While I didn’t join in the Weekend Writing Warriors yet, I decided to go ahead and post an excerpt from my work in progress. This is a little over the 8-sentence count the WWW wants, but I wanted to put a little bit more in.
Having never done this, I wasn’t sure what to post, but I think this one is a good glimpse into two of the central characters. In this scene, Chris has just finished one of his finals. He met up with Alycia, a friend and someone to whom Chris feels a great deal of attraction for.
When they walked up to the bus stop, they remained awkwardly quiet for a couple of minutes. He felt flustered from their hand touch earlier, and he had no idea what to say next. Finally Alycia broke the silence a few moments before the bus arrived, “You know you could always find a different career, right?”
It was an old discussion, one which he’d also had with his best friend Emmi on multiple occasions. How could he change career paths? His Dad was a programmer, so was his Mom. “It’s in the genes,” his Dad had insisted over and over again. Of course, that didn’t stop them from letting his younger brother do whatever he wanted, which at the moment was take a year off from school before starting college.
They boarded the bus together and sat next to one another, their shoulders touching, but in a familiar, friendly way, and he found comfort in that. “Well, what can I say,” he finally replied. “I’m a glutton for punishment.”
“That’s a horrible cliché,” she rolled her eyes. It was his way of telling her ‘let’s drop the subject,’ and she took the cue and didn’t bring it up again.
I hope you enjoyed this small snippet, please let me know if this was something you liked!
Today’s blog is in response to Jodie Llewellyn’s blog (click here to read it) regarding writers and the rule-of-thumb about writing what you know.
If you’re not familiar with that ‘rule,’ it basically states that a writer should only write what they know in order to make the story believable. Writing what you don’t know is, at least in some circles of writing (like my college classes,) a taboo.
But when Jodie wrote about that very topic on her blog, she stated, “I generally like to pen something as far removed from my life as possible.” I found that to be fascinating and, frankly, really cool :) But it brought up an important point for me – when writing genres like Fantasy and Sci-Fi, you have no choice but to write about things you don’t have personal experience with.
If I’m wrong about that, and someone does have experience living in Middle Earth and fighting trolls, I’d love to meet you! For the rest of us, however, we have only our imaginations to fall back upon for those experiences.
Does this mean genre fiction writers don’t need to have real life experiences from which to draw upon? Should they avoid drawing upon real life experiences altogether?
No, in fact if anything, I think it means we should draw upon life whenever we can.
Building a Fantasy with Truth
I’ll never slay an orc (video games don’t count.) I’ve never stepped foot on a spaceship. And as much as I wish I really, really could, I’ll never encounter a dragon (unless you count a Komodo Dragon :) ) But I have fallen in love, and then had my heart broken. I have hiked through the mountains. I’ve taken ballroom dancing lessons. I know how to handle a firearm, and I even have some limited experience with wielding a sword.
I’ve found in my own writing that while all of the action takes place in a world often far removed from ours (not counting my newest project,) if I write what I do know mixed in with those fantastical elements, I created a much richer, much more believable story. The characters come alive with their own experiences, the world feels believable because of my own experiences in similar environments.
Take for instance the second chapter of The Sword of Dragons, one of the antagonists is hiking through the desert on a quest. When I initially wrote this scene, I had never actually personally stood atop a sand dune. Which is ironic since I lived in a desert environment for 15 years.
After I had already written that chapter, I took a trip to White Sands National Monument, and learned what it felt like to actually climb up and down large sand dunes. I saw the breathtaking view of standing atop a dune with hazy mountains in the distance. And I learned that climbing dunes was an extraordinarily tiring experience.
So when I went back to that chapter, I realized mistakes and assumptions I had made about traversing a massive desert, and I corrected it, hopefully making for a more believable story. Now no, I never encountered giant scorpions in the desert or met an exiled Wizard, but with that bit of realism, readers won’t be jarred out of the story, and their suspension of disbelief can continue unhindered.
