Tag Archives: Writing

Let your characters grow and evolve.

WordCount

For me, the two key ingredients of a good book is an interesting plot and engaging characters that I want to follow through the highs and lows and growing pains until the end of the book.

I must admit that characters come before plot for me. I am willing to follow well-made characters through even the most boring plot if I like them enough, because they become like friends to me to the point when I’m sad to say goodbye when the book ends. I think that’s part of the appeal of fanfiction – we readers love the characters so much that they loathe to let them go after the official story ended and invent new stories for them. Or explore side characters that the author didn’t have time or book space to delve into.

But I’m getting side-tracked here. I read a lot. A lot lot. And I’ve noticed that there is one thing that will make me drop a book like a hot potato EVERY SINGLE TIME – when I can’t find a single character, even a side character, to like.

I’ve also identified several reasons for that. I think that keeping them in mind while writing my books will make me a better writer, and reading about them might make you guys think about it as well.

 

  1. Characters never evolve past static cardboard cutouts.

We’ve all picked up a book where the characters have no personality, no life. They are just a bag of walking clichés, or they were created to fulfill predetermined roles – the brooding hero, his love interest who is sometimes a damsel in distress and sometimes a badass girl who nevertheless needs rescuing, the super bad who is bad because of reasons, etc. Or sometimes they are just bland and blah. When I read a book and can’t even picture what the protagonist looks like in my head and how he / she behaves, I’m not going to stick with the story.

Original by nord_modular on Flickr
Original by nord_modular on Flickr
  1. Characters are well-developed but they don’t evolve.

This one leave a bitter taste in my mouth every time because the stories begin with great characters that I usually get invested into, but by the time I reach about halfway into the book, I suddenly realize that they hadn’t grown up at all. That despite all the adventures, the difficulties, and the heartbreak they go through during the story, they stay exactly the same. There is no emotional growth. Worst case would be when they never learn from their own mistakes and continue doing dumb things over and over again.

By the time you realize that there is no forward momentum in the character’s evolution, you’ve already invested several hours into the book, so sometimes you feel compelled to power through to the end, often wishing you could get those hour back and spend them on something more productive.

 

  1. Characters that behave out of character because the author tries to fit them into a story they’ve outgrown.

When we set off to write a book, we usually have at least a vague idea of where this story is supposed to go and how we would like it to end. Problems arise when our characters take a life of their own and start telling their own story that sometimes clashes with what we had initially in mind.

What I’m about to say is my personal opinion only, but I think it would be a mistake to try and herd them back into the fold and bend them backwards in order to fit the story we had created. It’s like trying to put a square peg into a round hole. Even if you hammer it in there, it still won’t feel right.

That’s when otherwise very logical and well-written characters start behaving in such a manner that makes you scratch your head and wonder what they or the author was smoking. When a heroine how was known to use her head and analyze everything carefully and formulate a plan suddenly rushes into the enemy lair without even a weapon. Or when a cold-hearted jerk suddenly turns into a puddle of goo and declares his never dying love for the heroine WITHOUT any buildup to that change of feelings.

This is what makes me throw a book away in frustration or want to strangle the characters for suddenly becoming mere shadows of themselves. That’s where I feel most betrayed because I loved them how they were and all of a sudden I feel like they had been replaced by a doppelganger.

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I think that characters have to come before the story. If they are fleshed out enough, they will tell their own  story that will probably be even more interesting than what you initially set off to write. So let your characters speak. Let them grow and evolve. And when they suddenly decide to step off the road you had outlined before them, let them do that and follow them down that rabbit hole.  That’s where the most interesting conflicts lie.

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.

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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.

All the World’s a Stage.

Picture taken from Wallbo.com
Picture taken from Wallbo.com

I have been thinking about this expression a lot lately.

Most of us writers are the ultimate introverts. I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually go out of my way to interact with other people.  I get all the human interaction I need at work, so by the end of the day all I want is to be left alone. When most normal people go out on Friday evening, I’m perfectly content to spend the evening with a good book or playing with my imaginary friends and writing my own stories.

If the house becomes too silent, I can always have a meaningful conversation with my cat. I swear, that little s&^t talks back to me too! More than my husband does, who has by now learn to leave me alone when I’m in “the zone.” 🙂

Anyway, what I wanted to say is that it’s easy to get too comfortable in our little world where we are the god and master of everything, and  the only human interaction we have is via Twitter with other fellow writers.

That’s why I think it’s important to remember that there is a vast and wonderful world  just waiting to be explored and experienced. All the world’s a stage, and it’s waiting for us just outside the doors of our tiny office.  I think that we need to venture out there from time to time, especially when our muse seems to lose steam or our creativity is low.

