Friday, October 29, 2010

Novel: Outline Up

I'm big on character and plot. But in the last 2 years, my brain has kinda rewired itself. I've developed a more intense need for organization...

I think it's my life, really...

So I signed up for Nanowrimo. 50k words used to be fairly easy, when my life had a few less details in it :P Now, it's time to re-approach my projects.

World Building: 1st I am writing out the background of the world

This is how does the magic(s) work? Who IS magical? What is the history and how does that affect your character and world set up?

Character Building: 2nd I'm writing up the Character background for my main characters + villain--

Karryna, Dayton, Lara and Bea.

2a: Setting up the minor characters:

--I don't need to know their whole back history, but I do need to know their motivations and how that affects their interactions with my main characters:

Toni, Sera, Bea's goons, the Masons, Madre & Tia & Pappa, Ishtar ...

Outlining: 3rd, it all comes together with an outline.

Event by event, I mapped out the plot, include notes of character behaviors that will guide plot, etc.

And on Monday...I will start writing! :D

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What are Critique Groups For?

First off--this is the 100th post!

So lets celebrate by discussing the reason we're here on this blog, anyway.

Critique Groups. What are they for? Why do we need them?

Critique Groups exist to help you better your craft.

There are multiple ways to look at the purpose for improving one's art of writing. None are less worthy than any other, however different goals do impact critique style. So it is of utmost importance that dominate goal of your critique group is synonymous with your personal writing goals.

Writing for Hobby

Some people dabble. They can live without writing, but they choose not to. I can't explain this well, because I don't understand it. I used to paint for fun, and draw. I drew because I wanted to see my characters, get a handle on how they dressed...I was visually world building. But it was driven by other needs in my life.

Perhaps that is what writers who write for a hobby are doing...wrestling with other drives. Writing for therapy. Or to understand some aspect of their world, a tiny sphere of it, just to go “Ah hah! Now I got it!” So the writing, itself, isn't the goal. The self-knowledge it generates may well be the true aim.

Writing for Art

When the story and characters haunt you and refuse to leave you alone, even when you have a long day of cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping and errand-attending-to hanging over your head, and no time to write, it is the writing itself that drives you. The art takes so much time to craft, and if you find yourself stealing 15 minute breaks at work to crouch over your notepad, or even spirit away your notebook to the bathroom to scratch out some ideas in a way no one will miss got it bad.

Writing as a hobby won't sustain this need. The urge to write eats up chunks of your life. You start zoning out in the middle of conversations. You arrange a few hours here and there, but as painstakingly slow as the whole process is...these hours just aren't enough. And even when you hit dry periods, when life tosses obstacles in your way, you focus on developing techniques to keep you writing.

Myeslf? That's what started me blogging. At first I modeled what I posted from my favorite blogs, but over time I've begun to find my own voice. Precisely the same curve as fiction writing takes. Imitate what you like or the concept of what you think your chosen written form should look like, then you learn the true rules and ettiquette—why they exist—and upon implementation and adaptation you find your expression truly liberated. Suddenly the thoughts and emotions you want you reader to have...they have...even the ones who have never met you.

But I also derive inspiration from helping others. If I am in a place where Life and Writing are at odds, lest I tackle non-fiction, then I would like to see others get further down the road we both want to walk. I want to help them find the knowledge to hone craft, publish, proceed toward making at least part of their income from their writing. Recognition of hard work.

Writing for Publication

This is the realm of the successful writer. The writer who retains control of their art, and can consciously decide how much he/she wants to sacrifice for the ability to earn a living on writing alone. Or, precisely how frugally he/she can live and be content.

Goals here are to hone craft by better walking the line between self-expression and audience appeasement. While writing for art purposes can drive one to focus on how to communicate to his/her audience, that is not the same thing as appeasing said audience. Communicating lets the audience see/know what you want them too, based on what is best for your story. Appeasement means the audiences needs trump your creativity.

