Why I love graphic novels

Right now, I’m in the process of reading Outlander. It’s already a terrific book; well written, great character development, intriguing plot. But it’s long, which isn’t a problem if you have a lot of time on your hands. Sadly/Happily, I am not one of those people. This summer has been jam-packed (hence, my three-week hiatus). As much as I want to dedicate an entire day to finishing Outlander, it’s almost impossible right now; I find myself reading it in little chunks whenever I get the chance.

So, what does this have to do with graphic novels? I just wanted to give them a quick pat on the back. Even though it’s been difficult for me to really dive into Outlander like I want to, I’ve been able to finish numerous graphic novels within the little time summer has allotted me. Graphic novel plots are quick yet complex. I love the art. I love being able to watch characters’ expressions. I love the fact that I can find a comfy seat at my local Barnes and Noble and finish a handful within the hour. Most importantly, I love that they remind me of my love for reading. Is that confusing? Probably. Let me explain:

Being an English major is terrific. I love what I do, what I study. My homework is literally reading. How great is that? But . . . then the reading assignments start to snowball: Read this entire book by Tuesday, this one Wednesday, these two by Friday . . . As much as I’d love to do just so, the reading workload is overwhelming, and I’m forced to pick and choose what I can attempt to finish it three days time (if even that). The other poor books I don’t get the chance to read become quick Sparknote glance-overs. (Note– this is a terrible habit to develop.) Toward the end of the semester, I’m worn out, and the majority of my assignments are thanks to Sparknotes’ aid.

Once again, what does this have to do with graphic novels?

When I finish out a semester, free to choose what I read, when I read it, with no deadlines breathing down my throat, I seem to always choose a graphic novel at first. That’s because I’ll finish it. For the longest time during the semester, I’ll have all these partially-read books lining my bookshelves. They make me doubt myself: Would I have read them completely if they hadn’t had been assigned to me? Have I burned myself out on reading? HECK NO, I remind myself. Graphic novels are that perfect reminder, that easy transition back into full-fledged novels that I intend on finishing on my own time. Because of the panels, readers quickly get a sense of the scene and a character’s appearance but, unlike a television show, you still get all the fun of reading. It’s fantastic.

You ready to crack into one now? Don’t know where to start? Here are my top five favorite graphic novel series. Pick one up, get sucked in, and enjoy your summer:

1. If you’re wanting a graphic novel based off a full-length novel:
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2. If you’re looking for something dystopian:
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(Warning– This is a manga story, meaning the story reads backwards.)
3. If you want a kick-butt tale about your Average Joe and his rock band:
ScottPilgrim
4. If you want straight-up adventure and fantasy:
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5. If you’re looking for some romance (Yes, graphic novels have those, too!):
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Update!

Hi, all you writer peeps!

Quick update: I’ll be going on a two-week hiatus. Why? Because I’ll be in ORLANDO, relaxing in the happiest place on earth! I’ll be sure to make a special post when I’m back, with pictures of my vacation so you all can see that I’m still a twelve year old, trapped in a 22 year old’s body.
Keep writing! I’ll try to do so by the pool side… 

Why My Speech and Debate Years Have Helped Me as a Writer

When I was in seventh grade, I joined my junior high speech and debate team. For some odd reason, I fell in love with competing and kept with it until I graduated high school. I despised the debate side (because I hate politics), but adored the individual events, such as storytelling, humorous interpretation, duet, etc. The memories I’ve retained from constantly competing are– for lack of a better word– bittersweet. I hate to admit it, but I’m a fairly sore loser (I can already hear my family chuckling as they read this). I dreaded the moments when I found out I didn’t break to my next round. Getting up at the crack of dawn every Saturday also wasn’t my cup of tea. And the practicing? Yeesh! So. Much. Memorization.

The energy I put forth toward excelling at these tournaments attempted to kill me on numerous occasions, but the good memories still outweigh the bad. I remember celebrating in the rain with my duet partner upon learning we had reached finals during our state competition. I remember my heart twisting with anticipation, only to learn everything I worked so hard for was about to pay off with a nice, shiny trophy. I remember the friends I made, the card games I played between rounds, the places I visited, and the skills I sharpened over time.

