Who wants to date a character?

Two posts in a week! I know, I’m setting really high standards for myself, but hey, speaking of high standards! My Twitter writing group is hosting a series of Valentine’s Day blog events, including the famous Date Auction. Because what good is writing male characters if we cannot swoon over them and invite you to do the same?

date

Today’s Perfect Date is Alahir Khiyamat, from my fantasy maybe-a-trilogy-who-knows Daystar. Say hi, Alahir!

Al: She bribed me with tea, that’s the only reason I’m here.

…..um, right.

al

Featuring Keith Longhorn as Alahir

1. What’s he look like? Eyes, hair, any tattoos or scars? What’s his style?

^ He looks mostly like that, but skinnier and with somewhat darker skin, and the yellowish eyes common to his people. Those into tattoos are in the right place! Alahir has an intricate black tattoo running up his left arm, a mark of his position as a Scion swordsman. Warning: don’t ask him about it unless you want to spend the entire date hunting for secret messages in the designs.

Al: They’re totally there!

Right.

As for style? Well, let’s just say that whatever you wear will be fine, because he won’t know the difference! (If you do want fashion advice, though, I refer you to Alahir’s best friend, Prince Navarion, who’s up for date auction here.)

2. What kind of music does he like? Food?

We’re going to skip the music half of this question and add it to the “worldbuilding aspects Kate hasn’t yet considered” Scrivener tab.

As for food, he’ll try anything once, and the spicier the better! Coffee shops are a no, though, unless they also sell tea–Alahir hates coffee with a passion.

3. What’s his family like?

Do you like Palasari politics? Debate? Look no further! Alahir’s parents are a walking opinionated Twitter feed. They’re also both academics, and while his father’s cheerful and open, his mother’s a bit uptight. Overall, not a great first date topic, though when he gets to know you better, he’ll probably share stories about his and his (now-deceased) twin sister’s antics growing up.

4. Why would he be a great date?

Alahir’s a spectacular listener and will be more than happy to let you do all the talking, but if you want his opinion, he’ll give it honestly, and probably lots of snarky commentary as well. He’s a highly trained swordsman and martial artist, so no need to fear creeps, thieves, or those rogue magic-users running around the city lately.

And, I mean, look at his hair. Who wouldn’t want to play with it??

5. Things he values.

Above all, Alahir values sincerity. He spends a lot of time guarding nobles and finds their posturing hilarious, so be yourself and he’ll appreciate it. He also values family and friendship highly, and forms close bonds with great care.

6. What would he do for a first date?

He might take you to the Rising festival, but overall he prefers quieter venues–a walk along the river or through the royal gardens (being the prince’s best friend comes with many perks). His preferred spot, though, would probably be the Golden Sun tea shop. Another warning: as with his tattoo, Alahir can talk about tea for hours.

Or are you a martial artist or swordfighter yourself? Because he’d love to show you the Harbor and compare notes over fighting styles.

Al: Best way to get to know someone is to spar with them!

*grin*

Al: ….not like that!

7. Looking for long-term relationship or just a quick date?

Just a quick date so he can get back to protecting (read: hanging out with) Navarion. But don’t let that dissuade you–the last time Alahir insisted he had no interest in someone, that someone became his best friend.

8. We’ve had our pros, what are the cons?

Like his parents, Alahir’s rather opinionated, and his honesty sometimes extends a bit too far. While friendly, he’s not forthcoming–he’ll answer your questions, but you probably won’t get a lot of additional details in the process. Keep trying–he can be very enthusiastic, you just have to find the right topics and go from there.

And he hates coffee.

Al: That’s a sign of my good judgment!

9. Flowers , chocolate, or promises he doesn’t intend to keep?

Al: Tea! Nothing says love like tea.

But I thought you weren’t looking for love.

Al: Coffee, then?

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Training Cats for Fun and Profit

Note: this story was originally submitted to Chicken Soup for the Soul. Given that it’s been two years since then and I’ve not heard back, I assume they don’t want it, so here’s a silly story for your rainy Tuesday!

cats

Or “I was eleven, please don’t call PETA on me”

You have to understand, I was about eleven years old at the time, and right then teaching my cat to do tricks seemed like the best idea ever.

Most people associate SeaWorld with marine life, but when my family visited, we also saw a show full of cats and dogs trained to weave their way through obstacle courses. Not only was it inspiring because all the animals had been rescued from shelters, it was just plain awesome, and hey, if they could do it at SeaWorld, surely I could do it, too, right? I had qualifications, after all, like being a cat owner, and dumb enough to try.

