Posted in General, writing

Co-Authoring

There’s a good chance at least one of the books on your shelf or in your digital library has multiple authors behind it. And, if you’re a writer, you may have thought you’d love to work with another author or writer some day.

Writing a novel is a huge endeavor. Writing a novel with someone else (or several someones) is even bigger. There are a lot of things to take into account when you decide to co-author.

Examine Your Process before you even start writing with someone else, take a look at how the both of you write. If one of you is a hard-core plan and the other can’t stand to have even a basic, that’s a major obstacle you need to be aware of and come up with a solution to. There’s no easy solution here, it’s going to require compromise and working together to figure out how to make your processes mesh. There’s likely to be less work if you have a similar process.

Communication is a huge factor here. Remember that your process likely won’t be the same as their process. Communicating how you work and what you need to complete your work is absolutely vital or the entire thing can grind to a halt. This also covers expectations: do you want to set particular requirements for each party such as timing?

Compatibility in a creative project is a tricky one to define. How well your voices and styles work together is different than how your processes work together. Genre is another important factor to consider when co-authoring: if you’re not reading and writing in the same genres, chances aren’t high for success. While this is the biggest factor in how well a co-authoring project works, it’s also the most subjective. This goes back to the above communication: Being open and talking to your writing partner about what you want from the story will save you problems and headaches later.

What are your co-authoring experiences?

Posted in Exercises, General

Using the Zero Draft

In full honest confession, I actually didn’t know what a zero draft was until a couple of years ago when a writer friend mentioned she was about twenty-thousand words into one. I asked her what a zero draft was, and the answer I got surprised me: It’s the earliest draft of your story, in which there is no order.

It’s fairly well established at this point that I’m a pantser. I write based on whatever inspiration I have on hand. Up until I’d heard about a zero draft, I figured drafts that meandered, made no sense and generally had gaping holes were rough drafts.

Dependent on your particular process this might still hold true. Your rough draft is for you and no one else. A zero draft however, is often where you throw things in for the story before you write a proper draft. In other words, rather than looking anything like a first draft, it might just be a conglomeration of notes–such as ‘Come up with Witty Banter. Will needs to sound smart.’ or perhaps just a few rough ideas of dialogue. There might be a random character that pops up and then vanishes until two chapters before the end.

More or less, zero drafts are unstructured pieces of writing. This might mean a free writing exercise that takes up dozens of pages. Alternately, it’s just a collection of scenes to help you explore what you want to write. There’s really only one rule:

Write.

More specifically, write uninterrupted. If you get hung up on trying to come up with clever dialogue, then leave a note. If you don’t know what the next scene would be, skip to the one you do know. You can leave a note for what you know should happen next, or you can just hop from one scene to the next and back.

Do not edit. Don’t rewrite anything. Don’t even use the backspace or delete key. Just keep writing.

Give yourself permission to make the worst piece of writing ever. Title that document as your Worst Version Ever. Leave ridiculous notes in the middle of sentences. Ignore basic formatting or even start a new line every sentence. Whatever it takes to just get the ideas down.

 

Posted in General, writing

Placeholders

Picture this scenario: You’re writing. You’ve got a good flow going and the words are coming easily. You have uninterrupted time in which to get the story down and then suddenly you hit your third page and then–

You need a ____.

Writing grinds to a halt when you’re searching for names and words. Maybe it’s just a word you’ve forgotten for the moment. Maybe it’s a side character that you didn’t think would need a name, but it sounds more natural if he does have one. Maybe you finally realized you need a name for the town your characters are in. Whatever it is you need, you’re stuck until you find it, and that can kill your writing flow and eat up precious time when you’re writing.

There is a small trick that can be used to avoid those unpleasant moments when you don’t have the word you need. It’s called a placeholder. You can use it in place of the word you want so you’re not stuck searching for one.

When selecting a placeholder, make it a word you don’t use often. For places I liked to use UNNAMED (all caps) or PLACE. This makes it both easier to see and search for. Similarly, characters might be NAMELESS or PERSON. Word processors often have a ‘find and replace’ function, which allows you to effortlessly go back and turn UNNAMED into Townsville or wherever your characters are. Similarly, NAMELESS becomes Bob, Bill, Stew and PERSON easily turns into Carrie, Leanne, Rochelle or whoever else they need to be.

What are some of your placeholders?

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Potion

The café saw a steady stream of people throughout the day. Seeing one particular girl come up to the counter though, Oceania had to smile.

“Hey, Allison. Your mom know you’re drinking coffee?”

Allison shook her head. At twelve she’d started into that awkward and somewhat disproportionate stage of gangliness that might eventually give way to grace.

“I’m not looking for coffee. I kind of had a potion-related question for you.”

That was surprising. Her older brother worked on a magic protection team, as did her father. And Allison’s mother wasn’t exactly without her own magic. Potion-related questions coming from her directly were unusual.

“Alright,” Oceania said and leaned on the counter so she was level with Allison’s face. “What’s the question?”

“Is there a potion that could reveal magic?” Allison asked.

Oceania knew dangerous and stupid ideas when she saw them. There was a whole record and at least a couple of police officers that knew her and her bad ideas quite well.

“Depending on what exactly you need, maybe,” Oceania said. “What’s the situation?”

Allison considered it. “Uhm,” she said. “I…have a friend,” she said. “And she has magic. She thinks she does at least. She should. But, she’s not seeing it yet.”

Dangerous and stupid flashed all over that idea, but Oceania could see the possibilities.

Either she lied and told Allison there was no potion. Allison then had the chance to go looking for something else—a spell or a charm or who knew what else she might find. Alternately, Allison might accept it, and the disheartening realization that she would just have to wait until her magic decided to reveal itself.

Or, she told her the truth and had to fend off any attempts Allison made to get a hold of that potion.

A sigh escaped and she turned. “Carlyn!”

It took her older brother a moment to come out. “What’s up Alley-Cat?” he offered a high-five to Allison, who grinned as she accepted it.

“She’s got a question she needs answering. I’m taking a break.”

“Alright,” Carlyn said. His gaze narrowed slightly. “I’ll cover the front for you.”

“Thanks. Come on you. I know I got a yogurt in the back with your name on it.”

Allison followed into the tiny office they referred to laughably as their ‘break room’. It connected to the back patio, but Oceania stayed inside, pulling a yogurt from the fridge and putting it in front of Allison with a spoon.

“So, this friend of yours. Is she good at sports? Maybe kind of outgoing?”

A nod was Allison’s answered. “She’s on the same softball team I am.”

“I’ll bet she also wears number thirty-six too. I’d be surprised if her jersey doesn’t say Jacobs on it the same way yours does.”

Eyes widened and she ducked her head. “How’d you know?”

Oceania laughed as she sat down. “You aren’t the first kid in the world to wonder if they’ve got magic or why it’s taking so long to show up. And you’re most certainly not the first one to think there’s a spell or potion or something else magic to solve your problem. My main question is what set you to fussing about your magic.”

“If I have any,” Allison muttered and stuck the spoon in her yogurt with a scowl.

“Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Not what I’m looking for just yet. What happened?”

A hefty sigh escaped, pulling Allison’s shoulders even further down.

“One of my friends found out she had magic,” Allison said. “But—no one else in her family does. She just thought she was lucky up until Ricky Thames kept picking on her and she sort of accidentally cursed him.”

“She cursed him?”

“Not like a big one—and the teacher called out the protection team to fix it. She just made his zits spell out mean words.”

“And that got you to thinking?”

“She’s got to go to practices and do extra lessons for it now,” Allison said and pushed her yogurt away to lay her head on her table. “She’s months younger than I am and no one around her mas magic. I’m almost thirteen and everyone in my family has magic and I don’t.”

Therein lay the problem. Oceania already knew Allison was one of the tallest in her class. Not always easy, but understandable when your father was a werewolf.

Less understandable was how she couldn’t seem to work visions how her mother could, and never sported fang or fur in place of her hair and bright smile.

“Hate to break it to you, but there could be a lot of reasons why you don’t see your magic yet.”

“Like something wrong with me?” More of the core fear revealed itself and Oceania laughed.

“Honey, unless you’re out there hurting people for fun or to make yourself feel better, there’s nothing wrong with you,” Oceania said. “And that comes from a whole lot of experience in that department.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s called being a late bloomer,” Oceania said. “It just happens sometimes. Hell—er, heck.” Allison giggled at Oceania’s slip-up. “Heck,” she repeated. “Carlyn and my Dad didn’t even think the weird stuff I was doing was magic for the longest time. They kept brushing it off as ‘Oceania’s weird luck.’ It literally took me bringing a dead plant back to life right in front of them before they clued in. Sometimes magic is small.”

“How small?”

“Small in all the best ways. Maybe you’re just extra good at helping a friend feel better. Maybe you bake really well, or you never lose things. Magic ain’t always some big to-do.”

“Then how am I supposed to know if I have it or not?” Allison protested. “Isn’t there something you can do to at least show me that much?”

Oceania tipped her chin up a little. She did have a nice little magic revealing potion—mostly something she used to make sure money hadn’t been altered, and occasionally when she thought someone was poking around where they shouldn’t be.

“Before you dive off that end, do you really think that’s the best idea?”

“Of course it is! How could it be a bad idea?”

“I do believe your mother is a prophet.”

“Yeah,” Allison said.

“I’d be surprised if she hasn’t explained the limitations of what she can and can’t see.”

“Well, she can only see what might be. It’s hard to see things that will be because they’re flexible about when they happen,” Allison said. “And she can see what’s already happened.”

Oceania nodded. “That’s all stuff she can do. What about what she can’t?”

Allison was silent. “She can’t see her own fate,” she said finally.

“Why do you think that is?”

“I guess…I don’t know.”

“Because magic or not, somethings are better off not being messed with. Let’s say you could see your own fate. So you’d know in the next few minutes what would happen to you—good and bad. That includes stuff like getting hurt or losing something you value.”

“That doesn’t seem too bad,” Allison said.

“Not right away, but look at the bigger picture. Let’s say you know you’re supposed to argue with a friend on a particular day. So you just avoid them that day.”

“They’d understand once you explain, right?”

“Which means then everyone knows you can see the future in detail,” Oceania said. “And that means your friends get curious and they start asking you questions. Now, maybe you’re lucky and those questions have mostly good answers, but what happens when you see things like car accidents, or someone getting ill, getting hurt, all the bad stuff in life?”

“You could stop it.”

“Could you?”

“Well…you’d know when it’s going to happen,” Allison said but frowned. “But…if you tell someone something bad is going to happen, they won’t like it.”

“No, which means that argument you so cleverly avoided happens anyways—but now you’ve got a bigger problem on your hands because trying to stop something else bad from happening means you’ll only make that original argument bigger. Or, let’s say you stop a friend from getting in a car, and they avoid being hit by a drunk driver. That other driver is still drunk and he’s still a danger to others.”

“Someone else would get hurt.”

“Someone who you might not know. More than that, by letting that driver stay out on the road longer, the accident could be worse. Rather than injuries, it could mean killing someone else.” Oceania said. “Your mom calls it What May Be for a reason.”

“Because every choice we make affects what happens next,” Allison muttered. “What’s that go to do with knowing if I have magic or not?”

“What happens when you find out you do have magic?”

“Then I wait for it to finally show itself.”

“Kind of like you’re supposed to be waiting for it to show itself anyways?”

Allison paused. “Well…I guess.”

Oceania nodded. “And of course, since you know you have magic, you wouldn’t want to know what kind of magic it is?”

“Well…okay, that’d be nice to know too.”

“But see, you know you have it and maybe you know what kind you’re supposed to have. What’s stopping you from trying to use that magic before you’re ready?”

A long pause stretched before them, heavy and uncomfortable. “I could really hurt myself,” Allison said finally.

“More than that, buttercup. Magic appears when you’re ready for it.”

“But what if I’m never ready for it? What if I just don’t have it?”

“Then obviously you never needed it to start with. You’ve got a phone.”

“A phone isn’t magic.”

“No, but it lets you call your friends, and your family, doesn’t it? It lets you store photos of memories you want to keep, and share those same photos with the people you care about the most. You don’t need magic for the important stuff, and magic comes with its own downsides. Your friend, you said she had extra practices now?”

Allison nodded. “She’s taking them on Saturday and Sunday.”

“So I’m guessing she doesn’t have a lot of time to hang out on those days,” Oceania said.

This time, the widening of Allison’s eyes came with a slight pursing of her lips, as if she’d just realized something.

“She couldn’t come to the movies with us on Saturday because she had practice,” Allison said.

“Do you think she enjoyed knowing all her friends were watching movies and laughing with each other while she was stuck learning about something she has no choice in?”

A headshake.

“So while you’re fretting about maybe you do, maybe you don’t, she’s probably got some worries of her own about how all this magic is going to affect her life now.”

Squirming in her seat, it took a moment before Allison hung her head. “I guess I didn’t really think about it. I’m used to having magic in my life. It feels weird to try and think of it as anything but normal.”

“Oh it’s plenty normal. Sometimes it’s just so small it gets lost in all the other stuff out there. Rainbows are magic. So are kisses from pretty girls and laughing with your best friends. And sometimes, finding a penny on the street is all the magic you ever need.”

Allison nodded. “I…I still want to know, but I guess I’ll have to wait.”

“Sounds like a smart idea to me,” Oceania said and reached over to grab a lip balm tube from the side of the office desk. “You’ve been picking at your lips again. Put some of that on and go eat your yogurt.”

Smiling, Allison took it and dutifully applied it to her lips. As she did, the balm shimmered, almost a little like crystals.

“Thanks,” Allison said as she stood, picking up her yogurt and the spoon.

“Of course. I’d say you’ll probably get your answer here soon—but you’ve got to be patient. No more poking at it. It’ll show when it shows.”

“No more poking, I promise,” Allison said and waved as she headed back towards the main dining area.

Oceania sighed a little as she stood, heading to grab the bussing cart.

Instead, Carlyn stopped her. “What exactly did you give her?” he asked.

“Strawberry yogurt,” Oceania said and looked over at where Allison had apparently joined a friend from school and was now chatting and laughing. “And some Chapstick.”

Carlyn looked over. “Just Chapstick?”

Oceania held up the fresh tube of magic-detection potion. “Looked enough like it to me.”