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Documenting my odyssey into the wonderful world of fantasy writing and beyond. Can't promise I will always be on topic as the world is vast and full of such wonderous, and sometimes terrible, distractions. Email me: cassandra.jade.author@gmail.com

31 May, 2009

The Best and The Worst of Fantastical Creatures

Despite being a fantasy writer by nature, I have noticed a distinct lack of fantastical references on my blog, mostly because I am focused on the art of writing in general and have tried not to be genre specific. That said, today I want to focus on fantasy.

Below is my list of favorite fantastical creatures and the books in which they feature. I've tried to think of one example where they are used really well and one example where the creature has become groan worthy. Certainly feel free to add your own opinions to the list.

1. Dragons - of course the list had to start with dragons. Whether we are talking wyverns, wyrms, drakes, western hunters, pernese, doesn't matter, I love dragons. Yet they are quite frequently a hit and miss character in books (and movies, but that is an entirely different blog post).

  • The Best: Strabo from the Magic Kingdom of Landover Series (Terry Brooks). Who can dislike a dragon that can cross the mists between worlds, is intelligent and yet shockingly ego-centric, noble in a way and yet infuriatingly stubborn on other issues. By far my favourite dragon and the only down side is the limited book space he actually gets.
  • The Worst: Lady Ramkin's dragons from the Discworld Series (Terry Pratchett). I don't think the world really needed exploding dragons, no matter how amusing they might be.
2. Fairies - or faeries, doesn't matter how you want to spell it. Surprisingly, fairies are few and far between in the books I choose to read. A shame, because these tiny characters could be absolutely incredible.

  • The Best: Applecore from the War of The Flowers (Tad Williams). The foul mouthed fairy dominates every scene she is in and despite her small size, utterly dominates Theo as he stumbles blindly around in fairy land. Quick witted and utterly devoted, she is definitely a fine example of fairies in action.
  • The Worst: Simon from A Modern Magician (Robert Weinberg). I love this story, and I love Simon's character, but he is a terrible fairy. Admittedly, they are actually changelings, and they borrow their lore from Shakespeare, and in the modern age they now pose as long lost relatives or exchange students, but something about him is distinctly unfairy like.
3. Elves - way too broad a category really. Particularly when you consider how many different variations there have been on these characters. Still, they have a very active role in a large number of fantasies, and when used well, work superbly.

  • The Best: All of the elves as presented in The Deverry Series (Katherine Kerr). One of the best elvish cultures created and brought to life. Particularly in the later books of the series, the elves very much become dominant characters and are thoroughly enjoyable.

  • The Worst: ?
4. Ghosts - always did love a good ghost story, but the key word is good. Ghosts that simply spook for no apparent reason and finally at the end reveal that they were somebody someone knew really don't work for me. I like ghosts with personality and voice.

  • The Best: Ariel from A Knight of the Word Series (Terry Brooks). Made from the memories of dead children, she serves The Word and delivers messages to those in need, as well as protecting Nest as she tries to save the Knight from his Demon stalker. Ariel is a fascinating character, though rather short lived.

  • The Worst: Nearly Headless Nick in Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling). Despite saying I liked ghosts with personality, Nearly Headless doesn't really work for me and most of the time I found myself wishing that he and the other ghosts of Harry Potter would simply disappear. Though, I make an exception for Moaning Myrtle who was thoroughly entertaining.
5. Vampires - I really couldn't do this list without including vampires. I'm a little biased in the vampire category, given I was a Buffy fan and that kind of skews my view point a little. Vampires are classic characters that have been given so many contemporary twists, and in many book shops even their own section, that I just had to include them.

  • The Best: Not technically a vampire (dhampir, half human-half vampire) I am giving best vampire to Magiere from the Noble Dead Saga (Barb & J.C. Hendee). Her dress sense, her attitude, and her continual ability to thwart destiny are incredible, as is her ability to get herself into the worst kind of trouble. Besides, the vampires she hunts are quite interesting, and very resilient - more so than the usual vampire. Makes for some very interesting reading.

  • The Worst: Again, not technically vampires by any definition of the word, but I place the entire Cullen family from Twilight (Stephanie Meyer). Not actually dissing Twilight, simply pointing out that glistening, venom producing creatures that do not grow fangs and can go out in daylight, don't actually qualify (at least in my version of reality) as vampires. If she had named them something else, maybe I would have got over this already.
As I said right at the start of the list, please feel free to disagree of give me your own examples. I would love to know what you think about fantastical creatures in books.

30 May, 2009

This week's writing journey

Let me be honest, this is more than the week's journey. It has been nearly two, maybe three weeks since I have managed to do a wrap up of my writing journey. There are a number of highlights at the moment.

1. On Wednesday, Elizabeth Spann Craig (who writes the blog, Mystery Writing is Murder) has kindly offered a guest blog on how to turn that wonderful idea you've just had, into an actual project. It is going to be a great read and in the meantime, you can check out her blog and find out the other wonderful advice she offers.

2. My own writing has taken a turn for the better. With one MS out seeking publication, another in about its third stage of drafting and a third one recently completing the first draft stage, I have found writing to be addictive. The more that I have done, the more I've wanted to do. I have two project ideas currently involved in a duel to the death inside my head, to determine which one will make it into full project mode next. I've also decided that this Christmas I am going to tackle the rewriting of one of my favourite short stories into novel mode. I have been putting it off for a long time because I used to suffer from an inability to complete long projects and I didn't want this one to be sitting half finished.

