Teatime Tuesday #3

About a week ago, I purchased a bunch of new teas. The last of them to arrive was my order from Tealeaves. I was first introduced to the company during afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian Resort in Disney World (which I definitely recommend). I enjoyed the teas there, so I went on a hunt to find where I could purchase them. Turns out, Tealeaves is a luxury tea supplier for fancy hotels, but you can also order their teas online.

Today I’m sampling their Ginger Peach black tea. I’ve been searching for a nice tea with this flavor combination, so I’m looking forward to it.

Ginger Peach tea!

I really like their tins! I’m also trying out the teacup for the first time. (Oddly enough, I also got it at Disney World, in the Japanese department store at EPCOT. I thought the owl was cute, and the colors seem appropriate for the season.)

Owl Teacup

Just for fun, a shot of the cup next to the owl-shaped candleholder on my kitchen table. As you can see, I have a bit of an obsession with owls… Which reminds me, I haven’t talked about that on the blog yet! Maybe that will be my next post? (It’s a long-ish story, about writing and inspiration and the occasional weird coincidence.)

Anyway, to get back to the tea, this Ginger Peach is delicious! The peach flavor is soft and fuzzy, and the ginger is subtle, adding a spicy tingle to the brew. I love the taste of ginger in tea. It’s soothing and warms your whole mouth, which is great for cooler weather. (Also, I don’t know why, but it seems this particular flavor of tea goes extra well with food! Good news for people like me, who enjoy having the occasional cup of tea with dinner.) I’m glad I got a whole tin of this, instead of the smaller sample size.

Thanks for joining me!

Story Structure – The Key to a Novel

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to write a novel. Specifically, the prewriting stage—how to research, how to outline, how to create characters. These days, I view prewriting as the most important part of my process. If I do enough work before I start to write, my drafts are solid. If I don’t, the manuscript will need more revision later on. (Sometimes a lot more. As in, a complete rewrite from beginning to end. Which is not fun, let me tell you!)

So what is the most important part of prewriting? For me, it’s story structure. That’s what I call the central arc of a novel. Story structure is not world-building or plotting. It guides the plot, and shapes it—but it’s much bigger than that.

Story structure looks something like this…

My protagonist wants [fill in a goal or desire].

To achieve [that goal or desire], they will [a list of actions the protagonist takes during the story to get what they want; the more specific the better].

When they take these actions, the protagonist will encounter the following obstacles or complications: ____________________________________.

At the story’s climax, the protagonist achieves [the goal or desire] by doing this: [one final action].

Bonus question: The protagonist would not have been able to take that final action earlier in the novel, because ________________________________.

Those are the fundamentals of story structure. Some people call it different things (the protagonist’s arc, etc.), and I’ve seen other ways to chart it. But more or less, that’s what it looks like. As you can see, it’s pretty basic! Why is this important?

Story structure is the skeleton of your novel. If you do it right, this structure should guide everything your protagonist does—which in turn determines how other characters react to them. It also helps ensure that your novel has a satisfying conclusion. Readers like to see protagonists achieve what they set out to do at the start of the story (or not achieve it, if your story is a tragic one!).

I’ve also found that this structure is helpful for keeping me on track while I’m drafting. If I start to feel lost, I just go back to my notes about what my protagonist wants. It helps me decide what they should do next—whether or not that action makes sense for them, and whether or not it helps achieve their goal. Which means story structure can help me avoid these mistakes:

  • Having my protagonist do something that doesn’t make sense, because it doesn’t match up with their goals/desires.
  • Writing a scene that doesn’t advance the story in any way.

In other words, story structure helps me decide what’s “in character” for my protagonist, and whether or not a scene is needed. It really helps cut down on revision time! If I plan this structure out in advance, I don’t have to cut as many scenes, and I don’t have rewrite them to better fit the protagonist’s motives.

That’s why I think story structure, more than anything else, is the key to writing a good novel. A story is a series of events. A well-written story is one in which those events are driven primarily by the protagonist’s desires, all leading up to a climax where the protagonist achieves (or doesn’t achieve!) what they want.

Well, that’s it for now. I plan to add a second part later on, with a few tips and examples. But I hope this is a helpful starting point, for any aspiring novelists out there. If you would like to explore the topic in more detail, I highly recommend Wired For Story by Lisa Cron. I’ve read a lot of books about writing in the past five years. This is one of the few that teaches how to write on a story level, and the advice is essential (yet so easy to understand that I wondered why I hadn’t heard much of it sooner).


