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.