Saturday, December 28, 2013

WIP Marathon Check-In #4

Last check-in: 1300 words into re-writing chapter 3

Currently: Finished chapter 3 at 2600 words. Finished editing chapters 4 and 5. (current word count = 12,800)

WIP issues this week: Relatively smooth sailing this week.

What I learned this week: While details are the sign of good worldbuilding, it's important for those details to reflect the "heart and soul" of that world. A good fantasy/sci-fi world should have 3-4 core elements, and almost all details should reflect one or more of those elements.

But worlds are complex, you might argue, and I wouldn't disagree. But unless you're writing a geography book, you can't ask your readers to memorize every detail of your world. So that's why it's a good idea to pick 3-4 elements that are most important for your readers to understand. (Probably not more than that, unless you're very experienced or you're George R.R. Martin. And not less either--otherwise your scope is too limited.)

Take The Hunger Games, for example. The 3 core elements of Panem are as follows:

1. The Capitol's power over the districts. The Capitol exerts its power through economic inequality, militant fear tactics, separating the districts (each district specializes in one particular industry, thus ensuring that they cannot survive independently), and of course, the Hunger Games.

2. Wealth vs. poverty. (Actually, this could be a subcategory of #1). There are a lot of details about food and fashion. These aren't just for scenery--they illustrate the extravagance of the Capitol vs the poverty of the districts.

3. Futuristic technology: Convenience living, hovercrafts, arena technology, genetic engineering.

My own novel is organized around 4 core elements. This wasn't how I originally planned it, but it's how I figured out which details to keep or discard.

1. societal structure: small, close-knit, and agrarian, with no technological development

2. religion: the Pathways of Fate = Takiran Code and personal Guides

3. magic system: there are 3 "sources" of magic in the novel -- while they are not initially apparent, it was important for me to have an explanation for why certain characters have non-talisman powers

4. the relationship between Takira and the Severed World (our world): My novel is Portal fantasy, which is generally thought of as the "wish fulfillment" genre--but it doesn't have to be. One thing that's important for portal fantasy writers to consider is the relationship between the magical world and the "normal" world. You can't expect me to believe that even though characters can jump between them, the worlds never interact. Even if the portal didn't exist until your protagonist came along, you still have to consider the implications of said portal.

While some people might see this "core element" thing as limiting, it's helpful in that not only does it make your worldbuilding less scattered, but it makes you think about what your readers need to know in order to understand your world. It also gives your readers a context for what's going on and helps minimize info-dumping.

(You can really tell the difference between which novels have "consistent" vs. "scattered" worldbuilding. For an example of a novel that does this well, see The Girl of Fire and Thorns. For an example of a novel that does this considerably less well, see Shadow and Bone.)

What distracted me this week while writing: The usual. Social life, laziness, internet.

Last 200 words: Nope. Spoilery.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

WIP Marathon Check-In #3

...or #2, I guess, since I skipped last week's.

Last check-in: In the middle of re-writing chapter 3 (600 words)

Currently: Still on chapter 3, but much farther in (1300 words). Also, I started outlining a plot event that happens much later in the story (where my last draft ended).

WIP issues this week:

1) New world = lots of descriptions. I'm not good with descriptions. Most of them come out very generic.

2) New characters. Is there a limit to how many characters you can introduce in a single chapter?

3) Figuring out where this scene is going. The main purpose of this chapter is introduction. The plot doesn't really take off until the next chapter. But I'd like to introduce a bit of tension into this scene, something that will lead in to the story. I have some ideas, but I'm still sorting through them.

What I learned this week:

When asking for research advice, make sure you're asking someone who has practical, real-world experience in that field. I'm a first-year medical student, so if you ask about a blood vessel or muscle or organ, I can tell you what it does, where it's located, what nerve innervates it, and possibly a few things about its embryological origin and microstructure. However, having very little experience in clinical medicine, I cannot tell you how you would treat an injury to that structure or how quickly said injury would kill you. For that reason, I went to the AbsoluteWrite research forums. Out of all the people who responded, only one of them had anything on her profile page that indicated real-world knowledge of traumatic injuries (paramedic). Other people gave me answers from out-of-date books or from god-knows-where-else they picked up that information.

Also, something I wish other people would learn: When someone wants research advice, they are not asking for writing advice. Telling someone how to write a book that you know nothing about is nothing short of condescension.

What distracted me this week while writing:

Last week I had finals, and then I spent the weekend with some friends in rural Indiana. I expected to get more done this week, after coming home from the holidays, but that didn't quite happen. I spent way too much time watching various movies, Pretty Little Liars (I took advantage of my friend's inebriation to get her into it. It worked.), and Once Upon A Time (I finally gave up halfway through the first season, when it exceeded my patience for cliche romance and suburban mom warfare).Also, I found a copy of The Republic of Thieves at my local library. (Yay!) Also, doctor appointments and lots of cooking.

