Chronicles of the Sentinels – Plot Progression Completed!

Hi everyone!

I have some exciting news!  Today I finished laying out the general plot of my new novel, Chronicles of the Sentinels!  (I’ve decided to drop the first “The” in the title after some feedback.  Thanks Victoria!)

I am pleasantly surprised at how fast I’ve developed this story!  I actually only started writing down the plot on 8 June and only a few days later am already finished.  I started working on the actual idea on 11 June.  I’ve never developed a novel this fast, but it is so much fun!

For those who aren’t familiar with my pre-writing process, you can check out details by clicking here, but essentially I now only have one step left until I can start actually writing the story, and that’s writing out the chapter outlines.  This will most likely take longer, as I will write down in greater detail what I want to happen in the story.

In The Beginning – Who’s on First?

In my past novels, I’ve always written the very first chapter from the perspective of the primary protagonist.  In the case of The Sword of Dragons, this has been Cardin Kataar.  However in Chronicles, I’m actually tempted to do something different.

Unlike The Sword of Dragons, I’m not planning to include a prologue in Chronicles, or at least not for the first novel.  In my mind, a prologue wouldn’t fit with the tone I’m going for in this novel, plus I really like the idea of the reader making discoveries along with the characters.

However, once I finished the plot progression, I realized that starting the novel out from the leader of the Sentinels chasing after Nabu would be beneficial, since it would set up the events to come shortly after, as well as events towards the end of the novel.

So I’m actually wondering if anyone who reads my blog knows of examples where a novel didn’t start out from the protagonist’s PoV?  Would you consider them “successful” novels?  Did it cause you confusion as to who the main character of the story was?

Character Changes

One thing I know I’ve mentioned is the past is that a writer shouldn’t be afraid to change things during the development of a story.  If it isn’t published yet, it isn’t ‘canon’.  Having said that, I’ve considered changing some things up.  Most of them deal with minor characters.

Image Credits - http://mainlineoptix.com
Image Credits – http://mainlineoptix.com

The one thing I am strongly considering, however, is Alycia’s comfort level with her ‘nerdy’ nature.  I originally had written down in my notebook that I wanted her to be very comfortable with her nerdiness, but later on I wrote that she was uncomfortable with it and would, over time, learn to be okay with it.

However, as I re-read the first few pages in my journal today and saw my original idea for her, I realized why I wanted her to be comfortable with her nerdiness from the beginning.

Even in today’s society, where ‘nerds rule the world’ ;) I still have known nerds and geeks to struggle with self-esteem and self-worth (I certainly did for a long time.)  Yet I would argue that they are among the best kinds of people, the most interesting, the most intelligent, the most kind-hearted (most of the time, let’s not talk about Sheldon ;) ).  I believe that anyone who is a nerd or geek has every reason to be proud to be so.

So if one of the primary characters of the novel were to be a nerd, and proud to be so, I would hope it would send that message to readers.  It’s not only okay to be a nerd or a geek, it is completely awesome!!

To my fellow writers, I add in this reminder about your work: whether your stories are read by a handful of people or millions, you’ll be presenting role models to your audience.  Its been my experience that those who frequently read often connect to one character or another on a very personal level.

So keep that in mind when you write a character.  No one is perfect, and frankly we like reading about flawed characters over flawless ones.  But be conscious about how your work will affect your readers beyond the book, especially young adult or children audiences.  Inspire them!

Thanks for reading :)
-Jon

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Facebook Page – Yea or Nay?

Hey everyone,

So tonight I have a question to all who follow my blog: should I create a writer’s facebook page?  Before you all rush down to the bottom of the page and type in a resounding “YES!” the reason I hesitate and am asking you all is that I am still unpublished and without an agent.

I did read in an article in Writer’s Digest that published fiction writers should create one to cultivate readership, but what about an unpublished one?  How many of you have a facebook page, and would you mind putting in a link to it so I can see what you do?  Who are other writers who have facebook pages that you follow, and why do you follow them?

