Monthly Archives: February 2013

my writing “tools”

After considering Regan’s comment from my “Multiple Perspective” post, I started to think about the tools that I use to help me write. I think I’m pretty indebted to NaNoWriMo, Scrivener, Google Drive, and the internet.

For NaNoWriMo, I have realized that not just the November writing month but both of the Camp NaNoWriMo’s are essential to my productivity. It gives me space to let my family and friends know that I’m putting my full focus into writing, and then they can give me the grace to ignore them and be grumpy for a quarter of the year. Revising takes much less focus for me than the creation of the story’s skeleton, so then I can pick up an old draft (the newest NaNo creation always needs a few months of separation from my head) and start working on that at a less-crazy pace.

Will I still be able to do that in a far off future where I have children? I really hope so…

And yes, I know that some people complain about NaNo and say it creates bad novels. It does… the rough drafts are going to be VERY rough. But only idiots go and submit those novels in December. The point is to have a month of encouragement, peer pressure, and focus to get a 50,000-word rough draft out of your head and onto the page. Then you start the grueling process of revision and editing. Just because you churn out a rough draft in one month doesn’t mean the STORY is bad… I think it’s malarkey to believe that only “real” writers sit there and bleed over every fancy sentence.

Just think about Neil Gaiman, who recently sat down and wrote twelve short tales over three days. They can be read here. Good writing doesn’t require an enormous time span, just enormous effort.

So yes. NaNo. It helps/makes me get stuff done.

Next is Scrivener, a word processor that I invested in after doing a free trial. (It’s half off with a winning NaNoWriMo code, so there’s that)! I wish I could be one of those people who fill entire yellow legal pads with their first draft, scribbling away with a fancy pen. But handwriting just hasn’t worked for me. It’s what I tried when I was a teenager trying to write, and I just wasn’t motivated enough… I’d drift off into doodling. Something about the screen feels much better to me: I can check my word counts quickly, type very quickly, save it more safely and access it again more easily than with paper (at least, now that I have Google drive, a smartphone, etc.), and fight with spellcheck about all my made-up place names.

But of course, Microsoft Word does all that too. The reason I love Scrivener is for its organization capabilities and output options. I can write scenes in their own section and drag them around during revision, which is much faster than copying and pasting in Word. There are menus for outlines, character breakdowns, and research so that they are easily accessible all from within Scrivener. I can click back and forth as I write and double-check a character’s eye color in a few seconds, for example. Then, when I have a draft done, I can compile it as a Word doc, a PDF, or even fancier things like manuscript style or an e-book. All with the click of a button! (No, they aren’t paying me for endorsements, though I would LOVE the money, haha. I just really like Scrivener). :)

Google Drive (previously Google Docs) has been helpful, as well. I don’t use it daily or anything, but I like to keep rough ideas and outlines there. Then, when I have a moment to brainstorm and am not at my personal laptop–say, a free moment at work, or waiting to be seated at a restaurant–I can log in to the same document from my smartphone or another computer, and keep working. I know, I know, if I used a notepad that was always in my purse, it’d achieve the same thing. But typing is just so much faster for me!!

And finally, can I just give a shout-out to the internet in general? Yes, it is a source of distractions (tweet tweet), but it is also a marvelous fount of knowledge. What does the inside of a submarine look like? The internet knows! How do I contact agents who might be interested in my work? The internet knows!! What is the difference between “lay” and “lie,” again? THE INTERNET KNOWS!!!

See? It’s magical. I love it.

That is a summary of the tools that have proven most helpful to me in my writing endeavors. What do you think? Is there anything else out there I ought to try?

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inspired by a little one

I have a niece now.

little one

She’s just about two weeks old, a bundle of adorable, miniature, stinky baby-ness.

And I want to tell her stories.

I went through a lot of phases in my development as a writer. When I was little, I wanted to write rhymes and children’s books, because that’s what I knew, loved, was taking in. As I grew, my tastes–and therefore my goals–grew and changed. Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books made me want to write YA literature, especially focused on fantasy, but when I read Holly Lisle’s Secret Texts trilogy, I was convinced I’d rather write adult fantasy. In college I started to believe that I wanted to write serious fiction, like Kate Chopin’s Awakening or Ian McEwan’s Atonement. For a period of time I even thought “let’s be practical, I can write textbooks instead.” (Yikes).

