A Writing Journey

Archive for the ‘Planning, Writing and Revision’ Category

Evolution

Stories evolve. Fairytales are adapted and changed to suit a new audience. Urban legends grow into horror stories. This changing is a natural occurrence – not unlike aging. As writers we know that stories evolve drastically in their early lives as we fight to make them fit for another person to read. Even once we thought the story had reached it’s final stage, there may be a surprise evolution waiting in the wings.

I took QFS down to it’s bones over the summer and have been building it back up ever since. There have been many adjustments, largest of which is who the antagonist is. Other changes include relationships between characters, personalities, secrets and revelations, motives, and character names. I’ve also changed the title. The Cartographer’s Quest is more grown up and less black and white than it’s earlier versions.

In addition to these changes, I’ve been working on more maps for the story (after all, what cartographer wouldn’t include maps in their tale?).  Below are a couple examples of what I’ve been working on.

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What have I been up to in the Writing World this week?

Okay, so I’m still getting back in the swing of writing after my very long slump. Part of that is blogging every week, even if I have little to nothing to say. At least right now it is little, rather than nothing.

This past week I have started thinking more in depth with where I am going when I finish writing book 3 of my Salvation trilogy. Not to say I’m anywhere close to being done with the trilogy (still have tons of edits and revisions on book two, and still polishing book one, let alone finishing book 3!). I’ve decided who the major players are, what perspectives I’m writing from, and what has transpired to lead to the events that take place in the next story. I’ve also decided that it begins with a daughter burying her mother. Maybe not the most creative in terms of cliches, but I hope to make it unique, all the same.

In the meantime, I’ve written about a page more of the third book in the Salvation trilogy – which is more than I’ve written for probably four or five months now. The title of the third book is Heart of the World, in case I haven’t mentioned that yet.

This week I have some time off from work, and my goal is to write at least a page a day. Not a lot, I know, but I think it’s important to keep goals attainable and right now I know  that a page a day is an attainable goal, but anything more than that would be overwhelming for me. That’s just how it goes when coming back from a slump.

How do you get yourself back into the swing of things after a slump?

Adventure well,

Emily

Tips for getting unstuck

I’ve stalled again. My notebooks full of my third book sit lifelessly on my desk or, in the vague hope that I will spill some ink on the page, in my purse as I flit to and fro through my life. I wrote the first, minor climax and resolved one of the plot lines that has been constant from the first book. It was necessary for the story, as the final climax has a different beast – though to be honest I’m playing with the idea of completely changing the order of the climaxes. But I’m in the middle, and the middle is always the hardest part.

Why is the middle so tough? For me, it’s because I’m goal-oriented. I see what the beginning is, I know what the ending is, but I don’t know how to get there. (It is an unfortunate flaw that I am the same way in my daily life. Talk about frustrating.) Figuring out the important parts of the journey is my next step, but even when I have them (laid out in outline form, no less) I struggle to connect the dots. Considering the number of posts and articles about why it is hard to write the middle – I know I’m not alone.

Rather than rehash why it is so hard, I want to give some tips that help me get through it.

1.Read.

2.Do something else, anything else, for 10-20 minutes, then come back to writing and power through the sticky spots.

3.Get some sleep. I get cranky and cry a lot if I get frustrated/stuck and need sleep. I’ve learned this, and know that if I feel like I am about to cry from frustration, I need to take a nap (or just go to bed for the night).

4.Ask for help. Often talking to my writer friends helps me feel motivated to get through the tough spots. Even more, they may have insight on why your story is stuck – something may not be working and you might not be noticing it.

5.Take a bath. Seriously, it can be like a mini sensory-deprivation tank and helps get the mind spinning.

6.Spend time NOT thinking. watch a movie. Play a video game. Sometimes your brain needs a rest.

7.Do what is right for you. If these tips don’t help, do something that you find relaxing.

8.Most of all, don’t give up. Sometimes it’s hard. We all have writing cycles – I’ve blogged about that here before. If you know what your writing cycle is – don’t try to force it to be something else and know that yes, you’re still a writer even if you aren’t currently writing. You need that recharge time so give it to yourself.

