February 28, 2011

creature feature: unicorns

Unicorns are the universal mythical creature. You'll find them in nearly every fantasy world for a reason: unicorns are awesome.

The traditional unicorn is a horse-like creature with a horn protruding from its head, and it has the tail of a lion, a billy-goat's beard, and cloven hooves.

Medieval unicorns are the ones we are most familiar with. They have been romanticized and sadly overused. The most interesting thing I find about unicorns is that they are not native to Europe as would be believed. The first accounts of unicorns are from travelers' accounts while in India, though the Indian unicorn was probably more of rhinoceros type creature than the pristine horse-creature we think of today.

February 25, 2011

review: griffin rising

Griffin Rising by Darby Karchut

The only creature who can harm an angel is another angel.

Armed with the power to control the ancient elements of Earth and Fire, sixteen-year-old Griffin is determined to complete his apprenticeship and rise to the rank of Terrae Angeli.

But first, he must overcome a brutal past if he is to survive in this world. Will the perseverance of his mentor and the love of a mortal girl give Griffin the courage he needs to face the monster still haunting him?

February 24, 2011

world-building with harry potter

by SP Sipal over at Harry Potter for Writers

The Wide-Angle View of World Building

Most readers cite JKR's world-building as the lure that drew them into the Harry Potter series to begin with. JKR riddled the text with so much fabulously imaginative, fun, and complete detail that readers fully believed, for the few hours they were engrossed in the books, that they were indeed living in a world among wizards and witches, goblins and house-elves, giants and ghosts, and basilisks and hippogriffs.

JKR uses many layers to create her world. Her rich details come into focus through both a wide-angle and zoom lens. The reader experiences these angles simultaneously, but in this post, we'll look at the wide.... >> read more

Zooming in on Your World

In the last post, The Wide-Angle View of World Building, we looked at how JKR used a wide-angle lens to provide the feel of a fully bustling world for her reader. Now let's look closer at the rich texture she provides through a zoom lens.

JKR filled her world with such minute details, and loads of them, that her critics claimed it was over done. But consider her primary market--kids eat this stuff up, quite literally.... >> read more

That Extra Zing

When studying the phenomenal world-building of JK Rowling, I like to break her craft apart into three sets: The Wide Angle Lens, the Zoom Lens, and That Extra Zing.

In building your set, not only do you want your reader to experience a fully alive, intriguing world in wideness and detail, but you want some of those details to sizzle with extra zing.... >> read more

February 23, 2011

writing YOUR way

Over the past few days, I've been reading several "Writer How To" posts on various blogs. They give lists of "do this" and "don't do that." For a while, I believed these posts. I believed I wasn't really a writer unless I was doing these things and avoiding those things. I can tell you right now...

There is no right or wrong way to be a writer.

February 22, 2011

point of view

Several of the books I have read lately have had interesting point-of-view choices. Leviathan has two third person limited POVs that switch every two chapters. Griffin Rising has a mixture of third person limited, omniscient, and first person over three or more characters. The Time Traveler’s Wife has two first person POVs with no alternating pattern. There is nothing wrong with any of these choices. The author effectively conveys the story with the chosen point-of-view.

When I write, I use third-person limited. I have dabbled in first person a few times, trying to branch out, but I just can’t do it. For some reason, I can’t get into a story when I write from a first person POV. I can get into second person before first person.

How do you choose which point-of-view to write with? Do you know the difference?

February 21, 2011

mummy's curse

My husband and I (more me than him) have been on a Psych binge as of late, and one of the episodes got me thinking about curses. The episode, if you’re familiar with the show, is “Shawn (and Gus) of the Dead,” the finale to season two. In the episode, Shawn and Gus investigate the disappearance of a 3,000-year-old mummy from a museum. Gus is superstitious and believes that the sarcophagus is protected by the Mummy’s Curse, and he won't break the threshold of the exhibit.

Also known as the Curse of the Pharaohs, the Mummy’s Curse refers to the belief that any person who disturbs the mummy of an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh is placed under a curse. Priests, in order to protect the tomb and preserve the purity of the ritual, placed these curses on the tombs.

