So I made myself a book cover…

This is some of what happens when I really don’t want to be productive, but need to be more productive than browsing Pinterest.  And hey, this is totally inspirational, right?

image copyright to Shim

I was going to try to write up some kind of back-cover blurb thingy to share in this post, but ohmygosh those are so hard to write.  (It probably doesn’t help that I’m only in the middle of the first draft, so…heh.)

So instead, here’s a…shorter blurb-thingy.

Former thief Ceveth and his two older siblings are contacted by someone named Izi who offers them the heist of a lifetime—break into the most secure building in the city, the city hall treasury, and steal an unidentified item  As a reward, Izi promises them a fresh start to their lives—and the only way to keep from ending up in prison for the rest of their lives.

(And for anyone who’s curious, I shared an excerpt of the first chapter over here.)

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A Scribbled Draft: Character Creation

I started a new project, Sleeping in Cyberspace, and this is the only first draft I’ve attempted to really write in about a year.  I’ve learned so much about my writing style since then, this draft is both trying new things and exploring old things.  Since it’s guaranteed to be a whole new learning experience, I’m going to blog through every step of it.


My general rule with characters is that when they start talking back at me and taking things in their own direction, they’re developed pretty well.  Of course, getting them to that point is a different adventure for each individual character.

About a year or so ago, I wrote up what I thought was a pretty spiffy and cool character sheet.  Was it?  Eh.  Not really.  It had some things in there I liked, and some things I didn’t.

Most importantly, though?

I never once filled it out fully for a single character.  Not even once. Sometimes I got kind of close, but only when I was trying to find ways to procrastinate from doing actual productive writing.  What’s the point in having a character sheet specifically for me, if I never actually used it?

Kind of like with my writing, I think I’ve realized I like to know enough to know where I’m going and what I’m dealing with, and then I’ll discover the nitty gritty details as I’m writing it.  So eventually, I came up with this.

NAME:

NICKNAME:

APPEARANCE:

~ basics (gender, age, ethnicity, identifying features, color, approximate height, weight, and build)

~ lifestyle (and how it affects appearance)

~ faults

~ clothes

~ body language

PERSONALITY:

~ fear

~ secret

~ flaw

~ quirk

ARC:

~ trigger

~ false belief

BACKSTORY:

OTHER:

(The personality part references another post that I don’t have the link to at the moment, about how the four foundations of a character are fear(s), secret(s), flaw(s), and quirk(s).  I think it’s kind of self-explanatory.  Everybody’s afraid of something, everybody has a secret (even if it’s a minor one), everybody has a flaw (basic rule in creating cool characters?  Flaws.  Always.), and…quirks.  Well, I think everybody has quirks, too, considering I haven’t met anybody without one.  Quirks are usually just little odd things about a person that make them interesting.  It can be a physical thing, a perspective thing, a personality thing, whatever you want.
The ARC portion of this is in reference to the Character Evolution Files, which I linked to in this post, so I won’t link to it again.)

Name, appearance, basic personality traits.  This is far from in-depth.  It’s pretty simple, I’d think, actually.  But what it does is, it helps you find the “essence” of a character.

For me, the essence is the important part.  Not the details.   I can have all the details I want, but if I don’t have the essence figured out, the character falls so, so flat.  Not only that, but it’s hard to figure out the details without that.

It’s hard to explain what exactly the essence is, because it’s not specific details.  I find the essence of my characters in different ways.  In my current WIP, one of my protagonists, Ceveth, showed me his essence when I realized how his older siblings treated him and how he felt about it.  In another project, I found a character’s essence when she told me, very determinedly, that her name was Sidney and she didn’t care if I liked the name or not because that was very definitely her name.

I think what it is is the general feel of the character.  It’s not specifics, it’s not details, it’s not even necessarily vivid.  It’s vague, and I have to really search for it, and sometimes, I don’t even understand it.  A few times, I don’t even know that I have it.  But once I do, I hold on tightly to it, and then I start to learn the other things about them that I don’t know yet, and I cement it into place, until I have a character who fully comes to life.

Each character reveals his or her essence at different times for me.  So sometimes, it takes a while to find it, so I fill out the parts of the character sheet above, until I strike on something.  Sometimes, they give it to me instantly, and then I use it to fill in the information above.  (It sounds like this weird balance, doesn’t it?  I use the sheet to get to know them, but I know them to fill out the sheet.  And yet it works.)

