Tag Archives: #writetip

Conferring Power: logic and limitations #amwriting

We are now in the final six days of NaNoWriMo. My region is small, only 174 active writers, but we’re moving along well. As a whole, we just crested the four million word mark. That’s not as much as some regions, but wow!

In our forums on Discord and Facebook, the conversation sometimes turns to the use of magic or science in a narrative. Many of these authors are new at this and need a place to safely discuss their work, so I make it my business to not impose my opinions in either forum.

Besides, I have this platform for ranting about writing. So, how do I feel about science and magic?

In the words of Egon in Ghostbusters, “Don’t cross the streams.”

I have said this before, but I feel the need to repeat it. Science is not magic, and it should not feel to a reader as if it were.

Science is logical, rooted in the realm of real and theoretical physics. The scientific method objectively explains nature and the world around us in a reproducible way. Skepticism and peer review are fundamental parts of the process.

Those who read and write hard science fiction are often employed in the field of science in some capacity. They know the difference between reality and fantasy. The same goes for those who read fantasy—they are often employed in fields that require critical thinking.

Often, readers of both genres are avid gamers. Gamers learn to develop skillsets within strict parameters to advance in the game. Thus, logic and limitations define how much enjoyment they get from a gaming or reading experience.

I read a great many books in all genres. If I have one complaint, it is that many authors indulge in mushy science or magic. They make it up as they go, which is what we all do.

But when they get to the editing stage, they don’t go back and look for the contradictions in their magic or science, the places where a reader can no longer suspend their disbelief.

Having magic conveys power in the same way that having superior technology does. It should be held to the same standards.

If magic is a tool that your characters rely on, it should be believable. The science of magic is an underlying, invisible layer that is part of my world-building process.

The following is my list of places where magic and technology converge in genre fiction:

  1. The number of people who can use either magic or technology should be limited.
  2. The ways that magic or technology can be used should be limited.
  3. The majority of people are limited to one or two kinds of magic/technology. Only specific mages/technicians have the ability to make use of all forms of magic/technology.
  4. There must be strict, inviolable rules regarding what each kind of magic/technology can do.
  5. The conditions under which this magic/technology will work must be clearly defined.
  6. There must be some conditions under which the magic/technology will not work.
  7. There must be limits to the damage magic/technology can do as a weapon or the healing it can perform.
  8. Does the wielder of this magic/technology pay a physical/emotional price for the use?
  9. Does the wielder of this magic/technology pay a physical/emotional price for abusing it?
  10. Is the learning curve steep and sometimes lethal?

Personal power and how we confer it is the layer of world-building where writers of science and writers of magic come together.

  • Magic and the ability to wield it confers power.
  • Science and superior technology do the same.

For the narrative to have any real conflict, the enemy must have access to equal or better Science/Magic.

Often in the case of magic, the protagonist and their enemy are not from the same “school.” This means that the author has two systems and sets of rules to design for that story.

The same goes for technology. One group may have found a way to exploit physics that places the other group at a disadvantage. This is where the tension comes into the story.

WE authors must create the rules of magic or the limits of science for both the protagonist and antagonist. We must do it in the first stages of the writing process.

It will only require a small bit of time and maybe fifteen minutes of writing to create a system that satisfies the above ten requirements. This way, you will be sure the logic of your magic/technology has no hidden flaws.

When you take the time to research science technologies or create magic systems, you create a hidden framework that will support and advance your plot. Limits force us to be creative, to find alternative ways to resolve problems.

Within either science or magic, there can be an occasional exception to a rule, but it must be clear to the reader why that exception is acceptable.

There must be an obvious, rational explanation for that exception.

This is an underpinning of the plot and is a foundational component of the backstory. The only time the reader needs to know these systems exist is at the moment it affects the characters and their actions.

The best background information comes out at the moment that knowledge affects the story. It emerges naturally in conversations or in other subtle ways.

By not baldly dropping it on the reader in paragraph form, the knowledge becomes a normal part of the environment rather than an info dump.

5 Comments

Filed under writing

Murder and the Dry Well of Inspiration #amwriting

We have arrived at week three of 2020’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’m still zooming along in my accidental novel. However, this is the place in the month where many writers will fall by the way, as they lose the plot and then lose momentum.

The well of inspiration has gone dry.

When we are writing a story that encompasses 50,000 to 100,000 words, these mental stopping places are how we end up with bunny trails to nowhere. We’re trying to force getting our word count, so we go a bit off the rails.

There are ways around that.

If your employment isn’t a work-from-home kind of job, using the note-taking app on your cellphone to take down notes during business hours will be frowned on. In that case, I suggest keeping a pocket-sized notebook and pen to write those ideas down as they come to you.

This is an old-school solution but will enable you to discreetly make notes whenever you have an idea that would work well in your story. The best part is, you don’t appear to be distracted or off-task.

For me, ideas occur when I stop “pressing my brain” to work when it’s on its last legs. Trust me, pounding out 1,667 or more new words a day severely tests both your creativity and endurance.