I’ve looked at some established authors on facebook, such as Timothy Zahn and Laurel K. Hamilton, but I’m a long way towards being that established, lol.

Image Source - https://www.facebook.com/TimothyZahn
Image Source – https://www.facebook.com/TimothyZahn

Thanks everyone!  :)
-Jon

Modern Fantasy – A Title At Last!

Hi everyone!

Just how important is a title?  Can a good novel with a bad title still become a success?  Can a bad novel with a good title still earn a writer a living?

The title is often the very first thing we see of a book, coupled with its binding display or even the cover if the novel is turned to face outward at the bookstore or library.  It has to be eye-catching, and has to be appealing to our target audience, which means it has to fit the genre of the novel.

Keeping all of these things in mind, I’ve struggled to come up with a title for my newest story, the modern fantasy I’ve been writing about here.  How do you capture the spirit of a modern fantasy without making it sound cheesy?

Images Source - http://bramleegwater.deviantart.com
Images Source – http://bramleegwater.deviantart.com

I’ve thrown a lot of titles around in my head, asked others for opinions on some of them.  For a while the contender was something like “The Guardians of the Barrier” Or “The Sentinels of Magic”, referring specifically to the group that protects the Barrier that blocks all magic on Earth.  I’ve even tried to come up with a good title that reflects the three protagonists, but nothing sounded right to me.

This struggle to find a title quickly became frustrating.  Finally I ended up spending a couple of hours just sitting down trying to find a title.  I looked up synonyms for various words, like Sentinel or Guardians, or Barrier.  I had a list of words on a word document and tried to figure out how to put them together into a coherent and fitting title.

Of course, one of the things to consider is whether or not there’s a novel or series out there already using a title, and this was another roadblock I ran into.  I thought I had come up with the perfect title, and found that there were no fantasy novels by that name.  Then when I did just a general search for the title, I found there was a science fiction that used the title I had come up with.

What finally helped me figure it out was by analyzing the warriors who protect the Barrier, who stand watch over Earth and protect humanity from the strange creatures that fall through the cracks.  Originally I called them the Guardians, but I realized a more fitting title for this group was Sentinel, which was a name I had considered using earlier.

And so I’m excited to announce that I finally have a title for my new project!!

The Chronicles of the Sentinels

This will be the primary title for each novel in the series, while I’ll also have a subtitle for each one, similar to the novels I’m trying to find an agent for now, The Sword of Dragons (book 1 has no subtitle, while book 2 has the subtitle “Burning Skies”).

I don’t know what the subtitle for the first Chronicles book will be (one thing at a time!) but I’m glad I now have a specific title for this project and don’t have to refer to it as “that modern fantasy story” anymore :)

Let me know what you all think!  Love it?  Hate it?  I love hearing from you all!

-Jon

Emotion in Fiction – Connecting to Your Readers

Hi everyone!

For many people, feeling emotions, especially when they are their own emotions, can be a frightening thing.  Yet for writers, not to mention actors, musicians, pretty much anyone who ‘puts themselves out there’ for an audience in some way, emotions are an essential gateway to connecting to their audience.

Image Source - http://www.rmfw.org/
Image Source – http://www.rmfw.org/

It was honestly something I never really thought about until I read an article recently on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers website.  As I read this article, I realized how much it rang true, in every respect.  It also reminded me of some of the greatest moments in the last novel I completed, The Sword of Dragons – Burning Skies.  Some of the most memorable stories out there evoke some of the strongest emotions.

Connecting to the Characters

One of the key aspects the article mentioned was breaking through the emotional barrier, and how many writers fail to do so.  Some don’t even try, perhaps because they don’t think they need to or that they shouldn’t.

But stop and think for a moment about storytelling.  What is it, exactly?  At the most basic level, it is relaying a sequence of events, whether in order or out of order, to another person.  Sounds rather dull and boring when you put it that way.

Go deeper.  What is it about stories that draws us in?  There are the typical tropes of wonder and imagination, especially in genre fiction like Fantasy and Sci-Fi, and that can draw someone in by itself.  However, I guarantee you it isn’t enough.

