On Joy

Hello friends!

I have the unfortunate tendency to read books that have a more serious (read: tragic) tone. I like to joke with my writing buddy that I don’t do “fun” books, but sometimes I need a break from that doom and gloom. Sometimes I just need to read something light and joyful.

I was in one of these moods recently, and thankfully I found the perfect book to provide that: Jonny Garza Villa’s debut novel Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun. While it had its more serious moments, overall the book filled me with pure joy. I smiled so much, I cried some, I texted my friend about how damn cute it was. I sped through the book, too, and I predict rereads in the future. Reading it honestly made me happier than a book has in a while (which is probably my own fault considering my usual reading choices). 

Sometimes life just needs a bit more joy, and it’s nice to know that there are books out there with the potential to create that joy.

What I wrote this week: “Alice Gets an Upgrade.”

What I read this week: The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi.

On Discovery Writing

Hello friends!

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a plotter, and I’m convinced this is the right way to approach novels.

But short stories are an entirely different beast.

When I write a short story, I typically start with an image or a line, and I write from there (or towards there). I don’t outline; I just sit down and write.

I’ve done several short stories this way. Three years ago, I had the image of two women and a girl in a car, driving through the desert and running from something, so I wrote about what they were running from and towards. I wrote and discovered why they had to run.

Another short began with wanting to do a study on setting, and I chose an abandoned mall. I made it the focus of the piece and the backdrop, and I hoped to imbue the setting with a richness I too often forget in my work.

Most recently, a first line popped into my head: “They were shipwrecked on the front lawn. This hadn’t been the plan, of course.” I jotted this down in my phone and let it stew. It sounded like it had to be about children, and I don’t often write about children. But what would happen from the shipwreck? How would children resolve the problems that arose from such a situation?

And that’s how I accidentally wrote a short story on Thursday. It has a more carefree and whimsical feel than most of my work, which is a nice break. It’s also a more omniscient point of view than I like to use, which was a fun challenge. I went in with a line and discovered the story as I wrote, coming up with motivations and character qualities that suited my needs. 

Of course, I’ll need to go back through and do some edits to smooth out the beginning now that I understand the end, but that’s for later. It was simply fun to take a couple of hours and play.

Because if writing doesn’t let you play and have fun, then why do it?

What I wrote this week: “Shipwreck;” “Gabi, Filled with Wonder;” “Alice Gets an Upgrade.”

What I read this week: American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell; The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi; The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi.

On the Evolution of Character

Hello friends!

One of my favorite things about writing is the potential every character has to become so much more.

By this, I mean that I often begin with one sense of a character, and as I continue working on them, they transform into something else. As with a lot of my work, the best example I have of this is in Kita’s story, in Scion of Victory.

The earliest scraps I wrote for this book were all very vague. I was still figuring out my world and the people populating it. The character who’s undergone the most change would have to be Ramint.

In early versions, Ramint acted as a sort of filler character. I needed someone around to react to a thing? Ramint. An orphaned line of dialogue? To Ramint. A task needed to be done? Ramint. Originally, I pictured her as an impressionable young boy, eager to prove himself. As I fleshed out the story more, I realized I needed more female characters, and I wanted a moral compass for the other characters. Ramint filled that need well. In the book’s current iteration, she’s a full-fledged narrator with her own motives, past, and arc. She provides a great contrast to Fahvitt, who is jaded like her but bitter and spiteful. She’s respected by the other characters for her outlook on the world and general optimism. She’s evolved into one of my favorite characters, and fleshing her out more fully has only made her more useful to the story as a whole.

My first full draft of Scion featured Ramint as a side character, and then I realized I needed to make her a narrator in order to better explore her motivations. Once I made that choice, I was able to build her relationships more powerfully, especially her friendship with Fahvitt. I wanted them to have a strong relationship from the start, and their bond only grows over the course of the novel. This benefited both of them individually and as a pair.

Ramint and Fahvitt both have significant arcs in book one now, and those arcs are very different from each other. Where Fahvitt becomes more trusting as he falls in love with Kita, Ramint faces betrayal and hardens herself. However, in exploring their characters more and allowing them the development they deserve, both rise from their tragic situations and become much more than they ever thought.