Good luck with your middle! (And I’ll do my best to follow my own advice, too!)

Take care,

Emily

Advanced Worldbuilding

Here we are, deep into worldbuilding. If you’re like me, you are ready to take it to the next level. I’m excited to work on these steps for my next novel (after I finish book 3 of Lacey’s story). Before I get to far ahead of myself though, here are the previous steps to worldbuilding that I’ve discussed in Beginning Worldbuilding and Intermediate Worldbuilding: make maps, think about religion, decide how your people look, language, and politics. If you haven’t read my previous posts, take a gander.

1.History

Every world, every person, has a history. If you haven’t thought about the history of your cities, nations, or world, now is the perfect time to do so. Even if you’ve already written most of your novel, you can look and decide how your people got to where they are. Think of it as learning about their history (much like children learn history in school) rather than creating it. Some questions to ask when discerning the history of your world: who is in power and how did they come to be in power? Who are the minority groups and why are they minorities (are they immigrants or displaced people, or do they have a unique heritage)? Who are the disadvantaged groups of people and why are they disadvantaged?

2.Marriage Customs

That people have partnerships and get married is something we assume in books, for the most part. We read about mothers and fathers, husband and wives. But how did they get to be husbands and wives? Are there complex courting rituals? Do people have elaborate wedding ceremonies? For inspiration here, I suggest looking around at cultures in our world. Not things like “what do they do in Spain,” rather “what do they do in the depths of the Amazon or in the heart of the Sahara.” The more far-flung you get, the more interesting results you will find.

3. Water and food

Farmers are stock characters in fantasy and markets are stock settings. A step further: wagons are stock transportation (unless you are on horseback). We readers can assume that food is grown by farmers and bought by all manner of people – but if you want to get into the nitty gritty details, you should think about how it’s done. Does the government buy crops and resell them? Do people all have their own gardens/herds/flocks for basic needs and sell the excess to others? Do they have a bartering system or, perhaps, it is a communist-esque system where they all share everything equally out of the goodness of their hearts (hello, plot conflict)? And that’s just for food. What about water? Are there wells throughout the city? What happens if the well goes dry? Are there rivers your people can drink from or are the waters dirty? Who is in charge of fetching the water from its source? Who guards it from enemies? All of these things can be significant to the plot, if you let them be. Or they can add realism.

4.Hygiene

Do your people bathe regularly? Where and how? Bathhouses are going to make for different social norms than private baths in homes. (Think open vs. closed, respectful of privacy vs. potentially lecherous.) It also matters because if people bathe regularly, the water system is much more important. Perhaps they build aquaducts in order to supply bathhouses, or perhaps they leave it up to individuals to fetch their own water and therefore they either don’t bathe regularly or have private baths. Do the rich bathe more than the poor? Does this mean water is a commodity?

5.Superstitions

Don’t let a black cat cross your path. Break a mirror and have 7 years bad luck. Don’t walk under a ladder or open an umbrella inside. Silly superstitions. And yet we recite them whenever someone does one of those “unspeakable things.” Give your characters some superstitions – things that apply to either them or their society as a whole. Make them convinced all their bad luck is because of X, and either make it so or show their foolishness. Have fun with this one, but if you include it in the actual story, make sure it’s plot relevant.

He’s a black cat, but I don’t think anyone would complain about him crossing their path!

The following are even more things to think about (we can call it expert worldbuilding). Now, I’ll be the first to say I have not effectively gone this far into worldbuilding yet. It’s part of my learning process and part of my next novel, in which I will be writing about a characters in a nation that is recovering from war. Thus, the following worldbuilding considerations will be important.
1.Waste

2.Fires

3.Natural Disasters

4.Wars

5.How are things built? And how are large objects (trees, stone, etc) moved?

Take flight, enjoy, and share any other pieces of worldbuilding you find particularly helpful!