But now that I’ve been out here in real grown-up land (pay bills! get married! never sleep! clean the bathroom! buy all the books!),

buy all the books*

I know for certain that I love YA literature. It is approachable for a wide variety of ages (not just teens but precocious young readers and us old folks who need a break from the intense stuff, too), entertaining and yet full of messages, and is directed toward an audience that I love. I’ve seen authors who get to do book tours and speak at middle schools or libraries–I love that! I want to be that kind of author who can inspire young people to create their own stories and follow through on achieving their dreams. I know that inspired me as a youth… I’ve heard Ellen Kushner, James Scott Bell, Jack Prelutsky, and Verlyn Flieger all speak about writing, and the writing/blogging/tweeting fiends Neil Gaiman and Holly Lisle are also a big influence on my writing dreams thanks to their internet presence (despite the fact that I’ve never seen either one in person).

I want to share my stories with as many people as possible… but if all I have is my niece by my side, listening to (and eventually reading) my stories as she grows up, maybe that will be enough too. I want her to laugh and gasp and cry (maybe don’t tell her mom that last one) at what happens to my characters. I especially hope I get to share all of that with my own kids some day.

But for now, it’s nice to have a tiny niece who is going to be part of my story inventions and evolutions.

* Note: this is a misused meme that has expanded all over the internet for various uses, but it’s originally from Allie Brosh over at Hyperbole and a Half. Not everybody knows its origin, and they should. She’s hilarious.

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multiple perspectives

Despite my expected setbacks (reading Scarlet, getting swamped by this grad school homework) and unexpected setbacks (getting a promotion and having to move offices at work, last-minute social engagements, etc.), I’ve still managed to make some progress on my Copper revision. My word count is up to 53,260, which means I added over 3,000 words just by going back and adding more description that the story really needed in the opening two chapters. Use those five senses! ;)

One of my beta readers is also a counselor, so she read the book through a very interesting lens. She knew that my Myers Briggs type is INFJ, meaning I am very intuitive in my relationships; I can understand another’s emotions without having to verbalize to myself the way that feeling is being deduced. So she pointed out that someone with a more “social” type needs the details spelled out a bit more to reach the same conclusions.

Long story short, I’ve been able to notice a lot of scenes where I was accidentally subtle when it would be better–especially for YA literature–to describe the scene more fully. That’s not to say I’m bogging down the scenes with Tolkien-level descriptions! I think I’m walking a fine line of keeping nuance in the story while also fleshing out each scene for the reader.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about my screenwriting professor who passed away last year, Jack. He had such a passion for story and character, and would have asked me some really specific questions about the development of both aspects in this story. Here are some examples of questions he would have pressed me to answer well:

* Is the relationship between the love interests organic, believable, and valuable?
* Are you, the author, fully aware of the main characters’ histories, motivations, hopes, and fears? (Not just the heroes but the villains, too. Being aware means you can utilize that knowledge to make a deeper, better, more realistic story).
* Did you do your research? (Oh man, if he knew how much I’d made up about submarines… but it’s a MAGICAL submarine! Ack, okay, more research necessary).
* Are you using each scene to advance the story–including dialogue, but in an appropriate and non-hokey way?

Ah. I am so thankful for the people, both past and present, who have supported my writing endeavors and challenged me to become better at it.

As a final thought… this is quite corny, but I was reading my Chinese zodiac information (dragon!) last night after my sister-in-law (tiger) and I were discussing fortune cookies we’d received recently. This popped up in a description about dragons: “They will work diligently to complete their life goals.” Hell yeah! BOOKS, YOU ARE ALL OVER MY FUTURE. This publishing thing WILL happen. I WILL be an author. It’s going to be great! I’m way too freaking stubborn to give up! My other zodiac… what is it, astrological sign? Something like that, the one based on birth month rather than year, is “Taurus.” I am Dragon-Bull! Stubborn and persistent to the very end!! Hahaha. I don’t believe in the stars guiding my life (God’s got that covered), but that doesn’t mean I can’t take a bit of encouragement away from it, either…
Fun stuff.
Just gotta keep reading, keep writing, keep living life to the fullest.

