Category Archives: Scenes

5 Strange Writer Habits

1. Sometimes when I’m working on revisions, I isolate sentences in their own document. In this isolation, they can shine or sing or dance however they want or need to. Without the distraction of the other sentences around it, I can hone in on what’s wrong with the sentence and figure out how to fix it.

2. I email ideas to myself constantly. I know lots of people carry around notepads and pens but that’s just not me. I have tried to make that me, but I fail every time. So, I conserve trees and email myself with my iPhone. Sometimes I’ll get a line or an idea or just an off the wall thought for a scene and I send it to myself to include later. My best thinking comes in the car but I hate commuting to school and work. It saps the energy out of me so that all that excitement to write on the way home dissipates as soon as I walk in the door.

3. I overuse em dashes and thus am constantly editing them out.

4. I am obsessed with coffee. Until Tuesday, I was constantly drinking coffee to a ridiculous amount. I’ve cut down substantially but I am addicted. I have some attention span issues that coffee actually helps alleviate.

5. Because of those attention issues, my early morning routine involves over an hour spent on imgur.com. I’m not proud, but “I’ll just look for a few minutes” is just a lie I tell myself. Every day.

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Planning Your Story

Sometimes ideas come to us in the dead of the night and we write down a sentence, a paragraph, an idea. We get names from those characters come to life. But what’s next? What happens after you have a one paragraph or one page synopsis?

Research and planning.

After dredging up an old (worked on in high school) story, I thought–why not? It’s about time I got this idea out.

The first thing I needed to do was develop my own world of magic. I’m going to let you in on one type of magic that I decided to include: Feral Priests. Now, a feral priest can do three things: can communicate with animals, can share bodies with an animal, and can steal the abilities of an animal. Cool, cool but there has to be a cost or the world is just going to be a nutty, nutty place filled with superheroes. So, when feral priests speak with animals, they lose their voice for a time, when they share the body of an animal, they loose control over their own for a while, and if they steal the abilities of an animal, they kill it. I added four other priests with equivalent abilities and costs. It’s very important to set up your magic system so that you don’t run around with invincible characters (which I originally had).

So, then the MC was Aidan, but that name kind of took off so I rooted around the internet for the right name. I basically fleshed out the first few characters with Welsh names:

Cadogen (Cade), Mairwen, Bethan, Leolin, Owain, Roderick, Efion.

Then, I needed a city name for the starting place. I went to a site and just started writing down the names of cities in Wales that I liked:

Cardiff (Doctor Who?), Swansea, Caernaten, Brecon, Kilgetty

Then I started mixing them up:

Braed Macaediff Kilfair Caelfair Caelgetty Kilcaedon Braegetty Kill Caekilwen

No, my story is about a journey, so I built cities and name lists for each city. Then, shaped the plot–each city must be different! So, three cities, three unique experiences. Research for my first city is under-weigh: I’m researching Rome (which I’m familiar with anyway, thanks college!). As I research Rome, I think about how I can use their culture to supplement my story and flesh it out–maybe I’ll have a Colosseum, if there is a Colosseum then I’ll have to use it for it’s original purpose, for distracting citizens. So will my heroes fall to the trap and have to escape or will they break it? Either way, how will the trap be designed and how will they escape or break it?

After I figure out what the three cities are going to throw at my heroes, I’ll start working on a plot outline. I really like this set-up for the original plotting process:

I used this for the Abassi Expedition, the basic idea is that if you have 40 scenes, Act 1 is 10, Act 2 is 20, and Act 3 is 10. Or 60 Scenes: 15|30|15.

I broke out of this alter, but the idea of plotting this way really helped me set up. There are other plot charts:

This is another good image to have in mind as you plan, but it’s not as detailed. One thing, however, it makes important is the idea of constant upward movement–everything leading up to the climax must be rising action, if it’s not why have it there? It bogs the story down. Sure, it’s interesting, but if it’s not helping reach the climax, it’s a waste of space.