I know that it’s not easy to step out of our comfort zone, and sometimes we might even think that we don’t need to do it. After all, we have plenty of books, TV shows, movies and the whole vast Internet to draw our inspiration out of… But I would argue that the best ideas are not found on the Internet, but in the streets of your city or along a forest trail. You just have to be there to pick them up, because if not, somebody else might pass on that trail and get the idea for their new bestseller before you do.

Picture taken from Dreamstime.com
Picture taken from Dreamstime.com

That’s why it’s so important to step out of our comfort zone from time to time. To go sit in a café and just listen to the conversations around us. It’s amazing how many plot bunnies you can get within just 10 minutes of sipping your coffee in Starbucks!

On a bigger scale, we should never be afraid of new experiences. Go to the gun range and try as many different guns as you can. Rent a four wheeler and go ride in the woods. Go hunting, diving, paragliding. Take a pottery class or learn how to draw. Start learning a new language. Listen to a genre of music you never tried before. Instead of going to the same tried and familiar spot for your vacation, choose something new.

Don’t shy away from those new experiences. Embrace them instead. Accept them with open arms because everything you experience will be fuel for your creativity. It’s surprising what kind of ideas your brain can come up with after watching the total lunar eclipse for example. And yes, I wrote at least 3 new plot bunnies down while I sipped my wine and watched the mood disappear Sunday night 🙂

So how about we make a resolution this fall – Let’s go out and be adventurous at least once a week, shall we?

Why I write my first drafts longhand.

hourglass_parchment_quill_cover

Several people on Twitter asked why I write all of my first drafts longhand since it’s so much quicker to type it directly into Scrivener. While I answered them, there is only so much you can fit in 140 characters. Plus, I think that this is a good topic for a blog post.

I have been a writer for almost two years now, so I think that I have pretty much found a routine that works best for me. I went through a long process of trial and error to get there, but I’m pretty happy with what I have now (though every process can be perfected indefinitely). So maybe my ramblings and explanations can help someone else who is struggling with their productivity and is still looking for the best way to put words on the page?

Anyway, here are some of the reasons why I write my first drafts longhand.

 

1. You can carry a notepad and pen anywhere you go.

 

I work full time as an Office Manager and writing happens on top of that. My writing time can happen any time I have a spare minute: it could be during a 15 minute coffee break, during lunch, in the bathroom (yes, I have been known to go to the loo with a notepad, shock!), or in bed when my husband is asleep. So with this erratic schedule, it’s much easier to carry a small notepad and a pen in my purse than a tablet / netbook.

Plus, I need a normal keyboard to type fast. I hate the touch screen keyboard on my iPad, plus it seems like it can be laggy. Nothing aggravates  me more than to type up a whole sentence and wait for it to show on screen… only to notice that I mistyped something halfway through and have to break the flow and go back to correct. GRR. I know that some people don’t pay attention to mistakes when they write down their first draft, and mostly I don’t either, but when I notice one, I can’t just press on without correcting it first.

Also, a small notepad is easier to fit on the table during lunch than a tablet / netbook, especially how small the tables in some restaurants are.  And if I spill a drink on it by accident (it’s been known to happen), I only wasted $4-5 instead of $500.

Blue blood on the page!
Blue blood on the page!

2. Keeps you focused on the task at hand.

 

Don’t know about you guys, but when I sit at the computer, I can find a million things to keep me from writing. I would start writing something, then decide to look up a word on google, then read an interesting article, then check on Twitter, oh and Facebook just buzzed me that there is a new post, and where did 3 hours of my life go? End result – almost nothing written and lots of time on stupid stuff.

When I am alone with my pen and paper, I HAVE to focus on what I’m writing instead of letting my brain flutter around like a butterfly on Red Bull (especially if I leave my cell in the purse and resist the temptation to check Twitter every 15 mins as well). So I get a lot more writing done in 1 hour with a pen and paper than sitting in front of my computer, even though my typing speed is much faster than my writing speed.

Usually, during my 1 hour lunch, I manage to write about 600-800 words (and eat something as well, most of the time). As an example, I’ve been trying to write this blog post for the past 3 hours and I barely got to the midpoint. Granted, it’s Monday and I have a lot of work to do as well, but I also spent a lot of time procrastinating on the internet instead of writing.

 

3. Helps organize your thoughts.

 

I don’t know about you, but I have noticed that writing longhand forces me to organize my thoughts better, which in turn results in a cleaner first draft that requires less editing afterwards. Writing longhand gives me the opportunity to think about the scene I’m working on, choose the right words and commit them to paper. While my hand finishes one sentence, my brain is already working on the best wording for the next one.

