Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 - Setting Myself on the Path of Professionals

Whenever I look back at where I was a year ago, I have a strange shock. I knew I loved to write. I knew I could finish a first draft. In fact, I had just realised I could manage two stories in the same month when I set my mind to it. I knew I had a lot to learn, and that I needed to do so through careful editing of my novel.

I had no idea what was waiting for me. 

I wanted to clean up the novel in time to get my free copy. With two months, I should be fine, right? Haha-ha... ha. When I realised at the end of January how little I had accomplished yet, I finally caught a glimpse of how much work there is behind a novel.

At that point I must have tripled my efforts, and somehow I finished by the end of May. I had something that was slightly better than your typical first drafts, though I knew there were still mistakes all over the place. I also knew that although I had finished my line edits, I would not return to the novel.

At some point in March 2010, I decided to look up the publishing industry and promptly found myself on Nathan Bransford's blog. I must have read 80% of the archives, if not more, and I was finally confronted with the realities of the publishing industry.

The overwhelming odds only boosted my desire to be a part of this industry. I decided I was a writer. 

It's strange, to realise I made this a conscious decision less than a year ago, because it feels so obvious to me today. It's not a distant dream. It's right there, closer to my heart than any other potential job. 

In 2010 I decided I wanted to be a professional writer. I edited a novel, wrote a script, doubled the number of books I read, planned another novel, wrote it, realised it was all wrong, replanned it and a third, started this blog, wrote the two novels during NaNoWriMo,wrote and edited a handful of shorts, and began replanning WHITE ECHOES for the third time.

I feel I've come a long way, but it's a tiny bit of what is yet to come. Writing has become this second job, and I give 10 to 15 hours to it every week (in addition to the real job and the classes). This isn't going to change, unless it's to write more.

Hopefully, at the end of 2011 I will be able to repeat myself, and say I've come a long way.

Happy New Year to all of you, readers, and may we never falter!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Moving Events Around the Timeline

I have read and been told very often that sometimes, the best thing you can do to fix your novel is to change the order in which events happen. I always wondered how that worked. I mean, if your events are tightly connected and the pull of your story inexorable, how can you simply switch the sequence?

My brain refused it. It denied the possibility.

Then I tried.

In the current scene, one of the MCs is captured and tortured early on in the novel. This made him somewhat unstable for the rest of the novel. I need that unstability to justify some of his decisions (and, well, his forgetfulness). My recent decisions, however, cut away all the torture, because he no longer is captured.

I was stuck. I could not find another good reason to justify this. I had cut a major plot point, and I was having trouble dealing with the consequences further down the novel.

Except... nothing forced the torture to be at that point in the timeline. The other day I asked myself "What if it happens immediately before the story starts?" 

I knew the character was wounded. I knew he was fleeing from something. The previous reason from this flight was one of the elements I trashed. I needed a new reason.

Perfect fit. 

There are still a few details to rework in order to smoothen the plot, of course, but I just fixed two major problems with one idea. Moving an event back in the timeline. Try it. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain! This trick just moved WHITE ECHOES one step closer to a solid, tight outline, and to its third rewrite.

It also taught me I need to stop listening to my brain!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Special Kind of Revolution

Joyeux Noël!

Would you believe I had a post scheduled for exactly midnight of December 25th, and that it has nothing to do with Christmas except for the well wishes up there? You'll have to.

Since I am busy celebrating the holidays in my family, and since you probably are too, I'll save you from a long post and instead offer this wonderful little video, The Crabs' Revolution. It's short. It's hilarious.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Endless Replanning

When I finished NaNoWriMo, I knew I needed to rewrite WHITE ECHOES. I had a plan that involved taking a lot of deep breaths, figuring out what I wanted to keep and how I'd replace everything else. I'm doing this, though not quite in order (don't worry, I breathe all the time), and it's taking quite some time.

I feel like I'm going in circles. Everytime I manage to remove and replace an unwanted part of the story, I have this little feeling of satisfaction. I think "Take that, lame part of the plot!" and I smirk at it.

That's when I realise all the changes removing this little bit will have, and how much work I still have to do. Sometimes it has consequences I didn't want, so I have to tweak it again. Sometimes it forces me to give up on some of my favourite scenes.

An example? I've replanned all the way to what would be the First Plot Point now, removing about 8k of story from the current draft. They were important words for one character's development, and I will have to see how being mentally stable and coherent will influence the plot. I know he would notice if his pistol isn't charged, and that is a problem with the current storyline. Now I need to figure out why else he could forget to charge the weapon.

It's a lot of thinking, but as I slowly unravel the knots of my story, I realise it is well worth it. Every time I rework WHITE ECHOES, it becomes smoother and more focused. I have a better idea what I want, and it shows.

So here's to the endless circles of replanning, because they will make my book better. They already are.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Travel Time

This Monday marks the beginning of my holiday season. I'm aware it's only the 20th, and usually I have a few more days before the 'official' madness begins.

How can I tell it's official? Why do I call it that way?

Holidays for me involve a lot of travelling. My family is scattered around the province, and that never stopped us from meeting to celebrate. This year, I will be spending 15 hours in a car during the next week. Lots of wasted time, eh?

Not at all. Not for me, not since I became a writer. :)

I look forward to travel time now. I'm not the one driving, and so I'm allowed to get lost in my thoughts and to devote a lot of time to my stories. I'll refine my outline, work on my ideas, develop my characters... prepare for the New Year in writing!

Travel time is prime writing time, and in the maddening flurry that the holidays can be, I intend to cherish mine.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Little Sparks of Inspiration

I believe my brain understood school was officially over yesterday morning. My first day off.

I was sitting at my kitchen table, looking out at the heavy, fuzzy snowfakles that fell from the sky. It was quiet and pretty, and I had a warm cup of coffee. No stress. Everything you want from a first vacation morning.

I picked up the newspaper, finally able to sit down and read them properly. It's one of those little things I cut into when I need to find more time, but after a month and a half of running around, I was glad to open my morning read (remember, there was NaNo just before, too). A white enveloppe fell from it.

I knew what was in that enveloppe. I knew it'd be that little card reminding me that I had a loyal paperboy, getting up early every morning to deliver my newspaper, and that he was the reason I could finally enjoy it once more. And yet, I felt that little twinge of excitation, as though that random white enveloppe contained a small treasure.

In the end, I was right. It was the Christmas card reminding me that giving tip to the paperboy would be the gracious thing to do, but it was more than that, too.

The wording of the reminder - about the paperboy coming to my door every day - sparked a scene in my head, and from that scene I imagined two characters, and within a minute of reading the text, I had a short story. Sure, the paperboy in it wishes I didn't, but I was thrilled!

In the end I never read most of the newspaper. I was too busy scribbling notes in my large notebook, on the verge of squealing, happy with myself and where this little story was going. There's very little that is more enjoyable than the first spark, the rush of ideas and adrenaline that comes with it.

And boy, I was glad to have a notebook within reach!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Magic of my Brain

Finals are a rough time. They demand a lot of energy, and all the concentration your brain can muster. One would think that, under such conditions, there wouldn't be a lot of room for writing.

One would be wrong, too.

I discovered something amazing these past four days. Even when I am insanely busy, when I have a billion things to think about, my brain continues to work on my story. It nags at the knots in my plot and looks around for filler to put in the plot holes, never quite pausing, and never quite consciously.

And when I walk those 20 minutes that get me to the University, the brain goes loose. Twenty minutes to tell me everything he's found out! QUIIIICK. 

I've never felt as inspired as during those short walks, to and from my University. Every time, there's a new discovery! It's fantastic. It makes staying away harder, too.

But now, well, I am done at last, and I can finally put down all those notes and changes I've thought about in the last days, and deepen them to make sure they fit with the story. I can go back to my plan, and use it. I can write!

Truly, this is a happy day. Thank you, Brain.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Un petit café!

Busy, busy day today, as I have three exams, so rather than a blog post, I offer you this awesome short video. It's a French song, but I found one with (somewhat crappy) subs for you!

