Oh gosh, where did May go? Here's a brief recap, I guess!

on the blog

  • For my second-ever Scribbler School post, I talked about how to make your names work for your story.
  • I participated in the third round of #LitLove (which is an Awesome Thing that I do with the ATTAC gang), highlighting William Shakespeare and one of my favorites of his plays: Othello.
  • I did Beautiful People again because it's fun and emotionally compromising. This time, I spotlighted Rowen Raveneye and Yvette Scarleigh.
  • I featured Maggie Stiefvater's #twitterfiction for the fifteenth edition of Fiction Friday.

that one time I was offline *gasp*

  • School is vaguely tolerable, if only because my history class is really interesting.
  • I came in second at a state-level piano scholarship competition (on Mother's Day, no less), which was very cool and a wonderful surprise.
  • I took my first (and hopefully last) AP exam of high school, for AP Statistics, which is the only AP class my normally-IB school offers. I think I didn't do too badly, shockingly enough.
  • Toward the middle of the month, I came down with a debilitating cough/cold/generally gross thing. Needless to say, I wasn't exactly pleased about my immune system's decision to take a sudden holiday.
  • I had a very relaxing and much-needed four-day Memorial Day weekend.
  • During that weekend, I founded out I'd been admitted into The Adroit Journal's 2015 Summer Mentorship Program! (I saw the email and suddenly WHAT WAS AIR.) This is a summer-long writing mentorship for high school writers brought into being by the indomitable Peter LaBerge and his wickedly talented Adroit staff. So far the experience has been an absolute dream, and I can't wait to get into the heart of the program this summer—I'm being mentored by 2013 National Student Poet Aline Dolinh, whose work I've admired for ages (there is so much caps and excitement that I'm barely containing here).
(Yes, this is what that tweet was about.)

  • Actually, a lot of poetry-related happenings went down this month.
  • I got a really great score on the ACT Plan, which was great because I was pretty certain I'd screwed up that test. (For all you non-American friends *waves*, the ACT is one of the standardized tests that we can take in America to get into college, kind of like the SAT, and the ACT Plan is like an ACT prep test administered to high school sophomores—except when you're like my nerd friends and me and you take it as a freshman.)
  • I was also given an honorable mention for outstanding ninth grade math (??? I'm honestly terrible at math) student at my school's academic awards. I'm pretty sure those are decided by teacher recommendations, and I wasn't even aware that my math teacher noticed me, so that was very cool.

I've been reading

  • The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker, which was pretty enjoyable while I was reading it, but didn't hold up in retrospect (also some aspects of the book hurt my feminist heart in a big way).

I've been watching

Wolf Hall ended and I didn't know what to do with myself. The answer turned out to be WATCH MORE THINGS.

these cw poster things always look so absurdly contrived; they make me laugh
You probably know about how The 100 became one of my newest TV obsessions last month. So it's no surprise that I dove headfirst into season 2 both terrified and thrilled to be starting it.

IT'S EVEN BETTER. WHAT IS THIS MADNESS. I said last month that The 100 was everything I never knew I wanted, and that assessment held true in this second season. This is sci-fi at its grittiest and fiercest—so, thoroughly out of my comfort zone. It's something I never would've picked up on my own but am so glad I did (thanks, Tumblr). The tension and stakes are ramped up about 532%, the worldbuilding just gets richer and richer, the moral dilemmas are more thorny and heart-wrenching than ever, and the characters have come so far in their development it's just mind-blowing. Bonus points for diversity (!!!) and empowered girls (!!!) and combinations of the two (!!!!!!).

Spotlight of some of my favorite aspects of this season:

if you hurt raven reyes i will probably fight you fyi
this ship is everything? basically yes + look octavia's amazing
i should start a monty green appreciation campaign
you know lexa i love you as a character but sometimes just LEXA NO STOP
i will go down with this ship, no regrets
Something that a lot of people seem to not know about me is that I sometimes watch and fangirl over anime. I'm nowhere near as hardcore as a lot of anime lovers, but I do really enjoy anime when I delve into it. This month I started Sword Art Online, which is a fast-paced, engaging look into the world of virtual reality video games.

I've mainly stuck around because a) sword fight scenes are fun fun fun, b) the plot advances very quickly and I love it, c) the premise is ridiculous but the execution is unexpectedly awesome, and d) the characters are so lovable (plus character dynamics are so wonderful, especially the OTP I indicated above). The only thing I'd like to ask for from SAO is some deeper exploration of the moral issues that come up both inside and outside the games—I've yet to see the moral complexity that I crave from what is otherwise a really great anime (and so great for binging, OMG).