February 18, 2011

twitter weigh-in: writing advice

I conducted an interview with various writers this week, and the answers I received were wide-ranged.

The question was...

In a tweet or less, what bit of advice do you think is vital to a writer's success?

@elstupacabra I think "write what you know" can be detrimental. If you do just that, you never branch out or challenge yourself.

@nlowell persistence only works if you can actually, you know, write.

@sduzy496 I would say never give up and always keep your dreams in the forefront

February 17, 2011

revising a manuscript – summation

Stow the manuscript away, the longer the better. Revisions are best exercised under an objective eye.

Don’t begin spell-checking and proofreading. Look at the big picture of the novel. Feel out the key points and evaluate the novel as a whole. Outline a new, better draft, working with plot points and character arcs. Write the story again. Rinse. Repeat as needed.

Elaborate on the outline, working with each chapter and its scenes. Consider the layers of the story. Perfect the execution of the story.

Analyze each individual sentence. Proofread. Spell-check.

[each heading is linked to the longer articles]

February 16, 2011

filler words

Filler words are the linguistic manifestation of evil.

Some people may have different lists and a different definition for filler words than I do, but these are the words that should be cut if possible. You'll notice that they're mostly used as adverbs. I call these empty adverbs.

quickly     suddenly     very     really     rather     quite     extremely     fairly     pretty     ...etc.

These words fail to add anything to a sentence.

February 15, 2011

revising a manuscript - line-edits

For anyone that’s taken any sort of writing course, line-editing is by far the most familiar revision method. Line-editing looks at a story sentence by sentence, word by word. I won’t lie. Doing this effectively takes a lot of time and effort, and it may take several line-edits of a manuscript before it is virtually error free.

When I first started writing all those years ago, I hardly revised. I’ll admit it. I didn’t quite understand the concept. If I didn’t like the way something turned out, I would trash it and start over, or I would forget about it all together. It never crossed my mind to fix the problems. When I began writing essays in high school, I learned how to revise sentence by sentence, checking for grammar, misspelling, poor word usage, and poor word order. Sadly, my practice of revision never strayed from that. Not until just recently. Line-edits are a wonderful tool; there’s no doubt about that. But as I said in the previous two posts, they shouldn’t be the first form of revision that we undertake. We first have to address the story as a whole.

February 14, 2011

happy valentine's day!

Celebrate in the expensive wine-and-dinery that is Valentine's Day with pink, sparkly hearts, roses, and chocolates (Another point for you, Hallmark). If you're single, treat yourself. There's no reason only couples can participate.

Still, my favorite Valentine's Day messages are those delivered by dwarfs wearing golden wings and carrying harps.

His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad,
His hair is as dark as a blackboard.
I wish he was mine, he's really divine,
The hero who conquered the Dark Lord. 

So, wear your lurid pink robes, obtain yourself a Love Potion (just not from Professor Snape), and enjoy the excuse to indulge in chocolates from your "secret admirer".

(song from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, p 238)

February 11, 2011

review: leviathan

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. The Leviathan is a living airship, the most formidable airbeast in the skies of Europe.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With the Great War brewing, Alek's and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way - taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure. One that will change both their lives forever.

February 10, 2011

revising a manuscript – honing in

Originally, I was going to write about line-edits after macro-edits, but I feel like there is an important stage between them. This is the subtle stage of revisions that has a lot of impact on the final result.

Let’s draw up another outline. This time, we’ll analyze the project as a whole, and then each chapter individually. We’re still not worried about spelling or word usage here. This is all about theme, character development, and plot. So, tweak the outline you made for the macro-edits; adjust the projected outline to fit the actual story. Hopefully, there wasn’t much change, but if there was, that’s okay too.

February 9, 2011

naming your characters

I woke up late this morning due to the two feet of snow smothering my house. Correlation or not, they both happened.

For some of us, naming characters is no big deal, and for others, we can't write the story til all of the characters have names. Here are some links for good character naming sites:

Behind the Name

They have a database of first names from all over the world, both modern and historical, including pronunciation and etymology. They also have a random name generator.

