Monday, December 30, 2013

End of Year Review

Whew!  Can you believe that tomorrow is the last day of 2013?  It’s amazing how fast the year has flown.  But I’m excited for 2014 and I already have several New Year’s Resolutions already written down.

Since it is the holidays, I’m going to take the week off and then in January, the posts will start again.  I wish you all the happiest of holidays and the safest of travels (for those of you brave enough to go out in the weather!)

For those of you looking for something to read, here’s a list of a few of this year’s highlights:

And last but not least, a few of my personal favorites.

Have a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

How to Choose a Book

This post follows the thoughts of the previous one.  We talked about writing titles and ones that catch our attention, and it made me think about how I choose books to read.  I’m a bookworm, and I always have been.  But I honestly can’t think of a set patter that I have when it comes to choosing a book.

I was one of those kids who loved to go to the library and choose random books off the shelf.  Okay, not just as a kid.  I still do it.  Though I haven’t gotten a library card since I moved here a year ago, which is quite a shame.  And something I need to rectify.  There’s nothing like the thrill of taking home a pile of books (for free!) and delving into them for hours.  I’m also the kind of person who doesn’t like to buy a book until after I’ve read it.  I’ve had buyer’s remorse once or twice, which has made me a bit hesitant to buy a book without knowing whether I like it or not.

When it comes to choosing a book, it’s hard to say what really attracts me.  Is it the cover?  The title?  Usually it’s a combination of them along with the blurb on the back of the book. 

But all of that’s about to chance.  I just got my first e-reader for Christmas.  I was one of those resistant to the e-reader and e-book because I loved the feeling of holding a book in my hands, smelling the pages, and the finality of closing the book when it finished. 

Of course, I still love the idea of holding books while I read, but more and more of my friends are publishing e-books and I want to support them.  And with the price of e-books it may be just between checking books out at the library and buying them in paperback. 

Of course, this means that I have to develop a whole new way of finding books.  Though they’re all laid out, it doesn’t quite look like a bookshelf to me. 

So how do all of you find e-books?  What’s a good process?  What about a book most attracts you?  The title?  The cover?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Creating Titles

There’s one aspect of writing that I really struggle with.  Well, more than one, but I’m able to overcome most of the others.  But when it comes to finding the right title to my novels, I usually come up blank.

To be honest, I’m not sure that I pay too much attention to titles when it’s on other books.  The only time I do is when it something like ‘The Goose Girl,’ which is the same title as one of my favorite fairy tales.  In fact, most of the time, I forget the title the moment that I set the book down (which tends to make it difficult to find again.)  I’ve had moments where I pick up a random book at a relative’s house, then forget what it’s called and end up searching for it for years.

But I digress.

When I’m writing stories, I never start out with a title.  Well, I did once but I never finished it.  Since I organize my stories by color I call them “the red story” or “white story.”  It takes me several drafts to finally get to something that I feel comfortable with, but I still struggle to find something that pops.

Do any of you have advice?  How do you come up with good titles that convey the idea of the story and draw the reader in?  What titles have hooked you?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Killing off the Parents

Like I’ve mentioned before, I love reading reviews and comments on movies/books that I’ve recently read and enjoyed.  Okay, even the ones that I don’t enjoy.  But it’s something that I do to see other people’s point of view.  I know what I liked about it, but I want to see both sides of it.  What didn’t work for other people?  Maybe it’s my way of leaning more about the audience, since usually I read books similar to what I write.

But there’s one comment I’ve been noticing more and more that almost makes me laugh.  There’s the complaint that in YA, there are too many stories where parents are ‘killed off,’ and that it gives children and teens the wrong idea that their lives would be infinitely better without their parents.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the complaints out there.  Harry Potter was orphaned as a baby, Tarzan was left in the forest when his parents died, Luke Skywalker was raised by his uncle and aunt… there are hundreds and hundreds of stories where the parents are dead or nonexistent.

And there’s a very good reason for that.  YA (Young Adult) writing is focusing on a teen (or young adult) as they mature and find themselves.  It’s about ‘coming of age.’  That’s usually the main premise of these stories.  The problem is, it’s very difficult to ‘come of age,’ or become independent and find oneself when they’re still treated like a child, or in the situation where someone does all the hard stuff for them.  Parents are the providers.  They’re going to protect and shield their children from the hard stuff as long as they’re there.  And that’s going to kill the story.

I’m not saying that the parents have to die, though that is the most convenient because it adds the emotional baggage of dealing with their death.  (And yes, I know how terribly morbid that last sentence sounds.)  There are other ways to do it.  Parents who are so involved in their careers that the young adult is practically independent already.  Or parents who have to travel so much that they’re never home.  There’s parents who are used as bait for the children to save (as in the Red Pyramid.)

So though it's not beneficial in real life, in many YA stories, the parents need to be nonexistent so that the main characters can grow and develop.

Don’t worry, I’ll come back to this thought later.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Writing Under Stress

Recently, I’ve been put under quite a bit of stress.  And I’m having a hard time dealing with it.  It’s something that’s affecting all aspects of my life – sleeping, eating, working, and basically functioning.  I’m one of those people who don’t thrive under that kind of pressure.  Choosing a college, taking the SAT’s, Finals, clinicals, taking boards, finding a job… Those are all kinds of things that I can’t control.  And really, that’s what I struggle with.  If I can’t control the stress, then I don’t know how to deal with it.

I have found ways to de-stress myself.  Things that help me remove myself from the situation.  Things like sitting at the piano and banging on the keys until I’m too tired to think anymore.  Or baking.  Sometimes even cleaning. 