So, why did someone who always dreamed of becoming an author dedicate so much time into acting competitions? I asked myself this excessively during my final competition of my senior year, as I sprawled out across a row of desks in an abandoned classroom, pouting at the fact I wasn’t going to be competing in the big-shot, national tournament. At the time, I figured I had wasted my efforts. Now, I know I was wrong.

Speech and Debate has been a crucial aid in my development as a writer, and these are the top ten lessons I learned that prove my point:

1. Losing is vital. You can’t win every round or else it’ll go to your head. You need to stagger it out; lose a few times, win a few times. That way, you can humble yourself before claiming the prize, helping you understand why success meant so much to you in the first place.

2. Confidence equals importance, and presentation is key. If you don’t act like you believe you can do great things, your audience isn’t going to believe you can, either.

3. Your enemies in the game aren’t necessarily your enemies in real life. Just because you’re both competing for the same prize doesn’t mean both of you can’t eventually come out on top. This means so much to you both. Don’t think of others as the villains, think of them as people with goals just as big as yours.

4. Your enemies are also not the people judging your work. It’s their job to review your piece, but each opinion will always differ. Don’t let it make you bitter. Basically, just be nice to people. You’ll come a whole lot farther thinking people are rooting for you rather than out to get you.

5. Take a critique for what it’s worth; pitch the ones that don’t improve you. It’s as simple as that.

6. You cannot rely on yourself alone to succeed; even the individual events are a team effort. Your coaches, friends, and family are all there to give you advice, calm your nerves, and be your personal cheerleaders. Let them.

7. Everyone’s in the same boat as you. Everyone who’s competing for the same prize is nervous about screwing up. Everyone’s afraid they’ll be looked down upon if they don’t make it. You know that’s not true about them, so why believe it about yourself? Be an encourager, even if they don’t show the same courtesy back.

8. If something’s not working for you, don’t let your investment in the script keep you from changing something that needs fixed. Just because you’ve had a piece polished for X amount of days doesn’t mean it’s perfect. If there’s something that’s obviously awkward, change it. Make it flow. It might take some extra time and double the amount of brain power to work out, but it’ll be much more satisfying than half-heartedly sticking with the work you know isn’t your best.

9. Coffee is great fuel for the imagination. It’s great fuel, period.

10. If you’ve been defeated, don’t quit. Don’t ever quit. Don’t ever, ever, ever quit. You can cry if it makes you feel better. You can scream into a pillow or let your best friend buy you a chocolate froyo for a quick pick-me-up. But never swear off something that doesn’t go your way the first time. You’ll win eventually, and it’ll be even sweeter than immediate success. Why? Because you worked for it. Every person’s story should end with an optimistic conclusion, and there’s nothing rewarding about giving up before you’ve given others the chance to see how far you’ve come.

Why I’m a Distracted Employee

On the weekends, I work at an independently-owned Hallmark store that’s located in my little hometown. I enjoy socializing with the older folk and pushing the buttons on all the new ornaments to hear what they quote/sing, but an hour before closing is when the place becomes dead — No customers and all closing work finished; It’s just me, my coworker, and the Glee soundtrack serenading the emptiness from above.

Instead of leaning against the counter, staring at the clock, praying that 7 PM comes and saves me from boredom, I’ve started using this time to be productive with my writing. One of my closing duties is to go through the card aisles and make sure everything’s in tip-top shape; I straighten the cards, make sure they’re all in their correct spot, refill envelopes, etc. I also pull the card label once a card is sold out. I’m sure there’s a better word than “card label,” but you know what I mean, right? It’s those white paper backs that tell what a card is by titling it as “Grandmother’s Birthday” or “Congratulations” or something like that. Here’s an example:

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See those white tabs? Yeah, that’s what I mean. I have to pull those out of the empty card slots. Before I arrived, the employees just kind of tossed them, since we’ll get more when a new card shipment arrives. However, I’ve started to hoard them. Now when 6 PM comes around and I need something to do, I retrieve one of the numerous card labels and I begin to write. I write what I’ve observed that day, interesting people I’ve seen, conversations I’ve overheard, and so on and so forth. Any chance I can write, I take. Otherwise, I’ll fall out of practice. I’m just glad I work with people who are so understanding of my passion.

