Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Evil Editor.

            There is something a writer must do that I both love and dread.  That is: unleash the evil editor.  I love this part of my writing because it allows me to strengthen my work and enhance its impact.  It lets me evaluate the quality, adjust where I need to, and often get a fresh perspective and new ideas for other scenes.
            I hate it because oftentimes I can’t seem to get anything further done in a piece.  I edit the heck out of things and get depressed over how worthless I’ve made myself feel by hacking into a beloved work, or—as is the case with most of my older stuff—I don’t know where to begin to edit to give it the best facelift.  There are many older scenes in things I dearly love and want to keep, but they feel…silly…either because of the structure or dialogue or some other minor something I’d be embarrassed to show the world.  I’m always anxious about sharing my work publicly, because I don’t know what people will think—of it, or me for writing it.  I already know many people think I’m crazy since I talk to my characters.
            My best friend of nearly 20 years, Ian, told me a few months ago he wants to read Brink.  The man doesn’t have a computer or internet so I can’t easily get it to him, but what he said while we were talking on the phone reminds me of my biggest anxiety—and of how well he knows me.  He told me he wanted to read Brink in part because my writing always has a bit of me in it: something I’ve experienced, something I’m currently going through, people I know in alter-ego form, stuff I’m struggling to cope with, animals I know, something that has “me” in it.  He said growing up he could always tell what I was dealing with, how people or life were treating me, and my outlook on things simply by reading.  Of everyone I know (yes, boyfriend included), Ian possibly understands me the best.  And I think his determination and willingness to read my work has a great deal to do with it.
            That may be why my “evil editor” side is so fierce.  I keep going back over things to try to hide the stuff that, if someone knew me, would stand out as obvious truth about me.  Unintentionally, a lot of my writing turned out to be subliminal therapy.  I grew up hearing from teachers “write what you know.”  I did, and incorporated it into a bit of everything I wrote.
            Because of my tight connections to my work, I hate cutting things out.  But it must be done for the good of the entire piece.  Few people (and I can’t actually think of any off the top of my head) enjoy rambling piece of work.  They want to escape, or be entertained, or both.  To do that, you have to let the editor out.
            I’ve been editing pretty much as long as I’ve been writing.  I do most of it in my head before I ever write anything down; even in college writing classes I rarely went back and changed things once it was put down on paper.  I mulled it over, adjusted it, readjusted, scrapped, spliced, and tweaked everything over and over and over until I was satisfied it was good enough to be written out.  In high school, friends would actually give me their creative writing papers to edit before they were handed in to the teacher for critique.  I was nominated head editor of the book my Novel Writing class published in college, and actually copy edited an international veterinary magazine published by the vet school at Purdue during that time as well.  For me, editing doesn’t take a lot of thought; I literally do it in my sleep with my own stories.  I’m good at it.  I enjoy it.
            Problem is, I’m so hard on my own work I don’t get very far very fast.  I have a lot of partially-done stuff I’m frustrated with because the evil editor side won’t leave well enough alone.
            Enter Brink.  Participating in National Novel Writing Month in November forced me to write and forced me to lock the evil editor in its cage for the span of thirty days (actually, about twenty-eight, in my case; I finished early).  There was so little time to write I couldn’t afford to waste it on editing.  It averaged about seventeen hundred words a day, approximately 6 pages.  I had to do that every day or fall behind.  Fortunately for me, I’m paranoid and a perfectionist, so I averaged about thirty-four hundred a day four or five days a week and took weekends off.  I was overwhelmed by the amount of work I did, and, above that, the quality.  It wasn’t the best I think I can do, but it was far, far above the worst.
            Now that I have a set of goals laid out, the evil editor has reared its head again.  I desperately love my Kavalren story, A New Breed of Warrior, but, given its age, the quality is well below my current ability.  After a good deal of deliberation, I’ve decided I’m scrapping at least one large section in favor of starting over with a stronger point of view.  I like the way it’s going.  The overall storyline will not change, but a lot of other things will to bring it up to preferred quality.  This puts a lot of strain on my one-year goal for it, but there’s still ten months left so it could happen.  It would certainly be rewarding.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A little late for New Year's resolutions, but goals just the same.

