If you start now doing a little bit of writing every day—200 words, 500 words maybe—and slowly work up to a thousand by the end of October you will be ready to hit that 1,500 (1,667 to be specific) word goal every single day for NaNoWriMo. You don’t want to just dive in cold the first day.

Now another thing you can do is hand exercises, and you can do these before or after you have finished your writing session. I’ll take the brace off again so you can see.

One of the things you want to do is take your hand like this—make sure that you have your thumb involved—and you’re just going to take your other hand, keep your hand up like this, and you’re just going to gently press back as far as you can, and then just kind of hold that for about ten seconds-ish—maybe five seconds depending on your level of comfort. This should not hurt if there’s nothing wrong with your hands. If there is immediately a little bit of pain here then you have some lingering or potential damage about to happen, and doing these stretches every day can help with that.img_3975

If you feel like you don’t get a good enough stretch with your hand, you can then put it against the wall for a better stretch; and you want to do this in both hands like I said for about five to ten seconds on each side.

Of course you don’t just want to stretch the bottoms of your hands—and you’ll feel it on the top too, but you don’t just wanna stretch these bottom tendons down here—you wanna stretch the top [as well]. So then you’re gonna take your hand like this—and I’ll take this off.

You wanna take your hand and gently curl it under and just press, and again this should not hurt. If it hurts that means you either need to do these stretches more or consult your doctor or just be very careful about the amount of work that you’re doing because that means you’re very tight here.img_3976

Any time you feel any pain do not try to push through it. You’ve got to stop and then just do these—and these are good to do anyway just to relieve tension but these are preventative—and if you can do these every day before your writing session that’s going to really really help you to make your hands feel good. You can also do them afterward if your hands are feeling a little bit stiff.

So those are some things you can do:

You can wear these braces which are very comfortable especially once you take the metal out. They are easy to wash/keep clean, and I always use them when I’m on the computer and other things I know will strain my hands if I go more than 30 minutes doing them.

The other thing you can do is these stretches I’ve indicated (as well as soaking your hands in warm water with salts/oils of your choice) and then of course just trying to get enough sleep, enough nutrition; those things are all going to contribute to the health of your hands.


Second part of this video: I want to read over some experiences that people had and they put in the notes and just kind of comment on them here.

img_3941One of the first notes I had comes from user h-brooks-writes who wrote: Yikes, this happened to me last night after writing sprint.

(A writing sprint is a very short intense writing session. You try to get as many words as you can, focusing on quantity versus quality.)

My hand felt kind of floppy and a bit numb (I could still feel things but my hand didn’t really . . . focus on the textures? If that makes sense), and my elbow-to-wrist area was kind of sore. This all settled in about half an hour after I’d stopped writing for the night.

So you can see it doesn’t really matter if you feel it right away or after a delayed time, you may have done some damage if you just rushed into [writing] without doing some warm-up exercises first or getting your hands acclimatized by writing on a more continuous daily basis, because writing every day—yes it does stretch our brain muscles and our ability to write, but it also physically helps our hands be ready whether we are doing it by hand or typing. Even if you’re doing dictation you need to warm up your throat and your voice—but we’re talking mostly about the hands so that’s where I will stay focused.

I have another note from michaelbyorkwrites who said: When my writing output rose for this blog a few months ago, I started to get a pretty bad burning pain in my hands, wrists, and forearms.

Again you do not want that, it is very very bad for you, so you have to stop immediately because otherwise it will just get worse.

Another user called heywriters said: OH. Okay. My hand and wrist go numb and feel “cold” lately when I hand write or keyboard type for long periods of time. I thought it was my posture and have been ignoring it.

Your posture actually can play a role when you’re typing. A lot of the times the keyboard’s like this and our hand is like that. When your hand is like that, it’s shortening the tendons in your hand.

If I relax they’re still there, but they’re not as pronounced versus here you can really see—I’ll come up close—here it’s more relaxed, here it’s really stretched, and if you are writing like this with your hand like that every time you type you’re writing on shortened tendons, and that is going to just increase the tension and make things worse. If you can get like a writing a pad that you can put [beneath your hands] and keep your hands more in this position, or try to keep your hands lifted and not at this angle, that will help as well.img_3944

if-all-I-have-are-words said: I absolutely MURDERED—in all caps— my wrist last night (I pinched it over at the base of my thumb by lying on my hand) and my carpal tunnel started acting up so y’all [don’t make my mistakes]

Yes, you can definitely injure your hands in other ways not related to writing, and that does bring on the dreaded carpal tunnel syndrome, which again you can mitigate by using a good pair of braces, hand stretches—even soaking your hands in some warm water nightly before or after you do your writing sessions.

ladyhacksaway said: hey guys, put some serious thought toward dictating your first drafts if you can. the current tech on google docs for speech-to-text (and other services) is actually really decent and your first draft is going to need editing anyway!!! try it out a few times. it’ll feel awkward and freewrite-y at first; that’s ok. we’re talking about first drafts.

And they’re absolutely right! If your hands pain you so much you can’t write or you want to know that you’re doing good preventative care for your hands, then try speech-to-text. You can use Siri on Apple iPhone or Google docs on any phone if you have it set up correctly, or even in your computer, and there are other softwares you can buy that will do an even better job.