So yes, if I disappear, now you know what happened to me. ;)

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Balance of A Good Dialogue

One of the main problem I have with my first drafts is that my characters say too much. They will either say nothing, or say what is on their mind. And oftentimes, it will be stated clearly.

That's, of course, completely unrealistic. It helps to get the story moving, to play with the characters and what needs to be said, but in the end I don't think it should this way. That's not how it happens in real life. Most people I know will say one thing, and mean another.

This is not easy to do in a novel, because you have to make sure your reader understands what is implied. Perhaps not always right away, as some things are better understood when you look back at them, but some key points will nonetheless be implied rather than said. Yet, if the reader feels lost in your dialogue, if he knows he's missing something, then he might get annoyed.

It's a delicate balance, one I've yet to reach in general.

I expect a lot of it to come with revision, and betas must be a great help in this regard. How do you deal with this? Do you have tricks, any other guide than your instinct?

Dialogues are my favourite part of a novel. I want to get them right!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Two Sides of a Relationship

I have seen many writers boil down a relationship to a single tag. 'Friendship'. 'Love'. 'Hatred'. 'Rivals'. It's a necessary simplification, one that helps us grasp quickly what is the backbone of the relationship between two characters, but it brings about its dangers.

First, because relationships are more complex than this. Having friends doesn't mean the same for everyone, and even one person will not think the same way about two different friends. There are nuances to every relationship that depend on the characters, and that make it unique.

There is something else that makes every relationship complex, and that is not as often reflected in writing: two characters in a relationship will not think the same way about each other.

The typical example of this is the unrequited love interest. Character A loves Character B with a fiery passion, but Character B couldn't care less.

There are so many other ways this could be exploited, however! I think it's worth it to consider the world from another perspective than the hero's, and see what the surrounding cast think of him, and of each other.

  • Character A could think Character B is a rival, and feel the need to prove himself the better of the two, while Character B is only seeking a friend. 
  • The  hero can have a sidekick, and believe him to be super loyal, whereas the sidekick spends his time wishing he was with another knight.
  • Character A might confide anything in Character B, but Character B seeks comfort elsewhere when he needs it.
  • Character A can think of B as nothing but a colleague, whereas Character B thinks of A as a close friend.
No two characters approach friendships, love interests and rivalries the same way. Take the time to consider how they define these relationships. Watch for differences in how two characters view one another. Bringing them to life can add a layer of tension to any scene or be a bad surprise for your hero. And if you have more than one POV, you get to contrast these opinions, too!

If this isn't fun, I'm not sure what is!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Colours of Language

I like to think words have personalities. They're more than a bunch of letters stuck together. They mean something, and behind that meaning there is a connotation. The same is true for sentences and paragraphs. The way we put them together has a certain vibe to it, a personality. It's that little thing we call voice.

But beyond that, on an even deeper level than words and sentences, I believe every language has a personality. When you speak it, you can see it from the expressions, from the vocabulary, from the sentence structures... but even if you can't understand a word of it, the language vehiculates a special vibe.

Compare italian and german for a moment. One is lyrical, full of vowels and intonations. The other is harder, straightforward, with a lot of sharp sounds.*

The language you write in brings a particular colour to the story you are telling. This is why translations can never best the original. You cannot capture one language's soul with another. You can try, and translators do an incredible job at it sometimes, but it will never have the original text's flow. It cannot.

I believe that is a beautiful thing. It does, however, raise a question: what language should I write my stories in?

I am fluent enough in English that I believe I can write a publishable novel in it. But is this wise? Would some of these stories be better served by French? Can I afford to play both markets? (probably not)

Most of the time I do not even ask myself such questions. The story came to me in English, right? That's enough to make the decision. Edingher, however... for some reason, Edingher was created alternating between French and English, and I wonder if French would not fit it better. I decided to focus on the other novel until I'd reached my decision, but there's something deeply disturbing to wondering if you're in the right language at all. It feels as though I did not know my story at all, and it does not sit well with me.

This is something I have been struggling with for three years now. I'm not sure it will ever go away.

*For the record, I love both german and italian.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter Is Fixing My Plotholes

 Ever noticed how real-life experiences sometimes coincide with topics found on blogs around the internet? It just happened to me, with Nathan Bransford post on  The Importance of Exercise for Writer.

We received over a foot of snow in the last day, and as is the curse of those who live in houses rather than apartments during such weather, I had to pick up a shovel and go out. Now, most of my fellows will complain at such a task, but I've always found shoveling - while backbreaking after a while - to be good exercise. It's the winter's equivalent of mowing the lawn, but with less noise!

Plus, with all the studying I do these days, it's one of the rare moment (along with my 20-minutes walk to and from University) that I can think about my plot. Mindless tasks always help with planning. I am not the first to say it, and I doubt I'll be the last!

In the thirty minutes I spent outside, pushing snow around and shoveling it, I figured out how I would solve White Echoes' beginning plothole. This was one of my major concerns, because I could not properly justify why my character took the path of action that started everything.

And with the beginning of that answer came a whole new subplot, and a storyline that finally ties Henry Schmitt, one of the two main POVs, with the overarching plot on a personal level.

I sadly cannot give the new ideas all the love and thinking they deserve for the moment, but rest assured, they have been jotted down for future considerations. 

The plot thickens, I'm on a roll again, and I am having a good day!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Recurring Elements in Your Writing

Have you ever looked back at your writing to realise you seemed to bring back the same elements and themes from one story to another? I know I do, and I know I'm not alone, as Margo at Urban Psychopomp did a post about it last October. But as November came to an end and I looked back at my two novels, I realised I had more connecting elements than I thought, and sometimes they're present in older stories, too.

So let's take a look, shall we?

1. The wind as a divine element.

I'll blame living in a windy city and loving the constant gusts for this one. It's not the first time I associate wind with power and change. In Edingher it's the main religion while in White Echoes it's a single character's personal belief. I may have an obsession for wind.

2. Music as a channel of emotions, especially grief.

This was an intentional theme for Edingher - or, well, I knew music would be an important plot element in Prince Heike's attempt to redefine his country's obsession for expansion (from physical considerations to cultural ones). I had not planned on grief, perhaps because I had not planned on there being grief. White Echoes' use of music as a channel for grief is completely unintentional. It was a spontaneous idea, but I am likely to keep it, if I can.

3. Pregnant women giving birth

There's not a lot of explanation to give on this one, except that in both case it's a major plot point. I have no idea what made me want to write about pregnancy this year, but there it is!

4. Home/Family

Associating these two is perhaps my most frequent and obvious theme. It's in nearly every story I imagine, because family is something I care a lot about, and because I feel it's important to be somewhere you feel like you belong. I don't do it on purpose, but I'm aware it's in my writing.

So, what are your themes? What elements did you find sprouting up in all of your stories? Do you know why they're there?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I Have A Plan And It Has Six Steps

It's a vague plan, but I have one! And so I present my six-steps plan to fix my mess!

1. Take a deep breath
Whenever I think of how much work I have ahead (it doesn't help that I have two drafts), I hear a little panicked voice yell that I won't make it, that there is too much to do. There's no. I can do this. I just need to take my time and work hard.

If I could find the time to write 65k over four days, I will find the time to straighten my story.

2. Figure out what I want to keep
I keep talking about a mess, but the truth is that  there's a lot of good things buried in it. I have to take the time and list what I want to keep for the next version - Margo's blankets, in short. I need to know what about these two stories really hooked me, and what can still fit in.

The rest can die in a fire.

3. Take another deep breath
Because, well, the hardest part is just coming!

4. Figure out how to fill the holes
 All this cleaning up is bound to leave a lot of questions. How do I fix X plothole? What can replace Character Y? How do I start/end the story instead of Z?  These are the big questions. It's one thing to throw everything away and another to find how to replace it.

Will it be any better? It seems obvious for the solutions I thought of on the spot during NaNoWriMo, but some of what I'll throw to the winds has been around for a year now. That is harder, but I have scrapped first ideas before. I can do it again.