But there has always been one sure way of removing stress.  At least for me.  And that’s writing.  Escaping into a new world, where everything I’m struggling with doesn’t exist, helps me remove myself from myself.  If that makes any sense.  No matter what my trials are, I always know that theirs are worse.  And that’s because I make it so. 

It’s that little matter of saying, ‘I’m having a hard time at work?  Let’s see how you deal with an entire town burning your house down.’  I think the characters overcome more trials when I’m stressed just because I need to see it work out for someone.  I can put them through whatever it takes as long as they can work through it at some point.

What are some of the trials you’ve put your characters through?  Do you find writing stressful or a way to de-stress?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Writing for an Audience

This week, I sent my NaNoWriMo novel to my alpha.  (The best alpha in the world!  She never minces words if she doesn’t like something.)  Her response has been making me grin like an idiot all week.

“That was a November well spent.  I loved it!  I haven’t gotten much done the last couple of days.”

I love it when I get criticism because it helps me know what I need to improve, but I also like comments like this.  Because ultimately, I am writing for an audience, though to be honest, I’m not sure when that started to happen.

When I first started writing, I was just for me.  I wrote the stories because they were in my head, screaming to get out.  But sometime recently, I started to realize that these stories were something to share, not to hold onto. 

The audience, or the reader, is really the soul of the story.  Without someone to read it, what’s the point of writing it?  Who’s going to fall in love with the characters? 

I love my stories, but I’ve analyzed them too much, paid too much attention to every single word, the syntax and the sentence lengths, that sometimes I forget about the magic that created it.  Whenever I have a reader who enjoys my work, it renews my desire to keep writing, to enjoy the magic of creating and diving into a new world.  

What do you do to keep up your enthusiasm when you're writing?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fairy Tales and Childhood

Last week, my husband and I went to see Frozen.  I am a huge Disney fan, and when I saw the trailer, I was incredibly excited, especially when I found out that it was based off of the story of the Ice Queen.  I was curious to see how they would do it, especially since it didn’t look like they were following the main plot points as much as they usually did.

To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I loved the small twists that gave a nod to Han Christen Anderson’s original.  I won’t mention them here, just to prevent spoilers. 
One of the things that I love to do, especially when I read/watch something that I really enjoy, is to go online and read others’ reviews on the topic.  Usually I don’t post my own, but I like to see both sides of the story.  And for some reason, I like to read the negative reviews, to see what sections were a bit less satisfying for others. 

What surprised me the most about these negative reviews were two things: One it was considered a ‘good effort,’ but nowhere up to par with the Disney classics like Lion King or Little Mermaid.  The other complaint was that the score was less than thrilling with ‘forgettable’ songs, except for one.  And if you’ve seen the movie, you know which one they’re talking about.

So I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit recently.  What made those Disney movies classics?  How is it that most of the new movies are considered subpar when compared to them?  Is it the animation?  Is it the music? 

As I was thinking about this, I talked to one of my sisters about it, and how much I enjoyed it.  I began mentioning that the story meant so much more to me because I loved the story of the Snow Queen, and I loved seeing it expanded in the way that it was.  She mentioned to me that maybe I enjoyed it so much because I knew the story.  I was already familiar with the characters – to a specific point.  That’s one of the things that Disney is most famous for.  They take classics that everyone has grown up with – Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and give it a new spin.

Why is there such a surge in fairy tales in the movies?  Yes, I’m sure it has something to do with copyrights, but I think it also has to do with the fact that fairy tales are almost universally a part of everyone’s childhood.  It touches them in ways that perhaps a new story won’t.  How many people read a classic from their childhood and immediately get a flood of nostalgia?  I think that’s one of the reasons that the Polar Express and Where the Wild Things Are became movies.  Not because they were that long or good of stories, but because they touched the viewers in a way that a new story might not have.

So when I see critics of Frozen, I wonder how many of them know the actual fairy tale.  It’s not as common as a story like Beauty and the Beast, or even Rapunzel.  I think Rapunzel received much higher praise, just because it was a well-known fairy tale with a unique twist.

Now, for the second question, I’d like to take this just a bit further.  The songs were heard by critics, aka adults.  How many of those adults, comparing the score to classics from the Lion King, were children when watching those classics?  I went back and compared the music.  I know that this is all very subjective, but I think that if the Lion King were to come out for the first time, it wouldn’t be as well received by our critics as it was back then.  Those songs aren’t just a representation of ‘good music,’ but they’re also a representation of our childhood – a time that seemed simpler, when things were happier.  So how could anything else compare? 

But when we look at these movies – for children – with the eyes of children, something surprising may occur.  This isn’t our childhood anymore, but it is theirs.  In ten year from now, I’m almost positive that songs from Frozen, Tangled, and all the movies coming out will be considered the ‘classics.’  While the songs that we grew up with will be considered ‘old.’  In fact, I’ve already seen that happen with some children that I’ve worked with recently.  

What do you think?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Setting Goals

Can you believe that we're now in December?  I can't believe by how much has happened this year.  But as I look back, I realize that it's because I'm finally setting clear goals, especially when it comes to writing.  This year, I decided to make writing a priority, and I'm amazed by how much I've been able to accomplish.
This year, I've revised my Red WIP twice, written two new novels, joined writing groups, both online and in person.  I started this blog and joined social networking sites, met other writers and made some great friendships.  I think that's more than I've been able to do in the past decade.  It's pretty amazing, and I hope to continue to increase my productivity next year as well.

So now, I'm working on setting goals for next year, using December to look at what I've been able to do this year and what I want to do next year.  It's an opportunity to focus on what I want to accomplish, and I'm still working on the list.