Again with NaNoWriMo you might have to figure out how long will it take you to say the 1500 plus words you need every day to beat your quota, your daily quota, but once you get used to that that is definitely an option to get all those words out there without even having to use your hands. Again you would have to do some warm-up exercises so you’re not damaging your throat when you’re speaking, and maybe have a cup of warm tea that will keep your throat soothed, but that is definitely an option if either your hands already pain you or if you’re worried about the possibility of that happening.

You can even switch off day-to-day. Some days you could use your hands, some days you could use your voice.

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babysimpala who was originally missjenniferb said: I lived in braces for EONS. . . Saw different specialists; got steroid injections first then gave in and got the carpal tunnel surgery. Left wrist first – six months of p.[hysical] t[herapy] then the same on my right wrist afterward. Eight months apart.

Of course that’s the worst case scenario if you have to end up getting surgery. It’s no fun, and there’s a long recovery time before you feel like your hands are truly yours again, so we’re trying to prevent that.

Now however babysimpala who is Jessica added a little follow-up where she said: For those with Fibromyalgia try MyPainAway . . . . It’s a lotion.

She has neuropathy (both arms and legs from being type 1 diabetic) and it is AMAZING.

So there are some lotions and things out there you can use. As always if you’re feeling pain and it’s really, really bad definitely talk to a doctor and talk to a physical therapist.

I would not recommend a chiropractor because there is a whole set of different licensing you have to go through, and I’ve heard some horror stories about chiropractors, but physical therapists—especially one who deals with hands/wrists, all this kind of area especially—will know how to help you.

You might have to see a couple to find one who works with you and your needs, but if you are experiencing a lot of pain and you do not want to go for the surgery route try physical therapy first, and then of course if surgery is absolutely necessary as a last resort, you can consult with your doctor and find the best option that will work for you.


All right I know that was a lot of info, but I really really want you guys to not have pain during or because of NaNoWriMo.

I want you to write your novels, and I want them to be the best you can be without having to push through pain.

So lots of sleep, lots of water, make sure you take breaks, try maybe dictating some of the days, and get yourself up to the level that you need to be by starting to write a few weeks beforehand if you’re not in a habit of daily writing. And then of course you can always pop a brace or two on your hands if you feel you need a little extra support.

I personally won’t be participating in NaNo because I know that amount of daily writing for me is just too stressful, but for those of you who are I hope this will be helpful and that you are going to be extremely successful with what you’re doing.

Again like I said in the beginning, any questions/tips please feel free to leave them in the comments down below. Hopefully we will all get through this season without any pain in our hands, but if you do get some you will know how to manage it.

Until next time,

Happy writing!
~ETJ

UNSTICK Your Plot & SMASH Writer’s Block | Part 3 – Tools & Resources

Hello Friends!

Welcome to the last of a three-part series designed to get your story started or moving again, even (especially) if you have crippling writer’s block.

This part of the series focuses on the tools and mechanisms available to help put all of the aforementioned knowledge into practice. It will also mention the actual work processes of the solutions to the problems mentioned in the first two sections.

Activities such as brainstorming, storyboarding, and other ways of thinking up new parts to stories can be very work intensive and time consuming. How easy or how hard writers find each creative activity often depends on a combination of inborn talent and the willingness and dedication to improving their writing skills and abilities.

The good news is that with enough applied time, effort, and diligence, all things writerly can be learned to a very high degree of skill. With that being said, let’s start by focusing on some narrative tools that are excellent writing aids.

  1. Narrative Tools

It’s helpful to think of this section like baking cookies. Sure, you could go to the local mill, grind wheat into flour, collect honey from the bees, raise a few chickens for eggs, and generally complete all the other tasks you’d need to collect the raw ingredients and bake your desserts from scratch, or you could buy a pre-blended box of cookie mix from your local grocery store, along with the few other items listed on the back of the box. All you need to do at home is follow the directions, perhaps adding in a few special touches of your own, and voila! Delicious, mouth-watering cookies.

The writing tools at our disposal work much the same way. It’s far easier to write a story if you collect a bunch of story elements first and then mix them all together with your own unique take.

Following are a few narrative tools you can apply to various parts of the writing process.

  • Obstacles: Murphy’s Law

I talked about obstacles fairly in-depth in part two, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a very specific and handy tool to utilise when impeding your characters’ progress; Murphy’s Law—whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Essentially, have your characters make a plan and then have things go wildly off the rails over and over again. As satisfying as it can be when characters execute a daring plan flawlessly, it’s twice as exciting when things go wrong, and they have to suddenly think or fight themselves out of an unanticipated sticky situation.

  • Character Arcs

There are numerous examples you can find of a typical character arc. Two opposing but related arcs would be redemption and corruption. In the first, flawed characters are won over to the light side, and in the other, the dark side claims them. Sometimes the same character undergoes both arcs, like Anakin from Star Wars. Other examples of common arcs include healing from trauma, overcoming selfishness or some other negative trait, or learning to forgive. It’s quite important to develop an idea of where your characters start versus where you’d like them to wind up. What lessons do you want them to learn or impart? In the case of tragedies such as Oedipus or Othello, how far do you want them to fall?

Applying character arcs to your stories is a great way to give your characters goals and further, can give your entire story a solid direction, even if the actors within it are themselves unambitious.