We know that arcs of action drive the plot. However, random, disconnected events inserted for shock value can derail the best story. Therefore, when I am brainstorming where to go next in my plot, I keep both the ending and overall logic of how to get there in mind.

At the outset of the story, we find our protagonist and see him/her in their familiar surroundings. Once we have met them and seen them in their comfort zone, the inciting incident occurs.

This is the first point of no return and is often where an author’s ideas run out.

They had only visualized the character and the problem but hadn’t thought beyond that point.

A point of no return comes into play in every novel to some degree. The protagonists are in danger of losing everything because they didn’t recognize the warning signs, and they are pushed to the final confrontation, whether they are ready for it or not.

I’m writing a fantasy, and I know what must happen next in the novel because it’s an origin story. I’m writing it from a historical view. I see how this tale ends and am merely writing the motivations for that ending.

Try to identify the protagonist’s goals early on. The words will come as you clarify why the protagonist must struggle to achieve them.

  • How does the protagonist react to being thwarted in their efforts?
  • How does the antagonist currently control the situation?
  • How does the protagonist react to pressure from the antagonist?
  • How does the struggle deepen the relationships between the protagonist and their cohorts/romantic interest?
  • What complications arise from a lack of information regarding the conflict?
  • How will the characters acquire that necessary information?

Suppose your main character doesn’t want something bad enough to do just about anything to achieve it over the next couple hundred pages. In that case, they don’t deserve to have a story told about them.

At the inciting incident, our hero just wants to go back to their comfort zone. They want that desperately, but things happen that prevent it.

  1. What are the events that keep the main characters slogging through the roadblocks to happiness?
  2. Why should the reader care? Every scene and conversation will push the characters closer to either achieving that goal or failing, so if you make it a deeply personal quest, the reader will become as invested in it as you are.

Everything you write from the inciting incident to the last page will detail the quest and answer that second question. Your protagonist and antagonist must both desire nothing more than to achieve that objective.

If they care about the outcome, the reader will too.

I find it helps to have some idea of what the ending will be. Now, as I write my current unplanned novel, a broad outline of my intended story arc is evolving. As I’ve mentioned before, I keep my notes in an Excel workbook. It contains maps, calendars, and everything pertaining to any novel set in that world, keeping it in one easy to find place.

When logic forces things to change as I am writing, as it always does, I make notes to the growing outline and update my maps.

If you are stuck, it sometimes helps to go back to the beginning and consider these questions:

  • What is the goal/objective?
  • Is the objective compelling enough to warrant risking everything to acquire it?
  • What choices will the protagonist have to make that challenge their moral values and sense of personal honor?
  • Who is the antagonist? What do they want, and what are they willing to do to achieve it? Are they facing ethical quandaries too?

Every obstacle we throw in the path to happiness for both the protagonists and their opposition forces change and shapes the direction of our narrative.

When your creative mind needs a rest, step away from the keyboard, and do something else for a while.  I find that when I take a break to cook or clean out a corner, random ideas for what to do next in my novel will occur to me.

Sometimes, these little flashes of inspiration are what I need to carry me a few chapters further into the novel.

Finally, let’s talk about murder as a way to kickstart your inspiration.

I suggest you don’t resort to suddenly killing off characters just to get your mind working. Readers become frustrated with authors who randomly kill off characters they have grown to like.

When a particular death was planned all along, it is one thing, but developing characters is a lot of work. If you kill off someone with an important role, who or what will you replace them with?

You may need to replace that character later, so plan your deaths accordingly.

in the meantime, happy writing! May the words flow freely for you and may you never run out of new ideas to write.

5 Comments

Filed under writing

Foreshadowing #nanowrimo2020 #amwriting

November is half over, and we are on the downward slide for NaNoWriMo 2020. This is a good time to think about where you are taking your story.

Good foreshadowing is crucial. Suppose you have been working from an outline. In that case, you should have a few clues embedded in the first quarter of the story to subliminally alert the reader that things are not what they seem. These are little warning signs of future events.

For those who wing it, this happens on a subconscious level, but it does happen. Clumsy foreshadowing or neglecting to foreshadow are things we do when laying down our story’s first draft.

Recognizing those signals can be a challenge unless you have a plan.

When a possibility is briefly, almost offhandedly mentioned, but almost immediately overlooked or ignored by the protagonists, that is foreshadowing.

Some readers will miss the suggested possibility just as the unsuspecting characters do. Other readers will guess what is going on.

We subtly insert small hints, little offhand references to future events. If the narrative is well-written, readers will stick with it as they will want to see how it plays out.

The most crucial aspect of foreshadowing is the surprise when all the pieces fall into place. This is the moment when the reader says, “I should have seen that coming.”

We have many reasons to pursue good foreshadowing skills. In my opinion, the most important is that it helps avoid using the clumsy Deus Ex Machina (pronounced: Day-us ex Mah-kee-nah) (God from the Machine) as a way to miraculously resolve an issue.

A Deus Ex Machina occurs when, toward the end of the narrative, an author inserts a new event, character, ability, or otherwise resolves a seemingly insoluble problem in a sudden, unexpected way.