Again, I use that first chart back there and pick out all of the things listed starting with the Climax. What is the climax, why does it happen, and how do I get my characters there? Jason at Writing Possibilities also reminded me to find the motivation for my characters. And when I plotted the Abassi Expedition, Sabrina had me set up three struggles or conflicts for my characters: physical, mental, emotional.

As of right now, I spent a few hours Saturday just touching the surface of magic, character, and setting. Writing a novel, especially one in speculative fiction, is hard work. It’s not just sitting at the computer and writing. It’s planning, researching, and backtracking.

My next step is to use my new Campaign Cartographer to design my world and City Designer to work on the settings so that I can shape my plot.

Updates on The Abassi Expedition

I haven’t shared a lot lately about my WIP so I thought I’d spend today giving an update.

First, I finished my first draft in the middle of December!

To celebrate… I printed out the first five chapters and started my revisions…

My first big change came in the form of developing two satellite characters (the parents of MC Alice Hadley). I read through the prologue searching out passive verbs (ick!) and -ly words (boo!). Afterwards, I thought, “These two characters who are are essential to the plot really need to be fattened up!” So I developed their physical image, their motivation in the prologue, their mannerisms. Then I got to work. I re-wrote the prologue which can found on my WIP Page. I’m very pleased with the change.

With chapter one, it’s really the first introduction to New London so I wanted to do something really important with it. I took some inspiration from Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and used the social structure of New London to tell its story… I’m also very pleased with it:

The buildings of the colony drew a jagged line across the sky as wide swaths of sunlight illuminated the fresh paint, perfectly lain bricks, and smooth trim. Parliament lay in the center of the colony with its clock tower rising high into the sky, a beacon of order and direction visible from everywhere in the colony. The ministers, lords, and ladies all woke to their staff ushering them to new committees and meetings while workers diffused through the city collecting garbage, fixing cobbles, repairing buildings. Down the streets, apprentices lumbered into the light while their master’s still slept. The farmers were already on their way towards the fields that blew and shifted in the wind, ready to welcome the warm sunlight. The slums, hidden by the rest of the city, slept into the day.

To create that, though, I had to figure out the social structure and the layout of the city. This is the best I’ve got because designing cities is nigh impossible:

I do not have any colored pencils so it’s not colored but basically the top part is a lake with two rivers that descend through the colony. The hexagon shape is the barrier that keeps the colony safe from the wildlife of Kepler and filters the air so that the humans can survive on this alien planet.

My biggest goals with this revision are: eliminating passive verbs, catching POV violations, trying to get everything into place. I’m trying to rush (I’m not doing a good job of it though) so I can finish with a second draft by January. The big thing is to get it readable for beta-readers because the writing process means that some things that you wrote in the beginning don’t match up with what developed towards the end. Writing in itself is discovery so the whole thing needs to be molded for the best story. So far, I’m doing really well and happy with my updates.

Today, I wanted to work on chapter six but got derailed trying to figure out the military that two MCs and one satellite character is in. William is a captain, his father is the Lord General, and Morris is a Lieutenant. I wanted to know how big their army should be for the 400k population of New London (I put it at 20k) and what that meant for the structure. I also developed the enlisted and officer structure. The most fun part, however are the drawings I made for their uniforms and rank insignia:

On the far left is the universal combat uniform. You can see I have a little triangle on the left sleeve, that’s a lazy person’s drawing of the star in the center of the shoulder strap in the center. The right sleeve has the slashes for ranking. The officer’s uniforms have shoulder straps with insignia, while the enlisted uniforms do not.

On the right is the dress uniform which is the one that William most prefers (while Morris prefers the left uniform). I’m not done with it. I think the shoes should be shinier, have spats, etc. But for the most part it has the same shoulder strap in the center, is worn maybe with the flight cap on the right (the triangle one). Anytime you see a weird squiggly half-star, that’s my way of saying “some sort of insignia should be here.” But on the hats, I’m worried it might not work.