Image Source - www.sw-unity.org
Image Source – http://www.sw-unity.org

Think about one of your favorite TV show or movie.  What’s one of the first things that pops into your mind about that movie or show?  I’ll bet for most of you, it’s the characters.  When I think of Star Wars, I think of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.  When I think of Lord of the Rings, I don’t immediately picture the One Ring in my mind, but I see Aragorn, or Frodo and Samwise.

My point here is that we think of characters, people.  They are what we remember, and that is because we are able to connect with the characters.  Even in stories written from the 3rd person, we inhabit their lives, their world.  We root for them, or we hate them, or we fall in love with them.

That link we feel for them, the one that makes us remember them, is an emotional one.   And that is because, in a sense, they opened up to us (even if they had no choice, mwahahah!)  We get to see those characters’ innermost thoughts and emotions.

Reaching Inside

With all of that in mind, breaking through the emotional barrier, for all artists, becomes essential.  When we do so, we’re able to realistically convey emotions that connect us with our audience.

Image Source - www.bridgetteraes.com
Image Source – http://www.bridgetteraes.com

Actors, at least the best ones, are masters of using their own emotions.  Mandy Patinkin, who played Inigo Montoya in the movie The Princess Bride, revealed in interviews that when he was approached to be a part of the movie, he was offered any role.  He chose Inigo because Patinkin had just recently lost his own father.  So throughout the movie, he imagined that he was on a quest to avenge his own father, and in the final sword fight with the six-fingered man, he imagined he was fighting the cancer that killed his father.

The best musicians also do this.  My high school choir director always told us that no one wants to come to a performance to watch “dead fish” sing on stage.  She encouraged us to reach inside, feel the emotion of the song, and to express it in our performances.  Lindsey Stirling plays with incredible expression of emotion (just watch any one of her youtube videos for proof!)

Image Sources - houseofgeekery.com
Image Sources – houseofgeekery.com

Some of the greatest artists, including painters, were able to use their own emotions in much the same way.  There was an episode of Doctor Who where the Doctor gets to meet Vincent Van Gogh.  Later, when speaking to a modern-day museum curator about Vincent, the curator says “He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty.”

Examples from The Sword of Dragons

As a writer, I’ve found that some of my best work also comes from reaching inside of myself and finding emotions that coincide with a scene.  Earlier I mentioned an example, a scene I wrote in Burning Skies.  One of the central characters feels broken, lost, utterly useless.  She’s trying to find her way, but despairs that she never will, and she spirals further and further downward in her emotional journey.

In one of the key moments of the novel, the character hits rock bottom, does something horrible, and when she realizes what she’s done, nearly goes over the edge.  As all of this plays through her head and heart, I wrote about how she expressed these feelings, and I found that as I did so, I reached back to one of the worst times in my life, remembered the emotions I felt, felt those emotions again, and wrote without having to ever think about how the character should or would act.

When the scene was completed, I found that I had actually started to tear up myself.  I felt a bit embarrassed about that, after all I do almost all of my writing at Starbucks.  But later when I re-read that scene, it and the scene following it turned out to be among the most powerful scenes in the novel.

It isn’t just about dark emotions, however.  This example can hold true for every emotion.  Love, joy, sorrow, sympathy, every single emotion can, and perhaps should, come from within the writer.

Breaking Through the Barrier

I realize that for many people, especially in this digital age, what I’m suggesting might be extraordinarily difficult.  It means acknowledging your own emotions, allowing yourself to feel them, intentionally evoking those emotions and the memories associated with them.

It can be an uncomfortable prospect.  However I strongly believe it is key to being a good writer.

So I’ll leave you all with yet another bold statement: emotions aren’t something you have to hide from.  Yes there is pain and sadness, and these can be uncomfortable emotions.  But there is also exquisite joy and happiness.  All of these various emotions hold an incredible beauty all of their own, and if you’re able to learn how to explore those emotions by feeling them, you’ll make yourself a better writer.