It sort of becomes this equation.

essence of the character

+

basic details to begin to cement who they are

+

a little exploration of them through actual writing

+

that moment when they start taking the story a slightly different path than I wanted/expected and I realize that they’re in control

= a developed character

Thankfully, I’m not half-bad at math.

How about the rest of you?  How do you develop your characters?  How do you tell when you’ve done enough developing?

Short Story: Tears of Waiting

I’ve been wanting to write an all-dialogue short story ever since I read Brandon Sanderson’s I Hate Dragons” short story (and if you haven’t read that, you need to right now), but I’ve never gotten around to actually doing it.  Until now.  This is rather short, and I’m not sure if it’s really all that good (I mean, even if I don’t compare it to Sanderson’s work), but…well.  Here it is.

“I told him not to come back.”

“The boy never listened.”

“I know, but I’d hoped he might this time…”

“You mean, you hoped he would have made it this time, unlike all the others.”

“Yes.”

“You are so sentimental.”

“You blame me for growing attached?”

“Growing attached is what causes the problems.  You know that!  We can’t grow attached.  It only makes losing them that much harder.”

“If I’m sentimental, you’re cyncical.  Do you ever believe that one of them might make it?”

“After so many years, no.  I don’t believe any of them ever will make it.  I believe that we’ll be stuck here, as we are, for decades more to come, waiting in vain.  We might even have to wait centuries before we’re finally given up on.”

“That’s what your waiting for?  For it to give up on us?  We have to hope that one of them will make it!”

“Why?  None of the ones we actually liked made it!  What’s the point anymore?  I’m struggling to see why we don’t just send them away when they come, before we start to like them, and before they get hurt, and before they have any opportunity to fail.”

“If we do that, we’ll only guarantee that we’ll never leave.  You can’t win if you don’t fail.”

“What is that supposed to mean?  When they fail, they die!  Unless they’re supposed to come back from the dead, I don’t see how them failing the first time will help them win in the future!”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“What do you mean, then?”

“I mean that many of them will have to fail before there will be one that will succeed.”

“How do you know there will be one to succeed?”

“There are over seven billion people on the planet.  We’ve only had two dozen come…there are more, and there’ll be at least one who will be strong enough.”

“But that one person may very well be the last person left.  The seven billionth.”

“Perhaps.”

“Then we’ll be waiting no matter what.”

“Probably.”

“So why don’t we just send them away?  If we have to wait, we might as well wait without watching them get hurt.”

“Look, I hate watching them die as much as you do.  But we can’t truly get out of this without their help.  Waiting for it to…go away?  It will only come back again.  We have to be freed.”

“I don’t like it.  I don’t want to cry again.  You know I hate crying.”

“May our tears lead the right one to us.”

“That still requires waiting, and, oh…”

“Are you crying?”

“Yes.  Another one is coming, don’t you see him?”

“I do.  He looks strong.  Stronger than the others.”

“Probably not strong enough.”

“Why are you so skeptical?”

“If I make myself not believe, maybe it’ll be easier when he fails.  Maybe I won’t cry so much.”

“You’re already crying.”

“And so are you!  How is hoping any better, if it only makes you cry more?”

“I will not let myself stop hoping.  Life isn’t worth living if you don’t hope in something.”

“We aren’t even living, not like this.  This is torture.”

“Maybe it’s practice for when we get our lives back.  If we hope now, then it’ll be easier then.”

“Do you really believe in that?”

“I guess so.”

“Do you see him?  He’s almost made it to the end.”

“Maybe he’ll be the one, then.”

“Maybe.”

“Two more steps left.”

“He fell.”

“He—oh, I don’t believe it!  He seemed so promising…”

“They always let us down in the end.  I told you that.”

“We’re just waiting for the right one.”

“I suppose so.  But oh, I hate crying…”

The Horrors of Non-Writers & Writing in Public (Plus a Resolution to the Last Post)

We went to the park earlier, so my siblings could play with a few other kids their age.  Nobody was there my age, so, of course, I brought my notebooks.  I unfortunately didn’t get to do really any writing (about 70 words all in total), since I ended up chasing the two year old all around (he had fun going down the shortest slide there and saying “Wheeee!” almost after he got to the bottom).  But anyway, we got there, and I sat down and pulled my notebook out, all ready to continue with the scene I’d started this morning.  One of my mom’s homeschool friends sees me, and she’s like, “What’re you writing?”