  • Tropes

What is a literary trope? According to the dictionary, it can be a “a recurring theme or motif” and also “a convention or device” based around common stereotypes. These can be small and specific or large and broad, extending even to entire story arcs.

For instance, characters getting hit literally anywhere and immediately spurting blood from the mouth is a trope common to action films and anime, which serves as a shortcut to tell viewers the character is seriously injured. Another often used trope is that of the unseen or deceased parents, so popular in Disney films and young adult fiction, allowing the young protagonists to have grand adventures that would most definitely not be happening if the parents were properly involved.

Each genre of writing usually contains a few standard tropes that readers come to expect (like the fake relationship trope common to romance stories), and the deliberate inclusion, exclusion, twisting, and inversion of certain tropes can make stories feel very fresh when combined with your unique ideas, characters, and world-building.

Let’s briefly look at two examples – the MacGuffin and the Deus ex Machina – and how they are used to create, drive, and resolve plot in various stories.

A. The MacGuffin

Essentially the quintessential quest item, MacGuffin’s pop up all the time in adventure and questing type stories. A MacGuffin is a plot device – usually an object of some sort – that is being desperately sought after by the story’s characters. This device can be relevant to the plot, but is often unimportant in of itself, the character development and the life lessons subsequently learned being the story’s primary focus. A good example of a useless MacGuffin would be the items (and by extension the title of “Ultimate Detective (or Human)/Genius”) that the detectives of Brooklyn 99 fight over during their annual Halloween Heist. (Side note: the series recently concluded, and it’s notable they chose this particular trope of the show as a setting for their very last episode.)

A more useful type of MacGuffin would be the infinity stones as presented in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and more specifically, The Guardians of the Galaxy.

There, while being the catalyst that gets everyone to band together on a grand quest, the stones are also of vital importance to the plot, as the villain cannot be defeated without the heroes interfacing with the power stone. While each containing individual stories (some of which focus heavily on the stones, some hardly at all), the entire overarching plot of the MCU through Endgame is explicitly about the heroes trying to collect and use the infinity stones before Thanos does.

Either treatment – useful or irrelevant – will work, and including a MacGuffin (whether literal or metaphorical) is a great way to give your characters goals and drive the story forward.

B. The Deus ex Machina

When it comes to ending stories, another great trope that pops up is the Deus ex Machina. This is a literary device involving our heroes being saved by outside forces at the zero hour. It usually works best when this moment is precipitated by an action carried out by one or more of the characters earlier in the story, and when you’re writing your first draft, can be a nice way to set up the ending.

The Molière comedy, Tartuffe, blatantly but elegantly includes a Deus ex Machina moment in the last act of the play, when the king of France himself saves the beleaguered family who are about to be financially ruined by a con-man pretending to be a priest. It’s a fantastic moment, because the plot twist involved in the reveal forces the audience to reexamine the rest of the story through a fresh lens.

There are hundreds more such big tropes and thousands more such little ones. Although, as mentioned, different genres tend to include specific sets of them at certain beats throughout the narrative, they can certainly overlap from one type of story to another. Tvtropes.org is a great online resource for finding and understanding many different types of tropes you might want to experiment with in your writing.

  1. Structure

A second great asset to have in your writer toolbox is a thorough understanding of structure. While all stories can essentially be boiled down to the same basic two or three plots, there are various more complex and layered narrative structures writers tend to default to when drafting and revising. Some structures work best when applied to novels, others fit quite well when paired with comic books or plays, but there is often overlap from one medium to another.

(To continue the analogy from earlier, if tropes are the ingredients to a story, structure is the moulding and baking process. It’s everything that holds it together and gives it a definable shape.)

When setting up and drafting your story, if you find the plot meanders too much and you’re getting away from your original plan – or if you have no plan, and you’d like to rein things in a bit – it’s worth going back over your story and seeing if it fits into a solid narrative structure. If it doesn’t, applying one can help you get back on track. It is important to understand however, that not every structure is a one-size-fits all, and if your story has hit a block somewhere, it might be that the structure you’re using does not suit the type of story you are telling, so feel free to experiment with structure, especially if a conventional one is not working for you and your storytelling needs.

Not every story follows exactly the same beats, even within the same genre, but if you start with one or two of the common structures listed below, you’ll be well on your way to successfully finishing that first draft!

  • 3 Act Structure

Common in many current blockbuster films and modern young adult literary works, this structure splits a story into three fairly well delineated parts (setup, build up, payoff), characterized by a turn at the end of acts two and three. Although not a new concept, the three act model was popularised as a narrative tool for film in the late 1970’s and has been highly regarded ever since.

  • 5 Act Structure

Common in television and plays. Popularized by the famous playwright William Shakespeare, five act structure is still used with great effect today in television because the transitions between acts neatly line up with commercial breaks.

  • Hero’s/Heroine’s Journey

Based the work of psychiatrist Carl Jung and refined by literature professor Joseph Campbell, this structure follows a circle, constructing a progress as much physical as metaphorical, in that the characters often end up back where they started but emerge quite different, having undergone many trials and tribulations along the way. This structure is found in action and adventure movies like The Lion King and Star Wars, and draws from ancient epics such as Homer’s Odyssey.

