Tag Archives: Writing process

What’s in a Name?

One of the most difficult tasks I have found as a writer is finding the perfect name for a given character. While this might seem simplistic on the surface, I have often found myself putting as much research into names as almost any other aspect of writing.

First off, when I name a character, the name is instantly placed upon a list which I keep beside the draft of my novels. I cannot count the number of times when, as I journeyed on my path towards becoming a writer, I would come to the sudden realization that I had used the same name for multiple characters within my novel. Because of this, I now keep lists to ensure that I do not double up on the characters. Additionally I often keep character descriptions, such as hair, eye and skin color along with any distinguishing characteristics alongside the list of names.

In my experience, naming characters arises in one of two ways. The first is a character who arrives fully formed upon the page. For me, this type of character is generally a protagonist. In my YA series, Rise of the Temple Gods, the first character to appear was Mariana. She appeared upon the page in a short story written many years ago, when the concept for the series was first developed. She arrived with her name, physical appearance, and a general idea of who she was. Interesting enough that she would later become the title character for my four book young adult series. The heroes she worshiped, the brother’s Kale and Koloso, also appeared upon the page fully formed with their names, stories, and backgrounds.

It is often difficult to explain how these types of characters come into existence. For me, it has always been like meeting a new friend. They introduce themselves, complete with the name of their own choosing, as though they had existed long before the first word of the novel was written. For me, these characters are a wonderful rarity and often become the most important or central figures within a novel, due to the rich background with which they arise from the depth of imagination.

The second type of character is one whose name is chosen more meticulously. They are often created in order to support or conflict with the protagonist in a particular way. Names have meanings behind them and I love the process of searching for names that match the role of a particular character’s personality. Take, for example, some of the names found within my first YA novel, Heir to Kale. At the beginning of the novel, the kingdom is protected by three central figures. The first is Prince Eadmund, a variation of Edmund, which means ‘protector.’ The second is Edward, leader of a team charged specifically with the protection of the realm. Edward means Guardian. The last is Leonardo, which has multiple meanings including Lion and protector. This name also requires a matter of trust between author and reader. As alternatively, one of the villains also features a name which means protector. I will leave it to the readers to figure that one out.

In my upcoming novel, Black Rose, I conducted more research on the names than on any previous novel. Mara and Edward jumped onto the page with their names already set. Others, such as the Sub-Captains of the Rose were all given Irish names in tribute to the fact that the story is based loosely on irish Mythology.

There are enchanted horses also featured within the story. The two horses with coats of silver are named Argento and Sterling. The fastest of the horses, Sherwyn ridden by the protagonist, means ‘swift.’

Also, the names of the realms found within the Kingdom were also specifically chosen. All have Latin roots and the names of each kingdom are identifiable with particular aspects of either events which take place within the kingdom, or with physical features of the land.

Overall, I find the naming of locations and characters alike a fascinating and often challenging process. It is another aspect that I feel is worthy of research and given consideration. It is one of the most difficult and enjoyable parts of my writing process.

Here’s an article by author Laurell K. Hamilton, who has also recently written on this subject:

http://www.laurellkhamilton.org/2014/07/choosing-character-names-part-2/

 

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100,000 Words Later…

I have been hard at work attempting to finish my next novel, which I am happy to report, just broke the 70,000 word mark.  As I’ve had little time for other writings, I have decided to turn this blog over to my husband for the week.  I hope you enjoy his perspective on the writing process.

Guest Written by: Cam Bone

In the beginning, she was just like everyone else.   But once it took over, she was no longer a normal human being.  She became…a writer.  I’ve attempted to chronicle the events as a warning to contain the spread.  I pray I am not too late.  I pray you never discover what happens

100,000 Words Later…

100 Words later…

The sun is shining, birds are singing.  The laughter of children can be heard over the jovial chatter of neighbors and the playful barking of dogs.  All seems right with the world.  My beautiful wife turns to me and says “I’ve got a a great idea for a story…”

1000 words later…

“How’s it going?” I ask, offering another beverage.  “Great,” she replies “the words are just flying off the page.”  I notice her rubbing her wrists.  I shrug it off as nothing.