(Speaking of reading… I haven’t decided what to read next)!

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Exciting News

Today is a day I’ve secretly been waiting for… the announcement for the first cuts in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. They accepted 10,000 manuscripts and have moved 2,000 on to the next round.
And I made that cut! :) Top 20% is pretty exciting. That round of judging was based solely on the pitch, which gives me hope for when I start contacting agents. My pitch for Copper stood on its own legs this time, so it could entice someone again!

The next round of judging is based on the excerpt, around 4,200 words for me. I will receive feedback (for free!) from two editors, and can utilize that while I continue to revise. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t hop on my revision sooner, because the version that I submitted to ABNA is much weaker than what I’m working on now, thanks to my team of beta readers. Only 500 manuscripts will move on from the current 2,000 (and those 500 are the only ones that will be fully read); I’ll find out more about that in a month. Honestly I don’t expect to make that cut, but getting this far feels great. I’m excited to read the two reviews that I’ll get… I hope at least one has good things to say. ;)
And though validation isn’t everything, it… kind of is, if one wants to become a continuously published author. Hahaha. It helps energize me to continue cutting, slashing, and building through this current revision. Hope needs to be buoyed up once in a while! I feel like this little achievement will give me the hope throughout the next month that my writing is working.

So yay! Copper is moving forward in the world. I’ve been smiling all day. Have to take the little victories as they come…

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Inspiration: Character Looks

I use random pictures from my explorations through Google Image Search and user-generated IMDB lists to help me visualize the characters and places in my story. Though most people aren’t aware of the characters yet, I’ll throw out the names as if you do. And it will all make more sense in the future!

This girl, though a little older than my vision of Copper, embodies the basic look: bright red hair, angled face that suggests defiance and independence, a wonderfully arched eyebrow.

Copper

Fun fact, I actually pictured Rachel Leigh Cook (a la her short red hair from Josie & the Pussycats) for most of the time I was creating and writing Copper, but she just wasn’t quite right and I had to keep looking for other redheads. I believe the girl above is an actress named Kincaid Walker. I haven’t seen her in anything, though.

This particular picture of Benedict Cumberbatch inspires my perspective of Shiloh. (Shiloh is definitely not as well-spoken or groomed as Benedict, nor as tall). I think it’s mainly in the messy hair, haha. And his outfit looks sailor-y, though not the kind of sailor clothes that Shiloh would be wearing.

Shiloh

When I saw Les Mis, I couldn’t help but think of how much Samantha Barks reminded me of a (too skinny) version of Essa. Her long black hair and the width of her face is perfect, though I’d imagined Essa’s hair a bit straighter than that. I suppose if you’re around the sea so much, you would get wavy beach hair from the salty water and air.

Essa

Copper’s brother, Blaze, has a lot of the characteristics that I see in Jeremy Renner (the SNL version, not the wannabe-action-hero version). He has the same stocky shape and facial features that I imagine on Blaze, though he lacks the red hair that all the Llewellyn family characters share.

Blaze

That face! Such a goofy-but-thinks-he’s-kickass Blaze face.

Mikasa is supposed to be tall and lanky, lacking the sailor muscles that Shiloh or Blaze have developed. Though handsome, he exudes an element of danger that might be exciting or might hint at his true intentions. Alexander Skarsgard became my vision for Mik, not as I started out with the story, but as the writing journeyed along.

??????????????????????