Last 200 words:

On the opposite side of the lawn, the Temple waited before them. It was a large structure, constructed out of white-and-gold-and-beige marbled stones that reflected the late afternoon sun. The roof was almost dome-like, but tapered in at the center; it reminded Olivia of the open mouth of a jug.

“Come,” said Katil.

The walk across the lawn was slower than expected; nearly everyone standing around the lawn, priests and citizens and half-Takirans alike, came forward to greet them. Olivia quickly gave up trying to remember all of their names.

At last, they reached the steps that led up to the entrance—not a door, but a veil of the same sky-blue color as the priests’ robes. One of the priests pulled it aside, revealing a large foyer. The aromas of sandalwood and rose petals welcomed her inside. Heads turned in their direction, and more than one person rose from the woven-straw benches that occupied the room.

“Nathaniel!” A woman strode towards them with arms outstretched. Nathaniel met her in the center of the room.


“She’s my mother,” Katil said, as Mr. Arken and the woman clasped hands. Despite the hint of wrinkles around her eyes, her smile had the same energy as Katil’s.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Should this bother me?

1. A few months ago, a blogger acquaintance self-published her NA novel. I wasn't sure if it was my thing, but it was on sale for $0.99, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Some time later, that same author announced that she was publishing a novel with a new e-press--except when I read the blurb, I realized it was the same novel, although it sounded like she'd made some changes to it. (I haven't gotten around to reading it yet.)

2. Last night, I couldn't sleep, but I was tired of studying, so I started a different self-published NA novel that was sitting in my Nook library. It was very readable, and involved a topic that I've never seen before. Even though I haven't finished it yet, I was curious about how the author had researched the topic, so I looked up the book and the author online. On the author's website, she announced that the book was no longer available because it had gotten her an agent.

I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about this. I understand that some successfully self-published books are picked up by mainstream publishers, and I doubt the authors are doing anything dishonest. And don't get me wrong, I don't judge either of these authors for trying to make their books as widely-read as possible. In fact, I'm happy for both of them.

But in the case of Book #1, I was somewhat annoyed. The summary of the book that will soon be published is very different than the summary of its self-published version. Does that mean I essentially paid for a rough draft? And what about Book #2? How much will it change if it gets picked up by a publishers? Is the novel I'm reading right now going to be the same as the novel that sits on a bookstore shelf?

What do you think? Is this something that should bother me, or is it none of my business?


Saturday, December 7, 2013

WIP Marathon Check-in #1

Last Check-in: 2 chapters (4800 words)

Currently: Re-writing chapter 3 (600 words so far)

WIP Issues this week: 

A) Exams. One down, three to go.

B) I'm introducing a new world and some new characters. In the last 600 words, one of the characters (not the POV character) met her half-brother for the first time. I'm still figuring out how that conversation would play out. (Input is welcome.)

What I learnt this week in writing: Introducing nice, friendly characters is hard. They have to have at least one visible characteristic other than being nice and friendly, or else they're boring. Also, I still need to incorporate physical description of these characters somewhere.

What distracted me this week while writing: The internet, as usual. Also, exams. I snuck in some time to write Monday and Tuesday, but on Wednesday, I was too anxious to be creative so I studied instead.

Last 200 words:

            “I’m Katil,” said the girl. “Takira’s heiress-to-the-throne.”
Olivia let her hands fall to her sides. “You—what?”
The heiress wore a loose white shirt and trousers, a periwinkle sash around her waist, and a simple necklace of turquoise beads. None of it seemed to indicate wealth or status. This is Takira, remember? Things work differently here. She bowed her head to the girl, realizing far too late that her built-in Takiran vocabulary didn’t come with a word for ‘Your Highness.’
            The girl laughed. “Nathaniel, is she always so timid?”
            Mr. Arken shrugged. Olivia blushed.
            “Come,” the heiress said. She was speaking to Paula now. “Paula, yes?”
            Paula came forward. “Yes, Heiress.” As the two joined hands, Katil’s cousin approached them.
            “Are you…Itoban?” Paula asked.
            He smiled. “I was wondering when we would meet.”
            Right. He’s her brother. Paula had mentioned her Takiran half-siblings, though Olivia hadn’t expected to be present when they finally met. Should she avert her eyes? She suddenly wished someone had taught her the etiquette for witnessing conversations between long-lost relatives.
            “I’m glad I could finally come,” Paula said. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
            “From Nathaniel?”
            “From Nathaniel, from the Wolkows—”
            “Tabitha Wolkow?”

            “Who else?” Both of them laughed.
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