Being a Better Writer: The Meandering Story

A great piece on identifying and fixing meandering plots… which is what I think my story is doing right now.

Unusual Things

Today we’re tackling a topic directly. Head on. We’ll be discussing a problem I often see throughout literature, especially work from new writers or in the area of fanfiction (and both are probably bolstered by the fact that most television deliberately commits this act in order to pad out run-time).

Today, I want to talk about the meandering story: What it is, and how we can fix it. Because not only is it a problem that I see many young writers having a problem with, it’s also one that many of them don’t seem to know how to escape. The story meanders, and it wanders, and the writer, even if they see the hole they’re writing themselves into, doesn’t know how to get out of it. More often than not, it turns into a sort of “sand trap” for them, like a golfer, in which they swing and they…

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Writing Woes: More Axing

tumblr_opv9n93dxm1w0ecego2_540I wrote before about cleaning up the tangled mess of my first draft by axing characters from the story. I just finished the 2nd scene-by-scene outline of my 2nd draft and I realize that I *still* have a ton of characters, and for a first novel, it’s probably not a good idea for me to write all their stories at once.

In that previous post, I decided to remove the thread about the couple of cursed warriors. But for some reason, between outlines, they came back, and somehow their story seems better welded to the overarching plot. And because I already have their character arcs figured out, I don’t have any qualms about writing them at all. I’m actually excited to write about them.

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2017 Art Review + Schoolism Gesture Drawing

2017 Summary of Art

In the beginning of last year, one of my new year’s resolution was to make at least one coloured art piece a month. Well, that totally didn’t happen. At first it was just because I didn’t have time, but as the year progressed it was because of an increasing dissatisfaction with my artwork. Even at the sketching stage, I felt increasingly frustrated with my art that I just didn’t bother to colour them in.

In November, I participated in NaNoWriMo so I didn’t have time for art at all. And in December, I finally decided to take some online art lessons to improve. I chose because after shopping around for online courses, this was the only one I found that is a good match for the skill level I’m currently at and want to get to, without passing my budget. I opted for the 1-year subscription instead of the critiqued classes, so I can go at my own pace.

Throughout December, I worked my way through the gesture drawing course taught by Alex Woo. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot. I think the best part about the structure of the course is that you can see the critiques for the students who took the critique sessions, so you get to see how other people are doing and have a better idea of how to improve your own skills.

Here are a few samples of my work from the course. Mind you, these are not polished up. The course is typically 7-week long and I breezed through it in December (often forgoing that cafe drawings) for personal reasons. If I had taken the critique sessions, I would definitely polish my drafts up a bit more. So if you think, “Oh these are not that good,” definitely attribute it to my rush and not to the quality of the course. There are student submissions that were awesome. As a matter of fact, I was really surprised to see some amazing works that seemed to be getting only 3-stars from the instructor, so based on that, I’m pretty sure these drafts would be like 1 to 2 stars only.

Lecture 1: Line of Action

The line of action is about distilling a pose into a single line to capture the main idea or the main movement of the body. This sample is probably not gonna make much sense without the actual poses as reference, heh.


Lecture 2: Shape

Like the line of action, shape tries to distill a pose into a single entity that captures its main feeling. It’s great for composition because you know what space your figure is taking up.


Lecture 3: Silhouette

This is probably one of the most important things I learned in the course. Silhouette is about capturing the action of your figure even without details. In good gesture drawing, the action of your figure must still be recognizable even if the figure is completely blacked out. I think one of the problems I had before was that a lot of the poses I put my characters in had terrible silhouettes. I had a lot of fun doing the exercise for this lecture.


Lecture 4: Space

I didn’t do the homework for this lecture, because I was so excited about the upcoming lectures. I know, I’m terrible. But this lecture is about establishing a sense of 3-dimensionality in your figure. So things like… putting your figure’s feet in different altitudes.

Lecture 5: Exaggeration

This was one of my favourite lectures. I probably failed it but it was so informative. Exaggeration is about taking the idea of a pose and exaggerating the figure so that the idea becomes more pronounced. In order for us to do this, we had to assign a story to the poses so that we know how to exaggerate it. Some of these worked out better than others. I wonder if we were supposed to really stick to the 2-minute time frame. I spent about 5 to 10 minutes on the better ones here, but even they don’t look as good as the ones that the other students handed in.


