Update on the Dragon Story Experiment: More Beta Reader Feedback + Final Draft in Progress

It’s been another month since my last update on my dragon stories! Last time, I shared some of the feedback I’d received from beta readers on my first two stories while the last one had yet to be edited and sent out. After sending out all three stories and receiving more feedback from readers, here’s another quick update on my project and where I plan to go from here!

Beta Reader Feedback

So far, all three of my stories have been very well received! Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re perfect, and my beta readers certainly had some great notes to share over the past several weeks!

Based on their feedback, it seems a couple of my biggest weaknesses in writing are passive voice and awkward sentences. This isn’t really a surprise; I’ve caught myself favoring passive voice over active voice more times than I’d care to admit, and even I find some of my own sentences awkward after a few rounds of editing. Despite everything I’ve learned about writing, I still have a handful of bad habits to break!

One thing that did surprise me was someone’s comment that the action in “Defender” was written very well. Action scenes have long been one of the areas I’ve felt least confident in, so hearing that my extra effort paid off definitely put a spring in my step that day! I was also surprised to hear that “Beastly Pains” is very reminiscent of the fable of “The Lion and the Mouse” (not that this is a bad thing, I just hadn’t realized it), and that “The Silver Queen” made one of my readers cry!

Overall, although there have been a couple of comments here and there that were hard to hear, I’m extremely grateful to the readers who have taken the time to read my stories and give feedback. Every comment, both positive and negative, helps me become a better writer!

Final Edits + Publication

Although my stories are technically still open for feedback from beta readers, I’m already getting started on the final drafts. Once those are done, I plan to assemble them into a single ebook and publish it on Kindle!

Now before you say anything, I know this sounds a little crazy. What am I thinking publishing these stories without giving them to an editor first?

Well, as I’ve hinted at before, this isn’t so much a true self-publishing venture as it is an experiment. I’m planning to use these stories to test certain aspects of self-publishing and see how readers respond to my writing so I can learn from the experience. I promise I have no intention of publishing my future “real” books without handing them over to a professional editor first! That would be insane!

The main reason I’m okay with putting this book out there in such a raw state is that I’m going to be rebranding myself as an author soon. This will be the only book I publish under my current name; after my upcoming blog relaunch, I’ll be focusing on a fresh series of stories to properly self-publish under my new author name, hopefully with a little more wisdom about the process!

What blog relaunch and new author name, you ask? You’ll have to wait until next week to learn more. 😉

Thanks again to all my beta readers for your feedback! If you’re not one of my beta readers yet but would like to be, you still have time to sign up for my mailing list! Once my final drafts are nearly ready, I’ll be closing my list, so be sure to sign up soon!

3 Pieces of Advice No Writer Should Ever Forget

Writing is incredibly rewarding, but it can also be extremely challenging. Every artist is unique and every writer has their reasons for wanting to write, yet there are some pieces of advice that hold true for all creative spirits. Whenever you find yourself at a low point, reminding yourself of this advice may be the motivation you need to get back to writing!

So for those of you who so nobly chose to be writers, here are three pieces of advice you should never forget. Enjoy, and stay motivated!

1) Writing isn’t always easy, but you should do it anyway.

I hate writing. I love having written. – Dorothy Parker / every writer ever

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: writing is the hardest thing ever! Not always, but enough of the time to disillusion the most resilient of idealists.

Writing has its ups and downs. Sometimes inspiration strikes and you stay up until 3 a.m. finishing your latest chapter. Other times you get stuck or work for days straight only to have to throw all those pages out by the final draft. It’s enough to drive anyone crazy!

And yet you keep writing anyway. Why? Because deep down you know that even at its worst, writing is worth doing. It’s liberating. It exercises your imagination. It’s one of the greatest ways to express yourself. And you just love it. As much as you hate it sometimes, you love it. And if you can turn that passion into something beautiful? Well, congratulations: you’re a true writer!

Why do you write? Only you can answer that question for yourself. But whatever the reason you became a writer, it matters. So make it count.

2) The first audience you should ever try to please is yourself.

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. – Cyril Connolly

This may seem obvious, but at some point in the writing process, many writers fall into the trap of people-pleasing. Will my friends and family like this? Will my editor like this? Will my target audience like this? What if nobody likes it? Maybe I should change it.

Yes, writing with an audience in mind is important: we want readers to love our work so we can sell more books and be successful. The trick is finding the overlap between what people want to read and what you want to write.