  • Fairytale Structure

Perhaps one of the most well known and earliest learned Western story structures, this usually starts with “Once Upon a Time” and ends with “And They Lived Happily Ever After.” Fairytale structure tends to follow a “And then this happened” outline, going through a series of misfortunes brought on either by the character’s naivety or some fatal flaw until the final climax. Often, some kind of life lesson is imparted to the characters, such as in King Thrushbeard, where a spoiled princess learns a painful lesson in humility.

  • Nonlinear Structure

As the name implies, this is when the story jumps around instead of progressing forward through time from one event to the next. These types of stories tend to be connected by theme rather than plot. It can be helpful to write a first draft in linear progression and then rearrange it later, but you might find it works best to dive right in with the pieces already shuffled about. Non-fictional poetry collections often feature this type of structure.

  • Vignettes

A vignette is a short story (ranging from a drabble of one hundred words to upward of 1000) that can stand on its own, but is usually part of a larger loosely connected set of stories. This type of story structure is commonly found in fanfiction circles, as the narrative burden of world-building and character conception and introduction has been largely removed, letting the writer focus on interesting moments occurring  just outside of canon. Other examples of vignettes occur within the genres of slice-of-life manga, such as A Man and His Cat, or the ever popular American sitcom format.

When drafting, don’t be worried if your story doesn’t seem to fit any of these structures. There are quite a few more out there than those mentioned above, and you can always beat your plot into submission during revision.

Format & Organisation

An aspect of structure, these tools are often more tangible, as while structure is the invisible glue that holds our story together, how we put it together, and how it looks on the page (or sounds over the radio) is something we can visually, aurally, and tactilely experience.

For example, a story that is mostly laid out in dialogue, with sparse notations about setting, time, and description is generally considered to be a script and is often connected with film.

Storyboarding, another film technique which involves drawing images and shuffling them around to fit your narrative is a formatting and organisation tool that can greatly aid in drafting. This visual format is well suited to kinesthetic, hands-on storytellers, but can be used by anyone. Editing film is fantastic way to tell a story. Simply by taking different video and audio clips and arranging them in a certain order, editors can a weave together an engaging narrative. This is usually how documentaries are put together, and often, fans of film and television use pre-existing footage in a creative order to recontextualise the canon or even tell a different story altogether. For a great example of how editing is its own form of storytelling, the excellent video How Star Wars was Saved in the Edit by RocketJump on Youtube is required viewing.

In decades past, stories like The Lone Ranger were told on the radio with a dynamic cast accompanied by an array of inventive and innovative sound effects, and in 1938, a broadcast of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds was so masterfully acted that (despite notices at various points that the radioplay was fictional) it caused a panic among some listeners who thought the science fiction tale of an invasion by an alien race was actually real. Today, podcasting has largely taken up that space, two great examples of which would be the popular series Welcome to Nightvale and SCP Explained.

A common issue among those new to writing non-fiction such as memoirs or autobiographies is that the story already exists, but needs to be organised into a coherent, digestible narrative. Centering these types of projects around a particular theme is often the best way to structure the narrative into something interesting and meaningful. A lot of the story will have to be left on the cutting room floor, but a precise, focused narrative will be both easier to write and more attention grabbing than a meandering clutter including every little moment that happened.

When you’re first drafting, feel free to write using whatever format best helps your ideas flow. This can be anything from well constructed prose to fragmented run-ons to bulleted lists. Applications like Siri and Google docs have free software allowing writers to dictate ideas straight into a word document, and it might help to keep a drawing pad nearby to quickly sketch out images that pop into your mind.

Whatever helps to get your ideas out of your head and onto paper or some other experienceable medium is valid.

  1. Research

Now, it’s all well and good for me to impart all this advice and then tell you to go away and start brainstorming – itself a technique that helps to sort through all the info in your mind and derive new ideas. But how does a writer acquire all the tools to help them move beyond their imagination and begin storytelling in the first place?

A. Read

The first and best thing an aspiring writer MUST do if they want to become a great author/playwright/mangaka/screenwriter etc, is to read.

Art students learn to draw their favourite paintings. Dance students replicate the moves of their instructors. Musicians listen to music. And so too, must writers read.

Aspiring novelists especially should take this advice (yes, listening to audiobooks counts), and although those wanting to go into alternate forms of storytelling (graphic novels, film, etc.,) should focus on their chosen mediums, cross-pollinating these different storytelling formats is extremely helpful in the long run and greatly builds up the knowledge base writers can pull from when creating something new.

If writers have access to nothing else, they can still learn how to tell a good story by reading hundreds of them, copying what works, and throwing out what doesn’t. In addition, traditionally published novels tend to have the advantage of using a specific set of grammar rules writers can unconsciously pick up and use – without having formally studied English – which makes the reading experience much more accessible.

It’s very important to read both fiction and non-fiction, as history is filled with the fascinating tales and exploits of those who came before and has served as inspiration for some of the most memorable stories throughout the ages. William Shakespeare pulled both from the recent history of his time and the ancient past to create MacBeth and Julius Caesar, George R. R. Martin famously based much of the political conflicts of his A Song of Ice and Fire series on the English “War of the Roses,” and of course, the critically acclaimed musical Hamilton is firmly rooted in events surrounding the American revolution.

Read the genres you enjoy as well as ones you haven’t tried before. Pick a book from every section of the library or bookstore, and see what sparks your imagination. Sometimes it’s worth reading – or at least encountering – badly written books, or novels with subject matter you detest, so you know what you would definitely rather avoid writing.

