I want to hear from you! (Not a survey, trust me.)

So the whole thing about this blog is that I'm an amateur. I don't know what I'm doing. Like all writers, I'm feeling my way in the blackness, hoping I don't find a ginger waiting for me in the shadows. I have done a massive amount of studying and research into techniques and advice, but that all comes to nothing if I can't apply it. This, I believe, is something every writer struggles with.

I want to make it obvious (if it isn't already) that I hope to spark conversations and the trading of ideas with this website. I want to hear from you, about your writing, about my writing, with advice and experiences. I want you to tell your friends to come visit me, especially the writer ones.

It's important to network and find other's that share a passion with your own interests. I encourage you to take a look at the other blogs I follow, and read the excellent posts from those writers. And speak up!

The excitement of a new book, and how I learned from the last one.

So I briefly posted that I was moving on from The Sometimes Sword, and I wanted to kind of dig in deeper and explain what I'm doing now.

After an initial decision to leave TSS as a stepping stone and nothing more, I have now amended my way of thinking, and decided to leave it as a work in progress for now, to be picked up at a later (much later) date. Right now I need to focus on improving my craft, and while useful, editing an old story isn't working toward that end.

So I've decided to start a new book, this time in a different way. In the post about My Beginnings, I talked about how I started TSS with absolutely no world building or character development. That was the direct opposite to my first work where I world-builded the crap out of it (and that failed horribly). With this book, I am seeking a balance between the two methods. I want to have a more engaging plot and conflict, along with a more detailed and fleshed out world. This requires some basic world-details and plotting before hand. However, just as with TSS, I want the focus to be character and I will continue to steer toward that. Another important point is that of Discovery with a capital "d". I find that if I world-build too much, I lose my own sense of excitement and discovery as I write and garden the book. So yeah, that's something to keep in mind also.

Really, I want this post to be aimed at what TSS did for me as a writer, and what I can take away from it. I won't go into the specific details, but I want to highlight the process I used to make sure I learned all I could from it.

First, I wrote down a list of fundamental flaws withing TSS. (I used a giant 24x16 whiteboard. I have three of them, and seriously, they are so useful.) Then I had Becky and my alpha readers Travis and Robyn write up a list on another board, this time with everything that was good in the book.

Once I had both lists hanging on the wall, Becky and I went through them and defined the underlying issues/successes of each. I transferred them to a computer document and began to explore the methods of fixing/achieving each. This way, I essentially made a writer's guide for myself, allowing me to build a better book the next time around.

I'm in the middle of some foundational world building, and hopefully at the start of next week I'll begin writing the first draft. I'm excited to start this new project, and hopefully I'll experience the same level of improvement as I did when I first started TSS.

What are you working on right now?

I can't believe I'm doing this....

I have come to the incredibly painful conclusion that it is time for "The Sometimes Sword" and I to part ways. It has been an amazing several months, and I have pinned a lot of hopes and countless hours on this book. However, I have come to the realization that despite my best efforts, "The Sometimes Sword" is at best a step on my journey, and nothing more.


I will continue to write, and as I type this, I am concocting the beginnings of another book, one that will hopefully incorporate all that was good in "The Sometimes Sword", and none of the bad. To be honest, I'm feeling pretty emotional about it, and saying goodbye to these characters will be incredibly difficult to say the least. But, I have to be realistic, and if I ever want to be read by real audiences, I can't cling to something that is fundamentally flawed.


And so I say goodbye to you, Sometimes Sword, you will always remain with me, my first book, my first success, and hopefully not the last. Thank you for teaching me how to be a better writer.


Chale and Astrid, thank you for being my friends.

Romance. (And what the crap is my problem?)

I'm frustrated with myself. This last week has been horrible (and not in a complain-y kind of way, it's been my own fault). I feel like my life has been falling apart, and I've been letting it. I don't want to repeat too much from previous posts, but Writer's Depression and plain-old laziness have been beating me over the head. I've spent entirely too much time with our new computer and video games, or watching Netflix mindlessly. I haven't followed through with my goals, and it feels awful.


It's hard to shake off the shackles of self-doubt and complacency. I need to remember what I really want in life, and do what needs to be done to attain it. I will never get a book published if I don't stick to it. I won't succeed in college if I don't work at it. Both school and writing are hard, and I'll admit that I don't like to do hard things, but the end-result is well worth the journey. I just need to keep reminding myself of that. Enough on that. I think I may write a little bit about romance today.


Too young for romance?
Romance is something that you will find in most books on some level. I don't mind reading romantic sub-plots within a larger vessel, but when it overwhelms the rest of the story, that's when I gag just a little. I think many fantasy books strike a good balance with some exceptions. (I'm looking at you Terry Goodkind. And no, I don't consider Twilight to be fantasy, so let's just ignore that completely.)


When I first decided to write, I knew there would have to be some kind of romance, though I didn't relish the thought of actually writing it. My first book was to feature a female protagonist, and I was a little wary of writing romance from a girl's perspective. As you might know, that book never made it past the first third, and the actual romance was never written. In "The Sometimes Sword" I also knew I had to have some kind of love story (Becky was quick to remind me how much she liked that sort of thing), but I didn't want to have anything mushy. I was going to be writing young teen protagonists after all. So from the get-go, I knew I had to find that balance in a way that would seem natural, satisfy my readers, and at the same time, not make me want to puke while I was writing it. (You may begin to see a pattern here. I don't like the mushy stuff.)


The first order of business was easy: who is going to be romantic with who? My male and female protagonists were the obvious answer. However, their ages were slightly problematic. Though I started out with my male protagonist as age 12, he quickly moved to age 17, and so did my female protagonist. 17 is a better age to introduce love, but still quite young. So I thought back to when I was in high school, and realized that kids that age do "fall in love", it's just different from adult love, almost... unpracticed.


From there I decided to keep things light, maybe highlighting some of the awkward things two kids shoved together think about as they realize they like each other. I had so many books to use as bad examples (see: Twilight) and several as good examples, such as Fablehaven and Harry Potter. Young people can fall in love, but they don't need to be obvious about it, they don't need to have sex, they don't even need to kiss their love interest right off the bat.