That was how poor Taffy found himself trapped in my parents’ bedroom, perched on their dresser while I tried to coax him into jumping from the dresser to the bed through a hoop. Why I chose that particular feat, I have no idea—perhaps there was a hula hoop handy in the garage. Certainly we were lacking in spare tires, evenly spaced rows of wooden posts, and all the other cool things they had at SeaWorld. Then again, if my first try was successful, I could always move on to bigger and more complex tricks in the future. Acquire some tires, build an obstacle course. The possibilities were endless.

It will surprise no one that Taffy wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about the whole thing. Sure, he’d jump from the dresser to the bed because that was the most direct route to freedom, but he wouldn’t go near the hoop. Nor would he jump on cue, probably because “cue” was this obnoxious hissing noise I kept making in order to encourage (let’s face it, frighten) him off the dresser. I would place him on top of it, gently tap his back legs, hiss at him—and eventually he would jump, sometimes to the bed, sometimes down to the floor. At that point he’d run straight for the door—which I’d closed in advance, of course. As every good cat trainer knows, it’s imperative to preemptively cut off all escape routes or risk a very short training session.

Pick up cat. Place on dresser. Hiss. Repeat. Really, it’s amazing all the hissing was coming from me.

My initial attempts producing somewhat less than satisfactory results, I moved to Plan B, a complex and highly sophisticated system consisting of two parts:

Part 1: Behavioral scientists and animal trainers call it positive reinforcement, but in my mind it was pretty much a cat-treat-shaped bribe. To my delight, I discovered that if I placed a treat on the bed, Taffy was much happier to jump—and then stay on the bed long enough for me to grab him before he ran for the door. Increased number of jumps + less reset time? Genius, thy name is eleven-year-old Kate.

Part 2: Hoop manipulation. Since Taffy remained reluctant to leap through that round thing I kept waving in his face, I started moving it as he jumped so that he had no choice but to go through it—except on those occasions when my split-second hoop-cat alignment was less than precise. (Sorry, Taffy.) Apparently I had depth perception problems in addition to high levels of stupidity and optimism.

Plan, check. Forward-through-the-hoop unto the breach!

Pick up cat. Place on dresser. Set treat on bed. Hiss. Frantically move hoop into position. Repeat.

Whether any actual training went on, I can’t say, but somehow I doubt it. My eleven-year-old self didn’t know that, though. By the end of what was at least half an hour and probably more, Taffy was regularly jumping from dresser to bed through the hoop, and I was feeling pretty good about myself. Sure, he hadn’t quite got the hang of it yet, but it was a promising start, and I couldn’t wait to tell my parents that I’d started training Taffy to do tricks. Obstacle course, here we come!

And then a whole bag of cat treats hit Taffy’s stirred-up stomach all at once, and, well….

Perhaps it was time to train my little sisters to clean up cat barf instead.

~

taffy

Snippet Saturday — Threshold

Happy Saturday, everyone! We are celebrating the awesome fall weather by making seasoned-salted pumpkin seeds and pecan pumpkin cake, and drinking pumpkin spice lattes (well, my sister is — I’m a salted caramel mocha person). In case you need something to read while you sip your own PSL (or SCM, or CM, or YMCA…) have a snippet from my Sirens story, Threshold, where Navrin’s coming-of-age ceremony is about to go badly awry. (Heh heh heh. Er, that is, poor guy.)

(Apologies for the block-quote font — all those periods in the middle of sentences are actually commas.)

snipsat

Inata darted to join the group, nervous energy in every motion she made and five small cream-colored balls on her open palm. They each grabbed one, even Eisa, and began rolling them between their hands. It was their surest protection against the Between’s most sinister weapon. Against teeth and claws and venom they had armor and weapons and traps, but against the song, only wax.

When the substance was warm Navrin broke it in half and stuffed a piece inside each ear while fear and elation waged their usual war inside him. It was coming, the song, the song and the Between, and then his kill, his chance.

…….

In the muffled silence created by the wax he watched his father grab two enchanted swords–illegal, just like everything else they were doing this evening–and lead Eisa to a tall, ruined tower at the edge of their line of traps, the remains of an outpost long since abandoned. At its base he planted the weapons some ten feet apart, Eisa at their center, and a miniature shield sprang into place around her. She waved from within the silver dome and Navrin returned the gesture only to realize she was waving at Rokat.

Anger, jealousy, disappointment–

And then there was a crack like glass shattering against stone, so loud he could hear it through the wax, and a shadow beyond the sphere, massive and black.

His heart leapt and he brushed his hands against his knives again before reaching up and pretending to press the wax further into his ears. Instead he dislodged it just enough that he would be able to hear it when it happened….

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1K for 1K

Confession time! I don’t know how you writers do those 10K1Day things.

The most I’ve ever written in a day was about 5.5K, and that was during NaNo on Mid-Month Write-A-Thon Day. It felt GREAT, but I can’t imagine cranking out twice that many words in a day and preserving (what little remains of) my sanity.