Lecture 6: Extrapolation

Extrapolation is about using the main idea of the model’s pose and applying it to another thing, like an animal. For this lecture we were asked to study the anatomy of an animal and to do all the exercises using this animal. To my everlasting regret, I chose the Philippine tarsier, because it’s an animal that appears in my story and I thought, might as well have a bit of practice. But this ended up being such a poor choice. The tarsier is curled up in itself most of the time; it can’t really stretch its arms, and it rarely stretches its legs (only to jump). So I had a LOT of difficulty applying the stretched out poses. I tried to have the head and eyes capture the main idea, but there’s only so much variability I can do. Either that or I’m just not terribly creative.


Lecture 7: Story

Story is about using a pose in a larger context of a story. For this lecture we were assigned to come up with a story using a series of poses. In the sketch below, you’ll see the poses in the upper left corner. I ended up modifying most of them to fit my story.


And that’s it! What a ride! I learned so much from this course, and even if I rushed it, I will certainly keep the lessons in mind and apply them to my upcoming artwork.

Leng’s 2017 Book Awards


Aaaand it’s that time of the year again! This is the point in the year where I look at the fiction I’ve read the previous year and give out some fake awards (according to my humble opinion of course). I’ve been doing this for several years in a row now. If you want to see previous years’ awards, I have a link here in my post last year.

This year’s candidates are shown in the neat little image above I captured from Goodreads. I faded out the nonfiction books I read, because these awards are geared towards fiction only. So without further ado, let’s get to it!

Warning: Spoilers abound!!

Best Male Protagonist

  1. Eugenides (Queen’s Thief) — it’s almost not fair when I do my QT rereads, because every character there is just so badass.
  2. Kaz Brekker (Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom) — okay, I gotta admit that Kaz is a very, very close second to Eugenides in most aspects. But it’s Eugenides’s capacity to be merciful despite tragedy that makes him a more compelling character than Kaz IMO.
  3. Lazlo Strange (Strange the Dreamer) — ugghhhh, I want to lift my 3-spot restriction, because I had to choose between Lazlo and Locke Lamora and Kell Maresh and Sophos! Why do I hate myself? Why did I read so many good books? Why is Harry Potter not on this list? I feel bad that Harry Potter did not make it in this list!

Best Female Protagonist

  1. Inej (Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom) — oh man, I love Inej, but TBH the only reason Attolia is not a top contender for this section is because she’s an antagonist in QoA and a secondary character in KoA and a minor character in both CoK and TaT. So Inej takes top spot for breaking my heart, and putting it back together.
  2. Isaveth (A Little Taste of Poison) — A lot of the female protagonists in the list are compelling characters but I would actually consider Isaveth to be the smartest out of all of them. At thirteen years old, no less.
  3. Balsa (Guardian of the Darkness) — again, the final spot is a toss between so many characters: we have crafty Shai, freaking chess genius Minerva Lane, pirate-wannabe Delilah Bard… so many great female characters. But among them, I think Balsa really captured my heart in this instalment of Moribito.

Best Male Secondary Character

  1. Wylan Van Eck (Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom) — I never said there would be no favouritism in this award show =P
  2. Quiz (A Little Taste of Poison) — ohh man, the Chat Noir vibes are real and dangerous
  3. Jean (Lies of Locke Lamora) — Ron Weasly, Erstwhile from A Face Like Glass and Archer from The Reader are close ties with Jean, but I had to choose.

Best Female Secondary Character

  1. Eddis (Queen of Attolia) — do I even need to explain this? It’s Eddis!
  2. Sophie (Castle in the Air) — I loved seeing Sophie in action again! Even as a secondary character, her personality still shines
  3. Hermione (Harry Potter) — I really liked how Hermione’s “nerdy” archetype is portrayed in the books. It’s both comedic but endearing, and while the others might be annoyed with her, I never was.