Seventh Sanctum

They have a ridiculously long list of random name generators, including Lovecraftian, pirate ship, wrestler, and Greek-sounding. They have many other random generators that are a lot of fun. They even have character generators, producing short profiles of various characters.

Social Security Administration

Popular baby names in the U.S. for any given year, back to 1880.

Baby Names World at Parents Connect

You can of course use pretty much any baby names website, but I like this one the best. It ranks names by current popularity, offers a user rating of each name, meaning, nicknames, related names, a line graph of the name's popularity over the years, and a poll for users about their particular enjoyment of the name.

February 8, 2011

revising a manuscript – macro-editing

When you physically can’t stay away from your manuscript any longer, take that bad boy out of the drawer, dig it out from behind all those crazy folder names, and put it front and center. Usually, our immediate reaction to seeing the manuscript again is to dive straight into looking for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. We start out small and work toward the bigger stuff. Like I said last week, we need to work the other way around. We need to start big and then work our way toward the teensy little line-edits.

So, what is macro-editing? We have to look at the big picture of the novel. Not sentence by sentence, scene by scene, or even chapter by chapter. We have to look at the book as a whole, feel out the plot, conflict, characters, motivations, and themes. We have to make big decisions about the book. Is it the story we intended to write? Does the conclusion make sense? Do the characters meet their original goal? What themes are present? Can we define each character's arc? What sort of structure does the plot follow?

February 7, 2011

creature feature: jinn

I’ve always been fascinated by Arabian lore. When I was a kid, Disney’s Aladdin was one of my favorite films, and it still is. Since, I’ve devoured every Arabian tale I could find, anything that shares the folklore and mythology of the Middle East and South Asia. One Thousand and One Nights, or Arabian Nights, will probably always be my favorite collection of ancient myths and legends, easily favored over The Illiad, The Odyssey, and even the Prose Edda.

What fascinate me most are the creatures in Arabian mythology.

The jinn are the most famous of these creatures. There is one belief that every person is assigned their own jinn at birth, what we might consider a conscience but with both good and bad parts.

February 4, 2011

review: timeless

Timeless by Alexandra Monir
When tragedy strikes Michele Windsor’s world, she is forced to uproot her life and move across the country to New York City, to live with the wealthy, aristocratic grandparents she’s never met. In their old Fifth Avenue mansion filled with a century’s worth of family secrets, Michele discovers a diary that hurtles her back in time to the year 1910. There, in the midst of the glamorous Gilded Age, Michele meets the young man with striking blue eyes who has haunted her dreams all her life – a man she always wished was real, but never imagined could actually exist. And she finds herself falling for him, into an otherworldly, time-crossed romance.

Michele is soon leading a double life, struggling to balance her contemporary high school world with her escapes into the past. But when she stumbles upon a terrible discovery, she is propelled on a race through history to save the boy she loves – a quest that will determine the fate of both of their lives.

February 3, 2011

revising a manuscript - let it simmer

I’m going to have a short series on revisions, starting today. I’m not sure how many posts will be involved; there may in fact be several weeks’ worth. Only the future can tell us. Once we know for certain, I'll be sure to post a summary of everything.

You’ve finished the first draft of your novel.

*asplosion of confetti on your face*

February 2, 2011

more document organization

Work in drafts.

Now what do I mean by that?

When we start new stories, we generally create a new file with the working title of the story as the file name. That's all fine and dandy, but what do you do when you finish the draft and start revisions. Do you go back in the same file and begin making changes?

If that's you, stop. Stop what you're doing right now.

February 1, 2011

thematic endeavors

Now, all through school, when we'd finish reading a short story or novel for class, the teacher would ask, "what is the theme?"

Honestly, I never knew.

We find theme in the spaces between the writing, in the margins, and in the counters of individual letters. To really define the theme of a story, we have to ask hard questions:

What is the story really about? If you had to boil down its essence to a  single word or phrase, what would it be? What single idea or quality is it about? What are you trying to say?