Just because someone “writes for publication” does not mean they are “selling out.” There are many aspects to writing for publication, chief of which is the ability to identify your audience. No human is 100% innately unique. We often feel that way. But in actuality, there are people who think like us, who like the same things we do, and despite their interests running in different arrangements and operating under different assumed categories, they are our built in audience. Who they are and how to reach them is determined by your ability to identify them, and give agents and publishers the knowledge they need to promote your book.

Promotion does not mean selling out. The modern concept seems to be that marketing of any sort means that a pursuit is “non-artistic.” But behind every artist whose name is even whispered, is a business. Not only is promotion—from fliers to press releases to article writing—essential to the advancement of any writer, it is the only way even the tiniest bits of recognition achieved for your hours of hard work.

The goals of the various levels of writing:

Dabbling Goals

For the person writing as a hobby, they want connection with other writers. Now, we all want this, but with different expectations of the relationship. Writing as a hobby means honest critique isn't the goal. Often these individuals want appreciation from a community of people who dabble in a similar fashion. True improvement of craft is not the goal, because the plan at the end of the day is to stuff the writing in a drawer.

Does this mean that dabblers aren't good writers? On the contrary, they can have a lot of skill. They just don't care weather they do or not. They don't want recognition beyond a narrowly defined clique, sometimes inclusive of family and/or friends. Dabblers seek other writers to join in a quest of self-expression with. It's an activity, like a club. Not a serious endeavor.

Writing for Artistic Goals

As writing drives expression, and expression transcends hobby and becomes part of one's life as essential as eating dinner, the writer is driven to publish. This isn't a drive perpetuated by a quest for fame (necessarily) but for a little recognition. Our society recognizes hard work monetarily. We give children allowance for chores, or good grades, etc. We pay laborers based on hours worked. We derive salaries based on knowledge required, academic experience, and duties expected. Everything in our lives is commodified, and as such we are trained: recognition comes in the form of a paycheck.

The more hours spent honing craft for nothing else but the sake of the piece you are writing, the more imperative the question: “What should I get for this?” When you've sacrificed family time, time with friends, grades and sometimes even work hours for the sake of completing a manuscript it can become more than recognition that drives this move. It could be fiscal realities that prompt you to think publishing is a must.

When you are at this point in your writing career you are on the quest for knowledge. Not only knowledge about the craft of writing fiction, but writing query letters, researching agents. Who do you contact? How? What edge can you manufacture so that when your polished manuscript lands in the hands of an agent or editor they say: “Ah hah! I want this one!” How much control can you maintain over the situation to guarantee that if someone doesn't pick you up, it isn't because of some naivete or lack on your part?

Writers with these goals—the aspiring writer—needs other writers who are actively on the same journey they are. Only others at their same level can provide the thorough critiques that prepare them for publication. These writers don't need pats on the back, they need honest appraisals from others who have researched not only the industry but what the Reader sees on the page.

Writing for Publication

These writers need picky, quick, and detailed critiques that can help them sit down, fix and complete all changes needed for making a deadline. Their critiquing partners need to know their publishing goals: does this writer write for pure entertainment? Is there an artistic or political agenda? Etc. These determine the analysis and critiques given about content.

Choosing your group:

When choosing your critique group, be honest about your goals.
Be certain your group shares your same perspective.
Discuss your reasons for writing frequently.

A critique group that pats you on the back and finds mostly grammatical issues in your writing, and only what is awkward and unclear is not going to help you progress toward publication. That group is simply not thorough enough, and may be susceptible to dogmatic approaches to critiquing.

Likewise, a thorough critique that focuses on big issues, rather than the use of details to construct said big issues may give you too much to think about/fix on a deadline. If you are writing for publication and need that sort of critique, you will likely be asking for extensions :P

Discussions of why you write and for whom you write will define some of your goals here.
For instance, my response: I write for myself! But I'd really like others to see it. I want, someday, someone I don't know to come up to me and say “I loved your book! It inspired me to write, because you made writing feel like an enriching experience.” Okay, perhaps it won't be in exactly that wording, but that's the jist.