3. My online social network continues to expand. As I'm relatively new to all of this my blog has only 9 followers, but every one of them is someone I am glad to have following, and I have read all of your comments with joy. However, the more important part is that I'm now following 30 blogs of people whom I have greatly come to respect for their writing and advice (as well as their stories that they share). It has been a priceless experience finding these and the difficulty now is finding the time to read all of that useful advice.

4. Something very off topic, I came to the realisation that I am never going to make one of my lead characters sick. I hate being sick. I've been sick for the last two and a bit days and I am very much over it. It is miserable. There are very few things that will stop me from writing, but being sick is one of them. I might give a character I despise an illness, but I would never inflict illness upon one of my favourite characters without good reason.

So that's the writing journey at the moment - always moving forward and finding something new of course. Definitely visit the blog on Wednesday to check out the guest blog, and pass the word on to your friend. Also, tell me where you are up to in your writing journey.

27 May, 2009

Jeffrey Harris - On The Steps

If you visit Jeffrey Harris on Bldg98 you will find that he is a male, aged 51, from Texas who likes playing golf and reading John Grisham novels. I recently made Jeffrey's acquaintance through the site and have learned that he has recently published his book "On The Steps".

"On The Steps" is a romance, and Jeffrey recently sent me a copy of the blurb to share with you.

Thirty-nine-year-old Michael Albright is devastated when breast cancer takes the love of his life. Twenty-one-year-old Brittany Chambers has her dreams shattered by a terrible act of betrayal. Although they are separated by eighteen years and fifteen hundred miles, these two strangers find one another on the internet and begin an astounding journey of healing together. Through the darkness of their confusion and despair, they reach out to one another as they try to find themselves. In the process, they will find a surprising, uplifting love that keeps bringing them back to the University of Virginia Rotunda…

Visiting the home page for the book, you can read the first chapter. Read it and try not to cry. Definitely a promising start to the story.

26 May, 2009

My 5 Snacks For Writing

As is clear from the last post, I've just finished the first draft of an MS I've been laboriously working on for some time. This has left me a little lethargic in the writing department, to the point where I am playing with colours on my new Tumblr account rather than clearly thinking about what to write in my blog.

Probably why I decided to stick with a very simple list today. Now, I have had this conversation with many writers, both in person and on forums and what I have discovered from this, is that writers are insane when it comes to what we will put in our mouths. More insane than that, is that we justify it by saying it helps the creative process.

My top five snacks when in the middle of a writing blitz are (imagine a drum roll sound here):

  1. Icing sugar and cocoa mixed (usually eaten dry, though a tiny drop or two of milk can make this into a really interesting paste - it is slightly easier to eat this way as it doesn't blow away if you exhale while lifting the spoon). I really don't have a justification for this combination other than it is pure sugar that tastes like chocolate and it has almost zero preparation time.
  2. Fresh rocket leaves with honey (as close to a salad as I am probably going to get). This has two benefits for me. Firstly, it is actually reasonably healthy. Secondly, it is really, really sweet and again, no preparation time.
  3. Tim tams and hot chocolate. I've recently learned that there are many people around who do not know the most fabulous food ever. Tim tams (chocolate cream, sandwiched in chocolate biscuit, coated in chocolate) used as a straw for hot chocolate. Essentially you bite two diagonal corners off, place one in the drink, and suck through the other. Do it fast, or the biscuit dissolves into the drink, but if you get it right, it is so amazing.
  4. Hot chips. As much as I get into sugar when I am writing, I love starch and grease. A quick trip to the corner shop for some hot chips is an amazingly good pick-me-up for writing, and it gets me moving and away from the computer screen for ten minutes or so.
  5. Sushi. Okay, has nothing to do with writing. I just love sushi and would eat it anytime, anywhere as long as there was lots of soy sauce to go with.
What all of these have in common are ease and flavour. They allow me to take very short breaks and then get on with the writing task, revived and energised.

Tell me your five top writing snacks (or even one).

24 May, 2009

Writer's Lag

You know after you have travelled anywhere, no matter what means of travel you use, and the plane, train, bus, whatever arrives at the station. You get that sense of relief and you stretch and feel really, really great, for about two seconds. Then you realise you still have to get a taxi or whatever to take you that final part of the journey and you really just want to curl up with a good book and go to sleep.

Writer's lag is very similar.

You've spent however long writing that first draft. You have laboured over word choices (buying the ticket), been stalled at times (similar to delays at customs), you've been distracted by life events (turbulence), been interrupted by friends who are well meaning and you can't actually be upset with them because they just want you to get away from the computer for an hour or two (that would be the well-meaning lady sitting beside you who just wants to show you pictures of her cats), and so on. The journey has been exhilarating, and draining, and amazing, and wonderful, and exhausting and frustrating, and all of those other things that journeys are, whether they involve writing or travelling or anything else.

You have finished. Hooray!

Now you have to edit. Please, no!

It is one definite way to take the thrill out of finishing that first draft and leaving you feel like you have writer's lag. This is particularly an issue for me at the moment, because I am barely one chapter and an afterward away from finishing my third MS and I find myself delaying, because I don't want to feel the pressure to start editing.

