Thursday, July 29, 2010

Writing Who You Know

I'm having a fantastic time with my online writing course.  This is truly the best hundred bucks I could have spent on my writing.  So far we have covered story structure, plot templates (which is a lot more inocuous than it sounds), and character development.  The assignments are short and sweet and I have been using my
WIP for all of them.  If anyone wants information on it, I will be glad to give it to you.

However, one of the things that has prompted electric shivers in my spine (or is that just a pinched nerve from sitting at the computer too long?) is the idea of "Writing who you know."

Although I understand the benefit of finding authenticity by drawing on what you observe in real life, I also have to say that none of the characters in my WIP are anything like anyone I know. They are purely fictional, and yet are so real to me that I almost expect to meet them one day. I was writing a contemporary story several years ago, set in a place we often visit, and I had the oddest feeling when I went there one day that I would see her restaurant on the street corner where I had placed it. I was actually a little upset, if you can believe it, that it wasn't there.

Because in my mind, it's there!

I really don't know where my characters come from. It's a mysterious thing, almost eerie. But they are there, in my head, nonetheless.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Special Personal Note

Although I keep this blog for writing stuff, I also have a personal blog called Christine's Cottage.  Please check out this very special post: Ninety Nine Candles.

In Which I Become A Convert

Okay, I have to admit that I'm starting to become converted to the whole plot structure idea. I'm still doubtful whether I could come up with a complete "three act story" prior to writing, but it does help identify the key points to emphasize.  I'm already finding things to strengthen. Today I'm working on identifying the emotional storylines for both protagonists, and separating the main adventure plot from the romantic subplot.

So, um... it uh... kind of looks like *cough* I may have been wrong to disdain outlining.

A lot of the credit goes to my instructor, Steve Alcorn, for presenting the material in a logical, simple way that I could actually understand.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In Which I Bite the Bullet

After my rant this morning, and a discussion with hubby, I signed up for the writing course.  It's offered through our local college and is only $95 for a six-week, 12-lesson course.  Today was the first day of the current session, so I just squeaked in under the registration deadline.

Time to bite the bullet - an expression used in regards to something extremely painful.  Biting down on a bullet was a way to release pain in the Old West, while they were digging another one out of your shoulder, for example.  The first lesson was a rehash of a previous course on story structure and what not.  I'm glad I skipped that course because it had to do with Outlining, Premise and The Three Act Structure.  It suggested starting with a theme and developing a premise and plot from there.


I need wine.

I can't plan a story in a vacuum or decide ahead of time what will happen. My mind just doesn't work that way. I start out with some characters, put them in a setting and let them start interacting.  All that other stuff grows from there.  But, I got 100% on the quiz, which was all I needed.  I'm looking forward to learning about Dialogue, Scene Structure, Viewpoint, Setting and the like.  The course does seem to be very well set up and the lessons are clearly written and easy to follow.

Deep down, of course, I'm hoping that the course will simply confirm that I already intuitively know everything.  Because I'm an Abstract Sequential learner and that's just the way I roll.

Yeah, right.

The Aspirants Dilemma

Urg.  This is one of those mornings when I feel like crawling far, far into my little dark hole and not coming out until Spring.

Natalie Whipple has a post up at "Between Fact and Fiction" about Honing Talent.  She talks about the difference between dabbling and really learning your craft.  At one point she says:

"It wasn't until I sought real, technical training that I improved. It wasn't until I treated my story like a potential masterpiece that it got better. It wasn't until I trained under a few "masters" that I really started to understand this story-telling business."

Now, in case you don't know who Natalie Whipple is, she is the mom who wowed Nathan Bransford with the first paragraph of her YA novel "Relax, I'm a Ninja" in his 2008 contest and ended up being represented by him, to the great envy of all his other followers. She currently has two debut novels in the works.

Anyway, I totally understand what Natalie is saying about training. I have looked at several writing courses over the years, some for college credit costing as much as a thousand bucks, some much more affordable. I have never been to a writer's conference, but would love to go to one.  I kind of want to wait, however, until I have a manuscript to sell. Otherwise, I don't see how I could justify the expense.
Training costs money.  As it should. To learn from the experience of another, more successful craftsman is a time-honored method of paying ones dues, both literally and figuratively. I wish very much for that experience.
But... it's not happening any time soon. Which makes me wonder, yet again, if I'm just wasting my time trying to write without it.  As Natalie says, "Just writing—just getting those words on the paper—isn't quite enough. I wrote a lot of books that are basically at the same crappy level."
This is why I haven't rushed to finish this novel I've been working on for the past three years. I don't want it to be crappy. But figuring things out on my own takes an awfully long time.