As I said, I can type really fast, but sometimes my fingers get ahead of my brain. So the resulting text is sometimes less than adequate. Don’t get me wrong, during NaNoWriMo, when I need to write 1666 words per day to get to 50k by the end of November, I usually bypass longhand and mostly write directly into my Scrivener file, but when I don’t have that time constraint, I prefer taking a much slower approach.

Plus, there is just something magical about seeing a pristine white page slowly getting covered with blue ink that motivates you to keep on writing. Seeing the words appear on a computer screen doesn’t quite have the same effect, maybe because the end result is not quite as immediately tangible (unless you print your work every day).

Creating new worlds.
Creating new worlds.

4. First round of editing when typing the text into Scrivener.

 

To me, that’s an added advantage of writing the first draft longhand. On the weekends, I usually try to type up everything I wrote during the week into my Scrivener file, which means that my text goes through a first round of edits almost on the spot. Sometimes I just change a word or two. Sometimes a  few sentences here and there. It also happened that I wasn’t entirely satisfied with a scene when I first put it on paper, but by the time I was typing it up, my brain had come up with a better version that ended up being a full rewrite of the original scene.

So to me, writing longhand has some definite advantages, even if the process takes longer. I think that for those struggling with concentration or motivation, this method might be beneficial as well.

 

What about you, my fellow writers, what are your preferred methods of putting words on paper. What helps you get through that hard to do first draft and get to the end?

The songs that inspired my stories.

As writers, we are creative people, and everything and anything can nudge us towards the next story we absolutely have to tell. It can be a movie or TV series we saw, a video game we played, a book we just finished, or simply the way a flight of sparrows contrasted against a crimson sunset. To me, music plays a very big part in discovering new stories as well.

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Let me explain. Unlike a lot of writing friends I talked to, I CANNOT write with music. Absolutely not. I don’t mind some background noise, like in a café or restaurant, or I would never be able to write on my lunch break, but as soon as there is a song with lyrics playing – it’s game over. I get distracted. I lose my train of thought and my writing session gets irrevocably derailed. I don’t know why. I would say that I start listening to the lyrics instead of writing, but then songs in a language I don’t understand (Japanese or Korean for example), still break my concentration, so that’s probably not it. Strangely enough, TV as background noise doesn’t have the same effect. Go figure.

Anyway, I don’t listen to music when I write, at least not if I want to be productive. However, music plays a huge part in the creative process anyway. All the stories I wrote so far have a particular song attached to them which acts as the soundtrack and the embodiment of that story.

Sometimes that songs comes during the writing process – I would hear it on the radio and have that “aha!” moment that tells me this song fits my story to the T. Sometimes I would find that song early in the planning and outlining stages. And sometimes I would find a song that would resonate with me for no particular reason, that I would obsess over for days if not weeks before  a story comes, and I understand that this songs belongs to it.

So today I wanted to share the songs that inspired and helped me write the stories I have written so far (and the one I’m plotting right now).

 

Of Broken Things:

This was the first story I’ve ever finished and it’s also the only science fiction story I have written so far. So when I heard Radioactive by Imagine Dragons, I couldn’t help but feel that it captured the mood of my story and my world perfectly. This future world where Aiden and GMS798 live in might be peaceful and prosperous on the outside, but there is still something toxic and radioactive brewing in the shadows. Because people will always remain the same, and power has a tendency to corrupt even the best of us.

“We’ll paint it red to fit right in.” That’s something GMS798 could have thought several times when he discovered that nothing really changed in the 100 years he’d been in cryo-sleep.

 

The Choices we make:

This story was song less for a long while, probably because I wasn’t sure where it was going when I first started writing. This is probably why I put it away for over a year and finished Of Broken Things before I dusted it off and finally managed to do an outline.

While writing my first draft, two songs stayed with me and I came to associate them with this story. It’s  Dance with the Devil by Breaking Benjamin and Demons by Imagine Dragons.

These songs both show that the characters in this story have to face some downright frightening things and uneven odds and also face their own demons in order to emerge better people on the other side, or die trying.

Shadow Hunters:

This is the latest project I’m working on. The idea came to me after watching the Korean Drama City Hunter, but it also came with a song attached to it (a song that has nothing to do with Korean dramas by the way). It’s Shatter Me by Lindsay Stirling.

This song is so perfect for this story, because it’s about young adults who still have a lot of growing up to do. They have to find their own way in this world, which takes a lot of courage, especially if that first step on the road towards the future they want means breaking with tradition or family wishes. So the fear of change that Lindsay talks about in her song is very relevant to the story.

Plus one of the characters is a gifted violin player 🙂

 

Still unnamed plot bunny that might be a future story:

As you can see, any story I write ends up getting at least one song associated with it. So when I happen to hear a song and it just won’t let me go, I tend to stop and think about it. Is that a story that’s trying to get to me?