And to think, at the start I might have denied them that.

What I wrote this week: “Gabi, Filled with Wonder.”

What I read this week: American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell; The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi.

On Plotting and Outlining

Hello friends!

I am, undoubtedly and unabashedly, a plotter when it comes to writing. Outlines are my friend. Names and places are the right way to go. While there’s a time and a place for discovery writing or pantsing, I don’t believe you want to be doing that when it comes to drafting. 

This is why, for the entire month of June, I held off on writing. I pivoted to a new project, but I didn’t write a single chapter. However, I outlined. Like a lot. And planned. And created characters to populate my world. And gave that world quirks and depths and hidden shames.

In the last month, I have outlined a full novel by character arcs (beat sheets!) and by chapter. I’ve titled thirty-something chapters. I’ve named almost seventy characters, most of whom will have little bearing on the story. And I’ve had a blast doing it.

Now, going into July, I’m ready to write this novel over the next couple of months. 

What I wrote this week: Finley plotting and outlining; “Gabi, Filled with Wonder.”

What I read this week: Dreadnought by April Daniels; Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa; American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell.

On Adaptations

Hello friends!

I’ve waited two months to write this blog. Though, really, I guess it’s been longer.

Adaptations. Specifically, book to screen adaptations. Some fall short of fan expectations (see: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief). Others capture the spirit of the book even if they’ve thrown out whole storylines or changed massive plot points (see: Howl’s Moving Castle). Some just keep the name and the general concept (see: Annihilation). Rarest of all the adaptations is the one that remains faithful to the story and the spirit, while also finding love among the existing fanbase (see: Holes).

With the rise of television, more and more books have been adapted into shows rather than movies, which I personally think has done wonders. The television format allows more room for side characters and subplots, allowing adaptations to remain more faithful to the source material.

I waited for years to see the Netflix adaptation of Shadow and Bone, and I went into the show with a cautious optimism. Clearly, the production had a high budget, and being adapted into a series felt like the right call for such a rich world. I was more apprehensive (and also more excited) about the Six of Crows storyline. The duology of books is among my favorites, and while it’s set in the world of the originally published Shadow and Bone trilogy, the characters and their stories rely on different aspects of the fantasy world, and the events in the duology take place years after the trilogy. Like many, I was skeptical about the meshing of the plotlines, but I held onto a shred of optimism. With every announcement and teaser, my excitement only grew.

The show hit Netflix on April 23rd. I finished watching all eight hour-long episodes on April 24th. Since then, I’ve watched the series all the way through two more times. And I love it.

I read the trilogy after I’d read the duology, so I was a little underwhelmed by it. However, the aspects of the trilogy I felt needed work were fortified in the show. And the Crows enriched the world and the show, while remaining true to their roots and going on adventures before the events of their books start. Obviously, some things were changed or added, but nothing that felt untrue to the spirit of the stories told in the books.

Overall, my cautious optimism was rewarded. I sat glued to my screen during my first watch-through, and I coordinated with my dear friend across the country so we could watch at the same time and text each other our reactions real-time. We laughed, we gasped, we freaked out, and we had a blast doing it. We’ve also kept each other updated on news about the show, like the announcement of its renewal for a second season. I’m positive that when they announce new cast members and release dates, we’ll be texting each other eagerly.

And in the end, isn’t it more important to build friendships on these beautiful stories than to nitpick the details?

What I wrote this week: Finley, outlining and dragging my feet and nonsense.

What I read this week: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender; Dreadnought by April Daniels; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

On Conventions

Hello friends!

I’ve already mentioned I’m not a very social person. I like my small gatherings and tight-knit groups. So when I went to my first writing convention last fall, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d enjoy myself.

Of course, due to the chaos of last year, the 2020 World Fantasy Convention was held virtually. I was okay with this; tickets were cheaper, and I wouldn’t have to pay for travel. The major downside was that I’d planned to meet my writing buddy at the convention, and now our in-person meeting would be delayed indefinitely.