Second confession time! I’m lazy.

I used to be better about working out, especially when I lived alone and there was no one around to hear my workout playlist (Kpop, basically. WOW, FANTASTIC BABY!). But lately, I’ve been doing a terrible job staying in shape.

Whew! *Wipes forehead* Feels good to get that off my chest.

 

Anyway. I saw a writer Tweeting about her 10K day recently and the thought occurred… why not try something that encourages both writing and activity? Instead of gluing myself to the couch for an entire Saturday and praying to the patron saint of prolific writing (Thomas Aquinas? Cicero?), why not put the marathon back in “writing marathon”?

And so, without further ado, I invite you all to the first ever

1kday

 

The idea is simple: an all-day writing marathon, but for every 1K you write, you walk or run (or skip or hop) 1K.*

That’s it!  The words get written, but your butt doesn’t go numb in the process, your waistline doesn’t expand from all those writing snacks you’re eating, and while you’re out walking, the ideas are flowing and the plot problems are solving themselves (or, you know, compounding…).

Sound interesting? Then please join me!

1K for 1K Day will take place Saturday, September 24th.

The Rules:

  • There’s no word goal, though you’re welcome to set yourself one. The idea is not so much to crank out as many words as possible, as to create a balance between writing and activity.
  • Write as much or as little as you like. Only have a few hours that day? That’s totally fine! Want to go from dawn till dusk? Also fine!
  • Take breaks whenever you want. Maybe you’re in the groove and you get all the way to 2K before you hit a breaking point–that’s okay, just walk 2k!
  • Check in! I’ll be tweeting using the #1Kfor1K hashtag and would love to see others there as well.
  • Check in again! Visit the 1K for 1K Google spreadsheet and grab a row! After all, we’re writers–we’re not happy unless we’re comparing ourselves to other writers, right?

 

9e2cv5z

 

And there you go! If you’re free that day and in need of some writing+exercise, please stop by!

 

*That’s .62 miles, but 1K for .62M Day didn’t have the same ring to it.

 

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A Quick and Dirty Guide to Writing Epic Secret Agent Characters

Does this sound familiar? The new Jason Bourne movie just came out. Some TV channel I don’t get because we only get 10 channels is playing all of the other Bourne movies to get you in the mood. You’re sitting on the couch with your  laptop in your lap (because you can totally write your novel and watch a movie at the same time) and the thought strikes: I want to write a secret agent novel! I want to be the next Richard Castle!

castle

…you’re right, he’s fictional. Okay, I want to be the next James Patterson!

So you close that file you’re working on and start a Brand New Scrivener Project (pause to take in that New Project scent–it’s your hard drive melting, by the way) and start thinking about your Hero. The guy or girl who’s gonna get all the cool gadgets, and drive the awesome Ducati, and shoot stuff with that gun he just pulled from, wait, where?

And then you realize you have no idea how to write a crime novel and know next to nothing about secret agents.

Now, you could do some research, but that takes time and effort when you could be deciding where and what your Hero’s tattoo is, and whether a Ducati’s too impractical when he probably needs a Porsche or maybe the new Ford GT.

AUGH IT’S SO AWESOME, I WAN–

…sorry, where were we? Oh yes!

The Quick and Dirty Guide to Creating Epic Secret Agent Characters

Ready? Grab your pens-that-are-actually-cool-gadgets-but-they-still-write and here we go!

  1. Is your hero’s first name either 1 or 2 syllables?
  2. Is his surname either 1 or 2 syllables?
  3. Does the total number of syllables equal 3?

If you answered yes to these questions, plan no further! You already have the perfect secret agent! Don’t believe me?

  • Ethan Hunt
  • Aaron Cross
  • Jason Bourne
  • Nick Fury
  • Jack Bauer
  • Jack Ryan
  • Jack Reacher (note to self: consider adding “Just name him Jack” as item 4)
  • Alex Cross
  • Maxwell Smart
  • George Smiley
  • Cody Banks
  • Cathy Gale
  • Emma Peel
  • Tara King
  • Penelope St. John-Orsini

…er, scratch that last one.

You’ll note that James Bond, perhaps the most famous secret agent of all, is not on this list. This is because Mr. Bond, being, as just mentioned, the most famous secret agent of all, does not have to conform to the rules set for mere mortals. Or maybe it’s because he drives an Aston Martin.

via astonmartin.com

This post may have just been an excuse to look at cars (via astonmartin.com)

And there you have it! Simply give your character a short, punchy name that’s easy to shout during fight scenes but also sounds good when his handler snaps at him in frustration, and you’re set!

So tell me–what are you going to name your secret agent?

