Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My New First Draft: Narnia Meets Game of Thrones

This weekend I finished a 71k first draft. I'm certain it still needs a ton of work (as all first drafts seem to), but still, it's something of an accomplishment to plot everything out and get it all down into that first draft.

Photo credit to slynkycat.

I went for drama with the description in my blog post title. I don't know that my YA sci fi can really compare to Narnia or Game of Thrones, but I've got talking (robotic) animals, human-animal (mutant) hybrids and a few other elements based on a somewhat distorted sci fi version of the Narnia world. One of my villains is even loosely based off of the white witch.

Photo credit to Ronel Reyes.

And then, when I was writing the ending, I ended up killing off a few more characters than I'd expected (three total, which is quite a lot for me; I was only planning on killing off one). I've got two point of view (POV) characters, and they've each got their circle of acquaintances, friends, and enemies, and there's definitely some conniving going on. All of that plus the bloodshed led to the Game of Thrones comparison (in my head anyway).
So. Now I've got a first draft. I'm going to let it sit and forget about it so I can come back later to revise with fresh eyes.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fun Writing Links And Stories About Rejection

I've been writing away, implementing some of the advice that Holly Black gave me in editing my last book, and trying to finish off my first draft for another book (because I know that if I don't finish it, I'll just have those last few chapters hanging out there, taunting me).

So I figured it was a good week for some links I enjoyed about writing.

Photo credit to Hartwig HKD.

Here's an article on writing quotes from authors George R.R. Martin and Robin Hobbs. There's a lot of fun stuff in there, but my absolute favorite quote (because it made me laugh) was about creating fantasy names. George R.R. Martin says that those fantasy name generators really did not help him. They promise fifty fantastic and fresh fantasy names, and every single name they spit out was "Grisknuckle." I probably should have let you read it for yourself, but that's freaking hilarious. And oh so true.

Photo credit to Nicolas Raymond.

Martin mentions Robert A. Heinlein's rules for writing. Heinlein was a much-admired and influential sci-fi author who won the Hugo Award four times! Here is a link to just his rules. Here is a link to author Robert J. Sawyer's take on the rules, plus his additional sixth rule (which I liked). Heinlein's fifth rule is one that I don't completely agree with (the rule: keep your work on the market until it's sold) because sometimes you need to give up on a book or short story or whatever because sometimes it's just not as good as what you'll write after you've gotten a little more experience. On the other hand, some people don't realize just how long it can take and just how many rejection letters you sometimes get before your work gets published. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series was pretty famously rejected quite a few times before Bloomsbury Publishing took it on.

Speaking of which, then there's this Cracked article about famous books that got rejected. Just for fun.

Photo credit to Steven Bratman.
In case you're wondering what this photo has to do with anything, this is Colorado.
Two guys made a little town in the Colorado mountains famous.

And because, somehow, rejection has become the theme of this tale, it should be noted that Tray Parker and Matt Stone had a very up and down sort of start. Sure, once they got South Park it was all million dollar contracts and adoration, but they had some success, moved to L.A. and then spent the next two years living in poverty until  . . . they made a Christmas video (in which Santa and Jesus fought it out) which led to South Park. Anyway, the point was, they actually give some cool writing advice in this video.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

So I Got Some Writing Advice From Author Holly Black

I recently got to sit down and talk to the amazing, best selling author Holly Black. It was a truly wonderful experience. Unfortunately, just by touching her sphere of amazing, I didn't automatically turn into a princess, a pixie, or a celebrated author, but I did get some good writing advice.

And since I've got this blog about writing, I figured I'd share some of that advice in hopes it helps some of you too.

I couldn't find any good pictures of Holly on the Creative Commons, but she has a great book titled White Cat, so I went with a picture of a white cat instead:

Photo credit to olavgg

Set The Scene With Description

Pull back and describe the scene before plowing headlong into the action or conversation. This description gives the reader her footing. Use this description to set the mood for the action that is about to happen.

Ex. Is this an ominous scene? If so, emphasize the shadows and the towering buildings or reaching branches.

Photo credit to Jyrki Salmi

Describe Through the Eyes of Your MC

Use description to show what is important to your character and what her station in life is. How your character sees the world can tell a reader a lot about her.

Ex. Is your character obsessed with clothes? Well, then she'll notice them. If she doesn't have the clothes she wants (maybe b/c her family doesn't have the money for them) she'll notice this and bemoan her fate.

Photo credit to Solarbotics

Follow The "Want Line"

Your main character (and, really, every character) should always have something she wants. It should be evident in almost everything she says/does. If everything your character does is aimed toward achieving her goals (even if those goals change), you amp up the tension and the reader wants to keep reading. Also, when the character does NOT get what she wants, it makes the scenes more interesting and builds sympathy.

