Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Characters Readers Remember Forever

 Synopsis Series: Part 3

Characters Readers Remember Forever

Can you name five of your favorite characters from books? How about five of the best known ones? Have you heard of these characters? Harry Potter. Jon Snow. Katniss Everdeen. Bridget Jones. Bilbo Baggins.

The best characters are ones that never leave us. That become a part of popular culture. Writing a memorable character at that level without any planning or consideration is even rarer than winning the lottery. It would take one of a kind talent, paired with once in a lifetime luck. Do you really want to bet on either? Its a much better idea to learn about what makes a character memorable and lovable and fascinating before you begin writing the book, and plan to write those elements in from the beginning, so they are deeply intertwined with the narrative. Editing them in later, after all, will be almost impossible.

Laying A Foundation For Immortality

Character profiles are where you lay the foundation of what matters. Its not a place to record hair colour, eye colour, weight, height and freckle density. Though a few strong, defining physical features can make a character stand out in a reader’s mind, they aren’t what matters.

Did you like Harry Potter because he had green eyes? Or did you like him because he rose up from adversity to become a hero? Were you captivated by Katniss’ brown hair, or because she was willing to sacrifice her own life to save her little sister?

The important parts of a memorable character are not what they look like, but what they do. What they want. What they sacrifice. And its these elements that need to be at the core of your character profile. Not what they look like, but who they are, deep inside. What drives them. What are their limits? What makes them human? What makes them worthy of being a protagonist in a story?

As Always, Jake As A System For Everything

Over the years, I have developed an extensive character profile that I use to design characters prior to writing a novel. It makes my characters, and my plots, stronger, more lifelike and fills them with conflict and tension.

I am going to share it with you here, but don’t try and use it yet. This week I am discussing the layout, next week I will be discussing how to fill it in properly.


BOOK: (The working title of the book this character is in.)

Name: (Character name. First, last and any nick names.)
Age: (Character age at in chapter 1, though you might want to also include their age at the end of the last chapter, if it changes.)
Race: (This is more for fantasy and sci fi than contemporary fic. If I was doing contemp I would change this to ‘ethnic background’.)
Hair: (This is so you remember and keep it consistent but also, try to put a description here, not just a colour. EG: a loose black Grace Kelley bob. Salt and pepper, thinning on the top. Long, loose and gold, tangled and wild.)
Skin: (Skin tone, again, a description is better than a color. Remember not to describe dark skinned people as food. Its offensive. No coffee or chocolate, okay?)
Eyes: (Rather than color, try and focus on emotion with your eye description. Pale grey, with hard wrinkled lines from frowning. Wide, blue, bright and full of wonder.)
Magic: (Again, this is for fantasy/spec fic, not contemp. Depending on your setting, this could be extensive and cross into world building.)
Quirks/Turns of phrase: (If you see my post here on style: you will see I recommend giving characters their own distinct ‘voice’. This is where you make notes about that. This section can end up being quite long and extensive!)

Personality: (A lot of people list character traits here. Eg: brave, shy, funny, outgoing, etc. Do that if you have to, to give yourself an outline, but then after each trait give an example of HOW they show that trait. Nothing is worse than a book that tells you character is brave, but we never get to see them being brave. You can’t tell your reader anything regarding personality, you can only SHOW them. So do yourself a favor and work out some ways to show that trait now, not when you’re writing your first draft.)
Growth Arc: (Every character has to go through a developmental arc throughout the story. Maybe they start out shy and grow in confidence. Maybe they start out carefree and have all their innocence stripped away. You need to know where they start and where they end, before you start planning the novel in full. This is so you can set up point A very strongly, so point B has more impact. I remember C.S Pacat talking about her character Laurent in Captive Prince. She said she knew people needed to hate him at the start, and he had to win them over slowly as the novel progressed. She was still devastated everyone hated him when they started reading! And boy did they hate him. But by the end of the series, no one saw him as a bad guy anymore, everyone loved him.)