 

This Quick and Dirty Guide brought to you by too much caffeine and cherry-picking the evidence to suit the needs of this very silly post. Carry on!

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Four (and a half) Things I Learned Writing Threshold

Hey everyone! As part of the Sirens launch, editor Rhonda Parrish organized a blog tour incorporating posts from the contributors. This is the post I wrote, which originally appeared on her blog on Tuesday (7/19).

Four (and a half) Things I Learned Writing Threshold

Disclaimer: While some of these are things I discovered about myself as a writer, others are advice straight out of Writing 101. I’m sharing them anyway because they were “Oh!” moments, when knowing something in the abstract became seeing it work (or not work) on the page.

1. Character and conflict outweigh the “cool concept.”

I admit it: I suck at coming up with story ideas. My Twitter feed is full of writers lamenting that they have three billion stories just waiting to be written and, woe is them, wherever will they find the time? I’m not one of those writers. Going from “awesome idea” to “plot” is really hard for me. So even with the anthology theme to give me a starting point, followed by lots of brainstorming weird siren scenarios, I was struggling.

After abandoning my first idea (about sirens running a dating service), I ran across a writing prompt: “You’re a pirate of the skies, preying on merchant airships. The officer leading the hunt for you is your brother.” (From Faye Kirwin @Writerology)

Now, if you read Threshold, you’ll notice that it has nothing to do with pirates, or airships, or manhunts (sad, I know). What it does have, though, is sibling rivalry, and that was what jumped out at me from that prompt. When I read it, I’d all but given up trying to write a story for Sirens, but as soon as “brother vs. brother” entered my head, I was ready to give it another go. I still didn’t have a plot, but I had a character struggle, and that resonated with me more strongly than any of the “cool concepts” I’d been dwelling on up till then.

Rokat vs. Navrin (Pokemon: The First Movie)

 

2. Give your character a concrete want.

Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water” (Bagombo Snuff Box). My problem in Threshold’s early drafts was that my protagonist only wanted something abstract, something long term. This internal conflict was resolved by the end of the story, yes, but as my alpha reader (shout-out to Laura VanArendonk Baugh!) pointed out, any crisis situation could have led to the same resolution. It wasn’t a story about sirens, it just happened to include them because I needed a disaster and, well, the anthology theme was sirens! When it came time to give Navrin a more immediate want, I tied it directly to the sirens and other monsters in the story, and by doing so, I not only had a more interesting character, I also found a reason for my sirens to be there.

3. Fix one problem, create another – or solve them all?

Giving Navrin an immediate want didn’t just tighten the story, it solved at least three other problems as well. His new want resulted in a career change. That led to a setting change. That removed a crowd of people I didn’t need, a pack of “security guards” who should have prevented a disaster, and several instances of “this isn’t very logical, but maybe the reader won’t notice?”

I don’t know if this is something I learned so much as simply a success, but that moment of “Whoa, this all works now!” was exhilarating and bolstering. It helped me realize that there was, in fact, a story here—I’d just been surrounding it with the wrong details.

And speaking of details…

4. Keep worldbuilding to a minimum.

Another Writing 101 tip here, but man, was it hard. Threshold is set in a world I’ve been developing for a fantasy novel (series?), and in early drafts I was having a great time throwing in unnecessary details. Sky serpents. Names of countries and people we’d never actually see or meet. A whole description of my world’s equivalent of an airport, complete with the abovementioned security guards. I even gave the novel’s main character a cameo.

While some of it could have stayed (the airport was the original story setting, for instance), the rest was not only unnecessary but distracting. Fine for a novel, where names and places and foreign words become relevant later on, but not for a story of this length. Worldbuilding’s great for drawing your readers in, but too much and they’ll feel left out—or just plain lost—instead.

But! Since you’re here, have a fun fact that I didn’t get to share in Threshold: my world is modeled on a variety of Asian countries. Navrin’s family is from “China” (where the story is set), while Rokat’s is from “Vietnam.”

My model for Eisa (Pinterest)

 

4.5 Research is a killjoy.

…okay, not really. But did you know that if you’re knocked out for more than a few minutes, it’s likely you’ve sustained permanent brain damage or other lasting effects? I didn’t. But now I do, and so do my characters, who got a new story ending—and no brain damage—thanks to this discovery.

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News news news!

Guys, my contributor copy of Sirens arrived yesterday!!!

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There’s a story in it with my name on it!!!

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I’m going to a writers’ retreat/workshop in Ireland for a week and I’m leaving in *checks watch* 2.5 hours!!!

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Dunseverick, Northern Ireland. Via Pixabay

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!

kermitflail

 

Editor’s note: Kate promises to be more coherent, and thorough, when she returns from her retreat. Maybe.