Ex. (Sorry, this gets a little long, but it's a fun example.) Say your character's main goal is to have a sleepover at her house. For whatever reason, this hasn't happened, but now it's on the verge of happening, and she is SO EXCITED! The character's initial goal is to host this sleepover, which is sure to be the best sleepover ever. But then the book's plot gets in the way, everything goes to hell, and the sleepover's off. Her goals shift, but if you can later echo back to that goal, it adds a lot of interest. Maybe later everything is only getting worse, but it just so happens that she's having a sleepover with a friend while they plan to escape this hellish nightmare that they've landed in. And on some level she's actually still a little excited about finally getting to have that sleepover. That's payoff.

Not sure why, but I love this photo.
Photo credit to Tim (and Julie) Wilson

The Big Reveal

It's always nifty if you can add a Big Reveal.

Ex. "Luke, I am your father."

Photo credit to Stéfan

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Editing My Painting

So, last week, I posted my Dead Leaves Painting (much more accurately titled Autumnal Leaf In A Forest, but that's just far too long). And then I pretended to pull writing advice out of the painting process b/c this is meant to be a writing blog. Well, this week I'm leaving the writing inferences up to you.

I finished my painting! Now it's titled "Dead Leaves and Live Cats." I didn't want any mistakes about whether or not "dead" also described the cats. Ugh. That sort of painting would NOT make a great wedding present for my doctor friend (or most anyone else).

I figured it might be fun to see the middle stage and the finished (edited) stage side by side. To be perfectly honest, it's fun for ME to see them side by side, so that's what we're gonna do.

Stage I:

Analysis: too flat, too much white space, too unfinished looking. It really just needs a little more work to feel finished. (The poor lightning may confusing things, but anything that's not brown, black, orange, or gray is pure white).

Stage II:

Analysis: Done!

I added some black/gray into the background to make it look like a foggy forest, and it really did give the little wavy tree shapes in the background more depth. And, of course, I added in the two cats.

The doctor who the painting is for really loves her cats. She may or may not have hired a pet therapist to council her and her fiancé's cats into getting along better. Hey, she's a doctor. She can afford it.

All I really needed was a little more atmo and a little more paint to make it look finished. The cats are just pure bonus. There are definitely still things I'm not happy about with the painting, but I now think it's Wedding Gift worthy.

I'm sure there's writing lessons there. I'm just too busy staring contentedly at my painting to pull them out.

And, Camilla, another bonus is that the cats add scale and make it seem much less likely that the rocks/sticks are piles of poo! Although I did love that you were critical of my husband's (helpful) criticism and then go one to tell me about the poo problem. I swear, the people I surround myself with just cannot help but mock me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Painting Dead Leaves

Did you know it's actually rather hard to find a cool picture of a skeletal oak leaf? Specifically one that's decayed away into a skeletal version of itself but still shows the overall shape of the leaf.

Because that's what I intended to paint, but then I couldn't find any really good pictures (I really would have liked one still attached to a branch), so I went with a more autumnal leaf instead: 

I was painting this last night when I should have been writing my post for this morning. Consequently you did not get a post this morning.

(Side note: "consequently" is a rather awesome word, isn't it?)

The purpose of this particular painting is to have a nice, personalized wedding gift for a doctor who can afford to buy anything she really wants. I've been consulting with my husband, and I don't think this painting is really quite to "Wedding Gift" status yet. As my husband says, "Too much white space." I concur.

So now I've got to figure out how to add a lovely background without mucking up the foreground. And, because this is a writing blog, let's pretend like I've actually been talking about writing the whole time:
You can come up with a very pretty picture, but sometimes you need to put in that extra time and effort and comb over your work to improve it in just the right places.

Unfortunately, with a painting, if you screw it up, you can't just press "undo" and start over. Well, you can start over, but it's a rather annoying form of starting over that involves sitting down in front of a blank piece of paper.

Thus concludes my Philosophical Musings On A Dead Leaf. Tune in next week for more random jibber jabber.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Have I mentioned that I finally said to myself "Dammit, I AM going to Italy!"? And then I booked my flight.

I've been getting so freaking excited about it, and this week, just to tantalize myself, I've just decided to post pictures of some of the things I'd like to see:


The Pantheon!
(Photo curtesy of Moyan Brenn)

The Colloseum, of course.
(Photo curtesy of Moyan Brenn)


(Photo Curtesy of Dimit®i)


El Duomo and all.
(Photo Curtesy of Martin Sojka)


(Photo curtesy of Tobi Gaulke)

And, the FOOD:
(Photo from fs999)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Stephen King Tells Me How to Write Description

Subtitle: Sometimes the Voices in My Head Are Helpful

Stephen King at a USO event.
(Photo credit to The USO)

This week I did some critiquing for a wonderful fantasy story, and reading her descriptions got me wondering about the Essence of Description.

Doing all this critiquing, writing, and analyzing description may have driven me just a smideony bit crazy. My brain felt like it was going to implode. Or explode. I think it could have gone either way, really.

