Today I went to Starbucks and did something I haven’t done in what feels like a really long time: I read a novel.
I don’t think I’ve said it yet in my blog, but Starbucks is my favorite place to go to work on my stories! For some reason I seem to have a hard time focusing on writing when I’m at home, but when I’m there, I somehow become more focused on writing.
Also lately I have been studying for an IT certification I need for my current day-job. Between these two items, where has that left my pleasure reading? Non-existent.
For someone who’s been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, that realization kind of startled me. The last time I just read for pleasure was when I was waiting for my flight at the airport a couple of month ago. Insane!
So it made me realize something, and I want to pass this revelation (perhaps words of wisdom?) on to fellow writers and, for that matter, everyone: take the time to read. Make the time to read!
For anyone, writer or not, if you enjoy reading, do what you can to find time, even if it’s just fifteen minutes, to read! Many of you may be doing that now: reading blog articles could be what refuels you.
It is so easy to let the craziness of life take control, and you might start to miss out on your favorite ‘past-times.’
Reading Fuels Writing
For writers specifically, I believe this to be essential! I can’t speak for all writers, but for me I find a lot of inspiration in written work. Movies, music, and other media too, but being someone who creates stories out of words, reading is one of my fuel sources!
Reading other writers’ works can give you ideas on how to change or improve your own writing style, it can give you ideas on characters, settings, details. Reading novels is, in a way, like reading a how-to book. You should never copy another writer’s style, but you can learn from it, and take what you like from it, and morph it into your existing style. Essentially, make it your own!
Let your imagination run wild by reading stories that you haven’t told! Especially if you are stuck on a part in your story and don’t know how to get by it. In fact, let me re-type that in bold:
If you are stuck with your story, put it down for a while and read someone else’s story!
I have found this helps me a lot in the past. Even if what I’m reading doesn’t provide me with a method of getting past that part of my own story, it relaxes me. When it comes to writing, I do my best work when I’m not stressed out!
So do yourself a favor: take time off to just read. And remember, when you’re reading another author’s novel, you’re supporting them. Maybe someday they’ll be able to return the favor for you :)
So the term pre-writing…I’m not sure if that’s a real term or not, I just made it up, but think of it like pre-production in a movie. It is, in my opinion, essential to writing a good novel.
What do they do in pre-production? They finalize the script, select their cast, work through and approve things like concept art, set design, costume design. Then they build the sets and create the costumes, build the props, schedule shooting times and arrange everyone’s schedule. Production or principle photography doesn’t begin until the majority of these items are taken care of.
Why do they do this? So that when they start production, it isn’t chaos, everyone knows what they are doing and when and how. This also means they spend less money. A lot less. Sure things will change along the way, script changes, wardrobe redesigns, set redresses to make a scene look or work better, etc, but the groundwork is laid, and any changes become easier to work with within the given framework.
Pre-writing is the same concept, but is more about world building and character creation. It is important so that you ensure your novel, and any subsequent novels you might make, is consistent, rich, developed, and interesting. Even if you don’t use everything you create in this stage, it’ll create the universe more clearly in your own imagination. And while readers might not consciously be aware of your efforts when they read the end-product, it has a very real affect on the quality of the final product, and readers do notice that.
Plus you’ll be saving yourself a lot of headaches in the end :)
World building can include a lot of things, and can be done in many different ways, but there are some consistencies. For starters, as you come up with ideas, write them down! Whether you scribble it on the back of a napkin, jot it down in a notebook, or type it up on a computer, get it down as you think of it, or as soon as you can afterwords!
Immediately putting it onto a tangible medium allows you to get the idea down before it starts to become ‘fuzzy’ in your mind. However, remember that this is still pre-writing. So don’t treat it like it’s prose or a final product. Ask yourself questions on paper, answer them if you can or leave them for later, jot down things inconsistently if you have to. Let your imagination flow freely!