Read articles and poetry, textbooks and epics, independent authors, fanfiction, and traditionally published works. Read the back of a cereal box if that’s what you have at your disposal! But always remember, if you want to write, and write well, you must read.

B. Study

The next thing you can do is study!

If you’ve already started on step one, reading, congratulations, you’ve begun studying! But there is a difference between passive and active learning. If you truly desire to master the craft, it’s vital to move beyond simply absorbing what you’re reading and into actively picking apart a story to really learn its inner mechanics.

Why and how does a good story work? How do I replicate it? What grammar rules should I be following to construct coherent sentences? These are questions any aspiring writer should be asking. While it is possible to come to the answers on your own, much of the hard work of story analysis has already been completed and repackaged into solid writing advice by other writers, editors, and literature enthusiasts. By seeking out and following well established, authoritative guidance, writers will be able to far more quickly rise from the ranks of novice to master. After all, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

There are two caveats to briefly mention here.

  1. Don’t feel like you have to exactly replicate every piece of writing advice you come across. Different genres and styles and cultures have different storytelling conventions. You must adapt what works for you, and discard what doesn’t. In the words of perhaps the greatest martial artist to ever live, Bruce Lee, “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own.”       
  2. Never stop studying. There is always more you can learn, a higher level in the storytelling craft you can achieve. Don’t let either failure or success stifle your drive to improve.

There are many resources, both free and otherwise that can be accessed when studying storytelling. Youtube has a fairly vibrant author community giving out writing tips, as well as hosting myriad booktube channels where readers offer quite deep and insightful thoughts about the books they’ve enjoyed or hated.

In fact, just about any social media site has its own dedicated cache of writers offering advice. Many longform writing articles also populate the internet, most turning up with a simple Google search, and writing podcasts are on the rise as well.

Writing books (many with accompanying workbooks) can be purchased online or at your local bookstore, though don’t forget to check your local library for complimentary access to books on storycraft.

Libraries are also often hosts to writing workshops, both physical and virtual. Some even provide online certificate courses, as do quite a few colleges, and there is always the option of obtaining a degree (or several) in writing.

The last thing you can do is find a writer friend or two and pick their brain. Whether this is someone you’ve known for years, someone you match with at an author mentor-mentee program, or an online writing partner discovered through social media, these people can help you along your journey, offering one-on-one advice that aids the growth of your writing skills. Many urban areas also have dedicated critique groups that offer writers a vibrant and encouraging space to share their work and hone their craft.

Useful Resources:

Following is a handy, but non-exhaustive list of writing, storytelling, and general knowledge resources to aid in filling your writing toolbox:

Authortube:

Alexa Donne
Brandon Sanderson 2020 Creative Writing Lectures at BYU
Jenna Moreci

Booktube:

Daniel Greene
Merphy Napier

General Knowledge Channels:

Shadiversity
Thoughty2
Today I Found Out

Books:

Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
The Elements of Style, 4th Edition by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White
The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)
Wordsmith: A Creative Writing Course for Young People by Janie B. Cheaney

Websites:

Helping Writers Become Authors
Jane Friedman
Kiingo
Mid-Continent Public Library Storytelling Certificate Program
September C. Fawkes
The Creative Penn
TV Tropes
Writing World

C. Practice

The last thing to do once you’ve gotten your writing toolkit together is practice!

The more you refine your writing process, the easier it becomes to invent new situations and scenarios and develop endings and middles.

Regular repetition of something is generally the best way to learn and see consistent growth. Some writers swear by writing every day, at the same time, for the same set amount for years on end. Others are more fluid with their writing schedules, and some writers go long stretches of time without writing at all. (This last practice is not particularly recommended, as the less time you put into learning something, the longer it will take to achieve your goals.) What works best for you will depend on your specific time constraints, writing ambitions (do you want to write fanfiction? Screenplays? Is hitting the New York Times Bestsellers List your ultimate dream?), and other conflicting factors.

You can type out your ideas on a computer, use dictation software, or even pull out a good old-fashioned typewriter. Maybe you’re like me and construct elaborate fantasy settings before falling asleep at night. Perhaps you’re a people watcher and enjoy imagining what sorts of lives the strangers around you are living. However you practice, make sure to do it as often as you can for the best results.

Whatever your writing schedule looks like, you can always keep things fresh and motivating by switching up the type of practicing you do. If you’re working on a novel, it could be that penning a short story will get your creative juices flowing. If you’re a screenwriter, challenging yourself to write a epic fantasy can stretch your writing muscles in all sorts of new ways. Authors of fiction might try their hand at biographies or academic papers, and a journalist might get into comedy.

If you’ve just started your writing journey, be gentle with yourself, and simply have fun with the process, knowing that you’ll grow along the way, and that if you keep reading, studying, and practicing, eventually you’ll gain the skills and self-assurance to get from beginning to end every time with confidence.

There can come a time in a writer’s journey when they bemoan what they’re writing because it seems terrible to them – and that wasn’t the case when they began! Don’t despair if this is your reality. The better you get, the more you can see the flaws that novice!you missed entirely. Just keep practicing and learning; if you stick with it, you will push past those plateaus.

A Few Closing Thoughts:

Ambiguous or open and sad endings are okay. Not everything in life has definitive closure, so these types of endings can be quite relatable.