When setting goals, it's important to try new things, to expand our abilities in what we do, but it's also important to remember not to set unrealistic goals that make us feel like failures if we don't accomplish them.  There's always a balance.  And if there is a goal that seems achievable, then it might be a good idea to break it up into bite sized goals that can be built one on another.

For example, I would like to work towards publishing now.  I have a MS that I feel is ready to be sent out.  This year, I've edited it quite ruthlessly, and had numerous betas tear it apart as well.  It's been torn apart and put back together and I'm really happy with the way that it's turned out so far.

But just making a goal of getting published isn't going to set me in the right direction.  It would probably help me to use the month of January to research literary agents, write (and revise!) a killer query and synopsis.  I have to know the steps to accomplishing my goal if I even want to start out.  Otherwise, I'm setting myself up for failure.

It's still early in December, but I think it's important to think about those goals and resolutions for 2014.  What do you plan on accomplishing?  How do you make sure that you accomplish your goals?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Contractions: Yes or No?

I just finished NaNoWriMo last month, and it was an exhilarating experience.  Of course, just like any other, there are positive and negatives, but I feel that the positives greatly outweighed the negative. 

And while participating, there’s the chance of hearing advice on how to increase word count if you’re nearing the end of the month and you still haven’t gotten quite there.  Advice like giving your character two names as a first name.  Or deleting contractions, making them two words.

Now this advice I find very interesting because that’s exactly what I did the first time I wrote a novel.  It was set in an older time period, so I assumed to make it sound ‘older,’ I should delete all of the contractions.  I also thought it would make my character sound more sophisticated because she's royalty.  Basically, I made it sound stale and stiff.

Dialogue is something that flows naturally, and yes, there are some people who may not use contractions as often, but more often than not, they’re going to escape at some point.  And when writing narrative, it’s incredibly dull to read something that doesn’t have any contractions at all.  I’ve read some drafts for betas who have left out contractions and I found it difficult to feel pulled into the story.  It almost felt as though I was being held at arm’s length. 

This post is short because I want to know your opinions.  When you read, do you notice contractions at all?  Do you think that not using them sounds more formal or more ‘writerly?’

Monday, December 2, 2013

Pulling Your Reader Out of the Story

Have you ever read a really great book that made you think: “This would be absolutely perfect, except….”
I read a book like that recently.  It was a fantastic book, full of emotion, tugging at the heartstrings.  It appealed to my nursing side as well as my writer side.


I really wanted to overlook it.  I wanted to pretend it wasn’t there, but I couldn’t.  The author made a mistake.  He forgot his own timeline.  A chapter jumped forward in the future, then he had to scramble backwards and for a second, it took me out of the story.  I was confused about the timeline of the plot and I couldn’t figure out why the author had jumped like that.

I hoped that I had made a mistake, or that I read it wrong.  So I reread it.  But I wasn’t wrong.  There was a continuity error that not only pulled me out of the book, but it also dropped my opinion of the story because no matter how much I liked the book, there will always be that nagging whenever I think about it.

When writing a story, there’s so many elements that go in, setting, characters, objects, etc.  There’s a lot of stuff to keep track of.  But it’s the small details that we need to pay attention to if we want to keep our readers engaged.  Small things make the difference.  Has the main character already learned another character’s name?  If not, then he/she shouldn’t use their name. 

In one of my stories, I have a character wear a necklace.  In several first drafts, she carried it with her everywhere, but in later drafts, she gave it to someone else to keep.  But I had one scene where she still had it with her. One of my betas pointed it out to me, asking how she got it back.  Such a small detail, but it pulled my beta out of the story.

Anyone else noticed this before in their own writings or books you’ve read recently?

Friday, November 29, 2013


Tomorrow is the last day of the month, which means that it's the last day of the crazy experience known as NaNoWriMo.

I have to say that after years of not being sure if it was 'for me,' I'm really glad that I took the chance.  And here's a few things that I learned on the way:

1. Community makes a huge difference.  This is a lesson that I'm learning slowly, but it's really beginning to sink in.  (I know, I'm a slow learner.)  Between the offical NaNoWriMo group, the university group, and the library group, there were at least three write in's a week.  Unfortunately my work decided to schedule me for every single one of them, so I was only able to go to the first one, but I loved it!  Being able to converse with other writers and pick their brains is something I'd love to do throughout the year. 

2. Never Give Up.  November started on a Friday, and I got about 3,000 words written the first day.  Then I worked Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Saturday night, I got sick, and while I was working, I got much worse.  But the time I got to Tuesday, I still hadn't written anything else, and I was too sick to even sit up straight.  My first week's word count put me quite a bit behind, and at first I was discouraged.  But a late start doesn't mean that it's not possible.

3. Numbers aren't always important.  Now I know this may not make sense.  NaNoWriMo is all about word count.  But that really shouldn't be the focus.  The story is what's really important, and word count should never get in the way of realizing that.  I can't count the number of times that I was so excited about Rowell's adventure that I couldn't sleep.  I had days when I woke up early to keep writing.  Not because I wanted to get the word count down, but because I wanted to keep telling the story.

Now how about all of you?  What was your NaNoWriMo experience like?  What lessons have you learned?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Holidays and Traditions

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  There's just really no competition.

It's the spirit of the holiday, the gathering of family and friends to give thanks that always made it special for me.  My mother was the kind of person who always invited many, many people over for Thanksgiving - sometimes as many as 20.  I can remember different traditions that were started when I was younger, and they still warm my heart.  When I was in junior high, we used to set up the ping pong table either outside if it was warm or inside the garage if it was cold.

