Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Good Reads: Cast in Ruin

A good read is such an evil thing.

I took yesterday off work for two reasons: to clean my house and to write. House cleaning happened, which was good, because I started first thing in the morning. Then I stepped out onto the deck to run a quick errand and BAM! there was a book in my mailbox.

Michelle Sagara's CAST IN RUIN had finally arrived! So I devoured it. That was just barely afternoon, and I then proceeded to lose my entire afternoon and evening to reading. I'm not sure I put the book down once until I finished it, ten hours later.

But damn, it was worth it. If you haven't checked out the Cast series, do it now. The characters are beautiful, the humour frequently makes me laugh out loud (much to Husband's annoyance), and the fantasy world is so well developed it should serve as a lesson point for all little fantasy writers like myself.

If you're already well into the series, you'll love this one. Kailyn learns and grows magically (which usually happens) but this time around she also matures somewhat in terms of the men in her life, and has a bit of an epiphany in terms of growing up in general. And while this book answers a whole lotta questions about the Dragon Court and the Empire, it opens up a plethora of new mysteries. The egg? Bellusdeo? There wasn't enough Nightshade for my liking, but I'm sure we'll see plenty of him in the next installment, CAST IN PERIL, since they're heading to the West March—ostensibly together.

Because I read the thing so damn fast, I'm going to go back and re-read. Maybe at a sane person's pace. But once I've done the re-read... let the countdown to PERIL begin!!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Good Morning

Morning again, my favourite time of day. Yesterday we had a wildly beautiful sunrise, which I snapped a couple crappy photos of on my way into the office. Here:

So that was yesterday. Another dawn, another day. Today I've got to run around Calgary, errands, errands, and more errands. In fact, "Well, um, actually a pretty nice little Saturday, we're going to go to Home Depot. Yeah, buy some wallpaper, maybe get some flooring, stuff like that. Maybe Bed, Bath, & Beyond, I don't know, I don't know if we'll have enough time."

You do know where that quote is from, right? Right?!?!

I'm probably not going to get any writing in until later this evening, because it's supposed to be something like 29°C today, and I refuse to coop myself inside during the very last of the summer weather. It's just wrong.

Maybe I'll bring my Air outside and write...? We'll see.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Growth: Why I hope writing is like designing

Last post I talked about character development, and then I disappeared for a few days. Because I was busy busy developing characters ;)

Now I've got a full cast of well-rounded, multi-dimensional characters to work with, a solid 25K outline that covers everything right up to climax of the story, and I'm ready to start writing!

This is, of course, the best part of the project. And this time, I'm facing the challenge of a main character who interacts with—but doesn't speak to—any of the other characters until a third of the way through the story. Yes, challenge indeed.

Speaking of challenges, I'm also in the midst of learning how to critique others work. I'm beta'ing novels from two different writers and I've already found that it's a very different thing from critiquing my own work. Another interesting thing that's come up, is when one of the writers was worried I'd be offended by her comments. I assured her that I wouldn't be, but it led me into some further connections between my day job as a designer and my evenings and weekends as a writer.

I've mentioned here and elsewhere some of the similarities between the two. There is another aspect of writing that feels like design (and probably like many other jobs, but hey, this is my experience): Growth.

I went to college to study graphic design. My profs taught me the how-to and the rules of design, and then sent me off to give it a go. I laid out my ideas, thought they were amazing, only to have the Profs turn around and tear them apart. They showed me -- either gently or ruthlessly -- what I was doing wrong. Sometimes the feedback was bad enough to nearly put me in tears.

So I tried again.

For three years.

By the time I received my diploma I could hardly bear to look at the work I'd done in my first year--it was so hideous! I'd come a long way since then, and I never would have if I didn't have my professors and colleagues ripping my ideas and my work to pieces.
Then I went out into the Real World. I picked up a job in Calgary almost immediately after I finished school, designing trade show booths. That was four years ago. When I compare my early days there, to the work I do now, so much has changed. I've really learned to separate my ideas from myself—when someone hates my work, it's the idea they hate, not me. Thick skin, that was a big change. Also:

I'm faster. A job that would have taken 8 hours of design four years ago now takes me 2 or 3.