I'd been absolutely dying to watch The Theory of Everything ever since I heard it had been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and had gotten Eddie Redmayne the Oscar for Best Actor. (I'd only seen Eddie in Les Mis before that—I think he's adorable and a pretty good actor, but I didn't know if his performance could really hold up.) So when my mother rented the Blu-ray of course I was excited.

The film promised one of my favorite things: an intersection between love and science and history. Also Stephen Hawking. HOW COOL. And I wasn't disappointed! Aesthetically speaking, it's gorgeously done. Emotionally speaking, it's gorgeously done. The performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones were A+ (these two dorks being dorks together in the beginning were so perfect I could cry), the film score was super nice, and I came away with renewed faith in humanity, which is always something I need a boost in anyway. I'd definitely recommend this.

(I still don't think this tops The Imitation Game but hey! I'm slightly aggressively biased in favor of anything Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley do, so.)

help, someone teach me how to Instagram

Click each image to get to full-size!

very pretty arc of virginia boecker's the witch hunter
a walk so lovely i thought i was in fairyland

links of interest

So that was my May! How was yours?

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Alas, it's been a little while since Fiction Friday has shown its face around here. But never fear! It has returned, with a pick from one of my favorite authors of all time: Maggie Stiefvater.

You may remember Maggie Stiefvater's name from somewhere around the Internet because a) it is visible on the covers of the pieces of brilliance called The Scorpio Races, The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue; b) it is attached to her hilarious and enlightening Tumblr; or c) it appears impossible to pronounce and therefore kind of sticks in your brain (Maggie has declared her last name is pronounced steve-otter, if you were wondering). You may also remember Maggie Stiefvater's name from somewhere around the Internet because I fangirl over her... well, often, to understate things.

Some of you may also recall that I'm a fan of Twitter fiction. I even featured it in a Fiction Friday post once. I think it's a very innovative form of storytelling full of possibility.

So when the annual Twitter Fiction Festival rolled around this year and I learned Maggie Stiefvater would be participating, I was ecstatic. And not disappointed in the least. As my fifteenth (!!) Fiction Friday feature, I'd like to present Maggie's "Stories About Gods", a hilarious and inventive tale about... yes, gods.

Instead of the usual excerpt, I'm pleased to be able to embed the entire piece in Storify form below:

Did you enjoy that? Are you a fan of Maggie Stiefvater and/or Twitter fiction? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm here to do Beautiful People for the second month in a row, as I enjoyed the sibling edition so much back in April. This time around, I'm featuring two characters who I affectionately (yes, I love them, so there) term the "mean girls" of On the Midnight Streets, my WIP.

This is mainly by request of Alyssa, because HOW COULD I NOT:
(I promise I'll do Finn at some point. He's too important not to feature.)

Yes, that's right. The aforementioned mean girls are Yvette Scarleigh and Rowen Raveneye, who actually have more in common than one thinks at first glance, and will likely become allies, if not friends, if (or should be that be when?) they meet. I think the fact that they are Alyssa's two favorite characters says a lot about her personality. *ahem* But anyway, some context for those not in the know:

zhenya katava as yvette scarleigh [via]
(This is the closest thing to Yvette's appearance that I've been able to find, but if anyone has face-cast suggestions, shoot them my way.)

Yvette Scarleigh is the daughter of Godfrey, Earl of Hightrill, and arguably the most socially canny nobleman's daughter in the city of Peralton—or the entirety of the Mendlands, for that matter. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Upper City society has the good sense to respect her or fear her, depending on their circumstance. She's armed with a shining reputation and manners like you've never seen, and she is strictly not to be crossed, because she'll do whatever it takes to get you back tenfold. To someone who doesn't know better, it may seem like Yvette's sole goal in life is to snag a wealthy husband, and she certainly does spend much of her time and effort working toward that. But she's ambitious and clever and absolutely terrifying if provoked, and the social waters are her domain. She's determined to be the most successful Upper City wife Peralton has ever known, whatever that may come to mean for her.

tian yi as rowen raveneye [via]
(Again, closest approximation of Rowen's face I can find and attach a name to at this point.)

