Goal Checkin: Writing in the New Year

Blessed be! It’s still a few days before the end of the month, but it felt like a good night to look back on the month of December and the rest of 2016. Truthfully, as hard as I tend to be on myself, I got a lot accomplished!

I usually only manage one trashdraft a year, if that. It’s more typical for me to get a partial draft or to do nothing but editing. In 2016, I finished two. Granted, both of them already had about thirty thousand words each from a previous attempt, but that still means I wrote between seventy and one hundred thousand brand-spanking-new words this year. That’s a personal record!

Speaking of records, early this month I polished off the first draft of my longest trashdraft to date. The sequel to my vampire history rang in at a whopping 106,000 words. I’m going to have to pare it down later, but we’ll discuss that more below!

I also got a good start on making notes for myself on Kheras. I still have a lot to go, though, and that brings me to my goals for January and for the rest of 2017. I’ll still be adding more monthly goals, as well.

For January:

  1. Finish the notes for Kheras. It’s not a long novel by any stretch, not even just as far as trashdrafts are concerned. I want to be finished with my self-crit by the end of the month so it has time to cool before I go into edits on it.
  2. Touch base with my betas. With Regal Virtues, said vampire history sequel, finished and waiting in e-mail inboxes, it’s only a matter of time before I start going stir-crazy and asking for feedback. The trick is managing to do that while also respecting that said betas are human and have responsibilities and lives outside of my manuscript. Not going to lie, though, it’s a tough line to toe!
  3. Finish Transformation by Carol Berg. My CP and I decided recently that I needed to expand my reading, and this is one of the books she set for me. More on this project later!

For 2017:

  1. Do at least one round of edits on both Regal and Kheras. I’m planning, specifically, to do Kheras for the spring round of Camp NaNo and Regal for summer. We’ll see how that shakes out, though; I like to stay fluid in these sort of commitments.
  2. Write the trashdraft of my witchschool story. So, when I first started this blog, I made up a project for my query letter series. Just a hypothetical thing so I could demonstrate the pitch portion of the query on something I wasn’t attached to or actively seeking representation for. And I fell in love with the idea–whoops! So now I want to write it.
  3. Expand my reading list. I touched briefly on this above. I’m going to be making a concentrated effort in the coming year to read not just YA SF/F. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with liking YA lit, mind. But it’s important for a writer to always be feeding their imagination. It’s good to mix it up every now and then!

Five Things: The Lighter Moments

Blessed be, all! So since I looked at fear last week and what that can do for your characters and your story, I thought this time I’d flip the script and write about five things that lighter, less tense moments can bring to the table. I’m not looking at humor so much, though you certainly could take it that way. Also this is less about how to do it effectively and more about why it should be done. I want to focus on areas of hope or gentleness, where the reader can get a sense that good things are on the horizon.

  1. Give your protagonist (and your reader!) a breather. Unless you’re writing a full-force thriller or adventure, where the goal is all adrenaline all the time, you’re going to need to include places for your characters to catch their breath. Otherwise, the relentless rush uphill can become a drag rather than a race–you can only rachet up the tension so much before it feels like it levels out on its own. It’s much better, I feel, to build in those plateaus or even a gentle decline where you want it to be.
  2. Showcase character interactions. It’s sometimes difficult when you’re barrelling along in the plot to get an idea for chemistry and how character interactions build or change. Quiet moments let the reader focus just on the relationship, on the words and body language and how the characters have grown since the last down moment. Even if they’re not intentionally keeping score, the reader will notice if a relationship has warmed or cooled.
  3. Give a sense of progress. I mentioned already that, after so long upping the tension, the story can seem to level off. One of the side-effects of this is that it can feel as though the story is no nearer to a resolution, that the protagonist is just spinning their wheels. A moment of downtime gives the character and the reader both a chance to look back at the journey so far and how much progress they’ve made. It can also show a clear way forward, done right.
    A caution to this one–you really do want this to be just a moment. If you spend too long recapping The Adventure Thus Far, you risk boring your reader. But if your protagonist finally accomplishes something they’ve been trying to do for ages (see last week’s try/fail cycle) there’s nothing wrong with them celebrating for a brief second or acknowledging that they never would have been able to a month ago. Something to that effect.
  4. Provide exposition. Quiet moments give you a chance to stop and smell the roses, figuratively or literally. It provides you a window of time to communicate important setting details to the reader or establish foreshadowing unobtrusively. Otherwise, things that are essential to the understanding of the story can be buried or overlooked.
  5. Advance sideplots. Last but certainly not least, quiet moments give you the opportunity to set aside the main pillar of the story and focus on something else. Whether that’s a romance, an internal conflict, or anything else moving below the surface of your novel is up to you, but it can bring a layer of depth and dimension to a work that otherwise may come across flat.