Four Descriptions: (These are short, active descriptions of the character as they would appear in the text. Try and make them very different and set under very different circumstances. I try and do them from different POVs. EG: someone who hates them, someone who admires them, the character happy, and the character in the height of a conflict.)

Room/Home description: (I will expand on this a lot in the next blog post, but your characters room says a lot about them. It is a character in its own right, so you need to expand on that.)

Family: (List any family members this character has, and make some notes about their interpersonal relationships.)

Greatest Strength: (These next sections are going to be the focus of next week’s blog post.)
Tested By:
Greatest Weakness:

Most Desires: (These too.)
What do they Gain?:
Barriers to Goal:
Cost of Failure (internal/external):

20 Facts about the character: (This may seem a bit pointless, but it has actually proved to be a vital part of my character and plot development. It promotes brainstorming and forces you to flesh out the character in your mind. Childhood incidents, favorite food and colors, interesting likes and dislikes, etc can all go here. Read through your character profiles regularly, and you will be able to add a lot of life and a sense of history and depth to characters by using these notes.)


So there it is, Jake’s character profile sheet. Is it what you expected? How does it compare to character profiles you have used in the past? If you are feeling a bit lost, don’t worry, I am going to expand on it next week. The most important parts of this profile are not explained at all right now, you have to wait until for the real magic! See you then!

And don’t forget to sign up to my hilariously inappropriate newsletter at It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Command Center of Your Novel

 Synopsis Series: Part 3

Writing an overview sounds ridiculously simple, maybe so simple you wonder why it needs its own blog post at all. Depending on your experience level, it may be a lot harder than you think. It may even be impossible for you to do properly when you are starting out.

That is because a functional overview means you have to be pretty good at estimating how long scenes are going to be, and how long a novel will be, based on the plot points you create. Not everyone is good at this. In fact, few people are good at this at all.

How Much Content Do You Need For Novel?

The most common mistake I see first time writers making, is they write down their scenes and they think they have enough material for a long novel. Maybe even a trilogy. However in truth, they barely have enough story for a novella.

To remind you, an overview is the basic details of your novel structure. It should contain information such as the target audience, the genre, the intended word count, the number of chapters and the goal word count per chapter based on those two numbers. EG: 80,000 words, divided by 25 chapters is 3200 words per chapter.

So lets start at the beginning and work through your overview.

How Do You Set Up An Overview?

Your genre and target audience is the first thing you should know. You can take the exact same plot, same characters, same ending—but end up with completely different books if you are writing for teenagers VS adults. The tone, themes and focus will be different, even though the plot and characters can be exactly the same.

Sometimes people come to me asking for feedback, but can’t tell me who the target audience is. I find it almost impossible to give them feedback under those circumstances, because without knowing the target audience, there is no way for me to know what the feedback should be.

So first, you decide who your target audience is, and your genre. Remember, genre is just the primary emotion your reader wants to feel when reading. Romance = love. Horror = fear. Fantasy = awe. And so on. Genre is also where your book will be shelved in the book store. You want to be shelved with similar authors, so you can be found by your target audience.

How Long Should My Novel Be?

When you know your target audience and genre, you can get a rough idea of what your word count can be. Particularly if you want to sell commercially, with a traditional publisher or through book stores, you will need to stick within the genre norms. This is very easy to find out, simply google: ‘Average word count for GENRE.’ Be very aware that niche genres can vary a lot. Particularly in romance. While a typical historical romance might be up around 120, 000 words, a contemporary erotica romance might only average 60, 000 words. KNOW YOUR GENRE.

When you know the average word count for your genre and target audience, you can divide that into chapters. Thrillers often have quite short chapters. Fantasy novels tend to have longer chapters. If you aren’t sure how long the average chapters are for a genre, grab five of them off the shelf at the library. Google their word counts, then check what number the last chapter is. Divide the total word count by the chapters, and, tada! You have the number of words per chapter. If you do five of these and average them out, you will have a good idea of what is normal, comfortable and commercial.