Rowen Raveneye is an immigrant from Xianhai, a country on the opposite side of the continent only known to the Mendish for trade purposes, who leads an all-women Xianhaine crime ring in Peralton's Lower City, where the poorest people and the criminals live. She came to the Mendlands when she was very young, so she has little to no memories of her homeland (hence the more Mendish-sounding name, which she took for herself early on). Once she arrived in the capital, Peralton, she built her name from the ground up, working her way from petty thievery to more large-scale exploits. She has an underground network of wanted men and women under her thumb, and she's one of the most powerful criminals in all of the Lower City. The word Raveneye has almost the same effect in Peralton as the word Voldemort has in the Harry Potter universe. She's the main rival of the legendary Midnight Hatter aka Finn, and she vies against him for dominance all the time.

(The two have yet to duel it out, though. I won't say who would win, but it'd be a close match. But I don't think a physical fight between Finn and Rowen would happen, because they're kind of frenemies. They respect each other's skills but never acknowledge each other or work together because THEY'RE RIVALS.)

1. Do they get nightmares? If so, why or what of?

Yvette: She seldom has any dreams at all—frankly, there isn't much in the Upper City that will stir the subconscious into producing dreams. But if she does have nightmares, they usually involve her mother, Octavia. The thing about Octavia is that she's been raising Yvette to be the perfect society woman with the perfect husband and the perfect household, essentially everything that Octavia herself tried but failed to achieve. So Yvette's still haunted by memories of her early childhood, when Octavia did everything in her power to make sure Yvette had a flawless walk, a cultured voice, a sophisticated but demure demeanor. These measures often ended up causing Yvette a lot of physical and emotional pain, so her nightmares, when they happen, usually make her relive those times.

Rowen: Rowen's nightmares vary widely, and she gets them a lot (though she never tells a soul about them, because her fellow thieves don't need to see their leader showing such weakness), but one thing that always comes up: death. It's not so much the act of dying itself, or even the potential pain, that her subconscious keeps trying to pick apart; as a criminal, Rowen's had plenty of time to get used to the inevitability of that. It's more about a too-early death, a death that occurs without anything meaningful having led up to it. Rowen feels like she can't leave this earth without having made her mark on it first, and she doesn't want hers to be a random, senseless death. In all things, Rowen wants to matter, and so naturally her bad dreams make her feel like she doesn't.

2. What is their biggest guilty pleasure/secret shame?

Yvette: She's never been outside the walls of Peralton's Upper City, where the wealthy are housed, despite the utmost necessity of keeping up a cultured, worldly air when in polite company. Most other Upper City girls Yvette's age have been abroad multiple times, but even her father's title can't keep the family wealthy enough for the expenses of travel. It's not exactly that she feels like she's lying. She lies all the time and is good at it and is not bothered by it in the least. But she hates that feeling of being lesser and having to patch things up because of it. She blames her father for this, as he's rather bumbling and has no head for management and is really bad at worming his way into the king's good graces, which has left the family finances in semi-disarray for the past few years.

Rowen: Since she's been in the Mendlands since she was really, really little, she's illiterate in Xi, the language of those native to Xianhai, and no longer as fluent when speaking as she'd like to be. She's been accused on multiple occasions of not being a 'true' Xianhaine by subordinates, and this makes it difficult to maintain cohesion within her ranks. She's been having her second-in-command, a much older woman, tutor her so that she can relearn the language, but it stings her pride to have to ask her second for help. But this touches on a deeper shame that affects almost every aspect of Rowen's character: she's constantly in a state of cultural limbo, and she doesn't know which side of her identity she owes loyalty to.

3. Are they easily persuaded or do they need more proof?

Yvette: One should basically describe Yvette as the antithesis of gullible. She's had trust issues all her life because she's never been trustworthy herself, so she won't believe anything anyone tells her if there isn't concrete evidence before her eyes. This is especially true of her peers' interpersonal dynamics—if someone tells her that two people are in love or about to kill each other or anywhere in between, she's not even going to consider their input on the situation unless she can see and make decisions on everything with her own mind. She places her own judgment first, last, and foremost, as it's the thing that's led her to her present advantageous position, so she won't let people persuade her of anything, because she's seen others socially destroyed by making the same mistake.

Rowen: Rowen's probably the most street-smart character in the entire book. She's practically at the top of the Lower City food chain, and she didn't get there by putting her faith in the wrong people. (Or any people at all, really.) People are not going to persuade her of things easily, especially since she often sees people robbed or brutally murdered for being even a little too trusting—and she herself has manipulated gullible people many, many times. Like Yvette, she relies heavily on her personal judgment, with all its prejudices and petty fears and lethal strategies, to get things done, because she knows from experience that trusting one's own self is the most effective way to go in her world.