All I need is to go back to Steps 1 and 3 a few times.

5. Do a complete outline
The two novels that came out the best during my first draft had a complete and detailed outline, from beginning to end. Yes, the scenes themselves changed. Some were added and others removed, but the general structure worked, and it stood strong despite the craziness of NaNoWriMo. I'm a plotter. I work best with outlines. This time they won't be half-completed when I start.

6. Start writing
Only when I feel ready for it, and not at the same velocity. I know I will end up hitting a 40-50k /month rate, because that is how I normally work, but this time I won't do word sprints. There's a difference between advancing fast because you're in the right beat and advancing fast because you have to. You only need to read the end of White Echoes to tell. I was fast (surprisingly so), but the story still flows a lot better than during the first part because I knew where it was going.

So, yes. Writing, with a little bit of Steps 1 and 3 for every time I feel like I'm going in circles with this project.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Figuring out the next step

NaNoWriMo is over. I managed to write two complete stories in a month. The writing is every bit of the confused mess I predicted it would be. No, wait, this year it's even worse.

For the last two days, I've worked on accepting that the two drafts I now have are not even at a stage where I can edit them out. True, last year I would always end up rewriting half of every scenes (the beginnings were awful), but the plot was tight, at least, and held itself without needing major corrections.

This year my two outlines were incomplete on both novels. I had little idea what would happen past the halfway point, except for a few key scenes in Edingher. It caused problems in the final version, though not of the same nature.

Some characters have to be removed. Others need radical changes. Entire subplots were added in during November, and have to be better tied in. Edingher's ending has to change (somehow...) and White Echoes' beginning is, despite two complete rewrites, still clumsy. It will have to go.

So, where to go? Where to start? I have plots and characters that have matured during november, but now it means I have to start over again. It was always a risk. At least I have two weeks to think it through (finals are coming and I will not be doing a lot of writing during these).

Anyone else had massive revisions in their storyline? How do you deal with it?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Lessons of NaNoWriMo

Look at that. I'm not dead! Impressive, if a bit surprising. I'm aware I rather disappeared in the last days, and apologise for it. NaNoWriMo always do that to me. I find it hard to do anything but study, write, and lead my region (believe me, the last is quite a lot of time).

But it's over now, and I return to my little corner of the internet. I feel different, too. I always do, after NaNoWriMo.

The simple reason for that is that every year, I learn something new about myself, both as a person and as a writer. And we'll focus on the latter, of course. ;)

The first year of NaNoWriMo was a very simple lesson for me: I could, indeed, write a novel, and I found it immensely fun and satisfying. There was a magic in the experience nothing else had ever brought to me first. I wanted to keep writing, year after year, as a hobby.

The second year of NaNoWriMo is when I started dreaming of publication. It'd crossed my mind over the summer, when I wrote a straightforward fantasy novel called Ellistrie, still waiting to be revisited. I loved the plot. I loved the characters. It was my first novel since NaNo '08, too, but the magic had been back. It returned during November, a thousand times over, and I went from writing 64k to writing 207k. It was crazy, but strangely enough, the two main stories had a solid plot. I could write fast, but well enough. (on a macro level).

This year, my third, I admit I had a lot more trouble combining my obsessive, overachieving wrimo personality with my calmer, aspiring-writer half. I wanted to come out of this NaNoWriMo with something readable, and unlike last year, my plot refused to obey me. I fell behind. I got angry, and desperate. I stopped posting here, too, at about that moment.

It wasn't before the middle of the third week that I found my balance. I still hadn't finished my first novel (Edingher) and was 30k behind schedule. I realised this hadn't gone where I wanted it to, and not because the scenes weren't as 'shiny' as first imagined. It was something more, something deeper about the novel.

I still don't know what, either. But I accepted it. The storyline needs to be reworked. The characters were doing things that didn't match what they'd become. I could feel more problems coming. I wanted to stop, to move on to the second story (White Echoes). And then I clicked. I figured out how to cover one plot hole, then a second. Not all of them, not quite, but just enough to give me a second wind.

That's when I understood this wasn't my real first draft. This wasn't my storyline as it'd stand for publication, not even close. This was me, in the middle of my favourite month, the craziest of them, surrounded by friends both new and old, trying to figure out who these characters were, and how the world reacted to them.

This year I learned to use NaNoWriMo as a sandbox. I decided to build all the castles I wanted, to cast them down if I felt like it, to try things out. I wrote three different endings to Edingher, two beginnings to White Echoes (and I know a third is coming). I scratched out entire scenes that had gone wrong (kept the words) and rewrote them right away.

Everything was easier from there. So easy, in fact, that between Friday the 26th and midnight on Nov. 30th, I managed to write out 65,000 words. And you know what? They are probably the most important scenes I've written through the entire month. They were the one that worked.

Yes, I will rewrite it all over again, through the year. I don't think I wasted my time, however, not for a single moment. Now I know who my characters are. I know where my story goes, from top to bottom, and I know that even when put to fire, that outline will hold. There's something organic to it that I have trouble recreating when I am not writing.

That's what NaNoWriMo 2010 became to me. My two NaNo drafts are, in truth, two big outlines. And more than ever, I feel motivated to keep going.

Friday, November 19, 2010

NaNoWriMo Status Update 3: Still Behind

So I may or may not have vanished for a week. I have to say, I half-expected it happen with NaNo, especially with being so late on my attempted goal. I still am, for the record, though a bit less with every passing day. Hopefully this weekend will allow me to catch up more completely.

Last week I waited to post until I had finished my 50k. This week I am at 89,9k, and I just finished Edingher's NaNo Draft. I can't even call it a first draft, at this stage. I need to apologise to the fourth wall for this writing. It's by far some of the worst I have done during NaNoWriMo.

Nevertheless, I move on to White Echoes, and characters I already know and shouldn't jump some surprise complexities at me. More twists and turns, perhaps, but nothing the scale of a decade-long hatred.

Soldiering on.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NaNoWRiMo Status Update 2 : The Catching Up

As of 1:35 am EST, on this fine Saturday, I am once again gifted with a green bar on the NaNoWriMo website. This is great, as I had a far harder to get this one than last year's. It is less great, as I was, according to my schedule, supposed to get it on Monday. Oops? *shrugs*

Every year there is a major difference between the current NaNo and the last. The second year I had just become a ML, and I believe the cheers of my region overstimulated me into greatness. The entire month was a strange, happy and tired daze. It was fantastic.

This year, the change is on another level than NaNo's. Between NaNo '09 and NaNo '10, I discovered the publishing world. I discovered Nathan Bransford's blog, and from there a dozen others. I spent a year editing, and learning what it really meant to polish a first draft. At least part of what it meant.

It was a lot harder to lock away the Inner Editor this year, to fall back into the blissful, no-holding-back writing frenzy of NaNoWriMo. I had to find a new purpose for this first draft, a meaning that was something else than a canvas to work from.

I am discovering my characters and my story. Things are happening that I had not planned for. Characters are adding a fourth and fifth dimension to what they had. The already complex outline is getting even more complex (it's driving me insane).

I feel that after I wrote this story, I will have a better idea of where it was meant to go. And that will make another draft easier to write.

Nothing is ever lost during NaNoWriMo. I knew that, and I learned it again this year.

I hope you are all doing well! And a shoutout to BookOwl, who I believe finished earlier this week, and was cheering me on twitter yesterday. You go!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Link Gallore 2

Time for a second post full of links, where I basically rely on others to keep you entertained! Yes, I have long since learned the usefulness of delegating.

The Useful Blog - Between Fact and Fiction
Nathalie Whipple's blog is a gem of nice, positive advice on life as a writer. I haven't encountered many other bloggers who are as genuinely soft and kind, while at the same time motivating and useful. Don't miss her Happy Writers Society on Friday! It will keep you sane, I promise.