It was important to me at the very beginning to have potential readers of the target age have realistic and healthy relationships displayed to them. Now, I have no delusions that anything I write will ever be read by anyone, just hopes that it will. If not this book, then one in the future, and it makes sense to start good writing habits now.


I'll admit, since the start of the book, the importance of the "love story" within has grown, but it's still muted, and stays within proper age limits. The goal is to remain well-rounded, and just like with character and plot, romance is an important focus as well.

See that little progress bar? (And a bit about excuses)

I'm going to begin tracking my progress through "The Sometimes Sword" third draft here on this blog. It might be kind of (horribly) innacurate to begin with as I figure out how to break the work into percentages, but hopefully it will assist in keeping me motivated.


Yesterday was supposed to be the third day of significant progress in the 3rd draft, but unfortunately the evening didn't turn out as I planned. First off, I neglected to actually schedule a particular chunk of work on my calendar (I myself am surprised at how much a difference this makes). That alone shouldn't have really stopped me, but then a few other things popped up. But first, some back story.


On Tuesday the 20th, my World of Warcraft account was hacked. What this means is that a person or persons unknown gained access to my password by means of a keylogger program (malicious software that records keystrokes such as passwords and usernames). They were then able to log onto my game from somewhere (China most likely) and steal my character's gold and gear, which they then sell on the internet for real-world money. 


Keep in mind this isn't Call of Duty. I have developed these characters over the course of two years, and starting over isn't really an option for me. So the thought of losing them is really, really sucky. This is a relatively common occurrence for World of Warcraft subscribers, as it is a very popular game, and the demand for easy (illegal) access to in-game gold has become a multi-billion dollar industry world wide. There is a process for recovering lost items and characters, but it takes a while. Anyway, the whole process of getting this fixed and receiving my in-game property back is still in the works (not without hiccups), and it's been a huge stress.


This all leads to the biggest reason I didn't write yesterday. Above I mentioned keyloggers. The scary thing is that World of Warcraft isn't the only thing they can hack. Anything I log onto can be recorded by a keylogger without me ever knowing: online banking, email, college records, tax records, etc. Now, Macs (the kind of computer I use) are a bit less susceptible to attacks from malicious software than Windows based PCs, but it still happens. The thing is, there aren't as many ways to clean Macs off (and as any tech savvy person knows, anti-virus software can be almost as bad as the viruses they are supposed to prevent), so I decided to perform a complete OS (operating system) restoration. This means that I had to back everything on my hard drive up (about 650 gigs worth of music, photos, and most importantly, documents for my books) which took 5.5 hours. Then wipe the system clean, and re-install the OS once more. (This was actually kinda nice, if annoying, as my system had slowed down a lot over the last 2 years, and it needed to be cleaned anyway, but still....)


I won't bore you with all the details of re-installing the OS, but the bottom line is that I was up way too late copying files over by hand onto my (practically) new computer. In the long run, it will be nice to have a fresh slate to work on my computer with, but I admit I obsessed over it too much (watching progress bars do their thing for a half hour at a time, etc.) 


So tonight I have extra work to do in order to catch up, and hopefully I'll even go above and beyond, and really get some nitty-gritty stuff taken care of in my book. When it comes down to it, I regret having made the excuse (even though it was important).


What about you? What excuses do you make for not writing, and how do you think you'll overcome them?


.

No post today. (Okay, no REAL post today.)

Homework and computer issues are sucking up my time. Hope to get a nice juicy post for tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by anyway!

A quick update.

So I just finished a 5 page scene that has been needing to be written for over a month. I admit that I left it blocked out with a placeholder line, [Chale and Astrid's Reconciliation] in the finished second draft. Kind of a cop out, I know, but it's finished now, and it's a relief.


It was a little difficult sitting down at first, but I put in a two hour block on my calendar, and there it was in front of my face. I had to obey. It didn't take the whole two hours so I spent a little time cleaning up some of the climax. Feels good to be back doing work on it. Tomorrow I'll spend a similar amount of time, probably writing a few pages of revised material throughout the first 3 chapters.

Getting back that writing "spark".

Like I said in yesterday's post, I really need to get back to work on my book. I think I need to start another set of short term goals and perhaps a daily work requirement. It's been long enough that I'm a tad scared that I lost the spark (by "long" I mean it has been a month since college started, and my editing time has been severely limited).


True, there have been times when I have had... well, time, but something always holds me back. Part of it is Writer's Depression, but mostly I think I may be burned out on that particular story. I've tried to begin new books in the meantime, with little success. (One of them might still be written someday because of a pretty fun setting, but all I could think of while I wrote in it was The Sometimes Sword.) It's a dilemma, for sure.


I'm starting to think that I need to do what I had to do when writing the first draft: knuckle down and get over it. I can't afford to let writing become less a part of me. I need that spark back, and sometimes that takes work. Painful, painful work.


So tonight I begin again in earnest. My goal is a final draft ready for submission by the end of the year. I will make this happen, and I will not give up until I have at least fifty rejection letters. Less would be fine by me. So what if this is only my second real attempt at a book. No author's story is the same, and I plan to go all out!


What about you? What are your short-term writing goals?

Time to get back to "The Sometimes Sword".

So like I said in a previous post, it's been a while since I did anything meaningful in my book. With college, a blog (yeah, I know), and the odd video game, my free time has been too full. So out goes the video games (except maybe the weekends), and I think I'll cut my blog posts down to one every other day or so.


On another note, Writing Excuses had an excellent cast today. Recorded at Worldcon, they had a transsexual (female to male) author on as a guest to talk about gender roles, specifically in fantasy. It was actually pretty interesting, and I found some things that I'd like to modify about my own work. Take a listen.


Tomorrow I will try to make a full post, subject unknown. Do you have anything you want to talk about?

A bit about my book "The Sometimes Sword".

I still find it a bit awkward to say that I have a "book". It is indeed a book, and not having been published doesn't lessen that at all. However, like I explained in my post about writers being ashamed or writing, I have some reservations in saying the actual word to people. But hey, what the heck, I have a book dang it!

