Thursday, October 2, 2014

Well Hello Again, World!

I just looked at the date from my last post and I am quite shocked to see that a whole year has passed since my last post.
Actually, not really.
You see this thing called Graduation happened, followed by Real World, both of which I was woefully unprepared for . . . at least as far as trying to be a writer goes.
So I actually didn’t drop off the face of the earth last year . . . I was just frustratingly lost in the real world. You know, trying to find a real job (but why can’t I just write and think for a living- some people do!).
I did very little writing the past year, unfortunately, though I did manage a lot of reading. There was, however, a period of three months when I attempted to do a drastic overhaul of my first book. Eventually I gave up and decided my original was better (go figure). I feel like Edison working backwards . . . Finding something that works and then finding 1000 ways not to make a light bulb. Argh.
Oh, well.
The important thing is that I am back now and things have settled down enough that I can write again. I feel like a winner all around.
So what am I writing now, you might ask? I’m finally writing my third book! Yay. This book has only been stuck in my head for four years, but most of that was in the form of vague ideas and a jumble of notes. I had simply no idea how to put it down on paper.
After a few weeks of seriously straightening the storyline out, I am finally ready to write again. This third book is probably going to be the longest in the series and will be able to finish everything off if it goes as planned (ah-hmmm). In it, I will be dealing with some interesting things, including a switch in point of view halfway through as another of my primary characters begins to tell the story from his own perspective. This is understandably challenging, because I’ve been in Castella’s head throughout the story. But it’s exciting always exciting to try something new.
So far I'm roughly half way through my first draft. Because of the scope of this project, I don't expect to be finished with even the first draft for at least another couple months, but I will keep plugging away.
So there you have it. I’m still alive and still writing. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Something to Die For

There are many different ways that authors come up with characters. Some enjoy coming up with their characters spontaneously, while others spend hours crafting in-depth back stories to every single character. There isn't a fool-proof way to create a believable, vivid character - the kind of one that we will laugh with, and cry about . . . and remember forever. What works for one writer might not work for somebody else.

But I will say one thing. There is a question that you need to ask every character in your novel. Before you finish even your first draft of you book, you need to sit each character down and demand that they answer this one question:

"What would you die for?"

Wow. I know. Jaw-dropping, isn't it? Actually it isn't. It's a simple question, but the answer can be incredibly revealing. Why? Because answering it requires understanding what drives your character. Having a good grasp about what drives your character - what he/she would be willing to die for - will provide a firm foundation on which to build the smaller details. Furthermore, it gives a connecting point for the audience.

Take for instance, Katniss Everdeen (of the Hunger Games Trilogy). Within the chapter of the first novel, Suzanne Collins brilliantly answers this very question for the reader. In the most invisible way possible, she asks,

"Katniss Everdeen, what would you die for?"  


And a character is born, one of the most memorable characters that I have personally ever found in the pages of YA fantasy.

So how do you go about getting your characters to answer this question? If you've gotten to the point in your manuscript where your characters are acting and talking of practically of their own accord, without your masterful hand guiding them every step of the way, then perhaps most of your characters won't have any problem blurting out the answer, even if it is something stupid or non-nonsensical.

But some characters require deeper digging and you must first spend enough time with them to understand what they are living for, in order to even begin to understand what they would be willing to die for. What are their goals, dreams, and grand ambitions? Who do they spend their time with? You can get clues from their daily life, the way they make decisions, and their past experiences.

Characters unable to come up with any answer to this question are often languid, placid people to whom life just happens, rather than the other way around. They are the ones that are harder to remember.

We are drawn to passionate people, even if it is a passion that we don't entirely sympathize with or feel ourselves. There is something invigorating about going on an adventure with someone who believes strongly in what they do and are willing to give up everything for a cause. Those are the types of characters that tend to drive my own novels.

Before unleashing your characters on the pages of your manuscript, take the time to sit them down in little white room with bare walls and ask them: "What would YOU die for?"

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Me, Myself, and I: What I love and Hate about Writing in First Person

The debate about whether or not novels are best written in first person or third person is a long-standing one, and the subject has been an issue of much bloodshed throughout history as writers move to one extreme or the other.

Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating. A little. It is true that there are diverse opinions about the two primary POV's. Both have their pros and cons. As a writer, it can be difficult to decide which to use in your story. How can you decide which character's viewpoint is the best?

I tend to lean more towards first person. This is the POV I used for my first book, Etheria. I enjoy the sense of control and the, in some ways, simplicity that this view represents. There aren't a lot of decisions to be made about which character's point of view you will use, or when you will show what is happening with the bad guys. It is just you locked in one character's head the entire story, which is both very nice and very not nice.

First person can help anchor the reader to the most sympathetic character. We get to feel a connection with that character that is sometimes lacking in third person. It is usually easier to imagine ourselves as that character (think a teenage girl reading Twilight).

It's also represents our closest experience to real life, in our inability to see the future, get inside other people's minds, etc. Hopefully when you talk about yourself, you use first person. If you don't, that's weird. But Noelani will try not to judge you.

On the other hand, this POV can be annoyingly limiting. Sometimes, you have to work harder to make the actions of other characters believable- because you can't get inside their head to explain what they are thinking. It is also difficult not being able to show what is happening with other characters. If a character leaves on a trip, you can't ever visit them unless your main character does.

For instance, in my second novel one of the primary characters almost never comes into contact with Castella, which is a slight problem. It doesn't work in the story for them to be together, or to visit each other, so he just metaphorically drops off the planet for most of the story. Which annoys me.

But I couldn't do anything about it.

On a final note, another really interesting thing about first person is finding your character's voice. I think that you can get to know a character this way better than third person. You have to think deeply about what motivates your main character, their past experiences, and their take on life - not that you don't do that in third person, but it becomes even more important in first person.

In first person, it is easy and natural to display your main characters take on life, which is one thing that I love about it. When I write, I don't so much think about how I would like to describe a scene, but how Castella would tell the scene to the reader. It's her story. I'm just listening.

I have run into some humorous problems with first person. With clothes, for instance. Almost every girl cares a lot about what they are wearing, right? Not necessarily. As a character, I don't think having a fashionable wardrobe is on the top of Castella's to-do list, up there with saving Jamil and not getting killed. I think that she's more likely not going to describe certain things, which is tricky to work around. How does Castella view things? What would she describe and how would she describe it? Discovering her take on what happens in her story has been a true adventure.

I hope these thoughts on me, myself, and I have been helpful to you. Right now I have to go study for finals. I will try to post again next week.

Until then, try to remember not to talk about yourself in third person.

Friday, May 10, 2013

About My Novel, Etheria

 Well, I've realized that I haven't yet posted anything about what I am working on. You would think that this would be kind of important for a writer, but it skipped my mind. And, hey, no judging- I'm still new to this whole blogging thing. So here is a little post to introduce what I am working on.

        My current project is a New Adult Fantasy series (The Timekeeper’s Daughter Series). Here is a good picture of what the first book, Etheria, is all about:

       At the time when most teens are preparing to head off to college, eighteen year old Castella DeTyrius is heading off to another world- the first earth, to be precise. Taken away as newborn, Castella never expected to return, but when a series of strange circumstances force her back with the specific purpose of saving her brother, she finds herself in a land torn by magic and impending war that will test her resolve to the utmost.

       Thrown into a bizarre world with a sagacious, wood-dwelling sixteen year old boy as her guide, Castella quickly learns that staying alive means mastering the Etheria – the source of magic which spottily covers the globe. Those who can control it, the Kurin Seers, are the most powerful people in the world. For the Kurin, the Etheria is not just a blessing- it is their means of existence. But there are some, the Adowyn, who believe the Etheria is a curse and refuse to use it. A few of these Adowyn, a rare few, are completely immune to its magic, and that causes problems. Especially when one of them is the future King.

       All of this is a lot for Castella to absorb and she has other things on her mind, like wondering how she can save her brother when her experience with magic is so, well, nonexistent. Twenty-four year old Jamil DeTyrius is one of the most powerful Seers in the land and does not seem to be in need of saving. Not only that, but he and Castella clash heads on a lot of issues, such as her traitorous mother, Nadina, and her very independent tendencies.