The Complete Overview

So now your overview should be laid out something like this:


When you have this information, it will help you when building your plot. Because you will know how much content you need to fill a novel. Most writers should assume scenes are going to be shorter than you think. If you really have NO IDEA how long a scene will be, I suggest this:

Look at your scene description, maybe it says something like: ‘Keith breaks into the sealed room in the basement and finds the evil shrine, he starts to feel sick and the scene ends with him being rushed to hospital in an ambulance.’

Now, estimate how long that scene will be. Lets say, 1500 words. Now, write the scene, but write it so you can’t see the word count. If that means putting a small sticky note over the corner of the screen to hide the word count, so be it. Don’t try and write it to any length, just write the best scene you can. Then when it is done, compare the word count you estimated to the word count you have. Turns out, it was only 900 words long. Oops!

Do the same thing next time, and the time after. Keep doing it until you find you have a more accurate grasp of how long scenes are. Just remember, your goal is to accurately try and gauge how long a scene will be if WRITTEN WELL. Your goal is NEVER to extend a minimal idea to fit a higher word count. That is bad writing and will ultimately lead to boring scenes that drag terribly.

When you get to writing your simple synopsis, you will need to make sure there are roughly enough scenes for the number of chapters you want. Even if you have reasonably short chapters, its a good idea to have two, or even three plot points per chapter. You also want to consider ending your chapters in the middle of scenes, on cliff-hangers, instead of ending them where the scene ends naturally. This entices readers to keep reading, instead of putting the book down and leaving to do other things.

Knowing how many chapters you will have, makes it easier to structure your novel to make it hard to put down.

What If I Can’t Stick To The Plan?

It DOES NOT MATTER if while writing the first draft, this initial plan goes out the window a bit. Maybe you add more chapters, maybe you cut some out. Maybe you end up with a word count that is a bit off what you thought it would be. As long as you aren’t under contract, there is no one to disappoint. However later in your career, when you are under contract, these things can cause big problems. So its a good idea to start practicing planning and estimating novel length early on.

This practice of planning a overview will also help you if you want to write for specific imprints of publishing houses. Many imprints, particularly in romance, have strict guidelines when it comes to word counts. If everything is planned out before you begin writing, then you don’t have to worry about vastly lengthening or shortening a novel that is the wrong length for the imprint you are writing for.

Stay tuned, because next week we’re going to start character profiles! And I bet you a dollar, everything you think you know about character profiles is wrong.

And don’t forget to sign up to my hilariously inappropriate newsletter at It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Five Core Parts Of A Good Synopsis

 Synopsis Series: Part 2

I keep taking about ‘proper’ synopsises, but in truth there are many fantastic ways to do a synopsis and they can be quite different. What I am talking in this blog series is how I do synopises, so lets call it ‘The Jake Corvus Method’.

What Are The Parts Of A Synopsis Using The Jake Corvus Method?

1. Overview - Your overview gives you the basic details of your novel structure. It should contain information such as the target audience, the genre, the intended word count, the number of chapters and the goal word count per chapter based on those two numbers. EG: 80,000 words, divided by 25 chapters is 3200 words per chapter. This will help you balance your scenes later on in planning. You will not have to stick to this word or chapter count exactly, its just a guideline. It will help you produce a manuscript that is the right length and format for your target audience.

2. Character Profiles - Eye color, hair color, height, right? Nope. Character profiles are critical, but probably not in the way you think, or in the way you are used to writing them. By all means, you can jot down some notes about appearance so they don’t change half way through the book. However the real core of character profiles is motivations, goals and stakes. Your novel plot revolves around the conflicting goals and desires of your hero and your villain. So starting with these elements, weaving them into the character before you begin writing so they are central to their very being, will give you a stronger, more appealing story. Your villain (and sub villain!) profiles will be even more important than your main characters. No one being mentored by me is ever going to have the problem of getting half way through a book and realizing they have no proper antagonist!