Maybe you want to capitalize on the latest trends in fiction or adjust your style to appeal to a wider audience. But if you try to write an edgy dystopian sci-fi novel when you only like writing Christian historical romance, the quality of your work will suffer. Readers can tell when your heart isn’t in it.

Whenever you sit down to write something new, make sure it’s a story you want to tell. Otherwise you’ll end up with a book that you didn’t want to write and that no one wants to read—nobody wins. Write for yourself first, worry about everyone else later.

3) It doesn’t matter if it’s been done before; if it’s never been done by you, go for it!

There is no one alive who is Youer than You. – Dr. Seuss, Happy Birthday to You!

Human beings are funny creatures. We encourage individuality and freedom of expression, yet we do everything in our power to fit in with everyone else just so we can be accepted by our peers.

As much as art thrives on individuality, writers suffer from this conflict too. We want to stand out, but we can’t be too different or no one will read our books. As a result, many of us find ourselves caught in the dilemma of wanting to tell a story but worrying that “it’s been done before.”

But here’s the truth: it’s not so much about the story you tell as it is about how you tell it.

Think about it: if Shakespeare already wrote the quintessential story of forbidden love with Romeo & Juliet, then how did West Side Story win so many awards? If anyone can just read a history book or a Wikipedia article, then why is it virtually impossible to get tickets to see Hamilton? Why do people continue to write novels and make movies when every work of fiction can be boiled down to one of seven basic plots?

Simple: the story may be the same at its core, but the way it’s told makes it different and interesting. In other words, it’s your voice that will make your story unique.

The fact is that every story told since the Age of Antiquity has already been done. What matters is that it’s never been done by you. No one else has your voice, so don’t be afraid to let the world hear it.

What advice about writing do you find most helpful? What other pieces of advice would you add to this list?

Five More Awesome Female Video Game Characters

Last week, I celebrated International Women’s Day by sharing a list of five awesome female protagonists in video games, characters who lead their games with the strength and style that make us gamer girls proud. Now I’d like to acknowledge five more female characters in video games who are just as amazing, even if they’re not the main characters of their games. Badass women come in many forms and character roles!

So continuing from last week’s theme, here are five more awesome female video game characters! Enjoy!

1) Princess Zelda (The Legend of Zelda series)

Link… You may not be at a point where you have fully recovered your power or all of your memories, but courage need not be remembered, for it is never forgotten. – Zelda before the final boss battle in Breath of the Wild

After Lara Croft and Samus Aran, Princess Zelda may be one of the most famous female video game characters of all time. Since the release of the first The Legend of Zelda in 1986, both Zelda and Link have undergone various incarnations, though a few traits remain the same across all games in the series: while Link is always a brave hero, Zelda is always a kind and wise ruler.

Though it’s easy to dismiss her as yet another princess akin to Mario’s damsels in distress, Princess Zelda has a lot more going for her than a pretty face. The mortal incarnation of the goddess Hylia, every Zelda is extremely benevolent and wields the Triforce of Wisdom, making her wise beyond her years and a highly capable leader of Hyrule. In fact, the reason she even needs rescuing in the first place is usually that she willingly sacrificed herself to protect her people, a selfless act that takes immeasurable strength. As Zelda clearly demonstrates, kindness is not weakness.

Of course, the beloved princess of Hyrule is not completely defenseless. Several of her incarnations have magical abilities that she often uses to seal away evil and help Link defeat Ganon. She also shows great intellectual prowess in Breath of the Wild, as several of Link’s memories of her reveal she was a curious and devoted scholar. Link may be the player character of the series, but there’s a good reason the games are named after Zelda!

2) Undyne (Undertale)

For the sake of the whole world… I, UNDYNE, will strike you down! You’re gonna have to try a little harder than THAT. – Undyne in the Genocide Route

Heck yeah, I’m Undertrash! Released by Toby Fox in 2015, the indie RPG Undertale took the world by storm for its unique take on video game violence and morality: the only way to “win” the game is by not killing anyone!

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, some characters make this harder than it seems, and the most notorious of all is the Captain of the Royal Guard, Undyne.

About halfway through the game, players are forced into a battle against this super-powerful fish monster, who by now has chased your human player character across a sizable stretch of the monster world. From this point on, it becomes clear that Undyne values justice and honor above all else: she offers you a spear for self-defense to make the battle fair, she lets you go when she no longer sees you as a threat, and she later admits that she was conflicted about fighting an innocent human but chose to do so for the greater good of all monsterkind. Heroes have to make tough choices!