That aside, I thought I might relate some experiences and thoughts about my own process and experiences writing it. As some of you may know, I began writing it earlier this year, sometime in April or May. My goal was to complete the first draft in one month, just in time for college to start. I was, of course, insane. But it ended up working out. 

I don't want to repeat myself from other posts, but I do want to put out there that goals and schedules made it possible. What do I mean? Let me explain (don't worry, it'll be brief). When I started my first book, I had no set structure or short term writing goals (such as: so many words per day, or finish this scene by tomorrow, etc). With "The Sometimes Sword" I made a point of doing so, specifically 5 pages were to be completed per weekday, and 10 per day on the weekend. It was the only thing that got me to finish the first draft. In other words, it was all-important to me. I only missed two days, but seeing as I was sometimes writing 30 pages per day on the weekends, it all worked out.

Moving on, I want to lay out some of the problems I came up against, and how I found solutions to them (and if I didn't, feel free to give me some advice).

1. Character
There were many advantages to starting out blind, with no world-building or outlining to speak of (see my posts about Setting and Character). But there were also disadvantages, one of which was character development. I started out with a name, and a vague sense of personality. That was it. While this gave me freedom to go any direction I wanted as I wrote, it also made the process a little messy. For instance: my main character started out at 12 years old, but by the third chapter, I was writing him as a 17 year old. And my alpha readers could tell that he was getting older in my brain without me ever telling them. That required a bit of revising (which is a frustrating use of my time). It ended up working out, and the character is much better suited to the story at 17 years old.

Another problem was personality and quirks. All of my characters were written on the spot, as I needed them. Some never had much of an issue; there are three side-characters that developed strong, recognizable personalities from the get-go (not that there wasn't occasional need for tweaks). Unfortunately, my two protagonists (a teenage boy and girl) started out a little bland. They had no quirks to speak of, no voice, and no especially strong feelings about anything. This wasn't an insurmountable problem, but it did take a lot of time and extra material written to straighten out (on a side note, I'm glad it turned out this way, otherwise I might never have written several rather nice scenes. So it's not all bad).

My main focus was the addition of quirks and thoughts. I had struggled with quirks for a long time, scared to over do it: "Marion flipped her hair in annoyance," or, "Halmul's eye twitched before he could complete the lie". These aren't truly horrible, but if they become the one thing you identify your character by, your readers will quickly become annoyed. That being said, don't be afraid to explore natural reactions and quirks your character might have. It's a work in progress for me, and will continue to be so until the last draft is finished. Character thoughts, for me, are a great tool, one I wish I had utilized more from the start. Using italicized thought "bubbles" (not really a bubble, but an actual thought they have in their head, similar to a comic strip character's thought bubble) in the text allow you to get right into the character's head, and allows for direct communication of voice. I'm still in the process of adding a lot of thoughts into the individual character's point of view.

One smaller problem I ran across with character was last names. My world has surnames as part of their culture, but my characters don't. It was a simple, but frustrating oversight. I have yet to introduce a surname for my male protagonist.

2. Setting
I had always wanted a simple setting for this book, one that would make the reader feel comfortable. I didn't want complicated political plots or intricate religious dogma. I wanted to use terms like "The City" or "The King's Road". Now, I have nothing against broad worlds with insanely developed cultures and inhabitants (in fact, my favorite series The Wheel of Time is full of that stuff). But it wasn't for me, at least not yet. I feel like it has helped me stay a bit more focused on plot and character. At the same time, it also made it a bit difficult for my alpha readers to orient themselves within the world. As a result I began adding more details, gave some things actual names and so on. It still feels simple, but now it's a bit more fleshed out. Don't be afraid to adjust your original vision sometimes.

One more thing about Setting. In the wish to write simple descriptions, I feel like I might have gone too far, and left out a lot of opportunities to beautify my world. I regret that a small bit, but it's nothing I need to go back and redo.

3. Plot 
Holy crap Plot. The bane of my existence (no wait, that's editing). I've always had ideas for great beginnings, and sometimes good endings, but middles... middles are the bane of my existence. Okay, enough with that phrase. My default go-to plot is the travel log. Such as: protagonist has something bad happen to them, so they have to travel somewhere to fix it. Stuff happens in the mean time. That's pretty standard right? (And just to be clear, I think I pulled it off well enough in "The Sometimes Sword".) Just find some crap to do to them on the way. Well, it's not so easy as that. I found myself writing things in that had nothing to do with the overall plot. See, there's nothing wrong with events happening to make things hard for your character (see my post on writing dark fiction) or establish your world, but they should also serve a purpose in moving the story forward. I'm still trying to revise large chunks to make them fit the story arc better.

Watching the curve of your plot can be really hard to do. The book itself is too big to really see the whole thing in my mind's eye. It's something I still need to watch.

4. Dialogue
This is one thing that I am completely willing to admit is my weak spot. I can get it right after a while, but when my first draft was finished... it was bad. Let me tell you. I have to keep reminding myself that dialogue needs to sound natural, that I can't just dump info every time a character opens their mouth (sometimes called maid-and-butlering, look it up on Writing Excuses for more info). My dialogue tends to follow this format: Person 1 asks question, Person 2 answers. Person 3 asks for clarification, Person 4 gives clarification. Ugh. It's horrible, and I want to scratch my eyes out when I read it. Only after careful examination can I fix each conversation.

This is my intended fix: once all the other problems are fixed with plot, setting, and character, I'm going to sit down with my wife and alpha readers and have them read the dialogue like a play. I'll listen quietly and type revisions furiously as all the awkward crap floats to the surface. I'm actually looking forward to it.

5. Voice
I still feel a bit in the dark about this one. Voice is almost an ethereal, unattainable quality to me. It's the thing that makes a writer instantly recognizable just from reading their work. Some might call it the writer's style. It's something I know will come with practice, and some might say it already exists in "The Sometimes Sword", but I have my doubts. For now, I don't have much advice to give, as I myself need some.


So there are some of the things I have struggled with in my book. They certainly aren't all of them, and I might continue on with a few more in the future. What about you? What mountains have you come across in your writing, and what are you doing to surmount them?

Discovering Setting.

