Posts Tagged With: writer’s process

Roleplay and the Writer: An Exercise in Immersion

If I got into MMORPGs for one thing outside of story and entertainment, it was Roleplay. Now, some of you may read ‘Roleplay’ and think of the sort of kinky stuff come couples do involving costumes and toys and such. As I am talking about a game where I play an elf, this is unlikely the same time of Roleplay.

Roleplay—or RP—in games generally means that you create your character, but give them a backstory and personality. You go through the gaming world as if you are this character, who lives in this world, and who may or may not have been witness to key events from the game’s story. Your character interacts with other characters and you form bonds with them—good or bad—as you move through your own plots and watch the character change before your eyes.

It’s a very immersive process, really, and it has given me better insight on getting inside my character’s head.

For the sake of clarity and focus, I play World of Warcraft. WoW operated on an instant messaging chat for communication between players. This is the method I prefer RP in for the sake of immersion. When RPing with someone else in this setup, you don’t have tons of time to respond. Your partner is waiting somewhere on the other end of the game you’re the next thing your character will do or say. You can’t respond two hours later. You can’t get up and come back to it after you’ve had some time to think. You’ve got maybe a few minutes to read what they’re saying, assess the situation, and determine how the character you’ve crafted will respond. You make the circumstances of past RPs into consideration as you get into your character’s head and make each move.

For example, not too long ago, I was involved in a storyline where my character—an Elven mage—had her son kidnapped. Her allies in recovering him were the boy’s instructor—a rather powerful priest—an old friend of her family—a burly, disgruntled paladin—and a man she’d been cultivating a relationship with over several months—a warlock nobleman.

Through magical means, they find where the kidnapper is keeping her son, managing to avoid the traps waiting for them until they reach the building…only to find that boy is gone but for some blood and a scrap from his robe.

Now, over the past few months, the warlock character had become very close to my mage and her son. The kidnapper was actually one of his enemies and he held a lot of anger on himself for failing to protect the boy. Seeing that they were too late only made it worse.

And this character has a literally explosive temper. I’m talking fire everywhere. He was radiating flames, screaming like a madman, and every so often his magic would burst, causing damage to the building they were in. At the time, he was with two characters—my mage and the priest.

This had been an aspect of the warlock that his player and I had been discussing: the idea that she should see him at his worst. I had to think of how she would react. What she would do. And take in past RPs to know what would affect those actions.

In this case, it was the knowledge that she had seen him lose control like this, briefly, when they’d discovered who’d taken her son.

Had she not seen this, her reaction would have been pure terror. Frightened screaming. Possibly trying to talk to him, but through panic and begging him to calm down. She may have even let the priest—whom had never seen such a reaction from the warlock—knock him unconscious.

However, because she had seen a hint of this before, I was able to turn to a core aspect of her personality. My mage can keep calm in a stressful situation if she has logic to cling to. In this case, it was knowing that she could use the scrap of her son’s clothing to divine where he might be. Having seen his flaring temper before, and knowing the warlock for who he was, she was able to take the situation differently.

She was still scared out of her wits—the man was losing control of his magic right before her eyes—but she was able to talk to him, and her worry for his personal safety overrode the fear she was feeling. She was able to give him logic to cling to as well, and he was able to calm down enough to tell them to get away from him so he could release the magic that was currently threatening to overpower him.

As writers, it is important that we are able to get right inside our characters heads and live in their moments. And nothing has taught me to do so better than knowing there is someone waiting for my response to their own actions.

It is an exercise I would recommend trying, if you are in to RPGs. If not, try to write as if you are. As if you’re trapped in a moment, and someone is waiting to see what you’ll do next.

Because your reader certainly will be.

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NaNoWri-Elephants.

So, last time I promised my return to steady updates. Getting a seasonal job turned that into a bit of a fib. We shall actually get back on track now.

But let’s get rolling, even if we’re a little late.

It’s NaNoWriMo and aspiring writers everywhere are trying to buckle down and prepare themselves for a daily word count of 1500 to reach their goal. A 50 000 word novel in a single month. It’s quite the feat! A feat I, admittedly, have failed year after year to accomplish. In years past, school work kept me occupied, and now I’m working two jobs to get some extra cash this holiday season. So, I have decided on a new strategy this year.