When did I first start loving stories? As soon as I was old enough to act them out. When I was little, my sister and I played make-believe every day. We told stories for hours on end—sometimes with our dolls, sometimes wearing costumes and wielding props. These tales were filled with danger and excitement, and a bizarre amount of tragedy.

My sister and I enacted many a death scene. Our poor dolls suffered from all kinds of injuries—lost limbs, scarred faces. I went through a phase where my favorite doll was a constant invalid, usually from diseases I had read about in Victorian novels. (Scarlet fever was a favorite, for some reason!) My longsuffering grandmother often played the parts of villains from Disney movies, “kidnapping” my sister over and over so I could rescue her.

Yup, Disney movies. I was a kid in the nineties, during the height of the Disney Renaissance. I never grew out of it. Just a few weeks ago, I went to Disney World again. I can’t count how many times I’ve been to the various Disney theme parks. I did a report on Disneyland in the fifth grade, and I even tried to draw a guidebook, with reviews on all my favorite attractions.

Why? What’s so great about a commercialized theme park? And why do I love the Disney take on fairy tales, as sugary and simplistic as it is, when I enjoy darker stories just as much? I guess the best explanation comes from a phrase written on a plaque over the entrance to Disneyland. A phrase that as a kid, I read each time I entered the park, committing it to memory like some sort of prayer…

“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.”

My love for Disneyland comes from my fascination with make-believe. Make-believe is about fairy tales, about fantasy and magic. It allows you to visit other times and places. It invites you to pretend to be someone else, a person who is both like and unlike you. In other words, make-believe is about stories. As a writer, I pretend to be my characters all the time, and try to imagine places I’ve never been. As a kid, I practiced that skill every day, by putting on a princess costume and waving around a plastic sword.

I still put on costumes sometimes. (More on that later!) I still watch cartoons. And I still go to Disneyland and watch the fireworks and sing along with hundreds of little girls while they pretend to be Queen Elsa, the newest Disney heroine— who is not searching for a prince*, and who is not powerless, but discovers a powerful magic inside herself.

Frozen Singalong

The Frozen Singalong at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. (Apologies for the poor photo quality!)

Basically, I’m still a huge kid on the inside. In a way, that’s part of my job. (That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it!) And as for those girls who sang in the audience? I’m excited to see what kind of stories they will share with us someday.

*Unlike her sister Anna, interestingly enough. But the intricacies of the plot of Frozen are a topic for another blog post.

Teatime Tuesday #2

It’s that time again! This weekend I received some samples from Upton Tea Imports, so I’ve been going through them one by one, writing tasting notes as I go. (The notes are posted here on my Steepster account.)

Chocolate Earl Grey!

So today’s tea is Upton’s Chocolate Earl Grey! This one smells very nice in the bag, lots of bergamot citrus—the classic Earl Grey aroma. There’s also a hint of chocolate, but it’s not as noticeable as the bergamot.

Elsa Mug, Chocolates

I decided I would pair this tea with some chocolates, to match the flavors. Then it occurred to me that my new Elsa mug would go perfectly with this tea! (Both Elsa and her sister Anna love chocolate, as fans of Frozen know well.) I purchased this mug on a recent trip to Disney World with my family.

Elsa Mug, Other Side

And here’s a shot of the mug’s other side. Pretty, isn’t it?

I enjoyed this tea. It was a nice Earl Grey, with subtle chocolate flavor. It was even better when I added sugar. (I find sugar helps highlight dessert flavors like chocolate.) I’d like to find an Earl Grey with even more chocolate sometime, but I’ll enjoy the rest of the sample.

Thanks for joining me for tea!

Site Changes

I will be updating the site over the next few days, mostly to add a static front page and bring the “Current Projects” section up to date. My blog should remain online during this time. If there are any problems, I’ll announce them on Twitter.

If all goes well, my blog entries will no longer be visible on the front page of the site. Instead, you’ll be able to access them through a link on the menu at the top of the page, labelled “Blog.” I’ll make sure to test that the subscription feature still works, once I’ve finished making changes.

I have also tweaked the look of the site, and will probably continue to do so. I like it so far! With any luck, readers will too.