WIP Joy

Well, #WIPJoy is wrapping up today on Twitter, so that means it’s time for a compendium!

For those unfamiliar, WIPJoy is a Twitter series hosted by @simmeringmind; each day writers answer a question about their work-in-progress using the hashtag #WIPJoy. Here are this month’s questions:

WIPJoy

I’d not participated before because I was still working out the details of my WIP. This time, though, I’d done enough novel writing that I felt like I could answer most of the questions. And here they are:

Day 1: Tell us about your WIP!
Daystar (working title) is an epic fantasy about two friends who bind their souls together, then accidentally start a revolution while trying to reverse the unexpected consequences. (Awkward….)

Day 2: Introduce your protagonist.
First up is Prince Navarion. He’s kind and sensitive, short-tempered and a bit of a snob, and runs on coffee. A political figurehead like the rest of the royal family, Nav is frustrated by his inability to serve his kingdom and people in a way he feels is meaningful.

CANav
Protag #2 is Alahir, Navarion’s best friend and sometimes bodyguard. He’s loyal and protective, flippant and a bit too honest. How Alahir became such a good swordsman is anyone’s guess, as he has none of Nav’s ambition and is happy going with the flow–until the flow threatens his familiar role and relationship with his best friend.

CAAlahir

Day 3: Share a line showing your WIP’s atmosphere.

Far beyond glowed the wall of the sphere—from this distance the magical barrier was nothing more than a pale gold sheen, like a second, massive sun, and for a moment he could imagine what it had been like in the time before the spheres, when Palasar and its neighbors had been whole countries and not collections of individual domes.
Or perhaps that was merely too much listening to Councilor Valan’s insistence that they were all careening toward another catastrophe. Too often hearing reports of yet more magical experimentation gone wrong.

Day 4: One of your WIP’s main emotions.
So far Daystar doesn’t have a romantic arc, but love is still at the heart of the story, particularly the love between friends. For Alahir, this manifests especially in his willingness to sacrifice his own interests in order to protect Nav.

“You know I’ll always protect you, right?” Alahir said, voice quiet, earnest. As he laced his fingers through Navarion’s the tingling sensation returned, spreading up his arm from the seal. “From the Council, and everything out there, and….”
“And our own stupidity?”
A long pause and then Alahir chuckled. “…well, I’ll try.”

Day 5: The character you relate to most.
A rather personal response, but given current life circumstances, I’ve been relating to Navarion a lot lately—feeling directionless and useless, wishing I’d made different decisions, and afraid I’ve disappointed the people I care about.

Day 6: A flaw that you share with a character.
Alahir and I are both insensitive, but in different ways. For him it’s usually speaking without thinking, or being too blunt. Mine tends to come from not paying enough attention to emotional cues, or just plain forgetting to inquire after a friend who’s been having a rough time.

We both also shy away from serious or heavily emotional conversations by making jokes instead. Have you heard the one about the prince and the….never mind.

Day 7: Did you base anyone off a real person?
Consciously, no. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever based a character on someone I know. Subconsciously, though, I’m sure I’m pulling traits from people I know or have met.

Day 8: Humor!
The Elnaron family together is pretty much guaranteed to result in humor. My goal is to give them more air time, because I love them all. (NB: Alahir is eavesdropping on this conversation)

“I can’t wait to see Nalandri again! Do you think she’ll remember us?”
Navarion laughed. “She’s only been in Xiat half a year, silly.”
“But now she has a husband! And a baby!” the young prince protested, as though afraid his sister would have to trade memories of her brother for her new family.
“There’s no baby,” came Anorith’s voice, full of disdain. “Just a big lump on her stomach.”
A loud snort, and then a sound that was half coughing, half laughter. “Very poetic, Anorith,” said Queen Renia.
“You want poetry, talk to Navarion. I’m a swordsman.” Alahir could almost hear him sitting up straighter.
“I suspect,” Navarion offered, “that any attempts to immortalize Nalandri’s expanding waistline in verse would result in my early demise.”

Day 9: Which character would you want to be roommates with?
I’m a no-roomates-thank-you kind of person, but if I had to pick someone, Ithinia wouldn’t be too bad. She’s friendly but also has no problem doing things by herself, and she’s always willing to take on tasks others (read: Alahir) might not want to do. Plus she’s a master swordswoman so we wouldn’t have to worry about security.

As a close second, Prince Elion, who’s 9 and adorable and would probably just want to play with LEGOs all day.

Day 10: A line that makes you want to hug a character.
(Alahir hates hugs, but I think he’s required to accept them from his author, right?)

“Alahir, there’s nothing you—”
“Don’t tell me there’s nothing I can do!” The tears he’d been fighting hammered their fists against his eyes, dragging with them the memory of Herit’s body, laid out on the stone table and draped with a death-shroud.

