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General Life Rants

A Beginner’s Guide on How to Write Fiction

People who say that writing is something that can’t be taught is talking nonsense. You can’t spoonfeed people with inspiration and imagination, but writing is something that can be taught just like other skills such as baking.

Sure, some people may be born with a natural talent in writing, but this doesn’t mean that they are the only ones who can write good works of fiction. Anyone can learn how to write a good story, and this article will guide you on how to write fiction.

  • Read, read, and read!

Before you write your own fictional story, it is recommended that you read other writers’ stories first. As the famous writer William Faulkner said, “Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”

By reading the works of famous and even not-so famous authors, you will be able to enhance your vocabulary, learn new styles and techniques, hone your imagination, creativity, and critical thinking, as well as improve your overall writing skills.

  • Decide on the format and genre of your fictional story.

Carefully decide on what type of fictional story would you want to write—whether you want to write a short story, a novel, or a series of novels for instance. Moreover, you should also consider the type of genre such as sci-fi, romance, fantasy, or a combination of various genres.

  • Create an outline of your story.

Once you’ve decided on the format and genre, it is now time to develop an outline for your work of fiction. Decide on the setting, plot, and the characters, including their unique personalities and flaws. Think and take down notes of what you want to happen for each chapter and where your characters will come in.

You don’t necessarily have to write down an extremely detailed outline because there is a fairly good chance that you will deviate from the outline that you originally created as you go through the writing process. The purpose of the outline is just to serve as a guide or map that will help you develop your story.

  • Start writing.

Now it’s time to put your story down on paper. You can write your ideas with a pen and paper, typewriter, or a computer—whatever suits you. Just write everything down with guidance from your outline and fix errors later.

  • Reread your work and revise.

Don’t expect to get everything right the first time. Even the best writers make several revisions with their work. So reread everything you’ve written, read it aloud if you want, and proofread your work until it comes out the way you want it to.

One of the most difficult parts of writing is knowing where and how to start. I hope this article helped you understand the writing process much better and encourages you to push through with this endeavour. You may find things complicated at first, but let this serve as a challenge for you to practice more and be better at this craft.

Fictional Writing 101: How to Make Your Characters Believable

Believable characters can make a lasting impact to readers and make a story much better. Unless your characters are believable and relatable, your audience will not find your work interesting. So how do you actually breathe life into your fictional characters? Here are some tips in creating believable characters.

  1. Observe different people.

By observing different kinds of people, you will have some ideas for the personalities and traits that you can integrate into your character. Take note of how people speak, behave, do their mannerisms, stutter, express themselves, and what verbal fillers they use. From these observations, you can choose which ones to incorporate—in short, imitate real people to make your characters seem real.

  1. Play with their personalities and characteristics.

If you want to make your characters realistic, you should never categorize them into purely “black” or “white”. By this I mean you should not make your protagonists all good, and your antagonists absolutely evil. Make them multidimensional—add layers into their personality. This is what will make them more appealing and bring a significant impact to your audience.

Play with their personalities—make them complex individuals and even add what seems like contradictions. For instance, your evil antagonist who beats the crap out of people and can kill mercilessly is extremely affectionate with animals.

On the other hand, your main protagonists must also have weaknesses and faults. Let them fail and allow the villains to win occasionally. This will stir up your readers’ minds and emotions. Moreover, this will also make your story less predictable and much more interesting.

  1. Establish individuality.

Just like in real life, people are different from one another. With this, if you want to make your characters realistic and recognizable, establish individuality and uniqueness. This will make your characters more alive.

Make sure that they are very different from one another—they have distinct voices, varying points of view, as well as beliefs and principles. For example, if one of your characters is a crackhead teenager and another one is a respected middle-aged professor, but the two thinks the same and have the same manner of speaking, you are definitely doing it wrong. If necessary, don’t hesitate to make multiple revisions to ensure this.

Making your characters believable and interesting may seem like a challenging task at first. However, by performing the strategies I shared in this article, you will surely be able to do this much easier and more effectively. Always keep in mind that no matter how awesome your idea for your plot is, you won’t be able to execute it properly without great characters. Furthermore, your readers won’t stay interested if the characters are not multidimensional and believable.

