What I Learned About Writing From the Nightmare Short Story

The year before I started college, I had a dream about a mysterious, lonely boy raising a large, beautiful garden of flowers that would quietly bring magic to the world. I didn’t have much to go on beyond some images and some feelings, but I knew this dream was a story, and I decided I had to bring it into the world.

It took me five years to write this dream into a short story. As of today, this story is still not finished.

For all my labor and determination, I have an enormous, messy rough draft stuck in the first round of revision, facing an uphill climb of cutting, outlining, and massive chunks of rewriting that will not get easier any time soon. When I come across the paper copy in my bag or spy the digital draft on my flash drive, I make a note to return “when I have time” and guiltily put it away. By this point, it might be easier for me to toss the thing, just chuck the paper, delete the file, and move on unburdened to the other projects that I have already prioritized for my writing time.

But I still like the story, or at least the idea of it. Plus, I went through five years of the writing process from hell to even get this far, and it would feel like a massive waste of time, energy, pain, and discovery to burn it now. It would also feel like a betrayal. It’s a ghost in my head right now, but this is the story where I cut my teeth as a younger, more naïve writer, where I learned so much about writing and my own creative needs that I could overcome my fears of perfection, inadequacy, commitment, and simple failure and finally start a novel when it was finished.

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Expecto Patronum!

Having unintentionally become Pudding Shot’s Harry Potter correspondent, I thought I would keep up my streak and discuss the much-anticipated Patronus quiz that blew up the Internet this week.


Like many childhood midnight release party attenders, I have a fairly distrusting relationship with Pottermore. From the news that the Sorting Test was rigged to keep any one house from getting overcrowded, to the endless teasers that didn’t usually result in much, to the sudden rehashing of the site that mostly meant lots of listicles, I’ve always felt it lacked a lot of the potential it had as the online home of Harry Potter news.

And yet. I love personality quizzes, the nature vs. nurture debate, and any kind of theory about what makes up our characters. I’m a hardcore MBTI enthusiast and have a wealth of thoughts about the Enneagram, although I’m a bit skeptical about its accuracy. The personality quizzes, beyond anything else, are what keep me coming back to Pottermore.

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A Theory on Writing Effective Antagonists

When we talk about characters and conflict in writing, we spend a lot of time fussing over our protagonists, because we recognize how crucial they are to the success of our story and the reader’s exploration of its ideas. But I think it is equally important to recognize the antagonist as an invaluable storytelling opportunity. We identify and define antagonists as those who oppose the protagonists and their goals in the story’s conflict, but we only have conflict because the antagonists challenge the protagonists.

They provide the problems and situations necessary for the plot’s progress that the protagonist needs to grow and develop as a character. This position gives our antagonists powerful influence on how our readers interpret the ideas at the center of the conflict and at work in the protagonist’s journey, so it is in our story’s best interest to make sure we do right by our antagonist and take advantage of the opportunities they offer.

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We’re Going to a Wedding


Hi, Pudding Shot readers!

This is a heads-up to let you know we’re on hiatus until next Friday (09/23), because… Michael and Jessica are getting married! We’re all heading down to William & Mary, our alma mater, to attend the wedding and shower congratulations on them. We’ll be back with our usual articles in a week.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

-The Pudding Shot staff

On Journaling: Sam’s Tips

By Sam F.

I received my first diary when I was nine. I loved the writing exercises we did in school, and while I wrote silly poems at home, I had never before considered keeping a journal. Soon, I was hooked. I haven’t stopped journaling since.

In high school, I was embarrassed by it (then again, I was embarrassed by everything in high school), but when I got to college, I realized that a lot of people kept journals. Now I talk about it openly, and I often encounter people who would like to keep a journal, but aren’t sure how to go about it. So here is some advice from a self-declared pro:

What if I don’t have anything to write about?

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The Fan’s Party Planner: Lord of the Rings & Middle-earth

The Fan’s Party Planner: Lord of the Rings & Middle-earth

J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit require little introduction on my part. His Middle-earth legendarium belongs to the foundational canon of Western fantasy literature; you cannot throw an axe in the SFF section of a bookstore or library without hitting something with Tolkien-esque elves, orcs, or “medieval fantasy” quest vibes. And of course, while Tolkien has always been read by the nerds and geeks of America, the famous Peter Jackson film adaptations have revived widespread interest in his works and brought the Baggins’ adventures into the international, multigenerational mainstream imagination for the 21st century.

I have designed this party guide with The Lord of the Rings (LotR) primarily in mind, as this epic provides a great deal of inspirational source material for Tolkien’s more familiar or popular stories, but many of the activities, decorations, and foods would also support The Hobbit. I am sure many of the items would apply to a The Silmarillion party as well, but as I am only loosely familiar with that work and the popularity of LotR and The Hobbit make them easier party subjects, I have not offered specific ideas for it. As one of those people who adores The Hobbit and the ideas of Middle-earth but is still only halfway through reading The Two Towers, I would like to give a big thank you to my friend and Tolkien expert Emily Lowman (who may be getting this party for her birthday) for helping me check my literary references.

Now, let’s get on with the adventure!

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Libby’s Boston Bookstour


I’ve just moved from Boston to the Washington DC area, where I grew up. While there are many things that excite me about returning home, there are also lots of things I’m going to miss, and perhaps the biggest of these is the bookstores. Boston’s independent bookstore scene is beyond incredible—almost every suburb has a books mecca of its own. Being a good former English major, I managed to stop by almost all of them. Here are my thoughts on some of the best places in Massachusetts to get books if you’re looking to support small businesses.

(Credit for this idea goes to my Denver Publishing Institute friend Zoe, whose wisdom, warmth, and love for stories took us across New York City on my first-ever bookstour. She’s blogged about one of our favorites, Books of Wonder, here.)

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