Sometimes an idea is best left bite-sized. I’ve seen absolutely amazing stories suffer because the author extended the idea a bit too long. It can be the case that withholding certain details compels readers to desperately crave the unsaid implications, making the story linger with them far beyond the initial reading. A fantastic example of this is the Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. Clocking in at just over 2,000 words, the story’s short length is its greatest strength. It’s a quick and easy read, but impossible to forget.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to write bad ideas. Remember, there are no stupid ideas – at least not on the first draft. If you want to write about a Mary Sue self-insert who defeats the forces of darkness using the power of a mystical unicorn, go for it! If it gets your story finished, it was a good idea.


That concludes part three, and thus this series. I trust you now have a grasp on how to start from nothing and end up with a finished first draft. Hopefully this also helped answer questions about how to push past writer’s block and get your WIP started again.

Thanks for following along, and please feel free to add comments on what you’ve found helpful as well as questions about anything discussed in this and the previous articles.

Now go forth, and write!

~ETJ

9 Tips for Nailing Multi POV

Hello, Friends!

An author must choose through which lens – and how many – a story will be told. Each has its benefits and its pitfalls. Some naturally lend themselves more to a certain type of story or genre, and while a story can be solely told from one character’s perspective, there are various aspects better explored through multiple lenses. (Plus, it’s really fun!)

Using dual or multi POV is an excellent way to create and build tension, as one character might reveal something to the readers that another character has no way of knowing, something that might lead to their downfall if they’re unable to read the warning signs in time.

Multi POV also allows readers (and the author, while writing) to take breaks from being stuck inside one character’s head the entire time. Some of my favourite parts of books or television episodes are the ones where we get to look at the main characters from an outside perspective, which in turn reveals even more about the characters, the world they live in, and the overall story than we knew before.

In books, in particular, authors can create cliffhangers that pull the reader along by ending a chapter with one character in peril, and then jumping to a different character for a little bit, heightening our desire to find out what has happened.

But dual or multi POV can also go wrong and end up becoming jarring and off-putting to readers when done incorrectly. With that in mind, here are 9 tips I’ve picked up both as a reader and a writer to help you write multi POV with confidence to create an irresistible reading experience.


  1. Limit POV Characters

My first tip – especially for newbie writers – is to limit the amount of characters telling the story.

Instead of giving everyone and their grandmother a chance to narrate the story, limit the perspectives to the protagonist, antagonist, and possibly a side character or two. Keeping track of a huge cast of named characters is difficult enough in single POV, but when you’re adding multiple voices into the mix, reducing the perspective to 2-5 main characters makes the story much easier for readers to follow and helps to reduce plot holes.

  1. Keep POVs Centered Around the Main Characters/Plot

As a reader, multiple perspectives lose me entirely when the POVs veer into side-quest territory. I do enjoy side quests when undertaken by the main character, but if secondary character no. 3 is off having their own adventures with secondary character no. 4, and nothing of their plot lines effect, or even in any way relate to the main character or overarching story being told, I greatly struggle to maintain interest in the book. I didn’t sign up to read about these random characters, and so I feel a bit cheated and like I’ve wasted my time on a plot line that went nowhere.

To combat this, make sure other perspectives connect to the protagonists, antagonists, or narrative at large.

For example, my scifi novel, Thorunn , is told mostly from Laine, Kenton, and Bo’s perspectives. However, when I do dip into the minds of other characters (there are at least six other POVs we get to experience) it’s always to reveal something about the two main characters, Kenton and Laine. Yes, we get to learn about these minor characters in a way that we couldn’t have from outside their perspective, but their narratives in the story are specifically related to the main plot and characters.

  1. Don’t Give Equal Weight to Everyone

Related to the previous idea, when using multiple that expands beyond the main characters, not everybody needs to tell the story for the same amount of time. Spending too much time with minor characters can lead to the problem mentioned above, where readers feel like their time is wasted by meaningless filler.

Now, some authors can get away with this. A notable example would be Kishimoto Masashi. Especially in the latter half the Naruto manga, whenever a new character is introduced, Kishimoto dives extensively into their backstory. But because these characters’ histories are so interesting, and are tied into the world-building so well, the fact that Kishimoto was essentially using these POVs as a way to stretch out the manga as long as possible can be forgiven, overlooked even, because they are so compelling.

This however, is the exception, not the norm. George R.R. Martin spent a lot of time on POVs that fundamentally went nowhere in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, and even though his books are critically acclaimed, many readers were left frustrated at the amount of unnecessary plot. Martin himself has admitted that he wrote himself into a corner with the almost excessive storylines that resulted from so many different perspectives. Unless you’re interested in spending years untangling story threads, it’s best to keep outside POVs simple, focused, and short.

Be careful, however, not to make your POVs too short. If pages which are spent following one character are randomly intercut with single paragraphs featuring another character’s perspective, or if you have constantly have short section after short section jumping between POVs, it’s liable to give the reader whiplash. (Long-running soap operas are particular offenders in this area.)

  1. Build Up to and Away From Multiple Characters

If the story absolutely demands to be told through a large cast, it can be extremely helpful to ease your way into it. Start with just a few characters and slowly add more perspectives as the story or series progresses. That way, readers have time to get to know and become attached to these characters (being introduced to them through already established POVs first), making them far more invested in following their individual stories.

