Life Is What Happens While You’re Making Other Plans

Did a little better with the writing this week than I did last week, but not by much. The main factor behind my lack of writing is that I was recently informed I am getting laid off from my day job at the end of March. This has resulted in two things (at least in relation to my writing). Firstly, a significant amount of my time and energy has been devoted to job hunting. And secondly, the stress and uncertainty of my job situation has made it incredibly difficult to focus on my writing, even when I do have time to write.

So that is the situation at the moment. With any luck I can get things sorted sooner rather than later, and refocus on my writing from there. Time will tell, I suppose.

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Musical Extravaganza

Been a frustrating, stressful, non-writing sort of a week this week. So much so that this is the first writing-related thing I’ve done all week. I haven’t even looked at anything related to my story, much less done any writing on it. So in keeping with this week’s apparent non-writing theme, I’m breaking from my normal story-related topics for this week’s blog post, and instead I’m going to write about music. I know that I’ve previously written about music (specifically about having a soundtrack for my novel), but this week I’m going to just write about music completely unrelated to writing.

This topic is mostly inspired by the fact that I just discovered a new band on YouTube this week. Which is YouTube’s most redeeming quality in my mind – it’s a surprisingly great source for music (this is also one of YouTube’s very few redeeming qualities, but that’s a rant for another day). I think I’ve found almost as many great musicians/bands on YouTube as I have on Pandora, and that’s saying something.

To say that I have eclectic tastes in music is likely more than an understatement. As a child of the 70s and 80s, I long ago lost interest for the most part in popular, Top 40 music. I’d much rather listen to obscure indie bands and foreign music – the stuff you’re just not going to hear on the radio. The last few years in particular have seen me gravitate more and more towards foreign music – Japanese rock/pop and Scandinavian folk metal and Electro Swing, to name but a few genres.

Most recently, I’ve found myself drawn to musical genres that combine traditional music and instruments with a more modern rock sound. And my most recent musical discovery fits perfectly into this style. They are a Japanese group called Wagakki Band, who combine traditional Japanese instruments with rock music. Even their look seems to be a blending of traditional dress and punk rock fashion.

Another band I really enjoy that follows this same general concept (although with a very different sound) is the Finnish folk-metal band Korpiklaani, who combine traditional Scandinavian folk instruments with heavy metal. Despite not really being a big heavy metal fan, I really enjoy their music because of that blending of styles. It reminds me in many ways of Celtic Punk, a genre that I have long enjoyed (for examples, check out the music of Flogging Molly or Dropkick Murphys).

On the subject of unusual foreign metal bands, I can’t write an article about eclectic music without mentioning one of the most unusual bands I’ve come across in quite some time – the Japanese pop-metal band Babymetal. Yes, you read that right, pop-metal. The band features three teenage girls singing pop lyrics with a heavy metal band providing the instrumentation. Their music is a bizarre mix of bubblegum pop with metal guitars, that really shouldn’t work, but somehow does (I will admit that it’s not to everyone’s tastes by any means, but I absolutely love their music). For a great example of their sound, check out their song Gimme Chocolate.

I’ll touch on one final unusual genre of music that I enjoy, and then we’ll bring this musical extravaganza to a close. And that genre would be Electro Swing, which is a European genre of music that combines old school swing jazz with modern techno/dance music. As someone who’s long been a fan of big band swing music, and who enjoyed his fair share of techno back in the 90s, hearing them blended together was amazing. Anyone who likes fun, upbeat, danceable music should give it a listen. I would recommend the band Caravan Palace, or any of the songs from the compilation album Electro Swing Revolution vol. 2 as a great place to start.

If I were looking for a “moral to the story” to summarize this post, it would be that there is a world of amazing music out there beyond the generic auto-tuned repetition that fills the ranks of mainstream music. It’s just a matter of getting out there and finding it, and then being open to the possibilities, because a lot of what’s out there isn’t what you’re used to. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a listen. Here endeth the sermon.

No idea what next week’s blog will be about, but I am really hoping I can get my head back in the game and get refocused on my writing next week. Sadly winter tends to play hell with my creative motivation (and life’s thrown me a few curveballs recently that have only aggravated the problem). But my goal is to push through it all and get back on track with moving my story forward. Only time will tell what next week brings.

