Posted in For the Aspiring Writer, Uncategorized

How to Bring Fictional Characters to Life

On the subject of character creation, a majority of writers across the Internet will advise you to start from a blank character sheet. You’ll be instructed to envision the character in your mind to determine what they look like, what they sound like… You’ll need to come up with their age and occupation, as well as hobbies and favorite foods. Finally, you’ll be told to jot down adjectives that describe the character’s nature. Is she kind? Is he honest?

That’s great. It’s important to understand the type of person your character is, but the one thing I can’t fathom is how you’re expected to list out all of these qualities for someone you’ve yet to meet.

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Other writers will tell you that you need to first determine what your character longs for. What will their main character arc be for your short story, novella, novel, etc?

How on Earth can you come close to truly knowing what your character wants without having ever been introduced?

My process for the creation of a character is very much different than the typical advice listed above.

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When the idea for a novel comes, whether it be the dream-like tendril of a soft caress upon my mind or a slam-dunk, freight train of a whopper that hits like lightning, the first thing I do is determine what sex of protagonist I wish to create for this fiction. This helps me to focus my internal camera–just a smidge, mind you–upon the former blob of a character I had just a moment before.

When I’ve determined that, I picture the ordinary world in which my character currently belongs.

For this example, just to make it easier to follow along, I’ll say my novel idea revolves around a commune in the 1970s. The leader of the commune is suave, personable, yet enigmatic. My protagonist will be a fledgling reporter, who has found out a secret about the leader and wants to infiltrate the commune in order to get the story.

In the few seconds it took me to come up with that premise, my mind is already whirling with ideas. Writing about a working-class female, especially in the 70s, would be something I could definitely get on board with. I’d love to explore the gender differences of that time period, as well as use my female character’s wiles in order to go undercover and solve a puzzle.

What do I know about my character at this very moment?

She is a female. She is a reporter. That’s it.

I don’t know her age, her personality, her looks, nada. I don’t know whether or not she works at a large newspaper or for a small-town print.

I would never consider to assign her personality traits at this point. Why? Because we still haven’t met. Don’t worry, I’m about to introduce myself.

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At this point, I’ll open up a new document or pull a fresh sheet of paper from my desk drawer. I bet you think I’m going to start a list, don’t you? No. Lists are for groceries and baseball coaches. We’re writers so… let’s do what we do.

My character is currently sleeping. What happens when her alarm clock goes off? Does she even own an alarm clock? Perhaps she lives out in the middle of absolute nowhere and wakes up when the rooster crows. Her options at this point are limitless.

I begin to write. Flash fiction at it’s finest right here. This is how I breathe life into my character and allow her (or him, or whatever pronoun I’m using) to reveal themselves to me. What happens when she wakes up? Does she make her bed or leave it messy? Is she a shower or a bath girl? What does she eat for breakfast and who does she talk to while she does it? Does she live with anyone or by herself? Why? Does she have a tendency to dally and have to rush to get off to work or does she stick to a self-imposed schedule and make sure she’s at her job on time?

I will continue this piece of prose until I’ve come to the end of her day. Does she creep into her bed clad in risque lingerie or does she flop into the unmade mess, clothes from the day still upon her frame?

This is how I meet my character.

At some point throughout the writing, the hazy blob I had at the beginning will start to focus. Like she’s standing in front of a lens being shifted millimeter by millimeter, her outline will come into view. I’ll realize that she’s a waif of a girl, with long, stringy blond hair reminiscent of the top of a cornstalk. (She is from a rural area but did indeed own an alarm clock with no cock-a-doodling within her hearing range.)

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She is soft-spoken and intelligent. She lives in a boarding house on the outskirts of a medium-sized city. She lives by herself at the young age of 22. Her parents were–and still are–members of a organized cult in Iowa. That is where she grew up. She fled at 16, a victim of sexual abuse and indoctrination, to Wisconsin where she now goes by a false name.