I'm better. I used to have to work through five or six different concepts with clients, making radical changes, before I got what they wanted. Now the design is usually signed off in two or three proofs, covering only minor revisions.

I'm smarter. Four years ago I struggled to see the problems in my own designs, what I could do or change to make the client happy. Now if a client comes back to me feeling unsure about how something works in the layout I can see immediately what I need to change to fix it.

What I'm saying with all this rambling is that I hope, when everything is said and done, that my writing evolves the same way my design has. I spend a lot of time writing, and I think what I write is good. Now I'm having beta readers tear it apart, and that can only be a good thing. I hope I learn a lot from seeing my work from their viewpoints. And I hope in a few years I'll be able to look back on my early writing and cringe.
I hope that, with time and effort, I'll be a faster, better, and smarter writer.

Has that happened for you? Or are you like me, looking ahead and just hoping?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Characters are people too.

I really, really love character development. I've written a solid outline (sitting at 22K words, still needs a bit of tweaking) and now I've moved on to some world-building and character development. For me, this works best because I know how the story goes, I know who does what and why, and I'm starting to have a good feel for what these people—characters—are really like.

But it's not quite a complete picture. Not yet.

To really flesh out my characters I use photos and character sketches. I try to cram as much detail into those sketches as possible: nicknames, meanings, relationships, dates, physical descriptions, strengths, weaknesses, internal and external conflicts, history, special abilities, distinguishing marks and personal items, habits, likes, dislikes, etc. I usually pull a photo off the web of someone who looks similar and use Photoshop to make a few quick and dirty changes to the appearance, where it doesn't mesh with what I have in mind for that character.

***fyi, the Mac program Scrivener is AWESOME for this kind of stuff. Go download the free trial right now. I'm not kidding.***

I like to start with a character's history. In life, I always find that the best way to understand a person is to understand their history, their background, where they come from. It can tell you so much about why they do what they do, or think the way they think. Once I have a history in place, other details fall in line. A unique twitch, habit or scar resulting from something in their past. A personal trinket or token they carry around from someone or some time in their life story. What drives him or her? What secrets is he or she keeping?

At the end of the day, I've got more than a name paired with a personality. I've got a person.

Because characters are people too!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday Tunes

Today's tune is Heads Will Roll by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs! It keeps finding its way onto my one-song repeat... and the video is pretty cool. Love the end!

I'm completely new to this band, but so far I love what I hear. A little bird told me that Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) and Atticus Ross were getting together to do the soundtrack for the new Hollywood version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This was pretty exciting news, because I loved their work on The Social Network soundtrack, I'm a huge Reznor fan, and because I really liked Larsson's Dragon Tattoo trilogy.

Then, that same little bird told me that one of the songs on the new soundtrack was going to be a compilation between Trent and Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. At the time, I had no idea who these Yeah people were... but that was soon rectified. I think I must have heard Dull Life somewhere before, but they've got a handful of really awesome tracks to go along with it. I'm no music guru, so I'm not going to get technical here. Whatever it is, the energy in their songs just really hits me and the word count skyrockets. Which is always a good thing.

Great writing tunes... I especially love Dull Life, Maps, Date the Night, Gold Lion, and Y Control. Check them out!

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Some people outline, some don't. Me? I outline like a crazy person.

The last few posts I've talked about how the outline process is going. Right now, pretty good. I wanted to be a bit further along than I am at this moment, but that's okay. And here's why. I was guesstimating how long it would take me to finish the outline, based on the first two books I wrote. It's taken longer than I thought it would, so I started wondering if that's because this book is YA and quite different from the first two novels. Then I thought, maybe I've just managed to become a more detailed outliner? And there is the answer, folks. I checked.

I started writing my first MS when the outline was complete at 4K words. 
I started writing the sequel to that when the outline was complete at 6K words.
My current outline is at 13K words.

It could all be mumbo jumbo... but I don't think it is. I still have more fine-tuning to work through on the outline, specifically turning bullet points into finished thoughts that complete each chapter's events from start to finish. But those parts that are already done feel really, really complete. Like I'm ready to go with a fully detailed map of where the chapter and the whole book should go. Or even better, like I'm armed for battle with a semi-automatic machine gun, rather than the shotgun I had before.

So there it is. I hope the extra time spent at this stage will mean the writing process goes faster, smoother. We shall see...