Why I Respect Fanfiction

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Let’s face it– we’ve all read it. Whether it be for guilty pleasure, a good laugh, or just because we can’t get enough of our favorite story line, fanfiction has become a major fad in the cyber world that continues to expand daily. I’m not here to say all of it is good (heaven knows that’d be a lie and a half), but I am going to say I, too, have read my fair share of fanfiction for all of the above three reasons, as well as for an added fourth: I appreciate not just fanfiction itself, but the fans who dedicate their time to delve further into an story’s work.

As an aspiring writer, I often fantasize about the day someone will come up to me with a printed copy of my book and ask for an autograph. I long for the time that I’ll enter a bookstore and see my novel’s spine extending from one of the numerous shelves. I desire someone, anyone, to tell me that my story meant something to them. So, whenever I see fans online decide to write about their favorite story, I think of it as the highest form of flattery a storyteller could receive; this is an ultimate expression of an audience’s admiration. Being able to read my fans extended pieces of my own story, as well as learn how they would’ve ended it or who they believe should’ve hooked up with whom in the end, would be thrilling. Just to have someone care that much. I mean, how great would that be?

I also love seeing people’s passion. I love the way readers (or viewers), get so caught up in the characters and settings that the sudden plot twists take their breaths away (I am also guilty of experiencing such adrenaline). Fandoms are fun. They’re a little crazy, but that’s okay– don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. They allow people to relate with one another, to swap head-cannons and show-off their OTPs and OCs. It gives everyone a chance to delve into a different world other than our own; worlds filled with magic and happily-ever-afters. And I appreciate the authors that create these foundations for never-ending discussions and explorations of newfound societies; I hope to be one someday, too.

So, yes, I appreciate fanfiction, mainly because I appreciate my future readers. And if they wish to write alternate story lines of my own novel someday, I would love to read them.

*Picture from livelovecreate.com *

Original Poem: What Do I Need? (Based off Kim Addonizio’s “What Do Women Want?”)

I need a cherry gummy bear.

I need it chewy and petite,

I need it too sweet, I need to pinch its body

until someone tells me to stop playing with my food.

I need it to be sugar free and zero carbs,

this candy, so everyone can assume

I’m self-conscious. I need a bowl of them to hold as I sit upon

a sofa built for two in his living room

with memories of past lovers still looming on the cushions,

as he undressed them with his eyes

before whispering “I love you,” capturing their hearts and

stealing flowers from each potential suitor,

praying mid-sin that the guilt would go away.

I need to sit like I’m the only

girl he’s ever invited here.

I need those cherry gummy bears now.

I need them for comfort

as I discover the worst side of him,

to mask how much the truth hurts

or how little I feel

when I’m compared. When I find this snack, I’ll bite the ears

from the bear’s head so it won’t have to hear

the rest of its demise, through

the head-consumption and the body-consumption too,

and I’ll savor it like the forbidden fruit of Eden, like nourishment,

it’ll be the stupid

gummy bear he’ll see me me choke on.

–Breea Schutt

Why I Need to Stroke My Own Ego

I have a problem with dishing out words of encouragement to everyone besides myself. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t try to purposely beat myself up or anything, but sometimes my advice of, “Don’t worry about how far you need to go; instead look at how far you’ve come,” just comes out as words that I think others need to hear, never really considering myself as a candidate for them, too.

I’m going to fix that right now.

I’ve done a lot in my life so far . . . *Warps into past*

I won Reading Rainbow’s young author competition when I was ten. I proceeded to medal in numerous Reflections and LAD fair competitions. In high school, I went to state in duet acting, became the editor of our school newspaper, and flew across the stage on a broom in our Wizard of Oz production. I’ve worked two crappy jobs, two great jobs, and am currently enrolled in school to become an English/Literature professor someday. I’ve performed original song pieces in my downtown area, hosted an improv show, started up a writer’s group with a few classmates, and joined a book club. My boyfriend dressed up as Flynn Rider just so he could quote Tangled pick-up lines to me, and he also supports me and my crazy Disney Pin Trading hobby. I wrote my first novel my freshman year of college and just recently finished my second. I have visited the wonderful Disney World more times than I can count on my hand, I’ve performed in local film competitions and was nominated for best actress, and I got to meet Nathan Fillion (I have a picture at him pointing at my boob. Don’t believe me?)