But probably my favorite tradition of Thanksgiving was baking day.  That's what we called the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  It was the day to make rolls and pies in preparation of the big celebration.  And that's where I learned my love of making pies.  Every once in awhile I still get the urge to make 5-6 for no reason.  My husband loves it.

2011 'Early Thanksgiving' pies

2012 Thanksgiving pies

While going through my pictures, I found that every Thanksgiving, I have many, many pictures of friends and family meeting together - probably the greatest memories of that year.

Holidays and traditions make up a big part of any culture.  Though I write fantasy, I've found that adding that small part in a culture makes it richer and makes it feel real.  While writing my White WIP, I was struggling with a scene where two main characters fall in love.

I finally decided to rewrite the scene, having them celebrating a holiday together, among all of their family and friends.  Just putting them in that situation made the scene so rich that it's still probably one of my favorites that I've ever written.  And every single one of my betas has said that it's their favorite as well. Here's just a snippet:

“Are you enjoying yourself?” Anthalor asked.  His hand tightened on her waist as he directed her away from another couple.
Kanya nodded.  “I’ve never been to a…” she paused, attempting to remember what Miha and Zeugal had called the evening.
“Harvest celebration,” Anthalor supplied.  He spun her under his arm before drawing her back toward him.  “It’s a celebration that began in the Kingdom of Gekun.  The harvest is so important to them down here.  It’s really their greatest source of income.”
“Then why do you celebrate it here?”
Anthalor smiled.  “My mother is from Gekun.  When she married my father, she missed the celebration and although he didn’t care for it much, we always had a harvest celebration.”  His grip tightened and he drew her in even closer.  “This is my way of keeping her memory alive.”

How about you?  Do you like to add holidays to your writing?  What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Never Good Enough

For the first time since I think the first of November, I am finally above the stats mark on the NaNoWriMo website.  It’s been quite a struggle, but I’m finally to the point of the story where I really don’t want to leave it hanging.  Rowell’s getting to where he needs to go and he’s finally figuring out what he’s good at.

This Yellow WIP is much more of a coming of age story than most of my others, and it’s been quite an interesting experience.  Especially considering that this is from the point of view of a male character.  Not just any male character, a male with all sisters, one who’s felt picked on his entire life.  In fact, in some ways, Rowell has quite a bit in common with my younger brother, though I never realized it until recently.  (Not that I EVER picked on my younger brother).

With "The Kid" at a wedding

But one thing that Rowell’s been struggling with recently is a feeling of self-worth.  He’s always seen others excel while he feels like he’s stuck where he’s always been – just an ordinary, normal human.  Even when someone else tries to show him that he is so much more than he thinks, he refuses to believe.

This is something I think we can all relate with.  It’s hard to realize the good we’re doing or the influence we have on others because we always have to live with the greatest criticizer of all.  Ourselves.  It’s so easy to see the mistakes that we’ve made and the goals that we’ve never achieved instead of looking back and seeing how far we’ve come. 

I know that I can be incredibly self-critical to the point that I want to give up.  But that’s when we never should.  It’s important to ignore those feelings of failure and worthlessness and keep climbing.  A few stumbles here and there doesn’t define us.  It’s the continuation of moving forward, of progressing toward becoming better. 

How about all of you?  Any moments of self-doubt recently?  Remember, there’s always a chance to improve and become better.  And it always feels great to prove those doubts wrong!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Prewriting: Step 4 - Creating The Small Settings

Since I’ll be spending so much of November working on my NaNoWriMo project, I thought I’d show you a bit of my prewriting process.  This is what I did during October.  This post is about creating settings - the small ones.

There are a few places that I have to get the images of what’s there.  In my last post, I talked about using Google Sketch.  It’s good for the big settings, but almost impossible for the small ones that need a bit more creativity, less structure and more of a picture.

For example, I have a world that’s created only in dreams.  Now, I’ve never actually been to that world, and I wasn’t quite sure what it looked like.  So I began doodling.  As I did, I began to get a clearer picture.  Doors.  Lots of doors.  Each one leading into a different person’s dream.

So as I doodled, this is what I came up with.  It’s just an outline, but it makes the picture clearer for me.

And of course, there’s a Rowell’s dream world.  I knew what I wanted, but the where and the how?  That was a little bit more difficult.  So, again, I doodled until I could figure it out.

Now I know what’s going on and where my characters are.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Prewriting: Step 4 - Large Settings

Since I’ll be spending so much of November working on my NaNoWriMo project, I thought I’d show you a bit of my prewriting process.  This is what I did during October.  This post is about creating the major settings.

The biggest setting in this novel is Tadrol’s Villa on the northern beach.  It’s partially a school, but it also houses children.  I use setting to figure out the story as well, and there was a major plot point discovered while creating this place.  I’m not the greatest artist, but I do like to have a picture of what’s going on. 
My sister introduced me to Google Sketch, and I like to use it when I create large settings.  Here’s a few pictures of Tadrol’s Villa. 

I’ve used Google Sketch for many other settings.  Once I needed to create a setting using specific elements.  I needed a lot of water, a lot of dirt, a city on a raised surface and an area where people can stray dry while it’s raining.  Here’s what I created.  Once I could see it, it was so much easier to write.

I wrote a story where the characters spent the majority of their lives in a castle.  I had to know where everything was, the kitchen, the stables, the main entrance.  With Google Sketch, I was able to lay it all out so that my characters didn't get lost.  And more importantly, I didn't get lost while they ran around the castle.

