Saturday, January 31, 2015

Practice Writing

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Authors don't like the idea of doing a work specifically for practice, especially a long one. I mean, if you're like me, and a rough draft takes you about a year, do you really want that to just be practice? Well, whether I wanted it to or not, that "novel", really a novella, was practice. After looking at it a year later, I no longer hate it, but I know that it was still practice. Everything we write is practice, really.
     This process is particularly important for beginning writers, because, let's face it, how do we know that anything we write is publishable? I'm sure mine isn't. And so, I plan to write several books for practice, focusing mostly on my weak points, and once I am writing at a publishable skill level, I will then turn my practice novels into "real" novels. So don't feel like you're doing an injustice to your brilliant idea by making it a practice novel. All that means is that you're going into it with a mindset to learn, and without the intention of publishing it immediately.
     Just because it was written for practice doesn't mean that you can't publish it later. For example, I'm currently trying to find a good idea for a practice novel meant to improve my plotting abilities because that is my weakest trait. But trust me, a few books from now, I'll come back to it and make it publishable.

     Why Practice?

     My three favorite authors are Tolkien, Christopher Paolini, and J. K. Rowling. Yeah, I know, going with the mainstream. Anyway, Tolkien is the only one of those three whose books don't have obvious jumps in quality. Eldest is a better book than Eragon. Brisingr is a far better book than Eldest. And Inheritance manages to be a better book yet. Similarly, Rowling made many rookie mistakes in her first books that made problems for the later ones. On the other hand, The Lord of the Rings as a series is fantastic. There's no real change in quality between the three, though some might argue that The Two Towers has the traditional mid-series slump.
     Why is this? Well, look at the way they published them. Rowling finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone and published it. She finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, published that. And so on. Paolini did the same thing, but Tolkien worked on his series for years, writing and re-writing them as a series. He didn't publish The Fellowship of the Ring until the rest of the series was pretty much, or possibly completely, finished. In fact, Return of the King was published less than a year and a half after The Fellowship of the Ring, which may have been to give people a chance to read the earlier books.
     How did this help him? Well, putting aside the fact that he spent twelve years on the series, he also had the practice of writing all three, when he was re-writing the first one. He was able to learn from each book, and apply it, because the books were still in his hands, and changeable. For the same reason, I recommend that writers not publish a single book until they have completed at least three, and by completed, I don't mean the rough draft. That way, you can do the learning, become a good writer, and then fix up your early books so that they don't hurt your name and/or series.

     How to Practice?

     When writing a practice novel, what do you do? How can you maximize your learning? Well, first, remember that every book you write is a learning experience, but, when you are writing a novel specifically to learn, you should change things a little.

  1. Decide what you are trying to learn. It is very important to know what, specifically, you are trying to improve. For example, I am trying to improve my plotting skills, so I should choose something plot-heavy. This could mean a mystery or thriller, which are naturally plot-based, or simply doing my usual genre, but outlining and thinking of plot more. It could even mean writing a serial story with both episode-sized plots and overarching plots. If you're trying to improve character interaction and emotion, try a romance, or a book focusing on the main character learning a lesson.
  2. Choose something you care about. You may be here to learn, but you aren't going to learn much if you lose all motivation because you didn't like the story in the first place. It can be hard to find the balance between something that will help you and something you will enjoy writing, but it is usually better to err on the side of liking it. If in doubt, ask a fellow writer and see if they think it will challenge you enough.
  3. Research. "What?" you say, "Why do I have to research? What if I'm doing something completely speculative?" Well, you should still research. Not for your book, necessarily, but on what you are trying to improve. Find some tips about plot/characterization/description/whatever, and put them into action.
  4. Be willing to compromise. This is probably the hardest for me. Even if it might feel like you are breaking or crushing your idea a little, you need to focus on learning. This may mean lots of different things, such as following a very strict outline, or perhaps putting in things that feel like they don't belong. This is okay. It's a practice novel, and you will change it later. It may not feel right, but this is not your finished product anyway. Go through the process, learn what you came to learn, and fix it when you decide you are ready to write publishable material, and then you will give it its true form.
  5. WRITE! This is the most important part. Go and WRITE it! Don't stop part way through, don't put it off, write it. This is a practice novel, and you will learn from what you do, even if only subconsciously. That means that if you don't finish it, or never even start, you are building a habit, and that habit is extremely hard to break, trust me, I know from experience. So go and write your novel.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have an art contest open for submissions, see the guidelines here.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

How to Draw Hair, Catsi-Style

Post by Catsi Eceer, co-founder

Yes, you get to deal with my art skills again today. I haven't posted a tutorial in a good long while, so I figured I might as well put one together for you guys.

