3 Lessons from My Father That Inspire My Writing

Last year, I shared a post about the lessons I’ve learned from my mother and how they inspire my writing. Today, I’d like to honor my other greatest role model with the most important lessons he’s taught me and how I apply them to my fiction. My family has played a large role in my life choices as well as my creativity, and much of that is thanks to the wisest man I know: my father!

So this week, I’d like to dedicate my creative writing post to the man who lovingly raised me by sharing three of my favorite lessons from him that inspire my stories. Enjoy, and thanks for the inspiration, Dad!

1) Real men respect women.

There’s a lot of debate around the question of what constitutes “being a man”. Some people measure masculinity through physical strength, others through intelligence or courage, and still others through power or wealth. Many even claim that the only requirement to make a man is a Y chromosome. My dad, however, seems to have his own idea of what it means to be a man. He’s not a big fan of sports (unless you count the tennis game in Wii Sports), he values wisdom coming from anyone, and he considers people who show off their wealth petty and obnoxious. In truth, the only men I’ve ever heard him call “not real men” are those accused of mistreating women.

If I learned anything from my dad, it’s that a real man knows his worth shouldn’t be measured by the power he can exert over women, but by how well he thrives when on equal footing with them. My whole life, my father was the only man in the house (even most of our pets were female!), yet from the respectful way he always treated his wife and daughters, I know any brothers I might have had growing up would be just as chivalrous today. That’s why the male heroes in my stories are always gentlemen who treat their female peers as equals and never look down on them in any way (the same can’t always be said for the villains). It’s a lesson my dad has been teaching me for as long as I can remember, and one I continue to work into my fiction to this day. If I expect to be treated decently by the men in my life, my heroines must demand no less from the men in theirs!

2) Whatever you do in life, strive to be happy.

One piece of advice my dad always gave me and my sisters was to “be happy”. That may sound vague, but what he really meant was that we should always make choices that lead to a positive and fulfilling life, in every possible aspect. Pursue a career in something you love doing. Marry a person – not “man”, “person” – who loves and respects you. Avoid people and situations that make you miserable. Tackle the problems you can solve and let go of the ones you can’t. In a nutshell, every decision must be made with a single clear goal in mind: being a happier person.

So I’ve tried to make choices that benefit my happiness. I’ve pursued writing and science because I love both. I’m in a relationship with someone who makes me laugh and who treats me like royalty. I work hard for the things I want and try to get past the things that make me unhappy (hard as it is much of the time). And I apply the same lesson to my stories: I give my characters clear ideas of what they want in life and the courage to jump through every hoop imaginable to get it. I once wrote a protagonist who was ready to throw everything else in her life away for the one thing she desired. Why? Because she knew it was the only thing that would make her happy.

As a writer, I’ve come to realize my father has essentially been telling me to be the heroine of my own comedy. And as long as I’m willing to pursue happiness above all else, my characters will continue to do the same.

3) A woman’s father is the most important male figure in her life.

Every girl, no matter how many strong women surround her, still needs a man in her life to serve as an example of what she should expect from all the other men she ever meets. Brothers, uncles, grandfathers, and even male friends can provide some insight, but no man is more influential in a woman’s life than her father. He’s the man who raised her, who watched her grow up, who was always there for her (or in many cases, wasn’t). He’s the first man who ever loved her and the only one guaranteed to love her forever. How can any other man hope to compare?

Princess Merida sharing a laugh with her father, King Fergus (Brave, 2012)

More often than not, the way a girl interacts with her father growing up will set the standard for how she interacts with men throughout her adult life. The relationship I have with my dad is one of my most valuable family ties because he’s more than just a cool dad to me; he’s a mentor and a friend. Our bond has made me the woman I am today and has served as inspiration for several father-daughter relationships in my fiction, and his wisdom continues to guide me and influence my stories about family. I’ve learned much from my mother and sisters, but my connection with my father will always be exceptional!

What about you? Have you ever been creatively inspired by your father’s lessons? What sorts of stories or poetry has he inspired?

Today’s post is dedicated to my father, whose love and lessons have always been a wonderful inspiration to me. Happy Birthday, Dad! I love you!