My response, of course is just the vague statement of, “A story.”

And so she goes, “Of what?”

For a moment, I panicked.  I almost thought she was asking me what my story was about.  And how am I supposed to answer that?  I mean, of course, I know what my story is about.  I’m nearly forty thousand words into it, so I should hope I have at least a general direction to go in.  But as some of you can probably relate to, I hate telling anybody about it.  Especially to people who I’m afraid might judge me for writing fantasy, but really, to anybody in general.  Even family.  Ugh, no, especially family.

After those first few seconds, I realized she wasn’t actually asking that.  I’m not sure exactly what she was asking, but I said, “It’s fiction.  For myself.”  That seemed to satisfy her, but then she goes and makes the next mistake by jokingly suggesting that I should “include” her into the story.

Um…okay.  I don’t even know what your name is.  I doubt you even remember who I am, really, aside from the daughter of a fellow homeschooler.  And you’re asking me to make a character out of you?  Fine.  I’ll make you into one of those characters you only see once, because they end up dead after that or something.  The lady with the sunglasses and the really sugary voice that was talking to you about how expensive ice-cream is and then wound up dead for being associated with you because there’s a really evil villain in this story.  Or something.

So then our other friend gets to the park, the one we were originally going to meet, and the first thing she says when she sees me is, “Homework, still?”

Gosh.  Does anybody write things anymore that aren’t for school?  I told this lady pretty much the same thing: “No, it’s fictional stuff for myself.  I finished school early, actually.”  Thankfully, she left it at that and didn’t say anything more.  That might have been because then she was saying hello to my mother, but still.

And that is one of the many reasons I don’t like writing where there are other human beings. Non-writers can be so ignorant sometimes… it’s not their fault, but it can be slightly annoying.  The other big reason is mostly that it’s hard to concentrate on writing something when my siblings are coming up to me and asking pointless questions like, “What should I eat for lunch?”

“Um…whatever you like to eat?  I don’t know, I’m writing, go away.”

So that was my day.  Anybody else have some, ahem, fun with writing lately?

On a slightly different note, I made up my mind about what I was talking about in my last post.  I’m going to keep writing on the current project, at least for a little longer.  Mostly, that decision was made by the inspiration for the other story coming to a total and abrupt halt (though I did get about a thousand words out of it beforehand), but also that I looked at my bar on the side for how many days I’d been writing in a row on that one story.  At the time, I think it was about 21 days (though you can see now that it’s 25, as of this very moment).  That’s awfully close to thirty.  So, what I’m going to do is make it to that bloody thirty.  Then, if I still want to switch, I’ll switch.   But I’m going to make a full month before I stop.

So…Erm…Ugh…

Okay.  Now I’m stuck and I don’t know what to do.  Today and yesterday, I’ve just been staring at my Scrivener window and doing nothing.  I can’t write.  I have things to write, sort of.  I just don’t really want to.  Yesterday, I only barely made my goal for the day by writing about one sentence to a paragraph or two in a dozen different scenes and chapters, until it all added up to 500 words.  Today, I really don’t have a way of doing even that, but I can’t seem to write.

I don’t want to take a break, though.  I want to write.  I even wrote a few hundred words in a separate story, but this one particular one, I can’t seem to go anywhere.  I want to take a break from it, and work on some of my other stories.  But at the same time, I want to finish this one.  I haven’t finished a project since last May (an entire year ago), and this is the closest I’ve gotten since then.  I’m, I think, about half way through the novel.

But I’m staring to get…bored, I guess.

So should I switch to another story or try to get past this and just keep writing until I reach the end?

Day Twenty-One…and Here Comes the Distractions

So. Today, I made three weeks of writing every single day, for a minimum of 500 words (with the occasional 300….oopsie). And so, what does that mean?

Oh, nothing short of—surprise, surprise!—my concentration wavering. Again. It’s a pattern for me, I’ve noticed, and I’m not sure how to break it. Really all I’ve been able to do is just go with it and use the inspiration as it comes, even if it happens to be for the wrong story.