Foreshadowing also helps us avoid the opposite ungainly device, the Diabolus Ex Machina (Demon from the machine). This is the bad guy’s counterpart to the Deus Ex Machina.

Death on a Pale Horse, William Blake c. 1800 (via Wikimedia Commons)

That occurs when the author suddenly realizes the evil his character faces isn’t evil enough. We see the sudden introduction of an unexplained new event, character, ability, or object designed to ensure things suddenly get much worse for the protagonists.

As a reader, I hate it when a character suddenly develops a new skill or knowledge without explanation. When this happens, it’s usually explained away as a Chekhov’s Skill.

You need to mention previous examples of the characters using or training that skill. Without briefly foreshadowing that ability, the reader will assume the character doesn’t have it.

This is when the narrative becomes unbelievable.

Literature and the expectations of the reader are like everything else. They evolve and change over the centuries.

In genre fiction today, a prologue may or may not be a place for foreshadowing. This is because modern readers don’t have the patience to wade through large chunks of exposition dumped in the first pages of a novel.

Shakespeare used both exposition and foreshadowing. Larger events may be foreshadowed through the smaller events that precede them.

Let’s look at Romeo and Juliet and the scene where Benvolio is trying to talk Romeo out of his infatuation for Rosaline.

“Take thou some new infection to thy eye,

And the rank poison of the old will die.” 

In other words, “The minute you see a different girl, you’ll forget this one, Bro.”

Benvolio’s advice proves to be correct because as soon as Romeo lays eyes on Juliet, he forgets his obsession with Rosaline.

And again, later, when Benvolio brings the news that Mercutio is dead, Romeo says,

“This day’s black fate on more days doth depend; 

This but begins the woe, others must end.”

Romeo is predicting that Mercutio’s death is a disaster for everyone and feels as if he is racing toward an unknown future.

In that moment, we see that Romeo is deeply aware that he has reached a point of no return.

He will fight Tybalt to avenge Mercutio because his society requires it. Therefore, he must duel but is fully aware that killing Tybalt won’t resolve anything. Instead, the murder will only perpetuate the problem.

Romeo has seen the foreshadowing and knows he is no longer in control of his fate.

Inserting small hints of what is to come into your narrative gives the protagonists an indication of where to go next.

It tantalizes a reader and keeps them turning the page.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:DickseeRomeoandJuliet.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:DickseeRomeoandJuliet.jpg&oldid=431079125 (accessed November 17, 2020).

Painting: Death on a Pale Horse, Commissioned from Blake and acquired by Thomas Butts c. 1800 (via Wikimedia Commons)

9 Comments

Filed under writing

Hyphens and Compound Words #amwriting

National Novel Writing Month is in full swing. I am busy writing incomprehensible words that will require a great deal of revising and editing. But all that aside, this perfectly good post on hyphens and compound words was just lying around, so here you go! It was first posted on June 26, 2017, and since then, nothing has changed in the world of hyphenation. However, we can always use a little refresher when it comes to compound words and their usage.


Compound words are frequently a source of grief when I receive my manuscript back from my editor. Despite my best efforts, I habitually hyphenate words that should not be hyphenated.

Most people know that a compound word combines two or more words that function as a single unit of meaning.

Most people also know that there are two types of compounds:

  • those written as single words, with no hyphenation and which are called “closed compounds”– such as the word “bedspread,”
  • “hyphenated compounds,” such as “jack-in-the-box” and “self-worth.”

But there is a third group. They are the bane of my writing life–those mysterious, ephemeral denizens of the deepest corner of writer’s hell, called open compounds. These seemingly innocent instruments of torture are written as separate words–the nouns “school bus” and “decision making,” for example.

Fortunately, the English language has rules to guide us when deciding if it’s one word, two separate words, or a hyphenated word:  

Do not use a hyphen unless it serves a purpose. If a compound adjective cannot be misread or, as with many psychological terms, its meaning is established, a hyphen is not necessary.

The American Psychological Association  style guide gives us these examples:

covert learning techniques, health care reform, day treatment program, sex role differences, grade point average

Use a hyphen in a temporary compound that is used as an adjective before a noun

Use a hyphen if the term can be misread or if it expresses a single thought.

  • “The children resided in two parent homes” means that two homes served as residences with one or more parents.
  • If the children resided in “two-parent homes,” they each would live in a single household headed by two parents.

In that case, a properly placed hyphen helps the reader understand the intended meaning.

We also use hyphens for compound words that fall into these categories:

  • if the base word is capitalized: pro-African
  • when writing numbers: post-1910, twenty-two
  • an abbreviation: pre-ABNA manuscript
  • more than one word: non-achievement-oriented students
  • All “self-” compounds whether they are adjectives or nouns such as self-respect, self-esteem, self-paced.

We hyphenate words that could be misunderstood when there are diverse meanings if they’re unhyphenated:

  • re-pair (to pair again) as opposed to repair (to mend)
  • re-form (to form again) as opposed to reform (to improve)

We hyphenate words in which the prefix ends, and the base word begins with the same vowel:

  • metaanalysis
  • antiintellectual

The problem is, unless you are a technical writer, how often are we going to use those terms? Hence, the confusion when we DO use them.

