Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Forums, Memes, and Writing Revelation

Yes, I confess that I am madly in love with numbered lists. 

1. Thank you so much to everyone who commented with advice about Inkpop.  I decided that instead of joining it, I would join Nathan Bransford's forums.  The experience has already been wonderful.  I have been able to talk with other teen writers who are completely serious (and who don't use chatspeak or internet slang!), and visit their awesome blogs.  So many of the discussions are helpful, and when I do end up participating, I feel like I'm practing for being a professional adult writer instead of languishing in the teen world. 

2. I've complained in recent posts about how poorly my writing was going.  Well, last night changed a lot of things.  I made my first attempt at drawing Joremn (the main character from Evanescent Moonlight), and it didn't turn out too bad, for a first attempt.  (I've decided that unless you're a genius, it's impossible to draw a picture of your characters that looks just like you imagined them to be.)  And then later that evening when I sat down to write, I wrote 700 words and enjoyed writing them!  

This is huge for me.  I had confessed to my journal that it felt like it had been months since I had actually enjoyed my writing.  For so long it has been a drudgery, merely cranking out words whenever I could work myself up to it because without a climbing word count, I could never finish the novel, and thus never be free.  But last night, I rediscovered the joy in it.  I walked away from the computer to get ready for bed, and found myself thinking about the next bit of dialogue and how to describe my character's eyes.  I had to dash back to the computer to get it down. 

I think three things contributed to this: one, I downloaded Q10 on sunday. 

(We interrupt this blog post for an impromptu promo:  Q10 is one of the most helpful writing programs I have found.  It takes up the entire screen so that you can focus on your writing alone, and it keeps constant track of your word count at the bottom of the screen.  The best part is that it is completely free!  Now, back to the post.)

Two, as soon as I sat down to write, my mom told me that she needed to use the computer, so I had ten minutes to write (as it turns out she got a phone call so I got to write for longer).  This gave me a time limit and motivated me to get my fingers moving whereas I might have just sat staring at the screen if I had all the time in the world.  And the third and most important thing was that I had been reflecting on the characters and how much I loved them.  It just goes to show that good fiction is all about characters: the more you try to write a story independant of characters you love, the harder it is. 

3. In other news, both Hannah and Mariella have both stolen the writing meme off of me (which I think is totally awesome -- if you want to read their answers, scroll down to the bottom of the writing meme page and you'll find the links to their posts).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Writing Meme: What's In a Name? [3/30]

3. How do you come up with names for characters (and for places if you're writing about fictional places)?

Coming up with names is one of my favorite aspects of character and world creation. When I have time for it, that is. So many times I just want to go ahead with my writing, but I’m hung up with having to name this character. Usually I have to pause while I come up with a decent enough name, telling myself that I’ll fix it later. Most of the time I can’t get around to finding a better name before the temporary name starts to stick, so it’s better for me to do it right the first time.

Here’s my system for completely made-up names: I choose sounds and letter combinations that convey a certain feeling (at least to me), and then I try combining them. For example, here are some feminine sounds that I favor:

  • riel
  • lyn
  • ae
  • etta
  • v
From these we get:
  • Vettalyn
  • Lynariel
  • Lynetta
  • Aelyn
  • Ettariel
  • Vaeriel
  • Lynaev
...and more!

Another thing I do (particularly when I’m trying to come up with a guy name – I’m not as good at coming up with masculine sounds) is go to Rinkworks’ Fantasy Name Generator and generate a couple of dozen names (or so). There are bound to be a few that look promising, and after a little tweaking (and sound stealing), I almost always end up with a few good names.

View the complete list of questions

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I think it was Authorial Indecision, in the Closet, with a Bad Haircut.

And now, because I cannot think of a single topic worthy of an entire blog post, how about a bombardment? 

1. I would like to join Inkpop.  I need to ask permission of my parents before I can join any site (family rules), and I know that if I asked I would most likely get a yes, but I've put off posing the question. 

Why?  Whenever I visit the site and browse the forums, I wish I was a member. 

But at the same time, I don't feel ready yet.  For one, I don't have a story that's in good enough condition to post on there.  And for another, I want to be sure that I'm not jumping into something that ends up being a drain on my energy and doesn't add anything to my life.  I've had enough of those experiences, and I want to break away from my habit of over-committing myself.

On the other hand, I would like to be involved on a site where I could exchange reviews and work on refining my craft without worrying so much about running into evil adult writers.  (And no, I'm not talking about stalkers.  I'm talking about adults with trashy minds who write what's in their heads.)  At least with a teen-oriented site there might be a little more quality control than, say, FictionPress.  (I have an account on there and was looking at getting involved, but as soon as I started posting on one of the forums, I looked around and realized I'd thrown myself into a crowd that might say adult things at any moment.)  