4. Do they suffer from any phobias? Does it affect their life in a big way?

Yvette: She doesn't have any phobias in the medical sense, but she has a very deep-seated fear of being ostracized, instilled in her by her childhood and her experiences with Upper City life. This fear has shaped almost all her actions from the day she was first exposed to polite company, and it dictates all her motivations. Whatever happens, she will not let herself become a pariah, because the unknowable vastness and frightening implications of being rejected by her peers terrify her.

Rowen: Like Yvette, Rowen doesn't have any medical phobias. The few worldly fears she has are quickly dismissed, because fear is something she cannot afford when she's holding so many deadly and morally ambiguous people under her command. She's always the first to head into danger, though not without first arming herself with weapons both tangible and abstract. But she is truly and terribly afraid of having everything she's worked so hard and paid in blood and tears for—her underground empire, her status, her power—taken away. This influences all of her day-to-day decisions.

5. What do they consider their “Achilles heel”?

Yvette: Yvette believes she has two weaknesses: her family and her lack of a husband. To her, they're evils brought upon her by her situation. If someone targets her in either of those two areas, she is undeniably vulnerable. She does her best to shove those weak spots under the carpet, and most of the time, she succeeds. These are the only real cracks in her armor—or at least the only ones she herself sees, and she resents them with everything she has in her.

Rowen: Rowen's "Achilles heel" is her fellow Xianhaines. She will never ignore the call of someone she feels is her countryman—she feels a very strong sense of duty toward Xianhai, despite the fact that she hasn't actually been there for at least fifteen years. This sense of duty, as one might expect, leads her astray at times and can be used to exploit her emotions. She knows that it has this effect on her, but she just can't let go of that feeling that she owes something to what she considers her 'home country'.

6. How do they handle a crisis?

Yvette: As a general rule, Yvette does extremely well under pressure; it's essentially how she's secured such a high place in the social spheres of Peralton. She takes control of the problem politely but firmly before anyone else can, and then just as politely and just as firmly, she does away with it. Whether it's a ruined dress or a growing rumor or a blackmail threat, you can count on Yvette Scarleigh to turn it in her favor without letting anyone know what she's doing, all while keeping her reputation as snow-white as it's always been. Lots of people think that Yvette has her grip on every bit of the Upper City's social bubble; they're not wrong. She's got claws in everyone's skin. She just digs them in deeper when the times call for it, and people have no choice but to smile through the pain.

Rowen: Rowen's response to a crisis: eliminate all potential threats. This is true in both the short and long term. It is also true of both people and events. Anything or anyone that could potentially cause a problem or is currently causing a problem is immediately slashed out of the picture. Some document might return to haunt her later? It's gone. Someone's holding too much sensitive information? Goodbye. Rowen's method of handling a problem can be boiled down to ripping apart everything in her way until she's got a clear, straight path to the finish that she can take with maximum speed. A little primitive and paranoid when put that way, perhaps, but it works like nothing the Lower City has ever seen. It's efficient and pragmatic and has been known to involve a lot of blood.

7. Do they have a temper?

Yvette: Yes indeed, though perhaps not in a traditional sense. It's probably one of her defining traits, as her actions as a result of her temper have intimidated just about everyone in the Upper City at this point. If Yvette feels she's been slighted in any way, her anger will flare up, but it'll manifest itself in the most subtle and poisonous possible way. She will let nothing slip in her outward appearance, but she knows how to manipulate the current of gossip and the tide of the Upper City's general consensus, and she won't hesitate to do it. She'll take control of any situation quickly and quietly, and no one she targets will know what hit them. If someone tries to so much as crease her social standing or her chances at a good marriage, she'll bring them down.

Rowen: Let's say that's an understatement. She always has ample amounts of festering anger against Alastair's corrupt government and those who are prejudiced against Xianhaines and women. Her temper inspires fear in the hearts of enemies and steadfast loyalty (with a healthy dose of fear?) from the girls and women she takes in. Her temper in and of itself is a force of nature. She's had plenty of time to learn that volatile and violent is a great combination of character traits when consolidating power, and she's perfected her anger, honed it into a wickedly sharp blade both literally and figuratively. Think of it this way—if you really tick her off, you'll know because the streets will be running red with your blood in about 2.5 seconds.