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Naming Your Characters

Last week I detailed the progression of my main character, from Dungeons & Dragons character to his current incarnation within my Work In Progress. One thing I did not mention last week (mostly because I was saving it for this week’s post) was the main character’s name. And that is because this week’s post is all about naming your characters – or more to the point, how I come up with names for my characters.

My main character is somewhat unique among all my characters in how I came up with his name. It started with the name of my D&D character, which is Idris, after the actor Idris Elba. I picked that name partly because I really like the actor, but mostly because it is just an uncommon, and in my opinion, very interesting sounding name. I also decided my character didn’t really need a last name, so Idris it was.

Once I decided that my D&D character would be the perfect inspiration for my story character, the first realization I came to was that I didn’t want to steal Idris Elba’s name for my story, so I changed Idris to Idrin. And he needed a last name, so I pulled the name ‘Avarus’ out of the back of my brain – it just sounded like a cool last name, and went well with Idrin. And thus Idrin Avarus was born. Of course, afterwards I looked up the word ‘avarus’ and it turns out that it is Latin for greedy or covetous (it is the Latin root for the word avaricious), but I figure I can live with that.

For my other character names, I use a more standardized, less random process. It starts with a wonderfully useful website – Kate Monk’s Onomastikon (an onomastikon is a dictionary of names). This site has hundreds and hundreds of names, categorized by region/ethnic group. So if you know what sort of people inspired your character’s people, you can go right to that group and find names that fit.

As an example, Idrin’s closest compatriot is a dwarf. In my story world, I based the dwarves on Viking raiders (except they are land-based raiders, and not the sea-born raiders that the Vikings were). Because of this, I wanted all dwarven names to be based on old Norse names. That is how I came up with Hallgrim Damsgaard, dwarven mercenary. The other character that I used this method for was my lizardman character. Being desert-dwelling beings, I wanted the lizardmen to have an Arabic feel to them. Going through a variety of Middle Eastern names, I put together Dhsan Johari Mohktar Eftekhari, lizardman scout and guide.

On the subject of lizardmen, I decided that I wanted to give them an actual race name other than “lizardmen” (which then became a derogatory term that other races called them, and not something they ever called themselves). And this leads me to my second source for character/place names, and that is Google translate. I absolutely love Google translate. Of course, it helps to be a bit obsessive/compulsive, as the way I use it is a fairly time-consuming – and very repetitive – process. But on the upside, it is a fantastic way to come up with exotic-sounding names that work really well in a fantasy setting.

The process is this – I bring up Google translate, then choose a word or phrase that fits the character or place I’m looking to name. Then, one language at a time, I go through and translate the word into every language that Google has, until I find a result that I like. Sometimes I’ll take the exact word, other times I’ll modify it slightly (or combine a couple of words) to get something that works for me. Again, you need to be either OCD or very, very patient, as often words won’t give you something that you like, so you’ll have to try a variety of words until you find what you’re looking for (and Google has quite a few languages to go through).

In the case of my lizardmen, the English word I ended up using was “shield” (I can’t remember any more why I chose that particular word, but I’m sure I had a reason at the time). And the translated word I came across was the Somali word “gaashaan”, which just had a reptilian-sounding feel to it. And thus my lizardmen became the gaashaan.

This is also how I came up with the name for my ratling thief/con-artist, Bajingan – which is a Javanese/Indonesian swear word that essentially means “bastard” or “scumbag”. A fitting name for an unsavory thief, I think, and one that quickly became one of my favorite character names.

This method also worked for developing a handful of simple phrases in the gaashaan language. I would translate the phrase I wanted into different languages until I got a handful of words/phrases that I liked. I would then make little tweaks and adjustments to them so they were no longer real words. My reasoning for this is that I didn’t want my made-up languages to be identical to an actual real-world language. Having a character’s name be a word in a real language is one thing, but the words my (non-human) characters speak needed to be at least partly made-up.

For the language of the goblyns, I had to go a little further afield. I wanted the goblyn language to have a very Gaelic/Celtic feel to it, specifically Scottish (because if you’ve ever seen Gaelic written down, it certainly looks like a non-human language). Sadly, however, Google translate does not have Scottish in its database, so I had to do a little Internet surfing, until I found a couple of sites that did English to Scottish translation.

As with the phrases I’d made up for my lizardmen, I didn’t want my goblyns to be speaking actual Scottish, just something with a similar look/sound to it, so instead of using exact Scottish words, I would combine and slightly alter words, which gave me a wholly made-up language, but one that had a distinct Gaelic feel to it, which was what I was looking for.