This happened 3 weeks ago,  when I first heard the song Monster by BigBang.

Kpop is not something I usually listen to. First, I don’t understand the lyrics. Second, I don’t really like rap. But I kept obsessing over this particular song for some reason. I kept listening to it over and over. I even bought it on ITunes! I kept wondering why it touched me so much when I had to google the lyrics to even understand what the song was about. Then, last night, the miracle happened – the plot bunny finally hopped into my brain and made itself at home. Everything fell into place – the song and the story. So I guess I have my next project lined up after I am done with Shadow Hunters…

 

 

And now a question for my readers. Do you guys have songs that you associate with the stories you write or read? Is it just one or two songs or do you collect an entire playlist for each project?

What I love about starting a new story – worldbuilding.

Creating new worlds.
Creating new worlds.

I have taken yet another break from editing because I got bitten by a rabid plot bunny that just WOULDN’T LET ME BE! It was stomping all over my poor brain until I finally gave in and decided to work on it in preparation for NaNoWriMo 2015. On minus side – Of Broken Things are sitting in a drawer again. On the plus side, I have another exciting story to tell!

So today I want to talk about what I absolutely love in the process of developing a new story – the worldbuilding. For me, there’s nothing more exciting than grabbing the newly born story idea and pulling on it. It feels like I’m slowly unraveling a big messy ball of yarn and knitting a beautiful blanket with it… or a sweater… or a piece of art… you see the picture lol.

In the case of this new story, the premise is simple – boy meets girl. She shakes up his small and familiar world and makes him question his believes and his place in this world. It’s been done almost to death before, I know. But the important thing is not what the premise is, but how it’s presented and brought to life.

That’s where worldbuilding is so important. This boy can’t exist in a vacuum. What world does he live in? What does he believe in? What family does he come from? Who are his friends and his enemies? What does he want in life? Who is this girl and why does she challenge him so much?

All those questions need to be answered before I can even begin to think about the story itself. And all those questions bring with them even more questions, all of which serve to slowly paint the picture of a bright new and hopefully unique world. And I feel like an adventurer setting foot on virgin soil. I’m the first one looking at that world. Nobody has ever been here before! It’s a heady feeling.

terraincog

I usually write up to 40k words in worldbuilding alone, and most of those will never be included in the actual story, because they are for my eyes alone. But I never consider that a waste of time. To me, it’s one of the most interesting parts of working on a story. I get to write anything that strikes my fancy.

So my protagonists are from different social backgrounds, but what exactly are those backgrounds? After a few hours of surfing the Internet and lots of writing and rewriting, I came up with a whole new caste system where the first letter of your First Name and your Surname immediately indicates which caste you belong to, whether you were born into it or joined it later  in your life, as well as what family you married into and what family you came from. So in this world people know almost everything about you social status as soon as they hear your name.

Then I got to thinking what kind of world would such a rigid set of social and naming rules exist in and that netted me another 10k words in backstory and world description alone. And it was absolutely fascinating.

It’s a world where most of the land is a wilderness that belongs to spirits and humans live on specially allocated territories with rigid borders. There are only so many roads connecting different human lands and straying from them into the wilderness without a special guide is equivalent to suicide.

The spirits in this world are not like the ghosts we have in our Western culture. They are more similar to the definition in Japanese Shinto religion. They aren’t good or bad, they just are. A bit like rain and snow, summer heat or a wild fire and a tornado. In this sense, they are very similar to the mushi from this excellent Manga. Some spirits are completely alien in their forms and their mentality, some are more similar to humans. Some are interested in human affairs and even help sometimes. Some are absolutely indifferent as long as humans don’t infringe on their lands.

The human lands each have a ruling family that derives their power and authority from the Mandate they have signed with the spirits. It’s a lot similar to the Mandate of Heaven from the Chinese mythology. Only in this world, the Mandate has a tangible confirmation in the form of a glowing Stone placed in the Temple of each Capital. As long as the Stone is unbroken, the ruler (and the country) have the spirit’s favor. But once it’s broken… let’s just say that wilderness can claim a valley in less than a day.

The Shadow Hunters are people who went through the initiation and became more than human, but not entirely spirit. They act as intermediaries between humans and spirits, since they are the only ones who can understand the spirits. They are also the only ones who can travel through the wilderness unharmed. In exchange, they act as guards, protectors and “game keepers” for both the wilderness and the human lands, striving to preserve the balance of this complex ecosystem.

good-luck-road-sign

That is the world in which my next story will unfold, and it’s different than anything I’ve written before. The more I find out about it, the more fascinated I get. Now I just need to sit down and figure out what story I really want to tell that would be as interesting and captivating as the world it takes place in.

That’s a work in progress, so stay tuned.