Posted in General

Revisiting Old Ideas

If you’ve been following me, you probably already know that for most of January, I didn’t have a main project selected. I prefer having one main project a month because it helps keep me focused and not as inclined to bounce around on several different projects. Because of the launch for Crimson and Gold, I never got around to selecting one.

I did however, a couple of weeks ago, go back through and take a look at my project list. I have far too many in-progress stories.

I also have several stories that have been drafted, but haven’t been touched in quite possibly, years. The oldest of these is a story I’ve hung onto from around 2013. If I recall correctly, it was the NaNoWriMo novel I wrote for that year. At fifty-thousand words, there’s a lot wrong with it.

For starters, the plot is a stretch, even with some heavy suspension of disbelief. The characters also flat, and character arcs largely don’t exist.

There are however, good points. The concept itself is still solid. The idea at its core has some merit. It’s merely bogged down in what’s unpolished writing. I’ll also note that it’s writing from seven years ago. I’ve gained a lot of new skills since I last wrote it.

Although I haven’t looked at it in those years, I have kept it on my project list, and I think it’s about time I took it back out and revisited it.

Starting with a complete rewrite.

Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: History

I’ve found one of the most daunting tasks for my world building has been the history. Figuring out character’s personal histories is easy, but when preparing the history of an entire world, figuring out how the countries formed, who the political leaders were and what wars have been fought is a lot more intensive, and it seems an awful lot like an endless puzzle.

Thankfully there are multiple techniques to use when crafting a history. Before getting into those however, one of the best tools to use for everything is to ask why. Why helps you figure out details that can open up new lanes of exploration for your world and your history: why do These People disagree with Those People? Why do These live here? Why do Those revere that resource?

Apply liberal amounts of ‘why’ when you find yourself stuck.

Ages and Timelines 
The two best ways of organizing history are both based on chronological order. Timelines tend to be a little more specific with X happening in Year Y. Ages however, cover a range of years without getting too terribly specific about the years each event happened.

That also means it may help to start with figuring out your ages first–are you following the age of stone, bronze, steel, etc? Or, are your ages and eras named for the major advancements in civilization like the move from caves into tribes and villages?

Timelines are especially useful for organizing big events leading up to your story. This can include things like the birth of notable figures, inventions of new technologies and major discoveries.

Ages help you see how your world has developed overtime. Thinking of them as spectrum may help–you may not know exactly when your people had fully transitioned from using magic to burning coal for example, but you can mark the edges of that era based on the transitory change from one fuel source to the other.

Devices 
Devices are used all the time to explain how a character had some powerful tool or the other. Hero has a magic sword from an abandoned religion? That’s a device, one you can use to help build your history: why was the religion abandoned? Where did he find this sword? Why did they need a sword with immense powers?

Scour your drafts for devices. Find an abandoned ruin? Start asking why and how long it’s been abandoned.  Magical family bloodlines? Start asking why and how they got that way. History can be built around the answers you find in questioning the facts.

Work Backwards 
Personally, I love starting with the most recent events and building off that. Start with asking yourself what the most recent advancement is, or who the current ruler is. Who ruled before that? What needed to be discovered before they could advance medication or transport? What sort of obstacle needed to be overcome for these people to settle in that area?

Repeat this as you build your layers backwards. It’s fine if you don’t have the answers for all of it. Remember that history gets harder to prove and track the farther back we go, largely because means of recording history had to develop as time passed.

Also remember that any of these techniques can be combined. Find the devices in your story right now and work backwards from those–find out how they came to be and the events that shaped the area around them. Build everything up into a transition from one thing to another, creating your first age. Create a timeline of known events, and fill in the gaps by asking yourself questions about how they create the devices and facts in your world.

Posted in General

Looking at Projects

Halfway through January and I still don’t have a main project selected for the month. Part of that is because I’ve still been heavily focused on the launch for Crimson and Gold. Writing however, is not a ‘one and done’ type of thing. There’s always something else to do, be that creating new stories or editing older ones.

So, to figure out what I’m doing next, I took a look at my project list. I always have a plethora of projects and ideas, but having them written down and organized keeps me from adding to continuously to it.

It’s already a huge list with a total of fifty-two stories in various states. Some of these are in a need of a major overhaul and rework. Others are bare-bones skeletons that I haven’t looked at in a while. Two of them spun off into serials.

As there’s no actual order to the list, that was my first step. Of those fifty-two stories, fourteen are in a rough draft. Another seventeen are in a bare bones state of what is essentially, story chunks. One is technically in that story chunk state, but as that is part of rewriting the story, that’s at the top of my list, right below the two complete and published stories. One more is in the drafting state where I’m working on strengthening the story and word choice, but not quite ready to start considering how to share it with readers.

The remaining seventeen are the basis for stories. Things like short stories that have kept growing, or a detailed idea.

Because I have so many ideas that are in the earliest stages, I’m focusing on getting those out of the early stages for now.

How do you organize your projects?

Posted in General

How to Be a Pantser

No, this is not a guide on how to properly pants others. Rather, this is a guide on how to survive being a pantser-type writer. You may have also heard them referred to as discovery writers or gardeners. Regardless of the name, the idea is the same: these are the writers that dive into a story without a plan.

Before anyone starts on which type of writer is better, I’m going to stop you. There is no one ‘better’ type of writer. A lot of how you find a story best comes down to how your brain is wired. Pantsers are not inherently more creative than plotters. Plotters are not automatically better organized than pantsers. It’s not a polarity, it’s a spectrum. Most writers don’t fall solidly into one group or the other, but sit somewhere in the middle, working with a mix of both approaches: A little random writing, a couple of guides to keep them straight and an end goal that sounds something like ‘the end’.

That said I, personally, tend to be more of a pantser. Given an outline and I can write, but I find the story tedious. That comes down to feeling as if the story has already been told. Part of the delight in being a pantser is finding a new story, with new twists and turns.

There’s downfalls that go with that however. For one, a lack of ideas on any story can make it tough to get through it. The other part of that is that while I might know what happens six or seven scenes down the road, I’m clueless on how to get there from where the story is currently.

Lesson one: To be a pantser, keep inspiration close by.  This doesn’t need to be clear-cut ideas either. It might be something like a mood board, or a playlist of songs. When it doubt, I love prompt generators to help kick start other ideas and help piece things together. Fashion photography also tends to have dynamic poses and unusual settings you can use to create characters and scenes. Try a quick freewrite based on the idea that the photo is a perfectly normal day for the character.

You can also collect inspiration from every-day places. Out of context conversations are great fodder for sparking ideas. When out and and about, try to come up with stories for each of the people you see on the street. What do they look like? What could be going on in their world?

Along with lesson one, there’s lesson two: Rules don’t matter. Stuck in the middle of a scene? Throw in something ridiculous, or unexpected, or completely illogical. You can make it work later when you edit. Your goal for the early drafts is to just get them down. It’s much easier to cut out parts that don’t work than it is to shoehorn in a scene that does work later.

Which, brings us to the third and final lesson: blindfold your editor. Every single writer has an inner editor, and they often get cranky about things like grammar, glaring plot inconsistencies and broken character arcs. Your job as a pantser is not to listen to that inner editor. Your job is just to write so you have something to edit later. That’s not always easy, but there are plenty of tricks you can employ.

  • Blocks of text are great for hiding errors. Your eyes are naturally inclined to skim over them, rather than try to read. Try justifying your setting and removing any indents. Don’t forget to remove any spaces between paragraphs. It’s easy enough in most word processing programs to adjust these again later when you want to edit.
  • If your processor underlines mistakes in a certain color, change your font to match that color. When everything looks the same, it’s harder to pick out individual mistakes.
  • Have a seperate list of notes for things to look at when you do the next draft. These don’t need to be detailed notes, but a quick jot will usually help satisfy your inner editor about any structural mistakes.

What are your favorite pantser techniques?

Posted in General, writing

On Shifting Mindset

Not every part of the creative process is enjoyable. It’s certainly a lot more entertaining to daydream about the six-figure deal you’ll get, or the contract for an original show you sign with Netflix than it is to go back through your manuscript for the hundredth time trying to hunt down out of place commas or lurking filler words. While those tasks may not be enjoyable, they are necessary. Thankfully, there’s something to be said about having the right attitude to approach something.

How you think about something can have a vast impact on how you feel about it. Rather than focusing on how much you dislike doing a particular part of editing, think of how easy it is to get done. Alternately, remind yourself how much it’s going to improve your writing and your story. By shifting your thoughts from the negative ‘dislike’ of the task at hand and onto the postive aspects of it, you’re also shifting your feelings. This won’t mean you necessarily enjoy searching for every instance of ‘that’ or sprucing up your descriptions, but it will make it less of a chore.

Another way you help change your view on something is to adjust your enviroment accordingly. These don’t need to be huge changes either. If you can work with music on, try putting on tracks that are upbeat and exciting. Music has been shown to affect your mood, so having something that cheers you up and energizes you can help make a daunting or tedious task go a little easier. If you find sound distracting or need to work on your focus, try a scent such as lavender or lemon to help calm and focus your thoughts. This might make distractions less tempting and help you ward off procrastination.

What are some ways you make difficult tasks easier?