It’s called the Elephant Method…or something similar.

Writers can often find themselves needlessly distracted by the Internet. Maybe they needed a picture reference. Perhaps they were just looking for that perfect word. Next thing they know, they’ve spent an hour surfing social media and have lost momentum.

The Elephant Method is one solution for this. When the writer hits a point where they just can’t think of the right word…they use ‘elephant’ as a placeholder. Then they can keep writing and return to it during their second run through, and focus solely on replacing the elephants.

So, your sentence could read “It was just past elephant, and Professor Elephant’s office smelt of elephant, elephant, and fresh elephant” on the first run.

When you get around to editing, the sentence will then read “It was just past eleven at night and Professor Aubrey’s office smelt of cigarettes, ink, and fresh vomit.”

Pretty simple, provided you don’t forget an elephant or have elephants in your story.

But the idea is to keep you in your writing zone, preventing you from losing focus while you search for the perfect word or description. Remember, a rough draft is rough for a reason! You can substitute any word you might want– poodle, mango, chicken, butterfingers, I don’t know. It’s all up to you!

Now, I’m off to a late start, but. I’d best get back to mango-ing mangos with mangos.

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My Favourite Place for Names

A while back I wrote about names. I offered some stories and strategies I use for coming up with names. What I didn’t talk about, however, was how sometimes names just won’t come. Everything you try doesn’t sound right. Or you aren’t sure where to start looking when it comes to names for people from different cultures. Or maybe it’s not a person you need to name, it’s a place. What do you do then?

Find yourself a name generator.

I have a personal favourite for this task that I wish to share. Fantasy Name Generators was a website I came across while bored browsing the web. The Fantasy Name Generator is an endless source of naming delight. Their random generators touch all corners of your writing needs, from fictional people in a modern setting, to fantasy worlds, and the realm of fanfiction.

Under the ‘Real Names’ section, seekers will find three columns listing generators by ethnicity. The names range from modern to archaic to ancient in some cultures. Within, you can select whether you want a male or female name, as the family names generated are the same for both, you can easily go through dozens of names before finding one that you think fits.

Some warning here though. As some cultures use different writing systems from us and have different naming conventions, it is always best to do some follow-up research on a name. Make sure you have the western spelling right, and maybe ask someone from that culture if the name looks right.

Under the Fantasy Names tab, you get a strange and assorted list. Anything from Amazons to serial killers to vampires to wizards can have their name generated here. You get goblin names like Plyz or Slivak. Detective names like Norah Sharpe or Dan Maxwell. Superhero names like Venombite, or Doctor Smooth Vulture.

Okay, that last one was a bit silly. Some of them are.

The Pop Culture section is a fanfiction writer’s dream. While it’s not as extensive, it does focus on the bigger names: Harry Potter, Dr. Who, Star Wars and such. Great if you’re trying to name that minor original character from your Avatar: The Last Airbender story. Or if you just can’t decide what to name your next World of Warcraft character.

But for some, naming a character is easy. It’s the places around them—the cityies and cafes the parks and mountains—that stump the writer-to-be. Your protagonist could have a date at The Royal Junction or buy their morning brew from Big Boulder Coffee or spend their nights with friends at Club Embassy. Information is exchanged during a foggy night at Sunnyside Memorial Park. The possibilities here are endless.

But that’s not where it ends. Need a title for that catchy tune the bard is always singing? They have a Song Name generator. They’ve got Guild Names and Spell Names and Afterlife Names and Currency Names. Within their “Other” section, you’ll find all sorts of miscellaneous names you never knew you needed!

But this site offers more than just names. Stuck on an idea for your next short story? It offers plot descriptions and prompts. Need an actual idea for a city? It won’t only give you a name, it will give you some history and attractions for you to use as a springboard when you develop your world. The descriptions can be tweaked of course, to better fit your story.

The Fantasy Name Generator is easily one of my favourite resources for names. Here’s hoping it may become one of yours.

