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

The Process – How I Write My Novels, Part 1

Hi everyone!

I’ve been asked more than a few times about how to write a novel, but when it comes to answering that question with advice, all I can say is that every writer should find a process that works for them.

I’ve known (or recently met via blogging :) ) some writers who write their novels out of order: they write the first chapter first, the last chapter second, the big things that happen in between, and then finally they fill in the gaps.  Other writers write from start to finish.  Some writers write the end first and then work up to that ending.

But that only covers the actual writing part.  For most writers, there is an entire process that starts before you even begin a chapter of your novel (which I have touched on before, I call it pre-writing) and ends with countless proofreads and peer reviews.

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

There are of course legends of writers so creative and talented that they don’t need to go through this entire process, and I say kudos to those who are able to :)  But for the rest of us, it is a development process that makes the novel a part of our lives, sometimes for years!

Tonight I’m going to cover the process I have developed that has worked very well for me with two novels, and is the process I am following for my new modern fantasy novel.  Thank you to my friend Christine for inspiring me to start writing this article tonight!

This article turned out way longer than I expected, so I am dividing it into two or three parts.  That way you all don’t have to read a novel about how to write a novel ;)

The Journal

Once I have an idea for a story, specifically for a novel, one of the first things I do is I buy a journal that I will use for that story.  For every novel I have written and am planning to write, I have a journal dedicated to it!

The Sword of Dragons - Journal 1
The Sword of Dragons – Journal 1

I didn’t start out doing this intentionally.  Many many years ago, when I first started developing the plot for what would become The Sword of Dragons, I grabbed the nearest notebook I had (I was in college at the time, so I had a lot of them) and started writing thoughts and ideas down.

Before I even started actually writing book 1, I liked the idea so much that when I found a really cool notebook with a dragon on the front, I bought it with the intent to use it for The Sword of Dragons book 2!  Since then, I started buying actual journals, all of them so far from Barnes and Noble.  However, this year I intend on going to a leather-binding shop at the Colorado Renaissance Festival to buy a hand-crafted leather journal :)

The Sword of Dragons "Story Bible"
The Sword of Dragons “Story Bible”

I also bought a journal that I use for the specific purpose of writing down the hows and whys of everything in the Sword of Dragons universe.  This includes how magic works, the major cultures, the history of Halarite, and character histories and ideas.  I’ve heard the term “story bible” used for these sorts of things, and even though I’ve had this for probably 8 months now, I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Pre-Writing and Plot Progression

Everything leading up to writing the first chapter or prologue of a novel is written in its journal.  It usually starts out with random ideas for key plot elements, characters, settings, and as time goes on the ideas become more focused.

The entire time I am doing this, which often takes days, weeks, perhaps even months, I am formulating in my head the most basic plot progression, and I work that into my ideas in the journal.  Some ideas come together really really quickly, others not so much.  For instance, I started writing down ideas in book 2’s journal in April 2011, which was while I was still working on book 1.  I didn’t actually start writing book 2 until 2013!  My new modern fantasy is coming along a lot faster than that, thank goodness :)

Once I have the basic plot in my head, coupled with the specific ideas I’ve written down in my journal, I begin writing a very basic plot overview.  This is a pretty cool stage for me, because I am blending what’s on paper with what’s in my head and making a coherent story out of it.

For the most part, this is just plot and the most important character development moments, but I usually don’t come up with the little stuff at this point.  That comes much later.

All of my writing journals so far.  From top left: TSOD book 1, TSOD book 2, TSOD book 3.  From bottom left, TSOD Bible, Modern Fantasy.
All of my writing journals so far. The top row is for The Sword of Dragons books 1 through 3. The bottom left is the Sword of Dragons “Story Bible”. The bottom right is for the new modern fantasy story.

Finally once I am satisfied with the general plot progression, I begin the last pre-writing step: I write down the plot of each chapter.  Sometimes these are just vague notes about what I want to happen in the chapter and take a couple of lines, other times it can take up several pages!

When all is said and done, I read over every chapter plot one more time to make sure I’m happy with it, and while I do that, I also transcribe it into electronic format.  Then I begin the best part, actually writing the novel!

To Be Continued

That’s all for tonight, I hope everyone found this interesting.  Click here for part 2!

-Jon

Modern Fantasy – What is Magic?

Hi everyone!

One of the staples of every fantasy story out there is the supernatural, magic.  …and I just heard 30 or so people say “thank you Mr. Obvious.”  But while magic is a common element, what it is exactly and how it works has varied from one story to the next that it almost defies imagination.

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

From Harry Potter’s wand-waving to Gandalf’s staff-planting to Eragon’s word-magic, it has been one of the most incredible and awe-inspiring facets of fantasy for as long as the genre, in one form or another, has existed.

This year I have exciting task of coming up with my own twist on it for my new modern fantasy novel.  And to be honest, it’s almost kind of daunting!  Why?  Because this isn’t the first time I’ve created a magic-based universe, and I don’t want to create a carbon-copy of my first universe.

The Sword of Dragons

Image Source - forgottenrealms.wikia.com
Image Source – http://forgottenrealms.wikia.com

In The Sword of Dragons, the actual source of magic and the incredible powers Mages and Wizards and Star Dragons use comes from a common source.  While not every human is capable of tapping into that source, those who can, as well as countless other inhabitants of the universe, are able to do so through knowledge.  Knowledge of how to channel that energy into their own bodies, change it to their desired outcome, and expel it in what ever form necessary.