So... I don't know.  I'm still debating. 

2. Meanwhile, I have my little Writing Conscience in the back of my mind jumping up and down and screaming, "FINISH EM!!!!"  So perhaps my struggles in coming up with a brand-spanking-new story for Inkpop are deserved, since I'm being unfaithful to the story that really deserves to be worked on. 

("Deserves," scoffs the inner editor -- or Inner Ed, as I like to call him.  "Bah.  What a misapplication of a perfectly good word.  Or have you forgotten about the poor characterization, lack of description, contradictions, structural faults, boring chapters, unrealistic dialogue..."  And on he goes.  I can't wait for NaNoWriMo when I get to tie him up and lock him in my Trunk of Things To Be Stringently Ignored.)

3. Oh yes, EM?  Going well, if you can say that about a story where the two main characters just lost their wits and got in a fight without my permission.  Since from certain points of view character rebellion is a good sign, I'm taking it as such -- even if the 'good sign' does involve me hanging on for dear life and wondering where this is going to end up... 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Writing Meme: Male or Female Characters? [2/30]

2. How many characters do you have? Do you prefer males or females?

I don't think I can put a number on my characters. Counting both major and minor characters, each novel I've worked on has at least ten, sometimes more. That would put the number of characters I've worked with at more than 50. No wonder I can't keep track of them.

For me, the answer to the male/female question is full of irony. I love male characters: you can do more with them, and they pack a punch that you can't quite get with a girl character.* On the other hand, I'm not good at writing male characters, while I can write female characters pretty well. (I am one, after all.) The problem is that I don't come into contact with males frequently. (Aside from my dad, but there’s only so much you can learn when you only have ONE specimen to observe in detail.) Ever since I discovered just how effeminate I'd made my guy characters, I've been trying my best to fix the problem. It's difficult for a girl to ‘think man’ when she doesn’t know what exactly that means.

But now that my eyes are opened, I see many girl writers falling into the same problem. I think that female writers who don't have a lot of guys in their lives tend to believe subconsciously that at the heart of every man is a woman that needs to be emotionally liberated. It’s absolutely ridiculous, I know, but I believed it myself for a while. I have read so much fanfiction (even from fanwriters who are excellent at their craft), portraying guys having emotional breakdowns that mirror what a woman would have in the same situation. Granted, the writers had the decency to put the guys through a lot more to get them to break down, but the end result was still the same.

Girls, be careful about your guy characters, especially if you don’t know very many guys.

To everyone else, do you have any advice on writing guys? I am trying to garner as much wisdom on this subject as I can, because I respect mankind and want to portray them accurately.

*Note -- I am not trying to discriminate against anyone, but you cannot get around the truth: a woman can never be a very good man, just as a man can never be a very good woman. The two sexes are equal, but they specialize in different areas. And when I say that a female character cannot 'pack the same punch', what I mean is that there are some character roles that are better suited to men. We women get so used to dealing with emotion that in some ways, it doesn't mean as much. But when a man feels an emotion, it is rough-hewn and stronger. That's why when an author wants to get across the grave emotion of a situation, he will so often use a male character. Tears from a man tells the reader that this is real.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Writing Meme: Playing With Worlds [1/30]

I must confess to being a shameless copycat.  Instead of writing a brilliant and original post for you entertainment, I have stolen a writing meme from Onna.  I am going to borrow her method of doing it, too: instead of filling out all the questions at once, I will make each question into a blog post.  I have also created a handy directory of all the questions for those who wish to steal the meme. 

1. Tell us about your favorite writing project/universe that you've worked with and why.

I am so tempted to say ‘the one I haven’t worked with yet’, but that would be unfair. I’d be a fool to let discontentment color my view of the past.

Each novel that I’ve worked on has had its own charm and its own give-and-take. With each one, I would be justified in saying, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Tears for the Silent Lands, which in my memory always feels bland and hopelessly riddled with errors, is the only novel I’ve finished. POE, my first attempt, had all the magic of a first love along with all the clichés. Enchantress, the novel that completely swept me away, I ended up abandoning because the premise went against my conscience and my faith. And now, two-thirds of the way through Evanescent Moonlight, one of my more stable works, all I can see is the lack of characterization and description, the inconsistencies, the chapters that need to be taken out, and the overall un-stellar-ness.

So really, I could almost say that my favorite universes are the ones I’ve stolen from other writers – namely, fanfiction. The time I spent writing for the Sherlock Holmes universe was an absolute blast. I loved being able to dive into a complete and fascinating character, along with the moody, nostalgic world he lived in. The experience taught me so much about what a true character is, and why we love some books and forget about others. Compared with such brilliant craftsmanship, all of my ‘children’ only seem more and more like cardboard cutouts.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Writing Prompt Wednesday: The Aliens Invaded

I'm starting a new weekly meme for myself.  Every Wednesday, I'll hunt for a writing prompt (or make up my own), then post the prompt and what I wrote for it on here.  If you want to do it with me, then write something and post it on your own blog, and comment to this post with a link to your post.  I would love to see what you write! 

