Posted in General, writing

The Next Writing Step

At this point in the year, a lot of writers are close to (or already are) the finishing line on their rough drafts. NaNoWriMo gives us a good chance to get through the hardest part of any task: the first step.

Writing a good story is difficult. Specifically, writing a good novel is tremendously difficult. Somewhere in that fifty-thousand words of story is a golden nugget—possibly several. That nugget might be a theme, or a plot point, or a character. Maybe it’s scattered like gold flakes in passages of near perfection.

Regardless of where that gold is in your story, you’re finished with it. It’s time to move onto the next step.

No, the next step is not publishing.

It’s editing.

Editing is arguably the part that takes the most effort of any task. You have gold in your story—every story out there has at least a little gold in it. Editing helps you find that gold.

And like any gold minder out there, you need the right tools. Finding the tools that work the best for you to find and tap that gold vein in your rough draft isn’t as easy as just running through a checklist of things to do before you really do move onto the publishing phase of writing. For starters, not every checklist will suit every writer. Secondly, not every story follows the same process to turn from lump of dirt into precious metal.

Outlines are one such tool. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that outlines are only for before you start writing. They can give you a big picture look at what your plot is doing and where things have gone awry. My fellow pantsers, I know how much outlining sucks, but rejoice: in this case you’re not creating one for the story, but one from the story. Write down the bare-bones structure of the story. What happens first? Next? Then? Last?

Grammar Checker.  More specifically, look for a detailed grammar checker like Hemmingway, Grammarly or SlickWrite to get a detailed look at things like passive voice, vague writing, sentence complexity and word variety. This helps strengthen your writing. As a bonus, if you notice the same suggestions coming up such as a problem with filler words or passive voice, you can work on improving those across all of your writing.

Beta Readers. As the writer it’s hard to know what is and isn’t working your story. Having outsider readers to provide feedback on your manuscript. You might also find it helpful to enlist the aid of an alpha reader—that is someone who reads and provides feedback on the rough draft.

Notes. Regardless of whether you make these based on feedback, or if you make these from your own observations as you read through the story, having notes makes editing easier. Depending on your particular story this might be a note on a scene you want to add in somewhere, or even notes on your setting or characters. As much as you might think you can keep it all your head, the brain is a faulty thing. You might forget smaller details like a character’s middle name or particular and important dates.

Above all else, the one tool I recommend you have for editing is a plan. This doesn’t need to be detailed, but having a plan helps you get and stay organized throughout the editing process. This might be a checklist of what order you want to do things in, or it might just be goal of finishing your next draft by such and such a date.

One last thing. If you’re sitting on your finished draft looking towards the next step: congratulations. Now go find that gold.

Posted in Exercises, writing

NaNoWriMo Survival Tips

Whether you’ve done NaNoWriMo for years or you’re giving the madness a try for the first time, the challenge of writing fifty-thousand words in thirty days can seem a little daunting. If you’ve heard about it at all beforehand, you’ve might have heard about things like Plotober, meal plans and everything else to make a successful NaNo.

For writers, NaNoWriMo represents a real opportunity and a challenge, but the biggest benefit is getting words down. That being said, there’s a few survival tips that even veterans wrimos can use.

Plan. You don’t need a detailed plan, and you may not even need a story-related plan at all, but you do need a plan. This might just be a plan of when and where you’ll write. If you’re more comfortable with having a plan for the story, this counts too. Don’t get discouraged if you see or hear others talking about having their meals prepped or pages of outlines. What works for them may not work for you.

Be Flexible. In order to win at NaNo, you need to write 1,667 words a day. For some writers, it’s incredibly easy to reach that sixteen-hundred odd words. For others, you might be worried about making even half of that. One of the best ways to hit your goal aside from sitting down and writing is to be flexible. If you get the chance, go passed sixteen hundred odd word goal, or even set up a couple of days early in the month to frontload your word count so when you have a bad writing day, you’re not stressed out and struggling to catch up. If necessary, break that goal down into smaller chunks you can work on throughout the day. Three hundred words is a lot easier to handle at one time than sixteen hundred.

Try New Techniques. The goal is fifty-thousand words. That being said, there’s nothing to say that they have to be handwritten or typed. Try using dictation. Or, give writing sprints and word crawls a try! These can be fun ways to add to your word count. Swapping pages with a buddy can also help for accountability and is a nice way to help support other writers and inspire new ideas.

Remember to Breathe. It’s nice to think about how much you can do if you just write without pause, but realistically it’s the worst thing you can do for both your story and your health. Unless you’re a writing robot, you need to take a little bit of time to recharge. Remember to get up every so often and take five or ten minutes to stretch and get some water. Just as if you were working an eight-hour shift, take a break every couple of hours.