The NaNoBloggers - Urban Psychopomp and Literary Jam and Toast
Two other fellow NaNoWriMo participants, with absolutely great blogs. The first is packed with straight-to-the-point, awesome advice and the second is pure... sillyness? It's useful, but oh so funny, too! If you click but one link, you need to check this one.

The Procrastination Blog - Limyaeel's rants
For fantasy writers more than anything else, this one, although Limyaeel's rants are so funny and dead on I'd read it no matter the genre. She doesn't update anymore, not really, but I have spent countless hours rereading the rants on various fantasy-related topics. By various I mean that nearly everything is covered. Fun, informative and thought-provoking. This is a must!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Art of Finding Time

Everywhere you go, people will tell you NaNoWriMo is writing 50,000 words in a month. In fact, I said just such a thing on this blog.

Well, I now beg to disagree. There's something else to it.

NaNoWriMo is the art of finding time where there is none.

 Yes, NaNo participants will take that time and use it to write a novel. The 50,000-words draft that comes out of this month of madness is not the only miracle that happens during November, however. There is another one, more precious in my opinion.

The realization that we have more time on our hands than we thought.

It is amazing what you can do with a tiny 15 minutes. What is also amazing is the amount of time we waste every day. Of course, we can't spend our entire life grasping for every quarter of hour we can find. Doing it for a month is exhausting enough!

NaNoWriMo taught me that while procrastinating is fun, it doesn't compare to the satisfaction of a day well spent. When you got all your chores done and you can just sit back, relax, and tell yourself you've been a good girl.

When December hits and you stop writing, try to remember what you learned this month. You have more time than you believe. You can get things done.

And now, Wrimos, stop procrastinating, and go back to your writing!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

HEAD + DESK = NaNoWriMo Status Update1

Let it be said that I am well ahead of NaNoWriMo's wordcount goal. Let is also be said that I am three days behind on my original goals. I have never been behind on the first week. That's supposed to be the second one, no? My NaNo pattern is messed up!

There's a simple reason for all that, however. I can't quite afford the 5-6 hours I would need every day to hit my daily wordcount with two exams, and all the additional homework. It is my hope all of these worries will go away when Tuesday is gone, but you never know.

Anyway, my characters are at least taking a life of their own, and willing the words to pages faster than me when I do sit down. I love my story, despite all that is wrong with it (I'm noting it on a side card!).

Quick tip: If you despise a good chunk of what you wrote, whether it is a scene or a paragraph, for the love of all that is NaNo-Holy, do not erase it. Strike it, leave it there, rewrite it. I have two complete scenes this way. Remember, words written always count, whether you intend to keep them or not. Just leave them there!

And now back to my regular studying. Cheers, NaNoers, and keep going!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Link Gallore 1

Wow, first week of NaNoWriMo and I'm already missing a day on my promised schedule. Not totally a good sign, although in my defence this will be the busiest week of the month for me. SO. I'll keep this short, m'kay?

The Useful Blog Linky : Nathan Bransford's Blog.
Yes, half of you (if not more) must already be following this blog. I'm still linking to it. When I took up my search for information on the publishing business, it was the first blog I found and it is still the best. It's informative, funny, welcoming, orange... Nathan is awesome (and so are the forums, as a matter of fact). So if for some obscure reason you are not reading this, do click the link. Now.

The NaNo Blogger Linky : Hillary J.
So every week I'll link to a fellow NaNoWriMo participant's blog, if only because you guys are great. This is Hillary's. She's funny, she's interesting, she has a few great tips and there's 'hatchling' in the blog title. That alone woudl've convinced me!

Procrastination Linky: Yes, it's mean to link to easy procrastination during NaNoWriMo. It won't stop me! So first is : The Blog of Unecessary Quotation Marks. There seems to be plenty of misused quotation marks in the world, and the result is quite funny. Go have a laugh. :)

And now, back to NaNoWriMo (and my exams) with me!

Monday, November 1, 2010

I Like to Have Many Friends

Imaginary friends, but friends nonetheless!

Large casts of characters are my friends. It's not rational. I just end up with them, no matter how I try to dwindle the numbers. This is not a bias against small-crew story. It's how my mind works.

There are challenges that come with writing when you have so many characters that influence your story. They have to be easy to remember, and you need to convey their personality as much as you can with the little 'screen' time they get.

Every word matters.

Never miss an opportunity to make your character more distinct. This is always true, but it's even more important with large casts. Give them habits. Make their voices strong. Exaggerate their traits a little, so that they become more obvious. Unless this character is often in scenes, you can't afford to make him bland.

Large casts can get your readers lost, but when handled well, they make your story complex and colourful. I just hope I have the talent to pull it off!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Are You Plot, or Are You Pants?

There are typically two ways a Wrimo can get through NaNoWriMo: plotting and pantsing. The first involves careful planification of your novel before Nov. 1 hits and the second involves, well, winging the entire story. Each category has its own extremes, but also a multitude of in-betweens.

I have tried both techniques, and discovered I am a plotter. Last year I had a complete outline with every scene for my first novel and I breezed through it. Every now and then I added a scene, removed one or extended another, but it never veered of course.

Ten days after the start, I was done. And I was forced to take the pantsers' way.

It turned out okay, although I am now rewriting that novel. It's easier to do that than major edits. What I realised, though, is that every day during classes (shhh!) I would plan out the next 6-7k of my novel, to be written when the evening came. I could not come home with no idea of what was going to happen. I needed that plan. So even when forced to spontaneously write a story, I ended up planning it.

What works for me does not always work for others, however. How about you, Wrimos? Are you Plot, or are you Pants?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Little Genre Problem

I like genres. I like to know in which genre my book is, or in which genre the book I'll read is. It gives me something familiar to work with, some kind of common ground I can refer to. It's reassuring.

Hence why being unable to properly categorize White Echoes freaks me out a bit. This story draws from three different genres while not fully being in either of them. When I'm asked, I answer "steampunk-ish", and indeed when I spoke about this novel, Susan commented it "sounded steampunk". It does! My problem is that I am still uncomfortable defining it as steampunk.

Perhaps it's because I don't know the genre well (yes, I know, writing in a genre you don't know! Tsk!) I intend to get more familiar as I approach revisions, but for the moment, I am gearing up for NaNoWriMo. And until the end of November, I will have a novel that is:

Steampunk because of the airships, the old-style guns, but without anything victorian to go along with it.
Fantasy without the magic, but there's a certain feel to the story that belongs to that genre, in good part because I write a lot of fantasy (*cough* always fantasy *cough*)
Science-fiction because of a few more advanced technologies, and 'science' explaining some of the out-of-the-ordinary elements.

My only hope is that as I write the novel, everything will become clearer. Am I alone with this problem? Have any of you written a crossgenre novel before?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Contradicting PoVs

There is one thing I absolutely love to do with PoV characters, and that's to have them contradict each other. Neither characters are lying, but their respective perspective on life reflects on how they narrate the story. There's a few ways this can become apparent.

1. Their opinion about others. Two characters can have wildly different opinions about the same third character. Say this third man is a king. The courtier who has just been awarded bigger lands may love this king, and describe him as just and generous. The king's wife, whom he hits in a bout of anger, will disagree with that. Or the people dying of hunger in the streets while he holds banquets might not be so keen on calling him 'generous'.

2. Their opinion about each other. This one is even funnier, if you ask me. A relationship isn't always equal on both sides. One character will not always reciprocate the other's feelings.

I just read a perfect example of this is Guy Gavriel Kay's A Song for Arbonne. The chancellor is madly in love with the countess, Signe. He knows it is an impossible relationship, and he has a wife and kids, but he considers this eternal love a simple fact of his life. Signe, however, has no clues about this love. She wonders at times what the chancellor thinks of her and concludes he must believe her weak, and in need of support.

This is fun. It's fun to read and it's fun to write. It's also quite realistic. Not everyone I consider a close friend thinks the same of me, and vice-versa. I often read about this kind of diverging opinions with unrequited love subplots, but it's not limited to it! Go wild.