Get It Write online says, “One way to decide if a hyphen is necessary is to see if the phrase might be ambiguous without it. For example, “large-print paper” might be unclear written as “large print paper” because the reader might combine “print” and “paper” as a single idea rather than combining “large” and “print.” Another such example is “English-language learners.” Without the hyphen, a reader might think we are talking about English people who are learning any language rather than people who are learners of the English language.”

A good rule to remember is most words formed with prefixes and suffixes are written as one word with NO hyphen.

Prefixes: Afterglow, extracurricular, multiphase, socioeconomic

Suffixes: Arachnophobia, wavelike, angiogram

When I am laying down prose in the first draft, my natural inclination when writing these words would be to hyphenate them, but that is wrong. My editor always kindly reminds me of this.

In the end, if you are in doubt and it’s holding up your work, go to an online dictionary to see the various ways it can be combined. Just go to:

http://www.merriam-webster.com

What it all comes down to is this—when editing for another author, I can see these things clearly. In my own work–it’s like my finger has a twitch that absolutely MUST add a hyphen to compound words that should remain separate and separates words that should be joined.

This is why the editor has an editor for her own work.


CREDITS AND ATTRIBUTIONS:

When do you need to use a hyphen for compound words? The American Psychological Association, http://www.apastyle.org/learn/faqs/when-use-hyphen.aspx accessed June 25, 2017

Compound Words: When to Hyphenate, Get It Write, Nancy Tuten and Gayle Swanson  http://www.getitwriteonline.com/archive/042703compwdshyph.htm, 2017

This article first appeared on Jun 26, 2017, as Compound Words and Hyphens by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2017 https://wp.me/p1pa44-2X5

22 Comments

Filed under writing

Making the most of your writing time #writetip #nanowrimo2020

No matter where you are in the process, the act of writing daily is an important thing. Many people participate in NaNoWriMo because having a visible goal forces them to find the time to write.

I have been a Municipal Liaison for my region since 2011, and my co-ML is author Lee French. Between us, we keep the writers in our area stoked about their projects and help them get through the rough spots. In the past, we have hosted write-ins, both virtual and at libraries and coffee shops.

This year, due to the pandemic, we are going completely virtual, hosting meetups through Discord and Zoom.

As established authors, we have learned a few tricks that we’re always happy to share with those planning to “do” NaNoWriMo for the first time.

If you are just embarking on this literary joyride for the first time, here are a few quick tips and resources to help you stay organized:

Things you want to have at your fingertips, so you don’t have to stop and look it up:

MAPS: If you are writing a story set in our real world and your characters will be traveling, walking a particular city, or visiting landmarks, bookmark google maps for that area and refer back to it regularly to make sure you are writing it correctly.

If you are writing about a fantasy world and your characters will be traveling, quickly sketch a rough map. Refer back to it to ensure the town names and places remain the same from the first page to the last. Update it as new locations are added.

TECH: Many people are writing sci-fi novels. In hard sci-fi, technology and science are the central core of the stories, so it’s a good idea to know what tech is available to your characters well in advance of writing their scenes. A little planning now will aid you greatly in the writing process.

If you are writing fantasy involving magic or supernatural skills, briefly draw up a list of rules identifying who can do what with each ability. Remember:

  • Magic without rules is both impossible and creates a story with no tension. No one wants to read a story where the characters have nothing to struggle against. Working within the rules develops opportunities for growth.
  • Each character should have limits to their abilities. Because they are not individually all-powerful, they will need to interact and work with each other and the protagonist. Establishing boundaries can drive your story in some creative and unusual directions.

Looking things up on the internet can suck up an enormous amount of your writing time. Do yourself a favor and bookmark your resources well in advance, so all you have to do is click on a link to get the information you want. Then you can quickly get back to writing.

Resources to kickstart stalled creativity:

Resources to bookmark in general:

  • www.Thesaurus.Com (What’s another word that means the same as this but isn’t repetitive?)
  • Oxford Dictionary (What does this word mean? Am I using it correctly?)
  • Wikipedia (The font of all knowledge. I did not know that.)

Three websites a beginner should go to if they want instant answers about grammar, written in plain English:

Never delete, do not self-edit as you go. Don’t waste time re-reading your work. You can do all that in December when you go back to look at what you have written. If you don’t like it, change the font color or use strike-out. Those words will all count when you go to upload the manuscript, even those using the strike out. You wrote them, so count them!

Make a style sheet: If you love your sanity, make a list of all the names and words you invent as you go and update it each time you create a new one, so the spellings don’t evolve as the story does. Save this to your desktop, so all you have to do is click on the icon to open it for updating.

My co-ML Lee French and I have found that setting a goal of 1667 words a day really is the best way to meet the goal of 50,000 words by November 30th.

However, if the stress of writing that many words a day is too much, step back and write at a speed you are comfortable with.

Sure, there’s a contest full of personal goals involved. Still, NaNoWriMo is really about encouraging the act of writing and developing the discipline to set aside time to write daily.