The Havelock twins, Aiken and Ayden, are supposed to be tan with hair that they dye funny colors (because they are academics who don’t care what anyone else thinks about them). I suppose Rashida Jones is the closest I can find to who Aiken would compare to, but what about her male twin? Who would that be?

rashida-jones-is-aiken-havelock

I have yet to successfully find an inspiration picture for Ayden, the male half of the Havelock twins. But, fun fact, I decided I needed one. All the other pictures in this post I already had in a little “Copper inspiration” folder on my computer; for Ayden, I had to search! I found a “hot black actors” list on IMDB (does that make me a horrible person? … No, I’m just creatively using the tools at my disposal. Or at least that will be my excuse!) and Gary Dourdan popped up. He could pass as Rashida Jones’ male twin, yes?

maybe ayden

Both Rashida and Gary are too old to fully encompass the perfect Aiken and Ayden, but this is just about inspiration, not movie-casting.

Much of the first book is spent on a submarine. I don’t feel like I’ll have successfully finished research until I can actually get ON a submarine, but since that hasn’t happened yet, I have to be content with my internet adventures. This is a helpful diagram that shows how the sub shape and technology changed over time.

history of subs

Luckily, they get to use magic in my book, and that speeds along the development of their submarine technology. ;)

And finally, one of the pictures that has been the most quietly inspirational:

Porthole from Galley

It’s the view out of a porthole, and I dearly love it. (Hence why I used it as the header for this site). It embodies so much of what Copper is going through… but I guess you’ll have to read it to find out more.
But in order for you to do that, it needs to be published! So I need to get back to revisions and query letters and submissions…

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a review & thoughts

Marissa Meyer’s latest book, Scarlet, came out on Tuesday. It’s the second in her Lunar Chronicles quartet. I’ve been waiting eagerly for it to come out, so… I already finished it.

And I loved it!

I try to read higher-level literature like the classics and thought-provoking articles as much as possible, so that I am not only constantly being challenged but also reviewing/expanding my vocabulary as well. It’s important to keep a sharp mind.

However, considering that writing YA literature is my goal, I sure read a lot of that too. The entertainment value is so high, and sometimes I don’t want to spend a month reading a book (here’s looking at you, Les Mis). It can be nice to breeze through a book in a matter of days.

I’ve found some YA literature to be “awkward,” though–trying too hard to write the way a young teen thinks, making it feel stilted and unnatural. I had started reading a book called Winterling before Scarlet came out, and that was the struggle I had with that book and why it was so easy to put down to start on Scarlet (and now so difficult to pick up again). Marissa Meyer does a good job of weaving natural dialogue and humor into her books, though. The creative twists she’s introduced to the Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood fairy tales are not only original but also engrossing. Her characters are relatable, likable, distinct, and unique. She’s managed to raise the stakes in the book’s panicked world without making it a dystopia (there are some amazing dystopias in YA lit out there right now, but I’m getting tired of them…)

She’s definitely inspired me to step up the game in my Copper revision. I want each of my characters to speak as distinctly as hers do, and for the plot to move along as quickly (though I do find that her mysteries are solvable early on in the story, and I’d rather have mine drawn out for a longer period). I’m especially impressed with her range of vocabulary while describing scenery; I specifically need to add in more of that in my own writing, and it’s encouraging to be reminded that you don’t have to hold back, even in YA literature.

Plus, full disclosure, I wrote Marissa Meyer to say how impressed I was with her books, social media presence, and overall inspiration as an author, and she wrote me back an encouraging thanks with the post script to let her know as soon as I publish a book. She’ll have a celebratory toast in my honor! If that isn’t proof of an awesome person, I don’t know what is.

Okay, I just typed this post on my little phone, so I hope it turns out correctly…

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Pantser or Plotter?

“Pantser or plotter?” is a description I learned through NaNoWriMo that categorizes writing styles into “fly by the seat of your pants” or “plot the entire outline carefully beforehand.”

I am *drumroll*

a Plotter. 

I just can’t sit before a blank white page and make magic happen based on spur of the moment inspiration. I need to have an outline, bullet points that I can drag around and erase and add to in order to build the story without feeling like I wasted time. If I wrote the entire story first, then realized that a whole chunk of the story didn’t work, it would kill me to throw away all those thousands of words. I’d rather throw away four or five bullet points in my plan.

Plus, seeing the big picture helps me be more creative and clever during the writing process. I can more effectively foreshadow the ending and pace the story properly.

 

Pantsers: how do you do it? I admire your powers…

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