Take care,

Emily

Self-Editing

Your first draft is done, and you may want to start sending it out or letting people read it straight away. You shouldn’t. Let it sit, let it rest, and then after a few weeks (or months, or whatever), come back to the desk and look at it afresh. You will see bits and pieces that don’t fit, rocks among your gems, and you will get to work editing.*

So how does one go about self-editing? It’s a tricky business, I’ll tell you that. It’s tricky because you know what you’ve written, and you may either be sentimentally attached to certain parts of the story that need to be seriously changed (or deleted altogether) or you may skim over your writing and miss things that need to be fixed. If you are like me, you may intentionally gloss over something that you know is wrong, but you aren’t sure how to fix it yet.

Thus the first step in self-editing is to READ CAREFULLY. In fact, read out loud, slowly. When you do this, you will catch things that you would likely not catch reading silently (think awkward word pairings, misspelled words, horrifyingly long sentences). Read once through without changing anything.** Doing this will give you a good sense of your story, how it flows (or doesn’t) and what places need work. Once you’ve read through, go back to the beginning and get started editing with the following tips:

1.Get rid of your “catch phrases”

We all have certain words or phrases that we tend to use more frequently than others. You’ll notice them as you read, and you will remember them. A few times through the book is okay, because your reader may or may not remember that the phrase you used on page 238 is the same as on page 24. HOWEVER I will advise to use particularly “pretty” phrases or words (think quiescence) only once. A word that your reader has to look up or a phrase that they will linger on WILL be remembered. Go ahead and rework these phrases, choose different words, and go on from there. You may have to do this several times.

2. Cut “very”

Do you remember the scene from The Dead Poet’s Society where Mr. Keating talks about “very”? He warns the boys to pick stronger words. And now I’m warning you. If you are using “very” to beef up your verbs or adverbs, you need to work harder. And I know it’s tough. Sometimes you just can’t think of the perfect word. That’s why we edit more than once, and why when we are writing the first draft, we don’t worry so much about “verys.” But to make your novel as strong as it an be, pick “crucial” instead of “very important.”

3.Check your POV

No matter if you are writing in first or third, point of view is crucial to your story. (See what I did there? Huh, huh?) First of all, you should pick a point of view and stick with it. If you pick to follow two characters, alternating between them, don’t all of a sudden drop one (unless they die – which in that case I hope it’s a mystery and we know something the protagonist doesn’t!) or add a third. I’ll give you an example. If you’ve been a follower here for a long time, you know that I LOVE Robin Hobb. This is probably the only complaint I will ever have against her. In one of her recent novels, she changed perspectives and started following a different character – without any indication that this is what she was doing. It was confusing and, to be honest, it took me a couple pages to understand. I did understand, but for those few moments I was not immersed in the story – and our goal as writers is to keep the reader immersed.

When you are writing a single character, try to make sure that every word you write reflects that character. If your own biases or stylistic word choices slip in, cut them. Be careful about consistency. Your novel will shine when you are consistent.

4.Grammar, typos, and formatting

The general stuff, right? Make sure you use correct grammar (or stylistically consistent grammar). Correct misspellings and repeat words. Make sure that your formatting is consistent throughout the manuscript. It’s tedious stuff, but important. Publishers and agents expect a level of expertise when it comes to writing.

I hope these tips will help you as you begin self-editing, and if you have more, please feel free to share them in the comments below!

Take care,

Emily

*You may also need to rewrite huge swaths of your story. This is fine. This is expected. This is probably needed.

**Mark places that you feel need work, if you must. But try your best to refrain from changing things! You want to come into the work with “fresh” eyes – as a reader not a writer. It will help in the long-run, I promise.

#FirstLineFriday

Are we getting used to this yet? For new visitors, a brief explanation of what FirstLineFriday is:

  • Create a post on your blog entitled #FirstLineFriday, hashtag and all.
  • Explain the rules (like this).
  • Post the first one or two lines of a story idea, work-in-progress, or a completed or published work.
  • Ask your readers for feedback.
  • Urge others to try #FirstLineFriday on their own blogs (tagging is optional).

     They always told her never to leave the Safe Waters because here the Path was still pure, untainted by hate for her kind, and the night sky burned with stars of gold and green, bleeding through from another time and place.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions or ideas?