8. What are their core values and/or religious beliefs?

Yvette: The Mendlands eradicated religion during the Laceblade Uprising that resulted in the founding of the kingdom because the two first queens, Rosalind and Clarabel, saw it only as something that would corrupt and skew government. There is no religion but the state—at least not officially, anyway. Due to her thoroughly Mendish upbringing, Yvette doesn't have any religious beliefs to speak of. But she places huge importance on the will to ascend, the will to be better, whatever 'better' means at any given moment in time. This could be because she's been trained to be a social-ladder climber and nothing else, with no other real skills, but she also feels it's a part of her own personality.

Rowen: Rowen's core value can be summed up as the freedom to establish identity. This is cultural identity, mental identity, emotional identity—you name it. She wants to be wholly her own, and the ability and room to do that is something that she holds close to her heart. She will not be bound or caged or subjugated when she still has so much to find out about herself, when so much of herself is still coming into being. She wants all the space in the sky she needs to throw her voice at, and all the space under the earth so she can better tread the ground beneath her feet. She can't imagine living with anything less, which is one reason why she's fought so hard to cling to her freedom in the Lower City. 

9. What things do they value most in life?

Yvette: She was taught from a young age that complete financial security is the first thing a woman should set her sights on, preferably in the form of a rich and easily exploited husband with a very nice house, and everything else is secondary. So that's definitely part of it. But even broader than that is the idea of shining, flawless success and the eventual goal of perfection. She doesn't want a storybook life necessarily; she wants a life that is above all imagining.

Rowen: To be short about it: her life, her spirit, her wits, and her weapons. She's made a habit over the years of not forming dangerous attachments to much else, because anything—possessions, loved ones, you name it—can be lost in an instant. There's a kind of stark beauty in simplicity and utility that Rowen appreciates, so she tries to surround herself with that and sever ties to anything extraneous.

10. What is one major event that helped shape who they are?

Yvette: Yvette formally made her entrance to society at the age of thirteen, having completed all education her parents felt she needed and reached an acceptable level of maturity. This was an unusual occurrence indeed, since most Upper City girls wait to have their 'coming-out' ceremonies until they're fifteen or sixteen. When she had her cotillion (essentially a ball that spotlighted her introduction to the marriage market), however, she was immediately eclipsed by Lavender Hawkins, mainly because Yvette doesn't have the 'typical' beauty that the Mendish approve of and Lavender, frankly, has it in spades. The anger and envy she felt that night has helped Yvette use her wiles and her incisive, impeccable taste to her advantage ever since.

Rowen: When Rowen first got to Peralton, she was captured by a disgusting gang of men who made their living selling 'exotic' young girls to brothels. Keep in mind she was really little at the time, probably around four or five. She escaped, obviously, but only by the skin of her teeth, and only after killing three people, which she still isn't sure how she managed. The guilt of leaving the other girls there to that fate haunts her to this day. This has left her with an intense distrust of men and a fierce protectiveness of those she considers 'her own'—that is, Xianhaine girls and women.

So that's all for this round! Do you love these cutthroat girls as much as I do? Did you do Beautiful People this month? Sound off in the comments!

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graphic courtesy of topaz winters

so what is #litlove?

It's a collaborative post series that happens every two months. It debuted in December 2014, featuring myself and four other lovely writer/bloggers, dubbed ATTAC:

Alyssa / Topaz / Taylor / AnQi / Christina (that's me!)

Officially(ish) speaking:
#LitLove is our chance to spout our love for the written word in all its forms, and it happens once every two months. It was born from a feverish Twitter fangirling session (as so many good things are) and then put into action. We've got a veritable army of ideas cooking, and we plan to spotlight everything from authors to tropes in the future.
Previously, we've featured brilliant middle grade authors Kate DiCamillo and Roald Dahl. Today, though, we're shifting our focus a bit. We'll be looking into our takes on arguably the most famous playwright of all time—the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.

shakespeare 101

It's kind of hard to be a reader of any kind of literature in the English language and not know about Shakespeare. (Okay, so Shakespeare may not even really be Shakespeare, but that's not the point of this post.)

Here's a bio from Goodreads if dear Will's name doesn't ring a bell:
William Shakespeare (baptized 26 April 1564) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon" (or simply "The Bard"). His surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language, and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
So, um, pretty darn famous.