What If? Writing Prompts: Love and Peace IV

We’re halfway through February, so let’s continue celebrating the month of love with some new “What If?” Writing Prompts! This week’s set features more prompts in the theme of love and peace. See what hopeful stories you can spin from these ideas! Enjoy!

What if… all human beings were born with the instinct to love everyone?

What if… World Peace became a reality?

What if… all forms of art were used exclusively to cultivate a more positive and accepting society?

What if… everyone went out of their way to help strangers in need?

What if… people were psychologically incapable of feeling hatred?

Have fun creating your own stories about love and peace!

If you have any “What If?” writing prompt suggestions (for any theme), please feel free to share them in the comments below. Ideas I like may be featured in future “What If?” posts, with full credit and a link to your blog (if you have one)! Also, if you’ve written a piece based on an idea you’ve found here, be sure to link back to the respective “What If?” post. I would love to see what you’ve done with the prompt! Thank you!

6 of My Favorite Fictional Couples

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, which means many of us creative writers are thinking more than ever about romance (at least, I am). All the talk of love in the air has gotten me thinking about my favorite love stories and the characters who bring them to life. February is the perfect month for romantic inspiration, so it’s no wonder I always take this time to indulge in stories about my favorite fictional couples. To be honest, there are probably too many to count, but I’ve managed to narrow my current favorites down to a few that I’d love to write about!

So to celebrate the upcoming holiday, here’s a list of six of my favorite fictional couples and why I love them. Enjoy, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Warning: the following post may contain spoilers for Harry Potter, Pride and Prejudice, Friends, How I Met Your Mother, and The Hunger Games. Proceed with caution.

1) Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet

Could I really have started with any other couple? Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet has long been my favorite love story, so much so that I’ve written a post about it every year since I started blogging and even adapted the story into my own novel-length fanfiction (not sorry). It’s a tragic tale of passion thwarted by fate, and it may well be the most famous love story ever told.

Romeo and Juliet started out as lost and lonely teenagers who quickly found meaning for their lives in each other. They defied a generations-old feud through a forbidden love affair, complete with consummated marriage and the determination to be together at all costs. And though they didn’t get the happy ending they arguably deserved, they did immortalize themselves as the star-crossed young couple whose love finally ended years of violence and hatred. Love may not conquer all, but it’s still one of the most powerful forces on Earth!

2) Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger

To anyone who knows me well, it’s no secret that the Harry Potter books have been my favorite series since childhood. I grew up with J.K. Rowling’s beloved fantasy books and have been in love with her magical world for most of my life. Each new book was better than the last, and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I reached the second half of the series to find she had tossed the exact romantic subplot I wanted into the mix.

Ron and Hermione had a rocky start to their relationship, even as friends. Every Potter fan who read the entire series watched them grow from disgruntled acquaintances to close friends to jealous crushes to will-they-or-won’t-they admirers to romantic couple to happily married couple. It’s the perfect example of a childhood friend romance gone right, and Rowling couldn’t have done a better job of timing this beautiful love story all the way to its satisfying conclusion. Best friends forever indeed!

3) Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy

I finally got around to reading Pride and Prejudice last year, and I have to say it’s such a delightful story that I’ve ranked it among my favorite books ever. The story of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy is a complex tale of true love concealed beneath (and often obstructed by) a veil of manners and morality, with a hint of irony to comically highlight the incongruence between a charming demeanor and a good heart. These two are the ultimate proof that when it comes to romance, first impressions don’t matter as much as character, assuming both parties are willing to open their minds to humility and their hearts to the possibility of love where it’s least expected. Jane Austen was truly a master of romantic comedies!

4) Monica Geller and Chandler Bing

Ross and Rachel may have been the star couple of Friends, with their ten-season-long will-they-or-won’t-they story that culminated in a heartwarming “they will” (“I got off the plane!“), but my favorite romance in the series was the far more stable relationship between Monica and Chandler. After hooking up the night before Ross’s wedding in England, these two best friends embarked on a beautiful journey of love that became the saving grace of the show. You didn’t think viewers would hang around for ten seasons just to see Ross and Rachel get together for good, did you?