The center image is the shoulder strap. The circle at the top is meant to be a silver button that is a relief of the planet of Kepler (known to us real life people as Kepler 22b). The insignia of the sun is meant to be a star. I wanted the choices of insignia to reflect the new planet, not the old. This is really one of the first places that I’ve gone with the sci-fi thing which feels great! Because The Abassi Expedition is steampunk, I’ve tried to stick with mostly Victorian style, so I played with the insignia a lot. The other two symbols I used are a symbol of the parthenon for the governent and a scythe over a rapier.

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Okay, that’s the last of my crappy drawings I’m going to submit you too. I hope that your eyes aren’t bleeding!

If you have any suggestions for city-planning, revision, uniform design, etc. Please let me know!

Also, if you follow me on Twitter, @MelanieSokol, you can get more frequent updates!

5 Abandoned Books – Book Round-Up

Last year (2011), I decided to stop trying to force myself to finish books I really didn’t like. With the advent of the internet, my desire to figure out how things ended is quite easy to appease. Now, to abandon a book (not just set it down for a later time), a book has to be just really… bad. And that almost always applies to the writing. It’s not usually the story that I can’t stand, it’s almost always the writing. So let’s get to it and I’ll give you some details as to what I mean.

Daughter of the Blood

Links: Author Page, Amazon, Goodreads.com, Barnes & Noble

I downloaded this book because I like epic fantasy and vampires. It was supposed to be pleasure reading. It was not.

Bishop seemed over-worried about people thinking her fantasy world was detailed enough which led to her characters CONSTANTLY talking about the world and it’s design so much so that I was confused (cliche names were flying everywhere attached to random colors). It’s like a draft of a manuscript in which the writing shows some clear attempt at revision (syntax was phenomenal) but lacks the development of the action of the scenes to properly tell the story.

Ignoring the confusion, the characters felt like cliche cardboard cutouts whom I developed absolutely no interest in. Good premise, horrible follow through.

I know quite a few people like this book and the rest of Bishops work but calling this high or epic fantasy is a joke. It’s horrible and horribly written.

City of Bones

Links: Author Page, Amazon, Goodreads.com, Barnes & Noble

I started City of Bones because of the hype and hey the cover is neat looking. Also, it was listed as having steampunk elements somehwere (that was a lie). Okay… let’s get to business. I thought Clare was about… 14 based on the writing of this. From my understanding it started as a Draco/Ginny fanfic. NOW I wrote Draco/Ginny fanfics when Iw was fourteen, and upon returning to those (I’m linking this but I think it’s a bad idea: HP fanfics for my intense embarassment [it’s the 2nd story]), I can verify they are better written. I’m not saying little 14 year old me deserves to be published, she doesn’t, and neither does Clare. I’m sorry for all the people that love her books, they’re crap. She attempts to add detail by adding adjectives, horrible ones at that, and it’s just… torture. I have nothing else to say other than–no. Just no.

Aaron and Keja

Links: Author Page, Amazon, Goodreads.com, Barnes & Noble

No.

This book was so bad it made me angry enough to post a really nasty Goodreads review. Just move on.

Dark Prince

Links: Author Page, Amazon, Goodreads.com, Barnes & Noble

Sometimes, my friend Sabrina has really great book recommendations (Mistborn Trilogy), and sometimes she doesn’t. This is a time she didn’t. I tried to read this but… my opinion of this serious is so black it’s raven like the hair of the MC, RAVEN. Yep. Moving on, Sabrina said that Feehan created a really cool fantasy world in which vampires start out as good (Carpathians) but loneliness drives them to become animals. I agree with Sabrina, this is a really interesting idea. The writing, however, and characters were so bad that I just couldn’t keep going. If you don’t mind bad writing, check it out.