I'm unashamedly fond of the stereotypical fantasy setting: a pseudo middle-earth/medieval land ruled by kings and fought over by powerful magics. It just works for me. It's where I live inside my own head, and it's where I want my characters to live (I may be a bit guilty of reverse Mary-Sue-ism). A lot of people moan and complain about it, that it's overused, boring, or an unimaginative rip-off of Tolkien. Some of this may be true, but I would argue that there is also plenty of great fantasy out there that doesn't follow this formula. So much of it in fact, that I am surprised these complainers haven't tripped on it on their way to the forums (lame joke, I know). This is a problem to me: a bunch of loud-mouthed minority opinions that step on aspiring writer's dreams of writing the fiction they love.

Why should you ignore it? Because you are free to do as you wish, and there will always be enough readers to go around. But this isn't what I want to discuss. I want to explore the many options we have as writers in creating the world our characters live in. After all, you are the god of your story. Your word is law. Just make sure it's good stuff.

A lot of people start with setting, before anything else. And there's nothing wrong with that. Some major-hitting authors (I can't remember which at the moment, it might have been Orson Scott Card) have gone on record as saying they start with nothing but a map, then build everything else from there. There is no right or wrong (I personally start with a character first). Culture, politics, magic systems, and geography all have a part in Setting, so be thinking about all those things as you read on.

So you have this vague idea. Maybe its an image that struck you of a misty bridge built between clouds, or an Inn's warm kitchen set in a forest. Perhaps it's a smell that exists only in your head: the salty smell of a calm beach or the char-choked air of a burned-out city. The smallest things can spark a setting, you just have to build on that spark... or maybe a better analogy would be: fan that spark into roaring flames. Whatever.

It's sometimes difficult to explain the process of world building from a tiny idea, it happens extremely fast in my own head, and I'm sure most of you know what I mean. It's a process of exploring the surroundings of that calm beach from above, asking where it exists, why is it there. Are there people about? What do they do? The key is to ask questions of yourself. Then it's your job to make up the answers. To me, this process is incredibly enjoyable. It's pure make-believe and creation. Allow yourself to go wild, no holds barred. If you start out big and crazy, it's easy to reel yourself back in if need be, however, starting out too small and conservative can be troublesome. So explore those dusty corners of your brain, think back to when you were a kid and that one book about talking animals made you crazy (or whatever did the same for you). Why did it stick with you for so long? Use that feeling it gave you and run with it, making your own world in the process.

A word of caution that I had to learn the hard way: make sure everything makes sense. Your readers are willing to suspend their disbelief, but only so far. If you have floating pink mush balls for characters that live in someone's lower intestine, make sure every other detail fits with that. Don't break the illusion. It's hard to coordinate all the facts, so make a list, or write a small history book entry for your world. Use time lines or cork boards and note cards, whatever you are comfortable with. Don't be afraid to write pages of world-building.

On the other hand, don't. It works both ways. On my second book (after giving up the first one as a bad job) I went into it with the express intent to not do any world building. Any details were to come about in the actual pages. My goal was to put all my creative effort into the book itself, and not draw maps or make index entries for characters. And you know, it worked pretty well. I actually finished the first draft this time, in less than a month. This may not work for you, but don't be afraid to experiment.

In conclusion, there is no right or wrong way, just results. Find what works best for you, and do it. And have FUN.

Becky wrote a short story yesterday.

Becky (my wife) took my challenge to write a short horror story. It was the first time she has ever tried to write fiction, and I'm excited to see if she continues on. What about you? Will you take my challenge?

Writer's Depression is worse than Writer's Block.

So today was supposed to be a post about Setting, and it might still be, but first I want to relate some thoughts about depression. Now, when I say "depression", I'm not talking about the generic kind you take a pill for (though they share a lot of similarities). What I really mean is the feeling of worthlessness (also known as "suckiness") that many (all) writers worth their salt feel at some point.


In fact, it's the very thing I'm battling with with at the moment. It has been several weeks since I did anything meaningful in my book, and it feels horrible.

Everyone has heard of Writer's Block (when a writer sits down to write and simply can't. It may be lack of ideas or something else unknown even to them). Sometimes it's so hard to get past that writers go days or weeks without writing anything. Writer's Depression is similar, but I think it deserves its own category.

You see, Writer's Depression isn't a lack of ideas, or a bad plot, in fact it may be the opposite. The writer's brain may be brimming with ideas, overflowing into his eyes like greasy sweat. But a million ideas do no good if they seem to have no merit. There come times when you look at your work and all you see is crap. Vomited-up bilge from a sea monster that just ate Justin Bieber. It's literally painful to read what you had done at times like this. You can't help but believe that it's all swill, unworthy to be read by the meanest high school jock. There seems to be a physical force holding you back from placing fingers to the keyboard, and a mental revulsion to looking at the screen.

This can come about from many sources. Some people may be learning to write faster than they can actually, you know, write. They look at the last two chapters and cringe, because they've already surpassed their skill from a week ago. (Yes, this actually happens.) Others may know something is wrong with their story, but not be able to diagnose it. This is especially frustrating, and very easy to become overwhelmed by. Sometimes your plot and scenes (even simple ones) become tangled up so thoroughly in your brain that you just want to throw it all away, then burn the dumpster. Sometimes it's the result of what someone else says (this is especially dangerous). If you have others reading your work (such as a writing group or alpha readers) it can be very easy to let their usually well-intentioned critiques bury deep in your heart like poison-tipped arrows. The most innocent remark about pacing, dialogue, or even your writing's voice can make you want to retreat into your shell and block out the world, because you know, everyone's a bunch of ass-hats. You put yourself into what you wrote dang it, and when your readers inspected it, they found it lacking (those jerks). (This is not the way it should be, but sometimes it is, despite our most logical effort. Remember that your work is not you, and it's not your baby. It is a flawed manuscript that you are responsible for improving. It's hard to see it that way, I know.)

There is no easy way around it, no magical potion to wash away the shame of Writer's Depression. There is a nearly physical pain sometimes in powering through it, and heaps of mental agony. I'm not exaggerating one bit, believe me. It can be worse for those that already have a tendency to get "down" about things in the first place (like me). The only solution is to keep on, persevere, and never give up.The pain of doing so is what separates us from the hipster in a scarf at the coffee shop. Said hipster feels nothing but self-congratulation at the amazing work he will produce, and thus does nothing to learn and improve himself. On the other hand, we who experience Writer's Depression can't go on without re-evaluating ourselves and what we produce. This does eventually lead to higher-quality work.