3. World Building - Depending on the genre and locale of your novel’s setting, this could either be huge and complicated, or reasonably simple. If your novel takes place in a contemporary setting, particularly somewhere you are familiar with, this might only consist of some local maps, photos and a few details you need to keep straight in your head. If you are creating a setting from scratch, such as a fantasy or sci fi universe, it could be long and extensive. Any setting you create from scratch has to have the diversity and infrastructure in place to feel realistic. That means a realistic ecosystem (dragons are all well and good, but there has to be a reliable food source for them!) and fantasy cities need to deal with the realities of mundane life. How does a floating city provide enough food for all its people? If a city is underground, where does all the sewerage go? What happens when the surface floods? There can be a lot to think about!

4. Simple Synopsis
- This is a bullet point list of scenes, largely used for brainstorming and putting things in order before you start your detailed synopsis. If you have written a synopsis before, it probably looked very similar to what I call a simple synopsis. In short, a simple synopsis is where you brainstorm all the scenes you want in the book, and give them a 1-2 line summary, and put them in roughly the order you want them to occur. The real work comes in the next part, the detailed synopsis.

5. Detailed Synopsis - This is the big meaty, sometimes scary part of the synopsis. You may look at the other four items on the list and think: ‘What is left? Surely I already have a synopsis now!’. Not even close. The detailed synopsis is where the real work starts. Its also where the MAGIC starts. In our detailed synopsis, we aren’t just going to cover what happens in scenes and why, we’re going to track our narrative traction, our emotional beats, the two purposes of each scene and the character arc of each character in the scene. But don’t worry, each of those elements will have its own dedicated blog post. When we are finished this blog series, you aren’t going to feel overwhelmed, you are going to feel like an expert. And you’re going to have the best damn novel synopsis you have ever written in your life.


And don’t forget to sign up to my amazing mailing list at It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story!

The first ever newsletter is releasing on Dec 4th and will be a special, once in a lifetime NSFW edition. You have been warned.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Do You Struggle With What To Write Next?

Synopsis Series: Part 1

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You have a few hours set aside to do some writing. You sit down with a coffee or tea and re-read the past couple of pages. You have a vague idea of where the scene is going and what happens after that, but when it comes to writing the actual words… nothing.

You struggle to get the scene right for a few hours, and the end of of your writing session, you have only written a few hundred words. And you’re not even sure they’re good words. You really love your story, but when it comes to getting it down on paper, its just so hard.

Other writers seem to get much higher word counts, it seems like they are just better at thinking than you are. You’re pretty sure there’s nothing you can do about it, its just how you are.

The truth is, its probably not ‘how you are’, rather you’re just not working with a proper synopsis.

What is a synopsis?

In the context of a novel a synopsis can refer to two things:

1. A plan and scene-by-scene break down of your entire book that you use as a guide to write it.

2. A plot summary you give to agents and publishers so they have an overview of your story without having to read the whole thing.

While these seem similar and both called synopsis, they are not the same thing. If you think your synopsis can be used for both of these, you either have a terrible book plan to write off, or a terrible summary to give to agents and editors, or more than likely, both.

But that’s okay, its rare to meet an author who is good at either!

Maybe you don’t like working from a synopsis, and you’re ready to stop reading now, but stick with me to the end. Give me a chance to change your mind. Lets look at the pros and cons of writing with a proper synopsis.


- Boredom: Knowing what is going to happen just makes the book boring to write.

- Hard work: Writing a good synopsis takes time and hard word, its much more fun to just start writing.

- Inflexibility: You’ll end up torturing the plot to keep it in line with the synopsis, rather than letting it flow naturally.


- Productivity: Knowing what will happen next means massive word counts.

- Easy-breezy Writing: All the hard work has been done before you start writing the first draft.

- Less Editing: Plot holes are patched, character arcs are complete and in place, stakes, conflict and tension are all clear and easy to follow building to a breathtaking climax, all before you begin.

- Less Wasted Time: If a story just doesn’t work, you find out before you start writing, instead of 12 months later when you have a complete first draft that is unsalvageable.

