As a writer I’m always on the lookout for something to inspire me and inspire others. After a discussion with Ivyon on one of her blog articles, I found a quote that resonated within me and thought I would share it with all of you who read, who write, or do both:
“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” – Carl Sagan
In a sense, that makes all of us who read time travelers. Even better, those of us who write build time machines :)
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 :)
Back when I first decided to start this crazy blogging endeavor, there were a lot of reasons behind it, one of which was inspiration from a blog I found while searching for information about Dia Frampton and Archis. That blog was “Beauty Within” by Rachel Cauilan. While exploring her blog, I came across an article she wrote that really got me thinking about the same topic: why I write. Click the link below to check out the original article:
In her blog, she makes a very bold statement that struck a chord within me: “I find that nothing is worth writing unless you are doing it for yourself.” The moment I read that line, I realized how true it was.
Certainly we as writers wish to have our stories presented to others, and I believe that everyone who writes wishes to present it to others for their own reasons. But when you write for yourself, for your reasons, the results resonate beautifully! Like Rachel said in her blog, people can feel your passion.
While her article was specific to writing a blog, I believe this is a truth in all forms of writing: blogging, fiction, poetry, music, even news articles. There’s probably a science behind it all, word usage, sentence structure, punctuation, all that jazz, but there is no mistaking that when someone is passionate about their writing, you just know it!
Which brings me to the core of this article:
Why I Write
This question is not a simple one for me to answer, because there is no single answer. To say “because I love to write” is true, but an altogether too simple of an answer.
There are selfish reasons, to be sure. I’ve always loved reading other works, getting to essentially live in another person’s fictional world for a time. So to me, writing is my chance to create my own worlds, my own universes, where I get to make the rules, and what happens is what I want to happen. I have a very vivid imagination, so when I imagine these new worlds, I can see them as if they were real!
That means I get to explore these new worlds as well. That might sound strange, you might be asking “But you created these worlds, what’s to explore? You already know everything about it!” Well no, I really don’t. Take for example my novels, The Sword of Dragons. Not long ago I finished writing the 2nd novel, and I took the characters to two entirely new continents, as well as to cities on the 1st continent that they had never been to before. When I started the series, I knew the basic geography of the entire world, I knew what major cities existed on which continents, and I knew about the major geological features.
But what I didn’t know were the details, the nuances! And even more importantly, the people that lived in those new places! Better still, when I am writing about a character seeing a new location for the first time, I am not only seeing that place for the first time in my mind’s eye, but I am seeing it through that character’s eyes!
Which brings me to another bonus feature: getting to know new people! …Ok, stop looking at me like my crazy. ;) Seriously, though, creating new characters is a fun and engaging activity for me, especially because once they are developed enough in my head, they really do take on a life of their own. And as I present them with ever-changing circumstances and events, I get to explore how they react. By deciding how they react, I get to know them better.
All of this comes together to form entertaining stories that one day many will get to read. But why, you ask? If I get so much out of writing for myself, why present my works to others?
For starters, because I have to. I feel compelled to share these stories with others. I always have, its one of the reasons I created a fan fiction series back in 1999, and ran it for 7 years straight writing 70 short stories!
But beyond just that urge, there is the desire to share with others the gift that fiction has given me. I know I’ve written about this before, in my “About” page here on the blog as well as in my first article: stories have captured my imagination and inspired me in so many ways throughout my entire life!
When life was tough, I could escape into a novel. I learned important lessons early in my life thanks to fiction. And while I had plenty of real-life role models, some of the ones in fiction were equally instrumental in shaping me in my youth (and not just written fiction, Captain Picard was definitely a big influence in my youth!)
I have a gift for writing, and it isn’t one I want to waste. I want to give back to the world what fiction has given to me! I want to inspire others in ways I can’t even imagine yet! I want to instill a sense of wonder, imagination, and creativity within others, to help them to feel hope when they otherwise could not find it, to shine a light on what might otherwise seem like a bleak and dreary world!
This is why I write. This is who I am. And while obstacles may stand in my way (such as a recent bout of writer’s block), it will never change. I write because it is who I am.
Trials and triumphs of writing, finding an agent, and publication.