I have to marvel at the audacity and power of Shakespeare as a writer. Honestly, all of us writers do. He invented words, twisted them to fit into new places with new purpose. He retold old tales and filled them with vivacity and emotion, and he wrote to appeal to both the masses and to royalty. His plays are hilarious, heart-rending, gorgeous, terrifying, and most of all, universal. Shakespeare finds things within us all and brings them to light in astounding ways—things we love about ourselves, things we'd rather not see in ourselves, things we're afraid to talk about, things we talk about too much. Once I found myself embedded in some of his work, I could truly see that his eminence is justified. To date, I've read Hamlet, Othello, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and The Winter's Tale in some form or other, and I look forward to delving deeper into Shakespeare for the rest of my life.

othello, an intro

Well, to begin, a tiny, tiny synopsis:
Othello, a Moorish captain, secretly falls in love with and marries Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian nobleman. While the two live happily at first, a spurned suitor of Desdemona’s and Iago, an ambitious officer under Othello’s command, plan to tear the couple apart out of revenge for perceived slights suffered at their hands.
Of course, that doesn't even begin to do it justice. Othello is a play rife with complexities and emotional richness on every part of the moral spectrum. It's about the seeds of doubt and envy that grow to impossible and frightening proportions. It's about the extremes that humans will go to if they're pushed in just the right ways, the scary little flaws in all of us that can be exploited and make us into monsters if we aren't careful enough.

Plus we have a very interesting exploration of racism, as Othello's ethnicity is constantly brought up and 'otherized' by his peers, and the relationship between Othello's identity and his achievements is fascinating to read about. While I'm not totally sure if this was Shakespeare's intent, I think it makes the play that much more rewarding.

Combine those meaty themes with the Bard's trademark superbly realistic characters, stunning backdrop of a setting, and mind-blowing skill with language, and you know you've got a winner of a play.

(Also: I've always loved the tragedies so much more than the comedies for some reason. *pretends not to see the weird way everyone's looking at me*)

(Also: one of the most truly disturbing villains I have ever encountered in literature. Iago is brilliant and terrifying and I can't get him out of my head but at the same time he really needs to get out of my head.)

what this play means to me

I will always love Shakespeare for the people he brings to life first and foremost, and the characters of Othello are no exception. I'll be talking about the four main figures who stuck out to me and fangirl about themes and wordplay in the process because I am a literature nerd at heart.


As the title character of the play, Othello is a deeply tragic and multifaceted figure, and he is the perfect focal point for this story. His position in Venetian society seems to set him up for failure: not only is he a firmly practical military man in the midst of nobles who've been navigating the treacherous social waters for their entire lives, but he's also an outsider in terms of his ethnicity (he's described as a 'Moor' throughout the play; there's some debate among scholars as to his actual ethnicity). Despite this, when the play opens, it seems he's doing admirably—he's proved his worth and honor in the battlefield, earning praise from his superiors, and he's snagged a wonderful wife, albeit through unconventional methods. He has friends who genuinely care about him and a fairly good social position. He's done the impossible: assimilated into Venetian society despite the odds stacked against him.

But we quickly see that his personality, so perfect for war but so unsuited to peacetime and high society, starts to work against him.

All that he could be, all that he never becomes because of both his own failings and the predatory nature of his surroundings, is heartbreaking. In the beginning, we see that he's an honorable, good man with some very deep fault lines in his character. By the end, his life's work, his hard-won victory, has been reduced to rubble, and we ask: whose fault is this?

And the thing that really gets me about Othello is that it could be his own


Like I said before, I think Iago is truly one of the most disturbing villains English literature has to offer. He's evil given flesh, to put it kindly. He winnows his way into people's minds using half-truths with alarming ease, and his web of deception upon deception is absolutely horrifying.

I think one of his own lines says it best: 'I am not what I am.'

One of Othello's strongest aspects is that it tackles a very, very difficult theme head-on by fully engaging with and picking apart the distinctions between one's image to the public, one's image to close friends and family, and one's true self. This appearance vs. reality divide is really shocking but very real and relevant. Iago's real talent is that he can manipulate this boundary and twist it to his own advantage by appealing to emotions like jealousy, the 'green-eyed monster'.

And all the while, you're thinking "why? why would he go to these lengths to ruin these people's lives?" and I think literature scholars have been trying for the past four centuries or so to figure that out. It's a tough nut to crack. 