Don’t Stress! Scene not working? Goals not being met? Impossible-to-bridge plot holes? Ignore them. Don’t stress about what’s going wrong, instead focus on what’s going right: You’re making progress on a story. You can fix the problems later, what’s important right now is one word after the other.

Write. Above all else, the only way you’re going to survive NaNoWriMo is if you actually sit down and write. If necessary, block out and schedule time specifically to write.

What’s your favorite NaNo survival tip? Let me know in the comments below! If you want, you can also add me as a NaNoWriMo buddy under WrittenVixen.

Header image courtesy of NaNoWriMo

Posted in General, serial, Seventh, writing

Seventh Part Ten

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine

Crystal stared at the maps in front of her, knowing they could tell her nothing she didn’t already know. They hung on the wall behind her usual worktable, dotted and colored with painstaking detail. She’d made meticulous notes over the years. Her gift worked to let her find things she needed, but it was easier when she knew where to look.

Had it been winter, there wouldn’t have even been a question. She could have brought entire carts of it back from the northern side of the mountain in a day, maybe two. A single bag would have been easy.

With summer nearing its peak, there was no way to get even a flake, much less keep it frozen all the way back to Lucinda’s cave.

The door opened, banging into the wall behind it and she looked up. “Crystal? Crystal!”

Juniper slammed the door shut again and pulled her to her feet. The feel of icy hands on her skin startled her. “You’re freezing, are you alright?”

“Yes, yes, yes! I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. I have it.”

“Have what?” Crystal said and Juniper grinned.

“The bag of snow,” she said.

It took Crystal at least a full minute to properly understand what Juniper was saying. “How?”

“I have a friend,” Juniper said. Her excitement came through as a bright glow on her face. “Who knows another person, who once spoke with Godmother Dawn, and they recalled from speaking with Godmother Dawn about where to find a very tiny patch of ice.”

“Ice?”

“Ice,” Juniper said. Her cheeks remained flushed as if she’d just stepped in from a light winter snow, and her eyes blazed with delight.

“Is that why you’re so cold right now? You’ve been digging in ice?”

“What? Oh. Oh, I hadn’t even noticed. That’s not important, what’s important is that I have the bag.”

“A bag of unmelted snow.”

“Yes! The only condition is that I can’t simply give it to someone, I have to trade it,” Juniper said.

“I—oh. You’re not going anywhere near that cave.”

“Of course not. I’ll trade it to you. I can think of at least half a dozen things I’m willing to trade it for. A hot cup of tea sounds lovely.”

“Then one cup of tea, unsweetened, for your bag of snow?” Crystal offered it with a faint lift of her brow. She knew how Juniper liked her tea and the resulting grin was enough to lighten her own bleak mood.

“Agreed.”

“Good,” Crystal said and kissed Juniper’s cheek. “You’re absolutely frozen. It’s a good thing I just took the kettle off. It should still be hot.”

The water was still steaming as Crystal poured it over the leaves. Juniper settled to the kitchen table, her delight clear. The smell of hot tea spread through the kitchen.

“How exactly did you get it?” Crystal questioned as she set the kettle down. She scooped one of the last tarts out of the basket on the sideboard as well.

“Oh, well,” Juniper hummed a little. “It’s a bit…of a story.”

“What sort of story?”

“Nothing serious,” Juniper said. “I just had to go argue with an ice spirit, that’s all. Listen, the bag will only work for a year and a day and it can’t be given, only traded.”

“A year and a day?” Crystal brought the steaming cup over and Juniper wrapped her hands around it.

“Yes,” Juniper said and then smiled, pulling it from her belt. “As agreed. One cup of tea for one bag of snow.”

Crystal took the bag with care. It felt like simple, plain leather and she frowned as she opened it.

“Juni, it’s empty.”

“It is,” Juniper agreed. “Now turn it over.”

A little concerned that Juniper had gotten tricked by a spirit, Crystal nevertheless complied. A few soft flakes drifted out, falling to the kitchen floor where they melted, dotting the floor with miniscule puddles as they faded from crystal to water.

“Snow,” she said.

“One bag of snow,” Juniper said. “It will only work for a year and a day.”

“And after that it will return to being a leather pouch,” Crystal said.

“Yes. If anyone attempts to gift it, it will also stop working, or so I’ve been warned.”

It was probably information she should give Lucinda, she realized, but right now she was more concerned with how cold Juniper was.

“Juni, what did you trade?”