When your group does not share your goals it can be detrimental to everyone involved. Does this mean writers of all levels shouldn't associate? No. But they shouldn't be in the same critique groups.

What are your thoughts? What do you want out of your critique partners?

Friday, October 8, 2010

If You Could Describe For Me...

So, I'm posting on Thursdays :P Let's pretend today is Thursday.

What happened yesterday?

The Guy put on a computer game. Stuff had been brewing for awhile (it's part of my process ;) and I've had a few "false starts" on this project already. For the School Daze Blogfest I tried a scene from Karryna's POV. It worked. Far better than anything from stubborn Lara's perspective has.

So on went Pandora, in went the Earbuds, and out poured the latest start of the project. Starting new projects always teaches me something new. And while I'm not quite 2k words into this draft, I noticed something I want to work on.


Ok,I've always felt this was hard. Why? I could describe something till blood oozed from under my fingernails and I don't think people would feel it's real. Last night, after folding my laptop and tucking it away, I realized why.

I rely on describing what Reader should see and hear. Smell and taste is hard. I mean, really. I should have not merely described the large entryroom, the wheeled luggage grating against tiles. I should have added the faint scent of lemon circulating on the draft caused by the open door. The whiff of flour and cooking oil on Isa the Maid as she comes to take Kari's bags from Madre. And perhaps, those scents made Kari taste bread.

Smell and taste do not have to be related to food. Our mouths taste dry, metallic (or as a friend's status read the other day on FB "minty fresh") and this is related to scent, memory, emotions. In actuality any of these things can trigger scent, taste and in response, memory.

Certainly makes flashbacks easy, or background information relevant. Also this deepens Reader's experience. Reading has been more "3-D" than movies ever have, because we can feel what the Main Character feels. We can watch the characters put puzzle pieces together that a) we've already figured out b) we haven't figured out. We develop a richer understanding of character personality, which allows for greater individual complexity than a 2 hour movie permits, or a series based on stand-alone episodes can imitate.

So describing a scene isn't about...well,'s about tricking Reader's mind into thinking, for a moment "I am there." Transcending the real world and landing smack-dab into the dream world, while awake. Full use of imagination. That's what it's about.

That's why I read. To love the characters, to see things I never could. So, I hope that some day my writing can create the same experience for others. Here's to improving description!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

After a short break...

 It's been a crazy, but fun few weeks.  And now (since everyone was undoubtedly aching for it), here's more Morgana:

Chapter Six
    When Morgana awoke, she could smell the intoxicating scent of breakfast.  She rose and remembered the tapestry.  While looking at the beautiful designs and heroic tales, Morgana realized that her hooves were tingling.  They seemed to want to leave the room.  Forgetting the tapestry, Morgana followed her hooves out of the room through many hallways and finally down a magnificent stairway that branched into two, but came back to one at the bottom.
    As she reached the end, she noticed a gigantic room with countless tables of silver and chairs of gold.  Several of the chairs were occupied with fairies of different sizes and ages.
    Olivia and Ravion were seated next to each other, so Morgana walked over to their table and sat down next to Olivia.  Her chair immediately morphed into a comfortable centaur’s chair.
    “So you are down at last!” Ravion chuckled merrily.  “Help yourself to as much food as you want!”
    Morgana suddenly realized that the tables were piled high with food of every sort!  Biscuits, eggs, jams, fresh fish, berries of all sorts, and much more.  Morgana had always been a fairly picky eater, but now she ate as though it was the last meal she would ever have!
    For the rest of the day, Morgana explored the Embassy and its surroundings.  She had her meals in the Great Dining Hall.  Never once did she get lost. The Embassy’s rooms contained more libraries, unused bedrooms, areas of worships, supply rooms, and much more.
    Finally, she retired to her own bedroom and the mysterious tapestry.  The first image was of a great battle.  Wizards and other demons were identified with black robes.  Fairies and other good creatures wore red robes.  The good creatures won the war and exalted three heroes: a fairy, a centaur, and a dragon.  They seemed to be good friends.
    As Morgana stared at the tapestry, she was drawn in.  She could actually see the events as they were happening!
    The heroes were kind and gentle; they justly ruled the land of Drynthia.  One day, in a counsel, they decided to build an embassy.  It would be a place where all good creatures could come and be welcome.  They built this wondrous place and called it the “Embassy of Drynthia.”  It was built in a circular design around a tree.  The tree symbolized life and harmony.  In a notch in the tree was placed an amulet.  The amulet was composed of gold, ruby, sapphire, emerald, and magic.  It had three parts; each from one of the rulers.  The centaur contributed the sapphire to symbolize water.  The dragon added the ruby to symbolize fire.  Finally, the fairy put in the emerald to symbolize the earth.  When together, it protected the Embassy from evil.  Many happy years passed under the good rulers.
    But things slowly changed in the land of Drynthia.  The centaur, dragon, and fairy each wanted Drynthia for their own.  A horrible argument erupted and the once strong friendship suddenly ceased to exist.
    Eventually, the fairy pushed all centaurs and dragons to other realms of the world after winning a challenge of some sort (Morgana couldn’t see this part very clearly).  Before the centaur and dragon rulers left, they took the amulet and divided it back into three pieces.  These pieces were hidden in remote places with the hopes that they would never be found again.
    But without the amulet, the Embassy would one day be vulnerable to the evil and war would once again emerge.
    Suddenly Morgana was back in her room, sitting on her bed. Her legs were bent under her body, and she was trembling all over.
    Morgana twisted her tail nervously.  She knew her mission without having to read the stars.  The amulet needed to be retrieved to the Embassy if anyone wanted to survive.

Chapter Seven
    The next two weeks that Morgana spent at the Embassy were the happiest weeks she had ever enjoyed.  Every day she explored more of the Embassy and became better friends with Olivia and Ravion.
    But at the beginning of Morgana’s third week, something changed.  Morgana had come down to breakfast as always, but today she found that her normal seat next to Olivia had been taken.  A huge dragon sat in it!
    The dragon was about 15 feet tall as opposed to Morgana’s five-and-a-half.  It seemed to also have brought a companion.   This dragon was only about five feet tall, but both were gobbling down food and showing sets of amazingly sharp teeth.
    Morgana shuddered and stood grasping the rail of the grand staircase, afraid of an impending doom.  She was about to run back to her room and hide under her silken blankets when she noticed that the gaze of the larger dragon was directed upon her.
    With a smile that Morgana did not find too reassuring, it said, “Here, sit by me.”
    Morgana opened her mouth, but no words came out.  Instead, she screamed.
    The younger dragon looked up and said, “Wot’s rong wi’ her?”  Through her great terror, Morgana recognized the language of a child and realized that the smaller dragon was nothing to fear.  The two dragons seemed fairly nice so with a beckon from Olivia, Morgana slowly made her way down the staircase, to the table, and slowly sat down next to the large dragon.
    “Hello,” she said timidly, casting her eyes to the floor.  “My name is Morgana Stargazer.  What is yours?”  Morgana had been hoping to make a good impression to seem tough so the dragon would not eat her.  But she knew that she only sounded childish and immature.
    “I’m Kazul Firebreath,” the large dragon said gently.  “This is Tinni Bigsword.”  She pointed to the little dragon.  “Here, have some bacon.”
    Morgana stared as Kazul grabbed a platter of fruit and the centaur said, “Wait a minute, don’t you eat meat and, um, like… centaurs?”
    “I’m a vegetarian,” Kazul said proudly.  “So is Tinni.”
    Morgana was amazed (and greatly relieved).  She had never heard of vegetarian dragons!
    The two talked about their backgrounds and families and by the end of breakfast, they were good friends.
    “It’s been nice meeting you, Kazul and Tinni,” Morgana smiled and walked off saying, “I’ll see you later!” over her shoulder.  As she headed back to her room, she felt quite proud of herself.  She had actually become friends with a dragon.  And now for a nap…


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