At the moment, it is all happy, happy, happy. I have done the work, put in the hours. The manuscript is nearly done. If I printed now it would be pages and pages of pretty printed text telling a fascinating story.

But already I know that there are unnecessary scenes. There is a particular piece of dialogue that I know I want to erase from existence. There is a scene that I skipped over entirely, but I've referred to it later in the text, so I kind of need to write it. One character has really just plain ticked me off and so I'm planning a rewrite in the early stages to remove them. I already know this and I haven't even done the first read through. That will find at least twenty other major changes that I want to make - not to mention the typos, unnecessary repetitions, and meaningless description that will probably be found.

Do I really want to finish my MS just to tear it a part?

Well, yes, because I would like to have a finished manuscript that is starting to get towards a publishable state rather than a first draft that remains a first draft forever.

I will finish the first draft. Hopefully today, maybe tomorrow. I will work through my lack of enthusiasm for the next stage and get to the absolute giddy-glee that accompanies putting the final full-stop on a story. I will relish in that emotion for a few days and use the time to read a friends MS for them, and get on with my day job and all those other things I need to do. Then I will sit down and begin the first edit. It always goes easier if I pretend I'm editing someone else's work. I'm far more likely to actually be critical of my own work then. I'll still miss things and ask a few others to help me out by reading this and that for me.

Finally, I'll have a dot point list, with page references, of all the changes that need to be made and I'll start working through it. When I get to the end of that, I will have another minor celebration before printing and editing again. Eventually, I may have produced something that I'm ready to share with the world.

I will finish. I just have to keep reminding myself that no matter how I'm feeling, I will feel so much better when it is done.

To all the writers out there - if you know a cure for writer's lag, or possibly even fear of the anticipation of writer's lag, share it with us.

23 May, 2009

Ten People To Meet On Twitter

Okay, when I was first told about twitter, I was very skeptical, as I was of most social networks. However, that was before I tried it out and fast became addicted to the site. Now, I wonder how I ever managed without it.

For those new to twitter, it can be an overwhelming experience. And before you have met anybody, knowing who you should follow, or even how to find people to follow, can be a real hit and miss experience. The easiest way I found was to visit people's blogs and if they had the button that said follow me on twitter, click that. That way, I knew who I was following and that they had something to say. Then, of course, people started replying to some of my tweets and I would go to their profile and see what they were up to. I ended up following many of them and now I seem to add someone new to my follow list everyday.

For the most part, I follow people who are writers, editors or agents - and then some randoms who just happen to entertain me. I love the advice and ideas that get spread about on twitter and the energy that seems to fill the site.

With that in mind, I would like to share my list of ten people who are delightfully entertaining or delightfully informative, or both, in no particular order.

1. Joanna Penn - Blog: The Creative Penn. Joanna not only promotes her own blog but provides links to some of the most interesting articles relating to writing and publishing in general.

2. Skyla Dawn - Website: Skyla Dawn Cameron. Skyla describes herself as an "Award-winning author, freelance artist, & snarky acquisitions editor." Her observations and comments are generally informative and amusing.

3. 1000th Monkey - who is always random and entertaining as his tweets range from movies to books to lost words and so.

4. Nathan Bransford -Blog: Nathan Bransfor Literary Agent. Mostly Nathan gives updates on when his blog is updated, but he is well worth following.

5. Tom L Waters - is a writer who shares his thoughts and progress with others.

6. Beth Miller - Seemingly eternally optimistic and some of her quotes can make you smile clear through the day.

7. Writing Hannah - perhaps the exact opposite of Beth Miller. She delivers some fascinating observations at times.

8. Blacklashed - an aspiring writer who is frequently there with words of encouragement for other writers.

9. Mittense - more into games then books, Mittense can be quite informative in amongst some of the more random comments.

10. Colleen Lindsay - literary agent. Responds well to questions by would-be writers and provides many interesting links to articles. Well worth following.

Okay, there are probably thousands of other people on twitter that I have never even heard of, who would be equally informative and entertaining, but this is my list for the time being.

Give me your recommendations on how you should follow in the Twitterverse.

22 May, 2009

Thunder and Moonshadow

Well it is Friday again, and that means it is time for another part of Thunder and Moonshadow.

For those who have not read the story so far, a dark shadow has fallen across Mocha city in the form of a suspected thief and murderer, MoonShadow. The police have until recently relied on the caped vigilante, Thunder, to solve their problems but the new mayor of Mocha will have none of it. Will MoonShadow continue to elude the police? Will Thunder be called in to aid the investigation? Part four of the story awaits and a new part will appear each Friday.

21 May, 2009

Character Conflict and Care Factor

This post is written I guess in response to Elizabeth Spann Craig's post, Creating Conflict (a great read by the way). I very much agreed with her point about conflict and felt she provided an interesting technique for writers to use when developing conflicts.

Having read her post, I naturally began thinking about how I create conflict for my characters and how important those conflicts are and where they came from. Then I began thinking about other writers and the conflicts they have created and what I started to think about was how a certain set of events in one story might be absolutely amazing and moving, while in the next the same series of events might seem flat and uninteresting.

Certainly there are epic tales out there that I have found exceedingly dull. The world (whatever world it may be) is in peril, and this character is on the brink of death and that character is doing something that should seem extraordinary, and I am bored. I am reading a few pages at a time and putting the book down to talk to someone, to play with my cat or something equally mundane. The worst thing is when I put a book down to do the dishes; that tells me clearer than anything that I am hating reading the book.