Writing Goals:

          Next year (2011):
Finish rework on written parts of A New Breed of Warrior.

Get outline written up for the remainder of A New Breed of Warrior.

Get second part of Brink written.

Participate in National Novel Writing Month, preferably with completion.

Get at least one chapter further written in Sunfall.

          Next two years (2011 and 2012):
                        Finish Brink.

Finish rework on written parts of Kett and Nayisa’s story Immortal: Legends (Immortal Born, Immortal Beginnings, Immortal Blood).

Plot out remaining sections of Immortal: Legends.

Participate in and complete National Novel Writing Month 2011 and 2012.

          Next five years (end of 2015):
                        Finish Immortal: Legends for publication.

Finish A New Breed of Warrior for publication.

Finish Brink for publication.

Finish Sunfall.

Complete 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 National Novel Writing Month challenges (successfully).

Complete some more sections of various other stories (namely Jemspur among the Dragonsword Saga).

Finish off the 100words list.

            They say (whoever “they” are…) that you should try to have short-term and long-term goals.  I sat down today after much thought (I do far too much thinking when I work at the barn and brainstorm while trying to write or convince sleep to come) and wrote out 1, 2, and 5 year goals.  They really look almost overambitious at this point, but I have to start somewhere.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thought Processes of a Writer.

            For a bit of a change I thought I’d give you a little play-by-play of how my thought process works while brainstorming for inspiration.  This is due to a rather productive—and unexpected—train of thought last night.
            I haven’t written anything story-related in at least two weeks (January 25th).  Given this is what I’ve always wanted to have as my career, this is very frustrating and depressing.  I either couldn’t come up with anything to write, or made excuses not to write.
            I was thinking the excuses and lack of inspiration over last night after some personal devotions and prayer (another New Year’s resolution was to get that back on track), talking to my boyfriend over IMer, and watching a Halo walkthrough trying to garner some sort of inspiration, but it was about 1am and I was getting tired from anticipation of having to get up this morning and work at the barn in the cold and mud.  I turned off the lights and shut my computer down after saying goodnight to Dan, threw my cat out (new record for wanting out: less than a second after lights-out), and burrowed into my nest of bedding (including my warm electric blanket).
            What I do as a general habit is, while I try to drift off to sleep (given I’m an insomniac this takes a long time, so I can get a lot of “work” in) is turn my imagination loose and try to envision ongoing scenes to stimulate new pieces of story.  I’ve been doing this since I was little.  Sometimes it results in dreams that become scenes in a particular story I’m trying to write.  Lately, it hasn’t been working.
            Since none of the usual stories I think back over were generating any ideas, my mind began to mull over some of my work I hadn’t touched in a while, and stories I’ve written of very little.  I especially tried to get Kett to talk to me, as I get a lot of my best work from him, but he’s still off somewhere mad about something—I’ve no idea what has him ticked off now.
            Inevitably, when my sci-fi stories don’t generate anything useful, I turn to my fantasy.  Fantasy is easier for me to envision.  It doesn’t feel so restrained by technical or mechanical issues (meaning ship or weapons specs, that sort of thing).  And, as frequently happens, my thoughts went to my Jemspur stories in my Dragonsword Saga work.  I’ve gotten a lot of good stuff from the characters in Jemspur: Firstborn, the story of the Jemspur leader’s firstborn son, Avalan, Mirinia Dragon-Child, and her mercenaries (including Andur).  Andur seems to enjoy talking to me, but even he was quiet last night.  Since Avalan is firstborn, that should clue you into the fact that he has siblings.  He actually has twelve younger brothers and sisters (over the span of at least 100 years; the Creator granted the Jemspur immortality to guard the old fortress Mil’vaac from the Dark One’s attempts at reoccupation after the first war).  Of these, the only other sibling I’ve written any separate story about is his second-born brother, Diomel, also called the Wolfbrother for his affinity with the animals.  And, being a sibling myself (although I’m the elder), I felt a little twinge of guilt that I’ve done less with him than Avalan.  I knew I wanted to redo his story.
            And to do that, I needed to decide where to start.  It was all a matter of choosing just how far back to begin the thing.
            As I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, Diomel is in the same story as my Minotaur and the half-elf orphan girl raised by them: Danthia.  What came to mind as I lay there feeling guilty about the neglect and puzzling over how to rectify it was a deep forest scene where old, partially arthritic Berun of the Minotaur comes across an abandoned baby.  Berun let me feel his emotions shift from surprise, to befuddlement, to outright puzzlement over what to do about a definitely-not-Minotaur infant.  Then I got his determination and resignation as he accepted responsibility and guardianship of her.  He also gave me another, later scene of her as a young child asking him questions, since she’s obviously not Minotaur and is being raised by one.  I was just puzzling out what to make her clothes of when she became adolescent and started to mature, since I don’t think cow-leather would be particularly popular among Berun’s kind.  I didn’t finish that musing.  I fell asleep.
            So as part of my goals today, I’m going to try to get down those scenes (they are actually the prologue), crammed in on top of job search, cleaning my fish tank, finishing up my room, and polishing off the last bit of Halo: Evolutions I so I can start on another book.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Books I'm Currently Reading List.

