Camp NaNoWriMo,Writing Goals and “Big Magic”

The beginning of April brings with it several thoughts.

One, it’s April Fool’s, which means I could technically end this blog here and leave you all wondering about the title and what I’m thinking…

Except, you probably won’t wonder for long, and I’ve never been a fan of April Fool’s, given that I completely stink at pranking people. Aren’t you lucky?

little brother prank GIF-source
(This GIF made me laugh so much, I nearly wet myself.)

Moving on: the second thought is that Camp NaNoWriMo kicks off today, and I’m participating this month with a word goal of 25 000. I’m so excited, because the project I’m working on is the Beinn Draken series, which you may have read about here, here, and here.

Just in case you don’t want to hop back to those other posts (I don’t know why you wouldn’t, cos Beinn Draken is AWESOME! and there’s a really long excerpt in the last one), here’s the synopsis as created for my Camp Project:

The Thabulayi have been at war for generations when scientist Micara, creates a weapon that could have unforeseen catastrophic results. Before she can decide what to do with it, Micara is forced to flee her country, along with other rebel Thabulayi.

Aboard a merchant Misyer ship, a storm runs them aground and the Thabulayi and Misyers find themselves trapped on an island that is home to the Clachers.
Full of folklore, and superstition, and with the “dragon” about to emerge from his mountain, the Clachers want nothing to do with the strangers.

Except for Ceither, a young girl whose insatiable curiosity leads her to a friendship with Micara as they try to find a way to save the island from the imminent volcanic eruption.

The “novel” is made up of a series of short stories, spanning several generations from Micara and Ceither’s time, to the island’s present. It combines South African culture with Scottish, and I’m just so excited about it, that I might actually burst and shower you all with sparkly rainbow goo!

Excited

Which brings me to the third topic: writing goals and Big Magic. For those of you who don’t know, Big Magic is the title of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book for creatives.

For those who don’t know who Elizabeth Gilbert is, think Eat, Pray, Love. Or watch her give a TED talk on some of the ideas that she shares in Big Magic. Go ahead, I’ll wait

That’s pretty powerful stuff, right?

For those who don’t know, I’ve been struggling with depression since the beginning of 2017. I didn’t realise it though, because it’s a silent little bugger that sort of snuck up on me, and (in my case at least), it’s not a constant all-encompassing feeling of wanting to die.

That feeling sort of comes and goes, and it was only when I nearly drove myself casually off a bridge last year, that I realised I couldn’t do this alone. I reached out to friends, and I got help. Because the thing is, I don’t want to die. I have a lot of plans, and a lot of living still to do, and I am doing it. I’m doing what I love to do.

The latter half of 2017 was a recovery period. A time of reevaluating where I was in life, what I wanted to do, and just figuring out how to look after me. It ended with me accepting a writing job at the end of December, and now I get paid to write.

But the problem with that, was I started unconsciously buying into the tortured artist, martyred-for-my-art belief system that so many creatives have. Because I wasn’t being paid to write what I wanted to write. I felt like I wasn’t making a difference with my writing. 

While 2018 started off well, it slowly spiralled back into that pit of despair. The feeling of suffering to be able to do what I claimed to love was overwhelming. I lost myself to fatigue, and sadness and constant, draining complaints.

And then, last week, my very best friend who knows me well enough to know what I need, gifted me with a copy of Big Magic. I had goosebumps the entire time I was reading it, because not only was Gilbert telling me what I’d been doing, she made sense of why I was doing it.

Now, obviously, it’s not the only reason. I have some underlying physical health issues that I need to look at, and fix. But a large part of it was exactly that: buying into the stereotype of needing to suffer for my art. And losing my inspiration because of it. Losing my motivation, and the ability to do what I needed to do in order to succeed as an author. Which is to write every day and put myself out there.

At the beginning of 2018, I had a daily goal of writing my own stories for an hour each day. I haven’t been able to keep up with that because of the above mentioned fatigue and issues, but I have at least managed about five to ten minutes each day, even if it’s just the odd one-liner or scribbled thought. I’ve now revised that goal to be five minutes of writing daily. I don’t want to add guilt to my already overwhelmed emotional jar of feelings, so if I manage more, great! If not, well, at least I got a sentence or paragraph out of it.