Every word you write is essential because it gets you closer to having a book you can hold in your hand and say, “I wrote this.” By writing in short bursts whenever you have the opportunity, you will get your first draft finished.

Here is a list of earned badges we who participate hope to acquire from the national website:

  1. (this one is the easiest) Update your progress! If you want some of the later badges, do it on day 1, and then do it every day after that.
  2. Update more than once in one day!
  3. Start a streak – update two days in a row (do you see a pattern here?)
  4. Update 3 days in a row!
  5. Update 7 days in a row.
  6. Update 14 days in a row.
  7. Update 21 days in a row.
  8. Update 30 days in a row (our personal favorite!)
  9. Achieve par every day (1667 words) (difficult, but doable).
  10. Update at precisely 1667 words (fun!)
  11. Reach 5 k words.
  12. Reach 10 k words.
  13. Reach 25 k words.
  14. Reach 40 k words.
  15. Reach 50 k words by November 30th!
  16. Download that winner’s certificate!

Some years I write words like a fountain spews water and write two novels worth of words.

In other years, every word is torn from my keyboard, accompanied by the howling of banshees. During those years, I can barely make my word count.

For me, the most important thing is having my project that much closer to completion.

If you choose to embark on this project, make that your goal. Write because you have a story burning to be told, and have fun doing it.

3 Comments

Filed under writing

Jump-starting #NaNoWriMo2020 #amwriting

I have been a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo since 2012. I started participating in this annual writing rumble in 2010. I  found myself taking the lead as the unofficial ML for my region in 2011 when our previous ML didn’t return. Organizing write-ins, cheering on my fellow writers—I didn’t know how it all worked. But it was a lot of fun, and I became close friends with a fantastic group of writers.

Over the years, I have learned many tricks to help people get a jump on their NaNoWriMo project.

Most writers will start an entirely new project. Some have an outline, others are flying blind, or in author speak, “pantsing it.”

Other writers will continue writing the first draft of an unfinished work-in-progress. On November first, they write all the new work in a separate manuscript that is for NaNoWriMo validation purposes.

This year I have several projects. One will be to write the final chapters of Bleakbourne on Heath, a novel that began life in 2015 as a weekly serial. I have the outline all written for that, and the ending is now firmly established. Finishing that should cover about 20,000 – to 25,000 words.

My second project is for my new duology set in Neveyah. I need to write the chapters that show my antagonist’s storyline. They are also outlined now, and when Bleakbourne is finished, I will move on to the Aeoven Cycle.

I also have three short stories and a novella to fill in on those days when I can’t focus on the tasks at hand, so I will have plenty to keep my mind churning.

Several years came where I had no novel-length ideas. For those years I wrote collections of short stories to submit to magazines and contests.

But what if you think you have no ideas worth writing?

Feel free to look on the internet for writing prompts.

Don’t let your flashes of inspiration slip into oblivion. Write them down and use them. A pre-prepared list of prompts can stimulate any number of projects. It’s like an “extra brain,” full of ideas to jump-start a short story.

Great novels all begin with a random idea, a “what if,” so I save this document to my computer’s desktop. It’s nothing fancy, just a list of ideas and one-liners that seemed interesting.

You could use sticky notes or a pencil and paper, but the important thing is to not forget them.

Whenever I don’t have a specific project to write on, I go to that list, select a prompt, and start writing. I write new words on that idea for fifteen minutes.

Often, I end up with a drabble or a poem to show for my fifteen minutes. Other times, what I produce is not worth much, but the act of writing new words is essential.

It trains your brain to think like a writer.

The following are some of my favorite prompts:

  • Edgar always said there was no place for pansies in this war. His preferred weapon was a dahlia.
  • Dogs and little children hated Winston. The rest of us merely despised him.
  • Death is the one thing you can take with you, and Sheila Harris was packed up and ready to go.
  • The body in the trunk of Edna’s car had become a real inconvenience.

Another trick to both jump-starting and finishing a NaNo Novel is to write the last chapter first. Then set it aside in a separate document from the NaNo Manuscript, and write the story to that moment.

Yes—it’s true. I wrote my first NaNoWriMo novel by writing the last chapter first and then wondering how the characters had gotten to that point, that place.

Once I knew how the book ended, I could write 60,000 to 70,000 words to connect up to that final denouement.

The original premise: An old man returns to a town that was the scene of his most treasured memories.

The book opens when he is a young man and takes him through grand love affairs and miserable failures. My soul was on fire with that book, and I couldn’t think of anything else.

Julian Lackland had a rough journey but was published this year.

Julian Lackland @ Books2Read

Julian Lackland @ Amazon

Julian wasn’t my first novel, but it was the first one I had completed. If you don’t finish your projects, the world will never read your work.

NaNoWriMo has shown me that writing prompts are an excellent tool that we can use to jump-start our imaginations. The Writer’s Digest website has an excellent post dedicated to writing prompts:

Creative Writing Prompts

If you want to practice writing something but can’t think of what, take a look and see if something interests you.  No two people are alike, so don’t be afraid to use a prompt from a popular site like Writer’s Digest. The way you go with it will be as unique and individual as you are.