3000 words later…

“…And then the evil queen is vanquished.” She’s been talking for half an hour straight.  There is an intensity in her eyes have not seen before.  I dismiss it as excitement.

5000 words later…

“Whoa, what the hell?” she exclaims, in a tone usually reserved for train derailments, A Kardashian in the White House, or a Game of Thrones death.  “Why did he do that?” she asks the non-existent fictional entity on her computer screen.  I look on in bewilderment.

10,000 words later…

I am awoken from a sound sleep with a rapid tapping on my shoulder. “Hey…Honey…HEY!!! I know where the next chapter goes.”  she then returns to sleep as though nothing happens.  I lay awake in confusion for the next few hours.

20,000 words later…

The clicking has grown in intensity over the last few hours.  The neighbors knock on the door to ask if we have a woodpecker.  I point to the feverish typing and the top of the head peeking over a laptop screen.  I accept their condolences.

35,000 words later…

“Honey,” I meekly ask “are you getting hungry yet?  How about some dinner?”  She looks up from her screen staring directly forward.  As the thought leaves her mind, she cranes her neck like a bird of prey.  She gives me a look that says “My name is Inego Montoya, you killed my great idea…prepare to die”

“WHAT?”  She dares.

I back away slowly.  What was I thinking?  We ate yesterday.

40,000 words later…

I decide to venture out for supplies.  “We need paper and coke,” the voice calls from the glow of the laptop screen.  I check my wallet.  We can afford it.  They say ramen tastes even better the second month in a row.

50,000 words later…

The pile of revised scenes and abandoned characters finally gave way and toppled on top of me.  After several hours I pull myself out.  I bandage my wounds with the revision of chapter 5.

60,000 words later…

The pounding on the other side of the bedroom door intensifies.  “But I just need your to read one more scene…just one.”  More pounding.  I slide bits of chocolate under the door until the pounding ceases and there is the sound of shuffling back to the computer.

75,000 words later…

Her eyes look up at me from the screen, the joy of life long faded.  Her fingers curl with arthritic frailty.  A rasp escapes her throat.  “Caffeine….Chocolate…LIQUOR…”  I give in and feed the writer all it needs to subsist now.

100,000 words later…

All is quiet.  The printer no longer screeches, it’s gears worn to the nub and the last drops of ink.  The clacking has finally ceased.  The glow of the laptop has dimmed.  She wanders the the apartment, shying away from natural light.  Confused, she shambles back to computer.  No matter how much she crafts, no matter how many words she prints, her hunger cannot be sated.  The writer will never stop now.

Let this be a warning to any left out there.  Protect your love ones.  Know the symptoms and be on your guard.

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The Writer’s Journey

Last week I gave a presentation on creative writing at a conference on emerging perspectives in graduate research titled – The Writer’s Journey: Creating Believable Characters in an Unbelievable World. This is a shortened version of the presentation focusing on the issues between academic and creative writing, the importance of research, and the emotional effects which writing can (and often does) have over a writer. 

I am a both a student of literature and a writer of speculative fiction.  Upon hearing this statement, question that I am frequently asked is why I decided to study literature as opposed to creative writing.  The answer involves the conflict that seems to exist between these two branches of English within the realm of the academic.

I decided to major in English when I was a junior in college.  However, once this fact was established, my university asked me to answer a particular question: Are you a reader or a writer?

To me, this question was a rather surprising one.  After all, the best writers are often the best readers, are they not?  Now, what the university actually meant was that they offered two different paths to an English degree, one focusing on literature and one on creative writing.  Excited by this writing option, I looked forward to attending my first creative writing course as an upper-level student.  However, once I actually arrived for my first day of the programme, I found myself extremely disappointed.