She began her career at the local newspaper as a night-shift janitor. In her spare time, she began to pen the memories of her life within the cult and realized she had an aptitude and love for the written word. She procured her current position by leaving poignant articles covering the town’s current events on the editor’s desk nightly before she left at the end of her shift. (She makes her bed every morning and, at night she climbs in gently, wearing an old t-shirt and loose-fitting shorts, by the way, not a negligee. Also, she has to wear socks at night or she gets too cold. Wisconsin, am I right?)

At this point, I have envisioned how she holds her fork, how she takes her coffee (black, it’s the cheapest), how she gets to work, how she reacts to co-workers, her typical lunch and what she wears as she goes about her day. My character is real to me, not a white sheet of paper on the desk labelled CHARACTER SHEET. I can envision the beginning of her arc but I would never–louder for those in the back, NEVER– lock her into such growth. She has so much more to show me.

You learn who your characters are by writing about them. Allow them to speak to you through your typing (or frantically scribbling) hands. I swear on the Girl Scout Handbook, if you allow your character to find their own voice instead of assigning them one, that character will spit things out you never dreamed of.

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Give your creation–your characters–the ability to make magic. You’re not the puppet master here; picking up strings and dropping them to make your characters move. You’re the stage.

Let them dance as they will.

Posted in For the Aspiring Writer, Uncategorized

A Day in the Life of a Fledgling Author (With Kids!)

How many times do you think I’ve asked myself, “Why didn’t I start writing full-time before I had children?”

Many. Many times.

As it stands, if I try to get any writing done when my little ones are up and about, I’m interrupted several hundred times. An hour. Snacks are the number one request from my tiny army but yesterday, I turned and came face to face with my youngest who was extremely discouraged that a Tide Pod did not taste like it should.

He’s a little bit behind the trend of other fellow Tide Pod eaters but I digress.

I want to use this post to encourage other fledgling authors (with children in tow or not) that you can find the time to write even when you’re being bombarded from all angles.

Let’s take a look back at yesterday, a Saturday, and see how I did.

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5:45am CST – Baby Boy (Age 3) stands next to my bed until I lift an eyelid and jump. He requests that we get him ready for school.

5:48am CST – Baby Girl (Age 5) trudges down the stairs after the cries emanating from her brother wake her out of a sound sleep. He is displeased by the fact that school is closed on Saturdays. I close my bedroom door in hopes that allowing the husband to sleep will guarantee me as a shoe-in for Best Wife Ever once he awakes refreshed and baby-free. Then, I can coerce him into some writing time, ALONE.

6:01am CST – Babies demand a Minecraft show. Age 3 hates Minecraft shows but demands it just the same.

6:02am CST – Age 3 demands anything but a Minecraft show. And a snack. Age 5 jumps on the bandwagon and explains how she will JUST DIE if she doesn’t get a granola bar.

6:05am CST – Granola bars distributed and coffee pot switched to the on position. Booming noises radiate from upstairs. I book it up the steps only to find Age 3 putting on every pair of socks his sister owns. He is also doing this completely naked.

6:06am CST – Explain to Age 3 that he is not a part of the Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band and relinquish one pair of socks to him to wear on his FEET. Stuff him into a fresh pair of drawers, much to his dismay, and march down the stairs again. I march, he jumps. He then slips on the rug at the end of the stairs and finds himself sprawled, spread-eagled on the foyer. Cries ensue. Reminding him that he has a granola bar to eat stops the cries mid-bawl.

6:13am CST – Sit on the couch and review my life choices. At least I have coffee.

7:12am CST – Enjoy the sunrise from my kitchen window and explain to Age 3 that we aren’t supposed to get out of bed until the sun comes up. He takes that as a directive that it is NOW time to go to school and puts his backpack on. More cries ensue after I remind him, once again, it is a weekend.

7:45am CST – Age 5 grabs a drum and wooden spoon and sits outside the master bedroom before deciding that playing a Neil Peart solo is in her best interest. When Dad opens the door, he is in a grumpy mood at her interpretation of an alarm clock. So much for my Best Wife Ever nomination.

7:48am CST – Ply the husband with coffee. He is appeased.