Maximum Ride

Links: Author Page, Amazon, Goodreads.com, Barnes & Noble

I don’t know much about James Patterson, but after reading a few chapters of this book–I actively don’t want to know any more. The idea behind Maximum Ride is similar to one I have toyed with–genetically altered kids. This group are all bird children with gimmicky comic book nicknames and the narrator–annoying.  I think this guy Joe got it right on the money with his review:

The stilted narration, provided by the “edgy” Maximum Ride, perhaps one of the most grating heroines in YA literature, is weakened by attempts to provide three-dimensionality to her character through her thoughtful analyses of those around her. Unfortunately, Patterson’s creativity as a writer is strictly limited to half-baked and poorly described battle sequences, so Ride’s introspection is relegated to heinous platitudes like, “It was like I had just lost my baby sister. And like I had lost my little girl” (p.25). (Guess what, Sister Girl… you did.)

The premise was fine but Patterson tanked it with this crappy, crappy story about a group of kids I couldn’t care less about.

I get a little meaner about books I don’t like than books that I do. I’m sure some of you have read these books and love them, that’s cool. There’s a reason why we’re different people! 🙂

See you Wednesday with a great reblog!

NaNoWriMo Kick-Off

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Today I wanted to encourage you to all write today, even if you aren’t participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Too often we think we have to have a drive to write instead of just sitting down and writing, so I challenge you to let loose and just get comfortable with writing. Natalie Goldberg write in her book “Writing Down the Bones” that we must allow ourselves to write even if it’s horrible. NaNoWriMo is about that idea: allowing yourself, in great literary abandon, to create regardless of quality. So, get down with your bad self (or bad fingers) and write today and when you look at your progress (hopefully 1667 words at minimum) remember Hemingway’s words of wisdom: The first draft of everything is shit.

So as to not leave you hanging, I’m going to share some prompts I love:

From Goldberg: 1) Put down “I remember…” and write whatever you remember. 2) Use the title “Why I Write” and write.

Check out DeviantArt and find a painting/drawing/photo that speaks to you and write either from within the photo or about it. Fit the prompt to YOUR style and tastes.

Steampunk prompts: (1) As the captain of a small airship, you must fight to survive as your ship loses altitude and starts heading down towards the ocean. (2) As an inventor, your entire world is about silence until you find an angel has crashed through your roof. (3) While riding across the countryside on a locomotive, you discover a weird invention that you are strangely attached to. What will you do when masked men come for it and you? (4) You’ve been kidnapped and locked up with a metal golem, how will you befriend this odd machine and use it to escape captivity?

Sci-fi prompts: (1) An alien ship lands on Earth and the forms walk out and they’re entirely human. Where are they from and why are they here? (2) You’re part of a small expedition to Jupiter: what will you find there and what troubles will you face?

Fantasy prompts: (1) For a millennium, no new wizards have been born and the elders are starting to die. What will happen when a set of twins is born with powers? (2) You’ve spent your long life avoiding vampire hunters, but when one comes to town, you don’t run. Instead of fighting to the death, you end up falling in love. How did this hunter capture your heart and how will you overcome your differences?

Revision and Critique Group Tips

So here’s a little list of what I’m doing to prep my first 20 pagers for my critique group. I’ve already given some off to others for a preliminary read but some of this is 100% independent revision. So here’s what I do:

1. Go to Wordle. I mentioned this a while back (becomingauthor.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/wordle-and-poetry) to use to keep track of what words you overuse. Scrivener does the same thing under Project > Text Statistics > Word Frequency but also picks up on words like “the” “was” “is.” Scriveners is more useful for revision but Wordle is 1) much prettier 2) free. So check it out. I’ve shared Wordles before, here’s a Wordle of my manuscript as of today:

It looks like I really need to edit out the word “back.” Sheesh. Anyway, like any word cloud, the biggest words are the most common… so yes, your main characters are going to be the most common! I don’t think you could edit that out nor would you want to.