(Photo credit to Shaheen Lakhan)

I struggle with description. I use too little. In my opinion, this story I was critiquing had a little too much but that might just be my personal preferences at play. It was some really good description, whether it needed to be trimmed down or not.

So while I was racking my brain for some good guidelines on description, I remembered that Stephen King had some advice in his book On Writing. On Writing is one of those books you hear about over and over again if you’re a writer, and for good reason. It’s entertaining. It’s got great advice, and that advice is coming from Stephen freaking King. The man’s sold millions of books. He’s obviously doing something right.

Can you believe these? They're from a 16th century medical text on brain surgery!
(Photo credit to Shaheen Lakhan)

And, so, with my brain on the verge of, uh, self-combustion (let's go with that), it decided to do a little interview with Mr. Stephen King himself. (All quotes are from On Writing. Bibliography below.)

Me: So, what does description mean to you, Mr. Stephen King, writer of great acclaim and yet tangible figment of my imagination?

Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot.

(Photo credit to Skamelone)

Me: Okay, well, that’s good to know, but can I get a little more detail?

Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Over description buries him or her in details and images. The trick is to find a happy medium.

Me: Yeah, some trick. Wish I knew it. Got anything else, Mr. King?

I’m not particularly keen on writing which exhaustively describes the physical characteristics of the people in the story and what they’re wearing (I find wardrobe inventory particularly irritating; if I want to read descriptions of clothes, I can always get a J. Crew catalogue).

Me: Got it. No J. Crew catalogues. I’m guessing the Gap’s out too. Good. I hate writing description anyway. But what should I include?

I think locale and texture are much more important to the reader’s sense of actually being in the story than any physical description of the players. Nor do I think that physical description should be a shortcut to character. So spare me, if you please, the hero’s sharply intelligent blue eyes and outthrust determined chin.

Me: Sure. Locale and texture. Yeah. That’s not actually all that helpful. I’m not sure you’re understanding the question, Mr. King. What should I include?

… good description usually consists of a few well chosen details that will stand for everything else. In most cases, these details will be the first ones that come to mind.

Me: Cool. That’s a start. Can you give an example?

One of my favorite restaurants in New York is the steakhouse Palm Too on Second Avenue. . . . Before beginning to write, I’ll take a moment to call up an image of the place, drawing from my memory and filling my mind’s eye . . . The first four things which come to my mind when I think of Palm Too are:
(a) the darkness of the bar and the contrasting brightness of the backbar mirror, which catches and reflects light from the street;
(b) the sawdust on the floor;
(c) the funky cartoon caricatures on the walls;
(d) the smells of cooking steak and fish.
The Palm Restaurant, NYC
(Photo credit to Jennifer Martinez)
And a link to Palm Too's site.

Me: Those are some pretty cool details. I think you might have a talent for this, Mr. King. Can you show me how that’d work in a story?

King: Sure. Just let me whip something together as we speak because I am a masterful writer and you are but a mere peon.

Me: What the hell?

King: I didn’t say anything.

Me: Oh, never mind. It must have been the voices in my head. Carry on. You were going to give us an example paragraph.

     The cab pulled up in front of Palm Too at quarter to four on a bright summer afternoon. Billy paid the driver, stepped out onto the sidewalk, and took a quick look around for Martin. Not in sight. Satisfied, Billy went inside.
     After the hot clarity of Second Avenue, Palm Too was as dark as a cave. The backbar mirror picked up some of the street-glare and glimmered in the gloom like a mirage. For a moment it was all Billy could see, and then his eyes began to adjust. There were a few solitary drinkers at the bar. Beyond them, the maître d’, his tie undone and his shirt cuffs rolled back to show his hairy wrists, was talking with the bartender. There was still sawdust sprinkled on the floor, Billy noted, as if this were a twenties speakeasy instead of a millennium eatery where you couldn’t smoke, let alone spit a gob of tobacco between your feet. And the cartoons dancing across the walls—gossip-column caricatures of downtown political hustlers, newsmen who had long since retired or drunk themselves to death, celebrities you couldn’t quite recognize—still gambolled all the way to the ceiling. The air was redolent of steak and fried onions. All of it the same as it ever was.
     The maître d’ stepped forward. “Can I help you, sir? We don’t open for dinner until six, but the bar—”
     “I’m looking for Richie Martin,” Billy said.

Me: Damn, you are good at this. That’s a great description, and it’s woven into the plot seamlessly. You didn’t take a break from your book to describe the bar. You wove it right into the character’s actions. That’s amazing!

King: Yeah. I know.
(Note: I’m pretty sure this was the Mr. King in my head, and not the real, live Stephen King.)

Just because its a little creepy and a little cool.
(Photo credit to Monsieur J.)

Bibliography (b/c that's how I roll)

King, Stephen. On Writing. New York: Scribner, 2000.