Here’s an example from the journal I’m using for developing my modern fantasy: “The barrier is created to prevent a malevolent force from coming to Earth. Why does that force want to come to Earth? For that matter, who or what is it?”
It isn’t developed, it isn’t complete, it was just a couple of lines from the very first inklings I had on the story. Only more recently have I figured out who that ‘malevolent force’ is.
Which brings me to another important suggestion: Research!!!
No matter what you are writing, research is essential to good world-building! If you’re writing a ‘typical’ fantasy novel, you need to research proper medieval attire, names and designs of weapons, fighting styles, city/castle architecture, basically anything that you don’t already know about the period your story will emulate.
If you’re writing a science fiction, well that becomes even more important if you want your fiction technology to be believable. If there’s cybernetics in your universe, make sure you know how that technology might actually work, because the moment a reader thinks something couldn’t possibly be real, their suspension of disbelief is broken and they lost interest.
If you’re writing a romance, where does the story take place? Have you been to that location before? Even if you have, do you know everything about that location? Just like any other genre, if you write something that rips your readers out of the story and into a doubtful mood, like if you say Las Vegas has a marsh just outside the city limits, you’ve lost your readers’ interest.
Or for my new story, a modern fantasy that ties into history, I’ve researched ancient myths to figure out who the bad guy really is. And once I had an idea for the malevolent force’s identity, it wasn’t set in stone.
My initial idea was a Mayan god, which led me to Quetzalcoatl. I figured out how I could tweak the legends and myths of this god to fit my purposes, but further research led me to other areas, until I found a Babylonian god who’s mythology and the actual historical characters that worshiped him made him the perfect supernatural being to act as the over-powered villain in the story.
Figuring out how this god, his son, and the Babylonian king who had his temple built (or rather, rebuilt) not only gave me a back-story and helped define the goals and motivations of the villains, but it also gave me ideas for how other characters would be motivated or affected by the villains. It helped me flesh out the world, and gave more meaning to everything that happens in the story.
Setting up ‘rules’ for how fictional facets work is also important. Very important. Look at Star Trek, one of my all-time favorite science fiction universes. Yet it has a consistent flaw of inconsistency with how most of the technology works.
The same goes for fantasy. Magic is not real (unless someone isn’t telling me something…) but that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be rules governing how it works within your universe. Believe me, changing the rules just to fit the story is not a good idea, no matter how often you see big-name franchises do it! So figure out the basic rules up front.
One last bit of advice about all of this: remember that until it is in a published story, the rules and history you create are not set in stone! So if while you’re developing your story, or even if you’re already writing it, or even if you have a completed manuscript that isn’t published yet, if you get an idea to change something to make your stories more interesting or entertaining, don’t be afraid to do it!
Just make sure you keep your universe consistent!
I know I teased you all with some clues about the villains in my new modern fantasy story. More shall be revealed in due time, don’t worry.
Thanks for reading! I hope this was of some help to aspiring writers, and was interesting to readers :)
I decided to post the premise of my new story idea, for one big reason: I want to be able to talk about the process of world-building and character development in future blogs. Doing so without the premise in-hand would probably just frustrate everyone.
So from here on in, I’ll try revealing enough to excite and interest you all without giving away too much. After all, as River Song likes to say, “Spoilers!”
Side note: the premise is not wholly complete, so I’ll add little notes here and there in parenthesis indicating as such. Remember, this is a work in progress! I also do not yet have a title…
Magic is real! Or at least, it used to be. In humanity’s earliest days, a small percentage of men and women could connect to magic and use it to bend the world to their will.
When a malevolent entity of unimaginable power threatens to come to Earth (still need to figure out its reason for wanting Earth, and, for that matter, what it actually is), humanity’s most powerful wielders of magic come together and forge a powerful barrier in and around the Earth, blocking all magic.