Five Things: Character Fears and Phobias

The idea for today’s Twin Thursday post actually came from my real outside-of-writing life. Be sure to follow the link at the top right to Chicken-Scratch Plot for Rachel’s take!

Confession time: I’m thirty years old and I’ve never had a driver’s license. I was fifteen, about to turn sixteen, and my mother signed me up for driver’s ed. Because of course. What budding teenager doesn’t want her own car? Apparently… this one. And I’m, hopefully, going to take this and roll it into a way to work fears and phobias into your protagonist.

  1. Where did the fear come from? While in real life, there may or may not be a reason you’ve always been afraid of geese, there should be a precipitating incident in your fiction. It doesn’t have to be a deep and paralyzing trauma, just so long as there is a reason that makes sense within your character’s psyche.
    In my case, my driving instructor was a nightmare. He screamed at me constantly, nitpicked my every move. My mom was worse, always tense when I was behind the wheel, which made me panic.
    This is a pretty extreme example, obviously. For your character, it could be something as minor as they grew up in the country, so the closeness and bustle of the big city makes them panic.
  2. How will the fear affect the story? It doesn’t do much good to give your protagonist a fear of heights if they never encounter it in the course of the narrative. They must, at some point, have to square with their fear. Either the fear itself or the avoidance of it should be a source of conflict for your main character.
    You can probably see where not having a car has been detrimental to my adult life. Begging rides to work, dealing with the bus line. But the alternative is getting behind the wheel and dealing with the panic that accompanies it.
    Find ways to force your characters to face their fears or slink away. It makes the fear believable and relatable.
  3. How does your character experience this particular phobia? I mean that physically as well as psychologically. The more visceral details you can put in (without crowding the narrative) the better.
    For the longest time, getting behind the wheel was accompanied by mild panic attacks. I would get short of breath. My vision would narrow, my heart speed up. The more tense the person in the passenger seat became and the more corrections they offered, the worse I would get. Before long, I would be speeding or cutting turns too short just to get it over with quicker. Again, your character’s reaction doesn’t have to be quite so extreme. But it should be an actual impediment to their moving forward.
  4. The try/fail cycle. Your character should actually struggle with defeating their fear while making progress. If it’s just as easy as walking up to the first big dog they see and petting it and then they’re cured, that’s not terribly satisfying for the reader.
    I’ve had driving permits before. I think I’ve been issued four or five of them over the last fifteen years, with varying degrees of success when it came to actually making myself drive. I–just today–took my very first ever road test. No, I didn’t pass. But I got closer than I ever have before, and I’ll get even closer the next time I do.
    There’s no hard and fast rule to how many times a character should attempt and fall short of besting their fear, but three seems to be a sound poetic number. It gives you a sense of progress without feeling repetitive.
  5. It never goes away. Even after your character has “beaten” their fear, it should still on occasion rear its ugly head. Phobias are phobias for a reason; they come back even when there’s no logical reason for it.
    In my case, even though I’m now comfortable behind the wheel, I still have to talk myself through new maneuvers. I pulled around a restaurant’s drive through for the first time today and had to convince myself it was no big deal.
    Part of this is for character continuity. It makes your protagonist’s successes believable. The other part is that it shows growth. Both contribute a feeling of forward motion and make your story feel more dynamic.