Day 11: Some minor character headcanon.
Hmmm… My story is still very much a WIP, and since I’m not even to the 25% point, there aren’t a lot of minor characters yet (heck, I’m still working out the main villains. :P).

However, some silly modern-day AU headcanon for you: I’m pretty sure 16-year-old Prince Anorith writes fanfiction about Alahir. The kind where Alahir’s the mentor and Anorith’s his apprentice and they fight bad guys together and are TOTALLY AWESOME. #NoticeMeSenpai

Day 12: Share a chapter beginning you love.

Navarion woke Alahir at something ridiculous he called “predawn”, and tried to coerce him from his warm bed with tea—not the promise of tea, but actual tea, steaming provocatively and placed just beyond his reach.
For someone so kind, Navarion could certainly be vicious.
“You,” he growled as he strained for the tea, arm protesting at the cold, “are stupid and…spoiled and…and….” It was far too early for adjectives. “And I hate you.”

(I’m sorry, did I say this book was about love?)

Day 13: How do you want readers to view your protagonist at the beginning vs. the end?
At the beginning, Navarion is frustrated and kind of bitter, and while he wants very much to serve his people in some way, his motivations are largely selfish–he wants to feel useful and proud of himself.

By the end [of the series, probably], I want him to be able to give up his need for personal satisfaction and recognition and instead be able to put his people’s needs first, even if that means giving up what he wants. Sacrificial love, basically.

I’m currently despairing of my ability to actually effect this transition, by the way. 😛

Day 14: A character trying something for the first time.
I’m cheating today–this is from the backstory rather than the novel proper, though I do reference it in the main story. Alahir refers to this as “the darkest day of our friendship” because he is, apparently, a drama queen.

“Augh, what is this?” With every word the bitter taste in his mouth worsened.
Navarion grinned. “It’s coffee.”
“Yes, but what did they poison it with? There’s no way this is how it’s supposed to taste, not if people drink it willingly.” He set the mug back on the floor and pushed it away, scowling at it.

Day 15: What grabs you about your premise?
This story started with a friendship, and exploring the ups and downs of that relationship has always been the strongest pull for me. If novels didn’t need plots, Daystar would be 100K words of Alahir and Navarion shenanigans.

However, when the plot fiiiinally began to develop, I was most intrigued by the idea of putting superhero elements into a fantasy setting. Still too early in the first draft to say how it’s all going to play out, but it’s fun!

Day 16: What sticks with you about the ending?
Ending? I need one of those?
…..well CRAP.

Day 17: In the end, how has your protagonist made you proud?
Navarion has begun to grow into a true leader, placing his people’s well-being before his own interests & desire to prove himself.

If all goes as planned, Alahir will meanwhile be heading down the “not proud” road for a while, but he’ll make me proud later, I’m sure.

Day 18: A chapter ending that you love.
Am I a horrible person because I love this?

Hands gripped his arms and pulled him backward, and Alahir tumbled from his grasp and collapsed to the floor, unmoving. He tried to struggle and his body refused to cooperate, tried to shout and no sound emerged.
The last thing he saw as his eyes forced themselves closed was his friend sprawled at his feet, hair fanning out around him like a pool of dark blood.

Day 19: Does your story have a contagonist?
Properly Alahir is a contagonist, but I tend to think of him as a second main character/protagonist. However, Navarion’s father, King Navanith, could also be considered a contagonist, though his attempts to help his son mostly leave Nav feeling antagonized instead.

(Don’t know what a contagonist is? Check out Helpful Writer’s article.)

Day 20: Share a line about food.

For several minutes they ate in silence—Alahir drank three cups of tea before even starting on the food, giving Navarion plenty of time to hoard the honey sesame balls on a napkin at his side,then pile as much rice and elris onto his plate as possible without eliciting teasing remarks from Alahir.
As it turned out, his friend was too busy tossing bits of fish to Qwet, who prodded him with her nose and batted his hands whenever he tried to ignore her.
“She’s even more spoiled than you are.”
“Oh hush, you.”

(I don’t think Alahir’s going to get any food, personally…)

Day 21: Does nature or the weather ever act as an antagonist?
No (though maybe in Book 2?), but it’s nearly winter, and as far as Alahir is concerned, snow is the only antagonist worth taking seriously.

Day 22: Share a line about smell.

Through the dirt and grime of their travels he could still catch his friend’s familiar scent, a wash of adventure and bravery and loyalty and everything else the Scion had come to mean to him over the last seven years.

(I’m embarrassed how little smell there is in my story given that my entire dissertation was on smell.)