Lucky for us that Undyne turns out to be so cool, because with her incredible fighting skills and sheer determination, she could easily kill us if she really wanted to. No wonder all the monster children look up to her!

3) GLaDOS (Portal)

Okay, look, we both said a lot of things that you’re going to regret. But I think we can put our differences behind us. For science. You monster. – GLaDOS after your “reunion”

Sing it with me! “This was a triumph…”

Okay, maybe the whole “The Cake is a Lie” meme has been overplayed, but GLaDOS is still one of my favorite video game villains ever. When a supercomputer is out to kill you, you at least want her to have a sense of humor about it!

The original Portal is very simplistic in its design: you play as a test subject named Chell navigating an empty lab with nothing but a portal gun and the voice of the AI GLaDOS to guide you. The game starts out as a series of fun puzzles as you progress through the test chambers, but takes a dark turn when GLaDOS’s true colors come to light—unless, you know, lowering test subjects into an incinerator was standard practice for Aperture Laboratories.

Despite her obvious psychopathy, GLaDOS has achieved fame as one of the most popular video game villains ever created. Her dry wit and sarcasm make for some hilarious one-liners, and the fact that she’s the only other character in the game besides the silent human protagonist amplifies her passive-aggressive nature to fill the entire game. She also seems to have a genuine interest in science and even shows some signs of admiration and affection for Chell by the end of Portal 2. To say their relationship is complicated is a bit of an understatement.

Thanks to the lovable personality behind her murderous tendencies, it’s only too easy to get attached to this sassy robotic serial killer. Indeed, the final encounter with GLaDOS is considered one of the hardest boss battles in video game history—not because it’s technically difficult, but because players are very conflicted about killing her, myself included. Can you say Stockholm syndrome?

4) Tracer (Overwatch)

Cheers, love! The cavalry’s here! – Tracer’s “character selection” catchphrase

Overwatch is so popular that even if you’ve never played the game yourself, you’ve almost definitely seen this character before. Though she’s part of a diverse cast of characters, each of whom is awesome in their own right, it’s easy to see why Tracer is the face of the game. Cheerful and badass make a lovable combination!

Born Lena Oxton, Tracer’s backstory reveals she was the youngest pilot in Overwatch’s experimental flight program. After an accident left her desynchronized from the flow of time, she was anchored back in the present by Winston’s chronal accelerator, which gave her the ability to speed up or slow down her own time at will. Talk about a cool superpower!

Even after Overwatch’s dissolution, Tracer continues to be a hero and fight for justice everywhere she goes. She is fearless and determined while always remaining positive and energetic. And to top it all off, she has a girlfriend, making her a strong role model for the LGBTQ community! Tracer represents a lot of different character types, but most notably of all, she represents the optimistic hero any one of us can be!

5) Ms. Pac-Man (Ms. Pac-Man)

Okay, so this entry is more about the game than the character, but I still think it’s a noteworthy addition to the list. Samus Aran may have been the first female protagonist in a mainstream console video game, but Ms. Pac-Man was the first female video game protagonist ever!

Following the success of Pac-Man, Midway Games produced their own version of the Namco smash hit in 1982, which featured a female protagonist, new mazes, and several gameplay improvements. The result was Ms. Pac-Man, an even more challenging and entertaining version of Pac-Man that became the most successful American-produced arcade game of its year.

While Ms. Pac-Man may not have been the game to draw large numbers of women to the arcade scene, it was a tribute to all the female gamers who helped make the original Pac-Man such a success. If anything, Ms. Pac-Man brought more recognition to female players in what was often perceived as a male hobby; after Pac-Man, the most popular arcade games among women were Berzerk and Space Invaders, but Ms. Pac-Man was the first game that unapologetically catered to a female audience and pushed gaming a little closer to a gender-neutral future.

To be fair, Toru Iwatani intended for Pac-Man to be asexual so as to appeal to men and women equally; it was only after the release of Ms. Pac-Man that players were forced to think of the original character as male, which has sparked some controversy around the newer character. Still, the fact that Ms. Pac-Man was the first unequivocally female character in a video game was groundbreaking, and her game remains one of the most popular arcade games of all time. Say what you will about her character design, but Ms. Pac-Man marked a significant step forward for gamer girls everywhere!

Who are your favorite female video game characters? What other characters would you add to this list?

Five Awesome Female Video Game Protagonists

International Women’s Day is this week, a time to celebrate women and all the awesomeness we bring to the world! Last year, I wrote a series of blog posts about awesome female characters in fiction, most of which focused on Disney princesses and heroines. So this year, I figured it would be fun to continue that series into the theme of video games!