For me, creating words and phrases, and coming up with names for my characters is an incredible amount of fun. Now that being said, I’m not enough of a linguist to want to try and develop my own full conlang, but there’s something very rewarding in creating those little bits of fantasy language, and giving them a consistent sound that fits the race that is speaking them.

I would also say that finding the right names for your characters is the one of the most critical steps in creating a character. I don’t know about other writers, but I find that the moment I find the right name, I can immediately start to picture my character – who they are, how they think and act, what they look like. All of it is reflected in their name.

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Developing my Main Character

For the next several blog posts, I want to focus my discussion on the development of my current Work(s) in Progress. And what better place to start than with the progression of my main character, from initial conception to current incarnation. Along with the main character himself, this is a great opportunity to talk about the nature and tone of the stories, specifically as they relate to, and are affected by, the nature of the main character.

It’s interesting to watch a character change and grow as you develop your story – almost like a child growing up and figuring out who they really are. My main character started with the character I’m currently playing in my weekly Dungeons & Dragons game. For those who know 4th Edition D&D, my character is a two-sword style ranger with a cross-class feat that gives me the thieving skills of a rogue (if you’re not into D&D, I realize this probably doesn’t mean much).

My concept for the character is that he is a bounty hunter (which works well with his combination of ranger and thief skills). But the big twist to the character is his race – he is a Shade. In D&D, a Shade is a human who, through a complex and very dangerous mystical ritual, gave up part of their soul to the Shadow Realm, in exchange for dark powers from this realm (mostly related to stealth).

The final background theme I gave my character is one called Haunted Blade – essentially, having committed a cold-blooded, violent act with a bladed weapon (in my character’s case, a pair of scimitars), the character becomes cursed with the dark power of fear. When combined together, these various aspects make for a very fun character to play – dark, mysterious, an anti-hero the other players are never certain just how far they can trust.

So when my first attempt at a novel stumbled to a creative halt and I came to the conclusion that I needed to start fresh, I immediately latched onto my D&D character as a great place to start. Of course, the first thing I would need to do is make him a little less blatantly Dungeons & Dragons (partly because I didn’t want my story to feel like an obvious D&D rip-off, and partly because you never know just what game elements Wizards of the Coast might want to enforce their copyright on).

So the first thing to go was my character being a Shade – that specifically felt very D&D (at least to me). I did, however, want to keep the Haunted Blade concept. And so I made the cursed swords a very big part of his back story. And of course I kept him as the dark, mysterious bounty hunter. With this basic character concept in place, the next step was to decide what sort of story to feature him in.

I started by thinking about bounty hunters in general, and what sort of fiction you generally find them in, and two obvious sources came to mind – Westerns, and Star Wars. Star Wars, of course, was immediately out (not that I have anything against Star Wars, but firstly I wasn’t interested in writing fan fiction, and secondly I was more looking at a fantasy setting than a scifi one). Which left Westerns, and this very much intrigued me. What if I were to develop the story – the plot, the tone, the characters, all of it – as if I were writing a western, but set it in an ancient fantasy world?

And so that’s where I started. At first the ideas were coming together really well, and I was very happy with the direction of the story. Then I hit a snag. The problem I was facing was in the nature of the curse my main character suffered from. I don’t want to reveal too many details here (want to save those for the actual story), but essentially as a result of his curse, my main character does not draw his swords unless he absolutely has to.

The problem with this is that Westerns, as a rule, feature quite a bit of combat. And when your main character avoids combat whenever he can, that tends to complicate the story (and not in a good way). Also, as I plan to (hopefully) make my story part of a series of stories, the idea of a bounty hunter character was starting to feel limited – too many of the story ideas I had didn’t really strictly fit with the role of a bounty hunter, and I didn’t want every story to be about him chasing down his latest bounty. And so changes needed to be made.

The first change was to my character himself. Instead of a bounty hunter, he became an “adventurer for hire”. I felt this opened up the possibilities for jobs/adventures that he could become involved in, but still included the possibility of bounty hunting type missions, which meant I could do everything with him I’d planned out already, but now had more latitude to do much more besides.

