I've been sharing quite a bit about my upcoming Snow White retelling, The Ruin of Snow. If you subscribe to my newsletter you've already gotten to read the first chapter and met protagonist Neyva, but here's a little more about her for all of you.


Playing the part of Snow White, Neyva is the youngest of the three Morningspell daughters, heiresses to a noble fortune and born witches. Trained from birth by her fearsome mother, she's skilled in curses and other enchantments and was raised to act more as a weapon than anything. But despite the heartless mask she's worn since childhood, Neyva is a brilliant and determined girl who will fight to the end for what she believes in. When she begins second-guessing her upbringing and her family's ruthless ways, she finds herself thrown into a life-or-death struggle against her two sisters, who have been sent to bring her home--or eliminate her. I've never been a huge fan of the original Snow White as a character, as she's always felt very plain and submissive to me, so Neyva became a big twist. Though she follows Snow White's core journey she takes a little bit of a darker path, unafraid to manipulate and fight when necessary.

I really do love the way her story turned out, as she fights for not only her life but her own identity and independence. And her relationship with the seven "dwarves"--her unexpected allies in her fight, who you'll meet in an upcoming post--is honestly one of my favorites I've ever written.


There were some definite challenges to writing Neyva's character, as much as I loved it. Taking on her as a protagonist went a little out of my comfort zone and it was daunting to make a coldhearted character who doesn't shy away from death and violence likable. As much as I like a good antihero, and Neyva does fall into that spectrum, I'd never written one in the narrator role. But knowing so much else was beneath the surface waiting to be forced out by her circumstances was a lot of fun. Exploring the nuances of good and evil throughout the story was a big undertaking as well and all I can do is hope it came through as I wanted.


Check out some of the music that inspired Neyva and her journey:


The Rigs - All the King's Men

Beth Crowley - Battle Cry


And meet Neyva in the sneak peek below

There was silence as we finished, and when the powder was gone Tulia paused at the door and watched me. I waited. “Do you remember,” she started, “the year Father and Alaric died?”


“Enough.”


But she remembered something I didn’t from the way she tilted her head. “We had a celebration for Alaric’s birthday. It was during the plague, not long before he caught it, so it wasn’t a public one—they were too worried about all the children—but we had one on the estate, just us. Sarafine had concocted some game for us to play and assigned all our roles. She was the queen, Alaric the king. You were a servant. And after some time of us ordering you about, making you do things you didn’t want to do, you suddenly…started yelling. You were so upset that someone had to come take you away.”


“What are you trying to tell me, Tulia?”


“I mean…” She paused as if to gather her thoughts, and then shook her head. “Are you ready for your nameday?”


“Of course I am.” I’d been preparing for it all my life. Mother had been making plans since I’d been born. Both of my sisters had faced their eighteenth namedays without so much as a stumble, and I would be no different.


Like every Morningspell woman before me.


Tulia didn’t move her gaze. I busied myself with the magicked powder rather than look at her. “You know what it will involve.”


I knew well. “And?”


“And it’s not as simple as I think you believe.”


I refrained from rolling my eyes. “Tulia, I’ve all but properly sworn to Her. The one difference will be receiving my full magic. You and Sarafine did it. Mother did it. It’s the way of things.”


As every witch did on her eighteenth nameday, for centuries and centuries past, I would swear myself to Nalcai, give my heart to Her, and be gifted the full extent of my power in return. It would be the final night of my studies, and I’d be, by all laws of magic, a true witch.


“That it is,” Tulia murmured.


I had stopped walking at some point, the stone bowl clutched over my chest, and I forced one foot in front of the other again. It was merely my nameday, so why did the thought make my heart race? Once I swore to Nalcai that would be gone. Never again—no heartbreak, no foolish trust. Only clarity.


I tossed the last pinch of powder, turned on a heel, and set the bowl in its place on the table. The tall candlesticks vibrated with the force. “Mother will be waiting,” I said.


Tulia returned hers and linked her arm with mine. “I hope all goes to plan, little sister.”


“It always does.”

The Ruin of Snow is currently available exclusively as part of the Enchanted Kingdoms box set--22 full-length novels for just $0.99, and all proceeds go to a children's autism charity!


Preorder now!

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Looking for something new to read and short on money? You're in the right place, where I'll be featuring writers and their (free!) work!


We're delving into paranormal horror this month with Past the Garden Wall by C.H. Townsend.