I will warn you ahead of time. My style has changed a bit since the last time I posted a tutorial, and I'm not sure if it qualifies as manga anymore. It's mostly just Catsi-style now.

On to today's topic: Hairstyles.

Or, to be more specific, Hairstyles that Define Character. "Character" being personality, in this instance. Something I tend to do when designing a character is just throw on the first hairstyle that comes to mind. While this does work sometimes, most of the time putting a bit of thought into how your character's hair looks will help whoever is looking at the drawing later know what personality that character has--just from a headshot!

Obviously, facial expression, pose, etc., are also helpful in conveying expression. But don't underestimate the power of a hairstyle.

(On a drawing. Forget hairstyles in real life--I'm too lazy busy to do anything with my hair. :P)

Step One - A face. Or three.
What is this? Three faces?

Yes. Lucky you gets three tutorials in one. I felt like further demonstrating how a hairstyle determines character, so I decided to draw three different examples.

Take your time with this step. If you're not confident in your blank-face drawing abilities, google a tutorial specifically on that. Or if you really, really want to, you can use the one I did last year on the subject.

Once you've got your basic face, and some rough guidelines to place your features later on, you can move on to the next step.

Step Two - Hairline.

Here is the first part of determining character. There are all sorts of different hairlines and parts. They can be straighter, pointed, even... Have fun with it! Put the part wherever you want. (Poppy's part is straight down the center, so it kind of merges with the guidelines.)

Annie's part has a line going perpendicular to the rest of it, because her hair will eventually be in a braid. The hair that's not a part of her bangs goes straight back, although it will still slightly follow the part line.

Step Three - Add front part of hair.

This step looks a little messy, because there are a lot of lines on a small drawing. Go ahead and zoom in a bit to get a better idea of where they're all coming from.

Basically, start at the part or hairlines, and start adding the hair in. Now is the time to choose whether the hair is straight, curly, or wavy; pick the one that shows your character's personality best. The bang style will also show personality.

(See how this is all coming together already? Rachael is obviously a more spunky, walk-to-my-own-beat person, Annie looks prim and proper, and Poppy just looks like she ran her fingers through her hair and called it a day.)

Step Four - Add the rest of the hair. I also gave them necks, because floating heads look really creepy at this point.

Now you get to decide where the rest of the hair is going. Is it long, short, or somewhere in the middle? Does she prefer it loose, or thrown back into a ponytail, or does she spend a lot of time putting it into some elaborate hairstyle? Or maybe she has someone to do it for her...

(If you have a royal character, this is the time to really have fun with the hairstyle. Delicate braids, curls and beads, and anything else that strikes your fancy!)

Step Five - Add details.
This step actually isn't hairstyle related. Just add character-specific details, facial features, and some clothing on the shoulders. (I won't go off on another spiel on clothing being equally important for defining character... Hopefully you already know that.)

I was also getting severely irritated by the fact that the faces were lopsided, so I cleaned that up in this picture as well.

Step Six - Clean up the lines and ink!
 Dark the lines you want to keep, and erase the rest. Or if you're drawing digitally, like I was, make a new layer and go over all the good lines. Delete the other layers, and voila! You have a finished drawing.

I'm not done coloring them yet, otherwise I'd post that as well. Maybe I'll save it for a coloring tutorial sometime...

Any questions? Comments? I'd love to hear from you! And I'd also love to see your art. Post a link to your blog in the comments, or if you'd rather, email me the picture at windowtothesoulcontests[at] I love seeing what you guys come up with! :)

We have an art contest open for submissions, see the guidelines here.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

How to Write a Spenserian Sonnet

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     We've already shown how to write the two most common sonnets, so here's a slightly less known one. The Spenserian sonnet was invented by Edmund Spenseras, the author of The Faerie Queene, and has a rhyme pattern of ABAB BCBC CDCD EE. Each stanza tends to show or develop a single idea. Here's an example:

Sonnet LIV

Of this World's theatre in which we stay,
My love like the Spectator idly sits,
Beholding me, that all the pageants play,
Disguising diversely my troubled wits.

Sometimes I joy when glad occasion fits,
And mask in mirth like to a Comedy;
Soon after when my joy to sorrow flits,
I wail and make my woes a Tragedy.