Best Sobstory

(I think I made this category back when I wasn’t reading such tragic books)

  1. Inej (Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom) — all crow members have a tragic backstory but I think Inej was the one who really pulled the heartstrings
  2. The god killer (Strange the Dreamer) — I forgot his name and I’ve returned the book to the library! Forgive me! He and his wife need a nice, long vacation
  3. Balsa (Guardian of the Darkness) — her fellow competitor for the last spot are Kamet and Attolia (QT), Archer (The Reader), and Minerva Lane (Duchess War). I chose Balsa because I think she had a worse past than either Kamet or Attolia or Minnie; and the narrative surrounding it feels more raw than Archer’s.

Best Backstory

  1. Minerva Lane (Duchess War) — seriously, she had one of the most creative premises I’ve ever read about.
  2. Holland (Darker Shade of Magic) — this is a little bit of shade, but I think either Kell Maresh or Lila Bard would have been in Holland’s place if their backstories were actually present in the trilogy. There was enough enigma surrounding both of them for their backstories to be nothing less than cool
  3. Locke Lamora (Lies of Locke Lamora) — his thieving schemes when he was younger were amusing to read about

No Super Power But Still Kicked Butt

  1. Kaz Brekker (Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom) — I think everyone in their group except for Nina qualifies for this award
  2. Sohpos (A Conspiracy of Kings) — Again, I would consider many QT characters to qualify for this award, excepting perhaps Eugenides, who’s a bit god-touched
  3. The Kleptomancer (A Face Like Glass) — Oh my, the strategy gymnastics he performed for decades is honestly impressive

Best Villain You Love To Hate

  1. Van Eck (Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom) — you can tell a book is good when both its  good and bad characters keep getting the top awards
  2. The Grey King (Lies of Locke Lamora) — I would consider him to be of the same vein as Minya from Strange the Dreamer, in that their tragic backstories explain their cruelty, and yet I still hate them both
  3. Miss Appeline (A Face Like Glass) — I think once a character loses their ability to empathize, they cross over from villain to psychopath

Best Not-So-Evil Villain

  1. Attolia (The Queen of Attolia) — not sure if she’s a “villain,” but I think she fulfils the role of antagonist quite well in this book
  2. Holland (Shades of Magic) — in the end, I think he became a much more interesting Antari than either Kell or Lila
  3. The Golden Prince (Strange the Dreamer) — gah, I forgot his name too!! I read SD really fast because it was just so good, but I ended up forgetting a lot of the names

Most Romantic Couple

  1. Eugenides and Attolia (Queen’s Thief) — After rereading QoA, their status as my ultimate OTP has been reinforced like ten fold. And then… then there was that tragedy in TaT
  2. Kaz and Inej (Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom) — Despite showing little physical affection, their love story is still one of the most genuine romance I’ve read in YA
  3. Robert and Minnie (Duchess War) — it’ll be a little weird to not give this award to the only couple that actually belongs in the romance genre

Best Dynamic Duo

  1. Quiz and Isaveth (A Little Taste of Poison) — I feel like they’re the only fitting pair for this award since they’re the only ones that really worked as a pair, unlike many of the characters in the other books
  2. Sefia and Archer (The Reader) — not sure if I’d label them as “dynamic,” but the duo part is definitely there, and I think they work well enough together
  3. Kamet and Costis (Thick as Thieves) — same as above

Best Superhero Team

  1. The Crows (Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom) — honestly I feel this category was meant for them
  2. Neverfell, Kleptomancer and co. (A Face Like Glass) — I really loved the ending and how everyone managed to escape Caverna
  3. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville (HP  & Philosopher’s Stone) — I was going to grant this last spot to the Antari of Shades of Magic, but I think these four had better teamwork at the end of the first book

Most Imaginative Fictional Place

  1. Weep (Strange the Dreamer) — I really loved the worldbuilding of this book. From ghosts to deities to lost cities… nothing short of impressive
  2. Kelanna (The Reader) — the world in this book is massive. I keep getting confused over the names of the countries and kingdoms (but I take full responsibility for not studying the map), but needless to say there was a lot of worldbuilding that went into this story
  3. Caverna (A Face Like Glass) — both the magic and the people are unusual and the setting is itself a character

Best Magic System

  1. Soul Stamps (The Emperor’s Soul) — I don’t think I could have a Sanderson book not win this award, tbh
  2. Elemental magic (Troubled Waters) — elemental magic is one of the most common magic systems in fantasy, but I think TW put such a fresh spin into it. It’s like elemental magic horoscope and it’s quite cool
  3. Baked magic (A Little Taste of Poison) — another cool twist on magic… one that you bake!