It has been 71 years and 63 days since the last time the seasons changed. The world is cast into an endless Autumn. A monstrous and mysterious scarecrow named 'Banshee' haunts the isolated pioneer town of LockHaven, but never is able to cross the river or wall that protects the town. The ambitious mayor, Cordi, decides to do something about this. Ever since Flaming Night 20 years ago, when Banshee was able to breech the defenses and raze half the town to the ground, Cordi has been on edge and seeking revenge. He plans is to go out into the Black Frontier, the region outside the town the residents have known all their lives, and kill the nightmarish Autumnal monster that has terrorized them for decades.


Thanks to an amazing writing group and I can say this is a writer worth supporting, and I've got Past the Garden Wall on my own list to read first chance I get. Meet C.H. Townsend and read an excerpt of the book below!

Tell me a little bit about your writing journey. How long have you been writing, and how did you get started?


"I've been writing for six or so years, and so me being 18 it was around 6th to 7th grade when I first started. As with every writer, it was laughably bad, and my first "books" really opened my eyes to the complexities of writing and literature. I think I got started just because I had so many worlds and stories and characters to tell, ever since I had stuffed animals and Lego toys. It just seemed like the next step, I guess. To write is easy in the sense that you don't need any super expensive equipment or money or managing skills or a group of people to do it. You just sit down at the keyboard to write. So, I did that."


Why fantasy specifically? Is it something you write often, or is this your first venture into the genre?


"I love fantasy. I was a huge Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Rick Riordan fan. I still read fantasy, as I'm on the 4th book of Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive. It was one of the first genres I wrote, and I suppose I've been at it ever since."


What are your goals for your writing?


"My goal is the goal of every writer. To become published and live off of that lifestyle and type of work. I know it'll be hard, and I know that in my future I'll be working all sorts of jobs, but I'm more than determined to accomplish my dream. But, for smaller goals, I want to finish editing this December and January and then submit it to publishers this late Winter and Spring."


What inspired the book?


"This book has lots of inspiration. I was born and raised in Massachusetts, New England, and Autumn is my favorite season. I refuse to say Fall, because Autumn just sounds so much better. The foliage is gorgeous, and then there's always Halloween and the spells of fear and wonder that it evokes. As a child I also watched this show on Cartoon Network called Over the Garden Wall, which is the obvious inspiration for the name and some of the names of places and things in the story. I was captivated by these two big things in my life and wanted to give them an even darker and wondrous twist of my own. The title and names of some places and things will be changed by the end of this year."


Who is your favorite character in the book and why? Tell me a little about them.


"My favorite character is Autumn. It's not a character in the traditional sense, but I tried hard to make the setting a character. It corresponds and fluxuates with Banshee, so I'll group them as one in the same, because in truth of the story and the lore I created it's true. I poured hours of thoughts here and there between other priorities and activities in life to figuring out how to make Banshee and the Autumn truly terrifying. He destroys the senses of people before he kills them, and I think that's what makes him scary. First you can't see, then you can't hear. He fills your ears, and then his glowing eyes fill your own eyes as the last thing you'll see. He's the enemy of human spirit, and he was s much fun to write."


What was the most challenging part about writing the story?


"The most challenging part was making it historically and logically accurate to the setting, hands down. First picking a general location, and then choosing a time period accurate to the weapons and technologies, and then aging it 7 decades.... It definitely required thought I still don't think I have. The complexities of language and technology and nature and culture were hard to gauge, but I think I did a pretty good job for such a hard topic."


Do you have anything else you'd like to say to the readers?


"You've never seen an enemy like Banshee, or a world like it. I hope you can fall in love with my characters and with my world, just as I did. It was loads of fun to write, and reads well with popcorn. If you do choose to check it out, feel free to leave comments!"

A little pushing awoke me. I was completely blind; there was absolutely no light. Where did the moon go? Where did the stars go? My memory went back to a phrase George always repeated from his old, failing mind: Mankind, the bringer of fire and light, will prevail.

It didn’t seem that way now in the dark.

I didn’t even know who woke me, but he went fumbling around until he found his bedroll. I rubbed my eyes, trying my best to focus them, but everything was so black. I made careful not to step on anyone as I heard the familiar sound of steel hitting flint. I bumped into him and he moved with a start.

“Shit! Who is that?”

“Sid.”

“Maim my cow, Sid! Ya gave me jumps. Cant find any damn tinder in this dark. I have a dang rope tied around my waist so I don get lost.”

“Damn. Who is this, anywho? An what rotation is this?”

“John. It’s the third.”

“What that rope even tied ta?”

“Oh, that tree on the edge of the clearin.”

“Cordi awake?”

“Ya betcha I am.”

“Fuck! Cordi, ya scared me!”

“Quit yer jumpin, John. Sid, ya had the right idea bout fire.”