2. I edit out passive voice. I love this little Twitter gem for that:

So: She was eaten. Add “by zombies” and it’s still makes sense: She was eaten by zombies. And typically passive voice is pretty simple to edit out: Zombies ate her. Much more powerful, more interesting, etc.

I also work on passive verbs: am, was, are, is. They’re not as easy to edit out, unfortunately, but work on it. Save your passive verbs for moments when you want the reader to slow down and pause in time. BUT mostly try to kick them out as much as possible.

3. Suck it up and admit when something in your scene is just fluff! “I like cats so the MC likes cats.” Okay, SO WHAT? Channel your inner teenager and pile on the sass as you ask your scenes, “SO WHAT?” If you can’t answer them, they might not be necessary. Further, “Because I like it,” isn’t good enough.

4. Adjectives, cut them out. You may be saying, “But those are what add detail,” and you’re partially right. HOWEVER, don’t rely on them as a crutch. If you think adding detail is making “The ball bounced.” into “The big, red, round ball bounced.” then your idea is wrong. Tough love right now, adding adjectives is NOT enough and it’s a juvenile (sorry) attempt at adding detail. There are a ton of ways to change out your adjectives! Practice it on your own and I’ll try to get a post out later this week on some ways to add detail without adding adjectives!

5. Cut out adverbs (most -ly words). The same reason fits for adverbs as does adjectives. Find other ways to say it and it’ll be stronger than “quickly.”

6. Read your draft aloud to yourself. Hearing it makes you slow down and actually read it AND you actually HEAR it. I can’t explain why, but it helps. Promise.

7. DO NOT WORRY ABOUT THIS STUFF IN YOUR FIRST DRAFT. If you spend your first draft worrying about any of this your draft won’t flow properly because you’ll be constantly worrying. These are strictly REVISION techniques NOT writing. Writing is about writing, not editing. So write, get it out, let your first draft be shit as Hemingway so lovingly put it: The first draft of everything is shit.

Though I am a huge fan of editing and revision, nothing and I repeat nothing is better than a good critique group. I can recommend to you all the little tips and tricks I use to get my work “polished” for others to read, but that will never, ever replace a good critique group. Keep in mind that you need to find a critique group with a variety of genres, styles, and personalities to get solid feedback from. The most important thing to a good critique group is honesty: if you worry too much about hurting each other’s feelings, than you’re not going to make any progress and neither is anyone in your group. Learn to be mean and learn to take it. Criticism isn’t bad, negativity is. Those are two different beasts and as soon as you and your critique group learn that, the better.

Your Story: Blue Bank

One thing I really like to do is browse pictures and just write about whatever comes to mind. Sometimes I do the POV of someone in the picture but usually I kind of insert someone into the picture, someone who finds the landscape/setting important. Well, I found at Seth Snap’s blog: Your Story: Blue Bank. I tried it out, it’s not my best work but I’ve been feeling a bit drained with teaching so much. But here it is!

 

Every day, ‘cept Sundays, Momma got up and walked to the bank. Everyday, she let me walk with her down to the end of the block, past the candy store where sometimes, if I was real good, she’d let me buy one piece. She’d tell me to hurry on to school as she walked into the blue bank. She said was busiest on Fridays because that’s when people wanted to get money to spend during the weekend. When I asked her, she never did tell me what they did. I wondered why they didn’t work on Saturdays like she did. In the afternoon, I’d walk on down to pick her up at the bank, escorting her home like a real gentleman. She’d make dinner, usually something with potatoes because Momma said they were the best thing for a growing boy. I never realized how hard my momma worked until I grew up and got my own job at a bank.

Sethsnap’s blog has tons of beautiful photos that I would recommend for writing inspiration. I used to do this all the time when I was in college using http://www.deviantart.com/ for their multitudes of realistic and surreal images. So check out both sites for a little inspiration!