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Wading Through Word Vomit

My writing has suffered in the past few months due to my being caught in a sinking pit of Word Vomit.

As writers or readers, you may know this term. Word Vomit is a lot like it sounds—the act of spewing words onto a page, no matter how good or bad they sound, whether they make sense or not. Your first draft of anything is going to be mostly Word Vomit. As you read through it and re-write and edit, the Vomit gets cleaned off until three or four drafts later, where you will have a polished piece.

But I’ve always found Word Vomit frustrating in its own ways. Writing’s Block likes to sneak into even the sloppiest of writing, and Motivational Death results shortly after. For the past few months, I have been working on a new writing project. I got six chapters in before I realized I needed a new chapter four to fix the pacing and keep my POV alternations in order. So, with a suggestion from a well-read co-worker, I set out to revise this part of the piece.

I only recently managed to get to a point where I felt I could move on with the story. And ‘Vomit’ is an apt description for what I wrote. The chapter is a mess. While events are mostly in order, there are entire sections containing poor description, and other sections where I literally just wrote [MORE DESC] at the end of a paragraph. It was frustrating for me, to leave even a rough draft sadly incomplete. Yet it helped me see what was so essential about the Word Vomit process.

Yes, it’s messy. Yes, your word choices are terrible. Yes, your descriptions are confusing or incomplete. Yes, your characters are inconsistent. Yet even within the chaos, there is some order. And that order is just enough to let you soldier on ahead with your writing. Even with bracketed comments reminding me that more description was needed and a jumbled writing flow, I see where things are headed. There’s a series of events laid out, not clearly, but more like a street sign in a thick fog. I need to get close to see it, but it’s there.

Word Vomit is like the nervous system of your novel. It’s built on top of your outline—the bones—and is then supplemented by the edits and fixes and cuts you make later—muscle and skin. No matter how you hate it, once the project is complete, you will see how the Word Vomit supported the polished piece.

Chapter Four is an unholy mess, but I can see what it’s trying to be. And that’s enough to help me soldier onwards to Chapter Five.

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Story Mapping…With Actual Maps!

Open up your average fantasy book and you’re likely to find a map on the very first page. This map can be simple or detailed, display an entire city or several neighbouring countries or even a whole continent. They give the reader an idea of where a character is in relation to other places. They show us how the setting is laid out. They present the protagonist’s home, hangouts, and places he or she prefers to avoid.

They’re also great tools for when you’re writing.

Your setting is an absolutely massive part of your novel and, like everything else, it needs to be kept organized. You can’t have your protagonist know the location of a place in relation to his home in one book, and then have it be in a completely different location by the next book (unless the owners changed locations or someone moved, of course). But consistency is important, and it’s nice for readers to have something visual to reference.

So, I highly recommend making your own setting map.

“Make a map?” You might be saying, “But I know nothing of cartography!”

Don’t worry. This map doesn’t need every street marked out or every town listed (it can if you want, but it’s not necessary). For example, the map of Camorr in Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora is simplistic. As Camorr is a city-state made up of various islets, only those locations are labeled with names like “Shade’s Hill” or “The Shifting Market.” Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon goes even simpler, showing us the shape of a continent, a few boundaries between kingdoms, and the locations of three or four major cities.

Say your map is of the city where all the story (or most of it) takes place. You might choose only to label the districts. It’s simple, but if your character lives in “Merchant Quarter” and needs to get to the “Freedocks,” a glance at a map will give an idea of where your character is going, how long of a trip it might be, and even the type of area they’re going from and headed to. The Freedocks might be located near the Temple District, and thus be busy, but respectable. Or they could border Murder Row, and be a place to avoid after dark.

You could go a step further and add in key locations. The protagonist’s home, place of work, and usual drinking hole could all be dotted in. Major landmarks could be labelled. Drawing a map might also help you learn a few things about your character. A character with financial stability would probably live in a nice location, like an apartment near a mall or an area with nice shops, cafes, restaurants, or markets. If your character is poor, how far do they travel for work? Chances are a maid from the slums who works in a manor has quite the commute.