The next change that I made was to the theme/concept of the story. Instead of being inspired by Westerns (although there will likely still be some influences from the Western genre), I decided that swashbuckling, action/adventure themed stories would work better with the character (think of stories featuring characters such as Allan Quatermain, Tarzan, or Indiana Jones, for example). The idea is to focus on scenes of action and adrenaline that don’t necessarily feature combat. This way, when my main character does draw his swords, it is only for significant moments in the story when he was little other choice.

Now I fully admit this is probably a bit of a risky choice, as it seems like a large number of fantasy stories really focus on battles and combat and monster killing, so writing fantasy stories that tend to minimize these things could potentially not go over well with fantasy readers. But if nothing else, I’ll be able to say I’m writing something different. I guess only time will tell if that ends up being different good, or different bad.

And there you have it – the transition of my Shade ranger D&D character to the cursed action/adventure hero who is the main character of my future novel series. Hopefully this little discussion gave you some insight into how a character can change and grow as you develop him or her, and how a story changes as the characters who inhabit that story change. Tune in next week, when I’ll be talking about some of the other characters who inhabit my stories (and more specifically, the fun-filled process of coming up with names for my characters).

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Ryan Crown, Year One

Greetings, and welcome to my first blog post for 2015! As I am currently fighting the flu, I decided to forsake originality in choosing this week’s post topic, and go with the old standby for this time of year – the year in review (followed by a look to the year ahead).

This does feel like an appropriate topic, however, as this marks the end of the first year in my epic (and possibly foolhardy) quest to become a published novelist. My quest truly began back in July, when I was first inspired by a friend of mine, who was in the process of finishing her first novel, to finally step up and give it a go myself.

The six months that followed were intense, exciting, scary, and above all, enlightening. There were ups, and there were certainly downs. My first attempt at a novel came to a screeching halt when I hit a creative wall, realizing I had a great concept for a story, but no earthly idea how to proceed in turning that story into an actual novel. And so I took a step back, and dove head first into research.

Now I must admit that at this point, I kind of put the cart before the horse in a pretty big way, because I found myself focused much more on the publishing/marketing/platform-building side of things than on the writing craft side. I read all sorts of articles and followed all kinds of blogs talking about how to be successfully published. Which is all well and good if you’ve got a novel mostly ready to go, but I didn’t even have the beginnings of a novel at that point.

On the plus side of all this research, I was able to setup my own author website, and start on this blog. And despite some initial misgivings (mainly because I’ve attempted to maintain a blog in the past, with limited success), so far I have really been enjoying writing on this blog, and hope to continue to do so.

I also forced myself onto social media, setting up author pages on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube, and Twitter. And as of this writing I have 430 followers on Twitter! I realize that in the grand scheme of things this is a miniscule number, but for someone who is fairly non-social (and very non-social media) this is a significant accomplishment for me.

The down side of all of this author platform building is that it can be more than a little bit of a distraction from the main goal of this grand experiment, which is actually writing a novel. It would a terrible shame if I put all this effort into my author platform, then never got around to getting anything published.

The writing process itself has been a very eye-opening one. More than anything, I have discovered that 20+ years of casual/hobby writing, and more importantly strictly writing short stories, really does not prepare you for the much more monumental task of constructing a novel.

After the failure of my first attempt, I decided to take a more structured approach to my second. I put together a full outline and chapter list before I started writing, I did a significant amount of world-building, creating the history of the world and its societies, even making a map of the known world (which, to my surprise, proved to be an incredibly useful tool when it came to working out some of the specifics of my story).

With everything in place, I waited for November 1st to begin my novel, wanting to tackle NaNoWriMo. That proved to be quite the learning experience. Mostly I learned that I am not really NaNo material, and will likely not be doing NaNoWriMo again in the future. But while I didn’t even make it to the halfway mark of NaNo’s 50,000 word goal, I did manage over 23,000 words for my novel, which for me was a pretty big deal.

The down side, though, was that many of the chapters I’d outlined ended up being combined (as I discovered that too many of my chapter ideas did not have enough meat on their bones to make up a full chapter). I also realized that what I’d outlined was much closer to being a novella than a full-length novel. Even more importantly, I realized that the idea I’d come up with would work much better as the second novel in the series I had in mind, which meant that I needed to come up with a new idea for the first novel in the series.