Juniper hesitated and then sighed. “I know you liked that ribbon I wore,” she said and Crystal smiled as she came around to hug her. “And a day of my warmth,” she said.

“Silly, I only like that ribbon because you enjoy wearing it,” Crystal said. “I’m more worried you’ll get too cold.”

“It’s summer,” Juniper replied. “I’ll be alright.”

“Still. I’ll ask Mica and Jasper to stay with you.”

“What about Coal and Jet?”

“I’ll have Coal come with me,” Crystal said.  “Jet can keep watch for us from the farm.”

Juniper smiled and stood, wrapping her arms around Crystal. “Just come back to me, that’s all I ask.”

“Always,” Crystal promised and squeezed her for a moment. “I won’t be long.”

They separated and Juniper smiled. “I have some sewing to do anyways,” she said. “It’s tedious, but I can sit on the back step. It should be plenty warm enough there with the sun.”

Crystal nodded. “I’ll send Mica and Jasper along soon,” she promised.

“Thank you,” Juniper said.

Crystal took the time to collect her lantern, and her longer knife before she left. The farm wasn’t far outside of town, but it still took her several long minutes to reach it. As she approached, she could already see the where her brothers were focusing their efforts, trying to catch up on the work they had missed in the days they’d been trapped by Lucinda.

She knocked all the same, though part of her told her she could have easily gone in. It had been her parent’s home, the same place she’d spent her childhood in.

It wasn’t until Coal swung the door open that she dared to step inside. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I have the next item,” she said and a thump from the other room heralded Jasper as he shuffled in. She glanced at him and then back to Coal. “I want you to go with me, and wait at the entrance.”

“Why not go all the way in with you?”

“I can’t risk you like that,” Crystal said. “But I’m not silly enough to think I can carry Flint all the way back home by myself if I don’t get him out before sunset.”

“The sunlight,” Jasper said. “That’s what wakes us.”

Crystal nodded as she looked at him. “Juniper’s at home, can you and Mica sit with her?”

“Of course, but why?”

“That’s how we got the bag of snow,” Crystal said. “There’s a patch of ice she knew where to find, so she traded one day of warmth for the bag of snow. I just want someone to stay and look after her, just in case.”

“We’ll do it,” Jasper said.

“You haven’t even told Mica,” Coal argued and Jasper chortled.

“We’ll do it,” he said. “Are you certain about this?”

“I am,” she said.

“Then let’s go,” Coal said and pulled another lantern from the hook by the door.

“I’ll go get Mica now,” Jasper promised and turned, shuffling off to wherever their oldest brother had hidden himself.

The path up the mountain was becoming familiar, but Crystal felt her heart pounding as she moved along it. If something went wrong, Juniper could be tangled up in the consequences.

Spirits weren’t likely to actively cause harm, but if their prices weren’t paid, they were twice as vindictive as any fae.

Coal stopped her at the entrance. “Are you sure it’s safe for you to go alone?”

“No,” Crystal said. “But I’m even less certain that Lucinda won’t try and tangle you up in this mess as well.”

“I just don’t want you getting hurt,” Coal said.

“I won’t,” Crystal said. “I know what I can offer and I know what she wants.”

“That doesn’t mean much,” Coal counseled. “Don’t take anymore risks than you absolutely have to.”

She smiled. “I won’t,” she said and took a second to adjust the lantern wick. “I’ll be back. Hopefully before sundown.”

Coal only nodded, but his expression indicated he wasn’t sure he liked it. Crystal inhaled once, slowly, and turned back to the cave. A soft wind made the air inside whistle and she had to steel herself for a moment before she went down, stepping into the darkness of the blood fae’s realm.

 

 

Posted in serial, Seventh, writing

Seventh Part Nine

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight

It was evening by the time they reached the cave. With the evening shadows falling on the rocks, two pale faces stood out, clear against the pitch of the cave behind them. Lucinda chuckled a little as they pulled the cart to a stop.

“The family reunited,” she hummed a little and Crystal drew herself upright, trying to ignore the tension in her neck and shoulders. “One branch of harpy wood, for one brother.”

“One branch, one brother,” Crystal agreed.

Lucinda hummed a little and lifted a hand. Her fingers clicked and instantly, Jet fell forward, dropping onto the ground. Mica and Coal both jerked, as if going to him, only to have Jasper stop them. His gaze however, remained on Lucinda’s face as though he could burn through her with his glare alone.

“We are agreed,” Lucinda hummed and Crystal nodded, motioning to the branch.

“The branch and the branch alone are yours,” she said.

Another click, and the branch vanished, replaced by Jet’s sleeping form. “As agreed,” Lucinda said. “The next item I require is a bag of snow.”

