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.