Some questions for you:
What courses, if any, have you taken?  How valuable do you think they were?  And what experiences do you think improved your writing the most?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blogfest of Death

One of the surprising consequences of writing fantasy fiction is that I have discovered a whole side of my creative self that I never knew existed:  The Dark Side Of Christine.  I'm writing action scenes, death scenes, scenes of blood and terror. It's not like I'm going to start competing with Stephen King any time soon, but still... it's not what I expected.

The following is one of the key action scenes in the first part of the novel.  My goal as an author: eliminate characters so that Faldur and Marenya have to spend some time alone in the forest at night.


The Setup:
While traveling to the capital for Pelwyn's wedding to the Prince of Belhanor, our heroes have had to change their course and take to the forest after being attacked on the road.  Faldur, a Ranger captain, is trying to get the little group to safety before nightfall.  Nightstalkers are renegade lions left over from a civil war in which they were trained to kill soldiers.  Now they have a habit of attacking unwary travelers after dark.  Dories are a type of animal which the Hanorja ride; they are a kind of combination of pony and goat.  Marenya is Pelwyn's cousin, and interested in Faldur.  Romer is another Ranger. Gorrith is Pelwyn's younger brother.

(PS I'm still working on this, so consider your internal editor duly warned.)

They rode on while the sun continued to sink, sending only an occasional orange shaft into the deepening dusk. It was farther than he remembered to the place that he wanted to reach. Presently the leafy trees ended, and they found themselves on the edge of a pine wood, dark and thick, the trunks stretching row upon row into the gloom.

Pelwyn said, “Are we going in there?”

“Yes. There is a Ranger camp in a clearing. It’s not far. There is a stream, grazing for the dories, and firewood.”

As they entered the pines, an eerie quiet engulfed them. The thick carpet of needles on the ground absorbed every sound. No shaft of light reached beneath the dense branches, though if the travelers looked straight up they could still see patches of blue sky. The eeriness grew until they were all uneasy. The dories turned their ears in all directions and trotted quickly along the path.  

A jay screamed and flew low in front of Marenya’s dory. The dappled mare shied and then stood stock still, trembling. It took a minute for Marenya to soothe her. Faldur thought he could see dark shapes moving stealthily among the trees. The clearing was only about five hundred yards ahead of them. They needed to get to open ground.

“Hurry!” he murmured to Marenya. 

She glanced at him as she remounted. “What is it?”

“Just hurry!”

He urged Strider forward as fast as he dared. Then a breeze wafted from the clearing towards them; the dories smelled the grass and surged ahead. Faldur tried to slow them down, not wanting to excite whatever was following them. He feared it was nightstalkers. He glanced back and read in Romer’s face that he had seen them too. 

Faldur saw the glimmer of stars overhead as he reached the clearing and drew aside, preparing to let Marenya and Pelwyn ride past him into the open. Then several things happened at once. Romer yelled, “Lions!” Pelwyn screamed and Snowfall bolted past him into the clearing. There was a terrible snarl behind him and a strangled cry. He turned Strider and drew his sword just as an enormous dark shape rushed at him. Strider lowered his great curved horns and rammed his head into the lion’s chest. It swiped at both dory and rider, but being momentarily checked by Strider’s blow, it staggered and missed its mark. Faldur ducked and brought his blade across its throat. It reeled back, making horrible gasping sounds, and fell to the ground. 

A second nightstalker attacked him from among the trees. Faldur was knocked from Strider’s back. As he rolled and raised his sword, the lion sank its teeth into his shoulder shaking him back and forth. Pain exploded in his shoulder; he screamed and dropped the sword. Strider rammed the side of the nightstalker’s head and it let go of him to attack the dory, swiping his flank with a great paw. Strider reared and rained blows on the lion’s head with his small, sharp hooves.

Faldur grabbed his knife from his belt with his undamaged arm and struggled to raise himself to his feet. 
The nightstalker turned his attention back to the Ranger, letting the dory gallop free into the clearing. It yowled, laid its ears back and surged forward, then suddenly stopped, shrieked, and twisted in pain. As it slashed at something behind it, Faldur rushed forward and drove the knife into its chest. It staggered, its head wagging back and forth. Faldur pulled the knife out and stabbed it in the heart. This time it fell to the ground and didn’t move.

As it fell he saw the gleam of his own sword stuck in its back. Marenya stood wide-eyed with disbelief, one hand clapped against her face, and the other stretched open in front of her where the sword had been wrenched from it.
“Are you alright?” Faldur’s own voice was harsh with pain.