Every day, things occur that I think would make such good magazine articles, and November is a great month to write them.

  • A spring day at the Olympia Farmer’s Market (one of the largest on the west coast).
  • The story of a mentally ill homeless woman whom I met on a rainy day.
  • A road trip down Washington State Route 105 from Westport to Raymond, and the ghostly, nearly abandoned coastal towns of rural Washington State.

So many random ideas and so little time to write those stories! That is why November and participating in NaNoWriMo has become so precious to me.

1 Comment

Filed under writing

The Antagonist’s Story Arc – part 2 #amwriting #nanowrimo2020

In Monday’s post, The Antagonist’s Story Arc, I explained how I organized my notes for each book or series using a workbook from a spreadsheet program, such as Excel or Google Sheets. Today I am continuing to plot out the opposition’s story arc to dovetail with what has already been established in the protagonist’s storyline.

So now, I go back to the notes on my protagonist, Alf, and look at my calendar of events. What clues have I inserted about the antagonist, Daryk, from Alf’s point of view? I need to make sure those are noted on Daryk’s timeline.

At this point, Daryk is only partially formed in my mind. I see him as he was before he triggered the mage trap, which is how Alf sees him. Daryk was a close companion, a canny adversary in any competition, and especially at the game of stones. He was a dedicated Sword of Aeos, deeply committed to rooting out the Bull God’s secret covens. Strategy and battle tactics were second nature to him. His best skill was how well prepared he was for every turn of events. He and Alf had worked together successfully since becoming hunters.

Alf only wants to remember him that way but knows he will be forced into a direct confrontation at some point. I have written the book’s opening chapter, where the event that changes everything occurs.

Since NaNoWriMo ended last year, I’ve gotten the first draft of most of Alf’s story arc written to the point where these two characters must face their destinies.

But only the protagonist has been fleshed out.

One thing that occurred to hold up this aspect of the first draft was the protracted illness and death of my good friend and structural editor, Dave Cantrell. Dave was an integral part of my writing posse, giving me the male perspective, which helped to round out my characters.

Now I need to decide how many chapters will be devoted to Daryk, and what events are important enough to be highlighted from his view. First, I need to identify his quest.

In a good novel, characters aren’t evil for no reason. Perhaps what the protagonist perceives as evil is merely a radically different way of living, a cultural difference. Or maybe they’re under pressure from some external force. In Daryk’s case, it is both.

While battling a mindbender and his coven, Daryk is separated from the Swords of Aeos. He enters the enemy’s altar room and finds a statue cut from amethyst crystal. This is a trap set to snare mages serving Aeos, Goddess of Hearth and Home.

The moment he touches it, Tauron, the Bull God, seizes Daryk’s mind. No mere mortal can withstand the personal attention of a god, and Daryk is now set on a collision path with destiny. Tauron is the God of War, jealous, paranoid, and insecure. He demands abject worship, extreme sacrifices, and harshly punishes those who fail. Success is rewarded richly, and the strongest rise to the top to rule over the weak.

Steeped in the lore of his warrior culture, Daryk is easily bent to the Bull God’s path. He is now convinced that he is the rightful heir to be the War Leader. He sees Alf as serving a weak and feeble deity, and that the tribes have lost their strength. His goal is to seize power and use the tribes to conquer Neveyah for the Bull God.

Tauron gives Daryk new gifts, one of which is the ability to sway large gatherings of people. Since he has no empathic magic, he needs to find and snare an empathically gifted healer to project his compulsions.

To do this, Daryk must accomplish several things from the outset:

  1. He must find the crystal cave and undertake a vision quest. The Bull God doesn’t know how Barbarian shamans are trained, so this quest is very different. The high trial Alf undertakes is vastly different from his first shamanic quest. Daryk was not trained to be a shaman, so he doesn’t know what the true trial entails. Since only the strongest are fit to rule, the test the Bull God sets before him is a much darker journey, one of overcoming and bending demons to his will.
  2. Having survived the trial, his first task is to find an empathically gifted healer and bind her to him. He uses Helene to project his spells of compelling and takes over her village to make his small army.
  3. Daryk needs a base of operations, so he must acquire a citadel. He and his new wife go to a lesser known place, Kyrano, as it isn’t somewhere Alf would look for him. Using compulsions to present themselves as distant relatives and charming the elderly baron, they are officially named his heirs. The old man dies that night in his sleep.
  4. Daryk needs to conceal the fact he is a rogue-mage, or he will have enemies on all sides, and he isn’t ready for that yet. He acquires a coven of elemental mages, binding them to him and using them to have a greater chi reserve to draw on when casting spells. They conceal from the population at large the fact that their new baron is a rogue mage.
  5. He must gather the resources to lay siege on Aeoven. Everything is at stake here: if he can’t defeat Alf on his home turf, Daryk will never bring Neveyah to the Bull God.

By charting his story arc, I’m laying the framework for what I will begin writing in November. Those weeks will be spent writing backstory and building Daryk’s world. I will connect Daryk’s timeline to Alf’s.