8:01am CST – Sit down at my computer with headphones in place to try and get some writing done. Get distracted by Facebook videos. Spend thirty minutes perusing a murder that occurred in Iowa over 50 years prior. Chalk this up to cozy mystery novel research so I won’t feel guilty.

8:40am CST – Frown into the refrigerator and remind myself to put a grocery list together. Feed kids a mixture of oatmeal, leftover chicken, and goldfish. Their palates are not refined. The meal goes over well.

9:14am CST – Sit back down to write. As soon as my tail hits chair, Age 3 requests a shower in the master bedroom so he can write on the glass walls. Cries when his request is denied. I distract him with a remote-controlled car. Problem solved.

9:15am CST – Realize the noise from said car distracts me as well and any hopes of writing are dashed for the time being. The pile of laundry on my dining room table screams out to be sorted (and its voice is almost hoarse because it’s been screaming for three days). Hang up laundry.

10:31am CST – Determine that my author website needs a new page for my nom de plume, Charlee Chance. Spend time crafting a half-assed page just so SEO will start logging on Google. Envision what I would do if someone snatched up the website for her name and gasp. Purchase website to ensure that doesn’t happen.

12:05pm CST – Lunch. Or breakfast, really. Leftover chicken, avocado, and cheese bites. Keto is easy as pie. Mmmm… pie. Shut up, brain.

1:00pm CST (on the dot) – Kids down for naps. Promise Age 3 he can take a shower tonight instead of the normal bath. He is adamant in his demands.

1:12pm CST – Explain to husband that I am entering my writing space (four feet away from him) and I’m not to be disturbed. Headphones go on.

1:19pm CST – Husband waves for my attention to look at a weird looking bug from a gardening Facebook page he belongs to. I frown. He apologizes. (It was a weird looking bug, I admit.)

2:49pm CST – Age 5 comes down the stairs with brush in hand. Finish my session with over 2k words written. Feel accomplished and excited to write more but those sleep tangles won’t brush themselves out.

3:15pm CST – Age 3 races down the stairs, ready now — more than ever — to head to school. Cries once again when reminded about the school district’s schedule. Distract him with an invitation to play Barnyard Bingo.

3:29pm CST – Battle Royale final standings for Bingo: Mom – 4 / Age 3 – 1. We don’t hand out participation trophies in this house.

4:15pm CST – Frown into refrigerator once more to plan dinner. Chastise myself for not getting a grocery list together. Bust out frozen deer sausage (Thanks Mom & Dad!) and clean my kitchen because it looks like a bomb went off.

5:03pm CST – Begin cooking, start a new pot of coffee. Luckily, my pantry is never, ever low on coffee grounds.

5:45pm CST – Dinner is eaten, Cinderella is on the TV, and I figure I can get in another 30 minutes of writing.

5:51pm CST – Tide Pod incident

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6:01pm CST – Age 3 gets his shower an hour early to wash off all the laundry detergent. Swears he didn’t eat any, but bubbles pop out of his mouth as he makes those promises. Teach Age 3 how to properly gargle water and spit.

6:41pm CST – Age 3 uses his new-found knowledge of gargling and spitting. With his milk. In the living room.

6:43pm CST – Clean up milk-splattered floor and rug. Reiterate that we only expectorate into the sink, shower, or outside. Age 3 is discouraged.

7:14pm CST – Age 5 gets into her bath upstairs. Age 3 strips down and climbs in, unwilling to believe that he is clean enough from his earlier shower.

7:45pm CST – Age 3 and Age 5 lay together for our nightly ritual of story, song, then off to bed. They can’t come to a consensus of what to read so Dad picks out book. Crying ensues.

8:02pm CST – Kids in bed, back downstairs to write. Get distracted by the worn copy of Stephen King’s On Writing next to my keyboard.

8:49pm CST – Write 200 more words before realizing my brain is too tired to string cohesive phrases together. Take my dog-eared soft-cover of On Writing to bed and finish a few chapters.

10:15pm CST – Have an epiphany about my main character and jot it down in my phone’s notes. Drift off, knowing I’ll repeat another day just like this one tomorrow.

I want to encourage each and every one of my fellow writers out there that, if you love the craft, the process, and the results of your creativity, you will find time to write.