3. Their versions of events. Two different POVs can tell the very same scene in completely different ways. What a rebel leader thinks of an oppressing government's fall is quite different to how this government's leader will feel about it. Pick any two characters in a scene, and they should have different opinion on what's going on.

There's nothing like contradicting PoVs to add some shades of grey to characters and worlds. You don't have to visit everyone's head to do this. Two characters with different backgrounds are more than enough to bring out the "contradictions" in your story and in your world.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Choosing your PoV(s)

I admit I have never managed to write an entire novel from a single Point of View. I write with large casts of characters. Sometimes it is because my plot spans major events in my fantasy world, but not always. Even in a small-ish setting, such as a single city, I end up with a large cast of significant characters.

If I let myself go wild, I would have a dozen different PoVs all the time.

Restricting myself is always hard. I have to abandon characters I love and let them evolve only in the background. I could use omniscient, of course, but I feel that requires a certain level of skill I've yet to attain. I prefer to stick with third limited, with one character for every scene.

How to choose, though?

I feel every PoV should count. It should be so essential to the story that if you remove it, the novel no longer makes sense. How do you determine that? What a PoV brings is not limited to its influence on the plot. When considering PoVs, I ask myself a few questions, and here they are for your enjoyment.

- Could every information a PoV bring be told in another scene?
- What is the purpose of this knowledge? Is it only to raise tension, to let the reader know something the character doesn't? I personally don't think that is always a good idea.
- How is this PoV's personality compared to the other PoVs? Does the character have an unique voice?
- Are there other things about the PoV that makes it unique? Is s/he from another country? Another social standing? Does he bring something fresh to the story? Is s/he the antagonist?

One of the main reasons I enjoy different PoV is those last questions. I'm a firm believer in approaching a conflict from multiple angles. A single PoV introduces a bias I don't like. On the other hand, I love to have a few characters with strong and contradicting bias. I like to think it adds a depth to my story.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I'm Glad this is not November

Ironic how after two posts about inspiration I am a bit out of juice, and I'm not sure what to write here? There's this list of topic I jotted down, but none of them light me up. Aah. Good thing this is not NaNoWriMo, then, because the words I'd write would be crap!

Instead I want to share my NaNoWriMo blog schedule. So far I preferred not to have one, but the NaNo season is always a busy one, and I don't want to forget you wonderful people. So here's the plan!

Monday: Regular post.
Wednesday: The link gallore
Friday-Saturday: NaNoWriMo update

This is my planned minimum. Depending on how well the month is going and what goes through my mind, I might come and add some more.

Plus, because the above is hardly interesting and because I won't be posting for another two days, I'm leaving the blog open for any of your questions. Be wild and be silly. I'll answer everything the best I can.

Cheers, and have a nice weekend!

Inspiration - Building a Novel

Yesterday (it's still 11:59 pm as I start this, so it is still yesterday!) I talked about where or how I found my initial ideas for novels - about that first spark of inspiration that grips you and refuses to let go.

Unfortunately, that spark is not enough to get a novel. You have to develop the idea into a complex plot with three-dimensional characters in a believable setting. And that takes a lot of ideas, and a lot of thinking.

So where do you get those ideas?

It's a bit different now that I have something to work from. I described my plotting process in more details early on, in a post I called Unraveling the Plot. Basically, I keep asking questions (mostly why), answering them, and then asking questions about the answers I just gave.

Sometimes, though, the answers won't come easily. What do I do then? How do I get out of this inspiration block? In a way, I guess I just let it rest in the back of my mind until something comes up. With time I noticed there were moments where inspiration came more easily, though. Here's a list!

1. Chores. Whether I'm doing the dishes, cleaning up my bedroom or gathering all the leaves in my backyard (there's a lot of them), when I'm working a mindless task, novel ideas seem to assault me. This is good, because otherwise I'd never clean my room!

2. Walking. I have to walk 20 minutes every morning to get to the University, and 20 minutes back. Trust me, this is by far the most idea-inducing period of my days. When I'm stuck in corner, whether while plotting or writing, I often go out to take a walk. It's just a shame the weather won't allow it year-long.

3. Classes. Hum... yeah. I won't say more about that one. Just that sometimes, I am writing things down during classes, and they are not biochemistry notes.

4. Waking up. I'm a snooze person. I set my alarm an hour earlier than I need to, and snooze it every 10-20 minutes. This gets me in a semi-sleeping stage that does wonder for my novels. I think only walking works better than this!

So these are my little daily times where I get ideas and develop my plot. This is when I do my thinking. What about you guys? Any times of the day you seem more inclined to think about your novel?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Inspiration - The Initial Idea

I find it funny how when I decided to write my first novel, my family wasn't surprised. They just looked at me and went "Oh? That's nice. Good luck!" No questions. They could easily guess it was fantasy, and I did not leave time for more before I explained what NaNoWriMo was.

Now that I am working on my 4th and 5th story, however, I think they are beginning to understand I did not only have this one idea, shimmering under the surface, waiting to be told. I had many, and they kept coming.

This led to one question, which I am sure you've all heard: Where do you get all your ideas?

In my case, what happens most of the time is that I will notice a detail and linger on it, wondering what would happen if it became central to a story, or if I changed it. Sometimes I combine two of these. A few examples:

1.  I wondered what would happen with a fantasy world in which magic did not appear with puberty. I chose to have it come with age (or infertility). From there I built a world, and from this world my current plot emerged. I struggled with it on quite a few occasions, and today the 'old magic' is a background element, but that's where it all started.

2. I read two novels recently in which there are a fair amount of vineyards in the world. It's never an important element, but a little voice in my mind says it would be cool if it was. It's on my list of Things to Write Someday.

3. I was watching something about hot air balloons on TV while listening to A Criminal Mind. My mind jumped from one to the other, and thought it would be cool if a balloon driver unknowingly took a criminal on board. This was the very beginning of White Echoes.

Anything can spark my initial ideas. It's more frequent when I read, but it has happened with music and TV and dreams. I grab passing thoughts and force them to stay, until I see their potential for an unique story element.

How about you? Where do you get ideas?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Explaining the Technology

I've already discussed how I find it disappointing there aren't more settings that combine magic and technology. It was... right here (yes, I know, not even one month in this blogging thing and I'm already shamelessly linking myself).

Ironic, then, that I am currently working on a setting with a few technological elements... and no magic.

Yes, I know.

It's not what I want to talk about, though. While I worked out the kinks of my world, I came up with a simple problem: explaining why I had different level of technology in the same world. What I mean by that is that I wanted airships next to the old printing press, or large amounts of electricity with communications limited to telegraphs.

My first thought was to explain it through the humans' needs. Why spend time developing technology if it won't serve? That could explain why there was no wire communication along with the airships. But what about the rest? And why on earth would zeppelins still be the main method of travel?

I need reasons. I know I could let some of these things unexplained, since it's unlikely I'll get to say all of this in the novel. But I can't. When I ask myself the Why Question, I need to answer it.

I was stuck, though. Nothing I thought up seemed good enough. What did I do? I called upon a writer friend, of course! Here's what he told me: "Maybe they had a lot of natural gases?"

Maybe I'm the only one who never thought of it that way, but I was amazed. Flabbergasted. Not once did I try to explain it through the resources. It seems simple now, and obvious, but it hadn't crossed my mind. After my friend asked me that question, everything fell into place (you know how fun that is).

I guess the moral in this is simple. When trying to explain the evolution of any society's technology, there are two things to consider: needs and resources. What you want to do, and how you can do it. The formal and material cause. (I know, I know, shameless!)

With that, I return to my worldbuilding. Also... 10 days until NaNoWriMo!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Setting is in the Details

I haven't been blogging for a long time, but it should be increasingly obvious that I love worldbuilding. There is something magical to imagining a time and place separate from our own, where everything works differently and which has its own, unique culture. I am, and will always be, fascinated thick and complex web of connections that emerges between various spheres (political, cultural, geographical, etc.) as you define your new world.