       There are bigger problems at hand – like a stirring war. Conflicting beliefs aside, the Kurin Seers and Adowyn are temporarily united against a rogue Seer named Razeph, who is bent on wiping the Adowyn out completely. And that can’t be a good thing, especially when the charming future King Jeridon is on the list, even if he is a threat to the peace of the races.

      Someone has to be wrong. And when Castella discovers her unprecedented, Etheria-driven connection with her brother, she has to assume it is Jeridon. As the two irreconcilable races face a showdown with the formidable rogue Seer, Castella is forced to take sides. With a kingdom on the line, alliances crumbling, and Jamil suddenly not as invincible as he seemed, Castella must decide just how far she will go to save her brother.

       Etheria is a New Adult Fantasy novel with a hint of science fiction, complete at approximately 138,000 words.
      Sound like a query letter? It kind of is.

       I came up with the concept for this book when I was sixteen. I was fascinated by the idea of a world that existed before ours- a world that was destroyed. (I won’t say anything else about that for fear of plot spoilers). I spent the next three years shaping the story and crafting the world, but never had the guts to try something that I didn’t believe was my gift –writing books. Yet, almost 60,000 words of hand-written and typed notes later, I found myself with some extra time on my hands the summer between my sophomore and junior year at college.
           So I sat down and wrote. And wrote. And wrote.
            It took precisely thirty days for the first novel to unfurl itself out of the well of information that I had been gathering. By then the characters were all capable of practically talking for themselves and I knew most of the details of the world. It wasn’t that hard to get the story down on paper.
           It's been almost two years since I sat down to start Etheria, and since then I've written the second book (Allura), and jotted down almost 40,000 notes about the third book. The past few months, I've also given Etheria a severe editing (with the help of my fabulous group of writer friends) and begun sending out queries. We'll see if it goes anywhere.
            Sometime I will do another post about my actual process of writing the series and perhaps delve into my secret life as a college student who is really a fantasy writer. I would tell you more right now, but I have to be careful *whispering* . . .some of my professors think I'm studying for finals right now, but I'm not.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

World-Building Conundrums - For the Love of Unicorns

If you should know anything about me, you should know that I have a very, very big imagination. Which is part of the reason why I love fantasy so much. It isn't because writing fantasy requires a greater imagination than other genres (thought some might argue so). Fantasy is subject both to greater freedom, but also more complicated constraints.

What do I mean by that? Well, technically, in a fantasy world there are no rules since the author can create whatever they want, right? Creating fantasy is easy, right?


Fantasy is a difficult genre. Sure, we as authors have the special privilege of creating our world and defining how it is run. But no world is fun, or believable, without limitations. Which is why fantasy writing is so hard. Because you get to build something up, something magical and fantastical and amazing, and THEN, you have to come up with constraints to make it believable. I mean, who would read Harry Potter if there wasn't a Ministry of Magic imposing rules and giving the magical world of wizards some order? Who would read Twilight if there weren't the Volturi?

Creating a fantastical world isn't that hard. It's creating the built-in conflict, constraints, and rules that makes it difficult - all the while avoiding common stereotypes.

Here's an example:

Let's say that I love Unicorns. I mean, I really, really love unicorns.

So I want to create my own magical world that is populated by noble, wonderful, magical unicorns with their own system of communication and interaction. These unicorns are super fast, smart, and brilliant. They are also peaceful and kind. The world is a better place with them.

Great setting for a story, right? Not really.

To become interesting, there must be constraints and conflict. You must go against the common stereotypes and take the reader somewhere unexpected. So scratch the pretty unicorn with the beautiful white fur and all goodness.

Let's add some layers and make this idea more complex. First of all, let's make the unicorns black.

Instead of being white, wonderful, and good, these unicorns are more tortured and complex. They have individul personalities and conflicting ideas. In fact, a lot of times, unicorns are just plain mean. Now we're getting somewhere.