So to celebrate Women’s Day, here are five awesome female protagonists in video games! Enjoy!

1) Aloy (Horizon Zero Dawn)

I would have wanted her to be curious. And willful—unstoppable, even. But with enough compassion to heal the world. Just a little bit. – Dr. Elisabet Sobeck

Shortly after its release in February 2017, Horizon Zero Dawn quickly became one of PlayStation’s best-selling games of all time. And with good reason: it’s amazing! This masterpiece by Guerrilla Games boasts everything from a compelling story to an engaging open world to awesome gameplay, but the greatest feature at the heart of the game is undoubtedly its player character, Aloy.

An outcast since birth in a post-post-apocalyptic world, Aloy has been determined to find out where she came from for as long as she can remember. The game introduces her character as a child, and by the time she becomes the young woman we were shown in the E3 trailers, we’re already fully on board with her quest for answers.

Aloy turns out to be an important piece to the puzzle of what happened to the world, so it’s no secret that her story eventually shifts from a personal journey to a quest to save humanity. Fortunately, the game’s excellent pacing keeps us thoroughly engaged with her character as we guide her toward the answers she so desperately wants. We come to love Aloy as much for her strength and determination as for her intelligence and compassion, until her triumphs are every bit as emotionally satisfying for us as they are for her.

Rarely has a game ever pulled me in as deeply as Horizon Zero Dawn has, and I know beyond a doubt that Aloy’s character is to thank for that. With such a strong spirit and a big heart to match, it’s no wonder she’s now one of my favorite video game characters of all time!

2) Ellie (The Last of Us)

Everyone I have cared for has either died or left me. Everyone… f***ing except for you! So don’t tell me that I would be safer with someone else, because the truth is I would just be more scared. – Ellie to Joel after he tries to leave her with Tommy

If you’ve played through the prologue of The Last of Us without crying, then congratulations: you officially have no soul.

Among the many factors that have earned this game over 200 Game of the Year awards, The Last of Us has been praised for its fantastic story, which follows the journey of middle-aged Joel and 14-year-old Ellie across a post-apocalyptic North America.

While the opening quest that reveals Joel’s backstory is tragic, most of the emotional weight of the game lies in his growing relationship with Ellie. What starts as an escort mission soon becomes a bereaved father coming to see this brave young girl as a daughter. Ellie, in turn, comes to see Joel as a father figure, and by the time they reach their destination at the end of the game, their bond has become unbreakable.

Though Joel is the main player character of the game, Ellie is an equally interesting character to whom we can’t help but become emotionally attached as we play through the story. Time and again, she proves herself courageous, clever, and resourceful. Her tenacity and attachment to Joel are most evident in the Winter act of the story, the only part of the game when we play as her and experience firsthand how mentally and emotionally strong she is as she struggles to save his life. She may be a teenager, but Ellie is nothing if not a true survivor!

3) Samus Aran (Metroid series)

But among the stars, there is one light that burns brighter than all others. The light of Samus Aran. Her battles extend beyond her life, and etch themselves into history. – Metroid Prime intro

You can’t write a list of noteworthy female video game characters without including Samus Aran! If you only know one thing about the Metroid series, it’s probably the reveal at the end of the original game that the super-powerful player character hidden in the power suit was a woman all along. Talk about a jaw-dropping moment!

Video games have come a long way since the androcentric ’80s when this twist was a big deal, but Samus is still revered as the first female protagonist in a mainstream video game, paving the way for the rest of the characters on this list and many more.

Throughout most of the Metroid series, this galactic bounty hunter is typically portrayed as powerful, brave, and tenacious, with a wide array of abilities and enough skill with them to defend the galaxy from the Space Pirates mostly by herself. Controversy and recent revelations about her character aside, there’s no doubt that Samus is one badass lady!

4) Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)

A famous explorer once said that the extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are. I’d finally set out to make my mark, to find adventure. But instead, adventure found me. – Lara Croft, Tomb Raider (2013)

With a new Tomb Raider movie coming to theaters next week, it only makes sense to include this character on the list! Mention female video game characters and Lara Croft is one of the first names to come to mind. It’s no surprise, really; when you’ve been portrayed in a film by none other than Angelina Jolie, you know you’ve hit iconic status!