Sitting down in the classroom full of other potential students, I was issued two items.  The first was a copy of Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.  The second was a list of restrictions as to what would be deemed ‘unacceptable’ or at least, ‘highly discouraged’ topics.  I was very surprised when I read through the list and instead found that the restrictions included: ‘science-fiction, horror, fantasy, paranormal,’ and a number of other genres which can most accurately be described under the term ‘Speculative Fiction.’  The university preferred and encouraged topics of a more ‘literary’ nature despite using King’s text as a basis for the course.  Biographies, travel, nature and a relatively new genre coined under the term ‘creative non-fiction’ were among the favourites of those encouraged.

It was because of these constraints that I made the decision, despite my love of writing, to study literature, as it posed none of the restrictions on topic choices which were found in the ‘creative’ writing programme.  In literature I was able to pursue topics for which I found a passion that has carried me into later studies.

A few years later, when deciding to choose a graduate programme, I again discovered much conflict between the literature and creative writing realms.  Literature was seen by many as the higher of the two fields of study.  I was even asked if, given my love of writing, I would not prefer to obtain my degree in a quote: ‘easier’ creative writing field.

This implication that the field of studying literature is somehow more rigorous than the writing of fiction is, in my personal view, a misrepresentation, attributed mostly to a lack of understanding of the amount of both work and research which writers of fiction struggle to place within their creative pieces.

I pride myself on creating independent characters who have their own interests, backstories, and personalities.  Long before a story is completed, and occasionally from their first conception, characters take on a life of their own.  In order to create these characters to the best of one’s ability, an author must do two things.  The first, is to force themselves both mentally and emotionally into the role of the character being written.  After all, if I cannot feel the emotional impact of a given scene, then I cannot reasonably expect my readers to be affected by their plight either.  Only by fully exposing myself to the same emotional journeys experienced by my protagonists can I understand how the character in question should react.  This is also, perhaps, one of the reasons why one of the most common pieces of writing advice offered to young writers by professionals is simply to “write what you know.”  It is advice that I agree with wholeheartedly, but would also add an addendum to the statement: ‘Write what you know, and learn what you don’t.’

Literary critic Georg Lukács, not to be confused with the famous director,  states that characters “once conceived in the vision of their creator, live an independent life of their own; their comings and goings, their development, their destiny is dictated by the inner dialectic of their social and individual existence.”  He believed that characters “try to live their own lives,” independent of the author who created them.  This strive for independence, in turn, frequently forces an author to research places, activities, and fields in which he or she has never before had an interest.

Now, it should be noted that Lukás was in fact, a realist and the majority of his theories were applied specifically to works which could be classified as realism.  However, the same principles are easily applied to works of fiction.  Even among a fantastical setting, characters must be human in their mental and emotional capacities in order for the reader to relate to them.  The more relatable, the easier it is cause readers to form an emotional attachment which is essential to maintaining an audience, especially within Speculative Fiction where the lands created are often foreign to the reader’s notion of the world.

Research is an important and vital part of the creation of a novel, no matter what the genre.  While it is true that authors of speculative fiction might be able to take more liberties than those of non-fiction or realism, research still remains a vital part of the writing process.

Types of research vary from issues such as description, which International Bestselling Author Dan Brow (Da Vinci Code) argues is an important part of any novel.  Detailed description of scenes can prove a vital element towards bringing a story to life.  If the setting of a story is in the woods, authors should consider taking a walk in the forest.  Note the sounds they hear, the smells in the air, the way sunlight and shadows filter through the trees.  The same goes for a scene on the beach.  Walk along the waves, taste the salty air, feel the texture of the sand between your fingers.

Alternative methods to actually going to the place being described, is to read the works of those who have.  Extensive reading often proves to be one of a writer’s best resources.  Read descriptions of the places you plan to write about.  If you are writing about a real location, research its history, its layout, any other aspect which you may deem interesting or helpful within the research process.  Meanwhile, if the location is fictional, consider finding ways to familiarize oneself with the land being created. Authors will frequently write side-stories, histories, draw maps, and create charts, none of which will ever see the outside of their personal collection, in order to help support the setting of their stories.