What this told me was that the exact nature of the conflict wasn't what kept me interested in reading a story. For some people, maybe the conflict is what grips them, but it won't hold my attention. Possibly, that is because every real conflict has been done before, in one variation or another. I remember a university lecturer once told me (though I cannot remember which one) that there were four basic types of conflict (man against man, man against nature, man against himself, and many against monster) and that every conflict fell into one of these categories. While the same may be said of all story elements, I find that there is a little more variety in character types, and certainly I find that good characters very much become unique entities, no matter what archetype is originally employed.

I have always known that characters are what sell a story to me. Anything that they do becomes infinitely more interesting if I care whether or not they come through it. The conflict can be vast or simple, as long as I care about the character, I will read every line in tense anticipation, waiting to see the outcome.

Having recently read Nathan Bransford's post about favourite characters (more importantly the comments about characters) I realise I am not alone in my fascination with characters.

Stories really are a juggling act between characters, setting and plot. Each one has its place, and getting even one wrong, or ignoring it in preference of the others, really could see you alienate your readers.

Let me know your views on characters, plot or conflict.

20 May, 2009

The Clutter on my Desk - Organisation and Writing

I am one of those people who likes to plan every minute of every day. Things around me function like clockwork or they do not function. That explains why my diary is full of notes, all colour coded, and extremely detailed, giving me every bit of information I could possibly need.

You would think that with this attitude to life, I could manage to keep my desk clean.

However, my defence for the state of my desk, both at home and at work, is quite simple. I am a creative thinker.

This might seem at odds with my rigid and logical approach to life, but ultimately I think it works quite well. Anyone can be creative. However without dedication and drive, they are unlikely to ever turn any of that creative energy into something meaningful. My hard and fast approach to life are tools developed while at school, to ensure I actually did something, rather than sitting around and daydreaming. Yet creativity must come out somewhere, or I might very well suffer a critical meltdown. That somewhere is my desk.

At the moment I am sitting about thirty centimetres from my computer monitor. In that space I have:
  • two open envelopes, from where I was checking the mail
  • a dictionary of first names
  • three notebooks with various notes and plans scribbled in them
  • a printed draft of my second MS that I am editing
  • a USB which may or may not have anything of significance on it - I found it under another pile of books last week so it is anyone's guess
  • two pens, one of them works, I don't remember which one
  • a necklace that I took off while writing the other day
  • four bracelets, removed to make typing easier and then forgotten
  • a box of tissues
  • a stuffed bunny (made in China), no idea why
  • a bottle of nail polish
  • an anzac day badge
  • several cables
  • my camera battery charger
  • and a hair clip.
All of this in one thirty centimetre space and I haven't even turned my head to look right (where my printer should live but it got moved out because I ran out of room on the desk). If I look up, I have an entire row of paraphernalia placed strategically to help me focus. Everything from ornaments, to pictures, to Cd's, to a ring box.

Periodically, the rigid and controlling part of my personality wants to clean my desk. This process consists of me removing everything from the desk and then strategically putting it all back. Usually I rearrange the order, but it all ends up back on the desk. Try as I might, I can't convince myself to throw anything away or move it elsewhere.

The bottom line is, when I do clean my desk, I can't work. I stare at the empty space and place a clean notepad on it and draw little scribbles in the margins and stare blankly at the empty space, but nothing gets done. It is like I'm suddenly void of any thought or energy. Certainly, I cannot come up with any interesting or creative ideas while faced with a sea of nothing.

I know some people can't work in mess. They take one look at my work station and think I'm a slob or disorganised. Nothing can be further from the truth. Ask me to find anything and I can lay my hands on it nearly instantly - with the exception of old USB's, that one managed to evade me for some time.

I work best when inspired by clutter. The point of a work desk is to get work done. I guess it is up to each individual to decide what works for them but I would suggest the following:
  • ensure you have some sort of visual element near you (picture, poster, calender, children's drawing, whatever)
  • if you have to have some sort of organiser for holding pens and the like choose one that is at least a little flashy, even if it is still functional
  • have as much on your desk as you want, but ensure you have some sort of system for organisation - for instance the tissue box on my desk clearly separates the desk into two distinct halves of current fascinations and things that I have pushed aside.
  • finally, rearrange often - small changes often yield large results.
Tell me about your desk and how it helps you.

19 May, 2009

The "What If" Factor: Beginning the Creative Writing Process

This is actually a combination of "what if" followed by "what then".

When trying to help people write creatively, handing them a piece of paper is about as helpful as handing an illiterate person a dictionary and expecting that they can suddenly put everything together. Mostly, all you get from the exercise is a whole lot of book fodder on how to describe a blank expression.

A simple exercise that can be done as a group or individually to get everything started is a round of "what if". Keep in mind if you are doing this individually, it helps if you have a split personality, or at the very least, you need to not be adverse to talking to yourself.

Essentially, it starts with one person saying "What if...". Their "what if" could be anything, but should start relatively non-specifically. "What if there was a guy wearing jeans, waiting for a bus?" "What if there was an asteroid heading for Earth?" "What if there was a cat sitting on the porch?" Doesn't matter where you start.

The next person agrees and then expands. "Yeah, there was a guy. Only he was wearing cargo's, not jeans, and he had baseball cap on backwards. Oh, and the bus was going to take him to..." You get the point.