Reached probably my lowest point (as far as motivation and self-esteem as a writer goes) in December. Post-NaNo I had to take a hard look at myself and my writing. The realization I came to is that I’m not nearly as ready to tackle writing a full novel as I thought I was. As much as anything, I hadn’t really understood just what went into writing a novel. When your background is short stories and film, you don’t realize just how complex a novel, even a short novel, really is (as a huge movie buff, much of the inspiration for my writing comes from films, but if you look at the narrative structure of a movie, it is very much a short story).

I will admit there was a moment when the idea of just giving it up as a lost cause did cross my mind. But I just as quickly squashed that thought, and reaffirmed my desire to pursue becoming a novelist. I did, however, readjust my expectations quite a bit. I know now that I have a very long road ahead of me, with a lot of learning still to do. And so I adjusted my plans for 2015 with this knowledge forefront in my mind.

The first decision I made is that I need to put my current story on hold temporarily, and shift my focus to book one in my series. The main reason for this is that too much of the current story relies on things that will take place in the first story, and only having the vaguest ideas for that story right now is going to hamper book two if I keep trying to push forward with it.

So it’s back to the drawing board with a new story – an appropriate way to start off the new year, I think. And this time, I’m going to approach the outlining/development stage of the novel much differently. I want to make sure that this time around my outline works for a novel, and not just a short story/novella.

The other thing I’m going to continue working on is the world-building for my novel series. Now that I have my map complete, it’s time to revamp and expand the history of the world and its peoples. I have to admit, for me this is almost more fun that working on the actual novel, because I truly love world-building. The trick, of course, is not to let myself get so caught up in world-building that I stop working on my story.

My final goal for 2015 is to actively move forward with the story series that I plan to publish to my blog (hopefully as a regular weekly feature). I have to basic concept for the series, and a working title – “The Fantastical Adventures of Simon Farthing.” I’m getting more and more excited about this series, and with any luck will be ready to start publishing chapters in the next couple of months. Stay tuned for further updates!

And with that I conclude my first official blog post of 2015. I hope everyone has enjoyed what I’ve written so far, and I’d love it if you joined my e-mail list – you’ll always be in the know when my latest entry has been posted. And feel free to follow me on Google+ and Twitter!

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Happy Holidays!!

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I’m off to visit family for Christmas, so there won’t be a blog update this week or next. Stop back in after New Year’s for my end-of-year update!

Happy holidays to everyone, and thanks for stopping by my blog.

Ryan Crown

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A Musical Interlude (AKA Does Your Novel Have a Soundtrack?)

Last week I discussed visual aids as a source of inspiration for my writing, so this week I wanted to talk about that other key sensory input – audio. Let me start by saying that I am passionate about music, all sorts of music. I can go from bluegrass to Scandinavian folk metal to electro swing to classical and back around, through many, many other genres besides. Nothing inspires me like music, and nothing focuses me when I’m writing like music. I put my headphones in, tune everything else out, and just focus.

Now seemingly I’m in the minority in this. I’ve read that many writers prefer silence, and find music to be a distraction. I’m the exact opposite. I find silence to be distracting, almost annoying. Just in general I need background noise – if I’m not listening to music, then I’ve got the TV going (I generally don’t have the TV going when I write, because it can be a distraction, but when it comes to doing stuff around the house, working on my computer, etc., I almost always have the TV on, even if I’m not really watching it, simply because I don’t like quiet). I guess I’m just crazy that way.

As well as helping me tune out distractions when I write, my other key motivator is that the right music puts me in the right frame of mind for the tone of my story. For me, music is all about emotion. It’s not so much about the lyrics or the tune, it’s about the emotional state that the music puts me in. This is one reason I very much enjoy music from all around the world – it doesn’t matter to me if the singer is singing in a language I don’t speak, what matters is how the music makes me feel.

When it comes to my writing, one of the first things I almost always do when I’m outlining/developing a new story is to put together a playlist that serves as the ‘soundtrack’ to my story. Part of this stems, I think, from the fact that I’m a huge movie buff. What does this have to do with music, you ask? Well, because of my love of movies, when I’m writing a scene I often visualize it as if it were a scene in a movie. And I realized that – just like in the movies – the right song playing in the background can make all the difference in setting the mood of the scene.

This is how the idea of a soundtrack for my novels came about. When I start developing the story, I put together a collection of songs that either have the right feel for the type of story I’m writing, or that when I listen to them I can almost picture a scene from my story. I also like to have a theme song for each significant character in my story – a song that captures the personality of that character, that makes me immediately think of them when I listen to it. Taking all of these songs, I build a playlist, then I try to listen to it while I’m writing. I’ve found that it not only improves my output, but it makes the writing process that much more of an enjoyable experience.