What about you? If you're a crazy outliner like me, have you found that your outlines have grown more or less detailed from one MS to the next?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

State of the Writing

Well, so far today I've managed to get another 1500 words down on the page. It's not much, but then I don't really think word count matters in the outlining stage. Just MHO.

What really matters is that I've gone from a very loose, random, unstructured outline with too few characters, enormous plot holes and bad clichés to a full 31-chapter outline that has a smooth, start-to-finish plot, incorporating a variety of characters and their sub-stories, and only a few not-so-bad clichés. Excellent.

This evening I'm going to go back through the outline and clean it up, add notes and synopses, and update my character grid to match. Tomorrow, with the updated grid, I should be able to see the big picture and tweak the outline, hopefully until I'm happy with it and I can call the first draft done.

So next week, I'll be world-building. With my first novel, I HAD TO FALL, I started the writing without any real world building done, only loose character and location sketches, and just a lot less detail. This time I'm going about it differently. I'm hoping that, within a week or two, I'll be ready to start writing!

By the way, with this MS I'm really using Scrivener for the first time. Anyone got any neat tips and tricks for working with the program?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Just a quick note

Super busy the past couple of days, at work and just... life in general. I've still managed to get some more outlining and storming-of-the-brain done on my WIP, but that's been about all. There simply isn't enough time in the day!

My boss came back today after being gone for three weeks on holiday. With a small staff in a small office, that kind of absence takes it toll on the rest of us, so I'm damn glad she's back. This should mean I can start, sometime in the next month, to work a normal eight-hour day again! Very exciting. Think of the possibilities. I might actually get to sleep again.

Anyway, I gotta cut out early. Lots to do... and miles to go before I sleep!

Monday, September 5, 2011

We have a title!

Okay, some success since yesterday's post:

I messed around some more with the synopsis, and did get Vera talking sooner. Not as soon as I thought would be necessary, but that led me to something else…

The working title: SPEECHLESS.

It might not stick, but it'll do the trick for now. I also came up with an external crisis that I like, and that meshes well with the rest of the story and characters. I got far enough along in the synopsis today that I felt like switching over to my first draft character grid.

It was a good thing I did. Right away I can see plot holes and… I don't have enough characters! Over the next few days I'll jump back and forth between the synopsis and character grids, filling in those plot holes and adding some more characters. I've already found another character floating around in the free space in my mind who fits in as a nice little antagonist with my current cast.

And what did I say about the trilogy split revealing itself in the process? It did :)

To be honest, I'm kind of looking forward to working with a character who doesn't say a peep until a third of the way into the story. It'll be a challenge, creating interaction and engaging the reader while limiting Vera to non-verbal communication. But a challenge is a good thing.

For a Monday, it was a good day! Must be because it's a holiday...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Back at it!

Started writing my next novel today. I don't have a working title to share with you lovely folks yet, but soon. I promise.

So, what did I decide to write? I'd been unsure about what to do next (see previous posts where I bemoaned this indecision) when Lisa Desrochers blogged about just such a dilemma. And I decided that, although I'd like to go back and work on the sequel to my first novel, to instead write something new, and in turn that I should write the fantasy novel (which turns out, might also be YA) that I really want to write. Fantasy might not be the cool thing these days, but who knows. Maybe this story will go somewhere. What really matters is that the story, the characters, have already become real in my head. I WANT to tell their story.

Long story short (har-de-har), I buckled down today and starting writing out the synopsis for the whole story. I got lots down, but I've already run into a bit of a dilemma: my main character doesn't speak (although she interacts with) to any other characters until like halfway through the story. That's gotta change.

I'm also missing some sort of key crisis or motivation. There's a tonne of internal conflict, but not enough external. Plus, I think this looks like a trilogy, and I'm not sure how much should go in book one, or where to split it. 

Tomorrow I'll go back and mess around with the synopsis, try to get Vera (the MC) talking sooner, and see if I can figure out what our external crisis is. Once I get those things covered the split should reveal itself naturally - I hope. With any luck, I'll have a good, solid synopsis done by tomorrow evening. Then next week I can start the chapter breaks and character grids...

And lastly, in other news, I joined Absolute Write the other day. Check me out right here!