For Readers & Writers
from Susan Dennard
M&D Issue #130

December 21, 2018

What's in this heart-to-heart?

Recent Goings On:

It has been a hard month. Harder than November because, long story short, I'm having a miscarriage. Like literally, right now.

If you're wondering why I'm telling you, then clearly you are new to this newsletter. Basically I'm on a mission to erase the shame and stigma surrounding infertility, and the only way to normalize something is to talk about it. A lot.

So here we are. And full disclosure, this miscarriage is physically brutal and emotionally brutal, and 10/10 do not recommend.

But...almost exactly one year ago, I was told I would never be able to have children. That my anatomy wouldn't allow it. (This was after 4 years of trying + fertility treatments.) It wasn't until I pushed for surgery that my doctor actually realized what was going on inside, and phew, it's a mess in there. #noshame

My husband and I decided, despite this prognosis, to at least try IVF. And here we are, a year later. As awful as having a miscarriage has been (and currently is), I did get pregnant -- and now I have hope it will all work out one day.

Though god, I am sick of having horrible holidays filled with grieving. Like, can I just get some Christmas spirit up in here?! Please?!

For the Misfits & Witchlanders:


Bloodwitch Preorder Campaign + Giveaway!

Yay, yay, yay! It's finally here! The moment you've all...

Okay, the moment some of you have been waiting for! The Bloodwitch preorder campaign! Behold: two enamel pins of Witchlands creatures!!

Aren't these the coolest? Thank you to the fabulous Alex Castellanos for creating them. I am thrilled. We have a mountain bat (with the Earthwitch symbol behind it) on the left and a sea fox (with the Waterwitch symbol behind it) on the right.


So how do you qualify for the pins?

Just preorder a hardcover or ebook of Bloodwitch before the release day (February 12, 2018), and submit your receipts to this website. (If you have trouble uploading your receipt, please email!)

And abracadabra! That's all you have to do! After the book releases, you'll get your pins!*

So I hope you'll consider preordering! If not for the winnings than because you love me so very much. ;)

*Note: Unfortunately, the campaign is US/Canada only. I'm sorry! That is not in my control. But if you want to get the goodies and you're abroad, then you can order from Good Choice Reading! Not only will you get the enamel pins, but you'll also get a signed copy too!

*Also note: Faecrate sales do NOT count for the enamel pins. I am so sorry. This isn't something I had a decision in, and I hope you all will understand.

To celebrate, I'm hosting a giveaway JUST FOR SUBSCRIBERS!!

You can win a signed, personalized advanced copy of Bloodwitch! The winner will be picked in 2 weeks, and it's open internationally!

And last but not least, there are NEW SCENES in The Executioners Three! Quite a few, actually, and >250 pages for you to read! FOR FREE!

So be sure to check those out.

And if you're enjoying, please consider voting or leaving a comment! It helps the algorithms favor me. ;)

For the Daydreamers:

Leveling Up


I talked earlier this year about viewing your story as a series of nested conflicts, and I told you to look to video games -- where each boss gets progressively harder while still being linked to the main conflict.

What I didn't get into was the idea of the main character "leveling up" to meet each boss.

This is something I think about often when I'm watching Hollywood blockbusters, like Avengers or Transformers. I mean, how many different ways can you save the world from total destruction -- how much BIGGER and more DIRE can the bad guy get before it gets ridiculous?

The same thing applies to a main character, like Eleven in Stranger Things -- specifically season 2. If you give a character All The Powers early on, there's not much room for further growth. At least not without it (again) getting ridiculous.

When I was drafting Truthwitch, in the original 165,000 word version (yikes!), I had Iseult learn from the Puppeteer how to cleave a guy, and then I had her do it at the end of book one.

My editor at the time pointed out that Iseult might be learning that magic too soon. We had a lot of books still to come in the series, so shouldn't we save this? And of course, my editor was 100% right.

If I could save that magical level up for later, then I should.

The pay off is always much greater for a reader or a viewer when you see just how hard it was for the character to learn a skill and then you see them master it in the climax.

So what did I do? I removed that specific Puppeteer subplot, and I wove it into Windwitch instead. Now Iseult levels up to cleaving in book 2, and then she levels up again to...

Ha! As if I'm going to tell you. You'll just have to read Bloodwitch in February to see. ;)

Now look, this whole leveling up stuff is going to vary from person to person -- what you consider "too maxed out" for a character, someone else will consider SUPER EPIC.

I personally get bored really fast when the explosions start flying and the character can do everything. (Unpopular opinion: Transformers and Avengers are Too Much.)

Or when characters suddenly get new powers and I'm left wondering, "Wait, when did they learn how to do that?" (Stranger Things s2, I'm looking at you.) That questions instantly pulls me out of the narrative.

So how do you handle leveling up well in your own story?


Yeah, I know, all you pantsers out there are cringing, but it doesn't take THAT much work to say, These are the gradual steps my character will advance in their power before finally maxing out in the last scene of the last installment.

Plus, it's a really easy mistake to make if you don't plan. You're in the climax, wild stuff is happening, and BAM! Next thing you know, you've given your character All The Powers to defeat the bad guy.

Then you get to book two, and you're like....erm....

And look, even with all my own planning, I'm still SO guilty of this mistake. I always start off with Terrible Conflict happening write away and my characters having to get Super Advanced super fast. It's that whole writing out of order thing I've talked about before.

But I also know I tend to do this, so I also take extra care to go back and rearrange things for a more natural, plausible progression.

This whole "leveling up" thing is actually one of the reasons the original Harry Potter series worked so well. Nebulous mechanics of magic aside, Rowling did a great job of gradually increasing both Harry's skill level + the bad guy he went up against.

AND, each conflict and each boss were nested. All of it eventually fed back into Voldemort.

It's also something that video games and tabletop games do really well. Obviously, right? Because you're literally leveling up, gaining new powers, and facing harder and harder bad guys. Developers know it would be ZERO fun if you had to face the hardest boss right out of the gate. They also know it wouldn't be fun to just give you all the powers without any kind of hard work to get there.

Payoff, my friends! That's what makes a game satisfying, and it's what makes a book or film satisfying too. Seeing Harry train and fail and use his limited skills to battle the minions of Voldemort -- it entertains and we ultimately root for him.

So take a look at your own stories and see what kind of leveling up you've got at play. Here are a few questions to help you out:

  • Are you saving enough "leveling up" so that there is room to grow later in the book or in the series?
  • Is it happening at a believable rate?
  • Are you showing the necessary hard work and training prior to a level up? Or at least showing HOW the character came to this new power, rather than just suddenly giving it to them?
  • Does the leveling up match the increased conflict, stakes, and villain(s)?
  • Does the character feel at risk? No one wants someone who's invincible.

Also, remember: this doesn't have to just be magic powers! It could be any real life skill or even leveling up in a romantic relationship.

You tell me: what's one of your favorite "level up" moments in a book, movie, or show?

Upcoming Events:


Nothing for now! But stay tuned for a tour in February, when Bloodwitch releases!

Link Roundup:

Since I haven't been keeping up with other people's blogs lately, I thought I'd just link to some other helpful posts of my OWN that I came across while making the above lists. Happy reading!

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Copyright © 2018
Susan Dennard
All rights reserved.

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I'm a misfit, a daydreamer,
a fangirl, an animal-lover,
a feminist killjoy,
and a gluten-free
cookie-eater. 🐙
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