- Industry Preparedness - The first time you sell a book, you have to write the whole book first. However by your fifth book, you will be signing contracts based on a synopsis, and you have to be able to deliver a novel based on the synopsis you have provided!

How Can A Synopsis Make You A Better Writer?

Imagine you sit down to write for the day. You have the same few hours as last time, but today you have a detailed, complete synopsis for your novel. You read it through before you begin for the day and then you start writing right away, no need to sit and think about what is going to happen next.

The tension between your two main characters is almost unbearable, but you know you need to hold it for two more chapters, when it will have the biggest emotional impact. You know even though it seems like they are never going to forgive each other, everything is going to turn around when they confront the villain and the truth is revealed. So you can focus all your attention in this scene on raising the stakes and adding the finishing touches to your red herring, that you started setting up in chapter two.

Its a very convincing red herring and you are certain your readers are going to be shocked at the reveal. Even though you know the twist, you are excited about writing it. Its just so clever! You’re proud of yourself for coming up with it. And you’re proud of the incredible tension and high stakes in this scene. If you didn’t have a synopsis, you would struggle for weeks to come up with a way out of this crisis for your characters, and you’d run the risk of it being a bit deus ex machina. But since it was all planned in the synopsis stage, you have been able to thread in all the parts you need from the beginning. You know it will feel clever instead of slapdash.

The conflict between your characters is so intense it almost brings you to tears, but you finish the day having easily written over 1000 words per an hour. You’ve completed another scene and you’re excited about the scenes to come. Even though you know what will happen, writing is so much fun when its easy and you leave every session with 3000 more words!

Does that could like a good writing day? When I am mentoring writers, I find it much more productive to give feedback on a synopsis than the novel itself. Ideally, I would always be working with someone on their synopsis /before they begin writing/, not after, when they have a whole novel to fix.

In part, that is why I am writing this blog series. So you can learn how to fix all the problems with your novel BEFORE YOU WRITE IT.

If you write a synopsis, get feedback, address all the issues, get feedback again and keep repeating until the synopsis is solid and plot hole free, THEN write the novel, the only editing you will need to do is typos and stylistic stuff. Yes, synopsis are hard work, and yes, they aren’t always fun to write (I actually love writing them, so don’t assume you will hate it, you might love it too when you learn how to do it properly!), but they save you so much time, pain, frustration and heartache in the long run, I think its crazy to write without one.

Over the next eleven weeks, I am going to show you HOW to write a synopsis, so that your novel is successful before you even start writing it.

Stay tuned, because next week is part two: The 5 Parts Of A Synopsis.


And don’t forget to sign up to my amazing mailing list at It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story!

The first ever newsletter is releasing on Dec 4th and will be a special, once in a lifetime NSFW edition. You have been warned.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Jake Talks About Lists Again

Obsessive Compulsive Meets Organisation

Anyone who knows me well, knows I have a deep and unhealthy passion for lists. List are life. Lists are love. People also know I am painfully organised. My house is tidy, my days are ordered. And as a result, I am very productive.

This blog post is going to be an insight into how I organise my life and, there are no surprises, its mostly lists. Lists make me happy. They make me content. And I find crossing things off lists to be very enjoyable indeed.

This post is not a suggestion for how you should organise your life. Rather, its just an entertaining insight into me and my system. In fact, I suspect my system wouldn’t suit anyone else, and if it was forced onto someone, they would probably go crazy.

Still, maybe something here will inspire you, or solve a problem you have been grappling with. At the very least, it will give you an entertaining peep into my brain.


My journal is for my thoughts, my memories and my feelings. It is an exercise in mental health. I put down the good and the bad here, both so I can let it go, and so I can process and analyse what is happening in my life. It helps me make plans, analyse my problems and explore my feelings. I have had dozens of epiphanies writing in my journal. I would say putting myself on paper has changed the course of my life for the better.