The convention’s virtual format worked really well for me. WFC took pains to make it feel fun and social, with different chatrooms set up in the evenings after the day’s panels had concluded. I didn’t expect to spend a lot of time in these chatrooms, but I ended up in them every night until one or two in the morning. I really enjoyed being able to meet other writers who shared my passion and dedication, and having a built-in friend in the form of my writing buddy made it easier to socialize.

I promised myself I’d try to be outgoing and make connections over the long weekend, and thankfully I was helped in this. One night, in a chatroom with about eight people, I found three others based in Southern California. One of them emailed after the convention, and from there the four of us formed a group. We knew we had similar interests and goals, which brought us to the convention, and we all had massive works in progress. Six months later, we’re exchanging chapters and critiques very consistently.

I got to meet them all in person for the first time last weekend. We met up at a coffee shop, and we proceeded to talk…for six hours. And honestly, it was great. I’ve found friends who share my passion and drive, and who are quite talented in their own rights.

I went to the World Fantasy Convention not really knowing what to expect. I sat in on a lot of panels, took copious amounts of notes, jotted down so many reading recommendations, and met some cool people. But hands down, the biggest benefit has been finding a local writing group and fostering that connection with others like me.

What I wrote this week: Finley outlining; Kita bonus content.

What I read this week: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno Garcia; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender.

On Writers’ Block

Hello, friends!

Sometimes, writing is hard — and not for any particular reason. Sometimes, the words just won’t come.

There are various opinions on this sort of blockage and how to address it. Some advice suggests working through it. Some people believe in taking breaks.

Obviously, there’s no one-size solution to writers’ block. Sometimes, I just take a day. Or entertain a new idea. Or I read a book, or watch something new.

But I do believe that it’s important to write, even if there’s a block. At least a little bit, every day. It doesn’t have to be good writing. In fact, a lot of days I feel like I’m writing trash. And that’s okay! Some writing is better than none.

The good thing about writers’ block is that it ends. Eventually. After a day or a week, I get back into the groove of things. Something becomes clear about my story or a character, and I find a renewed vigor in my writing.

And honestly, some of my biggest breakthroughs are at the end of a block. Last year, when writing the first draft of Scion’s sequel, I hit a point where I couldn’t figure out how to continue with my outline. And then, after a couple of days of letting this problem stew on the back burner, I realized that the solution had been in front of me the whole time, in the form of an under-utilized character with bigger ambitions that I had planned for her. I quickly drew up an outline for her arc, and then incorporated it into the draft. She ended up being a great addition, and when I plan my next draft, her arc will only continue to help the story along.

So, here’s to the light at the end of the tunnel. Or the inspiration after the block.

What I wrote this week: Finley, prep work, outlining, beat sheets.

What I read this week: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff; Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

On Dramatis Personae: Part II

Hello friends!

I’m gearing up to focus more on Finley’s Fabulous Fun Park, so I thought I’d share some about the story and characters.

Firstly, FFFP is set in a fictional theme park, in a world like ours but with monsters. Big monsters, small monsters, everything in between. Some are harmless, but others are more sinister. One of the more sinister kind has made itself at home in the park, where it feeds on children. The park founder cut a deal with this monster decades ago: children in exchange for success and profit.

The story, as I’m working it now, takes place mostly inside the park. Really, theme parks are worlds unto themselves, with their own rules and restrictions and idiosyncrasies. Finley’s Park is no different. And like any world, I have to populate it with interesting characters.

Inside the Park

Alice Montgomery: The heroine. At the start, she’s a high school dropout in her early twenties who has a decent amount of experience with monsters. She’s even killed a couple smaller ones. But when she discovers the monster in the bowels of the park, she realizes that to defeat this villain, she’ll have to play a much longer game.

Finley the Frog: The monster in the park. Having taken on the form of the beloved cartoon frog, the monster loves a deal and requires specific sustenance to stay alive. It takes a particular liking to Alice.

Daniel Yost: A park executive. Yost is all business and Alice reports directly to him. As the years pass, they become friendly acquaintances, but never quite friends.

Gabriela Huerta: A park worker. She’s also had some monstrous encounters, something Alice realizes very soon after meeting her.