Conversely, when the plot is on the edge of getting too bloated, it’s helpful to begin narrowing the story down, bringing characters back together – or killing them off – and thereby reducing the amount of POVs needed to tell the story, as happens in The Lord of the Rings.

  1. Give Your POV a Purpose

As I mentioned in the intro, dual or multi POVs are fantastic tools to offer insight beyond what the main character thinks and experiences. But additional POVs shouldn’t be there simply to reach a wordcount or extend a screenplay to the desired running time.

Rather, each perspective should offer a unique view of the story that helps to expand and enrich it. If you can skip certain POVs and not miss anything, it either shouldn’t be in the story, or it should be reworked to be more meaningful to the plot.

  1. Don’t Just Switch the Characters’ Names

This is a particularly irritating type of POV unfortunately common among romance stories. A story that features dual POV but the only difference between the perspectives is that the names have been switched is extremely boring. It’s also rather lazy writing. I’m not interested in reading the exact same story twice. Even if there are more substantial changes to the actual text, if the dialogue is carbon copy the same, as a reader, I’ll quickly lose interest.

The best stories I’ve read that retread the same ground in dual POV vary enough from each other that while it’s obviously an identical set of events from the other character’s perspective, the differences have me going back over the previous bits over and over again, comparing where they line up, and digging into the internal thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the characters. Done well, this can be some of the most fascinating storytelling. My favourite example of this in television is the Rashamon trope, where multiple characters, all starting from the same point, recount their version of a shared experience, with each character’s version wildly diverging from the others’.

  1. Avoid 1st Person

Tip no. 6 is to avoid first person when writing dual or multi POV. Some writers can make multi POV work fantastically in first person, but unless the characters have extremely distinct or strong inner voices, reading first person multi POV can often feel as if you’re experiencing the story through the same character, which completely defeats the purpose of including more than one perspective.

It’s not good if readers can’t tell the characters apart and have to constantly flip back to the chapter headings to remember who is speaking – especially if it’s a romance novel. Men and women think differently, so their POVs should read differently as well.

By writing in third person instead, the constant use of the characters’ names will easily remind the reader from whose perspective each section or chapter is being told.

  1. Give Each POV a Unique Voice

Related to number six, if your story demands to be written in first person, while labeling the chapters or sections does help, your characters must be distinct enough that readers can tell who is speaking regardless. Thorunn CoverPerhaps one character stutters a lot or is very snarky. One character could be extremely steam-of-consciousness, while another is guarded and spare with their thoughts.

This applies when writing third-person deep or limited as well. Again, this is something I utilised in ⚡Thorunn⚡ . Laine, Kenton, and Bo are all different people, with different life experiences. The prose I employed for Kenton is not the same as the words and sentence structures I used for Laine. During revisions I was constantly having to change sentences to better express how each character would articulate their thoughts.

  1. Experiment with Format

Last but not least, play around with how you incorporate dual or multi POV. There’s the tried and true method of devoting chapters to differing perspectives (which is nice for labeling purposes), but POV can certainly switch within chapters as well.

Try using different mediums to communicate an outside perspective. Diary entries, newspaper clippings and broadcasts, emails and letters, and historical writings are all great ways to include information that the main character might not have access to. Some novels (such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula) are written entirely in this epistolary manner – similar to the “found footage” horror films that have become popular in recent years.

Stylistically, many novels include this information in the form of an epigraph at the beginning or ending of each chapter.


There you have it, my 9 tips on nailing dual or multi POV from a reading writer. Feel free to share your favourite POV tips in the comments!

Happy Writing!
~ETJ

 

Book Events in the Time of Covid :)

Hello Friends!

As is the case for many of you, I suspect, this year didn’t go at all like what I had planned.

My second novel, Thorunn, was released in May, and while I’ve certainly enjoyed discussing the book online, I struggled to put together offline events, for a number of reasons. However, I refused to let all the hurdles in my way make things grind completely to a halt. I was blessed to be able to throw together a few book signing events – one a more private, impromptu event at a yard sale I co-hosted over the summer, and the other two at more prominent, public locations.

The first of these was at The Reader’s Café, a charming little bookshop-slash-cafe in downtown Historic Hanover. The cafe was once a church before being turned into the book haven it is today, and has lovely internal architecture. Since it was also International Talk Like a Pirate Day, of course I had to go in cosplay, debuting another new look by mix-and-matching pieces I had already made. It was really wonderful to connect with avid readers while supporting a small business, and I hope to return in the future with more books!

The second place I was able to visit to sign books was the captivating cave at Indian Echo Caverns. I didn’t actually make it to the caves this time, since it was so windy I was afraid my books would fly away if I stepped away to take a quick peek, but being on the grounds (under a lovely Greek-styled stone pavilion), seeing all the animals, and enjoying the sights and smells of the surrounding food trucks was wonderful in its own way. And of course, chatting with book fans was the highlight.

By now, I think it’s apparent that I rather enjoy cosplay, so again, I went dressed as a character, one I debuted on Thorunn’s launch day, Lachelle Michaels, who is a soldier appearing in the second half of the novel.

All in all, despite the many limitations this year has brought, I am so thankful I was still able to make the best of it, and I consider these events to be a success! Here’s to looking forward to 2021, and until then, happy reading!