If, for some reason, I was unable to write while my kids were down for naps yesterday, I would have stayed up as late as I needed in order to get the job done. It would have been crap, worthy of the bonfire set up in my backyard, but it would have been progress.

That’s what rewrites are for anyway, am I right?

Posted in Uncategorized

Live and Let Chai – Charlee Chance Reviews

There’s nothing like a bit of southern charm, the beach life, and a murder to get this girl in a good mood.

With Live and Let Chai by Bree Baker, I was able to find all three of those things wrapped up in a single novel!

Let me drop a little-known fact on you, sweet reader. I was introduced to cozy mysteries a few months ago by a librarian friend. I was intrigued by the premise (who didn’t love Murder, She Wrote?) and I delved right into the genre.

Unfortunately, I do not finish the majority of the titles that I pick up due to either underdeveloped characters, continuity issues with the writing, or just poor plot/editing.

Live and Let Chai is the very first cozy that held my interest and made me feel something for the characters. I wanted the heroine, Everly Swan, to transform her return back home to Charm, North Carolina into a glorious rebirth. I was right there next to her each time she stumbled, bumbled, or got hit with a large kitchen tool.

The secondary characters are likeable and I was thrilled to learn a bit about their backstories as well. Bree Baker fleshed out believable characters who you cheer for (or hiss at) and it was a treat to follow along with their arcs throughout the page-turning read. (368 pages per Kirkus Reviews)

Since this title was released in 2018, I’m pleased to see that the Seaside Cafe Mystery Series is still going strong, turning out the latest book in a few months from now. Currently there are five of the books in print with the sixth, Partners in Lime, releasing in August of 2021. Pre-orders are open on Amazon and I am getting in line for mine. (After I read books 2-5.)

I’m not going to provide a synopsis on Live and Let Chai, as that can be found on a myriad of sites. What I do want to make known is that this series opener is engaging, spirited, and, YOU GUYS, all of the plot points come together! (Except for the end, of course. Bree leaves us with a tantalizing tidbit of what’s to come in the second installment of the series.)

If you enjoy teatime at the shore, animals that have that certain… je ne sais quoi — and a tidy story, check out Bree Baker. She’s got what it takes to keep me on the hook for her next read and you won’t be disappointed if you love the cozy genre.

If you’re like me, when you find intriguing passages in your current read, you highlight it and file it away for later perusal.

If you’re not like me, simply accuse me of being a weirdo and keep reading.

Because I devour books like tortilla chips and ask for more, I have a ton of favorite quotes spanning all genres of fiction. This post will be updated on the regular in order to keep track of my ever-growing list of awesome authors and their emotion-provoking way with words.

All that is possible to a mortal craftsman is the combining of old material into something new and different.

William Cook (Plotto: The Master Book of all Plots)

Death was just the cleanup guy, the janitor, the final act.

Karen Marie Moning (Shadowfever)

“You are a manipulator.”
“I like to think of myself more as an outcome engineer.”

J.R. Ward (Lover Eternal)

Hell, any plan that ended with “and then we pray” was not a trip to Disneyland.

J.R. Ward (Lover Revealed)

“There is a little good in all evil.”

Wilson Rawls (Where the Red Fern Grows)

“Southerners don’t gossip; Southerners pray for one another. Of course, you have to know the details of the sinner’s sins to get any good praying done, then you have to recruit others to pray, and they need the details too. It’s called Prayer Circle.”

Gretchen Archer (Double Whammy)

“The trick with a truly successful intimidation is not to rely on volume or obscenity, but to cultivate that quiet certainty which informs any listener that your people will do the shouting for you, should the moment come.”

Claire North (The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August)

“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”

J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Douglas Adams (The Salmon of Doubt)

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.”

John Steinbeck (The Winter of Our Discontent)

“The fact that wristwatches weren’t invented yet made it difficult to look impatient, but he managed.”

Scott Meyer (Off to Be the Wizard)

“When someone shows you their true colors, believe them.”

Dolly Parton (My Life and Other Unfinished Business)

“One person can keep a secret, but not two.”