Desdemona is so intriguing, and I definitely pondered her situation a lot as I read. Desdemona is, in the eyes of the males that dominate the Venetian social landscape, the perfect woman. She is obedient to a fault to her father and husband (with the notable exception of her secret marriage, which I'll get into later), she is generous and well-spoken at all times, and she is both accomplished and beautiful. Heck, she's rich on top of it all.

Throughout the play, Desdemona is objectified, even by her own husband, who refers to her once as 'monumental alabaster'. On the outside, she seems so polished and put-together, with no incendiary opinions of her own to voice, and she appeals to my personal curiosity because there must be so much going on underneath that whole socially-acceptable mask she puts on every day. Thus we get a subtle but extremely important view into how Desdemona lives with her own façade.

The one moment she shows any clear, definite defiance (although this is certainly up for debate) is when she deliberately disobeys her father in order to marry Othello. I feel like this isn't talked about enough: Desdemona, the individual. Desdemona, the human, capable of passion and emotion just like anyone else. That's what draws me to her—that single lapse, that solitary but vital decision that eventually spirals into her own end.


One thing that Shakespeare does rather awesomely (although maybe accidentally) is provide three female characters who are on completely different levels of adherence to the obligations and burdens their patriarchal society has set on them. As I explained above, Desdemona is, or at least seems to be, the perfectly obedient, idealized noble wife figure. Bianca, another supporting character, is a prostitute, and therefore ridiculed and scorned by all, even by the man who teases her with marriage proposals. 

Emilia is the middle ground, and this is why I love her, although she may seem like a minor character in the grand scheme of things.

My favorite moment for Emilia—and one of my favorites in the entire play—is her speech on the relationships between women and men that she gives to Desdemona. It's such a progressive speech for the time and contains a lot of great feminist principles. We see that she has a fierce devotion to Desdemona and a lot of wry wisdom, and she resents the fact that society tries to contain her.

so that's all from me—but wait! there's more #litlove!

* AnQi and Topaz unfortunately won't be participating in this round.
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...but I will have to eventually, and so will you if you're working on a manuscript.

So continues my new post series, "Scribbler School", and my long reflection on how to make names—long or short or just goshdarn eccentric—stick to the things they're meant for.
"Scribbler School" is my occasional post series where I share my ruminations and ramblings on any and all aspects of writing, partially inspired by my good friend Alyssa's Noveling 101. There's no rhyme, reason, or semblance of sequence other than some honest thoughts. While I don't pretend to be teaching surefire writing methods—heck, I'm still that awkward kid in the back corner of the classroom and probably will be for a very long time—I'll use what little creative fairy dust I've picked up on my journey so far and great literary examples to try and help others out. (And, as you can see, some pretty amazing alliteration.)
Names are a ubiquitous issue in novels, whether you're working on a sweeping high fantasy, a sweet contemporary, or a jumbled mess of no-genre-in-particular. And while sometimes they simply fall into your lap or knock you over the head in a burst of transcendent inspiration, they're usually matters of much head-scratching and brain-pain. In some cases, they can even make or break the readability of your work—distracting names are a huge letdown for many readers. Place names, character names, and names for the random little bits and pieces of your storyworld are all important, and despite their seemingly unobtrusive nature, they are essential to making your story tick.

What makes some names better than others, and how can we find the best names possible?

(NOTE: These examples are based on my opinion only, and you're welcome to agree or disagree in the comments!)

sometimes, it works

EXAMPLE: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas.

I think that what makes these names work is that Maas does a really good job of mixing familiar and unfamiliar name elements—they all still feel foreign enough that they're believably from another world, but they're not completely impossible to wrap your tongue (and head) around. That might be a good strategy to employ when considering one's own fantasy names, and it definitely helps worldbuilding, in my opinion.

(The one glaring exception I can think of is the name Chaol, because try as I might, I still can't figure out how precisely to pronounce it. Is it 'kale' like the vegetable? Is it 'chale'? NO ONE KNOWS.)

Some examples of character names that were done well and illustrate the phenomenon I pointed out above:
  • Aedion Ashryver. Now, I admit, the first time I saw this name, I wanted to back away and kind of avoid it. But once I actually got a handle on it, I realized that it was actually quite manageable. 
  • Manon Blackbeak. Not only is this name evocative—I mean, you get the hint that Manon is kind of sharp and cruel and sinister just from her name—it's also easy to adjust to. 
And a place name that has similar properties:
  • Rifthold. The pronunciation on this is pretty intuitive, and it also captures the feeling of this high fantasy metropolis, the capital of the great empire—which is precisely what Rifthold is. 

other times, it flops

EXAMPLE: The Selection by Kiera Cass.