No matter how much time you spend playing around your world, adding new regions or races, or explaining the cultures in it, however, it will lack a little something called life.

Nothing will bring life in your world like actual writing.

I think it's when you write that the details of your world will emerge. They will evolve from your planning and give concrete shape to what you created. And the best way to make your world shine through without exposition is, I believe, in the details.

Our beliefs and our culture is reflected in how we talk and act in our everyday life. Subtle details spread over the course of an entire novel will have more impact than any exposition, not to mention they won't stilt your story.

Here are a few examples of what I call 'details':

Salutations and warding gestures. Here we wave at each other, or we do the christian crest to ward off ill thoughts (I apologise if that is not the correct term. It is a direct translation, and despite my best attempts, I could not find the 'official' name on the internet). Other worlds with other religions may have different sets of gestures, more related to their beliefs.

Swear words and other expressions. Many English swear words will be related to sex, whether it is direct or indirect. Here in Quebec, they are distortions of church words (and are often called Church Words). Swear words (and any other expressions, really) depend a lot of where you are. If you can come up with one that reflects your culture and could be yelled in a moment of frustration, go with it!

Clothing and architecture patterns. How easily can you identify a historical period by the clothes worn? By the buildings? There have been distinct variations throughout history, and when you research them, you realise there are always cultural reasons behind them. Think of how your society's belief will influence how they build and what they wear. As an example, my expansion-obsessed culture will be wearing ample clothes, with hanging sleeves.

Historical/Religious/Geographical references: There are many terms used in our daily vocabulary that are references to past events or to important figures. Don't be afraid to event some, but make sure they are easily understood. If the first time you use a name, what you are trying to say is obvious, you are establishing a life to your setting outside of this novel. That's good, but do be careful not to make obscure and impossible-to-get references. If they sound like an inside joke, you're doing it wrong.

All of these don't have to be planned in advance. Some can be, but in my case it often comes up naturally, and I write them down in a separate document to keep track. After all, I wouldn't want to confuse two elements, and I like to reuse key details until the reader remembers them!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I'm Not a Loyal Writer

I keep cheating on a project with another.

Sometimes, I hear of old couples writers who've worked on a single novel for a decade or more, and I wonder how they do it. My love is fickle, and early after I finish the first draft of a WiP, I have ideas for another. (Yes, for NaNoers, I have year long plot bunnies)

"Come write us," they say. "We're new and sexy shiny. We'll be better than what you have right now."

I find it hard not to fall into the trap. Sometimes I'll note the idea down, hoping to revisit it later, but the excitement and inspiration is gone by then. So I move on to new WiPs all the time, afraid I'll lose the perfect idea while it's there. It's why I four complete first drafts from my last two years, and two more to be rewritten. I only stopped to edit once.

This year, I'm trying something different. I'll be writing two stories during NaNoWriMo, and I hope that by alternating between the two, I can keep the other ideas away. I need focus, or I'll never get anywhere!

Am I alone in this? How many of you have troubles sticking to one project? And how many of you only write one novel and stick with it?  (For the record, I think both are fine)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why Only You Can Write this Story

 While I cannot say I have been actively writing for a long time, I have met in the past years a lot of aspiring writers, all at different stages of their career (or future career, depending on how you want to see it). We all have very-recurring self-doubts, no matter how far along we've come. Lately, though, I've heard the same sentence, over and over, the echo of a doubt I once had.

Any writer out there could write this story better than me.

I disagree. I disagree no matter how terrible a writer you are. This is your story, and I believe only you can write it.

No one can understand your characters and your story better than you do. You imagined this. You created an unique world, with wonderful characters and an intriguing plot. Yes, there are authors out there who are further down the learning track, who know the tricks of the trade better than you do. None of them can tell this story like you would. They cannot replace your voice.

Sometimes I wish I could hand my ideas over the Guy Gavriel Kay and go "You! Write it!" Today, though, I know that even if I was offered (yeah, right!), I wouldn't. Why? Because the story he would tell from my notes would be different from mine.

That's the key. Perhaps his would be better, in the end. I don't know. I know, however, that it's not what I want. I want my story, with my words, my ideas, my scenes.

I may have to spend years learning and revising and learning and revising, but I am certain now that this story cannot be told by another. No matter how much work it takes, if it is ever to come out, it will be with my name on it and all my hard work behind it.

So if you ever look up to a published author and wish he could tell your story, stop it.

Tell your story. Tell it with your words. They will always be closer to its heart than another author's.

Friday, October 15, 2010

How to Stay Motivated during NaNoWriMo

It's a well known fact that November's second week is the hardest for most Wrimos, and that many will lack the motivation to sit down and just write. "Butt In Chair" becomes a whole lot harder all of a sudden.

With two years of experience, I've managed to pinpoint what gets me going and, more importantly, what keeps me going. These might help you too, so here they are!

1. Other Wrimos. This goes first and it's not by chance. Writer friends are an excellent way to keep you motivated, especially when they are sharing your pain. Befriend other participants. Seek out your region. A support group can save your NaNoWriMo.

2. NaNoWriMo Calendar and stickers. Every year, I print a copy of a NaNo Calendar, with the 30 days and how many words I have to hit each day. I've even made an Excel-sheet one, because I can easily customize my goal. I also buy 30 stickers. Every time I hit a daily wordcount goal, I put a sticker. For the record, I also give all my Wrimos these things.

It seems silly, but putting that tiny little sticker on the square is incredibly rewarding. You have a visual aid of your progresses, and it's a tiny little reward that can make all the difference. Seriously, I had to attend my grandfather's burial last year, which was a 3 hours drive away, but I still brought my calendar. I was addicted to it!

3. Competition. I already mentionned other Wrimos as a support group, but you can also use them for healthy competition. It's not for everyone, and NaNoWriMo isn't a competition, but it can become one. I like it when it does in a friendly way.

Every year, I challenge other wrimos with a similar speed and we sprint to a landmark or another. I'm the kind of person who'll stay up one (or two) extra hours if it lets me be ahead of someone else. If you are, too, find someone else to compete with. It can help quite a lot.

4. Rewards. Whether it's sugary goodness, your favourite TV show, permission to go to bed or to read the next chapter of a book, reward yourself for progress. This is supposed to be fun. You can help make it so!

Rewards for the long run are useful too. Promise yourself something from the NaNo shop (or somewhere else, really) if you win. It will make you that much more motivated.

5. The Pep Talk Archive. Every year, the OLL contacts writers and asks them to send us e-mail to keep us motivated. These are packed with awesomeness, and they will make me want to seal the world away so that I can write and live up to a particular author's encouragement.

There's not always a new pep talk in our inbox, however. Sometimes you need the pep, and the one you read just last week won't cut it. Fear not! There is a Pep Talk Archive. Read through some of these and you'll be hyped once more! (My personal favourite is Neil Gaiman's. Start there if you can't pick one)

And that's it! By the way (I keep forgetting this), I am part of a NaNoWriMo Blog Chain. Click on the link in the sidebar to see the others. They have great advice on how to prepare for the upcoming month.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Technology in Fantasy

Most of the fantasy I write is set in a pseudo-medieval setting. Most the fantasy I see published is either pseudo-medieval or urban. While in-between exists, they aren't very common.

So where are the fantasy novels with a decent level of technology? Where are those with prints and guns? Often you will have either magic or technology, but the two shouldn't be exclusive. I don't believe one can completely replace the others. Technology is accessible. It does not require its maker to stay around, or for you to know the details of its creation. Anyone can use a gun. You just pull the trigger.

Print in particular is something I want to use at some point. It changes the way information spreads and how your ruler(s) will communicate with the people. A simple political intrigue can be complexified by print, especially when nosy reporters are trying to get a scoop. Propaganda could become an important aspect of the novel.

We often default to medieval fantasy by force of habit, but when you consider the myriad of possibilities offered by combining your fantasy races and magics with technology, it's a wonder there aren't more of these books out there! There's steampunk, but it's only a fraction of what could be done.