Ernest Cline (Ready Player One)

“Eddie discovered one of his childhood’s great truths. Grownups are the real monsters, he thought.”

Stephen King (It)

My Favorite Book Quotes of All Time

Posted in For the Aspiring Writer, Uncategorized

Preptober – Week One

“All things are ready, if our mind be so.”

William Shakespeare

For the first seven days of Preptober, I create a structured plan that will help me not only to prepare for NaNoWriMo but the remainder of October as well.

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During this first week I:

  • Determine what project to devote to NaNoWriMo – In my last post, I hadn’t decided what I would be using for this year’s 30 days of writing. I was wavering between the three choices of:
    • a brand new project
    • my unfinished works that had the highest word count
    • my most favorite unfinished works (I went with this choice, btw)
  • Create a NaNoWriMo Binder/Project Folder – Before Scrivener, I kept a physical binder for all of my notes, research, character creation, and thoughts. I still keep a notebook by my bed so I can immediately jot down something I think of before hitting the sack or upon waking. Use this month to take as many notes as possible. Bring your world to life.
  • Create a GOAL SHEET – I have a tendency to veer off track of my goal mid-November. My propensity for proofreading as I write slows me down and I lose momentum easily. Having a goal sheet, one situated next to my desk that I can physically look at, allows me to combat some of my known creativity killers.
  • Break down your word goals into chunks – Look at your calendar for November and take note of any time you know you won’t be able to write. For example, I’m going camping November 20-24. It’s a huge chunk of time where I won’t be in front of my computer. It’s not normal camping where I can sit around a fire and write, either. The hubs and I have a giant four-day event planned where we will be in the woods hitting other nerds with sticks. (I’m a LARPer. Don’t judge.) That being said, I’ve had to set my daily word goal higher so I compensate for those lost days.
  • Get to know your genre – If you are writing in a brand new genre, take this time to curate a few highly rated novels or short stories in the genre. If you’ve written in this genre before, take a look at some of the recently published reads. What did the author do that excited you about the story? What would you have done differently? Were there any surprises that you wouldn’t have thought of? Did the novel/story keep you from putting it down? If so, what made it so readable? What were shared aspects of every story? How can you incorporate those aspects into your writing?
  • Get to know your story – If you are rewriting or continuing a WIP, take this time to reread what you currently have. If you are starting from scratch, use this week to imagine the setting of your story. When your characters go about their daily lives, what do they see? What do they smell? Imagine a normal day in the life of your main character from waking until going to sleep. Immerse yourself in your imagination.
  • Sign up on the NaNoWriMo website if needed or update any information on your current account – Are any of your friends joining you for NaNoWriMo? Add them as buddies to help each other stay accountable.

It’s time to get excited about your writing. Lay the framework down now so when November 1 rolls around, all you have to do is put fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper). Please like my Facebook page to share your adventures in writing and keep track of my progress. I’d love to meet you!

Posted in For the Aspiring Writer, Uncategorized

First Day of Preptober 2020

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Abraham Lincoln

If there’s been any year in our lifespan that has afforded us more opportunity to write, I can’t think of a single one. Holed up in our homes, the availability of alone time has been plentiful and we have a myriad of current events acting as fodder for our creative minds.

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On this, the first day of Preptober, I’ve debated with my internal man about finishing a fledgling novel that’s been in the pipeline for years or starting from scratch as I normally do during NaNoWriMo. On one hand, devoting my time to an open project where I will see forward movement is enticing but starting a project at the very beginning is always a challenge I love.

This week, I’ve run the gambit of emotions as I finished up September and readied myself to spend the entirety of October prepping for our 30 days of writing.

As my readers know, I use Scrivener to plan, make notations, create timelines, and ultimately write. The husband and I recently purchased a NAS in order to save our files and last week I began the arduous task of moving every single file over to the new system.

The move was almost complete when I got to my writing folders. My Short Stories transferred flawlessly but when it came time to move my massive Novels file, I received an error message stating the entire folder was corrupted. I could not open a single novel, note, piece of research or submissions spreadsheet. I was mortified to say the least.