In conclusion, I suppose my point is this: you aren't alone with your thoughts of word-genocide. As much crap as you think your story is, it probably isn't. Don't kill it, but strive to improve it, and keep your head above water. Sometimes you need to take a break, walk away for a few days, or work on something else like a blog (aha, insight!). You'll come back refreshed, ready to cut the crap out, and write better stuff in.

So you want to begin writing, but don't know where to begin? (Part One: Character)

At some point, you just gotta realize what you want. More than that, you need to accept it (as my brother once told me). Some people want to draw comics, others want to paint, some people want to be in a band, and some people want to write. Obviously it's the latter I want to talk about; all you people out there who have a story to tell, even if you don't know it. I'm talking about all you who spend hours day-dreaming about the book you just read, or the people who can't play an rpg without filling their heads with character back story (among other things).


With this post I hope to answer some questions you might have, not just about how you should do things, but if the way you're already doing things is correct. When I first started, it wasn't like I had no idea what I was doing, I was simply in the dark as to the best way to do things (you'll find that there are no right or wrong ways generally). I hope to smooth out some of those worries and most of all, get you started in the wonderful world of writing.

I don't claim to be an expert, but here are some things that I wish I had known when I first started:


Character
To me, it's important to begin with character. The best stories are about people, and what they do, not what's done to them. Writers often spend a lot of time obsessing over this part of the writing process, and for good reason. Your main characters are important in establishing your voice, or the tone your writing will (hopefully) make your work instantly recognizable.


When I started The Sometimes Sword (my novel-in-progress), I had an archetype in mind (ie: the Sage Wizard, the Farmboy, the Evil Overlord, etc.) that I wanted to write about and that was it. I didn't even have a name. So for me, discovering the type of character (see above) was the first order of business. You have to decide who you want to write about. A lot goes into considering this. How many times has the Farmboy been featured? Star Wars (Luke Skywalker), The Lord of the Rings (Frodo Baggins), Arabian Nights (Aladdin), and many others. Its the rags-to-riches, young-hero-saves-the-day story, and we love that stuff. But is it what you want to write about? (For me, it was).


What about the Sage Wizard? This one is almost as easy to list. Star Wars again (Obi-Wan), The Lord of the Rings (Gandalf the Grey, and later White), The Sword of Truth (Zedd), The Prydain Chronicles (Dalben the Enchanter), and so on. While this archetype makes a good side character, feel free to make it your protagonist. There are no rules, just don't copy and paste. Remember, an archetype is one thing, a cliche is another. (Writing Excuses does an excellent job of defining the difference.)


We all know what the Evil Overlord is. Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, Darken Rahl from The Sword of Truth, and many, many others. He is the quintessential bad guy that ruins the protagonist's life and threatens the world or universe or whatever. Very hard to write from their point of view, but feel free to try. The worst that can happen is failure. Really. It's all a learning experience.


There are others (spend some time learning about them), all wonderful types to form your character from. Pick one that resonates with you and find what is unique about your Farmboy (or whatever you happen to choose). You will never write a completely original character, but that's not the point. Just like real people, characters follow certain traits and sometimes stereotypes. It's okay. Just make sure he/she doesn't blend into the crowd.


That brings me to another point, a quick one. Don't be afraid to write the opposite gender, of that's what you want. My first book attempt featured a female protagonist, and though rocky at first, it wasn't as hard as I had thought. My current book shares time equally between a male and female character, and (I've been told) that it works just fine. Go for it. You might just find that you understand more about the opposite gender than you thought.


Moving on to one of my favorite parts of starting a character: names. It doesn't matter. Seriously.


Okay, okay, I'll talk about it. I really do enjoy picking names. It's like having a baby, without the messy diapers and nine months of vomiting. Names help us connect to the person that is the character. It gives them identity. Feel free to experiment and go wild. Have fun. Just try not to obsess over it. Chances are (very high) that you will end up changing even the main character's name. I've done it several times across both books. It happens. Keep in mind also, that you want the reader to be able to recognize the names in your work, and try to keep the apostrophes to a minimum (in my opinion). Another thing to consider is the culture your character is based in (culture is another thing entirely, one I will try to touch on in a later post). If you have a seafaring culture, consider some nautical sounding names, or if your protagonist lives underground, perhaps they have earthy, rocky names. You can't really go wrong, but you can be more right.


One more note on names. If your culture uses surnames, try to think of them before you get 30k words in (just a bit of advice from experience).


Another thing I want to talk about is quirks. I'm sure you have all heard the term, and unfortunately sometimes we get the wrong idea. A quirk doesn't have to be a nervous tick that you mention every other sentence (in fact, please don't). It can be anything that sets your character apart, that makes him instantly identifiable. It could be the way a soldier touches the hilt of his sword, or the way a girl tosses her hair (this one can be overused also, so be careful). Quirks make your characters more human (or elvish, whatever), and while some may be subtle, your reader will pick up on them.


To sum this all up, feel free to start your writing project with a character. Feel free to name them, and spend time doing it. Be aware of what archetype you are writing into, and make them real (remember, unique is impossible). Focus your story on character, and you won't go wrong.


Tomorrow's post will be about Setting. Which I am looking forward to.

You are going to write a short horror story.

Write a short story with some element of horror/thriller in it. It can be any length, any subject. If you want to, I'll even post it on this site, under its own page. I'll be doing one of my own, and think it will be fun. I'm always willing and happy to chat with you if you have any questions. Have at it!

My Halloween mood is starting up early this year.

Every year I get an itch between my shoulder blades, usually around the first of October or so. Halloween is coming soon by that point, and my brain gets filled with thoughts of pumpkins and little plastic witches hung from doorways. Its like Christmas for me. 