I go through a lot of these. On average, one hardback, lined journal every two months. That's about six a year. I do a lot of thinking. And a lot of talking to myself! Some days, I can write 10-15 pages, though the average is closer to 3 pages. That's not to say I journal every single day, but I do make the time a few days a week.

If you are stressed, feeling lost, feeling frustrated, unhappy with your life, or just trying to step your life up to the next level, I strongly recommend journaling. Getting all your thoughts down on paper makes a huge difference. I don't see any point in imposing any rules on yourself. I will say, my favourite time to write is early on rainy mornings, either out on my back deck or in bed—depending on how windy it is.

Either way, even when I am stressed, journaling is a relief, if not a joy. It’s a way of letting go and taking time to get to know myself. It’s the one time I can be 100% honest, knowing I can't be judged. And that is a rare pleasure indeed.

Day Planner

This is for my practical, every day 'to do' list. It keeps my house running, and makes sure I get to appointments and pay bills on time. It is a tool and the workhorse of my productivity. There is nothing poetic or creative about it.

Everything else on this list makes me feel good, or makes me more productive, or cares for my mental health. However, my day planner is vital. Without it, my life would be in complete shambles. Because when I am very ill, I can't remember anything, and because my day planner tracks my medication and if my pets have been fed, my day planner may actually actively keep me and my pets alive.

I actually don't know how people function without a day planner. I can't even imagine it.

What is really important to me, is that my day planner has a full page for every day. Its very frustrating for me when Saturday and Sunday are sharing a page, since my weekends aren't less busy than my week days. When choosing a day planner, think about how your week is structured and spend the time hunting for a planner than suits you. You might even find a digital planner suits you better, but I will stick to my physical book and pens.


My bujo is part goals, part inspiration, part monthly plan. I don’t bujo exactly the same as other people—though anyone who insists on bujo 'rules' is just a killjoy. My Bujo is a gorgeous Paperblank hardcover notebook with blank pages. I keep it yearly, so each bujo covers a whole year of my life. It is used to track my yearly goals and projects, which are then further broken down into monthly sections. I include a lot of lists and checklists. Including, but not limited to, places to visit, saving and finance, books I have read, books I want to write, blog post planning, weight and fitness tracking, birthdays of friends and family, wish lists, planting and harvesting guides for my garden, career goals and milestones, & personal goals and milestones.

My bujo is also decorated with stickers, washi tape and hand drawn art. Its not just about tracking, its about inspiring, so its important to me that it looks good. Working on it is a great joy for me, an artistic process and something I do when I want to relax and do something creative.

Bujo is a fantastic hobby for people who love lists and art. Just keep in mind it should be enjoyable. Too many people I see put pressure on themselves to make it 'perfect', or they put such high expectations on themselves that they fall behind in bujo maintenance then are too despondent to catch up again.

I started working on my 2019 bujo in August, planning out the pages I wanted and then the order I wanted them in. I pencilled in the title and page numbers very lightly and over October/November/December I will do the penning and taping for many of the pages—since I am going to be very busy with a baby early in the year, I am hoping to get at least six months prepared in advance.

Often, I will set up pages at the start of the year, then only decorate them as the year progresses. Even if I have finished with them. That's okay too. Bujos are about function and enjoyment. Its not an art competition.

Prayer Book

Every day, instead of praying out loud, I write in my prayer book. These prayers are usually in the form of giving thanks, asking for guidance and asking for God to act on behalf of the people around me who may be struggling.

If you aren't religious, the equivalent would be a gratitude journal, with letters to loved ones.

Personally, my prayer book has a hugely positive impact on my mental health. It teaches me to stop trying to control everything in my life and not obsess quite so much. Its also nice to look back through the pages and see how many of my prayers were answered, and how many things I was worried about that turned out okay.

Obviously, for me, as a Christian, it is a deeply personal connection with my faith. Its not really something I would recommend for others, unless the idea brings you joy and excitement. Its not going to make you more organised, either way!

Business and Writing Plan

This is my only digital file. I keep it in scrivener and it is broken into several parts.

