The Universe

What Makes a Story a Good Story?

As an avid reader, writer, and watcher of stories, this is something I’m always thinking about.

What makes a story a good story?

You know what the good stories are. You read that book, and now, two years later, you remember it as the best thing you ever read. You completely ignored that story you wrote back in november, but your mind will keep wandering back to it, desperately wanting to edit it and share it with the world. You watched that tv show and, despite the slow process of getting it out of the library since Netflix no longer shows it, you keep coming back for more, finishing it through sheer determination and multiple trips to the library.

The Book ThiefThe Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, To Kill a Mockingbird. All these are good books. Doctor Who, Sherlock, The Princess Bride, Lilo and Stitch. These are good movies/shows. (and these lists are by no means exhaustive. I love tons of other books and movies)

But what is it that draws us to the story and labels it “good”?

A good story is one that reminds us of who we are, what we can be, and what makes life worth living. It’s one with well rounded characters, effortless dialogue, and development: people becoming better people, worlds becoming better worlds.

For everyone, the answer to this question is different, but this is what it means to me. Next time you read a book or watch a movie, try to think of what the definition is for you. What do you look for in characters? In plot? What are you searching for? What is lacking in certain stories?

And when you find the good stories, don’t let them go. Treasure them always.

See ya later,

Jese

apple pie

The Dessert that I Adore

It has come to my attention, good friends, that I have not yet discussed in full a subject that is near and dear to my heart: Pie.
Pie, if you were to ask my opinion, is one of the most important foods in our culture. There are a great many desserts and food, but what dish is served at every one of your newfangled “United States’” holidays?
Pie.
There are many types of pie. There are meat pies, which are the favorite of the High Prince. Every festival, he’ll steal one or two and sneak off to eat them in secret (this will usually result in him being attacked in a flurry of meat-pie-loving righteous fury by my best friends Emr and Meron). There are fish and seafood pies, which are a favorite in my homeland, especially on the Day of the Ships (our version of your Thanksgiving. Except it’s kinda a few millennia older…). There are even pies made of nuts or sugar or both!
While these can be quite good, there is only one kind that rules them all. The best, the most true, most pure, most import species of pie: Fruit Pies.
(In case you are wondering, I’m not counting pumpkin. Pumpkin pie is an imposter. One simply should not make pies of vegetable skins. It’s just wrong.).
Fruit pie is the epitome of all dessert. Why, do you ask? What about cake, everyone loves cake?
The answer is simple—pie is healthier for you. After all, cake is just flower and sugar and stuff. Pie is made of flower, sugar, stuff and fruit. Fruit, everyone knows, is much healthier for you. So not does it only have the same ingredients as cake, it tops it by one (with a healthy ingredient!)!
Pie: 1
Cake: 0
Also, there are as many possibilities for flavors of pie as there are fruit in the world—apple and berry, pear and cherry, peach and lemon and lime and orange, etc. etc., but how many options do you have for cake? Chocolate, vanilla, red velvet, lemon, coconut… and that’s about it (no one speak to me of carrot cake, for the same reason that I ignore the existence of pumpkin pie).
Pie: 2
Cake: 0
Thirdly, and most importantly… the cake is a lie. Everyone knows that. Who can tell what kind of flavor may be lurking beneath the icing? Who knows what horrors lie within the icing itself? Something that hides its true nature beneath layers of sugar and sweetness just cannot be trusted.
But you can trust pie. A pie won’t lie to you. You can poke a knife in a pie and almost immediately guess what kind it is. A pie won’t have creepy, weird ingredients thrown in just to torture you (like all the innocent looking cookies at weddings and parties that by some strange coincidence are all coconut).
Pie: 3 bazillion
Cake: 0
Besides these obvious advantages, there is another aspect. What use is a cake, except to eat, look pretty, and perhaps (if it’s lucky) to be thrown at someone. But pie has many, varied uses such as:
1. A wake up call: what better smell is there to wake up to than the hot puff of air from a fresh baked apple pie?
2. A peace offering: with cake, it’s easy to run into people who are allergic to chocolate, or nuts, or coconut. But who is allergic to fruit? If you want to give a peace offering to the neighbor you’ve been spatting with or an entire enemy nation, pie is the way to go.
3. Celebrations: if you bake a cake for a friend, you’ll spend ages agonizing over the icing and stuff, trying to make it look nice because we expect our cakes to look all smooth and fancy-shmancy. But a pie? It can be lumpy, smooth, perfectly formed, slightly burned on the very tip, we don’t care. It’s still yummy.
4. Meals: This applies more to meat pies (which, while yummy, are inferior to the fruity breed). Consider: which would you eat for supper—a cake made of meat (frosting and all) or a pie made of meat, with a nice, crispy, buttery crust and tons of gravy on the inside?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
5. Cheering up: A pie fills both your tummy and your heart. Pies are famous as a way of cheering up sad or miserable people. I myself have used pie to help my friends and family out of the blues numerable times (such as a time I dropped a berry pie onto the High Prince. He was so busy chasing us screaming bloody murder he had no time to be sad. It was brilliant).
6. Inspiration: Food powers the brain! Many a time has my author been mulling over a difficult problem and solved it while munching thoughtfully on pie. Of course, one could make this argument for cake, but one must remember point 1 (aka, pie is healthier). Also, pie plates caused the invention of the Frisbee. You can’t say the same about cake plates. Actually, cake plates don’t even exist. So there.
7. Humor: honestly, do I even need to mention this? Clowns and cream pies, people. There is nothing better than watching a pie splatter across someone’s face. Well, except eating it, of course ;).
8. Fighting: This use, I admit, is a little more rare, but a dear friend of mine once used pies to help save an entire kingdom! Smashing a pie with a ceramic plate into someone’s heads is quite effective.
There are, of course, many other examples, but I believe I have made my point. Pie is the greatest dessert of all time, and yet, sadly, it does not get enough credit. But perhaps one day that might change, and we will set pie upon the pedestal it deserves to inhabit.
Alas, now it is time for me to depart—all this talk about pie has been making me hungry, and my Mammami just finished baking my favorite berry pie and I can smell it from here. Farewell, and eat more pie, my friends!