Take care,

Emily

Intermediate Worldbuilding

Okay, so last week we had a post for beginning worldbuilding that outlined a few of the most important steps for worldbuilding. Those steps were: make maps, think about religion, and decide how people look. This time we are going to go a couple of steps further. For those of you who want to continue past the first three steps (or those of you who are wondering how to proceed or just want some extra ideas), here are two more steps to take your world to the next level.

1. Language.

This doesn’t mean you have to go all Tolkien on us and go study linguistics to make your own fully-fledged language (though if that’s your thing DO IT!). Rather, look at the names of characters and places that you’ve come up with. Say them out loud. What do they sound like? If you’ve got one nation your focusing on, chances are most names are going to have a really similar cadence or feel to them. I’m not saying that everything has to sound the same (because really, we don’t want that), but look at the rhythm and flow of your names. For instance: in Quest for Salvation I have the following city names: Ruslaht, Ohmlaur, and Talahm. Say those out loud. There’s a similarity, and they are all very clearly from one nation. But Frewantin (another city) is obviously from a different part of the world, by the sound of the name alone.

So what about character names? You can keep it simple, like with city names, and have names that just sound like they go together. Or you can take it a step further and create a system for names. For instance, in my novel there is a system for imperial family names; male names start with consonants, female names with vowels, and all imperial names end with the “ay” sound. In addition, names throughout the nation have certain sounds that are more prominent than others (such as “ie” “o” and “n”). You can get as creative as you want with things like this, and it will be sure to give your story that extra layer. Just be sure to write your rules down, and follow them consistently!

One last note: not all countries have to have similar language sounds. In fact, the further apart they are the more different they should be. You  could always have slight differences between neighbors that become huge differences between the nations on either end of the line. Example: if you have a common tongue that people from most or all nations can speak, they will still have names (cities and people and sometimes even special items) in their own language. So someone named Sandrilion can still interact with someone named Crystal, but be from different places.

2. Politics.

It’s important to know what your political system is in your story world, even if you never mention it directly. That’s because whatever is happening at the top has a huge effect on what happens at the bottom. For instance, if there is a political coup and the king is overthrown by his great-niece the duchess of Winderburn, there’s going to be some backlash. People who supported the king are going to have to fall in line fast, or be smart about taking the new queen down. And maybe some pro-king folks will take it on themselves to raid villages in Winderburn, which causes hardship for the farmers there, who suddenly can’t get crops to the trade depot that your character runs, and she has debts from sending her son to a prestigious academy in the capital that has actually been shut down by the new queen, so not only does she have to pay that back to the folks who loaned her the money and her son is back with her so she has to feed him again, but now her trade depot can’t make a profit because the farms are being raided.

Get the idea? Even little political changes can have a big impact on your characters. It’s a trope in mediocre fantasy that “the poor people don’t care what’s going on with the rich,” (and vice versa) but to make your story ring true, the poor should always care, because everything always effects them – you just have to pay a little more attention.

I hope these two worldbuilding tips help take your world and story to the next level. If you have comments or questions, don’t hesitate to leave them below!

Take care,

Emily

 

#FirstLineFriday

Welcome to #FirstLineFriday. Explanation:

  • Create a post on your blog entitled #FirstLineFriday, hashtag and all.
  • Explain the rules (like this).
  • Post the first one or two lines of a story idea, work-in-progress, or a completed or published work.
  • Ask your readers for feedback.
  • Urge others to try #FirstLineFriday on their own blogs (tagging is optional).

So get comfy, take a seat and tell me what you think!

Ehdra’s people lay dead at the bottom of the sea, their lives stolen by the dark ash that fell from the sky and the liquid flame that burned their cities.

This line is from an origin story, of sorts, and that’s all I’m going to say about it. Where do you think it’s going? What do you think is going to happen? And above all, what do you think about the line – things you would change, improve, keep the same?