“I can see that, now.”

“Ya sure ya can?”

“Funny. John, give me that flint n steel, why don ya?”

“Okay, here.”

I took out some paper, char cloth, and goowood of my own— charred cloth and very sappy sections of pine wood— and went to work. Soon enough the only light in the immense dark was born. A small ball of red to begin, and with a little nursing and breathing it grew exponentially. It started consuming the cloth and ate some of the dry paper and soon enough the sappy tinder. I fumbled around with my hands to find the kindling and logs, and placed it inside. The fire started licking up the sticks, growing larger and larger, until it brightened up our surroundings. Cordi’s bright yellow vest almost seemed to glow in the light.

Maybe George was right about the fire and light parts. All we had now was to prevail.

“What ya thinkin bout namin yer rifle when ya get one, Sid?” John asked, merry and bright in the warm light. He held joyous anticipation, like a child being told to sit still before opening his present.

“Ta be honest,” I said, leaning back on the leafy floor, “I never gave much thought bout that. And yers?”

“I was thinkin somethin fearsome sounding. Can't think of any good names, though,” the little fire danced in his hopeful eyes, “Shame we don have any whale oil. Heard from my grandpa that shit lit up real quick. A liquid, too!” John chuckled.

A monotone ringing filled my ears.

The rope around his waist went taut and he flew backward into the darkness.



Read Past the Garden Wall for free, and follow and support C.H. Townsend on Wattpad!


Check out my other featured authors and their free-to-read works!

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Clever, cunning, merciless--who doesn't love a good villain? Especially in the fantasy genre, villains are often over-the-top and bigger than life, driving the story's excitement and danger. Whether they're charming, chilling, or the perfect combination, something about them just makes them a favorite of most readers.


But they're not so easy to write. It's harder than it seems to craft an antagonist who can challenge your hero, threaten their loved ones or home, and still resonate with readers and stay memorable after they've turned the last page. I struggle with it as much as any other writer, so I'm here to break down all the many factors I take into account when creating my villains.



Motivation and Backstory



Every villain needs a motivation--their why, as you may have seen me refer to it in the past. Every character has a goal within a story--what they're trying to accomplish--and that usually isn't too hard to pin down. Most villains want one of a handful of typical things; power and revenge tend to top the list. But a motivation goes deeper and digs into why they want to gain that thing. What in their past, personality, or world drives them to seek out their not-so-nice goal? Were they hurt by someone they loved and trusted? Did they lose something or someone important to them? Did they suffer some injustice at the hands of society? This is tied very closely to a villain's backstory--their life leading up to the book's beginning--and the two often influence one another. By giving attention to these two elements and making sure you understand them fully, your villain comes to life and becomes more than just a blank evil slate. A motivation adds depth and shades of gray to your character.


Which leads me straight into...


Shades of gray


Cue the 50 Shades of Gray jokes. I know, I know, but there's a reason the book got its title. One of my personal favorite terms for describing characters is "morally gray"--which you'll find me use for characters of mine like Raeth from Tide or Maize from The Otherworld Trilogy, who may take the more questionable road for what at heart may be a good cause. Many villains are similar if you look deep into them; at heart, they often have a core intention that's not so bad, even if it only started out that way. Finding your villain's shade of gray is a great way to build up what kind of character and villain they are and how they act through the story.


So how do you do that? Consider not only your villain's motivation but their personality, flaws, and virtues. I'm a big believer that no character is entirely black or white, even if they're just a shade off either way--even the most evil of villains have some good points to them. By taking into account what led them to the dark side, whether they believe--or care--that they're on that side at all, and how far they're willing to go to accomplish their goals, you'll find where on the spectrum the character falls. There's no right or wrong shade, and don't be afraid to let your villain jump around as they develop and learn.


Another thing I love to look at? A villain's relationship with other characters. Whether it's your protagonist or their trusty goon, villains are people just like everybody else, and in most cases aren't isolated. Consider who they interact with and how those interactions go, even "off-screen". Despite their wicked ways, are there people they still care about or trust? Are they protective of or have a soft spot for anybody? Or do they prefer to keep all vulnerabilities to themselves?


Villains and Heroes



Probably an obvious fact: your villain and hero need to somehow go together. So using your hero, if they're already created, can be an invaluable tool for creating your villain. Keep in mind that any good story has rising and falling waves of tension, and you have to strike a delicate balance in that. Too easy to defeat the villain, and what's the point of telling the story? Too difficult, and your reader sees no hope and no reason to root for your hero. It isn't always easy to find their respective strengths that fit together, but it's necessary. Stuck on where to start? Take a look at your protagonist's strengths and consider what would stand against them. Or flip it: look at their weaknesses and consider how they could be taken advantage of. Once you've done that, do the same from the villain's side. It may be helpful to make a list of ideas and pick out ones that create a balance of power between the two characters. Remember, it's okay for it not to be exactly equal--especially if you plan to make your protagonist stronger throughout the story, or you're planning a tragic ending--but too much of an imbalance throws the story off.


