Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

Worldbuilding and Fantasy Counterpart Cultures March 16, 2012

Filed under: Books,Writing — katblogger @ 7:32 PM
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As I mentioned last post, my newest project is a fantasy book. A lot of fantasy books just recycle the same tired tropes. The Chosen One receives a call for help and travels on an epic quest with their doomed mentor (a prophecy may or may not be involved) to save the kingdom from an evil overlord. Sound familiar? That plotline can apply to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or Eragon, and that’s only scratching the surface. They can be done well, but I’m sick of them, so in this project I seek to overturn – subvert, to use TVtropes terminology – a bunch of them.

) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons”]A very common stereotype in fantasy books is the setting. I swear, whether you’re in a parallel dimension Earth, a completely made up story, or in the distant future, everyone seems to be stuck on medieval Europe. Sword fights abound, knights in shining armor rescue damsels in distress, and the culture, food, and typical clothing reflect medieval European norms (or what we think they were.) The rest of the world might as well not exist.

To counter this, I made sure that the two cultures explored in my book aren’t English at all. One is almost perfectly like rural Afghanistan – surprisingly so. I had a rough idea of what I wanted, started researching the country, and they matched. The other is  a bit like pre-industrial Russia.

When you’re building an entire world, you have to consider a LOT. That’s why so many people make it a carbon copy of the cultures they already know. If you’re trying to adapt a culture you’re less familiar with – or invent an entirely new one – it takes a lot of work.

How much work? If you’re curious, or interested in building your own new universe, check out Yuffie’s extremely helpful guide on Wattpad:

Taking an anthropology course, visiting other countries, or just reading a lot will also help. So what are you waiting for? Happy world building.


Fun With Characters March 12, 2012

Filed under: Books,Writing — katblogger @ 8:43 PM
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I have this thing about selfless characters.

You know the ones. The holier than thou, too good for this sinful earth kind of guys. You can tell them, “Hey, I’ve signed you up for this extremely high pressure quest that’ll probably kill you and definitely involve some maiming” and they’ll just ask, “When do I start?” They never seemed concerned with their own well-being, righteously striving for the greater good.

I read/watch these characters and call bs. I’m sure there are gloriously selfless people out there. But most humans are selfish creatures at least part of the time. We’re programmed to look out for ourselves, and it’s perfectly ok not to have suicidal grandiose impulses. For example, if I was about to turn into a vessel for some monster creature, I’d probably at least pause and consider the pros and cons before chucking myself into a volcano. But I digress.

The point is, characters are supposed to be real people. Relatable people. And that’s why most of my characters start out looking out for number one. Some of them are pretty much normal, while others are shockingly self-centered. It takes them a lot of time before they start doing things for other people, and I feel that it’s more realistic that way.

For example, a supporting MC in my newest project (tentatively titled Starborn after three changes – I seem to have a thing for S’s) starts out as a total jerk. The novel serves as a bit of a private joke about typical fantasy clichés, and I did my best to flip around a lot of the things you’d expect. This character is a subversion of the typical noble knight/warrior who lives by a code of honor and whatever whatever. Instead, he’s a thief buried waist deep in the criminal underground who isn’t averse to bending a few rules – or breaking them. He spends a good chunk of the book lying to and manipulating the main character (who’s supposed to be his best friend). Nice. Interestingly enough, he has his reasons – ones that seem ironically noble on the surface but are really motivated by self-preservation. When he finally straightens out (or becomes marginally less crooked, at least), it’s after a lot of time and development. People don’t change right away, even if they seem to. (Yep. He’s going to be a lot of fun to write.)

Maybe other people like the heroic archetype, and I’m just a curmudgeon with jade colored glasses. Either way, you’re unlikely to find any perfect self-sacrificing hero types around me. Just a lot of complaining, selfish real people who finally get up the guts to do what they have to do before it’s too late. Having that development and making that decision to completely change their character, to me, makes them even more heroic.


Taking the Next Step March 4, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 8:13 PM
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I’ve done the bulk of my revisions. I’ve gone through chapter by chapter, reducing 1059 ‘was’s to 432, which is quite an achievement. I’ve glared at awkward sentences and rewritten them until they sound awkward in a slightly different way. I’ve occasionally read dialogue out loud to make sure it flows right, even though my dialogue can sound pretty strange out of context. (A complete read through will have to wait.) I’ve messed with the story arc, forcing in extra scenes and hoping that characters don’t end up in two different places on the same Wednesday. The book is finally, to a great extent, done.

Now, naturally, I need it to be ripped apart again. And for that I need beta readers.

I’ve used my mother and brother for beta readers, and they’re… all right. But let’s get real. Your mother will never tell you, “This is awful. The plot is cliché, the conclusion is preachy, your characters are flat, and this should be used to line the cage of an ill-tempered gerbil.” She just won’t.

Meanwhile, my brother will occasionally begin “Oh yeah, my sister wrote a book where…” and I’ll have to throw something at him or rapidly deny everything. This has happened multiple times.