~Nikken

*The views expressed by Nikken are entirely his own and may or may not be shared by his author

apple pie

Under the Apple Tree

Fun fact of the day: I consider myself a poet.

Here is a free verse poem I wrote last night, inspired by my favorite kind of trees. (you have one guess as to what tree that is 😉 )

Under the Apple Tree: a Poem by Jese

IMG_0178.JPG
Collage Created by Catherine Regitz for her own story, but I thought it fit mine, so I borrowed it(with permission). Pictures from Pinterest

She sits against the tree

the rough bark snagging at her hair

Her eyes are closed

She is thinking

and dreaming

of a boy who will one day be a man

whom she will marry

 

He lounges in the tree

a shiny apple in his hand

His eyes are wide

He is thinking

and looking

at a girl who will one day be a woman

whom he will marry


I hope you all liked that! I certainly enjoyed writing it.

See ya soon!

Jese

The Universe

My Dear People…

Do you know what today is?
If you said the 29th of July, then yes, you’d be right. But it’s also the 63rd birthday of that most epic tale ever to grace the shelves of the fantasy genre.
That’s right, I’m talking about The Lord of the Rings.
Now, you might be thinking: Nikken, why do you have such a high opinion of those books? After all, you’re a fictional character yourself.
That has a very simple answer: if it wasn’t for these books, I wouldn’t exist.
You see, when my Author was a little girl, she loved to make up stories. But she only liked to make up mystery stories. Her favorite books were The Bobbsy Twins and The Happy Hollisters and the like. But when she was six years old, her mother read The Hobbit to her, and it changed her world. The next year, she read The Hobbit all by herself, and it changed her. Middle-Earth touched her in ways she didn’t understand, being only seven years old. Elves and dwarves, goblins and hobbits and dragons… it was unlike anything she’d ever read before. Slowly, she stopped reading mainly mystery stories and began reading fantasies like Redwall and Eragon. Then, when she was eleven years old, her parents said she was old enough to read The Lord of the Rings. She had been waiting for this for years, especially once her older brother read it, and nearly burst from excitement. She read the entire series in five days.
If she loved The Hobbit, she absolutely adored The Lord of the Rings. The world of Middle-Earth, which had so intrigued her in The Hobbit, became so much clear, so much more wonderful than she thought it ever could be. The cheerfulness of the hobbits, the courage of men, the loyalty of the dwarves, the long, long sorrow and steadfastness of the elves… It made her wish that somehow she could be a part of so epic and wonderful a world. Reading the book was like peeking through a window to a world of honor and glory and faith and valor and wonder. A world of good and evil, of weakness triumphing over strength.
Then she had an idea.
She thought, “I can never write as well as Tolkien, but I wish I could write a fantasy story that would make people feel in the tiniest the stuff The Lord of the Rings makes me feel.” So, a few weeks before she turned twelve, she climbed up into her loft bed and began to write a story on six pages of tan-colored lined notebook paper. And eventually, a story took form—the story of how my cousin, my brother, and I set out on a long journey to discover the Father’s Chosen hero that would save our lands.
So that is the main reason I like these books so much—they helped bring me to life.
But there are other reasons too: for one thing, if you think about it, Tolkien is the father of the entire modern fantasy genre. Don’t believe me? Think about it:
1. Orcs—Tolkien invented them. The name is based off the Old English words orc and orcneas, which, roughly, mean ‘demon’. In Middle-Earth, ‘orc’ is the Elvish word for Morgoth’s and Sauron’s servants, who were originally elves that were corrupted by Morgoth. In English, the word ‘orc’ is translated to ‘goblin’, (therefore, Tolkien’s orcs and goblins are one and the same, not separate species, as many people seem to think). The orcs in World of Warcraft and Warhammer? They would not have existed without The Lord of the Rings.
2. Elves—Tolkien, of course, was inspired by the elves of Norse Mythology, but the standard modern version of elves—tall, wise, long hair, incredibly beautiful, archers—were invented by Tolkien and Tolkien alone. Traditional mythological elves do not look anything like the image of elves that is so common in our minds these days. The preeminence of elves in modern fantasy, such as World of Warcraft and Eragon? You can thank Tolkien for them.
3. Dwarves—dwarves in Norse Mythology were greedy little guys that spent all their time underground, and most of them were mean-spirited types, if not out-and-out evil. The image of noble dwarves? This came from the last bit of The Hobbit and Gimli from The Lord of the Rings.
4. Dark Lords—how many Dark Lords are there? Too many to count. When was the first appearance of a Dark Lord in modern literature? I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure it was The Lord of the Rings.
5. Other languages—this isn’t as common, but there are many books that have invented languages for certain races in the books (often Elves). I don’t know if there were any instances of invented languages before The Lord of the Rings, but you and I both know who started that trend—Tolkien.
6. Halflings—again, not as common, but Halflings tend to pop up here and there, especially in board games. The trend of short guys with curly hair and hairy feet that live in holes and eat a lot all began one sunny when Tolkien wrote the words ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit’ on the back of an exam paper.
7. Mithril—mithril was invented by Tolkien. It first appeared in the Hobbit, and it had a prominent position in the story of The Lord of the Rings. All sorts of fantasy games and stories have mithril, and even call it mithril (which is a Sindarin name meaning “grey brilliance”) instead of the English name, truesilver.
8. The fantasy genre in general—There are instances of fantasy stories before the publication of the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings, such as George MacDonald’s excellent stories. But the big boom of fantasy happened after The Lord of the Rings was published in 1954. Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer, World of Warcraft, Eragon, you name it—they probably would never had existed if Tolkien hadn’t published a book about hobbits and dwarves and elves and men and then was asked to make a sequel.

These are some of the basics. There is even more evidence out there proving that Tolkien is the father of modern fantasy fiction. It’s sad to think that many people nowadays forget his huge influence on modern culture (My author says it’s even sadder that people watch the movies based off his stories and never even bother to read the actual books. That really annoys her).
Tolkien, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings are doubly responsible for my existence, if you think about it, so I have a lot to thank them for. I think anyone who is a fan of fantasy should celebrate the often-underrated epicness of Tolkien, so that’s why I’m here writing this post. Maybe someday, everyone will remember how Tolkien started it all and appreciate him for the impact he had on our world. But until that happens, at least my author and I will never forget.
Professor Tolkien, I salute you.
So CELEBRATE, everyone! This year marks the 100th year since Tolkien first began to write about the world of Middle-Earth, and today it’s the 63rd Birthday of The Lord of the Rings! Cosplay! Sing songs! Eat Apple Pie (though seriously, you should do that anyway)!
Happy Birthday, Lord of the Rings, and many happy returns!
Namarië! Elen síla lummen’ omentielvo. Namarië!
~Nikken