On the other hand, Jozi Flash 2018 is underway and will be published in January 2019! At this point, assuming that all goes well with all the contributing authors, the final anthology will have 108 stories! Oh my gawd! We also have a theme (but I’m not saying what it is just yet, because surprise!), and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with everyone!

Overall, 2018 has been a productive year so far. I’ve set myself certain goals and deadlines (something I’ve never done before), and that’s really helped keep me focused on the end goal of making a success of my writing, and of Chasing Dreams Publishing.

What does that success mean to me? At this point in time, it just means finishing my stories and getting them published; helping others to showcase their work through Jozi Flash; and various other projects. Big Magic also reminded me that it also means having enough time and energy to focus on myself, because no one else can do what I do (well, they could but it wouldn’t have my special touch), and I deserve to be happy and excited doing what I love.

So do you.

 

 

 

Monday Writing Prompt – 9 October 2017

9 October 2017

The prompt should be included in your story which can be any genre. Word limit is a maximum, there is no minimum.

Stories can be posted directly in the comments, or with a link to the post on your own blog. If you’re using the latter method, please include the title of your story.

Deadline for submission is Friday, 13 October 2017 at midnight, GMT+2. Winning stories will be announced on the following Monday. Bragging rights to the winners.

Have fun!

 

Crafting Incredible Characters – An incredible resource from Kristen Kieffer at Well-Storied!

I had intended to post a downloadable character creation template today… But then I received an email from Kristen over at Well-Storied, and I knew I had to share it with you instead.

really love what Well-Storied stands for – creating and sharing brilliant resources for writers based on a “pay-what-you-can” principle.

I understand that writing for a living is a difficult process, that putting time and energy into creating resources that benefit others has to result in some sort of benefit for the creator. We can’t all be starving artists, and let’s face it – our muses tend to go on strike when they’re hangry.

But! I also believe quite strongly in the principle that money isn’t everything. It’s the principle I founded Chasing Dreams on, it’s the principle I live my life by, and even though I recognise the importance of an even exchange taking place – that exchange needn’t be based solely on money.

I downloaded the Crafting Incredible Characters resource without making a financial donation because I simply can’t afford to at this time. What I can afford to do, is to share it with you, tell you that it’s a gorgeous in-depth template for creating characters that fit the tips I posted on my TTT this week, and that I highly recommend downloading it if you’re taking part in Plotober and NaNoWriMo.

We all have amazing stories to tell – it’s what drives us to write – but more than that, we have the ability to support and encourage the people who help us tell them while sharing their own.

Let’s not waste it.

 

Poetry Wednesday – Iambic Pentameter*

*Because it’s the only thing I remember from lessons in school.

Today’s poetry post was supposed to deal with Iambic Pentameter, but well… there are people out there who just explain it so much more efficiently than I could ever hope to.

Like this wonderful person on YouTube:

Being very new to the formal poetry scene, I haven’t attempted to write a poem in any sort of recognised format, but I’d like to invite you to share yours with me, either by posting it directly in the comments, or linking back to your blog.

I will be attempting an Iambic Pentameter poem within the next week!

How do you feel about this meter? Does it appeal? Do you have a favourite? Share your thoughts below!

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday – Creating characters your readers will adore – Day 2 of Plotober

We’re on the 3rd of October already, which means we have 29 days left before NaNoWriMo! Can I cue the panic yet? No? Okay, we’ll save it for the third week of October.

In the spirit of Plotober, I’ll be posting irregular planning sessions just about every day. (Which basically translates to: I’m trying to develop my planning ability beyond that of wishful thinking so I’m dragging you along for the ride. You’re welcome.)

Also in the spirit of blogging about this, I’m linking up to Top Ten Tuesday for this post because Cait over at PaperFury has inspired me with her exquisite blog and the numerous giggles her wicked sense of humour induces.

The topic for today is Top Ten Book Boyfriends/Girlfriends, but I’ll be breaking the rules for that by instead giving you ten tips for creating a character who your readers will WANT to friend. This ties in nicely to my planning for NaNo, because I use these methods when I create characters for my novels.

Also, if you manage to stick around for all ten items without wandering off like a lost puppy, I’ll treat you to a character interview I did with one of my favourite people in the whole wide world – Jarrod from When the Earth Grows – Book One of the Ólarunàe.