            Note: These are all either started or high-priority “to read” books.  I have a list of just over 200 books to read or re-read out of my personal library (out of probably close to 2,000…you don’t realize how many you’ve collected over the years until you start counting them!).  I have decided to maintain a running list of 20 books to be read, finished, or re-read.  This is due to my belief in the old adage: readers make better writers.

Halo Evolutions, Volume I                     nearly finished
Halo Evolutions, Volume II                    next in line

Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne              given to me by Dan for Valentine’s Day, prequel to the Dragon Age: Origins game I own, written by the leading game writer so it’s actually storyline correct
Dragon Age: The Calling                       given to me by Dan for Valentine’s Day, prequel to the Dragon Age: Origins game I own, written by the leading game writer so it’s actually storyline correct

Shadow’s Edge                                       Night Angel Trilogy book 2, at least 1/3 read

Empire in Black and Gold                      Shadows of the Apt series 1, at least 1/3 read

Child of a Dead God                              Noble Dead series

The King Beyond the Gate                     Drenai series 2, at least ½ read

Choice of the Cat                                  Vampire Earth series 2

Sojourn                                                 Forgotten Realms Legend of Drizzt 3, over ½ read
The Collected Stories                             Forgotten Realms Legend of Drizzt anthology

The Spy                                                 Isaac Bell series, given to me by Mom for my birthday
Medusa                                                Oregon Files series

Complete Collection of Sherlock Holmes  at least ¾ read

Star Wars: Boba Fett: A Practical Man  Kindle book
Star Wars: Crosscurrent
Star Wars: Knight Errant

On Writing                                           Stephen King’s autobiography, tips to writers, 2/3 read