You keep going until you have the whole scene. The guy, what he is wearing, where he is going, what he is doing while he is waiting, etc. Then comes the "what then" part.

What happens next?

Eventually, what you have is an outline for a possible story, complete with characters, settings and plot points (how detailed these are depend on who you do it with). Using the discussion as the stimulus, each person can then sit down and write their own version of the story (changing whatever elements they feel are critical). What is important, is that everybody has a starting point, and can follow along with the general pattern until they are ready to move off and onto their own route. It gives them something to begin with and a bit of confidence to write.

Trying to inspire creative writing; play a game of "what if" and see what happens.

Let me know how you have inspired people to write creatively.

18 May, 2009

5 Ways To Create Inspiration - K.M. Weiland

I am very happy today to begin this post and introduce my first guest blogger. Novelist K.M. Weiland is sharing her views on the creation of inspiration.

K.M. Weiland writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska. She also authors the weekly blog "Wordplay: The Writing Life of K.M. Weiland" which features tips and essays about the writing life. You can also visit her on the web.

Five Ways to Create Inspiration

Cassandra honored me with the request to share a post on creativity. Ironically enough, I spent a good bit of time staring at the computer, feeling utterly uninspired, before grabbing a pen and paper and scribbling down all the ways in which I am personally inspired.

I think it’s safe to open this post with a broad, sweeping generalization: We write because of inspiration. Not only because without inspiration we wouldn’t have anything to write about, but also because inspiration is the writer’s version of runner’s high. It’s this top-of-the-world, explosion-of-joy experience that makes the personal sacrifices and hard work of the writing life more than worth it.

Inspiration, however, is a slippery thing. Ultimately, it is intensely personal, unrepeatable, and often unresponsive to conscious prodding. You can’t force inspiration. It either happens or it doesn’t. You can’t sit yourself down at your desk, squeeze your eyes shut, and demand that inspiration appear in front of you complete with a drumroll and a puff of smoke. Inspiration is a gift, and like all gifts it must be treated with gratitude and responsibility.

But none of this is to say that we can’t position ourselves in the path of inspiration. Instead of just waiting around for the muse to hit us in the head with a lightning bolt, we can learn, in a sense, to create inspiration. Following are five ways I’ve learned to be receptive to inspiration. Inspiration, after all, is all around us; we just have to learn to become a conduit for it.

  1. Look at the world through the lens of your story. When I’m in the midst of brainstorming a story, I wear it like a cloak. I, in essence, look at life through the lenses (rose-colored or otherwise) of my story and its characters. I’m washing dishes, walking the dog, running late? Maybe my characters are too. I hear a song on the radio, and it becomes an anthem for the scene I’m working on. I pass an interesting old codger in the mall, and suddenly he’s running amok among the characters in my head.

  1. Listen to your subconscious. Never underestimate your subconscious. When you’ve come to a snarl in your plot, don’t think too hard. You can only push your conscious brain so far. On more than one occasion, after I’ve backed myself and my characters into a seemingly insurmountable corner, I’ve sat at the keyboard for hours, racking my brain for an answer that just wouldn’t come. But when I return to the problem the next day, after my subconscious has had a chance to mull over the matter for the night, the solution is practically staring me in the face. When you come across an interesting snippet of an idea that you aren’t quite certain how to develop, toss it into your subconscious for a while. Sometimes ideas stew in the back of my mind for years before suddenly reappearing on center stage as something worth pursuing.

  1. Lollygag creatively. Novelist Michael J. Vaughn, who coined the term “creative lollygagging,” purposely looks for mindless tasks (gardening, walking, pulling weeds) to occupy his hands, while his brain stews on his story. “We are not talking about sitting around on a couch. Just as a satellite dish needs electricity, you need some blood pumping into that brain. Next, consider low focus. The activity shouldn’t be so intense that you don’t have time to think (Grand Prix and ice hockey are out). Look for a mellow pursuit, surrounded by low-level distractions.” (From Vaughn’s article “Creative Lollygagging” in the December 2006 issue of Writer’s Digest.)

  1. Combine stories. Like most every other writer on the planet, I have at least half a dozen stories romping around in my brain at any given moment, most of them in need of that spark of “something” that will suddenly transform a gem of inspiration into a full-fledged concept worthy of my time and attention. Stories require many layers, and usually they acquire their layers organically. But some of the best complexities in my stories have been the result of combining two (or more) entirely different stories. Juxtaposition creates instant conflict, originality, and depth. Take a look at some of your embryonic stories and see if you can get something special by combining one more of them.

  1. Feed the muse. Your creative mind is a living organism that requires just as much attention and nurturing as any visible part of your body. Lavish it with care, and it will flourish. Feed it just as carefully as you would your stomach. Nourish it with quality literature, movies, music, and art. Let it lap up the offerings of other artistic minds—and just see if the muse doesn’t take off running all on its own!

Finally, and most importantly, don’t wait for inspiration. We’d all like to take up permanent residence in that rarefied atmosphere where the “inspiration high” is a constant state of being. But, as all writers discover sooner or later, that high will inevitably run dry. If we allow our writing to dry up with it, we’ll never so much as finish a story, much less be read by anyone. Inspiration is much more likely to strike when your mind is active. So even on the days when the mental well seems to have evaporated and blown away in clouds of steam, sit yourself down at your desk and keep writing. Inspiration, after all, is really a very small part of the big picture.