Research Can Work Too
Last year, I found myself wanting to write about something I could experience, but at the time I had neither the money nor the time to do so – sailing. Now granted, no matter what, I would have needed to do some research. I don’t think anyone around here provides sailing lessons on old square-rigged ships, and this was for my novel The Sword of Dragons – Burning Skies.
Since I couldn’t even take modern sailing lessons, I hit the books. Or rather, the internet. I studied terminology, methods, technology of square-riggers and clipper ships, and even asked people who had been sailing before about their experiences.
It was extremely valuable knowledge, but it wasn’t quite enough for me, so I turned to a movie that I knew was fairly accurate in its rendition of square-rigged sailing: Master and Commander – The Far Side of the World. I watched it, not for the first time mind you, but this time I paid close attention to the experiences the crew seemed to have, their emotions and the conditions in which they lived and worked.
Of course, since the novel didn’t focus on the sailing, I didn’t go into great details. Plus it was from Cardin Kataar’s PoV, and he’s never been a sailor or even stepped foot on a ship before that journey. So I didn’t inundate the reader with mundane details. Never-the-less, I believe all of my efforts paid off, and the scenes aboard the Sea Wisp turned out great :)
Totally unrelated to this post, I recently posted a question for everyone on my facebook and I’d like to ask it here as well: I’ve been encouraged to participate in something called the Weekend Writing Warriors. This entails what’s called an 8Sunday post, or in other words, posting 8 sentences from my current work-in-progress on Sunday.
My question to everyone: how many of you would be interested in reading snippets and excerpts from my novels?
There was a time when I thought, “Fantasy is fantasy. There are no sub-genres.” I was wrong. Only in the last few years have I discovered that there are a whole slew of different sub-genres in the fantasy realm!
Even still, after making that discovery, I thought, “Writing in one sub-genre probably isn’t much different from writing in another.” Once again, I was proven wrong. But this isn’t the first time I’ve changed which genre I write in.
In the Beginning – Sci Fi
I think I was around 11 or 12 when I wrote my first story, however old I was in 5th grade. It was a Sci-Fi fan fiction (though I didn’t know it was considered fan fiction or even what fan fic was at the time.) It was horrible. Never-the-less, I loved writing it! For the most part, every story I wrote after that for many years was Science Fiction.
In fact, I’d say about 90% of the 100+ short stories I’ve written in the past 18 to 20 years were science fiction, the rest were ‘literary fiction’ (whatever the heck that really is) for college.
Much of what I wrote was fan fiction throughout those years, but I did try my hand at an original novel, which I sadly lost after 12 chapters (learned the hard way to back up my work.) My fan fiction series ran for 7 years with 70 short stories, and up until these last couple years was my most prolific time.
There’s no getting around it, at the time, I thought I was going to get published as a Sci-Fi writer :)
As I think I’ve mentioned in my blog before, what eventually became known as The Sword of Dragons started out very different: Star Dragon Legion was a science fiction, and Sword of the Dragon was a single short story within that universe.
Sometime in 2002 or 2003, I don’t remember when exactly, I had the idea to take that short story’s concept and turn it into a fantasy story instead. By this time I had a lot of practice in writing science fiction, but I also had a lot to learn, as I would later learn in my creative writing classes.
I honestly have no idea why I made the change. I think it really was just because I saw the short story as something that could make a great fantasy, and hey, I’ve read as many fantasy novels as I have sci fi, why not?
What I didn’t realize then was that my novel wasn’t just fantasy, it was considered High Fantasy. Furthermore, it took me time and practice to find my voice in High Fantasy. That first novel in 2004 was atrocious!
Eventually I did find my voice, and my inspiration. I still believe that The Sword of Dragons and its sequel are the best stories I’ve written to date, and are the first novels I’ve written that are publishable.
Chronicles – YA Modern Fantasy
The more appropriate genre term for my new project is probably Contemporary Fantasy, but I think Modern Fantasy sounds better :) In any case, this is essentially a new genre for me, very different from High Fantasy where you get to build the entire world from the ground up.