19

life

Writing Tips from Jese

Recently, I’ve been writing a lot more than I used to so I thought I might share a few writing tips, some that I keep telling myself, some things that come very easy to me, but I know that other people struggle with. Take what you will from this list 🙂

a) write whenever you can. If you’ve got an idea, keep going with it. Even if you don’t have a pad of paper or a computer, just keep writing in your head, planning out your stories.

b) write whatever you can. Write down all the ideas, write in all the genres. I don’t like stagnation in my writing, so I try to write in as many genres as I possibly can: fantasy, scifi, contemporary, historical fiction.

c) write first, edit later. Editing/perfectionism (something I struggle with) is like a heavy fog and you can lose sight of what you’re aiming for as you try to perfect as you go.

d) finish what you start. It’s so tempting to give up on your current project in order to chase another one, or to be discouraged by perfectionism, but there is nothing more satisfying than finishing what you started.

e) if you’re a pantser, try planning. If you’re a planner, try pantsing. Be comfortable with both approaches, and you never know. You might like another style better than the one you use currently. Don’t be afraid to change.

f) have fun! 😀

See ya later!

Jese

life

Fear Itself

Hail and well met! ‘Tis I, Nikken. How have you all been this summer?

Today I am here to talk about something that affects all of our lives. You may have forgotten it ever existed, or maybe you still remember it with a faint shudder. But I assure you, it was once a tangible, inescapable menace that clutched your mind and heart with a fierce grip. Perhaps in the deepest, darkest corners of your mind, it still has a foothold, ready to rise with vengeance at the least provocation.

I am talking about—

Childhood Fears.

Admit it. We all had them.

These are the fears that plagued you at night as you lay in bed, trying to sleep. Every sound would morph into footsteps of varying magnitude, every shadow turned into a dreadful harbinger of your fear’s arrival.

Some of them are on the improbable side, such as flaming monsters. Others are more reasonable (though not any less frightful) such the house burning up. Some were even ridiculous, now that you look back on them.

For interest, my biggest fear when I was little was… rabbits.

Don’t laugh.

I had horrible recurring nightmare of evil rabid bunnies breaking into my Uncle’s manor and swarming me, an unstoppable wave of rabbity evil.

Something rather like this, in fact, except in hordes.

killer rabbit

I would weak up screaming and crying every night.

(Stop laughing, Your Highness. It doesn’t befit your dignity.)

My author had two childhood fears–burglars and snakes. Or to be more precise, venemous or constricting snakes coming into her bedroom. She wasn’t afraid of snakes normally, though she doesn’t like the ones that can kill you. She used to spend hours catching and handling snakes.

But she was terrified that a dangerous snake would somehow come into her room, wind itself up into her loft bed and either bite her (if they were venemous) or squeeze her to death (if they were constrictors). She would lie awake at night, peering at the suspicious lump at the end of her bed and hope it was a fold of her blanket and not a snake head. But she was too afraid to sit up and look in case it was actually a snake and she attracted its attention, causing her imminent death. In the morning, she would tell herself it was silly (she lived in a town), but knowing it was silly never did much when the lights went out and the lump at the end of the bed appeared.

She blames the Jungle Book and Rikki Tikki Tavi.

But she grew out of the fear (as we all do, in time) as she got older, and not long ago, she moved to the country. And it just so happens that her new bedroom has a small hole in the corner directly across from her loft bed, and beneath this hole is a small piece of drop ceiling. About a month ago, she woke up and saw a snake draped on that small piece of drop ceiling directly across the room, looking at her.

There are very few things more terrifying, my friends, is to wake up one morning to find your childhood nightmare is a reality.

She tamped down her first response (screaming) and went to find her dad. She managed to keep her cool until the family entered her room and the snake appeared to be missing, which was when she screamed and indulged in a brief moment of panic, convinced the snake was hiding in her room. She managed to calm herself down quickly, though, and it was discovered that the snake was still on the ceiling piece but was retreating into the attic. Her father and two younger brothers then proceeded to catch the snake, take it outside, and release it.