She nodded. He rushed past her to look for the others, holding his right arm against his body and clenching his teeth against the pain in his shoulder. Gorrith lay in the path, his chest covered with blood. He was still holding his dagger, which was stained with blood. Faldur swore loudly and fell to his knees beside him. Gorrith was still breathing but had retreated inside himself, instinctively slowing his heart so as not to bleed to death. There was a good chance he would survive, if they could keep him warm and tend him until he was mended enough to wake. Faldur gently took the dagger from his fingers and laid it aside.

Romer was lying nearby, arms outflung, neck at an awkward angle. Faldur went to him, knowing he was dead before he touched him. Being the rear guard, he had probably been attacked first. They had ridden together nearly every day for the last nine years, but this was not the time to weep.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Constant Revision Contest

A friend of mine, Simon C. Larter at Constant Revision, is having a contest.  It is called the Simon Has Too Much Crap In His House And Has To Give Some Away (SHTMCIHHAHTGSA) Contest!

Simon is rather droll.

Simon is the twisted soul who hosted the 'PG/MG Sex Scene Blogfest' back in March.  (My entry, by the way, if you didn't see it the first time around, is here. I took it on as a challenge.)

Simon is my first ever Real Life In Person Writer Blogging Friend ever.  Meaning that I met him in person (at our writer's group) before I found his blog.  I just didn't realize that was him until last night.  Which is a little scary.  I mean, all my other bloggy writing friends live in far away places with exotic names like "Phoenix."  What better locale for a fantasy writer than a place named after a mythical bird?

But Simon is also one knock-your-socks off writer.  I mean really.  His fiction is ... well.... uncommonly good.  Check out his Bad Girl Blogfest Entry, which he read out loud to the group last night. I was riveted. And I don't even like that kind of stuff.

I didn't enter that blogfest because, well, I don't have any bad girls.  All my girls are virtuous, true, lovely and honest.  Like myself. (heh heh)

Okay, now that I have sufficiently warmed you up, go check out Simon's contest.

P.S. I'm leaving for vacation tomorrow, and am not planning to blog while away even though I am bringing Silver, my trusty laptop along.  But I have scheduled my Blogfest of Death entry to post on Sunday.

Have fun, and be good.  Don't forget to "Write First, Blog Later."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 10: 56,593 Words

End of cut and paste. Now I have to work at it again.


But hey, more than halfway.  That's not bad.  I have almost 98,000 words total, so about 41,000 left to edit.

Day 10, 6:08 pm


Thanks to Cub Scout Day Camp, I now have 41,441 words completed.  Most of it was cut-and-paste from the previous version.  All that revising I did last semester really paid off.  A little here, a little there.  (patting self on back.)

Perhaps I can have this ready to read to Grandma after all!

Which Famous Writer Are You Like?

I just discovered this really awesome tool from a post at Olivia Herrell's blog: I Write LikeWhat you do is paste in some text that you've written and a statistical algorithm analyzes your writing and comes up with the famous writer whose work yours most resembles.

I got the following results on various excerpts:  James Joyce, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and 3 or 4 Stephen King's.  Which is pretty good company to be in.

Curious, I tested it on an excerpt of "The Return of the King" and found that it correctly identified Tolkein. Rats. I was hoping perhaps it would identify him as Stephen King (since his is the most frequent result), and that by implication I might actually write like Tolkein.

However, I was a little curious about the fact that none of the results were women.  So I tested it on a excerpt of Rosamund Pilcher's Winter Solstice, and it identified her as H.G. Wells.  Perhaps she's not well-known enough, so I tried Agatha Christie and got Mark Twain.


Dorothy Sayers was identified as H.P. Lovecraft.  I don't even know who that is. Toni Morrison was Vladimir Nabokov. I had to look him up. He was born in St. Petersburg in 1899.Wow!  Wrong gender, race, continent and century.  The only thing right about that was the hemisphere.

At least Jane Austen was recognizable.

Danielle Steel was another Stephen King.

So, take this with a grain of salt.  The moral of the story, I guess, is that we all pretty much write like Stephen King.  Probably due to the success of "On Writing."  Or because he pretty much typifies the modern standard style for genre fiction.

And, now that I have succumbed to the analytical temptation of the day... back to writing!

Wait, Wait!  Woo-hoo!  I tried another excerpt to pull up the Bradbury badge and got.. J.K. Rowling!  That's the one I'm using folks.

P.S. Interestingly enough, one of my contemporary short stories came up as Jane Austen. I know this is all totally off-the-wall, but I still have a serious case of the warm fuzzies!