What do you use to create your settings?  Do you just have the image in your head?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Building to the Climax

Today is the 15th of November, which means that we’re exactly halfway through the month, and we should be halfway through our novels.  That’s the plan anyway.

I started out the month pretty slow.  My first two days, I did great.  But then I got pretty sick, and I had to work on top of it, then at work I was working three people’s jobs instead of one.  So yeah, I didn’t get much written for about 5 days. 

I’ve been furiously trying to catch up this week though.  I had to get blood drawn on Wednesday, and while I sat in the waiting room, I wrote.  While I waited for the doctor to see me, I wrote.  My husband has to go into work early and we carpool so I bring a notebook with me and I write.  Lunch breaks are dedicated to writing.  And I think I’m finally caught up again. 

But now that I’m halfway through, I’m to the exciting part.  Over is the beginning, the building and the setting everything in place for the blam.  I’m there now, and I get so excited that I want to write, I just can’t help it.  I was talking to a friend on Tuesday, and I explained to her that writing is great.  It’s just like giving myself really hard homework every single day and I have to do it and sacrifice other things that I wish I could be doing. 

But then there’s that joy when the millions of pieces that I spread out over the rising action begin to come together to form the puzzle.  The picture is getting clearer and though the end isn’t in sight, it’s got me hooked.  And when the writer's hooked, the story gets written, right?

So that’s where I am right now, my bare bones first draft is at 25,000 words, and I’m halfway through my outline.  Which is good because I didn’t get a chance to beef up the second half of my outline.  So I’ll probably have enough that I won’t have to worry about not having something to write after 45,000 words. 

How about all of you?  How are you doing?  Got any goals you’re working towards?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Prewriting: Step 3 - Outlining

Since I’ll be spending so much of November working on my NaNoWriMo project, I thought I’d show you a bit of my prewriting process.  This is what I did during October.  This post is about outlining.

I need to know my story before I can write it.  I’ve tried writing without having an outline and it turned into a jumbled mess that I still need to fix.  Each story comes to me in varying degrees of completeness.  This story, I knew the beginning, but I wasn’t sure about the ending.  I didn’t quite know where it would end.  To work it out, I use note cards. 

Through experience, I learned to number them.  It’s a basic idea of what happens when.  I write one note card, then move to the next one.  If I’m stuck, I know I just have to write the next one.  This outline ended up being almost 70 note cards long, which is quite a lot for me.  Once I finish the skeletal structure of the story, it’s time to add the meat – the muscle.  On the back of the note card, I add a few notes about that plot point. 

Then I take it all and type it up into an outline, with a lot of spaces between each point.  Once I print it out, I add even more details below each plot point. 

Putting more meat to the outline
First draft outline

In the end, I have a complete outline and a clear idea of where I’m going.  For this NaNoWriMo novel, I created a 26 page outline, ready to guide me through the crazy month of November.  It’s my road map, keeping me on track.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Prewriting: Step 2 - Creating Characters

Since I’ll be spending so much of November working on my NaNoWriMo project, I thought I’d show you a bit of my prewriting process.  This is what I did during October.  This post is about creating characters.

Before I write, I have to have the idea of where the story is going.  And to do that, I have to know who my characters are.  My stories are always focused on the characters, especially their journeys, since I write YA. 
This story is about Rowell, the son of my two main characters from the Red WIP.  He called out to me in the previous story I wrote.  I’ve loved getting to know him, and it’s almost surreal writing Larzo and Aydra as parents.  They’ve all grown up and changed, though I guess that’s to be expected. 

While I do know most of the characters in the beginning of the story – Rowell’s family and friends – once he starts his own journey, he meets new people and makes new friends.  

There are some secondary characters who have a very large influence over Rowell, and to correctly portray them in the story, I need to know where they come from.  What’s their motivation?  And also, I need to know what they look like. I can’t keep track of that stuff in my head.  Mostly because I can’t visualize it at all. 

So I create character sheets. 

Here’s an example of one of my characters in the early stages. 

She’s much more fleshed out now, but that’s what I began with.  I’m no artist, and I can’t draw people at all, but at least now I can see a little bit of what Eni looks like.  I make sure I have hair color and eye color at least.  Since she’s one of the main characters, she has a full sheet.  Some of the secondary characters, like Rowell’s sisters, have to share a sheet. 

Here’s the antagonist.  His name is Tadrol and at first, I couldn’t figure out what motivated him.  What was it that made him do the terrible things he did?  I tend to write until I figure it out, exploring what kind of character he is.  If I hadn’t set the time constraint (finishing by November,) I probably would have written out character sketches.  But at least now I know how to write him realistically.

How do you create your characters?  What do you start with?  Appearance or background?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Do You Put Yourself In The Story?

I’ve heard advice that went along the lines of “Don’t write yourself into your story.”

I have to admit, I think that’s pretty sound advice.  When I was in Junior High, I began a novel where I had two characters that I based off of myself.  They were twins, each representing a part of myself.  Let’s just say things didn’t turn out so well.  Apparently my two halves didn’t get along.  One of them picked on the other to the extent that she fell into a deep depression and ran away from home.

I thought I’d learned the lesson, but I guess not.  When I began the White WIP, the character was loosely based off of myself.  It took me several drafts to realize that she had as much personality as a piece of paper.  Or maybe the paper had more personality.  She’s been revised quite a bit, and I’m still not quite happy with the character.  It’ll take some more work, that’s for sure.