Inkpop served as a great place to get good criticism, but now that’s over. I thought about moving to Wattpad, but after seeing this in a guide to newcomers, I decided that I’d be better off on my own:

When you really want to leave an honest critique, it is better to ask the write…r if it is alright. Even after you critique their story they still might get offended. You haven’t done anything wrong and neither have they. They just don’t understand that you would be saying anything negative about their story.

Nice. I don’t do sugar coated, and I don’t like getting it either.

This leaves friends. Friends aren’t ideal, but they’re not blood relatives and I can at least hope that they’ll be honest with me. So now I’ll be considering candidates, typing up emails, and hitting send to the people I’ll feel least embarrassed to have read what I’ve written. This number is very small.

Then I’ll go to work on something else and probably forget all about it. I’ve been working on this manuscript for almost a year now. I kind of hate it. But someday – maybe a few weeks later – there will be an email in my inbox. My pulse will start racing. Potential criticisms will flash across my brain. I’ll realize that I care slightly more than I thought I did. And then the glorious, horrible process of revisions will start all over again.


Life Cycle of a Novel January 23, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 7:24 PM
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I skipped Blogging the Bible yesterday, mostly because it’s gotten boring and I don’t think anyone cares anyway. Instead, I’m writing a potentially equally boring post that slightly more people might care about. Or maybe not, but at least it’s about writing.

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I’m usually a first draft kind of girl. I write the book, turn up my nose at its craptasticness, and move on. My current project is the only novel sized piece of writing that I’ve really endeavored to polish. And let me tell you – polishing is a pain in the butt.

It’s rather interesting, though, to get a feel for how long a book really takes when you follow it through all the stages of its life cycle. Everyone does it differently, of course. If you follow a formula, novel writing can go pretty quickly. I’ve heard of one romance novelist who could write a book in five days, which seems like it would result in rather low quality offerings, but what do I know? Anyway, this is how the progression has gone for me:

April – mid July: First draft phase.  For me (again probably because of my NaNo practice) this is the easiest part. I can jot down anything and ignore how bad it is. First drafts are supposed to suck. Or perhaps ‘expected’ is a kinder word. This phase is when you experiment. I swapped POVs twice and added/subtracted the occasional character. At last, in mid July, I crossed the finish line with 58,000 words. The story was basically finished – the plot worked out, all main road marks set. The skeleton was in place.

Late July – November: Break. It’s important to take a break from your manuscript once it’s done, so you can go back to it with fresh eyes. I wrote the occasional scene or dropped in for a quick edit once and a while, but for the most part I left my novel alone. After all, I had school, and IB senior year has a way of catching one’s attention.

Late November – end of December: Broad revisions. Done with NaNoWriMo but still willing to write, I returned my focus to my current project. I rewrote the entire climax, added or tweaked plot points, and altered a few characterizations. My word count swelled to 72,000, even after my dramatic ‘was’ purge.

Where does this leave me? I took another break through January, but as the month ends, I want to start up editing again. Now, however, I’m returning to the finer brush I mentioned earlier – line editing. Basically, I plan to read it over, fix any minor details, and keep an eye out for awkward sentences. I’ll also read dialogue out loud to make sure it works, double check calendars, and all the other crazy minor stuff that’s so important.

With any luck, and schedule allowing, I’ll be done with line edits by early summer. Then I can finally grit my teeth and send the manuscript off to beta readers. And what after that? Well, I’m not sure. I’ll have spent over a year on this novel, which is a pretty crazy investment of time in itself. I don’t know where I want to take it from here.


Was Is Dead To Me November 30, 2011

Filed under: Books,Writing — katblogger @ 8:39 PM
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My novel-in-progress Strange Bedfellows weighs in just over 68,000 words right now. I’m quite pleased with it. At least, if you define ‘quite pleased’ as ‘savagely ripping chunks out, rewriting them, sticking them back in, smoothing the edges, and fixing all the details that just changed’. I’m basically performing open heart surgery on this innocent, unsuspecting piece of writing. It’s for its own good. I recently rewrote all 6000 words of the climax – in pen, no less. Carpal tunnel is headed my way.

You might be wondering what my strangely ungrammatical title means. I shall explain. I was happily paging through a writing advice book when I came across this tidbit:

(paraphrased) I’m a publisher, and one of the things I hate to see is overuse of the word ‘was’. To be, in all its forms, is a weak verb, and I’ve sent manuscripts back if there’s too much of it.

Hmm… I thought. I’ve probably used ‘was’ somewhere in there. I should go take a look and replace all of them.

I cheerfully and naively pulled up the Word document, imagining that this would be the work of ten minutes, tops. Using the Find and Replace function, I decided to get a rough estimate of how many ‘was’s I needed to cull.

A single click, and the message that would cause a spike in my blood pressure arrived. “‘was’ appears 1,059 times in this document” it informed me.

I believe my response was a combination of “Ack” and “Nng”. Honestly, I’m surprised a headdesk was not involved. Oh dear. I just used two ‘was’s in this line. …

As you may have gathered, this is not going to be a ten minute job. It’ll take me ages before I remove all the ‘was’s – and some really can’t be removed. Sometimes that’s just the best word for the job.