Monica and Chandler are a classic example of a romantic experiment that worked. While Friends didn’t start with the expectation of getting them together, their chemistry was so great from the earliest seasons that their entire relationship, from friendship to happy marriage, just felt natural and real. Sometimes true love really has been right in front of you all along!

5) Marshall Eriksen and Lily Aldrin

While diehard fans of How I Met Your Mother are still arguing over which couple was better in the Ted-Robin-Barney love triangle (Ted and Robin FTW!), I’m sure everyone can agree that Marshall and Lily were the most adorable pair in the series. Not only were they college sweethearts and each other’s first love, they maintained a loving and (mostly) stable relationship all the way to the show’s conclusion. From engagement to marriage to parenthood, these two continuously took on the challenges of a committed relationship and kept knocking them out of the park. And let’s be honest: while we all waited nine seasons for Ted to finally get to his happy ending, wasn’t it fun to watch Marshmallow and Lily Pad already living theirs? Seriously, cutest couple ever!

6) Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark

I admit it: I was one of the Hunger Games fans who cheered for Katniss and Peeta from the start. Not that I had anything against Katniss and Gale; I just preferred the dynamic between the two characters who were thrown into the Games together. Katniss has a strong spirit, which often manifests as a hardened demeanor and a refusal to show weakness through emotion. Peeta, on the other hand, is considerably softer and more sensitive, though no less strong in spirit than his fellow tribute. Their chemistry not only makes for an interesting relationship but a refreshing departure from the stereotypical “strong man, weak woman” pattern. An innovative love story for the novels’ young adult audience!

Over the course of three books/four movies, District 12’s “star-crossed” duo endure two Hunger Games and a revolution, through which they evolve from acquaintances to allies to a fake couple and finally emerge as a real couple in love. They go to hell and back for the greater cause at hand, but draw enough strength from each other to never lose themselves on the way (at least, not completely). So when these two finally earn their happy ending, you know it’s a love that’ll last. It seems the odds were in their favor after all!

What about you? Who are your favorite fictional couples? What love stories inspire your romantic fiction?

What If? Writing Prompts: Romance VI

Welcome to the first day of February! The month of love has rolled around once again, so why not start it off with some new “What If?” Writing Prompts? This week’s batch features prompts in the genre of – you guessed it – romance. See what love stories you can create from these ideas! Enjoy!

What if… you found your soulmate, but none of your family or friends approved of them?

What if… you were in love with someone who hated you?

What if… people had to rely on the intuition of animals to help them find their perfect match?

What if… marriage for love were banned?

What if… there were no such thing as love stories?

Have fun spinning more tales of love and romance!

If you have any “What If?” writing prompt suggestions (for any theme), please feel free to share them in the comments below. Ideas I like may be featured in future “What If?” posts, with full credit and a link to your blog (if you have one)! Also, if you’ve written a piece based on an idea you’ve found here, be sure to link back to the respective “What If?” post. I would love to see what you’ve done with the prompt! Thank you!

Off The Bookshelf: Pride and Prejudice

Welcome back to my Off The Bookshelf segment! It’s been almost a year since I’ve written a book review for my blog, which is a shame since I do love recommending my favorite novels. The good news is that I read several new books last year and plan to read even more this year, so I’ll have plenty of material to work with in 2017!

So today, I’d like to start off this year’s reviews with my favorite novel from my 2016 list: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen!

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

Summary

First printed in 1813, Pride and Prejudice is Jane Austen’s second published novel and one of the most beloved works in English literature. The novel follows the story of Elizabeth Bennet, an exceptionally clever young woman and the second of a country gentleman’s five daughters, as she navigates issues of manners, morality, education, and romance in the landed gentry society of the British Regency. Among her greatest challenges is dealing with Mr. Darcy, a gentleman with great wealth and even greater pride with whom she repeatedly clashes. As their relationship progresses, both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy come to learn that first impressions are often misleading, and that they must overcome their pride and their prejudices before the story can reach its happy conclusion.