Yet she, beholding me with constant eye,
Delights not in my mirth nor rues my smart;
But when I laugh, she mocks: and when I cry
She laughs and hardens evermore her heart.

What then can move her? If nor mirth nor moan,
She is no woman, but a senseless stone.

     Can you see the individual ideas in each stanza? The first sort of sets the scene as a part of the stage. The second talks about the emotions he feels, and the third talks about how his love reacts to it. (Raises the question, why does he love her?) The last one shows his conclusion.
     This poem has a cool progressive sound due to the rhyme. This poem type doesn't have a specific meter, but the lines are about the same length. Like many poems, you could change it by having the last line of each stanza much shorter or the last two lines much shorter, or longer.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have an art contest open for submissions, see the guidelines here.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Character Development Tip I Learned from Divergent

Post by Catsi Eceer, co-founder

Hello all, sorry I'm a day late. *winces* I spent the weekend at a friend's house to celebrate her birthday, and, of course, forgot to write a post beforehand.

I read Divergent by Veronica Roth last week, and watched the movie with my friend yesterday. While I must admit that I'm not unduly impressed by either, it did get me thinking. There were several very interesting aspects of the movie, and-- at least in the book--a good deal of character development. I felt that I actually knew the characters, though really, there wasn't a lot of "developing" that I could see. (Tris, to be honest, seemed rather flat for the majority of the story.)

I sat for a while and thought about it. What is it about these characters that make them feel more real than so many others in different stories?

Answer: We see their fears.

It's such a simple thing, really. What is your character afraid of? Four is afraid of four things: heights, small spaces, killing an innocent, and his father. Tris's list is a little more extensive, but to the same effect--we see what she's afraid of, and we see her.

After I'd finished ranting to my friend about how terribly the movie had ruined several of the characters, I pulled out a piece of paper and started making a few lists. (Because I love lists. I really do.) I grabbed a few of my nearest characters, and wrote down all of their fears.

(And I'm proud to say that one of them only has three fears. Take that, Four.)

Here's an exercise for all of you: Open up a Word document, or find a notebook and a pencil. Write your character's name at the top of the page, and then list everything they're afraid of. Every last thing. If you feel like going deeper, try to figure out why they're afraid of those things.

Was that hard? For an undeveloped character, it probably was. Even for a character you thought was developed before, it might have been a very difficult exercise. Fears are harder for us to give our characters. We might give them one or two random fears, like fear of spiders or claustrophobia, or maybe a deeper fear for those particularly messed up ones--fear of their abusive parent, or of being forced to hurt someone they love.

But you know what? Everyone's afraid of something.

Most everyone is afraid of several somethings, actually. I, for one, am afraid of scorpions, swimming in places I can't see the bottom of, heights, small spaces, being trapped, calling adults on the phone (yes, go ahead and laugh; I'm used to it), and losing one of my family members.

Does your character seem more real now that you know their fears? They should. Humans are fearful creatures; seeing someone with weaknesses similar to our own helps us bond with characters far faster than with a character who seems perfect.

So take your list, and figure out how to show those fears in your writing. Make your character fear, and make them human.

What are some of your character's fears? How do you show those fears in your writing?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

How to Write a Rondeau Poem

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Let me guess what you're thinking. "What the heck is a rondeau? Is that French?" Now let me answer. A rondeau is a kind of poem, nowadays with fifteen lines, containing only two rhymes, three of which are refrains. And yes, it's French.
     So, once again, what the heck is a rondeau? They're actually fairly complicated poems, but luckily, the meters are completely variable, so you can ignore that. They have three stanzas, the first being five, the second being four, and the last being six.
     Now, it only has two rhymes, meaning you're going to be using the same ending over and over again. Plus, each stanza has a refrain, which starts with the first line, and continuing with the last line of the other two. (I know, this is complicated.) By the way, a refrain is when the entire line is repeated. These poems also have a tendency to use the same words at the end of the lines, unlike most poems, which try to avoid that. Here's a visual aid:

1 A (Refrain)
2 A
3 B
4 B
5 A

6 A
7 A
8 B
9 A (Refrain)

10 A
11 A
12 B
13 B
14 A
15 A (Refrain)

     Make a bit more sense? Originally, the subjects were usually love, or nature, or some other light and happy thing, but now, as with most poetry types, it can be about anything. Here's one I found, for illustration.

Listen, Everyone!
By Jehan Valliant (14th century, I'm sure the copyright's gone)

Listen, everyone! I have lost my girl
For he who finds her, on my soul
Even though she is fair and kindly
I give her up heartily
Without raising a stink at all.