14 May, 2009

3 Tips for Character Planning

After my blog on "Following the Story" and my lack of ability to follow a plan for more than a minute, I have been thinking a lot about the planning processes I undertake. When starting a project, I always begin with the characters, because for me they are the point of the story. The events just kind of let the reader see the characters in action in order to learn more about them, or the events force the characters to evolve. Either way, the characters are the beginning and end of everything I write.

1. Character Webs

To illustrate this I am going to use an example from "Lost in Ladulce: The Lady", the second of my unpublished manuscripts. I was struck by sudden and random character inspiration (SARCI - to those who really love, or hate, acronyms) while at work. I couldn't write out a profile or begin a new file or any of the usual things I would do to capture the essence of the character. Instead, I had two minutes to scribble something down in a torn notebook that just happened to be shoved in a drawer.

The character I had been inspired with was Lucinda, who has gone on to become one of the most problematic characters I've ever created but that does not invalidate the planning process. Lucinda, who at the time remained unnamed. I just knew she was going to be called The Lady, both capitalised. She was going to have a sister, who kind of despised her. She was married, but her husband was more interested in her sister. She would have a son, but she didn't acknowledge him as her child. Lucinda was a character surrounded by and connected to people and yet every relationship was flawed and filled with secrets and lies.

All of this information hit me in one blinding moment. I knew who Lucinda was and what I wanted from her. So I scribbled. Lucinda's name ended up nearly at the top of a page with an arrow pointing across to Danielle (which was the name I hastily pulled out of nowhere for her sister, but the name stuck). I then drew an arrow to her husband, who at the time was simply called The Lord, and between them wrote the name Elsen, which was the name designated for their child.

By the time I got home I had added in surnames and about four other characters with arrows and swirls and dotted lines showing relationship after relationship. During the writing process that followed, many things changed about the characters, but the initial relationship web has remained solid through every rewrite. Admittedly, some of the characters that were added, slowly sank out of importance, to the point where they no longer even appear in the story, but should they crop up, I know exactly how they should interact with the other characters.

Lucinda Bellerose has become a pain in the neck, as far as getting her character just right in the manuscript. She is meant to be slightly disturbed, but she usually comes off as psychotic. I know what she should read like, it is just a matter of translating that into a workable story for the reader. Still, this method of planning not only gave me the basis for the characters of this story, but it also began to establish the plot and plot developments as the relationships between the characters were established.

2. What would they do if...?

This is a method more for people who have a character, but they aren't sure if they know them well enough, or if they have created someone realistic. You take your character and you put them through their paces by asking a very simple question.

What would this character do if...

You can finish this sentence anyway you like. What would they do if I suddenly put them in a parallel world where technology would not function? What would they do if their best friend died? What would they do if they won a lot of money?

If you can't answer the question, and know with a hundred percent certainty that your character would act exactly that way, they you probably need to spend a bit more time getting to know your character. One thing that really bothers me as a reader is when a character suddenly does something that is completely out of character. It makes sense to move the plot forward, but it makes no sense for that individual to act that way. Very annoying.

3. Talking Round in Circles

This one is for the writers who truly like to live their books. When I'm working really closely with a character, I tend to start visualising myself having conversations with them. I do this while washing dishes or doing something else that requires absolutely no thought power. I chat with them. I ask them about their life and what they are doing. We get along like good old friends.

The process is actually fairly important. What I am doing is testing the reality of the character I have created. When they answer me, are they consistent in their language? If I've given them an accent, or a lisp or if they speak in certain forms, have I established that and is it believable? Do I know enough about this character for them to answer the seemingly random questions I throw at them?

All of three of these methods are built around creating a character so realistic they really could come off the pages and walk about and they would be a three dimensional being. Nearly 80% of the information these methods create will never end up in the manuscript, but I feel it is important to really understand your character. If you don't, you can't expect your reader to.

Share your top character planning and creation tips. Comment here or email me to let me know your methods (or madness).

13 May, 2009

Guest Blog Coming

Watch this space because on Monday (18 May, 2009) novelist K.M. Weiland will be sharing her methods for creating inspiration.

In the meantime you can visit her blog, Wordplay: The Writing Life of K.M. Weiland, or visit her home page to find out more about her and her views on the writing process.

11 May, 2009

Following the Story

I have been writing like crazy for nearly a week now and I have much to show for my efforts. However, as usual, the plan I wrote out and laboured over as I prepared to start the project is completely useless by the time I am half-way through the first draft.

For instance: I had this character in my plan. His name was Lucan and he was really quite an interesting character. Even for a minor one. I gave him an entire history and fleshed out his appearance. I even drew a character web revolving just around him and how he fit into the story. I liked Lucan. He was going to swan into the story about mid-stream and shake things up a bit with his zany approach to planning, giving the protagonist a much needed lesson in spontaneity, before conveniently dying in what was perhaps one of the most incredible death scenes I have even envisioned. Even in death he was going to be interesting.

I'm mid-way through my story, and not only have I not introduced Lucan, or given him any mention at all, the direction the story is headed and where my protagonist is at, ensures that Lucan is no longer required. More to the point, he no longer fits at all with any of the other characters as they have changed so much that he is completely unable to fit with any of them in his present state.