This kind of work is mind wandering, in a way. By writing this out, I am cementing Daryk and Helene’s characters and passionate commitment to their struggle in my mind.

Certain scenes showing critical information that Alf doesn’t have will be included in the final draft, but only those essential to the advancement of the plot. This is so the reader knows what is happening in the enemy’s camp.

For the reader, this knowledge raises the tension. Daryk must be shown to have a stronger position and better resources.

I intend to write about 30,000 words detailing Daryk’s story. Little of what I write will find its way into the final manuscript. My hope is that it will be there in how solidly I show these characters, their deities, and why they do what they must.

1 Comment

Filed under writing

The Antagonist’s Story Arc #amwriting #nanowrimo2020

We’re already approaching the middle of October. This is prime NaNo prep season for me. A few weeks ago, I shared that one of my projects was writing the final chapters to Bleakbourne on Heath, a novel that began life in 2015 as a weekly serial. I have the outline all written for that, and the ending is now firmly established. Finishing that should cover about 20,000 – to 25,000 words.

My second project is for my new duology set in Neveyah. I need to write the chapters that show my antagonist’s storyline. For my protagonist’s story to make sense and be compelling, I must show why my antagonist opposes Alf, and why we should have compassion for him and his struggle.

To that end, I must spend the next few days outlining what needs to happen for him at each point in the overall two-book story arc.

I also have three short stories and a novella to fill in on those days when I can’t focus on the tasks at hand, so I’ll be well set up with ideas.

So, let’s take a look at what I have to accomplish on Heaven’s Altar before November 1st.

The first hurdle I must leap is a trap of my own devising.

The calendar.

Neveyah Calendar © 2015 Connie J. Jasperson

In 2008 when we were designing the world of Neveyah as an RPG and before the story had been written, I had the bright idea to make a calendar where each month has

  1. 28 days
  2. The months are named after astrological signs and the days are sort of named like the Julian calendar.
  3. The 13th month is called Holy Month and is between Harvest and winter, but belongs to no season. It’s set aside for religious observances and family events.
  4. The 365th day of the year falls on the Winter Solstice and is called Holy Day. A day of feasting, it stands alone between Holy Month and Caprica, the first month of the new year. Every 4 years you have a double Holy Day, and the community throws a big party.

Was I out of my mind?

Yes! I suggest you stick to the common Julian calendar we know today, as it makes things a lot easier for you.

However, six books later, it’s canon in that world, so I have to roll with it. Fortunately, I was smart enough to make a visual calendar in an Excel workbook. I can cut and paste easily, note changes, and move events around if need be. This workbook covers all of the books set in the Tower of Bones world of Neveyah.

I was a bookkeeper for many years, so I use an Excel workbook to keep the stylesheet, plot outline, pertinent back history, and worldbuilding in one logical place. The tabs across the bottom show the different sheets detailing each aspect I need know for that world and that story.

I do this for every project or series, and you can do the same. If you don’t have Excel, you can use any free spread-sheeting program, such as Google Sheets. It’s just a visual way to keep things organized and avoid introducing conflicting elements.

The process of writing out my antagonist’s storyline is essential. At the outset, from Alf’s storyline, we know that Daryk has powerful earth-magic. However, Tauron, the Bull God, gives him new gifts, one of which is called “compelling.” Since he has no empathic magic, he needs to find and snare an empathically gifted healer to project his compulsions. He also needs to enslave a coven of elemental mages to have a greater chi reserve to draw on when casting spells.

So, there are five people with whom he has close relationships and conversations. The backstory of each of these characters must be created and added to both Daryk’s storyline and the overall cast of characters.

This is so I don’t inadvertently give two characters the same (or ludicrously similar) name.

I have already designed the magic systems for both sides of this conflict, and the world has been established. I have comprehensive maps that I use in conjunction with the calendar for plotting my events.

I’m fallible, but I do try to take everything into account when plotting my events. This way, when I begin writing I can concentrate on laying down the opposition’s story as if he were the hero and maybe generate a little sympathy for him.

4 Comments

Filed under writing

Thoughts on narrative perspective part 2: closeup on the antagonist #amwriting

For scriptwriters, the closeup is an essential aspect of pacing. It focuses on one character and shows us details about them and their role that they (the characters) might not be aware of. This importance transfers over to how we show scenes in our written narratives. To get the most out of our words, we who write stories must frame our scenes the way scriptwriters do theirs.

We vary the narrative distance, which is our best tool to show humanity in our characters. The wide view shows the protagonist and their companions as they move through their environment.

Then we narrow the focus, perhaps take it down to a conversation between two people. One person drops out of the conversation, and we are left with the closeup view of our protagonist.

At our closest to them, we are in their heads. We hear their mental ruminations in real-time. By listening to this voice, the reader sees what the characters believe is at stake and how weak or strong they consider their position.

When we are drawn into a character’s head, we view them through the mirror in which they see themselves.

What we, as authors, have to consider is how that mirror is distorted. Never forget that all self-reflections are skewed, often to the positive, but usually toward the negative. We see flaws in ourselves that no one else does, so we don’t usually see ourselves as heroes.