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas like no other, but Halloween just has this... feeling to it. It's a million things rolled into one: the sharp scent of fall in the air, the sound of red and yellow leaves skittering across the sidewalk, the haze of cinnamon and nutmeg streaming from cookies and bread. Ok, most of that is just Fall stuff, but it's also the smell of old latex and fake blood, not to mention the musty smell of fog machines. Every where you go you can hear the cheesily recorded wails of plastic ghosts and ghouls, or see the flashing red lights of a novelty skull's eyes. Haunted houses, black and orange decorations, and Halloween costumes carry their own distinctive smells and sights, all of which combine to form the feelings I get at Halloween time.

Why writers are ashamed of writing (and why they shouldn't be).

Close your eyes and pay attention to the first thing that pops into your head when I say, "writer". Ok, so some of you might have seen Stephen King's ugly mug, or maybe the dude from the movie "Misery".


Blink that away and try again, cause that's not what I'm going for. This time, think about "aspiring writer". Ah, there we go. What did you see? Most likely some kid with a mustache and a Macbook in a coffee shop. In other words, a hipster with delusions of grandeur, out to write the next "War and Peace".

Testing out the new Blogger app.

Hm. Doesn't have landscape functionality. That's no good.

Why I find enjoyment in writing dark fiction.

"The Sometimes Sword" isn't dark. At least, on the whole it isn't. There are dark elements for sure, even some scenes that might deserve a "thriller" tag (my first, unfinished book has a great many dark scenes, and lots of violence). But as far as YA goes,

What I'm currently working on (a continuation to the post about my beginnings).

Back in mid-April I was struggling with a 75k-word behemoth of a book that was only a third of the way through. I had been working in it for over a year, and knew I was floundering in a sea of details and plot points. I needed a change.

Some thoughts about why I (and you) write. And maybe some advice. Why should you listen to me? Dunno.

To me, the natural result of reading is dreaming (and we should all be reading. Seriously, pick up a dang book), dreaming about all the things that a good story sparks in your brain. A truly great book (and subsequently, author) can completely satisfy in the way of it's own content, but at the same time, create a desperate need in the reader to experience more.



This sometimes leads to reading more books (go ahead, pick up another one dang it!), and sometimes it stays in your brain, torturing you at night as you think about that perfect little hobbit hole you just read about, or the two mile-high bridge built in the clouds from that one book.

This is the work of your imagination, something every person should be as familiar with. You should be as close to your imagination as your privates are to your underpants. Seriously, exercise it every chance you get (your imagination that is). There is something so wonderful about our ability to rise above our current surroundings and find a new world in our own brains. We are a creative species; it is only natural.

For years I would do just as I described above, lay awake at night in bed, thinking about the Redwall book I just read, thinking about running with The Long Patrol, or walking calmly through Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings. The things that came from wonderful authors such as Tolkien, Jordan, and Rowling ignited my heart and mind.

At some point you, like me, might find the day dreams too persistent (and dare I say, unfulfilling?) to simply pick up another book in an attempt to satisfy your need (sounds a little like a coke habit doesn't it? But I have a feeling that most of you know what I'm talking about). One day the itch to write down or sketch (for those of you who were wondering, yes, many writers start with a dinky little map doodled on a napkin) out an idea drives your sweaty palms to the paper (or keyboard for you who were born post 1990).

Most of us fail horribly and embarrassingly at our first attempts, as awkward as a freckle-faced ginger at his first high school dance. The words flop from our fingers like a trout that thinks it can stroll up the bank. Perhaps the travesty-on-paper survives for a day or so, or like the trout above that won't die, some may even last creepily into weeks. Don't be afraid. Bash it's head in with a stick. Go for it. Then cast your line and try to catch another. (Am I taking the trout analogy too far?)

The worst thing you can do is give up (well, worst after not starting at all). Seriously, quitting is for losers. If the first ugly step-child you put on paper isn't worth keeping, send it out for adoption and get a new kid. Start out fresh. Teach this one all the qualities you wish the  other one had. Don't be afraid to keep trying. (And no, I stopped talking about real children after the first reference. Keep your gingers, please. They are people too.)

Bottom line is this: Don't be afraid. Really. That's it. If you are smart enough to read and want more, you are smart enough to write. You won't be good at first (heavens, I was as horrible as a cherry-sized nose pimple on the first day of eighth grade, and I still have a lot to learn), but who is? Your favorite authors probably hid their first novels in a shoe box under the bed, and rightly so.

The first step is to sit down and think, "what excites me?" (Try to keep that in context. Though, if your goal is erotic slash fiction, go for  it. I suppose.) Then explore that; take your idea and step back. Examine it like a sixth grader examines the latest issue of Cosmo in the grocery line. Then begin fleshing it out. Do you have a character that won't leave your brain? How bout a kick@ss setting and magic system? Write it down!

Don't be afraid to explore. (Just make sure you practice fire safety when you burn the inhuman results of your first try.)

My beginning, and the book no one (besides Becky) will ever see.

There's a lot to write about, now that I've started to relate some of my experiences. Where to begin....


The way I started out writing was probably pretty common. Like many pale denizens of the MMORPG scene, I am an avid World of Warcraft fan (shhhh). I had played for maybe a year before thoughts of RP began entering my head (RP means "role playing"), just something to make the grind of leveling yet another character to max level less boring. All these ideas suddenly sprung into my head about my character: backstory, setting, internal conflicts, and so on. I began to write as feverishly as a five year-old girl colors a picture of a pony pink, typing away at my phone (yes, I did begin my first project on a touch screen cell phone) on lunch breaks. When I say feverishly, I mean feverishly.

Why fantasy is important.


Fantasy:
More Than Wizards And Dragons
By Trevor Green

Image from theonering.net
Fantasy has long been a part of every society. For centuries, people across the world have told stories of wondrous events, larger than life people, gods, heroes, and villains. Those with the imagination to dream filled their family and friends' hearts and minds with tales of the Sun Gods or the Goddess of War, of malevolent beings that rotted the crops, and even the grim apparition of Death given human form. There are many reasons that our ancestors created stories from nothingness: fear of the unknown, confusion at a tragedy, a desire to understand the mysteries of a vast, unknowable world. “...there was a time when all literature was fantasy. How could it be otherwise, when a bad corn crop or a sudden epidemic among the new lambs could only have been caused by the anger of some god, or the spiteful sorcery of the people in the next village, eight miles over the hill, who were all demons, as everyone knew?” (Beagle). At what point did the telling of fantastic stories change from a response to fear, and become a way to improve lives? What are the characteristics of fantasy as a genre, and why is it important to our society and our children?