Other important elements of research brings us back to the previously quoted statement by Lucas.  Lucas points out the characters often “life a life of their own,” after their conception.  What this means is that these characters can and often do have backgrounds, hobbies, skills, and interests which often vary from the writer’s own.  This means that in order to support these characters, a writer must often learn about these various topics, in order to support these said interests.

To draw an example from my own work, the Rise of the Temple Gods series, revolves around a world of martial arts and medieval swordplay.  When I first informed my writing mentor, of my initial ideas for the novel, her response was something akin to this:  “Sounds great!  However…one quick question.  What do you know about martial arts and swordplay?”

The answer, to quote George R.R. Martin, was something akin to: “Stick them with the pointy end?”

So began my journey into researching various forms of combat.  I did this by first, reading lots of books on various forms of martial arts, reading fiction which featured elaborate fight scenes, and even watching a few old kung-fu movies.  Then, I attended classes at local karate and jiu-jitsu dojos.  Though I did not partake of the actual courses, I conducted multiple interviews with instructors and observed students for hours on end, having specific movements demonstrated for me by students while I took extensive notes on the technique, instruction, and history of both disciplines.  This research was conducted over countless months, locations, and discussions with various experts.  When I had eventually written and completed these scenes to the best of my ability, one of these instructors was kind enough to read through and critique my action sequences.

Now as one can probably guess, this is not a quick process.  It is slow, often time-consuming and different authors will approach it with various levels of both time and dedication.  However, most find that in the end, such measures are well worth the work involved and are a vital part of the process needed to create a believable, rich tales; even in a land filled with ancient Gods, pink trees and talking puppies.

 

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Heart of a Character

Last night I wrote one of the final chapters of the novel I am currently writing, Heir to Koloso, the second novel in the Rise of the Temple Gods series.  The scene in question was one I had actively avoided writing for a long time, despite fully knowing exactly how the scene was going to take place.  I knew that in order to do justice by the story I am writing, the scene had to be written.  I cried as I wrote the last paragraph and when I was done, I left the scene with a profound sense of guilt and sadness.

I pride myself on creating independent characters who have their own interests, backstories, and personalities.  Long before a story is completed, and occasionally from their first conception, my characters take on a life of their own.  In fact, I often feel that I am not so much writing a story as instead transcribing the one being whispered by the various characters who come to whisper their tales in my ear.

To some this idea that my characters are individuals who can be spoken to, argued with and bring tears to my eyes, might seem a strange description.  However, it is my belief and my experience that this is the case.  Characters can, and often are, as real to an author as the person standing in the room next to them.  It is because of this close and often complex relationship between myself and my protagonists, that makes the emotional scenes so difficult to write.

In order to write these scenes to the best of one’s ability, an author often attempts to force themselves both mentally and emotionally into the role of the character being written.  If I cannot feel the emotional impact that is dealt to the character, then I cannot reasonably expect my readers to be affected by their plight either.  Only by fully exposing myself to the same emotional journeys experienced by my protagonists can I understand how the character in question should react.  This is also, perhaps, one of the reasons why one of the most common pieces of writing advice offered to young writers by professionals is simply to “write what you know.”

To help myself enter these types of scenes, I often set a musical playlist.  Absolute silence generally finds me terribly unproductive when writing.  I tend to use different types of music in order to help create and support the emotional level of a given scene.  My family will often say that when I am listening to something upbeat, I am fun to be around.  However, when I am listening to a straight track of Celine Dion, the best thing to do is to hand me a glass of wine and slowly back away from the door.

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Let’s talk about Rejection

An unavoidable part of every writer’s journey is experiencing rejection.  How people both come to terms and learn to deal with this rejection varies widely.

I was fifteen when I attended my first book signing where I, as young writers often do, asked what advice might be given to someone who dreamed of one day being an author.  The advice I received is something which has stayed with me over the years.  The road to being a writer is not easy, and rejection is an important part of the journey.  Then I was told: “Pick a wall in your house.  Cover it with rejection letters.  When the wall is completely full, then, and only then, can you begin to think about receiving acceptance.”