Onward then!

toptentuesday.jpg

  1. Names are not that important, except when they are. I know, I know. A lot of writers tend to come up with names for their characters before they even decide anything else. There are pros and cons to this which I’ve summarised in a nice little table for you:
Pros Cons
Defining – names provide a basis to define the culture, language and history that your character comes from. The meaning in a name provides a frame of context for their growth. Limiting – names imply a culture, a language, a history. They have meaning and giving meaning to a character before knowing who they are in the novel can constrict their growth.
Reference – knowing your character’s name before writing, allows ease of reference when plotting. Stereotyping – giving your protagonist a name you like, or the antagonist a name you don’t like, automatically creates stereotypical associations which you may prefer to avoid.
Allows for surprise – by making assumptions about your character based on their name, they can surprise you with traits they present in the process of writing. Removes the element of surprise – just as assumptions allow for surprise, they also remove the opportunity to be surprised because you may find yourself subconsciously editing your character to ensure they fit into your image of their name.

 

  1. Traits do not a character make. Yes, the general personality traits go into creating a character and may decide how they react to certain events or other people. They aren’t the deciding factors in who your character is. A trait is something like shyness – a character may be shy, but he won’t necessarily let it stop him from talking to his crush. In fact, he may even be more determined to overcome his shyness by talking to them. List your basic character traits, and then decide which of these will be allowed to influence the character, and which he/she will fight against, or even develop as the story progresses.
  2. Characters do not always react consciously. Just as in real life, when someone annoys you, your normal reaction is to snap back at them. Unless you’re a saint or supremely patient or avoid conflict at all costs. Likewise, characters will react to people and situations instinctively, consciously or in a way that they think is expected of them. Conflict is created by putting them in situations where they react unexpectedly, or where their reaction results in an internal conflict. Creating scenarios and dropping characters into them gives you a chance to see how they respond.
  3. Flaws don’t always make a character relatable. Writers often preach that characters need flaws. This is true. But giving a character flaws doesn’t automatically make them relatable. What it does do is create an opportunity for the character to either overcome or accept their flaws, either consciously or unconsciously. This then allows the reader to respect them regardless of whether or not they agree with their choices. An example of a character flaw is having a highly motivated person taking control of everyone’s lives and trying to dictate to them.
  4. Quirks are not always endearing. Just as with flaws, creating a character with a quirky habit that they perform every five sentences can grate on the nerves. They serve a purpose by allowing the reader to differentiate between the mannerisms of characters, but if that’s the only thing you’re creating to differentiate between John and Joe, you need to rethink things.
  5. Weird spelling/hard to pronounce names do not a unique character make. Spelling a common name phonetically, or with a y in place of an i doesn’t make your character stand out or give them magic powers. Yes, it may help the reader remember your character, but not necessarily in a good way. If you’re going to do this with your character names, try to remain consistent throughout – replace all i-s with y-s in names where it’s applicable for example. Alternatively, come up with a logical reason for it – perhaps their parents were hippies with no appreciation of how cruel children can be. In genres like sci-fi or fantasy, the development of names can be a lot of fun, but be careful how you go about this. Remain consistent to the rules of your language.
  6. Culture plays a big role in characterisation. Knowing the race and culture of your character, whether from our world or your created world, helps to determine how they react to certain situations. Deciding on this before you write allows you to decide how much of a role culture and race will play in your plot.
  7. Age is not just a number. Not in character creation anyway. A five year old will not use words that a 16 year old would. Likewise, the 80 year old grandmother wouldn’t necessarily be up to date on all the slang the 16 year old spews. Additionally, a five year old (hopefully) won’t be smoking cigarettes on the street corner and waiting for her no-good boyfriend to show up. A 16 year old might, but she’d also be a bit nervous about her rebellion, or angry at the whole world for putting her in that position in the first place. Make sure your character’s age matches the plot that they’re going to find themselves in.
  8. Secondary characters are not just there to support your MC. That may be their main role in the story, but it doesn’t mean they should be cardboard cut-outs. Their relationship with your MC is vital to creating a believable, relatable character. As such, they need to challenge, support and add to the growth of your MC. If they don’t do any of that, they don’t need to be in the story. Decide on the potential relationships before you start writing and allow your secondary characters to shine a little.
  9. Don’t be scared to create a character who challenges perceptions. Characters don’t need to be likeable to be liked. An absolutely villainous character who targets children may still be liked by readers because he completely defies what is acceptable by the standards of modern society. Not everyone likes children (gasp!), so allowing your character to challenge the dictates that children are precious little bundles of joy, gives you a situation ripe for conflict and character growth. Bear in mind though, that challenging perceptions doesn’t mean breaking laws of nature. A villainous psychopath targeting children because he was bullied at school won’t suddenly have a change of heart because he meets a child who loves him. He’ll keep doing what he does, he just won’t do it to that child.