It isn’t as simple as just that, since there are what you might call ‘shades’ to the source of power, which creates diversity in magic.  Mages, in comparison to most others, are weak and can barely wield this power, so their abilities are rudimentary and manipulate raw power.  Wizards, while still human, are much more refined and disciplined.  They have the ability to cast elemental magic, create portals, and many other, higher-level spells.

I don’t want to reveal the actual source of power in the novels, that will be a revelation within the series :)  I’ve only covered the most basic aspects of magic in The Sword of Dragons, but I’ve spent the better part of a decade developing it and figuring out its tiny facets.  It is almost a character in and of itself within the Sword of Dragons universe.

However, the fact that I have worked on it for so long is also a bit of a problem.

Modern Fantasy – How Magic Works

Now that its time to build a new universe with its own set of rules, I find myself wanting to fall back on the existing universe’s ideas.  When I first started considering how magic would work in the new novel, I wanted it to work in much the same way.

When I realized this, I stopped myself and cleared away that idea.  I don’t want to write the same story, after all.  I want this to be a completely unique story with a set of rules all its own.

Where did this lead me?  To research.  Yes, like the geek I am, I started researching magic.  I didn’t go to other fantasy novels, at least not yet.  Where I did start was actual history.  To be honest, I didn’t expect to find so much material on it.

magic-ancient-egypt
Image Source – http://www.love-egypt.com

The idea of the supernatural being real goes as far back as history, and I’m sure beyond even that.  From Ancient Egypt and Ancient China through today, humans are no strangers to rituals or incantations or enchantments.

While I expected the common elements of magic in Fantasy to have its origins in human culture, I did not realize just how much.  Almost every type of magic you’ve seen or read about in fiction has a basis on the beliefs of humans in the real world.  Shamanism, Necromancy, Enchantments, Witchcraft.  While I knew about some of this, I did not know about all of it, or the rich cultural and historical significance to it.

This brings me back to my original question: how will magic work in my new story?  Reading about it has given me ideas, but it will have to be one of those elements of the story that evolves as I continue to work on it.

The Power of Three

What I do know is this: the characters I have been developing over the past couple of weeks are key to solving this.  In fact as  fellow blogger Victoria recently pointed out in her blog, they are the prime factors of a story.

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

So the three primary characters central to my story, Chris, Emmi, and Alycia, will embody much of the magical ‘spectrum’ in this new universe.  Chris, being the central protagonist, will be the first to gain his new powers, but Emmi and Alycia will follow.

This is a sharp departure from The Sword of Dragons, where Cardin Kataar, thanks to the knowledge he is gaining from the Sword, will eventually be capable of using every power magic can grant.  Chris, Emmi and Alycia, on the other hand, will be limited, and while they might share some common abilities, the greatest of their powers will be unique to themselves.

In fact as I write this, the idea has struck me to give them specific types of magics, not necessarily just one, but again I don’t want them to share their greatest abilities.

Image Source - http://shadowd.pbworks.com
Image Source – http://shadowd.pbworks.com

Chris would be capable of using the more arcane type of magic, raw power, spells.  This would come from his deep connection to his ancestors and their own abilities, magnified through his own soul.

Emmi, being a more physical person, might find herself using spells that affect her physical body, such as controlled animism (so no, not a werewolf.)  I also would tie this in with nature, a strong bond with the natural world around her.

Alycia has a good spatial acuity and a very vivid imagination, and is able to take what is in her mind and create a representation in the real world of some sort (she is a graphic design major in college).  This makes me think of things like sigils and enchantments.  Bit of a stretch, I know, but my mind works in mysterious ways.

So there you have it, the beginnings of how magic works in this new universe.  I hope you all found this interesting, and that the latter half has garnered greater interest in my new story.  Please feel free to leave comments, I’m curious to know what everyone thinks!

-Jon

Writer’s Playlist – What’s Your Soundtrack?

Hi everyone,

So I’m curious if any other writers out there have a favorite type of music they listen to while they write?  Or a favorite artist/composer?  Do you change up music depending on what kind of scene you write?  For that matter, do you listen to music while you write?

Image Source - awonderfuldog.com
Image Source – awonderfuldog.com

Most of my writing these days is done at Starbucks and I usually don’t take my headphones with me.  So that means whatever music they have on at Starbucks, that’s my soundtrack.

But there are exceptions.  For instance for The Sword of Dragons book 1, when I wrote the last 4 chapters, all of which covered the final epic battle of the novel, I had assembled a playlist of my favorite battle songs from movies and video games.  The songs in this list included:

Suicide Mission – Mass Effect 2
The Battle – Gladiator
Tenrai Divinity (parts 1 and 2) – Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children
Scorponok – Transformers
The Black Gate Opens – Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Image Source - www.last.fm
Image Source – http://www.last.fm

There were more but those are the highlights :)  One of my all-time favorite albums to listen to while writing is Adiemus.  The very first album they did, anyway.

So everyone, please tell me what music inspires you!  Whether its for writing, arts and crafts, or what have you, post it here!  I’m very curious to know what everyone’s soundtrack is :)

-Jon

Writers and Reading

Hi everyone!

Today I went to Starbucks and did something I haven’t done in what feels like a really long time: I read a novel.

Image Source - Google Images
Image Source – Google Images

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!

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

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 :)

-Jon

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