So, I made my 500 words today, and then ended up in my room, writing on my mirror/reflective-whiteboard/place-to-brainstorm-things. At which point, my dad asked where I was, which ended up in a slightly amusing conversation that went more or less as follows…

“[Shim], are you in the house?”
“Yes! I’m upstairs.”
“Why are you hiding up there?”
“I’m writing on my mirror!”
“Doing what?”
“Brainstorming!”
“Your brain is all over the mirror?”
“Yup!”
“Gross.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll clean it up.”

Well, I was amused by it, anyway.

So, as you can probably already tell, all of this “brainstorming” was not for my current WIP but actually for the novel that… well, it’s one I rant about a lot, and it’s also where I got my online nickname Shim from. Sort of.

Anyhow. I’m having, what I think is a problem with my plot and characters not working together (though I have no clue if I’m imagining that as well, though I hope not), so, the easiest thing to do is get a new plot. Or, well, dig up an old plot from an old draft. So what I’m doing now is basically trying to fit a story that I wrote two years ago with the characters that have evolved quite a bit since that draft. So far, it’s going okay, but who knows if it’ll work.

Anyway. Back to the main problem. If I work on this, then I’m not really going to finish that other story I’ve been writing for the past three weeks, will I? But I don’t want to just drop the inspiration for this other one, either… So what I’m going to try to do is write my five hundred words, just like before, and then after that, I’ll work on the other one. That way, I can do both.

Please tell me this will work, please tell me this will work, please tell me this will work… Please tell me this will work!

Aaannnnddd…Results!

So.  For about a week or so, I’ve been trying to write a minimum of 500 words everyday on just one project.  I won’t say I wrote every day, but I did the best I could with a cold and school and life in general, and it finally paid off.  (Yes, I know, it’s only been a week.)  Yesterday, I wrote a total of 2214 words.  In one day.  On one project.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I haven’t written that much in one day on one project in months.  Sure, maybe I wrote a decent amount on the first day of NaNoWriMo, but that was way back in November.  And that’s, what, five months away?  Six?  Oh, gosh, that’s even further away than I’d thought…

Anyhow, I wrote a very nice amount yesterday, at least compared to my normal amounts, and I’m happy with it.

I haven’t written a single word yet today, though.  I was doing school all day… (Ha, Kiwi.  You aren’t the only one doing Operation S.T.O, apparently.)  The only reason I didn’t get really stressed out by all of that was actually from some really good advice.  (And if I didn’t say it before, thank you, Liam.  You just saved my life, almost.  Heh, it felt like it, at least, when I managed to not completely panic.)

Anyway, now I should probably go write.  And not steal my sister’s cookie dough before she bakes it…

Mostly Pointless Rambling

You know, I realized, this blog is…completely pointless.  And not because it’s a circle.   I mean, what’s the point of this blog?  You’d think, from the name, it has something to do with writing, and probably fantasy, but really, that’s not very specific.  So all it ends up being is ranting about my own writing.

Heh.  No wonder nobody really reads this blog. I don’t even know how to make it more interesting, either.

Anyway, that’s off topic.  I’m still sort of writing.  Sort of.  Meaning, I’m supposed to be writing one project, but I’m too lazy to do so (hey, it’s spring break, right…?), and end up writing random things for random other projects that are really not well-written or anything and there’s only one person I know who could really appreciate them.  (You know who you are, V.)  Eh.  I’m still writing, though, right?

I’ve also been messing around with other things.  My parents started playing a new MMO that’s supposed to have a pretty good character creation thing.  So I messed around with it, thinking maybe I can create ssome characters that look like mine from my writing, you know, for the purpose of figuring out exactly what the physical appearance of my characters are.  (And apparently I don’t really know the as. I spent a good five minutes going through my notes, trying to figure out the height of a certain character.  All I really knew was that she was shorter than my excessively tall character, but that’s kind of obvious.)  I ended up getting incredibly frustrated at the game because the hair styles are pathetic.  There isn’t even a simple braid over the shoulder, or simple long hair, or anything like that.  All they have is…weird things.  (You can put mohawks and faux-hawks on both female and male characters.)  That and all of the characters are adult, and, well, all of my protagonists are my age.  Hmm.