The Guardians have protected the barrier ever since. Occasionally the barrier cracks, and individuals gain unusual abilities or creatures from other realms and worlds come to Earth. The Guardians always clean up after these mishaps, leaving the tales of mystical creatures and super-powered men to become folklore and superstitious curiosities.
Fast forward to today: a young man named Chris, at the end of his college career and finding he doesn’t like where his life is going, is thrust into the middle of the struggle between the Guardians and a rogue faction.
The barrier is badly damaged in an early battle, and all across the globe strange events begin to unfold. Earth becomes a maelstrom of magic as the void fills with power. Chris is surprised to find that he is one of the few who can use this new power, but when this makes him a target for the rogues, he quickly wishes he could lose his new-found abilities.
However, along the way, he begins to discover that he has a natural talent for magic, and soon realizes that this was the piece missing from his life all along. He must decide whether to embrace his new powers, or to repair the cracks in the barrier. His choice will change the course of humanity forever.
Where I’m At Now
Today I spent a good deal of time creating the characters, or rather just starting out with a couple of paragraphs about each character, their motivation, and their contribution to the basic story.
Chris may not be the name I keep for the protagonist, but I find it works for now. I’ll post more info on the characters later on, I don’t want to give too much away up front :)
Having worked on The Sword of Dragons for so long now, I’m finding it to be a fun, if daunting task to build a new world. It might seem easier, since this starts in present-day Earth, but the back-story is a part of all human history, and this means research.
Honestly that’s turning out to be a fun task, doing research so that I can figure out how to integrate historical events into the story. It may play a minor role, or it may play a huge role, but I like that tie-in. That was one of the things I enjoyed about Stargate SG-1, how they tied ancient history in with the story.
So I have my work cut out for me, but I am looking forward to continuing to work on this new universe!!
This was a really cool writing collaboration!! Check out the end results, it is quite beautiful :) Writing is often thought of as a singular activity, by itself (while the other aspects involved, such as proofreading and editing, are less so.) Yet this blog article shows that collaboration can result in some amazing work!
As the last collaboration was such a success, I wanted to start another. This time I will give everyone a week as I realize some of you only blog once a week. As usual I will add all contributions in different colour and list the contributor in the same colour at the end of the piece. I will add it in the order they come. Hope you all will join in on this one :) Thank you!
Today I went to the Denver Comic Con, which in and of itself was an awesome experience. It was my first comic con ever! But something even better happened, and may just be what I needed to launch my writing career!
Browsing the Booths
As I was perusing from booth to booth, I came across a few local writers and publishers and began chatting with them. I was amazed at the friendliness of everyone to begin with at this convention, but when I told those in the writing and publishing booths that I’m a writer looking for an agent and publication for my first novel, they were all very friendly and were more than happy to give advice.
One of the publishers told me something I didn’t expect: “Agents are a thing of the past.” I found that to be curious, but was on my way to a scheduled event so I didn’t have a chance to ask him why he thought that. The research I’ve done indicates that if you want mainstream publication, that’s one of the best ways to go. In any case, I didn’t think much of it at the time.
Kevin J. Anderson and David Farland
The best part was when I went to Kevin J. Anderson’s booth. He wasn’t there, but as I was talking with one of the booth attendants, I mentioned my interest in both sci-fi and fantasy, and he pointed me to a novel by David Farland, The Golden Queen. The attendant told me it was a perfect blend of sci-fi and fantasy, which intrigued me, so I decided to buy it. The attendant also mentioned the author would be back in the booth later and would be more than happy to sign my copy.
Right towards the end of the convention I decided to go back and see if I could meet David Farland, and sure enough he was there, and he happily signed my copy. We started talking, and I mentioned I was a writer looking for an agent and publication.
I was completely taken by surprise when he gave me his contact info and told me to get in touch with him! He’s going to give me tips and pointers about finding an agent or an editor, among other things, and then we talked for a good fifteen minutes about finding the right agent for your work and some of his experiences with agents.