For larger maps, you need not add every town and village in the kingdom, but you could add those the heroes pass through so the reader can trace their path. Label areas the heroes may venture into, like forests or lakes or fortresses. It will help you make sure your characters are headed south and don’t start going east because you forgot where the wizard’s tower was.

You can make your map on poster board or just scribble designs in your notebook. Add as many details as you want or as few. Maps are great references, and you’ll find you characters navigating their surroundings much easier because of them.

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Journalistic Endeavors

When I was a kid, I didn’t understand the appeal of journals. Every television show had an episode where someone got into someone else’s journal. Commercials advertised journals that were voice activated and girls everywhere were thrilled. I got a journal for my birthday one year and wrote two entries in it before I forgot it existed. The only other time I did journaling after that was for an assignment in university, and I’m pretty sure I just threw up my hands, said, “Screw it!” and scribbled most of my entries last minute.

My problem is that I don’t like writing about myself. Considering how I run this blog, I seem to be getting better about it. A personal journal is still out of the question. These days, I gather multitudes of journals for different reasons.

Have you ever had a dream that was so fantastic and inspiring, only to forget about it mere moments after you wake up? Ideas can come and go like this two. One second you have an amazing bout of creativity and it drives you to your computer, only to fade one you open Word or whichever writing program you prefer. Journals, as it turns out, are a great solution to these problems.

Much like some people keep “Dream Journals” at their bedside to record their dreams, an author can keep one at hand to record ideas when a bout of inspiration hits. Journals come in a number of sizes, and a small one will easily fit into a purse or a back pocket. These are ideal for those on-the-go ideas that come from nowhere and need to be scribbled down right away.

There are slightly larger journals—ones roughly the size of your average hard-cover book. While these can be used to record anything from striking lines to entire paragraphs, I prefer them to record notes. Anything from characters to world-building to sketches of maps and lists of deities reside in my medium-sized journals. It’s vital to remember the important factors of your story, its characters, and their world. Otherwise, you might forget that interesting subplot, or that secondary character’s motivation!

For actual writing, I prefer the education-sized journals. More accurately labelled as notebooks, they’re a nice large size for planting down bits and pieces of fiction writing when a computer is not readily available. It was fairly common once for writers to start with handwritten rough drafts before typing the second draft out onto a computer (or a type-writer, if you want to go further back). It’s a valid practice. Handwriting gets out a lot of the word vomit, and as I re-write it onto the computer, I can easily see places where a bit more description might be needed, or where I might want to swap sentences or entire paragraphs for better flow.

So, while I doubt journals will become places for me to pen my biggest fears and most powerful thoughts, they are serving their purpose. I’d recommend a journal as a tool for any author, budding or established. Just make sure you have a few good pens to go with them!

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Writing Ahead Without Losing Your Place

Writing can be a rather disorganized task, especially when it comes to planning out scenes. We all have stuff we enjoy writing: extended dialogue, scenery descriptions, machine porn, romantic sequences, epic battles. As our fingers itch to type these parts, the details play over and over in our minds until we have them more or less solidified. We can’t wait to toss them all out onto the page.

Except, there’s a scene or two before them in the chapter. Some interaction we haven’t quite got worded or an action sequence we aren’t entirely sure of. Maybe there’s a few research notes we haven’t gotten to yet. We want to maintain our daily writing quota, but trying to get through this scene leaves us stuck. It’s one of those “stare blankly at three sentences for several hours” kinds of situations. We know what should happen before the scene we’re ready to write, but we aren’t quite sure how to word it. How do you move past this writing road block and get your daily word count in?

Easy. Write the scene you want to write. The trick is not to allow yourself to go too far ahead.

There’s nothing really wrong with writing some things out of order. You simply have to make sure that everything established in that scene fits once you go back to write the stuff before. For example, I recently started work on what would be the sixth chapter of a book by starting in the middle. One section I skipped over writing was minor. The scene has a thief waking up to find himself in a greenhouse after being knocked unconscious in an alley on his way home. Since I had more or less solidified his confrontation with the other characters in the scene, I simply wrote a note to [ADD GREENHOUSE DESCRIPTION] for when I came back to that part. Part of it was my eagerness to get to the dialogue, but the fact that I wanted to have some references on-hand for the description played a part as well.