Best Premise

  1. A Face Like Glass — Caverna is a place populated by people who don’t have natural facial expressions… except for 12-year-old Neverfell
  2. The Emperor’s Soul — A woman must carve soul stamps for an injured king, potentially pulling off the biggest deception in her land
  3. Shades of Magic — there are four alternate Londons, and Kell Maresh is one of the few people who can travel to the alternate worlds

Best Twist

  1. Queen of Attolia — when Attolia turned out to have allied with Eddis to defeat the Mede army
  2. Six of Crows — when Kuwei turned out to be Wylan Van Eck (still screaming about this)
  3. Lies of Locke Lamora — when the Grey King used and abandoned Locke against the Capa to fake his own death

Best Plans

  1. Crooked Kingdom — Kaz’s plan to take back the Dregs and fight against Van Eck and everyone else out for their hides
  2. A Conspiracy of Kings — Sophos’s deception of that baron (forgot his name, sorry!) in the end so that the Attolian army can get into position against the Mede army. And then his shooting of the ambassador.
  3. A Little Taste of Poison — Isaveth and Quiz’s plan to reveal his brother’s involvement in Orien’s murder

Worst Plans that Still Worked

  1. Lies of Locke Lamora — that hilarious bit in the end when Locke was trying to get some money but all these bankers didn’t believe his ruse, but then he used their own suspicions against them
  2. A Gathering of Shadows — Lila stealing another contestant’s identity so she can play in the games; as far as plans go, this is one of the worst I’ve come across, but I think it was intentional so we can get a clearer picture of Lila’s character
  3. The Reader — Archer fighting all the other boys in the end, even though it ruined him, just so he and Sefia can meet with the Arbiter; this was actually quite sad

Most Climatic Resolution

  1. Crooked Kingdom — Kaz’s convoluted plan, from the spread of the plague to the fake tide mages, was so on point. Except for the part where Matthias died.
  2. A Face Like Glass — Neverfell and her friends’ escape from Caverna
  3. The King of Attolia — Costis setting Eugenides up to fight the Guard so he could save his honor

Mos Anti-Climatic Resolution

  1. Troubled Waters — I found the lack of character arc to be the most anti-climatic, and I think this was clearly demonstrated by Zoe’s flooding of the river regardless of the risks
  2. A Gathering of Shadows — it was a clear setup for the next book and nothing was really resolved
  3. Strange the Dreamer — Sarai’s death and the revelation of Lazlo’s origins created more questions than answers for an ending

Best Comic Relief Scenes

  1. A Conjuring of Light — Kell and Lila almost tipping the ship and Alucard falling into the sea
  2. Crooked Kingdom — Kuwei pretending to be Wylan and kissing Jesper… this is one of those moments that you’re so embarrassed on someone else’es behalf (forgot the word for it)
  3. Thick As Thieves — when Kamet finally meets the Thief of Eddis and he has to go up so close because he’s got blurry eyes, only to find Attolia’s boot boy

Most Emotional Scene

  1. Thick As Thieves — the river knows its time… y’all know what I’m talking about
  2. Crooked Kingdom — Kaz changing Inej’s bandages and they’re both thinking about their past traumas and trying to get past them
  3. A Face Like Glass — Neverfell discovering the truth about Madame Appeline and how she tortured her mother for her facial expressions

Best Action Scene

  1. Crooked Kingdom — Kaz fighting the entire Dregs alone as he goes down three flights of stairs
  2. The King of Attolia — Eugenides fighting the entire Guard to show that he’s not a weakling that can be killed by a toddler with a fork
  3. The Guardian of the Darkness — Balsa fighting Jiguro’s ghost

And that’s all folks! I decided not to include some of the previous awards because boy, this is getting long. But I’m interested in knowing what you guys think if you’ve read some of these books.