P.P.S. My resume was analyzed as Isaac Asimov!  Can I put that ON the resume?  "By the way, I write like Isaac Asimov.  As you can clearly see."  Actually, it was probably the amount of technical jargon on there - and the mention of NASA - that triggered that label.

Monday, July 12, 2010

An Introduction

The more I work on my novel, The Golden Gryphon, the more I realize the need for an Introduction.  I've waffled on this for quite a while, but am finally committed to it.

I wrote a new version today:


Long ago, when the mountains were taller and the seas younger, a reclusive race of people lived between the Dagger Mountains and the Cobalt Sea.  The Hanorja were smaller than humans, less magical than elves, and not at all like dwarves.  For one thing, their menfolk  had no beards, and for another, they loathed being underground.  The common people possessed a common sort of magic, useful for lighting fires and preserving food through the long winters. Those descended from their kings were taller in height and gifted by Heaven with stronger magic in order to defend and rule their kingdom, which they called Belhanor.

The men and women (or rather, the hamen and hawen) of Belhanor  were an industrious people who lived by a strict code of honor.  They believed that everything they made should be beautiful as well as useful.  It is impossible to say how many artifacts in museums around the world today are actually of Hanorjan make, nor which mountain range upon which continent is “the Daggers” and which body of water,“The Cobalt Sea.”  The few scholars who acknowledge their existence believe that the Hanorja either died out or merged with humanity long ago.  Very little of their history remains, and what does has only been recently discovered.

This book you now hold in your hands is one of their stories.  It was unearthed from the archives of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., wrapped in brown paper and string, addressed in firm, Victorian handwriting to “Curator of Rare Books.” There was no postmark, and it had never been opened or read.

Until now.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day 7, 10:30 pm

I have reached the pathetic total of 9,460 words.  But I've gotten past the really difficult "exposition conversation" scene I have been dreading.  I cut out some foreshadowing that might be a little too much information.  Now just one more new scene to write and I can go back to cutting and pasting.

I am excited, however, because the stars seem to have aligned in such a way as to give me some alone time next week!  Yay!  Perhaps I can actually get some work done.  I doubt I'll have a complete draft in time to visit my grandmother, but I also doubt she'll like this particular story anyway.  It's not her genre. So that's okay.

In other news, Wen at On Words and Upwards is having a contest. It involves pineapple lumps.  I am addicted to pineapple lumps.  So, I'm in. You have been duly notified.

PS I just found out that Pineapple Lumps in New Zealand are not what I thought they were (sweetened pineapple bits.)  They are even better! Chocolate covered pineapple chews.  Now I MUST have them!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Let Me Rephrase the Question

Do you, personally, notice a difference, when reviewing a manuscript, between the parts that you wrote when you were feeling alert and focused, and the parts that you wrote when you really weren't in the mood?

In other words, is there any actual evidence to support the idea that we write less effectively when we are distracted?

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Question for You

Here's a question for all of you who write regularly:

I struggle with trying to write when my head isn't in the story.  Tonight, for example. It's 9:30 p.m., I've been trying to write for the past hour while DH watches TV in the same room, DS isn't even in the bath yet, I'm terribly anxious about my job search, and naturally I can't focus.  My gut says wait until the morning when my mind is fresh, but my conscience says "You've hardly written at all for the past three weeks!"

I can't help wondering how much use it is to do what I think of as "junk" writing when I can't really focus. I expect the result will be just as stale to the reader as it is to me.  I certainly wouldn't try to write a letter, balance the checkbook or plan a lesson in this frame of mind. But I keep hearing successful writers say that one must keep writing no matter what.

So, what do you think?  Have you found that work you did while distracted was worth doing?

(photo courtesy of

The Feeling Will Pass

I was looking for a writing quote this morning, and found this one. I can't resist posting it, as it accurately reflects my mood today:

"Very few people possess true artistic ability. It is therefore both unseemly and unproductive to irritate the situation by making an effort. If you have a burning, restless urge to write or paint, simply eat something sweet and the feeling will pass."

- Fran Liebowitz, American writer and humorist

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Recording my Book?

Hi everyone, I have a question for you.  Please excuse my technical idiocy.  I need to record my book somehow for my grandmother to listen to.  She has a CD player that she uses to listen to books from the library.  I believe she also has a tape player.  I got rid of my old boom box/tape recorder at our yard sale and have no way to record this now.  Any suggestions?

