Category Archives: first draft

Outlines – When it’s time to throw the map out of the window.

Roadmap

So remember when I talked about the importance of outlines and that having a roadmap will help you get to your destination faster while writing the first draft… Yeah, well somethings things happen that throw a wrench into the well-made plan and you are left scrambling to put pieces back together. And they usually form different pattern in the end.

 

It’s like when you plan out a route to get somewhere only to get halfway and discover that the bridge is out. Now you are left trying to negotiate a myriad of backroads to get to your destination, and your GPS is out. Scary right? But admit that it’s also a bit exciting. Because just like driving, spending several months simply following along a rigid outline can become boring.

 

I know I was getting a bit tired of my well-planned out story when I finished Part 2 of Shadow Hunters and started on Part 3. And that’s when the writing gods threw a wrench in my plans and made my writing time exciting again.

 

It all started when a character whom I didn’t have any big plans for decided to not only appear early, but also to take an active role in the story.

 

When he showed up, I said, “Well hello there! What am I supposed to do with you?”

 

He smiled and blew up my carefully constructed bridge leading to the final destination.

 

So now I and the rest of the characters are stuck on the backroads of the story. We see the destination, but what stretches between us and shining light called THE END is terra incognita.

 

But you know what? I’m looking forward to my writing time again now. I know that I can still use some of the plot points and scenes I had outlined, but they will have to be arranged differently and probably have an unexpected outcome. But a lot of this Part 3 will be totally new. Who will live? Who will die? How will the situation be resolved? Shit, I have no idea now! How cool is that?

 Terra-Incognita

So this is my long-winding way of saying that while having an outline is important because it lets you really think your story through to the ending, sticking to it like glue can be a bad thing. Use it as a guideline, but never be afraid to step off the beaten path.

 

When a character starts doing something unexpected? By all means, let him! And cheer him on too, because chances are, he is giving you narrative gold. When a carefully planned scene suddenly reaches an unplanned outcome, don’t delete it and try to rewrite so that it fits your outline. Let it run its course and see where it leads. Even if it doesn’t quite make sense at the time, even if that means you will have to rewrite parts of the story you have already written down afterwards. Let it flow, because this is your story telling you how it wants to be written.

 

So throw away the map and jump into the unknown with a smile on your face, just don’t lose sight of the end game! You might meander a little and take a detour or two, but you will certainly find some hidden gems along the way.

 

Write on, my friends, write on.

WordCount

Evolution of a character or not all princes are jerks.

Paiting a new world, what's more exciting then that?
Paiting a new world, what’s more exciting then that?

Last week I talked about the importance of listening to your characters and letting them evolve. Today I thought that I would give you an example of that, since I had to let the characters take the reins in my current WIP – Shadow Hunters.

 

When I was outlining and plotting Shadow Hunters, I knew that my protagonist would be a prince. Not only that, but that he would also be a jerk. After all, this kingdom lives under absolute monarchy, which means the king and the royal family have a heck of a lot of power. On top of that, there is a rather rigid caste system with the royal family on the very top of the food chain.

 

So it made sense that a guy who was born with a golden spoon in his mouth and had servants cater to his every whim would grow up to be a self-absorbed and entitled jerk. So his initial character journey was to meet a girl from a very different environment, fall in love and slowly become a decent human being through a series of more and more staggering trials and obstacles.

 

With that plan in hand, I started writing my first draft and my protagonist immediately rebelled against me. He absolutely didn’t want to be a jerk. After fighting with him for the first three scenes of the first chapter, I threw the towel and let him drive the narrative. And I discovered some very interesting facts about my prince.

keep-calm-and-start-the-rebellion-2

Yes, Akemi’s family is all powerful and his father rules the kingdom with a firm hand, but Akemi himself is the youngest of five children. As such, he is so far down the inheritance line that nobody even considers him a contender. His eldest brother is the Heir in waiting destined to succeed to their father and has been trained as such. His sister is the perfect lady destined to be married off to form an alliance with one of the neighboring kingdoms. He could go into the military, but his second brother already beat him to it and he is, by all accounts, an exceptional warrior. And even the scientific field is covered with his last brother the genius inventor.