Lucan, therefore, is gone. (I really hope I do write a sequel to this current story because I would very much like Lucan to appear. I went to a lot of effort with his character.)

As you can imagine, with the characters out of phase with my plan, the rest of the plan, including all significant plot points, is now void. One plan thrown out the window.

Now the reason I manage to do this, every time I write anything, is quite simple. I refuse to follow a paved road from point A to point B if the road is dull. If I see something shiny over to the left, then I will veer left. Sometimes these detours are minor, but usually they are a radical change of course from which very little will manage to redirect me back in the original direction. And, what is the point of continuing along a road when you've already decided you'd rather be somewhere else?

I've already figured out that it is my character that derail me. It is during bouts of dialogue where I frequently divert the flow. Mostly because one of my characters will say something, and instead of moving on with the story as the plan would dictate, another character will reply. Their banter will continue and the simply A to B suddenly becomes A to C via X and Y and maybe we'll end up at D instead. I could then go back and rewrite to end up at B, and I will if I honestly think the new direction is not going anywhere, but generally I'll suddenly see a whole new world of possibilities opening before me.

Why plan?

The plan does get the initial energy flowing. It focuses me and forces me to think about my characters. I wouldn't get these spontaneous flows of dialogue if my characters were simple paper cut outs. It is through all the planning and decision making that I become connected to the project. Plus, if I'm not inspired, the plan gives me something to follow so that the project does keep moving.

Incidentally, I finally figured out the new conclusion to my project, which is far better than the initial plan. I am going to spend a couple of hours this evening sorting out the fine print and writing The Plan, Take 2. By the time I get to the end of the draft I'll have thrown that away and be on take 3. By the time I finish editing if I'm not up to The Plan, Take 20 I'll be very surprised.

How are you with planning and do you bother to stick with your plans? Let me know what you think.

10 May, 2009

The Writing Journey This Week

Lots has happened this week in my writing world, though most of it can be caught up in the webook vote and the discussions surrounding the site. Leaving that until last, my journey this week has:

1. Seen me launch head first into a new writing project for submission in July. Initially I was not going to enter this particular round of submissions but I had that moment of pure inspiration and writing was unavoidable. Whether or not the project is completed and edited in time remains to be seen. It is a YA Fantasy novel set in Brisbane (the city remains unnamed but those familiar with the city will recognise it, should the project ever go public), though as it deals with aliens a lot of people will try to classify it as sci/fi. It isn't, it is definitely fantasy. I'm about half-way along the first draft and very much on track at the moment - watch me get derailed in coming weeks.

2. Received good news from a friend of mine who was given an honourable mention in a short story competition. It is always wonderful to see others succeeding, and having read his entry I am well aware that he deserved it. This is inspiring me to pick up my act and get my stories out there.

3. The Webook Vote. Well I did make it into the top ten percent with my collection of fantasy short stories. During the last voting cycle my YA novel made it into the top ten percent. The Webook community are reading and enjoying my writings (which is really great to know that anyone is reading my work from time to time). Unfortunately, yet again, my work was not selected for publication. I seem to be accepting that a great deal better than some of the others who have been turned down. It is a publishing business and I've been rejected from others before, I'm kind of taking it in stride and realising I will have to alter my angle of attack if I am going to move forward.

For those interested in the webook website and the current voting process, a discussion is taking place in the forums with suggestions for improving the next round. Some very entertaining, if not enlightening, points are being raised, as is the problem with allowing writers to assume they have any say in the publishing process. Check the link above to see what is going on and have your say.

For me, I have reached the top ten percent twice. I have an audience. Now I just need to prove to the publishers out there that I am worth taking a gamble on. I will continue on this journey until I succeed. I will not be discouraged. I hope the others who missed out in this round continue on as well.

And that is the writing journey this week. I have much to do and as usual, no where near enough time.

08 May, 2009

5 Books for Fantasy Writers to Read

I did one of these last week and since then I've been reminded of so many others I wanted to put into the list. My choices this week:

1. War of the Flowers by Tad Williams

Tad Williams is incredible but War of the Flowers and its story of a parallel fairy world undergoing its own industrial revolution is brilliant. Fantastic characters and vivid descriptions, as well as an intriguing plot make this a story not to miss out on.

2. The Truth by Terry Pratchett

Okay, narrowing down which of the Discworld novels would make the list was difficult, but The Truth has always been my favourite. If you have never read a Discworld novel, you really should, and the Truth is very independent of the other stories, so you don't miss too much if you haven't read the others. I love this book because all the usual characters of Anhk Morpork are present, while we are introduced to an array of new and interesting characters. Plus the whole power of the written word is explored and as a writer, that appeals to me. A clever parody and extremely amusing story, well written with a strong finish. A must read for anyone.

3. Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda

Warning on this one, for younger readers, and yet incredible. Classic quest story with a coming of age theme as Rowan, one of the weakest in his village, sets out on a journey up the mountain to help bring the water back to the stream that provides life for his village. Not too many unexpected turns in the story or new material, this book demonstrates how classic tales can be told in interesting ways.

4. Running with the Demon by Terry Brooks

Again, how does one choose a Terry Brooks book above the others? Running with the Demon wins this one because he named a character Nest and pulled it off. The blend of magic and reality as we follow Nest and her journey is expertly done and by the end you would almost believe that there might be magic lurking in your nearby park. A fascinating story with some quite clever devices linking past and future events.

5. Palace by Katharine Kerr

Katharine Kerr is amazing, and I loved her Deverry series, but in Palace she takes us to a futuristic world that feels amazingly fresh. It is odd because most of the ideas have been seen before, but it still reads originally. Explore the intricate world created in this tale and really feel for the characters. Very emotionally powerful.

Thunder and Moonshadow

Part 2 of this story is up for reading. Find out more about Mocha city and its somewhat reluctant police force. Very soon our super hero shall make his entrance and the secret of Moonshadow shall be revealed.

Check out Thunder and Moonshadow and let me know what you think.

06 May, 2009

Writing Advice I Have Received

For a while now I have been reading everything I can about writing. Obviously there is more being written than I could ever possibly read but I have read quite a bit. I just want to quickly share five bits of advice I have read recently, in no particular order, that seemed to have some merit.

  • Don't worry about being the next big thing, worry about writing a good story. This I read less than two minutes ago on another blog and thought it was brilliant, unfortunately forgot which blog.
  • Social networking, Twitter and the like, can help authors or hinder them, depending on how they use it.
  • Inspiration takes seconds while writing is a long and time consuming labour (though very much worth it).
  • While some people will forgive grammatical errors in a good story, others will reach for the tar and feathers.
  • Writers everywhere rely way to heavily on caffeine. No wonder we're all just that little bit out there.
Keep writing and have fun.

05 May, 2009

Colour me...

I've just been going through a whole pile of my old writing and I have realised something odd. Every single villain that I have created has either black or brown eyes. Every single one. In contrast to every heroic character where pretty much all of the girls have pale grey or ice blue eyes and all the guys have amber eyes. Given I've never actually consciously made a decision to do this, that is just really odd. More importantly, how is it that every other character either has boring blue or brown eyes, not even any green. Apparently I need to pay more attention to what my subconscious is doing to my stories.

03 May, 2009

The Trouble With Prequels

Slightly off topic from books today (for some of it).

Yesterday, I saw the new X-men movie (Wolverine) and was highly underwhelmed. It was much the same as having sat through all three movies of the new Star Wars and feeling a sense of utter apathy toward them.

My problem with these, and other prequels, for the most part are:

1. They add nothing of value to the original story

2. They give me nothing about the character that I couldn't have discerned for myself, except information that is useless at best, or worse, utterly distracting and clouding over the definition I already have of the character

3. The end is a already determined and so there is nothing of a surprise there

4. Because the end it predetermined, the journey is either uninspiring, uninteresting, or muddled to the point of making no sense in order to get to an end point in an interesting way.

Using Wolverine as an example (yes there are spoilers so don't read if you are going to be upset):

What did we really learn about Logan that we already didn't know?

Um, he fought in a war? No, that was kind of obvious.

Um, Stryker was the one who put metal in him? Yeah, everyone knew that.

I've got it, he had a brother! Exactly, and this is where it makes no sense. His brother is still alive at the end of the movie, and yet nowhere to be seen in the x-men trilogy. Why exactly wouldn't he be involved? It doesn't make sense. He loved violence. He would have been the first one in on a mutant vs human and/or mutant war. We didn't know this about Logan, because it doesn't make sense in the context of the original movie.

Then of course there is the discussion about the quality of the film. Forget the hype. Just look at the scene in the bathroom where he first checks out his new blades. How fake is that? They didn't even try to blend with how they looked in X-men. The didn't even try to make it look like the blades were in the same room as Wolverine. Then there are is the indestructible motor-bike. The cheesy appearance of the professor at the end. The completely ridiculous farce where the army first pursues Logan (without the one weapon that might stop him). It goes on and on.

Same with Star Wars, and the Cruel Intentions Prequel, and with several others I could go into but I'm going to leave it there.

Onto books, because this is supposed to be on books. If you want a decent prequel, read David Eddings the "Belgerad" and follow with the "Mollorean", and then read the two prequels, "Belgarath the Sorcerer" and "Polgara the Sorceress". These actually add something to the series and are entertaining on their own.

02 May, 2009

The Writing Journey This Week

At the moment time is flying. I would be absolutely lying if I said I had really done anything productive, writing wise, this week. That said, here are the highlights:

1. Still in Webook top ten percent and awaiting a decision there.

2. Received my manuscript back from yet another agent with a thanks but no thanks letter (I really should have kept all the letters right from the start so that I could construct a glory wall). More determined then ever to continue improving my craft and actually get a 'yes'.

3. Started reviewing on webook again, it has been awhile. I actually lost my top reviewer status (finally). At least I'm no longer getting random messages from people who write drama or poetry saying "please read my work" even though they never even glance at mine. At least I was reading this week.

4. As the post below says, I decided to start a second blog for the purpose of writing a serial. At least that is once a week that I have to write. Those who do follow me on Webook may have already read the first couple of weeks worth, but it has been severely changed and edited so it should be relatively new. Check out Thunder and Moonshadow.

And that is it from me this week in writing. I'm hoping things settle down around me so I can get back to some serious writing and editing, but every step forward is helpful.

01 May, 2009

Thunder and Moonshadow

Just for fun I decided to start my own serial (a week by week telling of a story). The first couple of weeks are adapted from a story I started a while ago, and I will see where it goes.

Check out Thunder and Moonshadow and let me know what you think.