This week's prompt comes from Writing Excuses Episode 4.32: First Paragraphs.  

Writing Prompt: You’re writing in your journal for the first time in ten years, and the last ten years included the invasion of Earth.

What I Wrote:


If I needed proof that I’ve changed in the last ten years since I actually wrote in a journal, there it is. I’ve practically forgotten how to do it. That was the most idiotic way to start a journal ever. I used to be able to think of the right way to start, and I wasn’t always so nervous about starting. If Dan hadn’t insisted, then I’d feel absolutely horrible about wasting paper like this. I do anyway.

He handed this book to me when he came back to our pod last night, and told me that I needed to start writing again for my own sake. I don’t know what on earth he had to go through to find a book, much less a blank journal, but he won’t tell me. He doesn’t want me worrying. (And if I know my husband, then what happened is something I would worry about.)

And there, look, I’m starting a new page now, and what did I even say on the first page?

Perhaps he was right. I needed this more than I thought.

I am laughing right now. I’m not really amused – it’s more like irony. Laughing at irony can be dangerous. But I used to do it all the time, back when I was writing. It’s funny how paper can make you remember who you used to be. Welcome back, Cheryl.

Where do I start?

Just saying ‘the aliens finally invaded’ sounds so callous. But it’s true. A decade ago UFO’s belonged to conspiracy theorists and strange cults, and then BOOM! There they are! And BOOM! There goes everything we ever knew. All governments, all economies, all nations, all communities, all businesses, organizations, schools – gone! Overnight those monsters set up their own system, using their advanced technology and their unfeeling ideas on how humans should be governed.

Everyone is a widget now. Children are kept in an alien-run ‘education’ camp until puberty, then either drafted to work as soldier-slaves in the human contingent of the aliens’ army of conquest, or put to work on the factories producing their weapons and machinery. If you can work, then you do until you die. Reading, writing, and any ideas are forbidden. The aliens raided every home, business, and library for everything printed on paper and locked it all in a giant archive to be ‘studied.’ As if they’ll ever really look at it. They might have been curious in the beginning. But they’ve been in control long enough to know the one thing they wanted to know – that humanity doesn’t pose a threat at all.

Dan and I are among the lucky few that escaped. Apparently the one place where the aliens hesitate to go is underground. That’s where we are now. ‘The Underground’ is made up of a network of large metal shipping crates connected by collapsible tunnels. Directly above us is a natural cave with a steady supply of oxygen from the surface, so we’ve cut hundreds of air passages up to that cavern so that we don’t suffocate.

I said the tunnels are collapsible. Thank God for engineers – they devised a system so that if one pod is discovered, the press of a button will shut down all the tunnels so that the other pods won’t be discovered. It’s the only way we worked up enough nerve to live in a single, interconnected group.

I try not to think about the way things are too much. It’s so easy to hate the situation that we’re in, but we can’t do anything about it, and allowing ourselves to be miserable is one of the slower and more painful ways to die down here. One learns to be grateful for small things. Like life. And freedom. I think often of all the people on the surface, and how they must wish with all their hearts that they were with us.

But sometimes this all sounds so much like a bad science-fiction film. We’re not even trying to put up a resistance. We can’t. All we dare to hope is that we continue to stay unnoticed and free for another month.

I guess I have to come to terms with the fact that this time, the good guys will never ‘win’.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Conservative Propaganda

I have created some images that I would like to call conservative propaganda.  The first one is of Woodrow Wilson, who instituted a fascist regiem in America during World War I:

And this second one is of Nietzsche -- the German philosopher who famously declared that "God is dead." 

These two men were among the many thinkers who worked to bring about the social and moral crisis we have in the West today.  If you don't believe me, I suggest you read Jonah Goldberg's excellent book, Liberal Fascism.  I am reading it right now, and it is very informative about the history of the liberal movement and its ideological link to socialism and fascism. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Best Book on Writing Ever? Really?

I have a complaint about the book On Writing by Stephen King.   It is this: there is so much bad language in the book that a nice teenager like me cannot read it without feeling slimed.  This by itself would not be so bad, except for the fact that I am tired of people recommending it and saying it is the best book about writing ever.  Perhaps it is.  But it seems contradictory to me that the 'best book on writing ever' should be littered with obscenities.  I believe that frequent cussing is a sign of bad writing, not of good writing.  Good writers should be able to communicate feelings and concepts without offending people for no reason whatsoever. 