That’s it for the ten tips to creating heart-worthy characters. Here’s the promised bonus of character interview I did with my character, Jarrod – to try and flesh out some of the above. (For those of you new to this technique, a character interview allows you to ask questions and answer them in 1st person from the POV of your character.)

How do you feel about your sisters, Mali and Wren?

You mean the terrible twins. I don’t want to talk about them.

Why not?

Because they’re brats, that’s why. Mother keeps blaming me for the mischief they get up to, as if I have any control over what they do. The other day, they dumped manure into the animals’ drinking water. Guess who got to clean it up? Me, that’s who. And then Mother scolded me for allowing them to do it! Sometimes I wish they weren’t my sisters.

So you want them dead?

No! Of course not! I just, I don’t want to be responsible for babies anymore. That’s a woman’s job.

A woman’s job?

Yes. Cooking, cleaning, watching the children. Making a home for her family.

So you don’t think women can do what men do?

I didn’t say that. Mother is the strongest person I know. I can see how Father relies on her. But she’s responsible for the children, while Father gets to go hunting and be a man. I wish he’d take me with him sometimes.

Why doesn’t he?

He will when I reach my thirteenth birthday. It’s only a few months away and then Kiro can take over watching the twins. I can’t wait! Just, uh… don’t tell Mother I told you this, okay? She’d have my guts for garters if she found out I said that stuff about women.

I love what this interview reveals about Jarrod. He’s obviously a closet chauvinist- which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but may lead to conflict as he gets older. He loves his sisters, but also – siblings. Ugh. His mother is the strongest person he knows, so even though he’s a chauvinist, he still respects women and believes that they can be strong and independent. These are aspects that I can definitely play with as he grows up in the story.

How do you feel about character creation? Do your characters ever surprise you? Share your favourite characters and link me back to your TTT if you’re taking part!

 

Editing Tips Tuesday – Editing Dialogue

Today we’re going to look at editing dialogue. I’m making the assumption that you already know how to write dialogue, have written a fair amount of it, and now need to edit it.

Let’s first look at some common mistakes people make while writing dialogue:

  1. Assuming that every character is going to speak in the same way. We’ve all done it. Monotonous dialogue happens when you write it as though it is still the narrator speaking. If you can remove the dialogue tags and it sounds like a single person having a conversation with himself, you’ll need to edit this.
  2. Using dialogue tags instead of the dialogue itself to express the character’s emotions. Telling readers that a character is angry is far less effective than allowing them a few expletives in their dialogue.
  3. Talking heads. There are instances where reading dialogue is like watching a tennis match. You bounce back and forth between the characters talking, but at some point they lose who they are and become a pair of talking heads.Talking Heads
  4. No dialogue at all. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Unless it’s a flash fiction story or some scary experimental novel where no one talks, you ideally should have dialogue. It breaks up the big blocks of text and brings your characters to life.

There are plenty of others, but today I want to deal with how to edit for these particular mistakes.

  1. Define your characters. Know how they speak, why they speak that way and then change the dialogue to reflect their personalities. A teenager won’t use the same words as their grandparents for example. Their dialogue should reflect their age and culture. Be careful that you don’t overdo it though – one or two “dudes” in a sentence is more effective than incomprehensible abbreviations and acronyms.Misrepresented Dialogue
  2. If you have a lot of dialogue tags, try to replace them with actions/dialogue that expresses the emotion. For example:

“I’m so mad right now.” She said to him.

Can become:

“Screw you!” she balled her hands into fists, resisting the urge to punch the smirk off his face.

Bear in mind that the above example needs to reflect the personality of the characters as defined in point 1. It doesn’t help to have a character described as timid and placid if she’s running around getting violent with other characters.