With such matters of fear and terror propelling invention forward, it comes as no surprise that fantasy was rooted into our collective minds, from the dawn of time. From stories told with crude language around a fire, to the latest best-selling door-stop of a novel from Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn, The Way of Kings) or Pat Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicles), fantasy has become a major genre in its own right, and continues to grow.

How did the genre of fantasy come about? This is an interesting question, and one not easily answered. Through the ages, men and women have written works that touch on fantasy, or even embrace it fully, but simply happen to have been published before the term “fantasy” was coined. Writers such as the Greek poet Homer scratched out masterpieces of mythology that dealt heavily in other-worldly or divine matters, with strange creatures, and powerful men who defied gods. William Shakespeare wrote of witches and satyrs, ghosts and demons. Edgar Allen Poe penned dark works of the supernatural, filled with horror and the unknown. Hundreds of others dove head first into the stranger side of fiction, building their craft over decades, and across audiences.

Eventually fantasy began to take form, separating itself from its origins to become its own genre. There are many characteristics that define fantasy, nearly as many as there are books in the genre. However, fantasy is usually set in a defined world, written with the intent of being fictitious. Primarily seen as a form of entertainment, fantasy can include wizards, sorceresses, rangers, dragons, elves, and dwarves, like The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. However, many successful fantasy novels include none of the above, such as the masterful The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, whose work consists entirely of human characters battling twisted creatures and evil men. W.H. Auden's essay on The Lord of the Rings states, “Many quest tales are set in a dreamland, that is to say, in no definite place or time. This has the advantage of allowing the use of all the wealth of dream imagery, monsters, magical transformations and translations, which are absent from our waking life” (Zimbardo and Isaacs). From this we see that fantasy cannot be defined by conventional means, having the whole canvas of the human mind to paint upon.

Modern fantasy has been described as “escapist literature”, and with good reason. While quality fantasy does incorporate elements and ideals from our world, its primary goal is to take the reader away, filling their head with the fantastic, whether the end goal be a sense of wonder, spine-crawling fear, unease in a lonely bedroom at night, triumph of the human spirit, love for mankind, or any of the myriad emotions such books can draw from the hearts of its readers.

At some point in its long, ambiguous history, someone had to introduce the world to what could be called the very first official fantasy novel. Widely considered by many people to be the grandfather of modern fantasy, that person was JRR Tolkien. Born in 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was an enthusiastic student of linguistics, and also a professor at the University of Oxford (Doughan). A contemporary of C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia), and George McDonald (The Princess and the Goblin), Tolkien was already surrounded by the burgeoning field of fantasy before it was called such. One day while grading papers, he wrote a simple but fateful sentence, his reason or inspiration for doing so a mystery: “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.” Years later, The Lord of the Rings was born, and over the decades, its popularity swelled without the media hype we have come to expect today, gathering speed by word of mouth and rolling into the juggernaut of literature that it is now (Zimbardo and Isaacs).

The Lord of the Rings proved to be a cultural revolution, proving once and for all, that fantasy had the guts to stand up to its larger, beefier literary opponents. The tale of an unlikely hero, a humble hobbit, rising to do great good, impeded by foul creatures and treacherous men, but most importantly, battling valiantly against his own heart's selfish desires spoke to its readers. “The game of The Lord of the Rings is miraculously designed to be played and won by anyone who takes part, but the reader who doesn't see the significance of its urgent bearing on humanity will always be a loser” (Zimbardo and Isaacs). The story of Frodo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey, Samwise Gamgee, and the evil lord Sauron brought a definitive flavor to the new genre, setting the stage for many works to come.

As the years went on, new contenders waded into the field of fantasy. Authors such as Terry Brooks with his Sword of Shannara series continued where Tolkien left off, furthering the cause of fantasy. Books began to grow off the shelves, each work employing a working formula that has proven able to stand the test of time. Fantasy began to develop sub-genres as more and more writers explored all the recesses of its possibilities.

Robert Jordan helped perfect the Epic Fantasy, working off of Tolkien's travel-log style questing, translating age-old themes into modern day words. With his incredible talent for bringing characters and conflict to life, he created a world many a reader has lost themselves within. The New York Times, speaking of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, states that he has “...come to dominate the world that Tolkien began to reveal.” Terry Goodkind and George R. R. Martin took fantasy to its dark side, with gritty pages filled with violence and tragedy. Young Adult fantasy such as The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander emerged, followed later by the likes of Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, and Fablehaven, written by Brandon Mull, catering to a growing fan base of young readers, eager to devour anything to take their minds off the drudgery of school and social awkwardness, while at the same time growing their love for the written word. Urban Fantasy invaded our world with stories of magic breaking through into our streets, entangling young boys and girls in problems beyond their depth. In a recent post on Tor Fiction's website, Emily Asher-Perrin relates a bit of what made Harry Potter (a young-adult Urban Fantasy series) so special to her:

“While J.K. Rowling’s seven book saga was created for all generations to enjoy, there was something about growing up with the series that will forever define my generation. We are a group of people who believe in the impossible, in the power of love’s ability to protect and create, in silly things like jelly beans that taste like dirt and earwax, in bravery wrought through friendship and the need for a few basic spells to ease our way through daily life. (What? Chocolate and tea are homemade spells of a sort.) I can’t say whether Harry gave this to us, but I know that he was a part of it all, a uniting factor that allowed children and teens all over the world to lock eyes, smile and know that we weren’t so different after all”.

The genre has grown immensely, adding to itself, encapsulating mystery, thriller, horror, romance, suspense, and many other genres. No longer is fantasy relegated to a small, shadowy shelf set in the back of the local Barnes and Noble.

“It should come as no surprise then, that heroic fantasy fiction has had a slow, inexorable rise in both popularity and critical recognition. For several years, best selling lists have been dominated by epic fantasies by writers such as Tad Williams and Katharine Kerr. The US Realms of Fantasy magazine has claimed that 'fantasy outsells SF [science fiction] by a factor of three to one' while Tolkien's epic heroic fantasy The Lord of the Rings was recently chosen as the most popular and influential book ever published, by readers in three separate continents” (Forsyth).