For those not aware, the Selection trilogy is set in a future North America called Illéa that is ruled by a monarchy and divided into caste systems. The names in the series... well, they leave something to be desired. The main problem with the names in this case, I believe, is that it doesn't seem like worldbuilding was taken into consideration. Names, no matter how idiosyncratic, should make at least some modicum of sense in the context of the culture and world they're being used in.

Character name examples (these are pretty darn ludicrous, at least in my eyes):
  • America Singer. In a country that was once North America, this feels unrealistic and contrived—it doesn't seem like any parents would give their child the same name their country used to have. It wouldn't happen. And the fact that the surname is Singer... well, guess what their family does for a living? Yeah.
  • King Clarkson and Queen Amberly. These names honestly sound like the kind of thing celebrity parents would name their children. Essentially NOT what a) a king born into his throne and b) a common girl found through the Selection would be named. 
A place name example:
  • Swendway. Honestly, I am incapable of saying this out loud with a straight face. It is, quite frankly, pretty hilarious. This country is presented in the book as a combination of Sweden and Norway, combined under a monarchy. But think about it—in the real world, two countries being unified wouldn't simply mash their names together and call it good. (I also don't really find the idea of Sweden and Norway merging into one country super realistic, either, but that's a worldbuilding issue.) So it shouldn't happen in a book, either.

some other opinions on names in fiction (mainly YA)

how I do it (or, anecdote time!)

To be quite honest, most of my names come to me completely by accident. (Seriously, the entirety of my WIP stemmed from the fact that I saw the word 'chantilly' somewhere on a blog and immediately had to use it as a heroine's name. The rest came afterwards.) But here are some ways I use in order to nudge that accident a little closer.

Look it Up: This is usually my first strategy whenever I'm stumped for a character name. My personal favorite website for names is behindthename.com, as well as its companion, surnames.behindthename.com (the surname site is especially nice because in some situations, surnames can work as place names, too). There are lots of extremely useful explanations on name etymology, usage, variants, and more—and you have to admit, it's kind of fun when a character's name meaning matches their personality (although sacrificing a truly well-fitting name just to get a good meaning can be dangerous). This is also an easy way to make sure the names you're choosing are relevant to your characters' cultures, which is incredibly important in order to make sure that you're fleshing out cultures tastefully and respectfully. I've stumbled upon some gems in the lists here and in other places, so don't be afraid to use name websites as a starting point if you're out of ideas! 

Keep Your Eyes Peeled: I've already told you the brief origin story of my current manuscript, wherein I totally just found a word in the middle of nowhere and made it into a name. *rubs hands together* But now it's time for me to share a true story about one of my character names—Finnegan Lyle. His first name just dropped serendipitously into my head, which was super nice, but I searched for a last name for a long, long time. Anything from Merton to Langley was on the list of possibilities, and I was in a rather dire situation at that point, having no last name to call this EXTREMELY IMPORTANT character by. I was out on a drive near my neighborhood and caught sight of a sign with the word 'Carlyle' on it, and it immediately piqued my interest. A few minutes and copious amounts of fiddling later, I'd taken the 'car' off the front and was left with just 'Lyle'.

Fiddle With Familiar Names: This works really well if you're writing fantasy, for example—tweaking humdrum names can make them a whole lot more exciting. One of my novel's supporting characters is named Yvette Scarleigh, and her last name came to be because I spent WAY too long poking and prodding the name Scarlet. In the same way, you can experiment with various syllables and such in other names in order to make them your own. However, I'll caution you on this method; there is definitely a limit to how much you can do this before it becomes absurd. You don't want to be that one writer with all these 'unique'/actually unpronounceable and unreadable names filled with apostrophes and weird vowel sound variations.

Think About It A Lot: When your mind is fixed on something for a while, it'll eventually start to give you ideas. Use this strategy with some of the others to get your brain on the right track.

What Sounds Right?: Sometimes, when you visualize your character, a name just sort of rises up out of the blue and demands to be attached to that face. My advice? Go with your gut. Your intuition is usually the best judge of what name is right for your character. Plus, sometimes you inadvertently name a character in your head before actually officially naming them and then you can't stop calling the character by that name, like, ever.

so that's all from me—writers, speak up! did you find this post helpful? what methods do you use for naming?

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