Day 23: Is this a kissing book?
I suspect there’ll be a romantic arc eventually, but I haven’t found it yet. I have an idea for one that doesn’t involve the leads, but would have to do something cliche to make it work–is it okay to use one cliche to help you fight another?

In the meantime, there’s fighting, swords, magic, revenge, monsters, twue wuv, and canines of unusual size.

Day 24: Something your character would hate for us to know.
Alahir’s name means “little flower,” and he’s super jealous that his twin sister got the “cool” name. (So of course Nav has a store of flower jokes at the ready.)

After reading a “Beauty and the Beast”-type story, 5-year-old Navarion tried to run away from home because he was afraid of being turned into a beast.

It would also mortify Nav for you to know that, at age 26, he’s still reading fairy tales and adventure stories.

Day 25: Do your characters feel like family? Friends? Kids? Something else?
Alahir and Navarion feel like very good friends. The rest of the cast are acquaintances I’m still getting to know bit by bit, in the hopes that they’ll become friends.

Except the villains…. They can just keep doing their own thing.

Day 26: What keeps you working on this WIP?
I love my characters and want to share their story…even if I’m still not 100% sure what that story is. 😛

I was also surprised to find how relevant the issues surrounding magic are to today’s gun control debate. This was completely unintentional, and I don’t plan on using the story as a vehicle for arguing one side or the other, but I’m really curious to see how things develop now that I have this modern parallel in mind.

Day 27: What threatens your writing joy? What do you do to combat it?
Mostly impostor syndrome–it often feels like everyone’s more qualified, more creative, and more productive than I am (and not just in writing). I also have a terrible habit of rereading and editing things I’ve already written rather than just plowing ahead to finish the draft.

Social media is my big impostor syndrome trigger, but I’ve found that reflecting on everyone’s differences helps. We’re all in different places, have had different life experiences, work at different paces. There’s no one right way to get writing done so long as writing is getting done.

As for editing-while-writing…I’ve yet to find a cure.

Day 28: What do you want the future book cover to be like?
This is so far in the future that I have no idea. I Photoshopped myself a cover for NaNo last year, but the plot has changed so much since then that the cover’s no longer relevant.

I do know, though, that I want a drawing/painting rather than a photograph. I don’t generally like covers with real people on them.

Day 29: What’s the best thing people can say about your WIP?
It’s a tie between “How’s it going?” and “I can’t wait to read it!”

Day 30: What are you planning for your next WIP?
Next? HA! I haven’t even finished plotting *this* WIP! And then there are likely to be more books.

But! I did a fantasy crime novel for NaNo ’13, and I’d like to pick that up again someday. Think Miss Congeniality meets Gladiator-plus-magic-and-music.

NAResonance

 

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Monday Reminder: Success and the End Goal

I was all set to write a writing-related Reminder for today, but a conversation with a friend yesterday got me thinking, and I decided some of those thoughts were worth sharing here. To start us off, here’s today’s Reminder in a nutshell:

MRSuccesses

 

I realized yesterday that I rarely stop to congratulate myself on my accomplishments; still less often do I actually reward myself for them.

I finished a PhD program in August after 6.5 years. Grad school sucks every bit as much as they say it does, but I made it and I’m a doctor now. (Whooo! *Straightens bowtie*) My family threw me a really awesome “Not That Kind of Doctor!” party, but I never really sat and just…felt proud. I’d been keeping a list of “Possible presents to buy yourself after you get your PhD!” and I deleted it. A week after my defense I was already worrying about getting a job. 10 months later I’m still worrying about getting a job and feeling like a huge failure because I still don’t have one.

Last year I joined @Writerology’s #WriteChain on Twitter, an accountability group where you pledge to do a certain amount of writing (vel sim) every day. Yesterday I hit 266 days. That’s 38 weeks of writing, editing, or plotting EVERY SINGLE DAY. And yet I’ve not once stopped to celebrate my milestones. 100 days? I tweeted about it. Not sure I even acknowledged 200.

What I tend to forget–and maybe you do, too–is that the end goal is not the only accomplishment worthy of notice. There are any number of smaller stopping points along the way that deserve attention, too.

One semester of college.

One chapter of a 50-chapter novel.

The initial sketch of a work of art.

The fact that I don’t have a job doesn’t in any way detract from my successful completion of graduate school. The fact that your novel isn’t published doesn’t make that completed-but-icky rough draft any less a milestone.

Never devalue what you’ve done because you still have more to do.

Stop and celebrate your accomplishments, big or small, stepping stone or end goal. Watch your projects come together bit by bit rather than waiting until they’re finished to feel a sense of success. Feel proud that you’ve done *something.* I’m not going to recommend going out and buying yourself a reward every time you write a paragraph, but heck yes, give yourself permission to feel awesome along the way–and if you want to eat an M&M after every paragraph, I say, bring on the candy!