  1. I’ve written short stories completely in dialogue. Some of them have been extremely effective. Others have been complete flops. A novel that has pages of dialogue without tags or exposition, needs to be edited. If you can delete dialogue without losing the story, you don’t need it and could probably replace it with exposition.
  2. This mistake most commonly occurs because people are scared of dialogue and is the reverse of point 3. It’s a tricky thing for a lot of writers, but is an essential skill to cultivate. When you have endless exposition, check whether some of it involves dialogue without actual dialogue. In other words you’re looking for something like this:

John told Mary that he’d had a really long day at work and didn’t really want to go to dinner with their friends Jenny and Chris. Mary sighed and thought to herself that it was always going to be this way. He would never want to do anything with her friends.

This can be changed to dialogue very easily:

“Work was exhausting.” John put his briefcase down and leaned over to kiss Mary where she sat at the table. “Janice made a complete mess of the accounts and I spent all day trying to fix it.”

“I don’t know why you don’t just fire her. She’s always making mistakes which you have to fix.”

“I feel bad. She’s going through a hard time with her divorce.”

“I guess.” Mary hesitated. “You haven’t forgotten about our dinner with Jenny and Chris?”

“Is that tonight?” he sighed. “I suppose it’s too late to cancel? You can go by yourself, can’t you? They really only want to see you anyway.”

“That’s not true. They want to see both of us.” She looked at his tired face and felt a pang of sympathy. “I guess I can go alone, if you want to get an early night.”

“You’re the best. I’m gonna go shower.” He left the room, and Mary picked up her phone to let Jenny know they’d be a party of three. Again.

Remember when you’re writing dialogue, you’re giving your characters an opportunity to express their feelings about the story you’re telling. Have fun with it – after all, you speak to people every day. Why shouldn’t your characters?

How do you feel about dialogue? Do you enjoy writing it, or is it a nightmare exercise? Do you find editing it easier than the initial writing process?

Plotober is upon us! Day 1 of Plantsing for NaNoWriMo

Writing a Blurb

Plotober is upon us! It crept up quickly and left me just a little bit startled by its sudden appearance.

But now that it’s Monday, I’m in the present and ready to go with the first activity on the schedule for the next thirty days of planning for the mania that is NaNoWriMo.

I’ve got a vague outline of the novel I want to work on this year, but haven’t done any concrete planning, so I hope you’ll join me as I try to mend my pantser ways (not that I don’t love being a pantser, but there’s something to be said for plantsing, too.)

Onwards then, with the first step in the journey – creating a blurb.

Why a blurb?

A blurb is one of the most important aspects of a completed novel, but it’s also a great starting point for planning your story because:

  • A blurb introduces your main characters.
  • It provides a setting for the story.
  • It introduces the main source of conflict.
  • It poses questions about the ending.

With those points in mind, we’re trying to avoid the following in the blurb:

  • Clichés – Opening phrases and character descriptions that are overdone will kill your interest in the story before you’ve even started writing it.
  • TMI – We’re writing the blurb here, not the entire novel.
  • Chapter summaries – keep these for the synopsis, not the blurb.

Now for the fun stuff – actually writing the blurb. You’ll need to note the following:

  • Names/genders of your MCs. Try to limit this to two or three. Names aren’t essential at this point, but could be useful.
  • The main setting. This could be a world, a city, a town or a street. Make sure to note anything that’s different about it.
  • The reason for the story. In other words, the conflict. Is your MC dying, madly in love, kidnapped, a shape-shifting fairy-eating dragon allergic to pixie dust?
  • Ask a question about the end. Is there a happily ever after? Does everyone die? Are any of these questions ever answered?

Once you’ve got all those down, put them into a pretty paragraph of five or six sentences, max. Keep the sentences short – it’s a blurb, not an essay. Remember, this is the planning draft of your novel, so the blurb doesn’t need to be word perfect. It’s a guideline to the rest of the awesomeness that will make up your story, so don’t stress too much if it reads a oddly. It will be refined at a later point anyway.

Some possible formats of your blurb could be:

  • Introduce your MCs, the setting and then the conflict.
  • Set the scene, introduce MCs and then bring in conflict.
  • Start with the conflict, bring in the MCs and add the setting.

Tell me how you’re spending Plotober? Do you plan or pants your way through NaNoWriMo? How do you feel about blurb writing?