There is a webcam/microphone in my laptop but I have no clue how to use them. This particular model is supposed to have problems with the microphone anyway, but I didn't expect to use it so I didn't care when I bought it.  (HP Pavilion). I don't own an iPod or anything like that.  Any ideas?

Can I just say that I totally envy people who have all this technology?  Fancy cell phones that do everything but the laundry, iPods, iPads, Kindles, Nooks, MP-whatsises, Droids, PSP's, Wiis, DVR's, and God knows what else?

Okay, my son has a PSP but we don't know how to use any of the advanced features on it and he's upset that it can't connect to other players or take photos like a DS can, so now he wants a DS.  Not happening.  That's the problem with technology.  It never works the way you want it to, and there's always something better or newer.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Day 3, 10:30 p.m.

6673. Less than a thousand words progress, but it was a very busy day job-hunting online and filling out applications, as well as studying.  I miss the days of printing my resume on quality paper, signing my best signature to the cover letter, and hand addressing the envelope.

"Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort." ~ Helen Gurley Brown

Day 3, 9 a.m.

Life returns with a vengeance.  I didn't get any writing done yesterday.  Why in the world did I think I could find the mental space to do this?  Am I crazy?

Hoping to make a little progress today before I have to go study SAS for my job interview later this week.  Yes, study SAS.  That is, Statistical Analysis Software, for the uninitiated.  Eric knows what I mean.


 "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.  No, dammit!  Make that a triple shot cappuchino.  No syrup, no whipped cream, no sugar.  Just coffee.  On the double!"

Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 1, 7:30 a.m.

5723 words edited.  Easy peasy.  I've been working on Chapter One for months now.

The Great Push Begins

Twelve days.  One hundred thousand words.  The big rewrite begins.

Can I do it?  Only with commitment to my task.  And lots of caffeine.

I have enough material written to piece the whole thing together, except for the ending. I won't write the last chapter until I'm ready to be done.  But everything else is there, in some form or another.  It's just a matter of putting it all together.

Rolling up my sleeves.  Coffee close at hand.  All is quiet at 5 a.m. except the birds outside the door.

Egads, they are loud!  All the better to keep me awake.

Let's roll.

 (I was at the Art Museum on Saturday with a friend, then came home and watched 'Girl With a Pearl Earring.' I saw it as not just a perfect way to end the day at the museum, but a form of period research.  Now I feel fully inspired.  This is another Vermeer painting: Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid.  The maid is my heroine, Marenya, and I am the woman writing while she looks out the window thinking "When will you be done?")

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Darling Blogfest

I was searching for something to post, and found this little snippet in my archives. I can't resist posting it, even though it isn't fiction.  So, it's not quite a "darling" in the sense of something I didn't use in a WIP, but it is "darling" in the sense of a wonderful memory from my son's childhood.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I was babysitting my friend's daughter today. I took the kids to the park and when we left, I strapped my son into his carseat while two-year-old Amy waited. Or so I thought.

I looked up to see her fingers in the crack of the van door on the other side. She had opened it with the handle and was pushing the sliding panel back, millimeter by millimeter, with every ounce of strength in her pudgy arm.

"No, no, Amy!" I cried, rushing around the van to rescue her. I helped her into her carseat. "Don't do that again, Sweetie."

Her brow furrowed and she focused her blueberry eyes intently on my face. "Why?"

"Because your fingers could get crushed," I explained. "The door is too heavy for you."

She frowned. "But I already opened it myself!"

"But it could crush your fingers." I demonstrated for her how the door could slide backwards once opened. "It would really hurt and you would cry and cry."

"Would it be an owwie?" she asked.

"A very big owwie," I said. "You would probably have to go to the hospital."

"Would the doctor come?"

"Yes, the doctor would come and the nurses and it would really hurt."

My son, who resents being scolded almost as much as he resents going to the doctor, listened with horrified detachment, but Amy persisted.

"And would my mommy see me and would she cry and cry?"

"Yes, she probably would," I said, thinking I had made an effective impression. "And you would cry too. So don't do that again."

I strapped her in and gave her her sippy cup, then prepared to shut the door, thinking of the errands I needed to run before we could go home and have lunch.

"Would I lie down?" Amy asked.


"Would I lie down?"

"Lie down where, honey. I don't know what you're talking about."

"Would I lie down at the hosabel?"

Suddenly I had a mental picture of her in a little hospital gown, lying on a bed with eyes closed and flaxen hair strewn across the pillow, while the doctor and the nurses and Mommy wailed and wrung their hands.

"Why are you laughing, Mrs. Hardy?"

Deciding to abandon the hospital, I replied, “Because you’re being very funny. Now drink your milk,” and shut the door.