Teatime Tuesday #27

Welcome back to teatime!


This Teatime Tuesday is brought to you courtesy of Mother’s Day. My sister and I purchased a strawberry cake from our local grocery store for my mom to try. (She’s allergic to chocolate, unfortunately, so she’s always looking for tasty fruit-topped desserts like this one!) She was kind enough to share it with everyone in my family, so we all sampled a piece. Naturally, I decided to pair my slice with some tea.

For my tea, I chose a flavored one called Vanilla Rose Ceylon, courtesy of Flying Bird Botanicals. They’re a smaller tea company with a lot of interesting blends. I first discovered them while on vacation in Sedona, where a local store had some of their teas in stock. This particular blend is very well-balanced, with a strong black tea base and a subtle rose flavor, which is softened nicely by the vanilla. It’s a perfect tea for Mother’s Day, feminine and a little sweet.


As always, thanks for joining me for tea!

Teatime Tuesday #26

Welcome back to Teatime Tuesday!


This week, I wanted to talk about a special teatime I had during a recent visit with friends. We got cupcakes from my favorite cupcake shop, Sprinkles–including a special flavor in honor of their tenth anniversary. These sprinkle-flavored cupcakes definitely lived up to their name: they were covered in tiny rainbow sprinkles, and even the cake was spotted with rainbow colors. The creamy vanilla frosting went well with the other flavors.


For my tea, I had an old favorite: the decaffeinated vanilla black tea from Harney & Sons (which is sometimes called Vanilla Comoro). It’s the perfect tea to have with sweet desserts, because the sugar in the cupcake highlights the vanilla flavor in the tea. Plus, it’s nice to have an option that’s lower in caffeine, for drinking later in the day.

As always, thanks for joining me for tea!

Five Tips for Creating Character Personalities

Like I mentioned in my post about everygirls, I crave stories in which the characters have distinct personalities: traits and behavior patterns that make them different not only from the other characters in the story, but from other characters (and people!) in general.

So how do you come up with a character’s personality, and how do you make it unique? Whether you are a discovery writer who comes up with characters as you write, or a planner who designs your characters in advance, it helps to have a few strategies for thinking about what kind of person your character is. So here are five of my favorite strategies I use for character creation…

  • Use systems for describing personalities that already exist. Humans have created lots of ways to describe different personalities over the centuries. Some of my favorites are the four humors, the Western Zodiac, the Chinese Zodiac, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and even a Japanese theory about blood type. These systems are great reminders of the range of personalities that exist in human beings. Plus, the more systems you use to define a character, the more complex that character will be. (And remember, you don’t have to believe in the accuracy of these systems to use them for character inspiration!)
  • Create foil and complementary characters. If you already have the personality of your protagonist in mind, use it as inspiration for the other members of your cast. Does she have a friend who’s the complete opposite of her (a foil)? Does she know someone who is similar, but different in a crucial way (a complement)? Foil and complementary characters serve a literary function in stories, but they also ensure a well-rounded cast of characters, personality-wise.
  • Go against type. Occupations and hobbies are important. But people tend to assume things about characters with certain occupations or hobbies. Take doctors, for example, who are usually portrayed as kind and nurturing. (That’s why a misanthropic doctor like House feels so unique.) All types of people can be found working in any profession. Consider giving a character a personality that goes against stereotype (and better yet, consider how that quality could be a strength or a weakness in that occupation).
  • Add layers. Even if you create a character who fits a certain trope or stereotype, you can still make him or her unique by considering other aspects of the character’s personality and background. For example, maybe the character’s hobbies don’t match up with the stereotype of someone with that occupation, or the character’s background is unusual for someone with that position. Just be sure that these aspects of the character appear in your story (and preferably matter to the reader, in one way or another).
  • Go deeper. Consider what it would feel like to actually BE this character. How does he or she really think? What drives her or her? The deeper you go, the more individual your character will seem to the audience. Ultimately, everyone thinks about things a little differently. People have contradictory desires. They go against their “type” sometimes. Figuring out when and why a character does that can really make him or her feel distinct, and help flesh out the character’s full personality.

I hope these tips give any writers out there some inspiration, for different ways to think about a character’s personality. I really want writers to succeed in this aspect of storytelling, and even excel at it, because ultimately it gives me more interesting stories to read.

That’s it for today! See you on Tuesday for teatime.

Teatime Tuesday #25

Welcome back to Teatime Tuesday! And thank you for your patience with last week’s delays.