Now for the horn . . . how can we change this up to make it more interesting? Let's say that not every unicorn has a horn. So what if the horn has to be earned? A little more original, but we could push this further. What if only certain types of unicorns are capable of growing horns? Some kind of genetic anomaly that pops up every now and then? Well, we'd need to work to make this believable, but we are heading in the right direction.

And the horn is usually a good thing, right? It's usually a sign of nobility, something good that elevates unicorns above normal horses. Well, let's make it be a bad thing. What if every pre-horn unicorn wants to be a normal horse because there is a set of evil unicorns ruling the world and they always recruit the young unicorns that grow horns. More interesting now.

So let's make our story about Alidar, a young black unicorn. Alidar is fairly normal growing up - a little angsty and moody for a pre-horn unicorn, but nothing that unusual. He goes to school, has a couple good friends named Viola and Sestatian, and his parents are leading aristocrats in the Anti-horn League, a peaceful group with a non-violent stance against the Elduri- the vicious black unicorns that are ruling the world.

Usually four or five unicorns from Alidar's school grow horns every year grow horns- then they are kicked out and usually recruited by the Elduri. Well, this particular year only two unicorns out of his whole class of one hundred grows horns.

At this point in the story, the reader would probably expect Alidar to be one of them. So let's not make it him. Instead, his best friend Viola sprouts her horn. This is Viola:

With her horn, she becomes more powerful than the rest of them, but also immediately becomes an outcast and it is just a matter of time before the agressive Elduri try to recruit her. Alidar is determined to help her if he can.

Now we have a story.

I'll admit that the world and story still needs a lot of work and polishing, but at least it's going somewhere. We have a world with conflict that manages to go against many common stereotypes about unicorns. It isn't completely original, but it's a start.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Query Contest: Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

I’ve had the privilege to be part of a Query Contest put on by intrepid Literary Agent Ethan Vaughaun. It’s based on Roger White’s horror manuscript, West of Sienna.
Ready? Set?
Here goes nothing:
Can the dead speak?

Somebody must be afraid so, because he’s sowing their mouths shut after he kills them in the little town of West Sienna, Texas. The methodical murderer also has a fond propensity for removing certain delicate body parts (such as the eyes, brain, tongue, genitals, or heart) from his victims.

It’s the summer of 1967 when a local tow truck driver is found murdered and mutilated in much the same manner, drawing 13-year-old Gary Tolliver to discover the deadly trail of victims the murderer has been leaving since the 1920’s. The good (and bad) news is that the trail is still fresh- a local teenager is murdered and castrated before Gary can even shudder properly at his discoveries.

In a race against time, Gary is joined by his friend Scooter Travis and the new kid, the one-armed Latino teen Andy Reyes, as he pursues the truth behind it all, which will hopefully give them a chance to speak up for the victims who can’t. Oh, yeah, and remaining alive and whole might be a good thing, too.

West of Sienna is a heart-thumping horror story about three gutsy friends, a conscientious killer, and a lot of mutilated bodies- all set in a town haunted by the silence of the dead.

The Name for the Blog

I suddenly realized that it might be a good idea to explain why I named my blog this. The title is loosely based on one of my favorite quotes about writing:

For me, this quote presents a good picture of what writing is . . . of how hard it can be. Most authors can understand what this means.
I'm not a dreamer. I don't think that I can just gaily type away at a story and have it end up as something that I cherish and want to share with my family and friends. Of course not.
True writing is deeper than that. It takes an ungodly amount of time, a healthy dose of criticism, and the dull persistence of a stubborn mule to finish a good manuscript. Remember, I said a GOOD one.
But, more importantly, when your manuscript is finished, you should feel like you left a part of yourself on the pages. In order for your writing to be able to influence anybody else, it has to fundamentally have changed a part of you, too.
My writing has.
I'm a different person now than when I started writing my first book. I've lived with these unusual, quirky characters, this torturous world, and this compelling, sometimes heartbreaking, story for years now.
I can't separate myself from it any more than I could cut off an arm.
In some ways, it's intertwined with my own story, and becaus of that, it has become better, richer, more meaningful than before.
All I did was sit down and bleed.