Social Media & Promotion
Novel Length Projects
Shorts and Novella Length Projects
Vision Writers
Non-Career Items

These are straight up lists of things I need to do, broken down into manageable/practical steps that can be added, one at a time, to my day planner.

In the Writing Plan, a novel might look something like this:

TITLE – First Draft
TITLE – Second Draft
TITLE – Feedback and Beta Readers
TITLE – Third Draft
TITLE – Synopsis and Query
TITLE – Submit to Agents

In my day planner, I might put 'Title – First Draft' down a my primary goal for several months, while I write it. But once it is done, it gets crossed off in the Writing Plan and the next day, the primary item in my day planner is 'Title – Second Draft'. And plodding along in that manner keeps me productive and on track.

In each section, Website, Vision, Novels, etc, everything is listed in the order I want to complete them. So, I always know that, in each section, I work from top to bottom to achieve my goals. There is, however, a LOT of things in this file. Probably enough work for at least the next five years, if not the next ten. And that's okay. Its fantastic to have a clear idea of where I am going.

None of it is set in stone, I can review and change it whenever I like. Things get moved around a lot—just not in mid project. Once I start, I commit to finishing.


There you go! Insight into the way I track and organise my life. Inspiring? Terrifying? You tell me. The important thing is, I have a system that works with my life. Whatever you do, you need the same.

And stay tuned, the newsletter, synopsis series and new website is coming! I promise.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Jake's Ethical Christmas

It's October 24th, which means you have exactly two months to plan and prepare for Christmas!

This is probably an element of my personality only people close to me know about, but I am passionate about sustainability and reducing waste. I am not one of those people who tries to do a zero-waste year. That is only feasible for healthy people, who have a decent income and plenty of extra time. They also can't really have pets, because even though my dogs are on a raw food diet, I can't bring home 30kgs of raw meat in paper bags.

However, I am a strong advocate for reducing consumerism waste. Things like cheap clothes we wear a few times, or not at all, before throwing away. Trinkets and nick-nacks that serve no purpose. Things that are unwanted, unneeded and unpractical, but are given because we feel we need to give something.

In this blog post, I want to offer some solutions. Many of them will be local to me, but hopefully you can extrapolate them out to where you live—finding the same or similar items in your local area.

IDEA ONE – Be Honest

A great way to reduce waste and actually buy useful items is to be honest with your family and friends about what you need. I think younger generation are better at this than older ones. Older generations seem to find asking for specific things very rude. So instead of helping with rent, or buying the work socks you desperately need, they'll give you a $40 fairy costume for your cat. I think we, as a society, need to get past this. If someone asks you for something they need, and it’s a reasonable request, please get that. They'll appreciate it and it won't go straight into landfill in January.

If you are asking for specific things, take the guesswork out. Give your size and preferred colour. You can also make it fun. "Give me a year's supply of my favourite brand of dishwashing detergent." is practical and amusing.

IDEA TWO – Potted Plants

Please buy terra cotta pots. Terra cotta is just fired clay. Its all natural, there is very little waste or chemicals—bar those required to power the kiln they were cooked in. If cared for, it lasts thousands of years, but if crushed up, its no different to rock. Broken terra cotta pots have plenty of uses in the garden, including just being left on their side to house frogs and lizards.

If you also buy seeds and grow them yourself for people, you are reducing waste greatly. If you are going to buy seedlings in plastic pots, ring around and see where you can donate the plastic pots so they can be reused. Some nurseries will very happily take them back.

A lot of succulents and other plants grow from cuttings. So, if you have a mature adult plant, you can produce endless baby plants for gift giving. Now is a good time to start propagating for Christmas, so the plants you hand over have a good root development and aren't going to die.

IDEA THREE – Biodegradable Toothbrushes

Did you know you can get biodegradable toothbrushes made of bamboo? You can even just throw them in your compost when you are done with them. Did you know every single plastic toothbrush you have ever used still exists? It's in landfill or floating in the ocean right now. Not only that, but it will be here for hundreds of years after you die. That's over 1000 toothbrushes per person.