~ETJ Writes

⚡️THORUNN⚡️ @ Indian Echo Caverns

Celebrating Hummelstown’s Shop Small Saturday


November 28, 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM

Indian Echo Caverns

Featuring free colouring sheets, word-search and crossword puzzles, and book signing/reading by young adult author Esther T. Jones


Saturday, November 28 is Hummelstown’s Shop Small Saturday, helping to promote and celebrate local businesses!

Esther T. Jones will be participating at Indian Echo Caverns, appearing in ⚡️THORUNN⚡️ themed cosplay, and answering all your book related questions.

It’s going to be a great time, so come on down, and check out the cave while you’re at it!

Signed copies of both of Jones’ novels will be available for purchase before and after the event.

Information regarding cave tours can be found at the Indian Echo Caverns Facebook page.

⚡THORUNN⚡ IS HERE!

Announcing Esther T. Jones’ Sophomore Novel:

⚡THORUNN⚡

I’m so thrilled and excited to announce that my second book (and debut Young Adult Science Fiction novel) Thorunn is now available both as a paperback and an eBook from Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble.

The novel can also be purchased directly from this website.


This thrilling story is set in the far future, with a shady government, a vibrant alien culture, and fantastically imaginative tech. ⚡Thorunn⚡ follows the stories of Kenton Wishings – whose entire family was brutally murdered – and Laine Riven – a rebellious teen spirited away to the mysterious planet by his at-wits-end parents. Their paths clash amidst tragedy and betrayal, and despite how hard they try, neither teen will escape unscathed.

Time is running out as frix season closes in, and their only shot at victory hinges on outrunning the seasoned bounty hunters, savage creatures, and unpredictably violent weather trying to kill them every step of the way. . .

“The world Jones produced is absolutely brilliant . . . from start to finish, I wanted to know more!”

– S.V. Filice, author of “The Summoning (Moral Bloodlines, #1).”

Enjoy following Kenton and Laine’s epic adventures, whether in print or digital media, and be sure to join the mailing list to receive updates about exciting new content, contests, giveaways, and more.

Bonus content in the form of a series of backstory vignettes focusing on Kenton’s best friend Bo can be found on Wattpad here: The Many Misadventures of Bo, and official ⚡Thorunn⚡ swag (mugs, cups, stickers, & T-shirts) is available to purchase via NEXT-GXN on Redbubble.

A special thanks goes out to the author’s wonderful brother, professional artist Don Jones, who was also the novel’s alpha reader, illustrator, and cover designer. (And what a stunning cover it is!)

Additionally, you’re personally invited to the ⚡️THORUNN⚡️ Virtual Book Launch Party taking place on Instagram Live & Twitter starting at 1:00 PM. Talk directly to moi, the author, and get a chance to win some of the swag mentioned above – don’t miss it!

Currently, I’m working on a few stand-alone novels as well as a multi-book series set in a distant and mysterious era, and I can hardly wait to share these next books with you all!

Keep up with me on instagram and twitter, and happy reading!

Esther T. Jones

Official ⚡️THORUNN⚡️ Spotify Playlist

Here it is, friends, the official ⚡️THORUNN⚡️ Spotify playlist, all 85 mins of it!

I listened to these songs quite a bit while drafting, revising, and putting the finishing touches on my novel, and it’s carefully curated (if listening from the desktop, or premium on the app) to give y’all the perfect ⚡️THORUNN⚡️ listening experience. A good bit of these songs could apply to either Laine or Kenton, (though some are specific to each – kudos to you if you can accurately guess which!) but some also center around other characters – both friend and foe – and around themes from the novel: family, loss, forgiveness, hope.

The playlist starts off rather melancholy (given what happens to Kenton’s family in the beginning of the book), and bounces back and forth between anger and grief – with some encouragement slipped in between here and there – before leading to a defiant, hopeful ending. I’ve included some relevant lyrics from each song and there’s a mix of styles and genres from a wide variety of artists, though it does trend in the alt/rock direction. Music from the 70’s all the way to recent years has made the list, and there’s even a South African song gracing this collection!

⚡️THORUNN⚡️ releases May 20, 2020, everywhere books are sold, and I would be utterly delighted if y’all gave this playlist a listen while reading. It’ll definitely enhance your experience, and give you a peek into my state of mind while writing.

See y’all at the virtual booklaunch party on my Insta Live, Wednesday, starting at 1:00 pm EST!


1. Fix You – Coldplay

2. Umama – Sjava  

English Translation:

3. O-oh Child – The Five Stairsteps

4. Wolves – Down Like Silver


5. Drifting – Adelitas Way

6. Gone Away –  Five Finger Death Punch

7. Nothing Makes Sense Anymore – Mike Shinoda

8. Faint – Linkin Park

9. Talking to the Moon – Bruno Mars

10. Still Here – Digital Daggers

11. Speak to Me – Amy Lee

12. Running From My Shadow – Mike Shinoda

13. Somewhere I Belong – Linkin Park

14. Waiting for the End – Linkin Park

15. Legends Never Die – League of Legends

16. Paint it, Black – Ciara

17. Robot Boy – Linkin Park

18. Dear Agony – Breaking Ben

19. Soldier – Fleurie

20. Gallows – Katie Garfield

21. Here I Am – Tommee Profitt

22. Love Hurts – Incubus

Can you tell I’m a Linkin Park fan?😉


Happy Reading!

~ETJ

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