Now, miles down the road from its humble origins, fantasy can have many qualities and components. There will always be the common tropes and clich├ęs: the farm boy destined for something greater, the venerable wizard, a brilliant young girl, the evil overlord bent on destruction and chaos. Not always are things so cut and dried however. Dark plots, antiheroes, and morally gray protagonists color fantasy, giving it depth and texture. Universal themes run deeply in fantasy, pumped into the pages from the author's own heart, telling tales of the small conquering the mighty, courage and faith winning the day, sweat, blood, and tears barely justifying the victory. While the characters and settings may change, the fundamental purpose of fantasy stays the same: stories about humanity, and all that entails.

In her essay, Fantasy: why is the genre so popular?, Rowena Daniells quotes Kate Forsyth (The Chain of Charm), who states:

“Fantasy fiction does not deny or diminish the existence of sorrow and pain, as so many people seem to think. The possibility of failure is absolutely necessary for the “piercing sense of joy” one feels when victory is finally and with difficulty won. Like a candle-flame, fantasy casts a shadow at the same time that it illuminates. Yet it is the illumination that is important. Fairy-tales all offer the hope that a happy ending is possible and we need to believe this. Fantasy denies ultimate despair. It holds out the hope for a better world, and signposts the way”.

What can the average reader gain from reading fantasy, and more importantly, what can young minds benefit from this? She continues:

“For the very best fantasy enlightens as well as beguiles, passing on the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors, mapping the boundaries of behaviour, and challenging our preconceptions of what is right and true”.

These qualities can have a profoundly positive affect on a person's mind, imprinting young and old readers alike with a sense of wonder and desire to not only see good done, but to be the ones who do it.

Fantasy has grown as a genre, filling bookshelves, filling minds, and expanding imaginations. Fantasy books have spawned numerous movies, guide books, television shows, trading card games, video games, and much more. Much of today's popular media is brought about by the intrepid few who dared the critic's ire and wrote The Lord of the Ringsand The Chronicles of Narnia.

It hasn't always been a smooth road. Fantasy as a whole has come under attack from many sources, and for many reasons. Religious fanatics condemning magic as unholy, professors and educators calling it down as worthless, and men and women who simply cannot suspend their sense of disbelief calling it childish have sought to belittle its authors and readership. Even some fans of fantasy themselves rail against the beast it has become, calling newly released books by the derogatory term, “extruded fantasy product”, believing the archetypal stories to be squeezed-out drivel. Such criticisms can be the most hurtful, for they misunderstand the whole reason for fantasy's existence, to the accuser's loss. Fantasy is not intended to push the envelope, or walk the edge of what is socially acceptable, but to reinforce stories of goodness, and encourage imitation of such in real life. Once again, Kate Forsyth has a solid point, in fantasy's favor: “When it was published, one critic dismissed Tolkien's mammoth and scholarly work as a 'don's whimsy'. Yet is has never been out of print, has spawned countless imitations, and is now an industry in itself, ranging from scholarly critical appraisals to pictorial guides to the habits of hobbits. There is graffiti in university toilets that reads 'Frodo lives'; and you can buy car-stickers that say: 'Tolkien Is Hobbit-Forming'. Very few people have ever read James Joyce; most have read Tolkien.”

So why would anyone read about elves and dwarves, magic and dragons? Each fan might have a different answer, each passionate and thoughtful. For some it might be the magic, a wondrous and ethereal power that can do amazing things, or a dreaded black hole of fear and control, depending on its use. For others it may be the long standing theme of good versus evil, where anyone, no matter how insignificant or poor, may stand up to evil and all its powers, if only given the chance. Kate Forsyth quotes Stephen Donaldson on the subject of why fantasy is relevant in today's world:

"One of the oldest and most enduring forms of literature in all languages is fantasy. We need metaphors of magic and monsters to understand the human condition. It's only in modern times that we have suddenly decided this narrative language isn't serious, that it's for children; grown-ups don't believe these things... We've reached the point in our sophistication of our self-perceptions when it no longer seems possible to make epic statements about the meaning of life. You get laughed at for doing it, and epics ceased to be written. But in order for us to have this type of heroism, beauty, glory, magic and power we have to get away from real life” (Forsyth).

Peter Orullian, author of the newly released epic fantasy novel from Tor Fiction The Unremembered adds this, “There are many reasons I love to both read and write fantasy fiction. But high among them is the opportunity to treat Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. Few fiction genres can do it so well”. The hero's journey is the quintessential story of the departure, initiation, and return of a hero, usually following the path of personal growth and development of character (Bronzite). Such stories empower us as human beings, bolstering our hearts and minds to reach for the unattainable. It may simply be a book clutched in the hands of a fourteen year-old girl or boy, but one day, that young person will wake up to find themselves a grown adult, ready to face the challenging world, armed with the heartfelt truths and goodness of the stories from their youth.

It is clear that fantasy is here to stay. Going forward, readers will continue to discover not only strange new worlds inhabited by fantastic beings and creatures, but also discover a bit of themselves within every book they read. After all, fiction and non-fiction alike have had one purpose from the beginning of time: to explore ourselves.


Works Cited


Asher-Perrin, Emily. Growing Up Potter, Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Beagle, Peter S. The Secret History of Fantasy, 2010

Bronzite, Dan. The Hero's Journey - Mythic Structure of Joseph Campbell's Monomyth

Daniells, Rowena Corey. Fantasy: Why Is the Genre So Popular?

Doughan, David. J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biographical Sketch, 2002

Forsyth, Kate. Altair Magazine, Issue 2, 1998

Orullian, Peter. Personal Interview, June 19, 2011

Sanderson, Brandon. Goodbye Mr. Jordan, September 19, 2007

Zimbardo, Rose A. and Neil Isaacs. Understanding The Lord of the Rings, 2004


Works Consulted


Schwartz, Evan I. Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story,2009

Jordan, Robert and Theresa Patterson. The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time,1997

Jordan, Robert. The Eye of the World, 1990