South China Seas                                  Predator series

Sun in Glory and Other Tales                Valdemar series anthology

Monday, February 7, 2011


            Setting would be a good topic for today.  I guess this is partially inspired by the recent snow and ice we’ve gotten around here.  Setting can be anything from a windowless room to a sprawling city to the open plains and lush forests to the vastness of space, even other dimensions if you’re so inclined.
            As with characters and plot, attention to detail is highly important.  You need to help your readers visualize what you see in your head.  There is such a thing as too much detail, however, and I’ve read authors who fill up pages and pages with setting description (often including history).  Readers tend to skip over these sorts of descriptions.  Keep it simple, but with key visualizations.  Other details you can work in through your characters and even dialogue.  Don’t lump it all into a beginning set of paragraphs.  Spread it out, and clue your readers in subtly.  They’ll get a natural feel for the setting rather than being inundated and overwhelmed at the start of the scene.  Usually the only time that works is if your character is being similarly overwhelmed, as when told from his or her point of view.
The tricky thing is—you do want your readers to use some of their imagination to visualize, too, but you certainly don’t want them to do all the work: this makes a lot of people give up on a book.  A lot of people read to escape; I know I do.  I like stories that engage my imagination, but not ones where my brain hurts trying to comprehend the images I’m being slammed with at the start of a new scene, or wondering if I’m seeing things right when there’s not enough information.  Of the two, I prefer too little.  It’s less restrictive on my imagination.  Sometimes too much feels like the author saying, “You’re too stupid to imagine this for yourself.  I’m going to tell you everything so you don’t get it wrong.”  Sad thing is, the right amount of detail and description can be a very blurry line.  It takes lots of practice to get a feel for the range you want.  I remember writing instructors telling me to do a couple of paragraphs to lay out a setting…it’s very cookie-cutter, and goes against the other big rule of writing you learn: show, don’t tell.
            One thing I do is clue readers into environmental information through my characters’ dialogue and actions.  For example: if it’s a bitterly cold, windy winter setting (like in the part I’m working on in the second book of Brink), I have them wrapping up in cloaks that flap in the breeze, their horses’ manes and tails whipping.  Their breath fogs the air, and they have trouble taking decent breaths because the cold sucks the air from their lungs.  They struggle to walk through ice-crusted snow—it’s mind-draining effort.  Fingers and toes are numb.  Ice frosts eyelashes.  They squint against gusts of snow so sharp it feels like razors against chilly skin.  They’re inwardly grumbling about the conditions, or someone comments on how friggin’ cold it is.  Because of all these clues, I don’t have to say, “They’re caught in a blizzard with no shelter, out on an open plain.  They can’t see further than the backside of the person or animal in front of them.  They’re freezing.  They’re tired.”  The characters are showing the readers for me.  The details are mixed in throughout the scene to establish the setting—not heaped all at the beginning, not outright spoken or written.
            Some set-up at the beginning is okay—don’t get me wrong.  I still do this, especially if it’s a new place to a character, or will be pivotal to him or her in the near future.  I have the character look around with that first-time curiosity, allowing the reader to take stock of the setting through the character’s eyes the same way the character is seeing it.  But even then I still don’t do it all at once and switch to moving the plot forward for the rest of the scene.
            I do want to make sure people reading this blog know I’m not lecturing—this is what I do, and this is how I see these topics given my writing experience, both from being in writing classes and own experimentation as both reader and writer.  I’ve talked with dozens of other writers over the years about what works and doesn’t for each of us, as well as basic structure and unspoken rules.  I just want to share tips from things I’ve experienced, and hope they can help others understand their own writing (or reading) better.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