So am I alone in this? I know that I once talked with a writer friend of mine about creating a soundtrack to my stories, and she looked at me like I was crazy. If you do listen to music while you write, what sort of music do you prefer? To finish things, I’ve put together a YouTube playlist featuring many of the songs on the soundtrack to my current WIP. Give it a listen!

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Visual Aids And Writing

It’s the first week of a new month, and with NaNo now fully in the rearview, it’s time to shift gears and move on to new topics. But somehow I managed to let the week get away from me, and here it is Friday already, and I have no idea what I want to write for this week’s post. As I’m staring at a blank page trying to decide what to write about, I realize just how spoiled I was having NaNo as a preset topic every week. Oh, I’ve got a (somewhat short) list of topics to choose from, ones I came up with during November and jotted down to save for later, but it turns out that having your topic and deciding what you really want to say about that topic are two different things. Ah, the joys of writer’s block.

Of course, plenty of people will tell you that writer’s block is a poor excuse for not writing, so let’s see if I can power through this thing. Today I am going to write about the importance of visual aids as a writer. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and sometimes I think having that picture is just what a writer needs to get those thousand words written. So I want to talk visual inspirations in general, and then detail a specific example that recently proved essential to moving my current story forward.

I’m going to start my discussion of visual aids with a site that I have embraced as a rich source of inspiration – Pinterest (a social media site I initially expected to be as much of a pointless time waster as I find most social media sites to be). A friend had been trying (unsuccessfully) for a while to get me onto Pinterest, but she mainly used it for crafts and cooking/baking ideas, which didn’t really interest me at all. And so I ignored her repeated comments about what a great site it was to spend time on.

A while later I came across a writer on Scribophile who had a link to her Pinterest account, which got me curious (especially since my friend was still regularly telling me I should be on the site). So I took a look at this writer’s Pinterest page, just to see what a writer might do with the site, and found a number of boards all dedicated to story inspiration, and broken down into different categories.

Perusing these boards was all I needed to convince me of the usefulness of Pinterest. From there I setup my own page, and started 4 boards – fantasy characters, fantasy landscapes, sci-fi characters, and alien worlds. For the moment I’m mainly just having fun collecting cool images that catch my eye (especially on the sci-fi boards, since I’m much more focused on fantasy for my writing at the moment). But as I add images to my boards (and potentially expand them into more specific categories) and as I continue my writing, I can see more and more turning to those images for inspiration.

But visual aids can provide more than just simple inspiration – they can also give you the concrete details you need to flesh out your story or to help move your story forward. There’s one specific example of this that I wanted to touch on in relation to my current WIP. For the section of the story I’m just finishing up (which was originally planned as one chapter but has expanded to a full three chapters at this point), I had put one of my main characters into prison, and need to devise an exciting – but at least somewhat believable – prison break to get him out. And so began my research into prisons and famous prison breaks.

I’m not going to go into the details of all the research I did (going to save those for a future post on the joys and fun of research). Suffice it to say, after much researching I’d found the inspiration for my prison (Colditz Castle – a medieval castle that the Germans used as a POW camp during WWII). What I didn’t have, however, was any real idea of how my character was going to escape.

Colditz Castle - FloorplansI’d probably still be sitting here weeks later trying to wrap my head around this particular dilemma, if I hadn’t discovered one particular visual aid – a simple blueprint of Colditz Castle (shown at left). As I started looking over the blueprint, I started figuring out where the characters would be housed and what the potential weak points/points of escape from the castle might be. From there I started finding obstacles to those points that the character would need to overcome. The more I looked over the blueprint, the more the ideas came to me.

Now I won’t claim that what I ultimately came up with is necessarily the most exciting, original prison break ever written (and odds are I’ve got more than a little bit of editing/tweaking to do before I’m completely happy with how the prison break works), but I am very excited and happy with what I did come up with, and it never would have happened without that blueprint. And just as important, every time I adjusted and expanded upon my prison break, I could refer back to that blueprint to help me map out the where and the how of my escape.

So in closing, I’d just like to say that I love both the inspiration and the specific details that you can get from a good visual – be it painting, photograph, map, blueprint, or whatever else. Whether it’s characters or landscapes or creatures or specific locations/set pieces, the right picture can do amazing things to not just fire the imagination, but to also give you something concrete to aid in the little details of your writing.