 

Hey look, I wrote a blog post. I AM AWESOME!

 

Five Writing Lessons from A Darker Shade of Magic

There’s a lot of debate about whether authors should write book reviews, particularly when we have less-than-glowing things to say. I can see both sides of the argument (check out Cristina R. Guarino’s take on some of the pros and cons, for instance), and to be honest, my jury’s still out on this one.

But! I do want to be able to talk about books I’ve read, so rather than write outright reviews, I thought I would follow the example of other writer-bloggers and instead share some of the writing lessons I learned whilst reading. (Yes, I just said whilst.) Less helpful for readers looking to know whether the book’s worth reading, but more useful for writers trying to improve their craft.

And so…

ADSOM

Five Writing Lessons from V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic

[WARNING: Ahead there be spoilers!]

1. Not all foreign words have to be translated.

ADSOM moves between three parallel versions of London, in each of which a different language is spoken. In Grey London it’s English, in Red London it’s English and Arnesian, and in White London it’s…something that looks Danish. Schwab does a good job translating some things while letting us figure out others, erring on the side of more translations rather than fewer.

In general, I like when an author gives me enough context to guess for myself, perhaps providing a translation later in the book rather than right away. Not all of the commands in ADSOM, for instance, needed to be translated—if Kell says a spell and the pavement breaks into pieces, chances are the reader can make an educated guess. Don’t confuse your readers with made-up words, but don’t underestimate their deductive abilities, either.

2. Settings shouldn’t just look different, they should feel different.

This is one of the things Schwab NAILED. Red, White, and Grey London all have distinct feels—vibrant, tense and terrifying, and dull yet dangerous respectively. Even Black London, which we never actually visit, has a distinct vibe owing to the way the characters talk about it. Sights, smells, and sounds all contribute to how we experience a setting, but so do the feelings of the characters visiting those places and the behavior of the denizens who live there—the Red Londoners are cheerful and energetic, the White Londoners are starved and desperate and cruel.

The great thing about ADSOM is that this not only creates distinct settings, it also makes the world’s magic feel incredibly well-rounded, a character in itself which takes on very different forms and feels in each world depending on how the human characters interact with and use it.

3. Use one character to make us like another.

Let’s just pause and grin over Prince Rhy.

*grin*

Okay, set. Moving on! How much Rhy did we actually see in this book? Not very much. I think he’s in Kell’s thoughts/flashbacks almost as often as he is in the flesh. In the first paragraphs, Kell’s already thinking about how Rhy’s been a bad (well, fashionable) influence on him and imagining what his brother would say in certain scenarios. The result was that I liked Rhy before we even met him properly, all because of the way Kell thought and felt about him.

If you can get your reader to like and trust your protagonist, you can project that onto other characters who are close to him, creating a reader connection to people we rarely see, or haven’t even met.

4. Connect your character’s internal conflict and external struggle.

This is one that worked less well for me, though admittedly I was paying extra-close attention because it’s something I’m struggling with in my own WIP.

I never felt like I got a strong handle on what Kell as a character wanted—love, acceptance, and belonging seemed to be his primary concerns, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The larger problem, though, was that Kell’s desire to be loved and belong wasn’t tightly connected, in my mind, to his external problem (destroying the stone). I think it was supposed to be “give up family or let world be destroyed,” but Kell’s already conflicted feelings about his family—is he a son or just a possession?—lessened the punch considerably. There was less for him to give up because he wasn’t even sure he had their love to begin with.

In the end, make your character’s inner want and exterior goal as opposed as possible. The further you can take them from their comfort zone and the higher you can raise their personal stakes, the better.

5. Be clear about your characters’ motivations.

Now, I don’t mean “beat your reader over the head with reasons for absolutely everything your character does.” What I mean is…well, Holland.

I started out feeling creeped-out by Holland, moved on to feeling really sorry for him after hearing his backstory, and then didn’t know whether I was supposed to keep feeling sorry that he was being forced to be a jerk, or start hating him for being a jerk in his own right. Was Holland actually evil, or was Athos making him do evil things?

AvatarUnclear

Giving your villain a human side, a point of sympathy, is absolutely a YES—unfortunately, I felt like Holland’s humanizing point, being sealed to Athos and forced to obey, was suddenly much less meaningful when he didn’t seem bothered by what he was being made to do. Only at the end was there any hint that he regretted his actions, and by that point it was a bit too late. Perhaps I’ll get more in the next book (because, let’s face it, there’s no way he’s dead).

 

Have you read ADSOM? What did you think? What did you learn from reading it? Share your thoughts in the comments (but no AGOS spoilers, please!).