Another great way to figure out what strengths or abilities your villain should have? Look at why they're against the protagonist in the first place. Why, of all people, are these two enemies? Is it by chance, or do they have some connection? Did one wrong the other? Determining why this character is the villain of this story can give you a lot of answers about who they are and what they can or want to do.


On this note, however, be cautious of the Chosen One or prophecies. While there's nothing wrong with them and I'll never say not to write something, they're popular tropes that can make a writer lazy with character development. If you choose to go this direction, make sure to include more reasoning for both characters than just that they're "chosen" or "destined". There are a lot of fun twists you can put on these tropes, so let your imagination run wild with it and create a new, unique version of a well-known story.


Redemption arcs


I love a good redemption arc. I really do. I love seeing a villain I hated to the core turn around into one of my favorite characters. But as fantastic as they can be to read (and as fun as they can be to write), think carefully before you jump into giving your villain one.


The big question here: Is your villain redeemable? Take into account what they've done up until this point in the story and who they are as a person. Some people just don't want to be redeemed, and if it's out of character for your villain to care about that, a redemption arc may come off as forced and sudden. Additionally, some acts just aren't redeemable. Not all villains are built for redemption, and it can be nice to leave them just where they are. But if you feel they have the potential and want to give them a second chance, go for it. A character's motivation and backstory may play a big part in deciding this; if they have a motivation that, at the core, isn't so bad, but went down the wrong path for it, you'll probably have a lot of material to use to redeem the character. Smaller villains who have a history of being manipulated or controlled by a "big bad" are also prime candidates for redemption.


If you're going for it, carefully think about what it will take to redeem this character. What have they done in the past? What would they need to do to make up for it? Will they seek out the forgiveness of the characters they've hurt or wrong, and if so, how? Remember to take it slow--it's not a race, and it wouldn't make sense for your protagonist's would-be killer to be their buddy two days later. Be sure to also look at these things from the perspective of your now-former villain; if they've come to see the error of their ways, are they plagued by guilt for what they did? Do they become a shining beacon of kindness to make up for it, or does it eat away at them and affect their mood and actions further? How do they come to terms with it, or do they not at all? Your character may no longer be a villain, but their time as one remains a part of their history and who they are.


True Evil


As much as I like to talk about shades of gray and virtuous villains, sometimes a story calls for someone who's just plain bad. Sometimes you need a truly terrible, irredeemable act, and if that's what your story needs don't shy away from it. But it can be daunting to tackle. Keep a few things in mind:


1. Do your research. Whatever kind of terrible plot point you're planning, look into it beforehand. You may think you know just what you want to write, but sometimes a little research not only boosts up the scene in general, but can save you from potentially dangerous consequences. These kinds of topics are usually ones that you want to handle carefully, and it's important to learn how to write them accurately but sensitively, so you don't cause any trouble for readers who may have personal experiences or triggers. Sensitivity readers or those with firsthand experience (who are willing and comfortable to help, of course) can be very valuable for knowing you're on the right track. If you don't know anybody who may be willing or able to help, writing groups or communities on social media can often point you in the right direction.


2. Know your reasoning. Substance vs shock value can be a problem in writing--you want to make sure anything you include in your story serves a purpose, or it'll bog down your writing. Make sure you have a solid reason for including what you're planning, whether it drives forward the plot, a character's development, or a relationship. Shocking your readers rarely plays out well.


A Final Note: Antiheroes vs Villains


I've seen people who confuse these two, so I thought I should include a little bit about them. Antiheroes are not villains, and villains are not antiheroes, but they share quite a few similarities. An antihero is a protagonist--a "good guy"--who doesn't necessarily have heroic traits. They often come from a rough or dark background and are willing to take a more violent or otherwise "bad" approach to achieving their goals, but still ultimately do it for something good, or at least the reader is meant to believe so. A villain, on the other hand, may have similar personality traits or methods of doing things, but are obviously a "bad guy". A villain may become an antihero, or an antihero may become a villain, and it can be surprisingly easy (and fun!) for characters to walk the line in between.


But to put it simply, if you're wondering which your character is, look at what side of your conflict they're on. Good = antihero, bad = villain.



Who's your favorite villain?

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