Admittedly, Croft has been a subject of controversy since the first Tomb Raider‘s release in 1996. She’s been described as a tabula rasa-type character in earlier games and even a negative role model for girls due to her widespread status as a sex symbol in the video game community. However, she does deserve some praise for being an archeologist/adventurer, a line of work that requires a great amount of independence, intelligence, courage, and resourcefulness, all of which she has in spades!

Sure, Lara Croft’s adventurous spirit may not be the reason young boys have hung posters of her in their bedrooms for years, but it is one reason she shouldn’t be written off as just another over-sexualized female video game character with zero personality (God knows there are too many of those as it is). Hopefully the upcoming Tomb Raider film will do this awesome character justice!

5) Red (Transistor)

Look, whatever you’re thinking, do me a favor: don’t let go. – The Transistor to Red

I’ll be honest: Transistor is one of the few video games that have ever made me cry. And not just a few tears, either; I’m talking waterfalls. Supergiant Games are masters of emotional storytelling.

Set in a futuristic city called Cloudbank, Transistor follows a singer named Red on her quest for revenge against the people who stole her voice and killed her lover. Armed with the Transistor—the giant sword-like weapon with which she was almost assassinated and which now contains the consciousness of her fallen lover (it makes sense in context)—Red fights her way through a robotic army known as the Process. As we guide this mute singer through the city, we uncover details about the world and her backstory in the files she collects in the Transistor. We also get to watch her kick some serious butt after setting up an attack sequence for her in the Turn() function. Awesome!

As the story unfolds, we learn that Red was a highly influential figure in Cloudbank, her music being powerful enough to stir controversy and even trigger altercations at her shows. In the present, she proves to be as strong-willed as her voice was intoxicating, ignoring the Transistor’s initial pleas for her to escape the city and fearlessly charging into battle against the Process to avenge him and uncover her attackers’ mysterious motives.

What’s especially interesting about Red is that, unlike the other characters on this list, she wasn’t trained in combat or raised in a hostile environment that left her hardened and cynical. She was a successful artist who had the two most important things in her life taken from her. The fact that she chooses to face her enemies, despite the odds being stacked against her, instead of hide in a corner and cry speaks volumes about her strength of character. You don’t have to be a soldier to know that love is worth fighting for!

What are your thoughts on these female video game protagonists? Any others you would add to this list?

Beta Reader Feedback: Update on the Dragon Story Experiment

It’s been a month since I called for beta readers for my short stories about dragons. (Calls are still open, by the way! If you’re interested, check out my original post here.)

After sharing what my self-publishing experiment is all about, now is a good time for an update on my stories and the feedback I’ve received from beta readers so far! So how have my stories been faring?

Short Story #1: “Defender”

The first story I lined up for my beta readers is “Defender”, a story about a battle between a dragon and a knight as told from the dragon’s point of view. This one is the most recent of the three; I first published this story on my blog in January 2017. It started as a simple 1000-word story, but after expanding on the action during editing, it doubled in length to 2000 words!

Of my three dragon stories, this one may be my favorite. The feedback on this story has been overwhelmingly positive so far! Obviously, the exclusively positive comments have come from family and friends, but I did receive some constructive feedback from a couple of readers, which was great! I’ll definitely be sure to consider their notes for the final edit!

Short Story #2: “Beastly Pains”

My second story is “Beastly Pains”, a story about a boy who is cornered by a dragon and has to negotiate his way out of being eaten. This one is the oldest of my three stories; I first shared it in a writing community in early 2014. It started at about 2000 words long, but after editing, it grew to around 2200 words.

This one took me over a week longer than I expected to edit, mostly because my writing has greatly improved over the last few years, so there was a lot to delete and change! I sent it out to my beta readers at the end of last week, so I’ve only received constructive feedback from one reader so far (again, family and friends don’t count). Her notes were very helpful and I look forward to using them to improve the final draft of the story!

Short Story #3: “The Silver Queen”

My third story is “The Silver Queen”, a story about an outcast dragon looking for a way to fit in. I’m particularly proud of this story because it won an honorable mention in a short story contest back in 2014. It’s currently sitting at about 2000 words but may end up slightly longer in the final beta draft.

I’m still editing this one (thanks to the delay with “Beastly Pains”), so I haven’t yet sent it out to my beta readers. Though I have no feedback to report right now, I am confident it will be well received, if for no other reason than I was definitely inspired when I wrote it! I plan to send it out within the next week. Hopefully my beta readers will like it!

To those of you who have been beta reading my stories this month, thank you so much for your time and feedback! You’re awesome!

Not my beta reader yet but interested in being one? Sign up for my beta readers’ list!

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