 

Akemi couldn’t even enter the clergy because there is no clergy per se in this world. And it’s not like he has a particular talent for anything. So in the eyes of his family, he is useless. He grew up seeing indifference in his parent’s eyes and annoyance from his eldest siblings.

 

On top of that, he learned at a very young age that no friendship is free. All the kids that wanted to be his friends in the past and even now that he is studying at the Royal College want something in exchange for that friendship. It’s either status, influence, money, or a way to get closer to his more influential siblings, and once they get what they want, they will jump ship in a heartbeat.

 

So Akemi learned to wear a mask of indifference and condescending aloofness and not let anyone close enough to see his real face. Heck, he doesn’t bother to learn the names and faces of most of his followers because they change from week to week. He remembers 3-4 that stayed longer than most and even gets attached to them more than he should, despite knowing that it’s a bad idea that would only lead to heartbreak.

Guidelines

So instead of a self-absorbed jerk, I discovered a decent and even rather kind guy who is just so lost and disillusioned about his place in this world that he hides behind a mask. His family thinks he is useless, so he ends up believing the same, and just kinda floats with the current, not making much effort to find a road to follow in life.

 

So his journey through the book transformed as well. Instead of being just a plain love story where guy meets girl and she makes a human being out of him, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Throughout the events of this story, Akemi discovers where his allegiances lies, what his dreams are, and how far he is willing to go to protect those he loves.

 

I don’t know about you, but I find that kind of story a lot more interesting than the one I had planed to write in the beginning.

 

Getting back in the saddle.

Hibernating-BRB

I spent most of my month of December in a slump. Like I had said in my previous post, I might as well have hibernated during those 31 days because I couldn’t scrap up even an ounce of motivation to do anything. Needless to say that my writing suffered from that slump as well.

 

Oh, I still managed to put some words on the page every now and then, so I wouldn’t feel too awfully guilty. I could tell my conscience, See, there’s some new words, so hush now. Problem was that those were maybe 200-300 words a day. So I had written 50k words in the month of November and barely 15k in the whole of December. That’s a DRASTIC fall in productivity for me.

 

So on January 1st, I finally pulled out my Excel word count spreadsheet that I hadn’t touched since sometimes in the beginning of December and updated it with the pitiful word counts I’ve had. The results were rather depressing. If I kept going at this rate, I wouldn’t be done with the first draft of Shadow Hunters until end of March. And that provided that I manage to wrap it up in 100k words, which I never do on first drafts.

 

Now I don’t have a deadline or a publisher breathing down my neck. There is no editor waiting to tear into my draft. Technically,  I could take as much time as I want. I used to enjoy that freedom, but I think it’s done me a disservice in this instance – it made me too complacent.

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

Yes, I could putter around with the draft, adding 200-300 words here and there and finish the damn story just in time to start a new one for NaNoWriMo 2016. But I have other writing goals for 2016, like editing and rewriting other works, writing several short stories, and publishing at least one book. I can’t accomplish any of these if I drag my feet.

 

So I gave myself a mental kick in the butt and set myself a hard deadline. I need to finish Shadow Hunters by February 15th. This means I need to write at least 800 words per day every day until then, no matter what. No matter how I feel, no matter how (un)motivated I am, I will sit my butt in that chair and I won’t take my fingers off the keyboard until those 800 words are on the page. And I will make sure to update my spreadsheet everyday as well to keep track of my progress.

 

Setting up that deadline actually worked wonders for my motivation too. I had written more in the past 4 days than in the 10 last days of 2015. And I actually feel excited about my writing and my story again. It’s not just meh, need to kick that can down the road anymore. It’s wow, let’s see what shit I can land my poor characters in this time. Rubs her hands together with an evil grin at that thought

Accountability

And since I’m finally out of my slump, the motivation to write blog posts is also back! So expect regular updates on this site once again and the return of book reviews every Friday. I have at least good books screaming to be reviewed right now.

 

I am so sorry to all my readers that I let the blog fall by the wayside in the past few months. I could give the excuse of work and NaNo and winter blues, but the reality is that there is no excuse. It was just plain laziness on my part. I will do better in 2016.