The Inspiration Nursery: Where “Kheras” Came From

Blessed be, all! I don’t know if this will become a regular series or not, but it sounded like a fun Twin Thursday to do at least once. I love seeing where stories come from, how the various inspirations all come together and create something new. So, with that in mind, here’s the origin story–if you will–for the project I’m hoping to get back to this month.

It was the long-ago year 2015. Mark Reads was doing Fifty Shades of Grey, and I, being a masochist on occasion, had vowed to watch the whole thing. I’m not a fan for a multitude of reasons, but the main thing that got to me was how coercive the main relationship is. Consent and boundaries are extremely important to me, especially in intimate relationships. Doubly so when it comes to BDSM, where trust in your partner is paramount.

At one point in the middle of this endeavor, I texted my CP about it, something to the effect of, “I want to rewrite this. Only with gay. And consent. And magic.” To which her response was, “Go for it!”

The next thing that poured into the mixing bowl was Tamora Pierce’s Emelan novels. One of the characters–Sandry–works her magic with fabric, thread, looms, and so on. The idea was a fascinating one to me, and I began to construct this image of a magical system built entirely around the imagery of spinning and weaving.

What I settled on eventually was a system where magic was worked in pairs or groups, one party “spinning” the magic–taking it from its raw source and making it usable–and the other party being responsible for the shaping and using of that magic. Gradually, this came to replace the BDSM element of Fifty Shades, but the idea of consent and equal give and take remained.

After that, I needed a setting. I had been gravitating toward ancient Greece for quite some time, had done ever since I was young. But since reading Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat, I had been dying to try my hand at writing a setting that would evoke that same sort of feel. And now I had the perfect place to use it, so away to the research I went.

Surprisingly, the characters came last for this one. Raes and Taegen built slowly, coming together in bits and pieces. At the time I started the story, I still only had the barest idea of who they were and what they wanted. They developed their own hearts and minds in the writing, but this was a big departure for me from my usual method.

So far, this has been a fun project to work on. Now that I’ve had some time and distance from that first rush of inspiration, I’m hoping to go back to it with a keen eye and start making the edits.

NaNo Goals! How’d We Do?

Blessed be, everyone! NaNoWriMo ended yesterday, so how’d we fare on our goals? Weeeeellll, not so well. I believe in being honest, though, so holding myself accountable for it.

The one thing I did manage was to write each and every day, no matter how much or how little. What got me into trouble was that last bit–how little. As the month drew on and the stresses piled up, it became easier and easier for me to just… not finish at least one scene every day.

I didn’t successfully complete my current project, and obviously I didn’t then manage to get any edits done on it. Which is frustrating, yes, but I can at least see where I failed to accomplish this. The project itself ended up being longer than I had thought it would be, with the last third or so of it being the longest part. Combined with mounting pressures and a shiny new time-waster (coughPokemonMooncough), this was enough to make me fall way behind my threshold.

I do like the idea of continuing with goals as we go forward, so for the coming month:

  1.  Finish my current project. This should be a pretty easy one, given just how close I actually am to the end. But I’ve been wrong before. My tentative timeline is to have it ready to roll by this coming Tuesday the sixth. Wish me luck!
  2. Do a quick edit and send the current project to betas/CP. Same timeline as the above. I will give myself permission to skip this one if I have to; it’s not like it would be the first time my readers have seen my unadulterated trashdraft. But I would very much prefer to have it closer to complete before I hand it over.
  3. Begin self-critique for my previous project. I’ve wanted to get back to this story for months, but I told myself I wasn’t allowed to touch it until my current bookbaby is born.