First, when addressing the rejection letter, it should be noted that there are different kinds and levels.  The first is a standard form letter.  This is a letter that generally begins with ‘Dear Author’ and are normally not longer than a single paragraph.  This is, in my experience, the most common form of rejection letter, as agents often receive far more queries than they can ever hope to personally respond to.  The second type of rejection letter is very similar to this one, only it may contain the writer’s actual name at the top, include the title of the piece being rejected, and may even contain a signature at the bottom of the form.  Thought this is considered a different level, there is very little different from the first.

The third level is a rejection letter which actually states the reason for the rejection.  It is often considered a rare gift to receive any feedback in a rejection letter.  Should such feedback be provided, it is advisable to at least take the feedback into consideration for future drafts.  This, of course, does not mean that one should feel obligated to follow the offered advice; however, it should at minimum be taken under advisement.

The fourth level not a rejection letter, but instead a request to read more.  When sending an initial query, most agents request anywhere from the first page to the first three pages of a novel in addition to the query letter.  A request for more pages or even the entire manuscript indicates that the agent is interested in your work.  From this full read, three things can happen.  The manuscript can be rejected.  The agent can recommend changes which need to be made before they will agree to represent the story, or the manuscript can actually be accepted.  However it should be noted that an acceptance letter from an agent does not guarantee a book sale, but merely that you now have someone qualified to pass the manuscript on to publishing houses.  It is, generally, an agent’s job to sell the manuscript to the publishers and to represent your interest during any contract negotiations, among other duties.

The other form of rejection that a writer must contend with is the knowledge that no matter how good a story may be, there will always be someone who dislikes your work.  Preference and taste vary from person to person, so learning to deal with rejection from potential readers is another part of the writing process. Putting ones work into the public sphere can be a terrifying thing; no matter if it debut novel, or your twentieth book in a well-beloved series.  I have found that accepting this simple fact – that not everyone will like your work – is the first step towards learning how to best deal with rejection.

Here are some thoughts on other ways to deal with the fear of rejection:

1. http://www.lilithsaintcrow.com/journal/judgment-rejection-and-the-writer/

2. http://www.andrecruz.net/2014/03/5-things-you-can-do-about-publisher.html

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First Draft

I recently read an article which featured interviews with 12 authors who answered a series of questions concerning the process of writing a first draft.  I wanted to add my own answers to this interesting topic.

  1. What does your first draft writing process look like?

The first draft of my novels are what I prefer to call a ‘zero’ draft.  This is a private version of the novel written only for myself; except for the occasional glimpses viewed by my cat when she jumps up to remind me that I have, yet again, written well past her dinner time.  This draft is full of errors, missing sections, crossed out words and notes such as: ‘add fight scene here,’ ‘research medieval clothing,’ or ‘check character’s eye colour.’  I tend to write the majority of my zero drafts by hand with a black or blue ink pen in a hard-back notebook.  The reason for this is that it allows me to write without seeing the mistakes which most computer programmes would highlight and allows me to write more fluidly.

My long-time mentor once told me that the most important element of a ‘zero’ draft is simply to reach a point in the story where a writer can identify a beginning, middle, and end.  If this is achieved, then something great has been accomplished.  It is only after this is completed that I even begin to consider writing a ‘first’ draft.  This transition involves filling in all the missing scenes, researching any topic where questions arose, and checking for consistency in both locations and the physical description of characters.  It does not consist of technical editing, but instead only focuses upon filling in the gaps and research of the story.  I only focus on more technical changes (such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation) once these initial changes are complete.

2.How long does it take to write a first draft?

This really depends upon the amount of research involved with the novel.  My most recently published story, Rise of the Temple Gods: Heir to Kale, took approximately two years to write.  The first year was devoted almost entirely to research.  My fantasy world involves a society which revolves around swordplay and martial arts – subjects of which I knew little.  Because of this, it was necessary to conduct a great deal of research before I could make the world come to life.  The sequels, on the other hand, should prove a much quicker process because of the research already being completed for the first novel.