Thanks for reading :)
-Jon

Calling all creative minds/poets – In The Sunshine of Summer Time

Neha’s collaborative blogs have resulted in some incredible and absolutely beautiful poems! For all of you poets out there, drop on by and contribute! For those who love to read poetry, keep an eye on this latest endeavor :D

forgottenmeadows

Hi Everyone,

I thought I would start a summer collaboration that will be open for the months of July and August and close on September 1st, 2014! This is the longest duration I have ever had a collaboration open so I really hope a lot of you will participate…tap on to those summer memories, emotions and feelings… Just like the ones before, you can add your contribution under comments and I will place them in the order they come. I will put the name of the contributor at the end of the piece in the same colour as their contribution and the names will be in the same order as well. Please be patient with me on updating, as some days I may not get to be online during these months as previously noted but if you leave it in the comment I will make sure it has been added…

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Modern Fantasy – Heros and Villains

Hi everyone!

I finally dove head-first into fleshing out the characters for my new novel (I really need to come up with a title…)  And I have to say I’ve started to really get the feel for the story and the characters :)

I started with the three protagonists, including finally giving them last names and some general info about them.  I found myself coming up with ideas for plot progression as I worked on these.  I love it when characters inform the plot, it usually ends up a lot more interesting and engaging that way!

I’ll give a little blurb about the characters, but they are just very basic ones, and I’ll also try not to give away too much of the story!  (The pictures of the 3 protagonists are random pictures taken from the web :) )

Image Source - http://cdn.stylisheve.com
Image Source – http://cdn.stylisheve.com

Christopher Tatsu – Primary protagonist, Japanese-American.  5’8″ tall.  Keeps his black hair fairly short, around a couple of inches.  He often has tried to avoid being physically active, but Emmi doesn’t let him and so he has a fairly toned physical build.

Chris is a 5th generation Japanese-American and finds that he’s not a fan of his parents’ plans for him, but he is unwilling to defy their wishes.  Hence his choice of Computer Science for schooling.  He has felt rather listless in life, not feeling passionate about any potential career field or education path.  He is, however, passionate about his loyalty to his friends, including his long-time friend Emmi, whom he has known since childhood.

Image Source - http://branislavboda.deviantart.com
Image Source – http://branislavboda.deviantart.com

Emmanuelle Dubois – Goes by the name of Emmi.  She is 5’7″ tall and has red hair that she keeps cut relatively short, around the bottom of her jawline.  Her eyes are a bright blue.  She is fairly athletic and is a fan of nature; she goes on several hikes and loves to go camping, often dragging Chris and their newer friend, Alycia, with.

Emmi’s ancestry is mostly French, but her family has lived in the United States since before the Civil War.  She has known Chris since they were both 10.  She has a very energetic demeanor, and is much more willing to do what she wants, and tries to encourage Chris to defy his parents’ wishes and find his own way in life.  She’s gone through a lot of relationships and finds herself fairly jaded about romance.

Image Source - http://mainlineoptix.com
Image Source – http://mainlineoptix.com

Alycia Taylor –  She is 5’4″ tall and keeps her brunette hair long enough to just fall below her shoulder blades.  She has brown eyes and seems to have a natural tan at all times.  She has an average body build, but thanks to taking a movie-style sword fighting class in her last semester, she’s becoming increasingly fit.

Alycia lived in Australia until her family moved to the United States when she was 14.  She is very much a geek, but she is not entirely comfortable showing this fact to the world, so she tries to hide it.  This includes wearing contacts, despite how uncomfortable they are for her, but when she’s around trusted friends, she ditches the contacts and wears her glasses.  She is a very visual person and has an active imagination, which led her to Graphic Design and Animation for her education.  She has had a crush on Chris ever since she met him, but she is far too unsure of herself to admit it to him.

The Villain

Although there are multiple villains, many of them are hidden or unknown initially, and I don’t want to ruin surprises :)  So for this section, I’ll just talk about the central villain of book 1.