Today’s tea was fairly typical for me. For my afternoon treat, I had a Triple Berry scone from Paradise Bakery. (I’m not actually sure which three berries were used in the recipe! I even checked their website, but couldn’t find the answer. I’ll have to ask them next time.) It had a sweet glaze on top, so it felt a little redundant to add jam and clotted cream–but I went ahead and did it anyway.


For my tea, I steeped up a cup of Sansia Black, purchased from Butiki Teas (which is now closed, sadly). Sansia Black is very smooth, especially for a straight black tea, and it has a honey-like undertone to it. As I’d hoped, the honey notes went really well with the sweetness of the scone.

Thanks for joining me for tea!

The Problem of the Everygirl

This post was difficult for me to write, because I didn’t want it to sound overly strident. Turns out, I hold some strong opinions when it comes to fictional characters. (No surprise there, really!) In the past, I’ve talked about how I tend to read with a focus on character, rather than plot. When I open a book, I want to read about fascinating people who do amazing things. However, I care more about who they are as people than about what they’re able to accomplish.

This can be a problem.

In bestselling fiction, protagonists tend to be “everymen.” In the case of the YA genre, where the protagonists are usually female, they are “everygirls.” Often struggling just to survive, these protagonists inspire our sympathy because, even though they are caught up in extraordinary circumstances, deep down they are just like us. They care about their families and friends, and they want to survive and find love and all kinds of relatable desires.

This is not a bad thing, in itself. But all too often, I find these stories difficult to enjoy. The protagonist’s name becomes a challenge for me to remember, because she resembles too many other protagonists in YA novels. When I finish the book, I am unable to describe the heroine in detail to my fellow readers. Instead of having a distinct personality, she reacts like most people would in her situation (especially if they had her background/upbringing).

Contrary to what you might think, this does not mean that these stories are poorly written. Often the protagonists have complex motives and realistic emotions… But they are still forgettable, and while their circumstances are highly interesting, they are not. At least, not to me.

Now, let me pull back for a moment and confess that my standards for ‘interesting’ are high. (Perhaps too high!) Based on reviews I’ve read, plenty of people can read a story about an everygirl and be satisfied with it. But then again, readers love to encounter a character who is unique, who has a distinct personality and voice. So why not satisfy everyone? A main character can have a unique personality and still care about many of the same things readers do. She can be sympathetic and an individual.

Unfortunately, I think one reason why protagonists in YA don’t always feel unique is because they’re trying to be unique in the same way. Many YA heroines are closed off emotionally because of tragic events in their past. In expressing this part of themselves, they tend to be sullen and antisocial and a bit caustic. (Again, this isn’t a bad thing in itself! It just blurs together with other YA protagonists who possess these traits.) They are untrusting—but given their circumstances, they should be. They are survivors, and many of them are skilled with weapons—but again, given their circumstances, they need to be.

In other words, Katniss is a cool character, but I’ve already read about her. (Also, I think a lot of people in Katniss’s situation would act at least a little bit like Katniss.) So it’s important to try to make a protagonist unique, to differentiate her from other YA heroines. But how exactly do you create a character with a distinct personality?

Well, a character with personality has patterns of behavior that are specific to her. Those patterns should contrast starkly with those of the other characters in the story, so readers can see the difference. Most stories get that part right—but I believe a heroine who is truly unique will behave in certain ways regardless of her background and current circumstances (i.e. whether she’s rich or poor, whether her home life was good or bad, whether her life is being threatened or not).

Basically, I want to read about a protagonist who has specific and definable traits (hot-tempered, energetic, shy, a goofy sense of humor, etc.), but not just because her parents got divorced or she lives on a farm or something like that. Those things are still a factor, of course; our circumstances and background affect us. But it shouldn’t be the only factor, the primary thing I know about her. I want to know what a protagonist would be like if I met her in high school. I want to know which result she would get in one of those silly personality quizzes in magazines, the ones that don’t have a category for “damaged by a dark past” or “just trying to survive.”

Most of all, I want to be able to describe a protagonist in enthusiastic detail to my friends, when I go on to recommend the book to them. (“Oh, you’ll love her. She acts like this most of the time, but then she does this crazy thing when she’s stressed out, and also she reminds me of this person we both know, because…”) I want to feel like I’m introducing my friends to an interesting person, not a generic character who gets tossed around by the plot—no matter how thrilling that plot may be.

In the end, I want to read about all kinds of protagonists, not just “everygirls.” Having a unique protagonist makes a story more entertaining, and besides, it makes me care more about the heroine and her journey. And isn’t that something all writers want?

Note: I may follow up with more on this subject later, with tips on how to create/define a particular character’s personality.