I also believe that one of the most important elements to writing a first draft is to ensure that time is set aside every day to write.  The exact amount of time may vary from person to person, but the repetition of daily writing is very important to reaching the overall goal of completing a first draft.

3.What are your first draft stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them?

The most difficult part for me in writing an initial draft is to resist the temptation to pause and correct the previous paragraph.  I have a great urge to edit as a I write, and it took a long time to learn how to resist.  Changing my habit of writing a zero draft on the computer and transitioning to writing in a notebook helped me tremendously in overcoming this problem, as I no longer have my technical mistakes highlighted as I write.  This makes it easier to keep writing without backtracking every few sentences.

To read the article and see other author’s answers, feel free to click on this link: http://tammyfarrell.com/2014/02/03/how-12-different-authors-write-a-first-draft/

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Write What You Know, Learn What You Don’t

One of the most important requirements of writing well is putting forth the necessary effort to make scenes as realistic as possible.  One of the most common advice given to new writers is simple: ‘write what you know.’  It is advice that I agree with wholeheartedly, but would also add an addendum to the statement: ‘Write what you know, and learn what you don’t.’

First, description.  Detailed description of scenes can prove a vital element towards bringing a scene to life.  If you want to write a scene with your characters becoming lost in the woods, perhaps consider taking a walk in the forest.  Note the sounds you hear, the smells in the air, the way sunlight and shadows filter through the trees.  The same goes for a scene on the beach.  Walk along the waves, taste the salty air, feel the texture of the sand between your fingers.

If you don’t have the opportunity to go to these places yourself, read the works of those who have.  Extensive reading often proves to be a writer’s best resource.  Read descriptions of the places you plan to write about.  If you are writing about a real location, research its history, its layout, any other aspect which you may deem interesting or helpful within the research process.  If your location is fictional, consider finding ways to familiarize yourself with the land you are creating. One way of doing this is to consider writing side stories that deal with your world’s past or present.

One of my favourite memories as a young writer was attempting to compose a scene set in an old country bar before I was old enough to legally enter one.  Growing up in a small town, we like many similar locations, had a small saloon-style bar near the centre of town.  Expressing great difficulty in attempting to write something I had never experienced, the owner offered to open the large double doors, allowing me to observe a night at the bar.  Only after this was I able to write the scene with any sense of believability.

This is a method I used while composing my upcoming series, Rise of the Temple Gods.  The novel actually began as a short story which took place a generation after what would become the primary plot.  The main purpose of the piece became world-building.  Within it, I developed the fantasy land which my later characters would come to inhabit.  I discovered that the sky was violet, there were multiple suns in the sky, the trees came in multiple neon colours such as pink, blue, and orange.  Later, I would compose another short story, investigating my character’s childhood; learning about their upbringing, their values and their experiences.  This helped to shape the young adults who would come to dominate my forthcoming novels.

When I first began the novel, Heir to Kale, I had crafted a world in which one of the most important elements was combat; both hand to hand and swordplay.  When I first proposed this idea to my mentor, her first response was “Sounds Great!  Now, what do you know about swordplay?”  My answer: “Not much.”

This being the case, I spent the better part of the next year and a half conducting research.  This included not only reading books, both fiction and non, which featured scenes which used swordplay and martial arts, but also interviews with dojo masters, attending classes for beginners, and observing courses of students far more advanced.  Students and Masters alike graciously took the time out of their busy schedules to answers my questions.  Then, once I began writing, I found even more kindness when some of these men and women agreed to read the scenes I was writing, breaking down what worked and what did not, and explaining the reasons why in great detail.

Now as one can probably guess, this is not a quick process.  It is slow and time-consuming and different authors will approach it with various levels of both time and dedication.  However,  most find that in the end, such measures are well worth the work involved and are a vital part of the process needed to create a believable, rich tale.

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