            The great thing about scenes is they can be pretty much any size, and run anywhere from intense to positively bland.  Some are full of dialogue, others have no words spoken at all.
            When I work on a scene, I’m selective in the words I choose to write it, and very specific in how a character moves, talks, and feels.  I try to look at it, as I said in my last post on dreams, like I’m seeing it as it would be in a movie.  The more detailed and observant I am, the richer and easier-to-see-in-the-mind it is to the people reading.  I guess the technique works; one thing my readers keep telling me is they can really see what I’m describing like it’s real.
            I try to treat scenes as if they’re happening right as I write them.  It keeps images fresh and sharp, and allows me to pick up the extra little intricate details I might miss if I were looking at them like you would a distant memory.  If a character’s telling me something from his or her past, I do this especially, because there’s specific reason they react the way they do to current events and I want to be sure I see why.
            Take Andur, for example (for origin info, see his Character Origin).  His story takes place well before the current one he’s in (Dragonsword Saga: Jemspur: Firstborn), but to understand his and the Dragon-Child’s relationship, you have to know the details of his past.  Granted, I haven’t been told all of his story yet, but enough to get where he’s coming from.
One such scene opened after his first confrontation with the Dragon-Child and a brief flash of memory of it—he recalled fighting an emerald green dragon and losing, which was strange to him since he was demon-possessed and dragons usually present no real challenge.  The scene finds him shackled to a stone wall, surrounded by enemy forces.  The chains are platinum, which is a health hazard to demons in his world, but they’re wrapped so the metal isn’t actually touching him; the chains keep the demon in him in check, but aren’t to hurt him.  It’s cold.  He’s pretty battered.  When Mirinia comes to see him, in her human form, he recognizes her immediately as the dragon he fought.  She offers him a deal: she can heal him and give him his freedom as one of her men, but it must be his choice and he must make the demon leave without her help.  His struggle to do so against a being he’s had living in him for so long, and the fact that the demon is screaming for her blood, yet Mirinia unchains him and stays within striking distance the whole while made it a very intense scene.  It has a lot packed into it for only being about five pages.  There is very little dialogue; I’m not big on a lot of talking, anyway, as words aren’t as effective as actions (a lesson from real life I apply to most of my writing), and it definitely wasn’t needed.
            Another scene I felt effectively portrayed the emotions and mental and physical states of the characters is from my story about Kairis (for origin info, see his Character Origin) and Ryah.  I wrote the piece while struggling with my own tiredness during a move at a retail store where I used to work.  We were forced to work seven days a week, about twelve to fifteen hours a day just so the district manager could beat his store opening record.  It was exhausting and demoralizing.  The piece, which I submitted for my 100words entry “Exhaustion,” portrayed the long escape journey Kairis has to force Ryah into for them to avoid recapture.  The full scene is about fourteen pages long, packed with the language and imagery that makes it feel like I’m on the journey with them, sharing the misery and ever-present fear of being found.
            Then there’s the scene from my Kavalren series (my science-fiction series) where Immortal Aral Kett repays an informant for his betrayal.  The scene is barely a page long, but that’s exactly long enough for Kett’s stripped-down, sharp-edged style.
            When doing scenes, I often use things I’ve experienced (or know people who have), as well as use stuff from dreams, along with what the characters tell me.  Using personal experience—granted, it usually needs to be modified to work, but you can use the theme of it (such as a friend’s betrayal or the exhaustion from work) or the actual event (like playing Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo GameCube with friends on a typical buddy night) in some form or other.  It gives realism, authenticity, and believability to your work.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Inspiration: Dreams.

            I don’t know about a lot of writers, but I get a lot of ideas, characters, scenes, and even complete stories from stuff I dream.  My brain never seems to go into stand-by or sleep mode.  It continues to mull things over and work on ideas even when my body checks out for the night, so most of my dreams are as vivid and cohesive as movies or video games.  This is also true for my daydream moments.
            I suppose part of the reason is during my awake-time I think of my scenes in the terms: if my book was someday turned into a movie, how would I like it to look?  I tackle many of my scenes—especially fight scenes—this way.  It’s also why I usually take the position of an omniscient narrator.  That way I can freeze-frame something and examine it from all angles to see how I want to describe it rather than having a fixed viewpoint through a single character.
            Dreams can be a great source of inspiration.  Though for many people they seem like utter nonsense, there are elements that can be utilized—such as a strong emotion someone feels, or a line someone says.  Sometimes it’s the outfits people are wearing, or weapons they use, food they eat, or history they have.  Even plot, twisted though dreams can make it, can be adopted and adapted to suit a story.
            One such story for me is a newer one, called Sunfall, which I was working on up until November of ’09 with my friend Megan.  The prologue was what I had gotten from a dream: a strangely empty battlefield on which our hero awakens wondering why he’s alive and it looks like no fight has taken place even though he was just in it.  There are no bodies, no spent weapons, no blast craters, no smell of blood or ozone.  Just a haunting silence and emptiness.  He is badly injured, injuries he knows happened during the fight.  He manages to find a single other person—a woman—in a bizarre state: she is lying unharmed within a massive charred circle, which is the only damage he’s seen in his search.  I used his confusion, fear, and desperation—all of which were very powerful in the dream.
            Some dreams I cannibalize what I can.  The visceral fear of some unknown hunting me, a hand-to-hand blade fight scene, gentle, heartfelt words spoken by a character to one they love, the appearance of a mysterious figure at a distance that to some means terror, but to others means salvation—all of those things can be used to better my work.
            Another set of stories inspired by my dreams are found in my Dragonsword Saga series: the Jemspur.  They were partially inspired by the artwork on the cover of Shadow Moon, the first book of a trilogy set after George Lucas’s Willow, but the stories came about in dreams.