And if a publisher rejects me for that, I guess he wasn’t the one for me.

(Now excuse me as I chip away at the current 935 ‘was’s remaining.)


NaNo Prep Tip# 3: Point of View October 28, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 1:56 PM
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Just a few more days until NaNo starts. I’m already having second thoughts – I already have too  much homework. What will happen if I fail? – but that’s part of the experience. You just force a smile and keep on going, using the idea of utter humiliation as a motivator.

A good thing to know before you start your book is what point of view you’re going to be writing in. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

First person limited: All you can see/hear/know/understand is filtered through the head of one person. This helps readers connect to a character faster, but it limits you. If there’s some crucial piece of information that the character doesn’t know but the reader should, you’re stuck. Some authors make up for this by doing the cursed split POV story, which I shall never speak of again. Another shortcoming is that if the character thinks too much, is rather dull, or whines a lot, readers might get sick of it and put the book down, as they have no escape. This is best for a character with a strong, original voice.

First person omniscient: Very rare, unless the character in question is a mind reader or some sort of outside observer. The only example I’ve seen is The Book Thief. It’s a tricky POV to do well.

Second person: Choose your own adventure style. I’ve seen bits of it used in Cry, The Beloved Country, but usually this POV is just tacky.

Third person limited: The most common type of narration. Think Harry Potter. It’s not told as ‘I’, but we only hear the thoughts of one character. This allows the writer more room to maneuver, but still gives the reader someone to focus on.

Third person omniscient: The narrator can see into all the character’s though processes at will. We usually don’t see all of them at once, but jump around. Think Runemarks. This allows the reader to know things one character may not, which comes in handy if some of the characters are idiots.  However, it’s generally best to still focus on one person, so we get an idea of a central character.

Mix it up: Is one POV not enough? Do several. The Bartimaeus Trilogy, after all, switches between third person limited and first person limited (with occasionally breaches of the fourth wall). First person books might occasionally step outward to third person for behind the scenes action.

That’s all for POVs. But as an additional bit of NaNo prep – now is a good time to notify your friends/family/significant other that you may not be around much next month. Also, stake a claim on a computer. I informed my family of which one I would use. If necessary, claim it by setting up residence there, creating clever booby traps, or leaving scent marks. (In perfume – what did you think I meant?) However you do it, make sure you have access to a word processor. In a few days, you’ll be needing it.



The Terror Diaries, pt1 July 11, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 1:34 PM
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I am currently hiding in my bedroom.

This is not something I typically do. However, I think I have reasonable cause. You see, yesterday I finished printing my novel rough draft of Strange Bedfellows. There was one unfortunate paper jam resulting in an interesting diagonal-type effect, but other than that things went smoothly. I was not pleased. That meant I had to hand it over.

The day of judgement arrived, and no one mentioned it. Neither my mother or brother, my appointed beta testers, seemed to remember I was going to let them read anything I’d written. After all, I never did. I almost talked myself out of it three times as the blind panic mounted.

At about ten in the morning, my blind panic was temporarily diverted when my mother announced that I was going to learn to drive on the highway. Although I’m well past sixteen, I despise cars and all of what they stand for, and dislike driving more than thirty miles per hour. A different kind of blind panic set in.

However, once I realized I wasn’t dead on the interstate and that my novel would never see the light of day if no one read it, I steeled myself. Feeling the same sense of fear and inevitability as I had behind the steering wheel of a car going sixty-five miles per hour, I walked downstairs, clutching my manuscript to my chest. Under the neutral gazes of my family (probably highly amused at my panicked state) I explained:

1. I was completely terrified, and planned to hide in my room once the manuscript was handed over.

2. There’s only one hard copy – there’s no way I’m letting my little brother loose on my electronic version. If they found bits they liked, disliked, or found confusing, I’d supplied handy post-it notes to mark the areas.

3. As I explained in my last post, the current state of my manuscript is very rough. I’m only handing it over because my strange almost-courage might desert me.

After imparting my wisdom, I threw the manuscript down and ran upstairs, where I currently reside sprawled on the floor, with a laptop and a book on writing for young adults. The book is kind of helpful, even though it was written in 1995 and devoted a chapter on what the internet was. The laptop, in my opinion, is an evil machine bent on my destruction, with a distressing habit of devouring my files and losing them somewhere in the depths of cyberspace. But here I will remain for as long as possible, too embarrassed to come out. I’m not sure what I’ll do about dinner yet.

Perhaps I’m overreacting just a tad. Still, thoughts keep chasing themselves around my mind. I could have polished it more. I could have shown them something else. ANYTHING else. One of my normal novels. This one’s too weird. It’s awful. Ugh. Maybe I should jump out the window and run for Canada.

Hopefully in a few hours I’ll have calmed down. Hopefully this will be the hardest time, and after this I won’t be afraid to share my work. I hope so, anyway. Otherwise I’m going to be pretty hungry in a few days.