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(Told you)

Most importantly, I’ve had the privilege of having some pretty awesome people in my life. My family is supportive, my boyfriend makes me laugh, my friends would take the shirts off their backs for me, and I have an amazing Jesus that I can thank for all that.

This post may sound a bit cocky (and if it does, I apologize), but sometimes I just need to remind myself that I’m still in the process of chiseling out who I am. I have big dreams; the kind of dreams that make one lay awake at night and pray that God could tone them down just a tad. But, the thing is, I still have time for those dreams to come true. I’ve had a terrific twenty-two years so far. What if the next twenty-two produce something amazing? What if I meet more people, see new sights, live out dreams that I never even knew I had?

What if I finally stop looking at what I need to do and look at how far I’ve come?

Why I’m Not a Hipster Writer

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Some people drink wine when they write. Some take a drag on their cigarette. Some just mindlessly weep over their keyboard. Whatever your habits are while writing, I don’t judge; if it works, it works. I always assumed that when I became a college kid, I’d be a coffee shop writer. I’d wear my little beanie with my thick glasses and sip away at a piping chai tea whose contents reside in one of those saucer-and-cup combos. The classical music would inspire my chapters and I would nestle into a beanbag in the corner of the establishment, writing the afternoon away.

And now here’s reality:

I own quite a few beanies, but whenever the weather’s nice I end up stuffing them into a corner of my closet. (For those of you who don’t know me, this is a very careless decision on my part. Anything in my closet that’s not on a hanger rarely sees the light of day again.) I nailed the thick glasses, but I think my contacts work better, so I tend to wear them more often. And, sure, I tried the coffee shop scene a few times, but as a college student I had to learn things the hard way. The most cruel epiphany? LIFE IS EXPENSIVE. When all the local coffee shops charge at least five bucks for a glorified cappuccino, well, I find myself avoiding them. Which is sad, because I love the ambience of it all.

So, where do I write? Currently, I’m sitting in the middle of a McDonald’s. That’s right — good ol’ Mickey Dee’s. I come here quite often actually, especially since it’s right across from campus. And I’ve slowly become addicted to their tea. In fact, I’ve become so addicted, I’ll find myself staring blankly at my computer screen until I get off my butt and go get one. It’s sad, really. But, there are worse things to be addicted to . . . right?

Although I planned for my life as a writer to be a little more glamorous than watching the rednecks barter with the cashiers– as if they’ll actually get their McChicken for less than a buck — I’m not complaining. At least I’m writing; at least I’m continually moving forward.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go refill my tea.

Why I’m Scared

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I was scrolling through Twitter book reviews last night, about to shut off the lamp on my bedside table, when my gaze fell upon a post that made my heart groan. One of the reviews had a title, similar to the novel I’ve been slaving over for the past year and a half. I felt compelled to click on the review, which lead me to researching the author, the author’s blog, the author’s synopsis of his story (You get the picture). My results were just as I feared: the plot was almost identical.

I’m ashamed to say this author’s recent success kept me awake. And here I thought I was an original; I thought my idea would grasp agents’ attention and have them begging at my feet for more (I’m not cocky, I swear. Just . . . wishful). But, what if my query letter actually sounds like every other query letter? What if what I think makes my story unique is actually what makes it part of the slush pile?

After my brain thoroughly beat itself up, I was finally able to go asleep. Although nighttime-worries are ten times worse than those experienced during the day, I was still feeling pretty sorry for myself in the morning. All that work . . .  All that work and someone’s already beat me to it. Have I been grueling away in vain?

The pity party stops with me going to an event called “The Friends of the Library Book Sale,” an annual function my town holds where the local libraries sell off older books on their shelves for little-to-nothing. And, as I was browsing the mysteries and fantasies, piling my bag up with Pattersons and Kings galore, I had an epiphany: A lot of these stories had similar premises. What made them unique were the characters, the side plots, the dialogue, the settings . . . Though there were over a dozen vampire romance novels in the fantasy section, each one had aspects that set them apart; though every mystery story I looked at was a murder mystery, they were each unique and made me care about the secrets unravelling with each turn of the page. What made them unique were the author’s voices– and I think that’s pretty amazing.