I ended up giving up, and decided to do something else.  After all, I’m a writer, but I’m also an artist.  I can’t seem to figure out how to draw my characters (yet…I’ve only 99.9998% given up on that…), so I pulled out a 3D Animation program, called Blender 3D.  Then I ran into a new problem being that I didn’t know how to use it.  I was familiar with a really old version (though not good at it) and this brand new version had slightly different controls.

Gah.  In other words, I needed to look up some tutorials.  And deal with the fact that I already knew half the controls, even though the other half I didn’t know.  So I was a total beginner because I didn’t know that alt-F is how you move the viewpoint, or that control-1 shows the back view, yet I knew that B pulls up the selection box, A selects everything, TAB switches to Edit mode…. and so on.

Goodbye, pride.  I hope you like the shoebox I stuffed you inside of.

It was a little frustrating, but the tutorials are actually better than I’d thought, at least as I long as I can deal with the fact that I’m making really cheesy-looking items.  And here comes in my perfectionist side.  And that it’ll be a while before I can create any models of any of my characters.

I also, while talking to fellow blogger and friend, Kiwi, I realized part of my extended writer’s block problems.  I have…absolutely no schedule.  But I used to.  Back when I wrote a minimum of a thousand words, with a two fifty average, every single day, I got up every morning at roughly seven, or sometimes even six-thirty, before school, and just wrote.  I’m still only half-awake, which means still half-asleep, so my imagination has no limits, and I can get a whole lot done.  At least, assuming my siblings allow me to.

But I don’t do that anymore.  Now, instead of getting up early, I sleep in until eight, when my mom drags me out of bed because I have to start school.  No early mornings.  I might be tempted to try to get up earlier anyway, even if I’m dead-tired, but my parents have a new rule that my siblings and I aren’t allowed to use the computer in the mornings.  Yeah, yeah, sure, I can still use a notebook, but, really?  All of my notes, my outlines, everything is on my computer, and I need those to write.  Plus, I just can’t write by hand as fast as I can type.  If I only have an hour, I’ll still probably only get maybe a few hundred words down, and I’m already doing that with my lack-of-schedule writing, so what’s the point?  I might as well spend that hour sleeping.

It’s frustrating.  And discouraging.  I’ve noticed I’ve been discouraging about a lot of things.  Gah.

On a somewhat better note (yeah, I know, this post is already long enough, but I’m rambling here, sorry) I’m going to join a troop thingy…how would you describe it?  I suppose it’s basically a Christian version of what Girl Scouts is supposed to be.  (Because the real Girl Scouts is awful.  I know, I was one for a year or so…bleh.)  So, camping, and outdoorsy stuff and such.  I’m mostly excited because I want to do some of the wild-life stuff, for two reasons.  One, mere curiosity.  I want to know how to start a campfire!  And use a pocket knife without cutting my thumb off!  And so on!  I really hope they do stuff like that, though.  I may be a girl, but I don’t want to do just girl stuff because I’m female.  Not to say I don’t like being female (I’m wearing a skirt as I type this, in fact…I’m also really more of a girly-girl than a tomboy), but that doesn’t mean I don’t like things like that.

Of course, I also want to do things for writer purposes.  You know how many times I’ve said, in my writing, in the vaguest way possible because I didn’t know what they were really doing, “They started a campfire and cooked their food”?  A lot.  Way more than I’d like.  Heh, it’s obvious I’m a city girl, isn’t it?

Oh well.  Hopefully we’ll do just as much wildlife survival as we do home ec and community service.

And now, to make this post even slightly interesting, did anybody know that “smilingly” is a word?  It is.  It’s really awkward to say, though.

Outlining Again and Actually Writing a Little

So…follow up to the rather down post from yesterday.  Despite all of the problems I’m facing, somehow, I just can’t give up on my writing.  I guess I just have too many stories that want to be told.  In other words, when I couldn’t sleep last night, I decided it was as good a time as any to try to figure out what was wrong with the outline for one of my stories.

Turns out, the problem was actually that there were several plot holes that were subtle and overlapping themselves in such away that it just confused me—which only frustrated me and prompted me to not deal with the story at all.  I’ve mostly fixed it, now, though I’m still confused by it.  I couldn’t even tell you exactly what the plot holes were, really. It was kind of weird.

Somehow, fixing that outline seemed to open up a wall.  Suddenly, ideas and inspiration came crashing down on me, all day today.  In fact, over the course of the day, I’ve written roughly 1.8k, which is more than I’ve written in…a long time.  Usually, lately, the most I can get in a single day is about 1,500 words.