Review

Every so often, you come across a story so well written, so absolutely brilliant that it draws you in from the first sentence and keeps you hooked to the very last page. Such was my experience with Pride and Prejudice, a literary masterpiece from a brilliant mind of the turn of the 19th century. Jane Austen’s novel is still beloved by many readers today, and with good reason: it’s a comedy that covers some of humanity’s most relatable issues – love, marriage, etiquette, wealth, and morals – all from the perspective of an astute young heroine who challenges and overcomes the obstacles of her social position to achieve her happy ending.

Movie poster for Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Naturally, a central theme in Elizabeth’s story is the difference between the superficial and the indispensable, as well as the emotional development that comes with learning to distinguish the two. After all, there’s a reason the novel was originally titled First Impressions. In the beginning, the protagonist has a habit of forming her opinions of people immediately and consolidating those opinions through selective observation, a practice she believes is a credit to her intelligence. As a result, she dislikes Mr. Darcy from the day she meets him and grows to despise him the more time she spends with him, while Mr. Wickham earns her favor instantly with his charm and apparent good breeding. Halfway through the story, however, Elizabeth discovers that her preconceptions of both gentlemen were misplaced, proving that appearance isn’t always the best indicator of worth. The same lesson is learned by Mr. Darcy, who initially believes his proud behavior to be justified but is promptly put in his place by a woman he once thought was beneath him. Fortunately, both these characters prove mature enough to shed their most prominent flaws in favor of the romance that will make them “the happiest couple in the world”. First impressions are powerful, but thankfully they don’t always stick!

Another of my favorite themes of the book is the only-too-familiar contrast between proper behavior and real character. Throughout the narrative, it’s made apparent that while everyone behaves politely, some characters only do so to maintain a respectable place in high society while others are genuinely good at heart. A notable example comes up during a scene in Netherfield: when Elizabeth arrives at the Bingleys’ estate to take care of her sister Jane, who has fallen ill, all three of her hosts smile and treat her with the utmost kindness and hospitality. The second she leaves the room, however, Caroline and Louisa start criticizing Elizabeth’s dirty clothes while Charles remarks on how much she must love her sister to have walked so far on muddy roads just to see her. Even among siblings, people can vary greatly in character, but good manners are universal!

Austen was always an expert at implementing irony and satire in her writing, and Pride and Prejudice is no exception. Being witty and lively by nature, much of Elizabeth’s perspective includes hints of criticism about her reality: the influence of her family’s low income on their social standing (e.g. Jane’s failed friendship with Caroline Bingley), the excessive pride of some of her wealthier acquaintances (e.g. the unintentional insults in Mr. Darcy’s proposal), marriage as a requirement for women to secure a respectable position in society (e.g. Charlotte Lucas agreeing to marry Mr. Collins, a man she doesn’t love). And while the author didn’t necessarily discourage the following of such social rules in her novels, she did present them in a comical light that at least called these societal standards into question.

Overall, Pride and Prejudice is a fantastic novel that I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys clever insights into human thoughts and behavior. For romantics and realists alike, this story has something for everyone and will surely continue to captivate audiences for generations, broadening our perceptions of the societal norms by which we live. To anyone who loves literature, it’s certainly an enlightening and delightfully entertaining read!

Inspiration

Ms. Austen’s beloved novel is one of those classic pieces of fiction that remains relevant long after its time. Though the story takes place in the early 19th century, its themes of social conduct, proper etiquette, and first impressions are still universal in the modern world. Whenever I need inspiration for character development, I know I can turn to an Austen novel for insight on general behavior and the restrictions of polite society to better understand how people think and function in everyday life. Basically, Pride and Prejudice is an excellent example of a point I’ve made in the past: that historical fiction can show us the elements of human nature that don’t change over time.

If you’re a historical fiction author or a writer of stories about the human condition, Pride and Prejudice will definitely be a great source of inspiration for your characters, whether they’re 19th-century country folk, 21st-century city dwellers, or anything in between. The greatest stories are those that explore what it means to be human, which makes it no surprise that this novel always appears near the top of best-books-ever-written lists. So if you haven’t yet, I strongly urge you to pick up a copy of Pride and Prejudice and see for yourself what a delightful read it truly is. You may find to your amazement that despite having lived so long ago, Jane Austen can still teach you a thing or two about the ironies of your economic and social reality!

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