How to Kick the Sugar Habit

There’s been a good bit of health news floating lately around suggesting that sugar is worse for us than we thought, such as a study finding a relationship between sugar consumption on a population level and type II diabetes, independent of other factors like obesity. As a result, a lot of people I know have been experimenting with lower sugar or no-sugar diets. I think it’s a great thing, but it’s so hard to do. Obstacles range from the ubiquity of sugar in processed food to deep emotional attachments to certain foods. I thought I’d share some tips from my experience that have helped me get sugar (mostly) out of my diet. I’m not perfect. I have calculated indulgences, and also just plain fall off the wagon some times. But I do feel in control, and I have a new perspective that there’s a strange sense of obligation that goes with consuming sugary foods that I am now free of. So here are some things that have helped me, and some things I wish I’d known earlier in the process.

1. For the first month or two, it helps to go completely cold turkey and be a real nazi about it. No sugar at all, not even trace sugar. It helps reset your taste buds, and, more importantly, forces you to confront all of your problematic foods and triggers all at once when you are in a strong psychological position of being in a honeymoon phase with the whole thing. Read the label on everything. You’re going to be shocked and disappointed when some of your favorite foods turn out to contain sugar for no apparent reason. It’s fine to throw them out, or maybe donate them to a food bank, to get them out of your face. Once your palate has adjusted, these foods are going to taste weird to you, anyway.

kick the sugar habit

2. Tell all of your friends and family that you’re not eating any sugar. People are pretty supportive about it. That will help immediately with what you imagine are awkward social situations where someone has made you a delicious turtle fudge brownie cheesecake and will be plunged into suicidal depression if you don’t eat it. (Wishful thinking, it turns out. No one gives a crap if you don’t eat the goodies. It’s just more for them.)

3. Don’t use artificial sweeteners. In my opinion, this does nothing to change your craving for sweets, and you’re becoming part of an uncontrolled long term experiment on the long term effect of chemical sweeteners on human health.

4. Find tasty alternatives for some of your favorite sweet treats or meals. For example, instead of brown sugar, I top my steel cut oats with mashed banana. And a really quality cheese with crackers is a pretty satisfying substitute for a number of otherwise sugary snacks. Cheese, whole grain crackers, and nuts by the handful have become daily snacks at my house. Unsweetened iced tea is my go-to drink at restaurants.

5. If you feel deprived or have major cravings at first, that is normal, and it will pass.

6. Resign yourself to give up on a short list of items that can’t be replicated without sugar of some sort. I’m talking about stuff like ketchup and barbecue sauce. I order my burgers with mayo and green olives.

7. Eat before problematic occasions, or bring your own sugar-free snack. For example, I spend one or two evenings a week writing in coffee shops, and at first felt rather deprived not to have a treat from the pastry case. So I started bringing a piece of fruit. After the first couple of times, I was no longer bothered by cravings. You sort of have to tackle these situations one-by-one until the trigger for eating sweets fades and there are many triggers.

8. Don’t force this on family or friends. Of course sugary sweets are bad for us, but people are complex and maybe your family member or friend needs their daily cupcake for now to get through something else. It’s also really hard to focus on more than one self-improvement project at once, so while they may agree and approve of what you’re doing, it could be a while before they find a place in their own lives for it.

9. Don’t enable your family and friends if it is going to be a problem for you. There’s a surprising amount of guilt that can happen if you don’t bake cookies for your family or offer a dessert with Sunday dinner. Get over it. Your family members, even the kids, can handle their own sugar supply. So don’t let their “needs” for sugary foods undermine what you need to do for your health. (If you are ok with making desserts without ever tasting them, that is great. You are a stronger person than I.) If you are accustomed to showing your love with food, try to stifle that impulse. Having had a couple of people in my life with that particular fetish, it’s actually really f—ing annoying. Cut it out!

10. Once you’ve gotten through your sugar nazi phase, decide what indulgences are “worth it” for you. I know someone who has no indulgences ever. She has type II diabetes, and can’t afford to have even an occasional sweet treat. For myself, I will have a dessert or treat if it is really “worth it.” It has to be more than a store-bought cake with crisco frosting or a jello salad at a pot luck. For example, if I’m at a restaurant that is reputed to have the world’s best tiramisu, yes, I am going to order the tiramisu and enjoy it. This happens maybe once a month.

11. If you are going to indulge, go big. There are two reasons. One is that it makes it special if you have a really spectacular treat and really fill up on it after long periods of virtuous abstinence. Another reason is that a large indulgence is unlikely to lead to a slippery slope where you are back to mainstream sugar consumption. If you treat yourself with a teaspoon of honey in your coffee, all that will happen is you’ll want it again tomorrow. If you treat yourself with a huge hot fudge sundae, it will be an awesome transcendent experience and you’re going to feel like crap the next day, too. It’s not likely you’re going to fall into a hot fudge sundae habit accidentally. In fact, you may never want one again!

