The guides in my Fan’s Party Planner series usually focus on a particular story from books or other media, but this planner will offer tips and ideas for hosting a party to celebrate and inspire the people who make those stories happen. “Write-ins” are a beloved tradition at Pudding Shot, when we gather with our journals and laptops and manuscripts to write, edit, outline, revise, and brainstorm in good company. These cozy events are great ways to get feedback on projects, meet other writers, and add some exciting variety to an otherwise solitary vocation. I especially look forward to them in autumn, when the changing world inspires us to create and the cool, cloudy days invite us to curl up inside with warm mugs and pen and paper. November is also National Novel Writing Month, so now is a great time for writers and readers to celebrate the hard work of writing and storytelling and offer some moral support to our friends pursuing the NaNoWriMo challenge.
Libraries are wonderful places. They are cornerstones of the community, they provide open-access sources of information and education, and they are full of books. (I repeat, full of books.) Though I think most people my age already know that they can borrow those books and often DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, or even video games from libraries, I have gotten the impression that we often don’t take full advantage of everything the library offers because we feel its services are not meant for us.
Obviously, story time and summer reading are for kids, tutoring and teen centers are for teens, and parenting classes are for parents. But libraries have begun reaching out to young adults by modernizing traditional resources and developing new, creative events that you probably wouldn’t expect. If you’re a literary-oriented, still-learning new grown-up like me, here are some popular library programs worth checking out (pun intended).
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.
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.
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!
Several years ago, I started making something I call a “motif mural” or “concept map,” a kind of freeform visualization tool that helps me track the recurring themes, ideas, and interests in my stories and writing. While the practice is similar to writing a reflection essay on your work or going through a portfolio, the concept map is a more organic meditation piece. It uses handwritten notes and pictures to make a concrete illustration of the common threads and topics I recognize in my stories, like a physical representation of my literary mind.
Like most people my age, my introduction to Peter S. Beagle’s beloved classic fantasy The Last Unicorn was the 1982 animated film (for which Beagle wrote the screenplay, thank goodness) that I first pulled off a Blockbuster shelf above my head because of the brilliant unicorn on the cover. When I was a child, modern unicorns were generally fluffy beasts with glitter in their manes, colored in pinks and rainbows and frolicking around clouds and butterflies. This unicorn was clearly engaged in some epic battle with a frankly Satanic-looking, burning red bull, and despite knowing nothing else, I was convinced it was going to be awesome.