Chronicles of the Sentinels is set in the here and now, modern day Earth. The characters, for the most part, are us, humans, normal every-day humans.
Surprisingly, I am finding this a bit challenging. A fun challenge, to be sure, but I am not flying through the chapters like I would another TSOD novel. In fact, as of today I am 4 pages into chapter 3, and that’s it.
It’s hard to pin down what exactly about it makes it a challenge, but I think a big part of it is my brain saying “this is set in a world everyone knows, so you don’t have to describe things like you would in high fantasy.”
That is not the case. I would say I shouldn’t describe the world and characters the same way I would high fantasy, but I still need to. I don’t need to invent the world, but I do need to build it for the reader. They need to be able to see the characters, see their surroundings…in fact as I write this, I realize there’s still some more I need to add to chapter 1, lol.
The thing is, I want readers to fall in love with the characters. I want me to fall in love with them. Which means I need to show who they are and what they believe.
This needs to be about them as much as it is about the plot, perhaps more-so. I can’t afford to be lazy. Especially when so many people have told me they are looking forward to this story more than any other I’ve written. I don’t want to disappoint you all!!
While writing a manuscript is one of the most exciting parts of writing a novel (for me, anyway), I have always found that getting the first chapter going is difficult.
It isn’t so much that I don’t know where to start, not right away. I always know how I want a book to start, but what inevitably happens is I’ll start chapter 1, and either partway through or after chapter 1 is complete, I’ll go “I don’t like that” and find that my instinct is usually right-on about it.
It happened with every novel I’ve written in the past, including the defunct 2004 Sword of the Dragon, the more recent The Sword of Dragons, and its sequel Burning Skies. In fact I have 3 different versions of the prologue of The Sword of Dragons, and I restarted chapter 1 at least twice.
Chapter 1 – A Matter of Perspective
As I’ve written on here before, I had originally decided to start Chronicles of the Sentinels out from the perspective of Thomas Walker, the 51 year old leader of the Sentinels. However, when I started today on the manuscript, I was only two pages in when I realized this was a mistake.
Why? Walker treats the Sentinels like a military unit, despite the fact that most of his team doesn’t have a military background. And the intent was to start the novel with the Sentinels chasing after disciples of Nabu.
Then I realized that if this was the first thing readers saw in the novel, they’d think it was a military thriller, and I’d probably turn away a lot of my target audience. Bad move. I don’t want to alienate my audience in chapter 1!
So I started thinking about how I wanted to actually start the novel. I realized that I wanted to start with action because I was used to writing epic high-fantasy novels. With TSOD, book 1 starts with the protagonist trying (and failing) to take on a pair of orcs by himself. Book 2 starts with him taking on an army of orcs by himself (successfully.)
With Chronicles, the tone of the story is supposed to be quite different, and while there is an epic tone to the overlaying plot, it also is supposed to be a much more down-to-earth (literally) tale.
Chris Tatsu – Ordinary College Student
One of the appeals for some types of YA fiction is that the protagonist and his or her friends are ordinary people (or seem like ordinary people at first) that are then thrown into extraordinary circumstances (please pardon the cliche.)
So I looked to examples of existing YA, including page 1 of Hunger Games (I didn’t know it was a 1st-person novel, haven’t read it yet) and one a friend mentioned, Fever 1793. They gave me an idea.
And so page 1 was written, not from Tom’s perspective, but from Chris’s perspective, as he walks out of one of his last finals, fearful that he failed it. It focuses on the character, and that is exactly what I wanted. As I progressed through the chapter, I was able to introduce Alycia in a context I liked, followed by Emmi. They are ordinary college students who are living their lives, which I hope will allow readers to be able to connect with them.