12. Don’t worry too much if you fall off the wagon. This isn’t alcoholism. You don’t have to confess or start your sobriety clock over again. Nothing bad is going to immediately happen. You can start again the next day with no penalty.

13. Challenge yourself to get through the next holiday or big social occasion with no sugar. It’s hard the first time you do it, but once you get through it’s very freeing and empowering. After you’ve done this a couple of times, you’ll have a clearer head to decide whether a special occasion merits an indulgence, or if it’s just a same-crap-different-year situation. Easter is coming. Can you get through Easter without any sugar? You can do it!

Good luck!

Home Improvement 

The home addition project is not finished yet. We’re past talking about when it will be finished. It will be finished when it’s finished. However, even though the rooms aren’t quite move-in ready, there are a number of aspects that we’re really enjoying right now.

1. Having a driveway and garage wide enough to park in. I love this so much and it never gets old. We used to have to do this dance on garbage day, where we moved one or both cars so we could wheel the bins down to the curb, and then the same thing in reverse. It was so difficult and tiresome. It’s so easy to take out the trash, now. Not only can we wheel it to the curb easily any time we want, but we can store the trash cans in our garage, which makes it simple to empty trash and run a bag of it out any time we need to. That was not possible in the previous garage configuration. We have not yet experienced the luxury of parking in the garage, because we have some tools and building materials staged, there, but that’s going to be great. Another thing I love is the garage door and remotes, and being able to enter and leave through the garage, rather than clumping all the way down the driveway, walking around to the front of the house, and hiking up the front steps, there to track snow and much through my living room.

2. No drafty porch. The old porch was a drafty nightmare. It was enclosed, but did not hold heat or insulate at all. Two interior-style french doors separated the old porch from the living room, so all winter long there were these awful cold drafts, made worse when we let the dogs out, because you would have to open a french door, then go to the exterior door on the porch to let the dogs outside. The whole process lasted approximately three hours each time, which allowed a cubic buttload of cold winter air into the living room every time. We are so blissfully free of that aggravation we barely remember it. I think that cold draft may have been slowly wearing away at our marriage.

home improvement post

3. Central vacuum. We installed this in conjunction with the construction, at times in a great hurry, because it had to go in before the drywall went up, and the drywallers were here before we were half ready. Brent and I spent hours plotting out the runs of vacuum pipe. It was amazingly complicated, but we did it. Now that the pipe is in and the vacuum working, oh my god, it’s amazing. This weekend I vacuumed the whole house–including most of the added space–in about half an hour. We have six inlets total. Two are the kind you sweep into, and four that you plug a hose into. The sweeping kind is particularly awesome, as you can do a quick sweep of pet hair without getting the hose out of the closet. It’s also much quieter than a conventional vacuum, and it whisks dust away instead of stirring it up into the room.

4. New water line. Our house was built in 1924, and we knew early on that the old water supply line from the street was not going to support water pressure for our two new bathrooms. The cost was, if I recall correctly, about $3500, and I was not thrilled to pay it, but we had a new water supply line installed, and, again, it’s just wonderful. The shower now gushes water at a rate that I am sure is far above the government limit–as I “modified” the flow restrictor a few years ago to compensate for the bad water pressure. That combined with the searing hot, endless capacity water heater makes every shower a peak life experience. Lovin it.

5. Sunny spaces. The new rooms, although they are not finished, have become really nice areas to go and hang out in, especially the master bedroom, which has a floor and trim. (At this point it just needs a bit more paint and some closet fittings to be finished.) I’ve already moved a plant out there, and the cats spend hours and hours each day playing in that room. Glen practices his violin in there, because the cathedral ceiling makes for some very good accoustics.

6. House just looks great. With the exterior finished and painted, the house looks cute and friendly and welcoming. I enjoy coming home to it and we get many compliments from neighbors and passersby. In fact, over Thanksgiving weekend, we were very amused to see our house had become a sort of attraction on a neighborhood walking tour, as our neighbors were bringing their visiting family members by, standing across the street, gesturing broadly at the roof and walls and such.

At this point it’s a little hard to imagine actually living out in those rooms. They’ve become sort of a museum exhibit at this point–a space not wholly belonging to us. Even though it’s been quiet for a few weeks, I sometimes hear banging up there and assume it’s someone building something. (It’s always the cats.) But eventually it’s going to be really cool to be hanging out in there, doing what I’m doing now–blogging, surfing the web, chillaxin, whatever.