Nabu – According to ancient myths, Nabu was a god in ancient Babylon, the son of Marduk and Sarpanit.  It was said that he served his father loyally, but had a large base of worshipers all of his own in the nearby Borsippa.

Nabu is indeed an immortal and powerful being, but his physical form is human, and he is said to be half-human.  When the Barrier was first created, it in essence cut Nabu off from half of the very essence of his being, and it drove him to insanity.  He has struggled for the last three thousand years to demolish the Barrier, but has been stopped every time by the Guardians.

After several centuries of imprisonment, Nabu escaped fifteen years ago.  Though still without magic, he has a natural charisma that draws many to his cause.  Most recently this has included several members of the Guardians from all across the world.  He also is infamous for taking a particular liking to certain women, and throughout the millennia has always had a consort.

I want to make Nabu an enigma.  While his motivations are not entirely a secret, his ability to balance insanity with charisma is intended to be puzzling and dangerous.  Through his charisma, Nabu will lead others to his point of view.  In time, this allows him to begin projecting his insanity onto his followers.  He twists and turns them until there is nothing left of the original person.

Supporting Characters

I don’t want to give too much away, so for now I’ll just give little blurbs about the supporting characters :)

Thomas Walker – Commands the U.S. detachment of the Guardians.  Ex-military, 51 years old.  Usually personable, but impatient with cowardice or stupidity.

Eric Walker – Thomas’s son, and friend to Chris and his friends.  He is brash and rebellious, and has a tendency to help his friends get into trouble.

Shara – An elf who has been stranded on Earth since 1917.  A fluke portal that breached the Barrier through a crack planted her in the middle of a battlefield.  She was rescued by a member of the Guardians and was taken to the U.S., where she has worked with the Guardians to repay the debt she feels she owes them for saving her.  Much to Emmi’s disappointment, Shara has almost fully assimilated into human culture.

Abigail Turner – She serves as the procurement and logistics officer for the U.S. detachment of the Guardians, supplemented by her ability to hack almost any system.  She became involved with the Guardians when a monster, brought to Earth through a minor crack in the Barrier, wounded her and paralyzed her from the waist-down.  She has a very big heart, and is often seen as the spirit of the team.

—————————-

I hope you all enjoyed this peak into the upcoming novel.  I have never developed a story this fast, and find that I’m about ready to start jotting down the full plot progression!  So stay tuned for more updates in the near future :)

-Jon

The Process – How I Write My Novels, Part 2

Hi everyone!

As promised, here’s the next part of How I Write My Novels.  If you missed part 1, click here!

Writing the First Draft

Photo taken by Laura Earley
Photo taken by Laura Earley

There’s no other way to say it, I love this part more than any other!  With all of the pre-writing done, I pick up my laptop, go to my favorite Starbucks, and I start writing from the very beginning.

Usually what happens is I have two windows up, one with my transcribed plot progression (not sure if synopsis is quite the right word) and the other is which ever chapter I am working on at the time.  As I go along, if I need a reminder about where I am taking the story or characters in that chapter, I look back at the other window, and then I continue writing.

For The Sword of Dragons I also have other documents on my laptop that have basic descriptions of who characters are, major cities or other locations, and descriptions of certain objects.  These files help me to ensure I keep continuity within the novel as well as from one novel to the next.  They are what are called “living documents,” I update them as I go along, they are constantly changing.  I have the feeling I’ll soon have something similar for my new novel :)

This is also the part when I get to know my characters the best.  All of the little nuances, all of the reactions, the emotions, this is when they come out, as I write the story.  I find that I can’t really plan these too well, because then they come out feeling artificial.  They just happen!

When the characters move me and drive me, that is when my best work is done.  I also discovered in The Sword of Dragons book 2 that my chapter outlines are not hard and fast rules.  If I have ideas to change or add things in as I go along, I do not hesitate, because when I do this, it’s usually my unconscious mind saying “this is boring, but do it this way instead, and it’ll be better!”  For instance, book 2 was originally supposed to be 36 chapters (not counting the prologue and epilogue) but when I finished writing, it ended up with 4 additional unplanned chapters!

