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.