What are your favourite books from 2017? Which ones would you award in each category? Any books you’re looking forward to this year?

A Long Reflective Post

Happy New Year, everyone!

I try not to make a habit of being sentimental this time of year, as so happens with many people. Especially my parents, hehe. I understand why this season makes everyone a little emotional. After all, the Christmas season just passed and whether that was filled with high notes or low for you, the busyness can all be very emotionally demanding. And now we’re leaving behind another year, and looking at the net. I think the New Year is a time where most people reflect on the past and try to envision the future, and that too can be quite emotionally demanding.

I do think it’s important to reflect and to set goals, especially because at this point in my life, personal growth is becoming more and more of a priority. I just try to do it with a little less attachment to keep me grounded. There was a period a few years back where I would be very disappointed in myself because I didn’t accomplish as much as I wanted the previous year, and I ended up just dumping more goals on myself. Of course, that led to more disappointment the following year.

So I’ve been trying to keep my reflections and goals more reasonable this last couple of years.

Goodbye 2017

I am going over the list of goals I set at the beginning of last year and say how well I did with it. Looking at my list, I realize many of these were ambitious considering I was working through my masters degree in 2017. I think I owe myself some kindness since I was studying full-time until April, and then working full-time in an internship and studying part time until the end of December.

Create at least 1 completely coloured artwork every month

Fail. Completely failed! I started off great, but as the year progressed, I became increasingly unhappy with my sketches. So I didn’t even bother colouring them.

Finish the first draft of my story.

Accomplished! It’s a really crappy first draft, but at least I learned quite a lot about where the story needs to go.

Finish a second draft that involves a complete rewrite of my story.

Half accomplished. NaNoWriMo gave me an opportunity to rewrite my story halfway through, but I’m still working on the second-half of the rewrite.

Possibly send my story to a professional editor.

I haven’t even finished the rewrite, lol. Boy, was I ambitious.

Get As in all of my coursework.

The internship work and the entrepreneurial course are still being graded. Other than that, I got As in the courses I took during the coursework portion of the program. I died a little in my graphics class, but I still got that A. Minus. =P

Land myself in a good research internship in a company I like, doing work I’m passionate about.

Accomplished. =)

Read at least 1 book a month.

Accomplished. I surpassed my Goodreads reading target by 30%.

Be more patient.

Eh… these goals are harder to evaluate. I tried. I don’t think I quite succeeded. I felt quite harried this year, like a flag up on a high pole, under the whim of the wind. I was rushing from one thing to the next, and I don’t think that’s a sign of patience.

Meditate at least 5 minutes a day.

I think the previous goal should shed some light on how well I did with this one. Didn’t even get to do it.

Eat more healthily and exercise.

I think I did a pretty good job at this during the first third of the year. I was at home most of the time studying so I could exercise while I’m resting. When I started my internship, bumping my commute times to 3+ hours a day, my “rest” time has shrunk considerably. I come home and I am tired. What little time I have left went into trying to accomplish the goals I did manage to accomplish above.

Hello 2018

If there’s anything 2017 has taught me, it’s that I can accomplish a lot even during demanding times. But something I also learned is that I’m not always in the best state of mind and soul. I’m tired all the time even when I just sit all day at work. I’m impatient and cranky. It takes only a thing or two to get me feeling bummed out and burned out.

I find that my external goals haven’t changed that much. I’m still working on my art skills, I’m making strides in my story, I’m learning and growing in my career. But I think that even my external goals are affected by my internal state. When I’m lethargic and frustrated I just don’t get as much work done. I think everything I do is useless and I run out of energy and passion.

So for this year, I really want to focus on nourishing my internal self. Whether that means eating better, getting more exercise, or even just meditating a few minutes a day. Writing has always been therapeutic for me, but you all probably noticed that I don’t write on my blog very often. It’s because when I’m stressed or feeling bad about myself, I don’t want to share that publicly. Which is actually counter productive because it just makes me feel more alone. Most of my hobbies are solitary and so is my day job. This year I want to write just a little bit more to open up about myself so I don’t feel like I’m doing all of these alone.