This is because we subconsciously compare ourselves to others. We observe their abilities and are acutely aware of our own vulnerabilities in comparison. So, we strive to better ourselves.

Through manipulating the narrative distance, the author shows how the protagonist regards their companions, and what kind of people they are.

Sometimes, it raises the stakes if the author writes a chapter focusing on the antagonist. Take this opportunity to show us who the antagonist sees when they gaze into the mirror of self-reflection. Since nothing happens without a root cause, we can learn why they oppose the protagonist, and what their strengths are.

Now here is where we can make things interesting. What if the antagonist isn’t trying to be wicked? What if they are fighting for what they believe is the right thing? What if, in their view, they are the heroes who have the moral high ground?

Think of how much evil has come out of civil wars in humanity’s history. Then consider how firmly the opposite sides believed in their moral superiority, and what was lost or gained in the end. All interpersonal disputes are wars, just on a lesser scale.

How will you choose to show this on a smaller, personal level? The closeup shows us who the antagonist believes they are and why they have the right to oppose the protagonist.

Sometimes, if the writer shows little sympathy for the devil, it raises the emotional stakes.

Readers want to understand why the action is happening. Both sides need an opportunity to explore what they perceive as the conflict’s fundamental cause.

Authors show this through internal dialogue, moving out to a broader view with conversations, and expanding again to an external narrative.

As a reader, having hints of what is at stake for the opposition makes me care about the outcome. With the relationship established, we can widen the picture and show what is at stake for both sides. I want to feel a little compassion, or if not that, I want to understand how failing will change the losers’ lives.

Good pacing of narrative distance—moving in close, then widening out, and then moving back in—adds emotional power to the story. This tempo allows the reader to process the information and action at the same time as the characters.

Keep the stakes high and the emotions intense, and I will stay immersed in that book.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Before the Mirror.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Before_the_Mirror.jpg&oldid=462235289 (accessed October 6, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Mirror of the souls.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Mirror_of_the_souls.jpg&oldid=478982509 (accessed October 6, 2020).

7 Comments

Filed under writing

Thoughts on Narrative Perspective #amwriting

I regularly say this, but I’ll repeat myself: every author should be an avid reader. Years ago, I began writing out of desperation. I read exceedingly fast, and in those days, the library couldn’t stock new books in my favorite genres fast enough to keep up with my habit.

Even though I haunted the secondhand bookstores, I couldn’t afford to buy even used books in that quantity. Besides going to the library, I was limited to one new paperback book and two used ones a payday in those days. Every book I bought was money taken from the food budget to spend on something we couldn’t eat.

Nowadays, I am incredibly fortunate to be in a position to be able to read as much as I want, whenever I want.

It is the deep yearning for a good tale that fires my imagination and drives me write novels.

Every now and then, I can’t find the right book to read. When that happens, I consider what kind of story I’m craving. Books are food for the mind, and we all have different tastes. Sometimes we want a specific type of flavor, like when we crave chocolate or something spicy.

Usually, I feel that desire because a seed is growing, an idea for either a short story or a novel.

Because I gravitate to character-driven stories for my reading, I want to write about people striving to overcome forces greater than themselves. It might be fantasy, or it might not be. Several stories I’ve had accepted into anthologies recently were fantasy only in that they take place in the 1950s. I was a very young child then, so I have little memory of those days.

I love reading about characters who aren’t always the most well-behaved people. This means they are approachable, possessed of a flaw that resonates with me. It wouldn’t be a story if there weren’t a hero lurking deep within, waiting for some catastrophe to bring out that courageous side of them.

When I open the book, I want the first paragraphs to hook me. Those opening sentences establish three vital things:

  1. They set the tone of what is to follow, so if you want to snare the reader, don’t waste those precious sentences on “throat clearing” and backstory.
  2. They tell us who the story is about and how they see themselves.
  3. They establish the general narrative perspective.

I say ‘general’ because the authors whose work I like best tend to vary the narrative perspective/distance as the story progresses. I enjoy work where the pacing of a scene is shaped by the perspective of the characters and the narrative distance.

Imagine a scene where a woman empties the wastebaskets in the house, tidying up before she leaves for work. A crumpled note falls from the one beside her husband’s computer. She picks it up and automatically looks at it, not intending to pry, but just as a matter of habit.

They might bring us into the protagonist’s head, with free indirect discourse, taking us inside the character’s thoughts. What does Jake need a lawyer for?

Then we see what the author wants you to know about the character’s circumstances. His odd behavior suddenly made sense. Anger blinded her as Jake’s plan revealed itself.

And then they might move out to the external view. Sarah held the note, thinking, then pulled out her cell phone.

Good stories told from the protagonist’s point of view bring you in close, letting you feel the emotional intensity. Then the narrative perspective steps back a bit so you can process it at the same time as the protagonist does before you are brought in close again.

Perspective and pacing are the two areas I am looking closely at in my own work as I make revisions. I keep hoping that reading critically will improve the way I write prose.

So, all those books I plowed through last week weren’t just me avoiding housework. They were for research.

Honest.

2 Comments

Filed under writing