So I'm going to take the one piece of good advice that I did find in the book, which went something like, "Most books on writing are junk, and you don't need to read them." 

Thank you, Mr. King.  I now feel no qualms about laying down your book.  And to the masses of writers out there who think that you can't possibly make it as a writer without reading this book... how can submitting yourself to all sorts of obscene things possibly make you a better writer? 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Phase Outlines

Yesterday as I flipped through my expanding folder of writing papers, I came across a collection of papers that went with my NaNoWriMo 2008 novel, Tears for the Silent Lands. In it, I found something I’d nearly forgotten about – the phase outline. A phase outline is an outline that details every scene (or part of a scene) in a novel. It can be as short or as long as the author wants, but the longer it is, the more effective it is. It’s designed specifically to include the little details that the author sees in a scene ahead of time, but would be out of place in any other kind of outline. Here is an example of part of a phase outline:

34. Katharine turns the corner and finds a flight of stairs leading up to a door at the top. She is angry, and is determined to no longer feel fear. She climbs the stairs. Boards creaking like moaning ghosts.

35. She opens the door. As soon as she does, a bullet whizzes past her head. She screams, runs back down the stairs, and does not stop until she is out of the building.

36. Katharine sits at the base of one of the building’s brick walls, knees to her chest, and tries to figure out what to do. Wishes she hadn’t lost her cell phone. Wonders who she would call even if she did have it.

This type of outline is particularly useful during NaNoWriMo, because you can look to the outline to see what you’re going to write next, and then just elaborate on what’s already there. It helps you get through the slow days when you have no inspiration whatsoever. And if you think of something better than what’s on the outline, great!

As it turns out, this is exactly what I needed for outlining Part III of Evanescent Moonlight. I know what things the third part needs to accomplish, but I wasn’t sure of the sequence of events and I was afraid to try to plan. Now with the phase outline, I can give the ending a test-run, telling the story in condensed form to see if it works. For example, I’m only a page into the phase outline, but I’ve already discovered that I need to include a battle I was not anticipating. Going through the story beforehand gives me a chance to work out all the little problems that arise when you have as many characters as I do.

The one downside to the phase outline is that it takes time. My outline for Tears for the Silent Lands ended up being about 10,000 words long. But it was worth it, because what I spent in planning beforehand, I didn’t spend in headaches during November.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"I saw their souls rise up on the wings of a phoenix, and I cried, 'Let me follow!'..."

Before you read this blog post, you need to open up Onna’s musings on ‘writing what you know’ and Pip’s two-hundred-dollar response in a separate window. They covered the idea in such a thought-provoking and beautiful manner, showing where the idea was correct and where it was wildly misinterpreted.

I read what they said, and I remembered what I had forgotten. I had forgotten the passion of writing! I had forgotten what it felt like to pull a word from the depths of one’s very soul and throw it on the paper, leaving it to be admired or spat on. I had forgotten what it meant to be a mediator between What You Were Trying To Say and the blank page, finding the one language to great to comprehend, and the other woefully inadequate for a true translation. Of all the things for a writer to forget, to forget passion… that is a slow death.

It all makes sense now! All the hours spent wondering why I could make no progress on Evanescent Moonlight – how could I, when the very reason for progressing had become “word count, finish chapter, must finish …” That’s no way to write a novel about emotion. The joys and sorrows have to be your own. You can pretend, but no one will remember what you said afterward.

And here I am, on the brink of one of the most important scenes in the novel, and once again, God has given me the revelation I needed at the exact right moment.

I am off to write with passion.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Very Last First Post

One of the lessons that is often repeated in the writing world is that a good beginning is worth all the excellent middles one can conjur up. Without the spark of interest that captures the mind from the very first, one generally never gets to the middle -- and thus never knows what the author is really capable of.

Me? I say that yes, beginnings are important, but at the end of the day, beginnings aren't the things that we remember. Most likely it's the moments somewhere in the middle, where unfamiliarity has warn away, and we discover things that surprise and excite us.

If I keep going, I will eventually talk myself out of writing this blog post altogether.

How about I do an About Me -- in bullet points!

  • I am sweet sixteen. Or sour sixteen. Personally, I prefer vanilla maple sixteen.
  • I am a passionate Christian.
  • I love to write. Fiction, nonfiction, and poetry all draw me.
  • Although I don't write poetry much anymore, poetry has heavily influenced my writing.
  • I am inspired by forests, waterfalls, rainy days, the moon, and starlight.
  • My favorite books include Jane Eyre, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Last Unicorn.
  • I fell in love with the original Sherlock Holmes.
  • One of my favorite authors is G.K. Chesterton.
  • I love thinking and writing about worldview.
  • I am homeschooled.

Those are the essentials. The rest... well, what would be a blog if I said everything in the first post?