“A bag of snow?”

“Unmelted,” Lucinda said. Her smile displayed her upper fangs. “I’m not picky about where it comes from, but if it proves too hard do remember I can only convert one of your brothers should you choose to skip an item.”

“I’m not leaving any of my brothers behind,” Crystal snarled and jerked towards Lucinda. Jasper’s hand on her shoulder kept her from going too far.

“That’s up to you,” Lucinda said with a shrug. “I’m only giving you options. A bag of snow.”

With that, both she and Blake vanished into the shadows again, fading as the last of the evening sunlight did.

Crystal ground her teeth together and jerked away from Jasper to climb into the back of the with Jet.

“It’s too dark already,” Mica said as she tried to lift Jet up. “There’s not enough sunlight.”

Her jaw tightened until she felt her teeth might break. Forcing herself to inhale, she had to drop her head.

“Let’s get him home,” she said.

The others only nodded once. The horse snorted when Coal clicked his tongue, and started forward again, pulling the cart behind it as they wound down the path.

Years of use had made the road smooth though she could see little divots from other traveling carts. The sun had faded from the horizon by the time they reached town, with the sky truly blackened when they reached the cottage.

A few lights had been left on, but Crystal still jumped out into the darkness, mulling where she could possibly get a bag of snow from. It was summer, none of the mountains would have any.

The door opened, the rattle of the handle jolting her out of her thoughts. Juniper stepped out onto the porch, holding the door as Mica and Jasper worked to pull Jet from the cart and then to haul him up the stairs.

“I’ll get the cart and the horse,” Coal said and nudged Crystal. “I’m sure you want to talk to her.”

Crystal nodded, just once and came up the porch, inhaling a little as she took Juniper’s hand.

“Are you…?” Juniper left it hanging and Crystal smiled.

“I’m alright,” she promised and reached up to retrieve the ribbon falling from Juniper’s hair. “I’m more upset that I keep having to wander off while you’re here.”

“I don’t mind as long as you come home again,” Juniper said and Crystal smiled at that. “You’re peeved.”

“I’m not sure how to solve this one,” she admitted. “She wants a bag of snow.”

“A bag of snow?”

“Yes. Unmelted. There won’t be snow around for miles and even if there was, getting it back before it melts could be impossible,” Crystal explained.

A faint sigh escaped Juniper, and from the candlelight seeping through from the door highlighted the thoughtful pursing of her lips. They stood in silence a moment before Juniper shook her head and squeezed Crystal’s hand. “We’ll think of something,” she said and tugged gently to get Crystal moving up and into the house again. “Did she say how big?”

“No. Just that it was to be a bag of snow.”

“Then tomorrow we’ll need to figure out where to find snow, and how to get a bag of it back.”

 

Posted in serial, Seventh, Stories, writing

Seventh Part Eight

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

Crystal’s blessing allowed her to find the things she needed, sometimes in places they shouldn’t have been. And yet, as she looked at the bare trees stretching below them about a day’s ride south of their little town, she couldn’t help but worry that she’d been, perhaps a little too hasty in deciding this was a good idea.

Harpies flocked twice a year, once in spring and once in fall. With the summer underway, the majority flew out to hunt over the sea, unconcerned for who whatever fool came to disturb their nesting sites.

Most did, at least. There were always a few who were old or sick who would remain behind to scavenge what they could.

Even from a hill at the top of the valley Crystal could see the signs of harpy roosting. The trees were all bare, branches scraped and scratched up. Bones littered the ground, some snapped in half to get at the marrow inside.

Next to her, Coal lifted his telescope, scanning the valley a little more thoroughly. “I’m not seeing any movement,” he said.

“That only tells me there’s no harpies right now,” Crystal said.

“That should be a good thing,” Coal decided.

“For now,” she said and turned to look at Mica and Jasper, both of whom lifted a brow. “I hope you two are ready.”

Mica nodded, hefting his axe. “Let’s go find a harpy’s branch,” he said.

There were two things Crystal knew about harpies. The first was that they were aggressive. The second was that they were masters at ambush. In spring, the empty branches provided camouflage for their natural tan, white and brown feathers. In the fall their plumage changed to reflect the golds and reds of the leaves they stripped from trees to make their nests. Juniper had explained once why their colors changed, but Crystal hadn’t understood it.

They eased down the path, keeping their eyes peeled. Here and there, Crystal reached down, plucking up a stray flower or two, or else a tiny bit of something she knew she could use later. Twice her hands found little field mice, who she picked up and gently set aside.

Finding mice in a field that should have been otherwise empty did little to ease her nerves. Few things wandered into a harpy nesting site.

Fewer things wandered back out.

“Here,” she said. One old tree had been split into three. The bark had been scraped away, and claw marks showed where talons had once been. An entire branch hung only by the barest sliver of wood, shearing a section away from the trunk.

Mica nodded as he tested the edge of his axe out of habit. He looked around once more before he took a stance. Next to her, Crystal heard as Coal readied his bow. Jasper only looked around, one hand resting on the large knife he had on one hip.

She didn’t like how quiet and tense it was as Mica lifted his axe.

The first thud of the axe against the wood made her jolt, and the second resounded across the empty trees.

Another thud and the branch creaked and fell, rattling and smacking other branches on the way down. It was easily the right size.

And yet, the movement of its fall didn’t cease. Crystal’s gaze moved upwards, to something brown and white as it shifted away from the trunk of another nearby tree.

“Harpy!”

Her shout alerted her brothers and Coal turned, firing as the owl-feathered harpy leapt from its branch with a shriek.

She dove to the side, one hand grabbing whatever she could. A rock, she saw and she sprang up again as Jasper unsheathed his knife. Coal’s arrow had caught one wing, but the harpy swept over again and then turned, using her teeth to pluck the arrow out of her weather. A jerk of the harpy’s jaw and she snapped the arrow shaft.

Crystal flung the stone. It connected with the harpy’s temple and the harpy shrieked again before it dove for them. This time, Coal’s arrow sank through a leg and the harpy yelped as it fell.

Mica’s axe was quick, cleaving down towards the neck. Another shriek, and the harpy leapt up, blood leaking down its leg and dripping over feathers from a shoulder. Crystal grabbed something else from the ground and threw it, not realizing until it actually smacked into the harpy’s chest that she’d thrown a skull from some poor creature.

The harpy however, didn’t seem to notice as Coal notched another arrow. She screamed again and this time dove for Jasper.

His knife sank deep and he ripped it out again even as her talons clawed at his side. She shrieked, spiraling upwards into the heights and then twisting. This time, Crystal’s grasping fingers found only the empty egg shells of hatched young.

Coal’s arrow pierced the other leg and the harpy shrieked again before she turned, flying off with cackles and screams of fury. They sat there for a long moment before Crystal stood.

“Jasper,” she said.

“It’s a scratch,” he said.

“From a harpy,” she said and opened her bag. The potion she needed to ward off infection came to hand easily, followed by a roll of bandages.

“I’ll haul this back up,” Mica said. “Coal, you keep an eye out for anything else.”

Coal only nodded once. Crystal said nothing as she doused a cloth with the potion and gently wiped the blood from Jasper’s side. He grunted a little, but made no moves to pull away. At least, she decided, the cuts weren’t deep.

The bandages wound around his waist, though she wasn’t pleased with how little protection they offered as she secured the ends. She’d only brought the one smaller roll for basic first aid. An oversight for certain.

And yet, Jasper made no complaints as he squatted for a moment to help Mica pick up the branch and carry it back upwards to the horse and cart they’d brought with them. Even with the wood loaded into the back, none of the siblings stopped, pushing forward.

The afternoon sun dipped low, and reluctantly they made their stop by the side of the road.

This time Crystal took a little longer to tend the wound on Jasper’s side. It wouldn’t need stitches, but she didn’t like taking the chance it would fester.

Coal insisted on cooking and prepared a simple soup. Afterwards, Crystal sat by the fire, staring at the flames while Coal and Jasper both tried to sleep.

“You’re clever, you know,” Mica said.

“Cleverness doesn’t seem to help much,” Crystal said.

“Two brothers left, and after tomorrow, it will be only one,” Mica said.

It wasn’t the sort of thing she liked to hear and she inhaled slowly. “If something goes wrong, it could be only you six,” she said.

“We’ll find a way to rescue you,” Mica said and glanced at where Coal and Jasper were. “Without having to resort to trading ourselves.”

“I should hope you don’t need to trade yourselves away after all the work I’ve put in to get you back,” she said.

That got a laugh from Mica and he fell silent for a long moment. “What will you do about the final trade? The one for Blake’s hand?”

“I’ve already solved it,” Crystal said.

“How?” Mica questioned and Crystal smiled.

“You’ll see,” she said. “I just have to get the harpy’s branch back to Lucinda and find out what her next item is.”

“Any idea what that is?” Mica questioned and she considered it before she shrugged as she reached out, brushing the dirt away from something off-white. It took a moment before the object she’d found revealed itself to be a mouse’s skull.

“No,” she said. “But if I know anything, it won’t be something I can pick up from the market.”