This girl knows her graces well
God knows, she loves and is loyal
For heaven’s sake, let him keep her secretly
Listen, everyone! I have lost my girl

Look after her well, this pearl
Let no one hurt or wound her
For by heaven, this pretty
Is sweetness itself to everybody
Woe is me! I cry to the world
Listen, everyone! I have lost my girl

Friday, January 2, 2015

2015 Banner Contest

Post by  Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     This is a new year, and so we continue the tradition that we began last year. Yup, Window to the Soul has existed for a fully year, officially, a bit longer, unofficially. I would like to thank Catsi Eceer for helping me to find a title back in late 2013, and then offering to be co-owner of this blog. I seriously could not have managed this without you. It simply would have been too much work to do the weekly posts together with the contests. It was even you who suggested that we start off with the weekly posts, whereas I had planned to start them far later. Thanks to you, Window to the Soul Contest Blog still exists.
     So, for the contest. This time, you will be submitting art (This could be 3-D, photography, drawings, paintings, etc., even moving GIFs) for us to use as our banner (the thing at the top) for 2015! Your information will be kept in the About Us page, even after your banner has been replaced in 2016, so that our banner will act as a little portfolio for you. You can have our title and subtitle in the image, or simply leave room for it.

     Include "banner" in the subject line.

     The image must be wider than it is tall. While it is not required, we would prefer the image to be as wide as the current banner, or preferably wider.

     The image must be in PNG, JPEG, or GIF. I'm afraid PSD is no longer accepted.

     If you have a signature on the image (recommended) please provide two versions, one with the signature visible, and one with it illegible.

     Please keep your images PG-13 or better. Also, remember that we are both girls, and will not be impressed, though certainly insulted, by images that showcase a girl's body the way it is so common in modern art.

     You must own the rights to the images, or have permission from the other creators, and you must have been an integral part to the creation of the image.

     We maintain the right to not declare a winner if none of the submissions are of sufficient quality, and to decide what that entails.

     The winner gives us the right to display the image as our banner, on this blog, in our newsletter, and for things such as advertisement until we hold another banner contest. We can also modify the image, but we cannot remove the signature. With the maker's permission, we will continue to display the image in the post announcing the winner and in the "About Us" page (or wherever we decide to keep the record of post winners of this contest) in order to give them more publicity.

     Multiple and simultaneous submissions are accepted and encouraged.

     You may, and are encouraged, to include a short bio of 150 words or less. And image and links to your social media and/or website can also go with this.

     Send all questions and submissions to

We have another contest currently open, click here to see the rules. It is a prose contest with the theme "sacrifice".

Holiday Poetry Contest Winner

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Happy new year, everyone! And congratulations of the winner of our Holiday Poetry Contest! You were asked to send us poems about any holiday you could think of, and you did. Let's have a drumroll, please. Our winner is...

     Jade Sparks! Well done, Jade. And this isn't your first time winning one of our contests, now is it? Anyway, here was the winning entry:

Veteran’s Day
By Jade Sparks

Strong and brave
Their lives they gave
All hell broke loose
No hope of a truce

Youths that fought
Parents that shot
Lakes of thick blood
Bullets like a flood

Screams of the dying
Snarls of the lying
The bellows of guns
The sacrifice of sons

A mother's loud cry
A sisters desperate 'why'
Freedom had its cost
Love ones had been lost

Terrors eat the mind
Bodies they could not find
Limbs that were no more
Fire, blood, and gore

Man's innocence snatched away
The price they did pay
For generations to be free
And hope of a child's destiny

     I am a Christian writer, who wants to glorify God with the talent He has given me. The LORD is my inspiration and my rock. He has shown me many things about the world and the many different people in it. Without Jesus, I would be a writer without a pen, staring at a blank page and wondering what to do with it. My favorite things in the world are pens and paper. When you put the two together, wonderful things are created.

     My vision is to give kids and young adults clean books and touching poems. There are many books out there for these age groups that certainly should not be there. Why take a child's innocence away when there are many other ways to entertain a child? I wish to help children love history by adding small elements of it into my literature and give teens positive messages. I have been told I have an old soul and I believe God gave me it to bring Him praise.

Check out my blog:
Or follow me on twitter:

     Congratulations, again, and thank you for the poem, it certainly was touching.

We currently have a prose contest open, with the prize of an ebook! Check it out here.