Three days, many hours spent on Google trying to fix the problem, and a few pieces of recovery software later, I chalked it up to a loss. This morning, I was staring at the offending file at my computer and thought, “How would I try to fix this if I didn’t have Google?”

I right clicked the file, went to properties, then ran a scan in tools. When Microsoft informed me the file had problems I rolled my eyes and clicked the close box. Another box appeared asking if I wanted the computer to fix the file. With trepidation I clicked yes and immediately, my file was accessible.

Y’all. I beat Google.

My emotions have competed a marathon this week.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

All that being said, I now have access to all of my half-finished projects again and I feel like this year should be about bringing something to completion. With all of the tumultuous events that 2020 has brought about, it makes sense that this would be the year I see a NaNoWriMo to the end. Make lemonade out of lemons, I suppose.

I’ll come to the decision tomorrow morning about how to best utilize NaNoWriMo to complete a rough draft. Right now, I have three options:

  • Start brand new
  • Continue with my highest word count project (43584 words)
  • Continue with my most loved project (8385 words)

I’m leaning towards the third choice as I’m very interested to see which direction the story goes and learn more about how to pen a whodunit (It’s a cozy mystery I started last NaNoWriMo.)

Now that my children are one year older, I feel like I have more of a chance to complete the 50k word count goal this time around. A clingy two and four year old really put a damper on my writing last November. I remember telling myself to write after they had gone to bed but to be honest, at the end of the day I was exhausted and fell into dreamland and soon as my head hit the pillow.

I have a roadmap for October’s planning schedule and I’ll expound upon it in more posts as the month tromps on.

My first goal is, as mentioned above, to determine which project I will be working on this year. Tomorrow’s post will bring about that answer and I wait, with baited breath, to see what I will choose.

Feel free to leave a comment here and let me know what you plan on doing for this year’s NaNoWriMo. You can also like my Facebook page to see more insight into my writing life.

Posted in For the Aspiring Writer, Uncategorized

Things To Remember As You Write

While preparing for NaNoWriMo 2019, I read more books in October than I had all year. I looked at each novel with an Editor’s eye in order to better differentiate what works and what makes a manuscript get shelved before finishing.

The amount of words my brain has trudged through in the past month is vast.

In no particular order, here are the five main story-telling problems I found during my Great Book Devouring Event of 2019:

  • INFORMATION DUMPING – This was the biggest problem I had and would shelve a book almost immediately if the author cheated and dumped a ton of info on me right away. Let your reader find out backstory via dialogue and short tidbits from time to time. Copious amounts of text explaining what happened in the past is a cop-out. Good writers are better than that.
  • EXTREMELY DETAILED SETTING AND WORLD BUILDING – Show me the world, don’t tell me about it. A good writer knows that the reader is going to devise their own idea of what the environment looks like in their mind. Don’t try and force your made-up world onto someone else. Share the mood, atmosphere, and locale with your reader and let them create their own landscape. You will draw in a reader much more effectively once they have put some work into the story and created their own stage together in their imagination.
  • SWITCHING FROM POV TO POV – Some authors can do this properly. Many can’t. If a writer is of the latter group, there is nothing that confuses the reader more than a poorly-strung-together story from various points of view. (I recently picked up a cozy mystery where three different POVs occurred within two paragraphs. It was so confusing, I shelved it after only halfway into the first chapter.)
  • DIALOGUE THAT SOUNDS FAKE – When editing your novel, read the dialogue aloud. Have friends read the dialogue aloud. Read it aloud again. If the words on paper sound silly when you actually speak them into existence, re-write it.
  • PLOT THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE – It kills me when a main character acts against his/her nature and nothing in the story explains why that choice was made. Also, subplots that trail off and never come to a conclusion are maddening. If you leave your readers open to a “how/what/why?” question once they are done reading your book, you have done them a disservice.

I would love to hear reasons why you shelve books before finishing! Feel free to leave a comment or join my Facebook author page to expound.

I hope this helps as you continue with your novel creation! If you are currently participating in NaNoWriMo, I wish you good luck and ample writing time. ❤️