So when I began my NaNoWriMo Novel, I knew that I had a character who would be going through some trials very similar to my own.  I’m not saying that she was based off of me, because that couldn’t be further than the truth.  I wish I had half of the backbone she does.  And since this is the third novel I’ve written with her, I know her pretty well.  Which is why when I began this novel, I had a strong feeling that this character had a new stumbling block that was all too familiar to me.  Though, of course, hers just needed to be amplified much more.

This time, I was incredibly hesitant to write the scene.  Just writing the outline made me nervous.  And incredibly emotional. 

So imagine my surprise when that wasn’t the part of the scene that just tore out my heart.  I had been bracing myself for so long that I hadn’t stopped to examine what else happens.  It’s a scene involving some of my most beloved characters, and Aydra probably holds the largest part of my heart.  But this story is about her son, not her.  And right now, he’s feeling a bit of resentment. 

“Have I taught you nothing?” Larzo demanded, shaking Rowell as he spoke. “You should respect and love your mother. If it weren’t for her, you wouldn’t exist.”
“Maybe I don’t want to exist if I have to be like her,” Rowell retorted. He heard her gasp, the sound even more painful than his father’s punch had been.

I’ll admit that I might have gasped with Aydra when I wrote that.  Good thing I was alone.  It’s in these moments that I realize how real these characters are.  Instead of a part of me, I become a part of them.  And even with the pain, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.  These characters are real to me and that’s when I realized that even if we have similar trials, it doesn’t mean that I’m putting myself in them.  Hopefully at some point, they’ll be able to teach me how to deal with my own problems.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Prewriting: Step 1 - Finding a Color

Since I’ll be spending so much of November working on my NaNoWriMo project, I thought I’d show you a bit of my prewriting process.  This is what I did during October.  This post is about separating the story from all the others.

I’ve written several novels.  When I first started, it was easy for me to keep track.  There was just one.  But then I started the second one.  I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to throw anything away.  So when I had binders for two books, I had a hard time finding the right one.  And it was harder to switch from one to the other.  That’s where the Color Coordination comes in.

Each novel I write has a different color.  It helps me separate each one.  I’m able to jump into the story without having to figure out where I am.  And each color almost automatically helps me to work on multiple stories at the same time.  I also have a hard time coming up with titles, so they go by the name “The Red Story” or “The Blue Story” until I can come up with something suitable.

So when I know I’m going to start a new story, I have to find a new color.  And let me tell you, it’s getting harder to find the cheaper binders because I’ve used most of the colors already.  But fortunately, as I was preparing, it was the beginning of a new school year, which meant that there were a lot more school supplies. 

I decided on yellow for Rowell’s story.  There were yellow binders along with yellow notebooks.  And it felt right.  That’s something I always work towards as well.

So here’s what I start out with.  Like the NaNoWriMo sticker on the front?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Researching While Writing

I write fantasy novels.  So what would I need to research?  Basically, I create, right?

Well, sometimes.

I still create worlds that have the same physicality as the earth. I think I’ve had to learn something different for every single one of my novels.

For my Black Novel, I spent an entire winter break doing electricity projects with my dad (an electrical engineer) because of my characters uses electricity in the form of magic.  I’m not even sure how much information I actually gleaned, but I appreciate all of the information that my dad was willing to share with me.  And while I researched, I realized many thing that worked for my plot and improved it.

For my Red WIP, I researched home improvement.  I actually scared my husband because I went to the library and checked out every DIY home improvement books.  He was afraid I’d try to tear the apartment apart.  I barely know how to use a hammer, let alone anything more complicated.  I had to take notes, but in the few scenes that it came up, I feel fairly confident that it sounds accurate.  Hopefully my readers will feel the same.

For my NaNoWriMo novel, I had to learn about stone masonry.  Rowel spends quite a bit of the beginning traveling with stone masons, and ironically, the skill comes in handy later.  Something I only figured out once I learned what stone masonry is really about.  To research this particular skill, I ended up watching a 50 minute documentary on YouTube where they went through everything.  I may not be able to lay stones or bricks myself, but I now know what joints are, as well as how to create cement. 

Am I interested in any of these things?  Not really.  If it comes to science, I’m much more interested in biology than physics.  I might be interested in learning how to fix things though, if I ever get my own house.  And laying brick, well, now I’m interested to try it out if I ever get the chance.  Just to learn. 

Have your characters ever encouraged you to learn something new?  Do you enjoy the research part of writing?

Friday, November 1, 2013

You Don’t Have to be Alone

Writing is a hobby that can be very lonely.  To spend time writing words, putting them down on paper or typing them out on the computer is something that takes one person.  No one else can do it with you, unless you’re collaborating on a project.  Can you count the amount of time you spend alone, banging on the keys or scribbling furiously as the muse directs?

Neither can I.

I’ve been writing since I was in elementary school, and I wrote my first novel in high school.  As an introvert, it’s something that felt very natural to me.  I didn’t mind sitting apart from other people as I worked.  Even when I was around others, many times I wasn’t really there with them.  Some of my clearest high school memories were of sitting in a classroom, waiting for class to start and jotting down notes about dialogue as I listened to others talk to one another.  Or I’d completely ignore them as I worked through a plot problem that had been bothering me.

I did the same in college.  I think part of it was that school never seemed like a social event to me.  I was there to study, to learn.  Social interactions may or may not happen, but I rarely initiated them.  When I was in the final years of college, I usually had all my classes – sometimes up to six hours – in the same classroom.  I’d have 10-20 minutes of ‘breaks’ before a new section or class started.  And that’s when I would pull out my notebook and write.  I probably only really met two or three of my classmates, and only if I had to.