Take care,

Emily

Beginning Worldbuilding in 3 Steps

A friend of mine recently said “I hate worldbuilding, that’s why I only write fanfiction these days.” I’ve heard the sentiment before, and it shocks me every time. Worldbuilding is my favorite part of writing. I love diving into something that isn’t even real yet and figuring it out, deciding how the people live, how things are done. There is a lot that goes into worldbuilding, and all at various stages of how much you want to accomplish, or how much you need for the story (trust me, it’s always more than you think, but if you have the basics, the rest will come while you write).

So what does one need, to start worldbuilding? I have A NUMBER OF TIPS for you in this post. I will say, before we get too far, that not every story needs tons of worldbuilding. If you are writing a fiction or fantasy that takes place in this world, you may have a specific place in mind so you don’t have to build one. But you may have to take more time developing the magic system or history of were-creatures. As with all writing tips, use them or don’t at your own discretion.

Tip #1: Make maps.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you may know about my obsession with maps. I draw maps for all of my stories (heck – I draw maps for my ideas and the ideas that haven’t even become ideas yet). This is one of the most important parts of worldbuilding, so you can get oriented and know what’s where. Think about it: have you ever read a book and come across a passage that jars you directionally? For instance, if I’m reading a book and it says they are going east, but then says the rising sun is behind them? Or even not having a discrepancy like that, and just assuming the layout of the world is one way, but in the author’s mind it is the complete opposite? Maps help with this. Maps will help you, the writer, avoid mistakes like the one illustrated above, and they will help readers have a clear vision of your world.

So make maps. Not just of countries and continents, but cities and buildings and important places in your story. You don’t have to include everything in the end, but if you know it, you’ll be able to write more clearly about it.

Tip #2: Think about religion.

Okay, I know a lot of people aren’t religious. I’m not very religious. But we can’t deny that religion plays a huge roll in our world. If you are creating a world from scratch, there are going to be creation myths, legends, and maybe even texts that someone decides is the key for how to live life. Some of these are going to evolve into religions. Because people want something to believe in, whether they are characters in a book, or real people. If you don’t want to have any religions in your book, there should be a good reason for their absence. Not one that you necessarily have to share, but it will inform your writing if it is there. And if there are religions, but you don’t want to make it a focus, maybe your main character is not religious. Or maybe it becomes a source of conflict between the hero and their travelling companion. One suggestion: don’t be preachy. It’s okay for one character to preach at another, but don’t preach to your reader. They won’t thank you for it.

Tip #3: Decide how the people look.

I’m not just talking physical features, though that’s important too. I’m talking about how they dress, how they move. The climate will play a part in this – people in colder regions are typically shorter and stouter while people in warmer areas are thinner and taller. (This is about heat conservation in northern regions, or keeping cool in warmer regions. It’s biological. If you have someone move from a warm region to a cool region, their kids are still going be taller, typically.) Not only height and girth, but in cold places people are more bundled, making for less graceful movements. Clothes are very important to worldbuilding – and not for description purposes (let’s face it, it sucks to spend paragraphs upon paragraphs trying to memorize details of someone’s attire). But if you think about why they wear certain things, you’ve hit a gold mine. If most people in a country wear leather armor, you can assume they are warlike. If they wear fine silks and flowing robes, maybe it is because they are excellent traders and have become very wealthy. Of course, in every culture and country there is wide variation depending on class, occupation, and even religious beliefs.

Okay. So these three steps are going to get you started. Of course there is so much more to think about, but if, like my friend, worldbuilding is not your forte, or is simply new to you, these steps will get you started in the write direction. (I know, written puns never do so well.)

What is your favorite worldbuilding tip?

Take care,

Emily

Sunday Special

Hey folks! So I’m pretty excited because yesterday I reached the HALFWAY point on book 3! This is a pretty big accomplishment for me because of the short amount of time it’s taken to get to this point. Admittedly, I did start book 3 a while ago, but the last couple weeks I’ve gotten through about a fourth of it.

Another update: I’ve decided where I’m going when I finish book 3! Of course I’ll start by editing/revising/rewriting both 2 and 3, but then I’ve got another pair of stories for the same world: other people dealing with the aftermath of Lacey’s adventures.

Okay, thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

Emily

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