Assuming people use, on average, one toothbrush a month, 12 toothbrushes is a year's supply. If you gave everyone you knew 12 bamboo toothbrushes every year, you could save thousands of plastic toothbrushes going into landfill.

Many bamboo toothbrushes also come in cardboard packaging, that is also biodegradable. You can order them online from places like Amazon, Aliexpress and speciality stores. They range in cost from about $4 each, to around 40c each and come in a range of colours.

IDEA FOUR – Hand Made, Unpackaged Soaps, Candles & Bath Bombs

Living on the sunshine coast, there is an endless supply of soap and bath bomb makers around, and they stock all sorts of boutique stores and market stalls near where I live. However even if you don't live in an area like mine, most malls these days have a Lush, Dusk or other candle/soap store that has unpackaged items, and sells them in paper bags.

I think its preferable to support a local artisan and buy them right from the people who make them in their kitchen. However, make do with what you have. The good thing about soaps, candles and bath bombs is that they get used up and they are gone. If they are made with natural ingredients (no plastic beads!) they cause no harm. However, they are still a lovely treat to use and receive.

IDEA FOUR – Coconut & Wood Plates, Bowls & Chopping Boards

Coconut bowls are all the rage at the moment. They are probably a more practical gift for the trendy Instagram people in your life. Or the people who wish they were trendy Instagram people. If someone loves food or cooking, wooden bowls, plates and chopping boards may be a fantastic, long used and much-loved gift.

Skip this one for the friends and family who eat take away with one hand and play computer games with the other.

IDEA FIVE – Jars of Preserved Foods

Again, I live on the Sunshine Coast, so I am surrounded by boutique farms which produce their own preserves and sell them at local stalls and stores. Everything from goat cheese, olives, dried tomatoes, garlic cloves, more exotic jams and chutneys than I could poke a stick at.

In my favourite store, the Maleny Food co, which has QLD's best ice cream, a fromagerie and a several shelves of exotic preserved goods, there are always about a dozen things I want to buy. But I always tell myself 'next time'. Then I buy and ice cream, and $50 worth of buffalo cheese, and next time never comes.

Again, this is a gift that is better for people who love to cook. And its probably worth adding a small hand-written note, saying: 'This product is tastiest if used within X months'. A lot of preserved food lasts forever. However, that means some people save them forever! Products like expensive, virgin oils are better used as soon as possible. After a few months they go stale.

Eat your preserves while they are fresh and full of life and flavour.

IDEA SIX – Memberships, Tickets and Gift Cards

How about a twelve-month Audible membership? Or dancing lessons? Or a twelve-month Netflix membership? Cooking lessons? Tickets to events? Gift cards to and eco friendly store? Is there a memory you can have together? Can you go scuba diving or horseback riding? This idea is particularly great for kids. You can buy them a year of music lessons, or martial arts lessons. Anyone who drives a lot will get a lot of use from an Audible membership.

If your friends have no time for classes and are always run off their feet, would 20 hours of a maid service be welcome? How about 4 hours of babysitting so they can go out together for once? If their yard is overrun, can you hire them a gardener?

Think in terms of services, skills and experiences, not just items.

So that's it! My suggested Christmas gift list. I am already gathering my gifts for Christmas (pro tip, you're probably getting bamboo toothbrushes). And if you start planning and ordering now, you should have everything in plenty of time for Christmas, which will make things stress and guilt free.

If you don't celebrate Christmas, or Christmas is a bad time for you, now is the right time to start planning so you will be busy over that period. Make a list of things you want to fix, make and visit over December. Go to the beach, go to the gym, get out in nature, declutter your house, learn to cook some new things, try new restaurants, paint. Find a list of all the local tourist attractions you've never been to and see them all. Tackle that pile of books that you keep swearing you'll read. And, on Christmas day, even if you don't want to, find someone hosting an orphan Christmas and spend the day with them. Let other people feed and distract you.

And remember, try not to buy a bunch of crap that will end up in landfill.