Since I’m not yet living off of writing (although that has become my goal), I can’t do this every single day, so I usually end up going to Starbucks every Saturday or Sunday (or sometimes both) and I spend at least 4 hours there writing.  This usually lets me get at least 2 chapters done, depending on their length, but when I’m on a roll and the writing takes on a life of its own, I can write upwards of six chapters!

The point is, I write on a schedule.  I do this for a few reasons, first of all because I love to write so I don’t mind writing on the weekends :)  But second, if I don’t write regularly and just treat it like a ‘whenever’ kind of thing, I’ll start to slack of for whatever reasons.  This keeps me going, keeps me from falling behind.  This allowed me to completely write book 2 of The Sword of Dragons in just a handful of months!  Imagine if I could do this full time!  :)

The First and Second Proofread

Note that not once did I mention proofreading while writing the first draft.  I used to do that, I used to write a chapter, and then stop and re-read that chapter to proofread, but I attribute this, at least in part, to the troubles I had writing my first couple of novels (including the one I finished in 2004 and will never see the light of day!!)

That is because it interrupts the flow of storytelling.  Not everyone might experience that or agree with me on this, but I strongly advise against stopping to proofread every chapter.

Once the first draft is complete, I’ll usually let it sit for at least a few days while I allow the high of completing a full novel to wear off :)  My first proofread is done on the electronic version, on my laptop or desktop PC.

Reading something electronically is an entirely different experience than reading a hard-copy, or at least it is for me.  My first read-through of my manuscript usually results in minor changes, some typo and grammar fixes, etc.  But once I print out the manuscript for the second read-through, I go to town on it!  Figuratively speaking…

I don’t actually do this right away, once I finish my first proofread (which I seem to do in a couple of days) I let the novel sit for at least a couple of weeks.  This gives me some distance from the story and characters, so that I can come at it with a fresh perspective.

The Sword of Dragons book 2 page 1
The Sword of Dragons book 2 page 1

When I’m ready for round two, I print it out, and I read it with a red pen in hand.  That red pen also acts as my bookmark, because I find reading the hard-copy takes me a lot longer.  I don’t know why I go slower, but it also means I catch a lot of things I didn’t catch before.  I also write in notes for any additional paragraphs or sentences or scenes I want to add.  Some of the pages look pretty red by the time I’m done with them!

I can’t stress this enough to all writers: don’t be afraid to make big changes to your manuscript during your proofreads!  If your mind is saying something doesn’t work, trust your instinct!

Beta Readers

The final parts are pretty cool, in that I get to have eyes-on it from others.  While I saved this part for last, beta reading can be done at any time after completion of the manuscript.  For book 1, I let friends read it only after it was a polished product.  For book 2, I sent the chapters to my friends as I finished them, and then sent revisions during the 1st proofread.  (I’m still working on proofread #2).

Thank you to my friends Nick and Natalie for being my beta readers for two novels now.  You two are awesome!!

Be warned: your beta readers might have things to say that you don’t want to hear.  But remember that they don’t know the story inside and out like you do, and if they say something seems wrong or is off or is confusing, so will almost every other reader out there.  Heed their feedback!!

When all is said and done, I usually do one more hard-copy proofread, and inevitably find more typos, grammar errors, etc.  Since I don’t have an editor, this is the part when the manuscript is fairly polished, and is ready for query letters to be sent out.

Final Remarks

To be honest, without an editor, you could proofread for the rest of your life and still find things to improve.  There comes a time when you have to call it good and start to try to find an agent.  Don’t let your work become stale or stuck in ‘proofreading hell.’

I’ve heard some folks say that they start to feel down after they’ve finished writing a manuscript, like coming down from a high, but by diving into the proofreading, I find I really don’t have that sensation.  Especially since by the time I’m on proofread #2, I’m already deep into fleshing out the story for my next novel :D

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed these articles!

-Jon

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