 

Pfew, that’s it for my 2016 resolutions. How about you, my loyal readers, what resolutions will you set up for this new year?

It’s the end of the year! Time to look back at 2015 and see what’s ahead in 2016.

latest-happy-new-year-2016-photos

I can’t believe it’s the end of 2015 already! It feels like this year has gone past me at the speed of light. Whoosh! Gone. So I think it’s a good time to look back and see what I managed to accomplish in the past 12 months, and what I had planned to accomplish but never got around to do. And of course, now is the perfect time to set up goals for 2016 as well! So without further ado, let’s start.

 

What have I managed to accomplish in 2015?

 

  1. Well, I finished The Choices we make, or at least the first draft. This is a personal accomplishment for me because Choices had started as a mess of a draft somewhere in 2012 then had been abandoned after I barely put in about 25k words. This is the first time I pick up a discarded story and run with it to the end. Of course, I threw all of those initial 25k words out of the window and did an actual outline this time, so that might have helped. And as a bonus, while I worked on it, I got the idea for a sequel. So that’s a project for 2016!
  2. I finally finished the chameleon of a story that are Mists of the Crossworlds. It went from a 4k short story to a 20k novella and then to a 50k novel. But at least now the whole story is there. I have nothing else to add to it. And it’s gone through at least 2 rounds of revisions and rewrites. Now I’m just waiting for the final remarks of my beta extraordinaire to put some finishing touches on the draft. After that, it will go to my favorite grammar Nazi ahem editor and will be ready to be put out into the world for everyone to see.
  3. I have outlined two more short stories in the Eye of the Norns cycle, but I never got around to write the drafts. Bad me. I need to do better in 2016.
  4. I have outlined and started writing the first draft of a new novel called Shadow Hunters. It’s over 60k now and I’m still working on it every day, though slooooowly creeping along to the finish line.
  5. I participated at NaNoWriMo again this year and I won, though I must admit that I had a harder time muster the excitement for it this year, maybe because November proved to be one of the busiest months at work as well.
  6. And finally, I got another novel-length idea that I would tentatively call Ghost and the Good Doctor for now. All I did is jot a few notes and character profiles down. I haven’t even started truly mining that world or story yet.

 

Well, now that I look at that list, it doesn’t seem all that shabby, does it? I guess it’s easy not to notice everything you’ve accomplished when you have your nose to the grindstone all the time, so stepping back and taking stock is a good thing.

 

I have also managed to keep my full-time job for another year, read some truly wonderful books (post about the best books I read in 2015 coming soon as well), watch some amazing TV shows and movies, and play a couple good games. So all in all, not such a crappy year after all.

champagne

Now it’s time to make plans for 2016!

 

  1. First of all, I want to finish the first draft of Shadow Hunters and I’m hoping to be done with them by end of January.
  2. Once that’s out of the way, I will put the final touches on Mists and self-publish them on Amazon. This will be my first self-publishing experience, so I foresee lots of research and panic attacks in my future. And blog posts about it of course.
  3. I would also like to sit down and write those three short stories I had outlined for the Eye of the Norns That would bring the story count on this to 5 and it could be published as a standalone volume.
  4. Then I want to start editing Choice. Not sure if I will be able to go through the whole draft next year because I edit at a snail’s pace, but I would like to at least get a head start.
  5. Brainstorm and maybe outline the sequel to Choices.
  6. Brainstorm, outline and start the first draft for Ghost and the Good Doctor.
  7. Make that my NaNoWriMo 2016 project.

 

Pfew, that’s a lot of plans for the next 12 months! Let’s see if I actually manage to get any of that done.

On that note, Merry Christmas to you all and a Happy New Year! Make your plans and don’t forget to dream big.

Can I just hibernate till spring?

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

You might have wondered where I had disappeared to lately since I haven’t been very active on my blog: a couple of measly posts here and there, no book reviews to speak off… I’m very sorry about that! It’s just that I found it very hard to scrap up any motivation to do pretty much anything lately.

Call it winter blues, call it post-NaNo burnout, or even blame it on an insanely busy work schedule, but either way all I want to do is go into hibernation and wake up when it’s spring and everything is flowering again. And the sun doesn’t set at 5pm right when I get off work, when it even deigns to grace us with its presence at all. It’s only mid-December, and I’m already tired of the gray and the early dark. I want my sunshine back!

I think I wouldn’t mind winter as much if nature made up its mind and it was, you know, actually winter. Give me the cold weather and the snow and all the other good wintery stuff. But even that’s not the case this year! It’s 35 degrees one day and 70 the next, then back into the 40s, then oh, never mind, it’s 75 again.

Winter is coming or not

My poor rose bushes have no idea what to do about this weather, and the azaleas are trying to flower. I mean it’s 75 degrees outside today… on December freaking 15th! We had a bona fide summer thunderstorm yesterday. No wonder half the people at work are sick.

So since the beginning of December, I had been pretty much coasting on autopilot. I have a first draft to finish. I have several other books to edit, one of which I want to publish in March. I have books to read and review. I have good TV shows to watch. I have cross stitching projects that have been neglected for too long… Yet all I do when I get off work is sit and watch the grass try to grow in the middle of December while I listen to K-pop, and wonder if I should break out the riding mower or let the (hopefully) coming frost kill it. And then go to bed early because even that is exhausting.

But hey, the situation isn’t as dire as I made it sound! I’m still working on the first draft of Shadow Hunters, even though I went from writing 2k words a day to about 400-600 words. But speed is not as important as consistency, right? And the will to stick with it to the bitter end. I’ll get it done, winter slump be damned.

I have read two very good books this month as well, but I can’t post my reviews yet because they won’t be officially released until February 2016. I was lucky enough to get the ARCs (advance reader copies) of them through NetGalley. So look forward to those reviews (and books) closer to February.

I have also watched some excellent TV series, though I tend to favor Asian dramas lately. One of them, called White Christmas, stood out so much that I even posted a review of it a while back. And I’m planning on doing a marathon rewatch of it for Christmas, which only shows how much I liked the show.

So to paraphrase Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s excellent Discworld series, “I aten’t dead.” Now can we just skip this whole winter deal and get on with spring?

i-atent-dead

NaNoWriMo – We are all Winners.

Yesterday, I officially won NaNoWriMo with 50,167 words and got my shiny certificate and blog button to display. Here it is, in all its awesomeness! (I know you don’t care, but it’s my blog, so I can post what I want on it :P)

Yay, I won!
Yay, I won!

So now I get to bask in a sense of pride and check out all the winner goodies on the NaNo site, but that’s not the biggest and most important take away from this crazy month. You know what is? The 50k words I ended up with by the end of this adventure. That’s 50k words more than I started with. That’s well over 1/3 of a brand new story done. Sure, they are half-baked and probably horrible and nowhere near publishing ready, but they are there – black words on a white page, concrete and real, not just a jumbled mess of “what ifs” and “maybes” in my head.

That’s why I have a strong belief that anyone who even attempts to do NaNoWriMo is a winner. Hold on, before you disagree! I will give you some valid reasons why.

 

  1. Any words on the page are better than zero.

Whether you managed to write 100k, or 50k, or 30k, or even 1k words during the month of November, it’s that much more than the zero you had before. Sure, they might be a steaming pile of dung, and the story might be going all over the place, and the characters digress and meander aimlessly through most of it, but hey, that’s what’s editing is for!

You can edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.

So to everyone who made an effort and put at least something on the page last month – CONGRATULATIONS! You’re a winner.

Hemingway

  1. You have a story, so what if it’s bad?

This derives directly out of the first point. Those words you threw on the page? Guess what, they form a story. So what if it doesn’t quite flow right yet? So what if the pacing sucks and there are way too many secondary characters, and you have several plot holes big enough to swallow the Titanic? You have laid down the foundation and even put some walls on this house, subsequent revisions will help decorate it to your taste and make it pretty.

You have a first draft, which is more than a lot of people will ever manage to accomplish. That sounds like a win to me!

 

  1. That’s what it takes to be a writer.

Guess what, for full-time writers, every month is a NaNoWriMo month! This is what it takes to make a career out of it. Even if you have a full-time job and write on your time off (like I do), you still write every day, even if it’s not 1.6k a day.  So NaNoWriMo is a great testing ground. Dreaming to become a writer? Take the challenge and see if that career is really something you can stick with for the rest of your life.  Whether you succeed or not, whether you decide to continue or look for something else, it’s still a win in my books. Because you decided to try it out instead of just dreaming about it and thinking, “I’ll write a book… someday.”

 

  1. Gotta have a routine.

Or to paraphrase Chuck Wendig, “Writers write.” You got to have a routine. You got to set a time every day dedicated expressly to putting words on the page. And you have to stick to that time no matter what. The sky might be falling, your house might be on fire, the latest episode of your favorite show is airing, it doesn’t matter. You have to stick your ass in that chair and put some words on the page. Even if your muse took a permanent vacation. Even if you don’t feel like writing today. Even if every word that falls on that page feels like a pile of poop. Keep writing.

NaNoWriMo forces you to do that for a whole month. In fact, it’s like an intensive boot camp for writers. No matter what, you have to sit down and put words on the page if you want to meet your word count. Day after day after day for 30 whole days. And guess what? After 30 days, you have established a routine that it would just feel natural to continue.

write

So I wanted to congratulate everyone who participated in this challenge. You are all winners! You have all learned something during that month. Now go forth and conquer!

As for me, the first draft of Shadow Hunters isn’t finished yet, so my NaNoWriMo will stretch through December and probably part of January. But that’s okay, because I have a routine for it 😛

NaNoWriMo is a battle of endurance.

NaNo-2015-Participant-Badge-Large-Square (1)

Well, we have survived the first week of NaNo. How about a big cheer? If you are like me, you spent these 8 days riding the excitement and doubling if not tripling your word count. As of today, my WIP stands 500 words shy of 20k.

Even if your word count is less than that or if you are behind the curve a little, don’t get discouraged. Remember that every words you write this month is one more word you didn’t have before that. Anything is better than zero.

But as we are entering the second week of this challenge, you have probably started noticing that your enthusiasm is waning. You might have hit a road block, or your story turned down a totally unexpected road, or you might just have gotten tired of writing it.  After all writing 1667 new words a day every day is hard and sometimes soul wrenching work. Especially if you also work full time, have a family that wants to be fed every day, and a house chores that won’t get done by themselves.

So now that the first rush is gone, it gets harder and harder to force yourself to sit down and write. If you’re like me, the sight of an empty page scares you when you stare at it first thing in the morning and the prospect to have to fill it with another 1.6k can seem daunting. That’s why I say that NaNoWriMo is a battle of endurance.

Don’t give up now. It doesn’t matter is you are ahead or behind on the word count, keep on writing. The only way you will win and, more importantly, get that novel written down, is if you work through the slump, and through the fatigue, and through the discouragement. All writers go through that stage at least once per first draft (and sometimes more than once) and the only way to get across the wall is to grit your teeth and keep climbing.

write

But I have a few pieces of advice to help you win this battle. They worked for me, so hopefully they will work for you as well.

  1. Pace yourself.

Don’t try to do all of your daily word count in one session, and don’t postpone that session until last thing in the evening before bed. You will be tired then and the amount of words you’d have to produce would seem more daunting than ever. Break your day into several smaller sessions instead: 400 words with your morning coffee, 300 more during your coffee or cigarette break at work, 600-700 at lunch, and all of a sudden the amount you need to do in the evening would shrink to almost nothing at all.

  1. Write down what you want to work on the next day.

Even if you’re pantsing your NaNo, I found that it helps to jot down a few thoughts before going to bed. Write down the next scene you need to work on, or just an inkling of who where and what will happen. That why the next morning you won’t have to frantically rake your brain about where your story is going. You would have a departure point to start on your writing.

  1. When you hit a roadblock, throw a wrench at it.

If you’re stuck in your story and have no idea what to do next, make something bad happen to your characters. Then buckle up for the ride and watch them scramble to overcome this new crisis. You might get so excited about this new turn of events that you wouldn’t even notice that you hit your word count for the day.

Lost

  1. Don’t give up.

Seriously, don’t. Nope! Forbidden! It’s your story. Nobody will be able to write it if you give up. So fight on, get to the end of it one word at a time.

 

Write on wrimos!