But that’s only for maybe one or two paragraphs. I also have a half a chapter to write before this scene comes into play.

When my character wakes up, I shift the scene by mentioning the last things he saw before blacking out and then comparing them to what’s new, so I need to make certain the previous scene ends on those notes. I also have the character retrieve a letter from inside his jacket, so I have to remember to write the scene he’s given the letter by another thief. It’s easier to keep track of things like this within a single chapter.

I don’t recommend going forward like this for something extremely plot relevant though, especially if the characters make a big discovery or if there’s a lot of exposition involved unless your story is both well-planned and documented. In cases like this, I’d recommend writing the scenes out by hand in a notebook. Then you can use then as references once you’re ready to type the scene out.

It helps to keep writing ahead in small distances. If you go too far, you risk creating confusion that will be a pain to edit later. I find moving ahead in small bursts helps me upkeep my writing quota in addition to allowing me to figure out how to words the events taking place around those scenes.

Do you sometimes write ahead?

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Where The Thousand Words Come In

I love world-building. Of all the things that will suck me into a book and force me to buy all of the author’s works, the world is one of them. Our world is full of detail and amazing locations and wondrous sights. It’s only fair that the worlds of fiction—whether set in the real world or a fantasy one—be just as detailed.

 

I have a private blog, sadly neglected as it is, devoted entirely to images. Photographs of faraway cities, elaborate costumes, artist’s renderings of worlds both real and imagined grace its pages. Some of you may have something similar. A Pintrest account maybe. Or a simple file folder devoted to anything that inspires you.

I find having a resource like this to be immensely useful. For all our imagination, we writers sometimes fall short on how to describe something. We know the villain lives in an imposing citadel, but what kind of imposing citadel? Are there spikes and polished black stone, or living gargoyles and slick grey walls? Say your character has to go to Turkey to discover the next big clue. But you’ve never been to a Turkish market before, and certainly can’t afford to travel! Luckily, many before you have and they took a lot of pictures.

I find having an image in front of me helps determine my word choice. Even if I’m only basing my setting off of an image, it’s a sturdy canvas that I can add my own flourishes to. Yes, it’s a picture of a hidden beach inside the cavern, but it’s not the only thing I’m seeing. I’m also seeing the sirens lying in wait, or the smugglers who stash their goods in holes hidden by runic magic carved into the stone.

References help because they force you to think about how you would describe the scene to give someone the best impression possible. Without a good reference point, a writer risks falling back on vague phrasing or descriptors they’ve read a hundred times before, which may or may not reflect the place they’re trying to represent. Vague or overused descriptions don’t add to world building, they take from it.

But an image can’t be the entirety of the description. To help build a world, the writer must engage the reader’s other senses as well. Your research will help there. Knowing what’s being sold in the market will help you determine the smells. Knowing how the market environment is will help you better write interactions between characters (with some of your researched wildlife as background music). Talk to people who have been to these countries influencing your fiction, whether they were just visiting or lived there for a time. Even if your city or country is fictional, talking to someone from the area you’re basing your writing on will help you better understand the atmosphere and culture, and therefore help you better write it.

Know specific smells or noteworthy sounds. “Spices” doesn’t tell me much about your world in the way that “cinnamon and cardamom in round glass jars” does. “Bird calls” don’t give the same imagined resonance as “the shriek of long-necked buzzards.”

Whether your story takes places in the far future, the distant past, today, or in worlds that do not exist, A little thought, solid research, and some inspirational artwork can bring your prose a long way.

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The Profit in Pleasure

I could easily make a Twitter called “Erotica My Mom Tells Me To Write.”

It all started about a year ago. I was scoping my Facebook page when I noted that someone posted a link to an article dealing with a book series involving dinosaur erotica.

I’m going to repeat that for you. Dinosaur. Erotica.