And even if you don’t find that image that’s just what you’re looking for, let’s be honest, looking at pictures of interesting characters or fabulous landscapes is just a fun way to take a mental break from your writing. So has anyone else ever had this sort of experience – some visual aid that inspired a character, setting, or scene in your story? And where do you go when looking for visual inspiration? Let me know in the comments!

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NaNoWriMo 2014 – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Quick word of warning – this week’s post starts off a bit on the negative side, as I vent my frustrations from the last few weeks, but it’s not all bad stuff, so please bear with me.

So National Novel Writing Month 2014 has come to a close at last, and I believe I shall be writing this thing off as something of a failed experiment. I say this not so much because I did not make it to the 50,000 word goal (my final word count, for the record, was 23,485), but more because the whole setup/concept of NaNoWriMo isn’t really conducive to writing for me. NaNo is all about “turn off your inner editor, ignore your delete key, and just write, write, write – you can worry about the quality of that writing in December,” and I just never clicked with that concept.

As I said in a previous post, I have learned that not only can I not turn off my inner editor, but I don’t want to. I enjoy editing as I go. The whole idea of being so focused on word count that in all likelihood large amounts of what I’ve written will end up just getting deleted during editing drives me crazy. It absolutely feels like a waste of time and creativity. Now I fully understand this is just me, and I would never discourage other writers from participating, since for many writers NaNoWriMo is a very good thing, a very motivating experience. Sadly, I am just not one of those people.

I think the biggest issue I have with it when all is said and done is that my obsessive/compulsive personality disorder really works against me. The first week and a half I was fine – I struggled a bit to maintain my word count, but I was always pretty close to where I needed to be. But then, on November 11th (Veteran’s Day in the US), I got busy doing other things, and ended up not getting any writing done. And blam! Just like that, I was close to 2000 words behind schedule.

Since I was already struggling to stay caught up, suddenly being over a full day behind killed me. The problem was, I couldn’t help but continuously look at my stats – my average daily word count, the average I needed to finish on time, and the date I was likely to hit 50,000 words (which kept getting later and later into December as the month went on). The further I got through the month, the more that 50,000 word goal felt like a weight pressing down on me. And the further behind on word count that I fell, the worse it got.

Ultimately this is what did me in. The further I fell behind, the more I stressed about it and obsessed over it, which made the actual writing less and less fun, which made me not want to write, which only exacerbated the problem. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I was just ready for NaNoWriMo to be over and done. I tried not to let it stress me out, tried to tell myself, “Who cares about your word count, just keep writing,” but it didn’t really work (again, the joys of being obsessive/compulsive).

One thing I did like about NaNoWriMo is the idea of a constant daily word count. The problem, though, is that there is no reset – how much you write today directly affects every day after. This is fine if you’re pumping out 2000 or 3000 words a day, because you’re building up a daily buffer. But if you’re more of a 1000-1200 words per day person like myself, suddenly the opposite effect happens. Any time you are below the required daily average of 1667 or, heaven forbid, choose to take a day off from writing, that deficit gets added to the next day’s required total.

What I’m looking for is the more traditional daily word count, where the count resets every day. So, for example, if I set a goal of 1000 words per day, then that’s my goal every day. If I only manage 700 words one day, the next day’s goal isn’t suddenly 1300, it’s still 1000. Have a great day and crank 2500 words? Wonderful, but tomorrow’s word count goal is still 1000. So that is my goal moving forward – to write at least 1000 words per day, six days a week.

Okay, so now that I’ve purged all that from my system, I certainly feel better! I do apologize for the mostly negative tone of the post (and hope that my readers have stuck with me through the post this far), but NaNoWriMo really did stress me out a lot over the last couple of weeks. But never fear, there were a few positives that came out of this month as well. For one, NaNoWriMo managed to reignite my enthusiasm for my blog! Going into November, I was struggling to keep motivated to write this every week, and struggling with ideas for what to write about. What a difference a month can make!

For starters, focusing on my NaNoWriMo progress gave me a single theme that carried me through the whole month. This meant that not only did I know what my topic would be every week, but as I thought up new topics, I could bank them for future posts (and I’ve got several future topics saved up). I also came across a wonderful article on DIY Author that specifically talks about blogging for fiction writers (which was wonderful to read, as 99% of articles out there about author blogging seem to be much more applicable to non-fiction authors), which gave me more inspiration on how to focus my blog.