And if you have recommendations, give them! I'll want to know what has been done in the area before I start my next WiP.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Four Causes

The other day I saw something interesting during my Logic class (yes, you heard that right, I have logic classes and they are actually fun). My teacher defined four types of cause to any object or event, and explained how these could help us better know said object (or event). Being a bit obsessive, I immediately tried to see if I could apply this to novel planning.

Now, I'm not saying this is how you should do it. I'm not even sure I will. It was a new way to look at things, however, and I think it's always helpful to test out new methods. You never know which will work better.

So here's a quick description of the four causes. I'm translating from French, so these might not be the exact, technical terms.

1) The Ultimate Cause: This is the goal. You can find it by asking 'Why?' Why was this thing built? Why did X event happen? It's also the most important, as it will influence the other causes.

2) The Material Cause: In a way, this is the nitty-gritty cause. It's the physical material you used, the stuff your object is made of. In the case of an event, it can also be the person who acted. So if you plan something and send minions to do it, the minions are part of the material cause.

3) The Formal Cause: This one is the plan behind your object or event, the way it's organised, the structure in it.

4) The Efficient Cause: This is the origine of your object. If it was built, it can be the maker. Sometimes it is also the person who makes the plan (the one who has the idea). The best way to find this cause is to ask "Where does the beginning of this thing start?" (No need to go all the way back to your world's Big Bang, though).

An example of this, from my work. The novel starts with Prince Heike ordering the assassination of his father, King Eckhart.

1. The Ultimate Cause:  Grab Edingher's power. There are other motives for him to want that power, but the reason he orders the assassination is to have it.
2. The Material Cause:The dagger used for the assassination, and the assassin herself.
3. The Formal Cause: The strike's plan. There was a lot of planification involved in this assassination, and that is the formal cause.
4. The Efficient Cause: Prince Heike. This is his idea, and he is the one hiring assassins/planning the entire coup. Others are involved, but all of this starts with him.

Anyway, I hope that helps in one way or another. I try to do it with major plot points, and to be more exhaustive than above, because it helps me know what brought an event about.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Five Steps to a NaNoWriMo Win

So, I've developped a very simple way of breezing through NaNoWriMo, which works whether you are a planner or a pantser. You have to be willing to forget about your inner editor, but when you participate in November's frenzy, you don't have that choice anyway.

So, what are the five steps?

1. Sit down at your desk. Well, sit down anywhere comfortable and isolated. You don't want people talking to you.
2. Close the internet. This is very important, because it will greatly diminish the temptation to procrastinate. The harder it is to turn your net back on, the better.
3. Write for 20 minutes. Don't stop. Write what comes to mind, and don't go back to erase it. Just write write write, until the 20 minutes are finished. You can do 15 or 30 minutes sprints too. I work better with 20, but I know others will prefer different length.
4. Take a 5-10 minute break. Rest your wrists. Don't erase what you just wrote. Just rest, and think of what will come next.
5. Repeat 3 and 4 until you hit your goal. Depending on your speed, I have seen writers bash out from 400 to 1000 words in this lapse of time. I do around 750, and I'm not that fast a typist.

What does this mean? Within a hour, you can hit your daily 1667 words. Of course there will be distractions, and sometimes you'll take longer. But if you sit down for two hours a day and do this, you'll steadily advance toward your 50k goal.

This is also a lot funnier with friends. Maybe it's just me, but when others are typing with me, I feel guilty if I stop. So I keep going, and by the end of the sprint, I have a couple more hundreds to my word count.

There are hundreds of ways to finish NaNo. This is mine, and once I discovered what I could do with 15 minutes of writing, I began sneaking time everywhere I could. I never thought I had that much spare time.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Classical Music Concert

Friday evening I went to a classical music concert. It's not something I listen to at home, but when I get a chance to see an orchestra on a stage, I always jump on the occasion. I find there's something immensely relaxing to sitting down, closing my eyes (or watching the maestro) and just listening to the notes.

There's also something incredibly inspiring.

Friday's was my second concert and for the second time, I had a major breakthrough. Last time I was stuck on a scene and figured out how I wanted to edit it. This time, I found what bothered me with my plot.

I have a whole useless arc. 

Okay, it's not completely useless. I managed to tie it back to the others in the end. But I could easily remove it entirely by tweaking things here and there. Writing it and including it would be indulging myself. I might do it during NaNoWriMo, because it'd be the perfect occasion to do such a thing, but I have to accept that this arc won't be in the final version. It hurts, but it's necessary.

Besides, I have a new arc to replace it with.

Edingher has always been about a social revolution, and the big changes were meant to start with a shift from war to culture. I knew the wood-growing industry would be diverted from ships and war machines to art. I spent the concert staring at the violins. Wood. Music. Art.

I love the new possibilities. I have to replot a third of the novel, but I don't care. This is splendid, and it's far closer to what I want to achieve.

Now I just need to get to work!

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Unexpected Ramifications of your Setting - Part 2

As I said in my last post, there was more than one way in which my setting surprised me with special ramifications and forced me to give more thought to the world I have created. Today is the second part of this small series: fortifications.

First, though, a disclaimer. I am not well-versed in the art of medieval warfare. I have basic knowledge, gathered from years of fantasy reading and from talking with those who do know what they are talking about. It has always been enough to get by in the past, because I have not been writing war-centric novels. So, if I say something stupid, please forgive me (and correct me. I live to learn!)

Now, I don't need to be a pro to figure out why thick and high stone walls are useful against an army. The problem with fortifications is when you decide to factor in magic. In my case, stone-shaping magic.

Suddenly, the castle's impressive walls don't mean so much. Any mage can make a hole in it and let his troops in. Or he could dig a tunnel and send a small team to strike at the enemy army's head. 

In such a world, tacticians would've elaborated defenses to counter the magic and make forts effective. There's no way around it: it doesn't make sense to keep your fortifications exactly the same as during the Middle Ages.

I am still going through my options to counter this. Since I have two fighting faction, one which can shape wood while the other has power over stone, I may build fortifications with a thick layer of wood behind the stone walls. Small frontier villages might be up in the trees, with the cultivated fields below. The details aren't clear yet.

What I do know, however, is that magic changes the art of war, and that if I want my world to be credible, I cannot ignore the new possibilities.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Unexpected Ramifications of your Setting - Part 1

When you start worldbuilding, it's hard to grasp all the consequences of the decisions you make. You have an idea of what you want, and what's different about this world, but your picture is still rather blurry. You don't know the details yet, and you can barely make out the shapes. And sometimes, when you look more closely at one element, you get a surprise.

As this happened to me twice in the past week, with totally different aspects of my world, I figured I should (read, totally wanted to) share them here. It was getting a bit long, though, so here is the first part:  

Beauty Standards

I was working on one of my characters and trying to define her better, both personality-wise and appearance-wise. I knew she was young-ish (16-17), reasonable, that she had sharp wits and that she knew how to deal with a court, or mostly. She still had a fair layer of naivete, but she was the kind of woman you could get along with easily. So I guess I was more trying to define her appearance-wise after all!

Anyway, I went on thinking I wanted her to be rather nice looking (no, I swear, she's not perfect, but that's not what I want to talk about here).

And here's the catch. Nice looking. Beautiful. What does that mean?

We know what it means today, in our world. We know the most common beauty standards. We like our women thin, with nice breasts and full lips, shaved and shapely legs, and smooth, silky skin. We like our men to be muscled, with a firm ass and a great smile. Among other things.

In a fantasy world, it doesn't have to be the same. It can be, and that's all good. Except there are times where it would make more sense for it not to be.

In my case, this lady is from a culture that obsesses about expansion. They spent years warring. They wear large and ample clothes, with sleeves hanging down low. They like their cities to span on a lot of ground without being high. And I think they should like their women with some fat on.

There are cultures on Earth in which fat is connected to wealth (with good reasons) and this also makes sense in this world. Nobles can afford it and while the ladies will want to keep slim enough to be graceful, they definitely won't be all skin on a stick. And the men, once they grow too old to fight, will acquire a belly. Here, fat will be a good thing, not a bad one, because it is, in a way, a physical expansion.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What type of writer are you?