Something that ridiculous sounding is just begging to have the link clicked. It was just as weird and awkward as it sounds, while simultaneously being the most hilarious thing I’d ever seen. Of course, I shared this story with my mom. Along with some information about erotica that probably spurred her new method of making my eyes roll.

The creation of e-books like the Kobo or the Kindle have caused a mass boost in erotica sales. No longer do you have to walk into the local book shop and awkwardly keep your head down while paying for your werewolf/vampire/unicorn/zombie/whatever-you’re-into erotic novels. You can buy your favourite kinky books in the comfort of your own home, with no employees trying to hold back their judging grins while bagging your purchase.

So why is my mom making erotica jokes? Because I told her that, in one article I read, the author of the dinosaur erotica said her work was selling so well that she was able to quit her job and start going to school part time.

I’ve been told by others that they have friends—usually professors of some sort—who write erotica on the side and can afford to spend entire winters skiing because of it. Another case I heard was of a writer whose entire living revolves around erotic short stories. She pays all of her bills and can afford to go to Cuba every year with the money she makes.

So, yes, while it can be annoying to have my mom constantly suggest things like “statue erotica” or “dragon-unicorn-threesome erotica” or whatever weird crap she makes up on the spot to annoy me, she’s not exactly wrong in suggesting it. Formulaic and profitable, writing the most bizarre tales of lust under a false name is a great way for an author to supplement their income while putting their actual name on what they really wish to be writing.

People who discourage others from the path of authorship often use the “you won’t make a lot of money” reasoning to do so. And this is true. Not every writer gets a six digit publishing deal, nor does every writer become a best seller who can produce a new book every one or two years. Much like some of your favourite child actors, some writers maybe have one or two publications before moving on with different careers. And, as much as some of us would like to, there’s no denying the success of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Does that mean I might take my mom’s joking advice and turn to erotica to make some money? There was a point when I’d say absolutely not.

Though, considering I have no idea how to even deal with erotica, I can’t say the possibility is in the near future. I can’t imagine I’ll get much writing done when I’m too busy laughing at myself—being the mature adult that I am.

What do you think, readers?

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The Inspiration in the Revision

A word of advice writers: If your plot is so complicated that you can’t keep details in check, it’s definitely going to be too complicated for your audience.

I’m speaking from experience. I’ve been neglecting the rough draft of one of my novels because I wasn’t sure how to fix what turned out to be an overcomplicated plot. The more I tried to fix it, the more complications I created and the less sense everything made. I was horribly confused by the details.

So I decided it was time to backtrack.

The scary thing about having to re-work a crucial part of your story is that you might have to completely re-write everything. It can feel like you wasted weeks of your life, as well as fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty thousand words. In my case, I estimate I’ll have to re-write a third of my book, most of that being the ending chapters.

No job is without its frustrations. Oddly enough, I feel more motivated to return to this story now. I’m fairly confident in these changes, liking some of them even better than what I had originally written. Once I get to the end, I think it will feel like I’m writing something completely new. Probably something better.

Writing is not as simple as some people think. If it were, all those people who say they’re thinking of writing a novel would have written one. If you’ve written an entire rough draft, there’s a sense of accomplishment to that. You know you’ve still got a long way to go, but there’s this great rush and you’re so damned overjoyed at what you’ve done.

So having to re-do a large portion of that can feel so overwhelming. Where inspiration once flowed, there’s nothing but annoyance. The worst feeling is when you know something needs to be fixed, but you have no idea how to fix it. Though I would go through each chapter, editing word choices and description and bits that didn’t feel right, I would eventually run into a massive roadblock. It was usually at a point where I knew a chapter would need to be re-written, but I didn’t know how. With no ideas on how to fix the issues within my narrative, I eventually turned to other projects, leaving my rough draft to collect metaphorical dust.

A new idea brings new inspirations and new writing challenges. Yes, I’ve possibly fixed the major errors in my plot’s climax, but how do I fix several points along the way? Why did so-and-so go and see this one character in this revision? Did he even need to go and see that character? Do I scrap some chapters entirely? There’s so many questions and so many chapters to fix.

Writing is a lot of work. Re-writing can be more so. Hopefully, you find your revised ideas as promising as I find mine.

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