Agents Are Still Imporant
I mentioned to him what the one publisher said, “Agents are a thing of the past,” to which David said no, that is not the case. With self-publishing becoming so big, its true that many authors may not need or want an agent, and if you are an experienced writer who really knows the ins and outs of the industry, you might not need an agent.
But for first-time writers who don’t know the industry, an agent can help you navigate the waters in the beginning. Someday you may out-grow needing an agent, so to speak, but for anyone looking to get mainstream publication, an agent or an editor is still your best bet when you’re just starting out.
I hadn’t expected the bit about an editor, I had always thought that an agent was the only first step you really could take. So I intend to research how to find an editor, and to ask David as many questions as I can.
What surprised me most was when I read his brochure. He teaches writing workshops regularly, and some of his past students included Stephenie Meyer (I may not like her work, but there’s no denying her success) and Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time series.)
So I am excited to have met David and I am looking forward to learning from him! I know that I have so much to learn still, and I doubt I’ll ever stop learning :)
Over the last couple of days, I’ve been very excited about a new modern fantasy story idea I’ve come up with!! So excited, in fact, that I am strongly considering setting aside my current series, The Sword of Dragons, to work on it. I wouldn’t stop trying to find an agent for book 1, but my work on book 3 would slow down drastically.
I don’t yet have a title for this new project, but I’ve been developing it rapidly, coming up with quick character bios (to be fleshed out more as I go along) and fleshing out the story in some detail already. Unless something comes up, I plan to spend a good deal of time Sunday working on it.
I would like to ask those who read my blog for their opinion: should I post the premise of the story on my blog for all to read? Or should I keep that kind of detail under wraps and simply tease readers with tidbits of information as I go along?
In a way I think it would be kind of neat to post about developing the new characters, the plot, etc, but I don’t want to give so much away that no one wants to buy the novel when it hits shelves.
Thoughts and opinions appreciated :)
But to give everyone a teaser, here’s a line of dialogue I thought up tonight that I would like to try to work into the story at some point. I haven’t named the characters yet, so I’m afraid they’re designated by just “C1” “C2” etc. C1 is the protagonist, by the way :)
C1: “You say this is real life? I’m standing next to an elf, I can cast magic, and there’s a freaking gargoyle terrorizing the city. This isn’t real life, it’s a messed up dream!”
C2: “So, what, you’re just gonna shove your head in the sand and hope the scary monsters go away?”
C3: “No, not sand. Its shoved up somewhere else, though.”
I received an email today that positively made my spirits soar!
At this point I’ve only submitted my query letter to six agents, I haven’t “shotgunned” it out to more because I was sort of testing the waters. This was, after all, my very first query letter, and I knew it would need work.
One of the agents I submitted to was Pooja Menon at Kimberly Cameron & Associates. Most of the agents I’ve submitted to only wanted a query letter or the letter plus a synopsis, but this agency also wanted the first 50 pages of my manuscripts.
All of the other agents I’ve submitted to so far either didn’t respond or sent the standard copy/paste rejection letters, but Pooja sent a personalized response.
In and of itself I find that a little encouraging, that’s better than anything I’ve ever received previously, not just for this novel but for everything I’ve ever submitted for publication in the past. But it was her response that made me smile. She specifically complimented my writing and said she thought the story was interesting.
Unfortunately it wasn’t one she felt she was right to represent. I don’t know if that’s a standard sort of way of saying “Sorry, not interested” but on the whole her email was highly encouraging :)
Writers more experienced in the search for agents might not think much of this, but I will definitely say that for me, this was a huge boon, and I am very grateful that she took the time to write a personal response!
In any case, I find that I still am having trouble writing a revised query letter to submit to agentqueryconnect.com for further critique. I seem to be stuck on coming up with a good hook, so I’m going to do some research, find examples of good hooks, and see if it sparks some ideas for me.
Thanks for reading!
Trials and triumphs of writing, finding an agent, and publication.