I’m not going to lie– when it comes to my writing, I find myself becoming insecure about stupid things, like not being unique enough. And I believe it’s because I’m so passionate about what I do that I’m constantly hoping others can see that through my work. So, this isn’t going to be the last time that I freak out about something that ended up not being a very big deal at all. But, maybe that’s okay. Maybe I need these freak out moments to remind me why I continue to write. It’s because I care; I care so much that it scares me, and that . . . well . . . that makes life pretty exciting.

This mini-revelation of mine reminds me of John Green’s quote at the end of The Abundance of Katherines: “Even if it’s a dumb story, telling it changes other people just the slightest little bit, just as living the story changes me. An infinitesimal change. And that infinitesimal change ripples outward–ever smaller but everlasting. I will get forgotten, but the stories will last. And so we all matter–maybe less than a lot, but always more than none (213).”

*Image from www.tonyjalicea.com

Why Sherlock Holmes Helps Me Write

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Sherlock Holmes is a timeless character, effortlessly adaptable to any generation. I never grow tired of watching his mad brilliance unfold within the mysteries, and his quirky behavior always makes me laugh. Although Mr. Holmes is a fictional character, I’ve learned a lot from him. No, I haven’t become a consulting detective, nor do I plan on forgetting parts of our solar system in order to make way for more “important” information inside my “brain attic.” However, he has taught me an important tool that I will use to chisel out my future characters; he’s taught me the importance of overanalyzing.

Sherlock has the ability to take the tiniest details of a person’s appearance and/or habits and create a big-picture character, complete with an occupation, relationship status, deepest fears, etc. In today’s book market, writers are highly discouraged from using clichéd stereotypes. Audiences are sick of reading about the preppy cheerleader or the geek who just can’t get a date (I’ve had a boyfriend for three and a half years, thank you very much). Unfortunately enough, there’s a reason stereotypes are called “stereotypes:” the shoe usually fits. This is why we writers can all learn a valuable lesson from Sherlock Holmes; we need to look past the formula and figure out its components.

I’ve started experimenting with the Sherlock method in my everyday life. I create characters by studying, not the person, but the items that make up the person.

For example, today I had an appointment with my car insurance agent. While the lady (I believe her name was Katrina, but I’m terrible at names) was preoccupied with recording the information on my driver’s license, I scanned her office. She had a single shelf pressed against the corner wall which held numerous pictures of her little girl (It was obviously her daughter. No Sherlock skills needed there). The lack of a male figure in each picture most likely means she doesn’t have a good relationship with the child’s father, and the over-abundance of motivational plaques in the room are not so much for her clients, but encouragements to herself. She needs constant reminders explaining why she became an insurance agent in the first place, probably because she needs a way to support her daughter as a single mother, but the “Keep On Dreaming” posters directly above her desk remind her that this is not her career, this is just a job. Though she keeps her desk well decorated and fairly clean, there’s a layer of dust around the items, meaning she wants to be creative, but not necessarily take the time to do some much-needed spring cleaning. This is similar to the way I clean, just organizing items but never really hardcore dusting, so I can only assume this is a right-brained way of thinking; the bright colors of her clothes also symbolize a creative mind that’s being stifled by a 9-5 job behind a desk. With all this said, there was a smile constantly on the woman’s face. It wasn’t forced, because her eyes weren’t strained by it; I can only assume this means she’s still optimistic about the future– the plaques and posters in her office may actually be working. Or else her daughter gives her reason to smile each day.

I know, I know; these are all major jabs in the dark. But, just by expanding my mind– not looking at the woman but the things which represented her– I was able to create a character. I was even able to create a backstory and ambition! This story may not be anything remotely close to what this woman’s life is like. She may very well have a loving husband or thoroughly enjoy her job as a car insurance agent. And maybe she’s 80% left-brained and only %20 right. Who knows? BUT, by using the Sherlock Method, I was able to transform just another overly-perky insurance agent into someone deeper: she became unique.