My author is not afraid of snakes. She even volunteered to help hold the snake (and big fat black ratsnake that was more than four feet long) while her family took pictures. But finding one in her room (especially one that looked brown in the current lighting, therefore making her fear it a rattlesnake or some other venomous kind) was… difficult, shall we say.

Now to the point of the story.

Everyone has childhood fears. We outgrow them eventually, but they still lurk in your minds, forgotten but not gone. And while many of us will never wake up to find their fear an actual reality under the light of day, for many of us, in those dark hours between lights out and the land of dreams, those fears are tangible. Inescapable. Real. And they will remain so unless we take steps to defeat them.

My author volunteered to hold the snake for two reasons.

Number One: She wasn’t afraid of snakes. Rather likes them, in fact.

Number Two: She didn’t want that to change.

Above many things, my author hates debilitating fear. She understood if she didn’t reach out and hold the thing that brought her nightmare to life, the nightmare might grow. The fear that poisoned her nights may end up poisoning her days, making her flee in fear from something she once enjoyed. Paralyzing her in moments when action is needed. So she held the snake.

As I said before, I was afraid of rabbits. When my Mammami discovered what my nightmares were about, she devised a plan. My Mammami is a wise lady, so she knew that the best way to defeat your fears are to confront them, hold them in your hands, and throw them away. Far, far away where their ability to hurt you is small and faint. So my Mammami had me do two things–she gave us all rabbit stew to eat for an entire week, and she gave me a baby bunny, as a pet. The rabbit stew taught me that despite the overwhelming evil of the rabbits, they could be defeated.

The baby bunny was a tiny thing, so small I could nearly hold it one hand. It taught me that the rabbits didn’t have an overwhelming evil, after all.

I named that bunny “Nyacaon”. In the tongue of my cousin’s people, that means “No Fear”.

My author tells me that someone once said “The only thing we have to fear is Fear Itself”. It’s not whatever you are facing that paralyzes you, it’s your fear. Defeat your fear, and half the battle is already over.

So, when you are all grown up and your children come to you (or even now, with your younger siblings, if you have them), frightened and sniffling, don’t tell them there’s nothing to be afraid of. Have them hold their fear in their hands and show them there’s nothing to be afraid of. Hearing someone tell you something is knowing, having someone show it to you is believing.

And in the rare case this might not work, there’s one last, best thing to do. Remind them that even when they lie awake at night, all alone, staring at the lump at the end of the bed, they aren’t truly alone. There will always be Someone there with them, ready to face and fend off their fears and, when they fall asleep, to fill their dreams with light.

Farewell for now! May we all never wake up to find our childhood fears have come true. Especially me. Because being swarmed by a colony of evil rabbits is something no one should have to experience.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go put some mulberries in a laughing High Prince’s bed.

~Nikken

life

~Favorite~

“What is your favorite animal? What is your favorite color? What is your favorite season?”

All of these are traditional ice breaker questions you’re asked when someone’s trying to get to know you. I never know what to answer. I don’t have a favorite animal. I love several of them. I don’t have a favorite color. There’s at least three I can’t decide between. How can I decide between all the seasons when they all have such wonderful contributions to the year?

I can’t decide. I don’t want to decide.

Then, as I was eating lunch at my friend’s house today, her younger sister asked her “can you have more than one favorite?”, looking for a resolution to an argument she was having with a brother about their favorite fast food restaurants.

“Sure” my friend replied, mainly saying it to keep the sister away from her as she was trying to read her book, not realising she said something rather remarkable, something that made me redesign the way I’m going to think from now on.

Where does it say that you can have only one favorite?

So, now I am resolved that whenever someone asks me those questions, I will respond with all my favorites. I’ll tell them I love cats, dogs, echidnas, and tasmanian devils. I’ll delve into how I love pink just as much as red, orange, or blue. I’ll list the pros and cons of all the seasons, settling on the answer that I love all of them.

Feel free to say that you have many favorites, whether it be between flavors or children (since we know you’re not supposed to have just one favorite with the latter). However, if you do truly only have one favorite, that’s ok too (though don’t tell your kids that).

Have a great day everyone!

You’re all my favorite people 🙂

Jese