So in future I think I’m going to take that article’s advice (specifically parts 1 & 2), and really focus my posts on the behind-the-scenes of my writing – what inspires me, what’s going on with my story, insight into plot/characters, things of that nature. I also do still want to develop a continuing weekly story that I publish to the blog (as well as to online story sites such as Wattpad and Tablo).

Which leaves the question, now that NaNoWriMo is over, where do I go next? For starters, I am going to continue moving forward with my novel – because I did manage to get over 20,000 words written, and they’re words I’m pretty happy with, so certainly not stopping now! And since I’m no longer worried about total word count, this is as good a time as any to pull out those first couple of chapters that I know are ultimately going into what will be my first novel. Then I can rework the beginning of this novel with the knowledge that it’s now the second book in the series.

The other thing I’ve put together that I’ve been sitting on during NaNo is a world-building to-do list. This is a list of all the tasks I want to complete to fully flesh out the background of the world where my stories take place, starting with finishing the map I’ve been working on (it’s amazing how much of an effect figuring out the geography of your world can have on your story – a topic I plan to discuss in a future blog post). From there I’m planning to write histories of several of the societies of the world, as well as a history of the port city that serves more or less as home base for my main characters. Not only do these aid me with my stories, but they have the potential to be used for future blog posts.

And that is it for today. Time to get back to my mapping software and continue forward with building the geography of my world.

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NaNoWriMo Week 3

Making slow but steady progress on the novel. Broke 20,000 words on Wednesday – which admittedly is a good 10,000 behind where I need to be for NaNoWriMo, and I’m just finishing off the first act of the novel, but that’s still pretty impressive for me personally. I’ve also gotten things to the point where I believe that other than the first couple of chapters (which will go into my first story) the rest of what I’ve written will work really well as the 2nd story in my series.

I’ve also come to the realization that writing the 2nd story before I write the 1st has a few advantages. The biggest of these is that I’ve found several scenes that I can foreshadow in the first story, which gives me minor plot points that I never would have thought of to put in book one that will have little meaning in that story, but will directly relate to events in book two (something I never would have thought of if I’d made this story book one). And that of course got me to thinking that I needed to starting working up potential plotlines for book three, so I can setup things in book two to further develop in later stories.

For the moment I’m not focusing on future books yet, however (no need to put the cart too much in front of the horse). I want to at least get the rough draft done for this story first (and then move on to developing the story for what will become book one). But now that I’ve got this idea in my head, my plan is to develop at least a basic outline for book three at the same time that I’m editing book two. This will hopefully give me some ideas for additional scenes/details/characters, etc. that I can add into book two while I’m editing to help give my stories more continuity to them. We’ll see how that goes.

In an earlier blog post I mentioned that the whole idea for making this story book two started with a very minor secondary character (my troll executioner) that I realized I wanted to expand in an earlier story before likely killing him off at the start of this story. Well, along those lines, I’ve developed two additional characters (both fairly major secondary characters) that I will also be establishing in book one. One of them is going to be a major character in both books, while the other is one that I want to simply introduce as a very minor character in book one, then expand his role for book two. And I think one of my original major characters I’m going to stick with introducing in this story, so he won’t be present in the first story at all.

These are the types of things that keep me fired up about my writing. It’s not just the writing itself (which can be both an absolute joy, and about as much fun as getting teeth pulled, depending on my motivation levels and how much I’m struggling with the section I’m currently writing). It’s coming up with new ideas, and developing characters and exploring their histories. It’s the research – which can take me into all kinds of different topics and concepts. I took a break from writing at one point this week to look at pictures of Moorish castles, to help me visualize the castle prison that is the setting for my current chapters.

Now admittedly there are times that world-building and character development and (especially for me) research can all become distractions that I use to procrastinate from actually writing, and that’s certainly something I have to watch out for. But at the same time, all these things can also be great ways to keep myself inspired and motivated. And like my blog posts, they are also ways that I can let myself take a break from my story, while still doing something productive (unlike time spent perusing Facebook, or playing games on my phone, for example).

I will close this blog post with a question (or two) – what keeps you inspired to write? What aspects of the writing process (other than the writing itself) do you get excited about, and look forward to? Until next week!

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