I feel strangely good.  I’m not doing terrific, or anything.  For example, I keep getting distracted by the Internet.  (Which is probably why I’m writing this post instead of bumping that word count up to 2k.)  I’m also still having a little trouble really getting into my character’s heads, and I know I’m going to have to do a lot of editing to get rid of this internal monologue that crept its way in, but I’m actually writing!

Okay.  I should probably stop wasting time on my blog and go get that number up to 2k, eh?

Little Sisters and a Little Bit of Stress

So.  Way back in November, I decided to write a novel.  Y’know, for NaNoWriMo.  I actually didn’t end up writing said novel, instead writing an outline for a different novel, but that’s not important.  The important part is, I decided to drag my younger siblings in with me on the wonderful craziness of NaNo.  One brother decided to write a Minecraft fan-fiction, while the other made up a story about a can and a ghost who ran away from their home and the cat’s cruel master.  Neither finished their story, but considering their age, I think they both wrote a decent amount and I was very proud of the fact that they at least tried.  (I’m also happy to hear that one of them plans to finish his novel this up and coming November.)

Then came my little sister.  She’s younger than the two boys, yet she’s always loved telling stories.  Never written them down, but certainly told them verbally enough to practically be an expert.  Or, well, as close to expert as an eight year old gets.  I convinced her into joining NaNoWriMo as well, and she wrote a story about a dragon who got lost and has to find her way home, with the help of a friendly cat.  (It amused me greatly that two of my siblings’ stories had cats in them as one of the protagonists…now I’m tempted to add a cat into one of my own stories, just for the fun of it.)

She completed her goal of a thousand words and finished the story, on about the 24th of November.  The story was awesome.

As you can probably guess, considering it’s like the opposite time of year as November, I just helped her finish editing it.  It’s even more awesome now.  I love it.  She had quite a few spelling and grammar errors (including switching back and forth between present and past tense, using comma splices, and so on), but she is only eight, so I helped her fix them up.

Now it’s pretty much finished and she’s even illustrating it with little sketches of some of the scenes.

I’m the proudest older sister there ever was.  And also…one who’s kind of discouraged in herself.

I haven’t finished a project since last May.  That’s nearly an entire year ago.  That was a story I believe I mentioned in an earlier post about my lack of motivation, which is now back in the outlining/figuring-out-what-in-the-world-is-going-on-here stage.  Or, er, the drawing board, I guess.  I’ve got so many plots holes…

But that’s for another rant.  Anyhow, there are a few excuses for my lack of finishing anything.  I lost both my uncle and my grandmother in June, and since then, there’s been enough family drama to, well, fill an entire soap opera.  Or three.  But right now?  After all, that was way back in June.

I’m…not really sure.  I just feel stressed.  I’d like to blame school, but we’ve actually figured all of that stuff out.  I know what I’m doing the next two years of highschool and maybe even a vague idea of what comes afterwards.  No need to be stressed.  Yet…I keep feeling stressed out.

It finally occurred me that it’s really the writing itself that’s the problem.  I can still do most of my creative process.  I can outline, I can brainstorm, I can even do some world-building and some sort of character development (I’m not very good with that part yet, unfortunately, without doing discovery-writing….which is weird, since I’m more or less an outliner at this point…hmm.).  But  whenever I sit down to write, that’s when I get stuck.

Turns out, I can’t seem to get into the story.  Any story.  I’ve got five of them, after all.  (Or was it six?)  I’ve found I can still, occasionally, write random scenes here and there, but nothing important and nothing that actually goes anywhere.  I tried writing a new short story, too, and that didn’t work either.  I tried just sitting and writing nothing, I tried switching to a notebook, and I even tried taking a break from writing altogether and coming back later.  No matter what I do, no matter how I try, no matter even which story I work on, I can’t seem to lose myself into my writing anymore.

So that’s what the problem is.  That’s why I’m completely stressed out about any of my writing and avoiding it.

I also…have no clue why this is the case and what in the world to do about it.

Gah, so this post turned out far more complain-y than I intended…I had really just wanted to talk about how proud I was of my sister. Heh.  So, yeah, there it is.  Anyone have any suggestions of what to try?   And anyone else have awesome little sisters?