Writing was a solitary endeavor for me.  At least, until recently.  I began to branch out.  Very slowly, of course.  Interacting and initiating conversations was something I didn’t enjoy or really know how to do.  But as time went on, I joined writing groups, writing forums, met beta writers, and now, I’m participating in NaNoWriMo. 

I didn’t know that much about it.  I knew what it was about, but I hadn’t realized the community that it provided.  Last week, my region had a kickoff, the night where we met to make final plans, meet one another and cheer one another on.  I spent almost three hours there and I loved every minute of it.  That was the first time that I’d ever been in a group like that.  I’ve met other people, yes, but online.  These people were sitting right next to me.  And I was joining in on conversations about things I cared about.  Outlining versus pantsing, character development, Shakespeare, even a little Doctor Who.  There was one thing that connected all of us, and that was our love of writing.  There were people of all ages, all different places in life.  I was especially impressed with one girl who was still in junior high.  I wish I had taken my writing so seriously at her age.

We don’t have to be alone when we write.  Our characters don’t need to be our only companions.  There are so many who are willing to share the journey, to cheer us on.  We just have to be willing to take those first steps, reach out and say hello.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Good Chaos

Sign from Nauvoo, Illinois

I found this sign many years ago in a small town in Illinois.  I had to take a picture of it because it made me laugh.  But at the same time, there’s a lot of truth to this small sign.

And it’s how I feel right now. 

In just two days, NaNoWriMo starts.  For those of you who don’t know what that means, November is also known as National Novel Writing Month, a time when hundreds of thousands of people around the world gather to write entire novels.  The challenge is to write 50,000 words before the month is up.  Of course, during the month of October, I was busy working on finishing up the Orphans of Jadox and outlining/planning my new novel.

And my entire brain has been in a state of chaos, though it’s definitely an organized chaos.  I’ve got plot lines, side plots, new characters, settings and powers floating around inside.

I’ve written novels before, but not in such a short time period.  From start to finish, idea to conception, it’s going to be less than two months.  And it’s going to be quite a journey.  So I thought I’d share it with you, showing how I create a novel, and what kind of chaotic thoughts go through my brain.

So of course, this novel couldn’t have started without the idea.  And I’m not sure that I could have even considered participating in NaNoWriMo without the idea.  I’m not a pantser.  I’ve tried it and I didn’t enjoy it.  I have to have a roadmap. 

This particular novel (which will be assigned the color yellow for now) is the story of a young boy named Rowell.  He’s the son of the main characters from the Orphans of Jadox.  So I guess you could say this is book three in what is quickly becoming a series.

Here’s the blurb that I put on the NaNo website:

Rowell never quite fit in his family, and it's all his mother's fault.  If she'd just stuck with her own people, then maybe Rowell would have the same abilities as the rest.  When Rowell accidentlly spills his close friend's secret, he realizes that he can't go on blaming everyone else.  It's his turn to make things right.

The idea came to me when I finished the last scene of the Blue WIP.  Something about it stuck with me.  There was a little boy in the corner with a story to be told.  And I’ve already fallen in love with him.

So come with me on Rowell’s journey!  I promise it’ll be a good one!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Focus the Relationships!

As writers, I think we have the tendency to write in a bubble.  Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it can be very isolating.  It’s hard to write with others unless you’re collaborating.  Sure, there’s betas, other writers to encourage, but on the whole, it is a very private experience.

Only recently, I’ve learned the importance of focusing on relationships.  Not just our own, but our characters’ as well.  In The Orphans of Jadox, I had one family that I’d really fleshed out.  The aunt, the cousins, the siblings.  They knew one another, they grew up with one another.  They were as functional as they could be in their situation.  (Which may or may not be what one might consider functional).

Then I had another character come in and join their family.  That part was fine, but I completely ignored his past.  Who was his family?  What previous relationships did he have?  When I expanded on his relationship with his best friend and the daunting expectations of his father, he grew and became a real person.

Only once I was able to open up his past and his relationships was I really able to get into his head. 
We as humans are always built around others, like it or not.  Growing up, I was always known as someone else’s sister.  Then I got married, and right now, I’m known as someone’s wife.  (He’s a bit of a celebrity where we’re living, he’s on several different soccer teams.)  But those are only the beginning.  I have relationships with my patients at work, my coworkers, and previous classmates.  There’s some kind of connection between me and everyone else I come in contact with.

Every relationship is built off of experiences, small moments that create bonds. 

And that can create a lot of conflict and a lot of emotion.  Relationships can influence everything we do.  When we resent our boss, it may make us choose a different job, a different career.  Sibling rivalry may make us want to be the best, always compare ourselves to that perfect, brilliant sibling. 

Never underestimate the power of relationships.  They build who we are.  They are the building blocks of a character.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Starting Out on the Journey

Turns ahead!

This is how I feel about my brain right now.  It's got so much stuff going on that it's taking rapid turns, weaving in and out.

I'm in NaNoWriMo prep mode which means that right now my brain is filled with character, setting, and plot development.  They move in and out, each taking a turn, screaming out to be focused on.  No matter where I am, I get inspiration.  

I've got my plot mostly finished, and I have to say, I'm incredibly excited for it.  I am an intense plotter, and the more I have prepared, the better I'm able to write when the actual moment comes.  

Knowing where the characters are going helps me when they start out on their journey.  I've gotten to know my MC fairly well, and his story is going to be a bit painful for me to write.  Especially in the beginning.  But that's what makes it worthwhile, right?  If a story wasn't difficult, if it didn't hold the challenges and emotions that interest and hold the writer, then how would it be able to hold the reader?