By the end of the first chapter, the stage is set for the coming events: the trio are invited to a party a well-known rich kid is hosting. They have no idea what awaits them at that party…
This does change the timeline a bit, and I’ll have to do some re-arranging and story changing to the chapter outline, but that’s okay. I’ve said it before, if your instincts tell you something doesn’t feel right and you come up with another idea, it’s probably for a good reason.
I haven’t finished chapter 1 yet, I spent a lot of the hours I was at Starbucks brainstorming how to better start the novel, but they were hours well spent. Once I get a better feel for the story and get past chapter 1, I’m anticipating the words will flow out more smoothly :)
On the bright side, in the “My Novels” page, I was able to change the status of Chronicles!
In just two days, I completed the entire chapter outline for Chronicles of the Sentinels!! Holy cow!
My original plan was to wait until this weekend to start the chapter outlines, but yesterday my imagination was just teeming with ideas about how scenes would play out and how the novel would form up, so I started yesterday morning before work, worked on it every chance I got yesterday and today, and today after work, I went to Starbucks and finished the last few chapters.
As it stands now, CotS is going to be 25 chapters. I have no idea what the word count or page count will be, but if I had to guess, I’d say word count will come to be about 70,000ish. That puts it right where it should be for a first-time author trying to get a YA novel published. Also the number of chapters could increase as I write the novel: that happened with The Sword of Dragons – Burning Skies, I added I think 4 new unplanned chapters to it while I wrote it :)
CotS (or should I just always spell it out?) will be a 3rd person limited perspective story. Common examples are most of the oldest Star Wars Expanded Universe novels or Harry Potter. Descriptions will be “He did this” or “She said that” type of thing.
Just as I’ve done for The Sword of Dragons, every chapter will remain in one character’s point of view, meaning the perspective will not jump from one character to another within a chapter. However from one chapter to the next, the perspective will change often.
For instance, Chapter 1 will be from the Sentinels’ leader, Tom’s, perspective. Chapter 2 will be from Chris’s. Other characters whose perspectives I will write from will be Emmi and Alycia. Chris is the main character, so the majority of chapters will be written from his perspective, however Emmi will also be prominent in this novel.
Tomorrow I’ll be transcribing the chapter outlines from my journal to the computer.
Then CotS officially moves out of Pre-Writing – I will start writing the actual manuscript!!!! For those who read my blog articles about my writing process, you’ll know that this is my favorite part of writing a novel!
For The Sword of Dragons – Burning Skies, when I reached this stage, I only wrote on weekends. I would go to Starbucks on Saturdays or Sundays (or sometimes both in a single weekend) and would spend about 4 or 5 hours writing. This allowed me to complete the novel in about 3 months or so.
For Chronicles, I intend to write much more frequently! Not just because this story has me extremely excited, but because I want to start writing more like it’s a career rather than a weekend hobby. That’s why I’ve been working on Chronicles almost every single day since I first came up with the idea.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, its that while success in one’s endeavors is not always guaranteed by hard work, the harder you work, the more likely you are to succeed. I want this. I want to write for a living. So I am going to work my butt off to get there!
So, if all goes according to plan, Chronicles will officially move out of Pre-Writing this Saturday. Keep an eye on this blog, cause I’ll definitely let you all know how it progresses! And in case you didn’t notice, a couple of days ago I placed a new link on the top menu of my blog for “My Novels” There’s a description and status of every novel I’ve completed or am working on!
After receiving encouragement to create a Facebook Author’s Page, I finally did! I’m honestly not entirely sure what I’m supposed to do on it, but I’ll be learning as I go, just as I have been with this blog :)
I’ve read from various sources that agents and publishers are more likely to consider writers who have a presence in social media, including Facebook and in the blogging community. Not only do I see the wisdom in doing this (after all, an author with a lot followers in social media is more likely to have buyers for their novel), but I’m also excited to have multiple platforms to connect with readers and other writers! As I stated when I first started my blog, that’s the kind of author I want to be :)
Please check out the page and click Like to follow me on Facebook!