Every time NaNoWriMo comes around, I realise once more how many different types of writers there are out there. Thousands of them start sharing tips and techniques, and give advice to each other. There are as many methods out there as there are writers.

When it comes to first draft, I tend to vomit it. Yeah, not very classy, but that's the reality of it. I blurt out tons of words super fast (especially in November), but they must be among the most horrible first drafts to see the light of day.

I used not to be a fan of editing (wanna guess why?) but I have to say the satisfaction of witnessing my muddled heap of words turn into a more sensible prose was fantastic.

What kind of writer you? Do you take years to write your first draft, making it a shiny being? Or are you like me, giving birth to a shapeless pile before you can work your story?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sensory Deprivation

One morning, nearly a year ago, I stood up after sitting on my foot for too long. I don't know if it ever touched the ground. It must have, but I never felt. All I remember is falling afterwards, and my sister laughing at me.

This, of course, had happened countless times before. Both the numb foot and the fall (my balance is not very good). That particular time, though, was special, because it sparked something in the writer in me. Questions, and a character!

I wondered how it would feel to have all our senses dulled out. How do you cope when walking is challenge, when you can't see well at a distance, when you can't feel hot/cold, when you have to make everyone repeat and when you can't smell a thing? How does that influence someone's daily life, and how would it have happened?

There are multiple ways to answer this. My character was undead-ish, and in addition to the effects named above, he also could not feel pain. He could still die,  if burnt, but otherwise, there were a bunch of things he no longer needed to do. I imagined him trying to live a normal life, to settle down among the other citizens, to get used to not feeling the wind on his skin (he was from a windy city). I thought it would all be rather cool. I still do! I just never found a home for him.

These ideas begged for another question, though. How would that influence descriptions? It becomes harder to place the setting when you have to limit what the character receives as sensory information. I think it becomes a lot more interesting too. Of course, you have to be consistent, but with limited senses, you bring a very different perspective. The same is true for blind or deaf characters too. I'm not sure it would work well for an entire novel, but for a few scenes or short stories, I love it.

This character still needs a home. I will find one for him. Not now, though... I really need to focus on my two WIP, and not jump to a third so soon!

What about you? Do you have any characters with malfunctionning senses? How does it play in your story?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

November's magic

Three years ago, I discovered this fabulous challenge called NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It's very simple. During the month of November, you have to write 50,000 words of a novel, from scratch. I had this vague (and bad!) idea hunting the back of my mind, so I decided to participate.

NaNoWriMo changed my life. I kid you not.

I was a complete beginner, and the simple thought I'd tried to write a novel scared me so bad there were times I couldn't sleep (and not just because I was thinking of my characters). 50.000 words! It was so many.

So I decided to seek out some company, and to attend the meetings in my region. Nearly three years ago, I stepped into a Starbucks to meet complete strangers, which shared my crazy project.

Today these strangers are among my best friends. I could tell them anything. They shared this strange, ecstatic mood that NaNo brings about. They shared my highs and my lows. I gained so much more than a first draft from my first NaNoWriMo, I cannot imagine my life without it.

So I decided to be the giver. I signed up as a Municipal Liaison for my city, accepting the responsability of organising everything for my local chapter. And again, I gained more from the experience than I thought possible.

Ever since I first joined, something magical happens during the month of November, and I come out a different person. I have grown through NaNoWriMo, as a person and as a writer. So what I am saying here is, go and join. There is nothing to lose, and so much to gain.

Have a great weekend, all.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Unraveling the plot

My fantasy ideas, when I first get them, are never very well-defined. I will have a scene or a character, but nothing else. There are obvious things about this character, but for every thing I am certain of, there will be a dozen I don't know yet.

It is, in many ways, like coming upon a big knot. You can see certain threads, and you know there's a splendid tapestry behind, but you first have to entangle them. You have to separate each thread from the others and see what it is made of before you can weave it back into a splendid work of art.

I don't think there's a single good way to do this. Each writer goes through his own process. This is only mine.

I start with the characters. It helps that most of the time, a character is the first thing I imagine, but even if I have a scene in mind, I start with the charaters. And I ask questions.

Who is this guy? What does he want? Why? Does he have family and friends? Where does he live? How does that shape his personality? Is there something peculiar about his appearance? If this is a scene, how and why did he get here?

Every answer to these questions should bring out more. Often, the setting will influence this character. No, wait, scratch that. Always, the setting will influence your character. If you know your world already, see where it connects with him. If you don't, see what could've shaped your character this way.

Always, ask questions. Pay close attention to the answers, especially the whys. Every time I do this, it's like pulling on a thread in the knot. Yes, some will tighten it and only make the big picture harder to see, but you will find the right thread, and the knot will fall apart.

There are knots along the way, though. Knots in the bigger knots. You'll find you have a beginning and an ending, and key scenes in-between... and yet, there is still that stretch in the story where you don't know what happens.

What do I do? I start with the characters.

How would he go from point A to point B? Isn't there someone that would be opposed to this? Who is that someone? What does he want, and why? Does he have family and friends? Where does he live? How does that shape his personality? Is there something peculiar about his appearance?

And thus a scene is born. I talked about ambitious characters before. This is why I love them.

Ask questions. Give answers. Explain the answers. Unravel the plot knot into threads, and then weave them back together to create your novel.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sharing the Banned Book Love

(I nearly titled this Share the Bad Book Love. That would've been shameful, and I need more coffee.)

This post is part of Tahereh's call for Banned Books review, although I will apologise right away, because this is not a review – not a proper one anyway. I wish I could give one, but I have not read a banned book recently (or any other book, really) and this novel I last read six years ago, as a teenager.

I figured, though, that since I am a storyteller, I should blog about how I fell in love with this story.

Yep, I'm talking about To Kill A Mockingbird, from Harper Lee.

Despite this being an award-winning novel, and often taught in American schools (or so I hear), it is a bit of a miracle it ever reached me. I was 15, a teenager obsessed with fantasy novels, and I went to a French school, as is the norm in a French-speaking province. English classes rarely, as such, presented us with interesting piece of literature. It was hard enough to teach us a new language, they had to make sure they had our interest, and as such they'd often use books we already knew (namely Harry Potter... twice). 

So, yes, I was lucky enough to get an extra-motivated English teacher, not yet discouraged by the lack of interest she received from her students. And she forced us all to read To Kill a Mockingbird, and made sure we did with small tests. As with 99% of school books, most of the class hated it right away.

Heck, even I had trouble at first. I had to get over the southern accent (thank god for dwarf-speak, which gave me a few tips as to what meant what), there were no fast-paced scenes like in my regular fantasy novels, and always thought Scout was being an arrogant know-it-all. Half this book is about kids playing games in summer, and my teenage self wasn't sure she cared. 

I kept reading, though, and not just for class. I kept reading because of the mystery behind, and because when I start a novel, it takes a lot for me to put it down (says a lot about those I never finished...) I started to see the life lessons as I went on, to understand what it was about and what I had to learn. When my friends told me the novel sucked, I answered "Keep reading. There's a story in there, and it means something."

I finished the novel within a week of the handout. I remember telling my teacher I loved it, and I remember her smile (and her surprise.  I bet most of her students don't go that fast). It's a bit hard for me to say why To Kill a Mockingbird became so special for me, but I know I've defended it against friends with a passion before, and I can remember the story better than most other novels.

There were a lot of barriers between To Kill a Mockingbird and me, but this novel breached all of them and touched me. I will never regret the hours spent with it in my hands (and will forever scold myself over the highlighter marks in my copy, when I still couldn't care). 

This novel, like many others, deserve to be read by as many as possible. Censorship should have nothing to do with literature. When I think that others are trying to keep these stories away, to silence the authors that wrote them, I shiver.

Love your Banned Books. Cherish them. But even more importantly, Share Them.