So while I have these characters living in my head, I'm obligated to get their story out.  Because that's our agreement.  They'll tell me their stories, and I'll share them with others.  

How do you feel when you start out?  Do characters scream in your head?  Do you get excited?  Nervous?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Lessons from Elements of Style - Part 4

It’s time for part 4 of the Elements of Style Series.  For those of you curious, here’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

And now the quote:

Concise.  I don’t think that’s a word that a lot of people would consider when writing.  Especially during the time of NaNoWriMo.  We’re instructed to get to a specific word count.  But what happens when we use too many words? 

Have you ever been in a class where the teacher seemed to drone on and on about the same exact topic?  And not just once but multiple classes?  I recently had that experience while going through a training at work.  Because they wanted to make sure that we understood how to use the new program, we went over the concept again, and again….and again. 

I got to the point where I wanted to bang my head against the desk.  If I understood it the first time, then I understand it the second time…and the third time.

You don’t want to make the reader want to bang their head against their metaphorical desk. 

I recently read a novel that made me feel this way.  After finishing, I commented to a friend that I felt as though it was too slow, but at the same time too fast.  It took me awhile to figure out why.  The writer focused on the same idea over and over – which made it feel slow, but skimmed over the new information. 

There was a race, or a species that was different from humans.  And every time that a new human found out about the race, they stopped to explain it to them.  By the time the third or fourth human found out, I was wishing they’d skipped over the conversation.  Why?  Because I’d already read it!

I’ve had critique partners tell me the same thing.  Never repeat information that your reader already knows.  Even if your character doesn’t know it.

As the quote says, no unnecessary words, no unnecessary sentences.  After every draft I write, I do what I call a “quick cut” revision.  I read through the entire draft as fast as I can, deleting every word and phrase that isn’t necessary to the plot. 

Word count is important, but not as important as being concise.  Never lose a reader over trying to be too verbose.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Reading as a Writer

At the heart of every writer is a reader.  Many times, I’ve read the advice that if you want to writer better, then you should read.

There is a grain of truth to that.  When reading, a writer can observe how others do it.  What works?  What doesn’t work?  There’s always something to learn.

Over the past two weeks, I read two novels, and I learned from both of them.  One taught me what to do while the other taught me what not to do.

I’ll start with what NOT to do.

1.       Don’t cheat your reader.  This may sound obvious, but I haven’t wanted to throw a book in a long time.  In this story, there was a ‘big bad’, the one thing that no one wanted to happen, the motivation for every characters’ actions.  During the ending, the big bad appeared, and for some reason, it was on the same side as the main characters.  The big bad ended up defeating the bad guy, and defeating the entire purpose of the book.  At least, that’s how I felt.  Don’t take the easy way out.  Your reader went on this journey with you.  Don’t tell them that there’s a short cut after they stayed with you.

2.       Don’t have too many extraneous characters.  I have a hard time with this.  I like creating characters.  But don’t have two characters who fill the same exact function, have the same attitude, behaviors and opinions.  When all that separates them is their name, the reader won’t be able to keep track.  And they won’t really care. 

3.       Don’t keep repeating the same information over and over.  This should be pretty self-explanatory.  If your reader learned something with one character, they aren’t going to want to read it with another one, or a third.  More on that to come.

What to do:

1.       Give your protagonist a unique and strong voice.  This book was in first person.  I’m not a huge fan of first person, but this book was written so well that I barely noticed.  The MC had such a unique voice that I immediately fell in love with her.  Everything she described was from her point of view and seen through her opinion. 

2.       Don’t be afraid to give your characters flaws.  These characters were so flawed they were incredible.  When you have characters that are so ‘perfect,’ who never question who they are, or break down when dealing with trials, it’s hard for the reader to relate.  These characters were as flawed as they could come and I completely understood their point of view, even when I couldn’t imagine being in their situation.

3.       Don’t give everything away all at once.  There were two or three major revelations that occurred near the end of the book.  One that amazed me so much that once I finished, I had to go back and reread the book, now knowing the secret reveal at the end.  That’s the ultimate goal, right?  Making the reader want to reread the book right after reading it?

How about you?  Read any good books recently?

Friday, October 18, 2013

I Write

I had an interesting conversation this week with one of my coworkers.  We were talking about what we do in our spare time.  He mentioned that he doesn’t like to do very much, so he likes to waste his time (his words, not mine) watching series on Netflix.  According to him, it’s like being able to watch a 50 hour movie. 

Usually in this kind of conversation, I kind of mumble a response, something about laundry and stuff like that.  But this time, I decided to get brave and tell him that I use my spare time writing.  I just said, “I don’t like to waste my time with that kind of stuff because I like to use my time writing.”

But it was his response that surprised me.  I really don’t tell people because I’m afraid of what they say.  How do most people respond when I tell them?  Just a ‘That’s cool,’ and a quick change of subject.  But instead, my coworker responded by telling me that he was impressed.  He told me that he’d thought of writing, but he’s never actually done it. 

He told me that I was in the 1%.  The kind of person who actually goes after my dreams instead of sitting around thinking about it. 

I’ve never had such a positive response before and it made me really think.  Why am I so afraid to say those two words? 

I write.  I write.

It’s a very important part of my life, something that takes up all of my free time, and even some of my laundry time.  And my dishes time.  But for some reason, it’s scary to say out loud. 

Which is why I’m so grateful to my coworker for his response.  He made me realize that writing isn’t something to be embarrassed about.  It’s not something that I have to hide from those I associate with.  It’s a part of me.  Just like coloring and playing the piano.

What do you like to do in your free time?  I write.