The Outside World

Sadie Miller: Alice’s partner. She learns the exact details of Alice’s job and is horrified. She remains supportive of Alice, but over the years they grow apart.

The Children

As mentioned above, Finley feeds on children. Currently, I’m planning on 53 children being lured away by the monster. And yes, I have named every single one.

At least 3 children will be very important:

Claudia Rivera: The first child Alice rescues.

Ryan Rodriguez: A child Alice gives a whole lot to save.

Daynee Blake: The last child Alice negotiates for.

Stay tuned for next week, where I’ll introduce the park itself!

What I wrote this week: Finley prep and outlining.

What I read this week: Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall; The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman; Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey.

On Critiques: Giving

Hello friends!

Giving critique is also important! As I’ve mentioned, I have a writing buddy, and our writing relationship is built on giving each other sound, quality feedback on our work. When giving her feedback, I read everything twice. She usually asks me specific questions, but I don’t even look at them until my second readthrough. First pass is for my initial thoughts and reactions, second pass is for a harder look and addressing particular issues.

Every story and writer has different needs. I would never give the same feedback to, say, a romance that I would give to a tragedy. I wouldn’t make a suggestion that would wildly alter the tone of the piece if that wasn’t the writer’s goal. When I’m giving critique, my job is to help the writer make their story better, but it’s still their story. I always try to be careful to not rewrite the story. No “if I was writing this…” BS.

I think it’s also important to know what sort of feedback someone is looking for. Are they worried about grammar and spelling? Focusing more on character and dialogue? Worldbuilding and plot structure?

If I’m giving critique to someone new, someone I don’t know very well or whose work I haven’t read before, I try to refrain from unsolicited advice. (But once I know you, all bets are off; most of my critique to my writing buddy at this point is not in response to her specific questions.) If someone isn’t worried about character yet, then they don’t need feedback on that.

As with everything, there are exceptions. If someone has asked not to get feedback on, say, grammar, but the errors are excessive to the point of distracting, I’ll mention it. Or if there’s a major issue that will present problems in the future, it’s worth addressing right away.

In my opinion, the most important thing to do when giving a critique is to be constructive! Be encouraging! I always try to call out things I like, whether it be the flow of a sentence or some strong word choice. If something makes me laugh or gasp, I say so. If I’m rooting for a specific character and their goals, I make it clear. I try really hard to balance out things I enjoyed with suggestions for improvement.

I really enjoy giving critiques, to be honest. It’s way less nerve-wracking than receiving critique, and I like feeling that I’ve helped. 

What I wrote this week: Draft 4, reassembly and targeted word choice adjustments.

What I read this week: Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall; The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black; How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black.

On Finishing

Hello friends!

In my humble opinion, one of the best writer feelings is finishing a draft. Especially when I’ve put a lot of work into AND I finish ahead of schedule.

Which is to say, I finished the fourth full draft of Scion of Victory over this week. My goal was to finish the draft by the end of May, so I’m about 2 weeks ahead of schedule. I feel good about this draft for a few reasons:

  1. It has a brand-new, never-before-seen beginning (technically this draft has 2 different beginnings).
  2. I cut several plot points that didn’t add much to the story and/or created unnecessary drama.
  3. I strengthened Eva’s development and gave her a more defined goal to work towards.
  4. I added more dimension to Kita and explored her romance with Fahvitt in different ways.

Because I worked through this draft by separating chapters according to narrator, I am currently doing “reassembly.” I typically write straight through the narrative, so this step is new for me. Once I’m satisfied with the order, I’ll read through the manuscript for cohesiveness and consistency. Then, I’ll be sending it off to my stellar writing buddy for her in-depth critique, as well as sharing it with my local writing group so they can tear it apart.

After that, I’ll incorporate any necessary edits (without doing another full rewrite). And then, it’ll be time to send my baby out into the world!

I had definitely planned to post about giving critiques this week, but finishing this draft was just too exciting not to share. 

What I wrote this week: Draft 4, Kita’s arc.

What I read this week: The Wicked King by Holly Black; Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall.