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Werewolves, vampires and witchcraft kept me from blogging (not really)

May 1, 2013

Hello, blog. And hello, followers. Nice to see that you’re still around. Admittedly, I haven’t paid much attention to WordPress lately, but it’s not for lack of writing.

So, without further ado, please allow me to indulge and go through the last year in writing:

ImageApril 2012 was Script Frenzy, an event arranged by the people behind NaNoWriMo. I just managed to participate the last year before they cancelled it. The idea was to write a script in a month, and I teamed up with a friend for it. We have written a few short stories together before starring two characters from our respective stories. Their own stories are not related, but we like the absurdities that happen when we put them together in a story. So we wrote a “film script” (will never actually be filmed), an action-packed comedy involving a shady group of people who want to summon a monster in a field in the countryside with the help of brainwashed gamers.

cn_winner_180x180In August 2012, I participated in Camp NaNo. I had an idea roughly two weeks before the beginning of Camp and managed to work my way a little more than 50,000 words into a story about a bloke whom I lovingly like to call “Hemingway’s code hero as a licensed werewolf hunter”. I didn’t know exactly where the story was headed until the middle of August, but it turned out to have a direction that involved a lot of development for the protagonist as well as some ethical questions, and I grew very fond of it.

Winner-180x180- So when NaNoWriMo arrived in November 2012, I decided to work more on that story. 50K words were not nearly enough to complete the tale. I spent the month adding another 50K to it, extending the narrative chronologically only a little, as I focussed mainly on adding a lot of stories within the story – backstory, character development, exploration of themes that I originally only briefly touched. It is the most complete first draft that I have written in the past … Well, if I say ten years, I’m not stretching it.

I spend the rest of 2012 revising (and I’m not yet done), taking notes for another story that is very dear to me, and writing scenes and snippets of a web of related stories that I hope to someday connect.

2013-Participant-Campfire-Square-ButtonNow (April 2013), I just completed another Camp NaNo. This time I experimented with writing a fantasy story for children or young adults. I set my personal wordcount goal at 40K, which seemed quite sensible in terms of time. It did turn out that I underestimated how much story was really in that story (again), so I now have a part one of two and will hopefully finish the story over the next few months.

I feel tempted to pick up blogging again. But we’ll see. I’m not expecting to deliver consistency in that area, but I do think I have some thoughts, ideas and news to share.

“I know everything about my protagonist, and so should you!”

February 12, 2012

You know the walk and the talk of your protagonist. You know his dark secrets and the stories of his childhood. Briefs or boxers? Simple question. You know what and if he votes, his religious inclination, his sexual preferences, what calms him down, and his pet peeves. You know exactly what shade of colour his eyes are and whether he has to shave regularly. – Do you? If you do, it’s probably a good thing. But it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that your readers need to.

Heard me talk about "my boy" or "my muse"? This is the guy. I could put a lot of irrelevant information about him into his story.

I was typing up an entry on character development and well rounded characters (with a twist) when the idea for this came to mind, and I decided to publish it first instead.

Knowing a lot about your main characters is important. No one wants cardboard cutouts who stand around and say their lines. We want real people in our stories with the exception of a few genres with typecast caricatures (please do correct me if I’m wrong). And there is a number of ways to get to know a character.
Now, after learning all these exciting as well as trivial facts about the character, it’s times to put them to good use. I am always eager to share my knowledge. I hold back what needs to be held back for plot reasons of course. But sometimes I find myself in danger of cramming too much information into a story because of the sole reason that I know all these things about the protagonist and want to share them. I want the reader to get to know the character, and I want there to be no mistakes or misrepresentations of my guys.
In order to avoid character info dumping, though, I ask myself, Is this piece of information relevant to the story or the character development? And am I unintentionally shoving my protagonist down the readers’ throats?
As much as I like descriptions and gaining an insight into the characters of a story, and as much as others may so the same, some things have to be left up to the reader’s interpretation and imagination. What is not being described may be as significant as what is. And I think that putting a character’s life story in chapter one can be both tedious and have the opposite effect from the desired. Instead of liking the character more, there are no mystery and questions left to the readers, and it can annoy them because it seems like the writer is stumbling over his or her own feet in order to make everybody like the protagonist instead of letting them make up their own mind.
I think it’s all about balance. As with so many other things. I have short stories about some of my protagonists that hold information about them which will never make it to the “real” story. They are nice to have, and I am a great fan of collecting background material on  the characters, but some things are better left just hinted at, or completely out of the story.

… Oh, and if you are curious to see what some of my characters may look like, I created a blog called Visual Flipside. – In order not to force them upon you here.

Did you ever have your main character look at him- og herself in the mirror and notice more details than believable? Do you enjoy reading lengthy character descriptions? Do you like  your protagonist so much that you can’t bear it if everyone else doesn’t?

“Hello”, “goodbye”, “cheers”, “I love you”, “the deities bless you” and “I’ll rip your heart out”

January 30, 2012

During my writing adventure in November (NaNoWriMo), I encountered peoples of a world that was set so far into the future from our point of view that language ought to have evolved. But how to incorporate that into a novel – if at all?

Some of my dictionaries for non-fictional languages.

Like me, you have probably come across books with peoples with languages other than the one spoken by the main characters or different from the one in which the book is written  (at least if you ever read fantasy, sci fi or anything like it). I’m not talking about real languages here. I mean Klingon, Quenya and so on. Fictional languages. There are quite a few made up languages in literature, films and computer games.
Now, some of them are so complex that you can learn them like other non-fictional constructed languages such as Esperanto. I find it impressive and extremely interesting from a linguistic point of view that writers (Tolkien probably being the most well-known example) have had the commitment to devise whole languages in order to incorporate them into their literary works.
But it is far from every writer who has the ability or drive to make up a whole language. – And far from every writer who would find it necessary to create a whole one one just to have a couple of characters say hello each other in chapter five.

I think a common solution is to make up a few phrases and greetings, whatever fits into the context of the story and leave it at that. The title of this post, of course, is a tongue-in-cheek reference to those. Some may argue that including anything in a fictional language really just shifts the focus from the story to an annoyance with not immediately understanding what people in it are saying. In my opinion, it can be done very well, but is a delicate balance. It can come across as too postulatory if the writer is not careful.

In my latest NaNoWriMo, I had a few characters from our time and space (let’s call it A to make this a little easier) undertaking a journey in a world set very far into the future (world B) along with someone from a completely different world (world C) and a local guide from world B. Technically, there is no reason for the person from world C to be able to speak English, but I had a semi-legitimate reason for him doing it. And technically, one would think that English in world B would have evolved quite a lot from how it looks and sounds today. – But I was not going to invent a whole language, and I was afraid of having the character slip into a “native-speak” stereotype with a number of set phrases.
My solution was to pretend that language had not evolved too much. I did give the character from world B a few distinguishing expressions and idioms, but none that were used in every second chapter. More importantly, I picked a little at the grammar in the speech pattern of him (such as simplifying things or eradicating the progressive form) and decided to spell a few words differently, indicating that his pronunciation varied from that of the others (mostly with words that would have lost their original meaning). I hope that it works in a subtle and natural way.

Have you ever had to decide whether to invent a language or a few phrases of one? Do you like fictional languages in books, or do you find them annoying? (Or are you just wondering what on Earth “retskrivnings- & betydningsordbog” means?)

Webly Wednesday: What to read?

December 14, 2011

With the holiday season lurking around the corner, you may be wondering what to put on your wishlist in the bookish department. I’ve found a few links that may be able to point you somewhere interesting.

Ever wondered if there is something out there similar to your favourite author? Of what kind of books would be nice to read when you like a certain novel? Here are a some links for places that try to help you with finding something new to read:

  • Literature Map
    Type the name of your favourite author and a mind mappish chart spreads out from it with writers that people who like the author in question also like. The site also hosts Gnod’s suggestions that will give you suggestions if you put in the names of three writers that you like.
  • NPR’s Top 100 Sci Fi and Fantasy Books
    Aflowchart of science fiction and fantasy books. You answer questions such as “Looking for an old-fashioned trilogy?” and “Interested in Dystopian fiction?” and are led to the cover of a book based on your answers.
  • Which Horror Novel is Right for You?
    The same idea as above, but with horror novels.

Now, I don’t think that any of these are necessarily spot on. But from what I can tell, they can provide some inspiration for what books or authors to take a look at if you don’t know them at all … As if our “to read”-lists aren’t long enough.

Did you find something useful with either of these sites, or do you think it is rubbish? Do you know other similar sites? And is your “to read”-list chronically very long too?

The other side

December 2, 2011

November is over and with it NaNoWriMo. Here’s a short summary of how mine went.

I hope that those of you who participated had a great time whether it means getting the novel started that you’ve been wanting to work on for years, completing a first draft, experiencing the rush of making the 50K on the last day of November, writing a book of 100K in one month, getting some writing done despite all the unforeseen disasters that rained down on you this fall, or having fun at a number of write-ins.

According to the NaNoWriMo site, my month looked like this:

It is not entirely accurate. Notice that point where the wordcount falls (day 11)? I didn’t actually delete anything from my script that day. For a few days after that, the wordcount on the graph differed from the one on top of the page, but then that was fixed. And of course, my word processor’s count claims that I have a few more words (but it’s only a difference of 1,360 words this year).

What is true are the facts that I reached the 50K on day 23, and that I have 65,421 words of a story written in November 2011.

- And what no fancy graph can tell you is that I had a great month. I didn’t get to the end of the storyline that I had vaguely imagined, but I don’t mind since it was mostly due to the fact that a lot of unforeseen things  happened on the way and that my characters turned out to be more interesting and have a better chemistry than I had hoped.
My wordcount was a little higher last year and I didn’t have days when I wrote more than 3,000 or 4,000 words this time, but I didn’t take time off from work (and had to make sure that typing didn’t upset my wrist – which it didn’t, so I’m happy with that). I also think that I learnt to stop the “right” places (for me) in the story every day. By that I mean no squeezing the proverbial lemon to get a few more words in and not really enjoying it (or writing filler scenes) as well as calling it a day when I knew what was going to happen next so that I could easily pick up the following day.
I  tried something new and wrote in a different genre, with only a very vague plot or plan, and using a narrative style that I hadn’t done for years. And it turned out that instead of having problems with these things, I quite enjoyed the ride.

Now it’s December. I plan to start writing the second part of the story right away so that I have a complete first draft (or two complete first drafts depending on your point of view). I just need to type up my part of my writing group’s annual Christmas story first. And go to the NaNoWriMo wrap up party (TGIO) tomorrow.

How did your NaNoWriMo go (if you participated)? Are you taking a break from your story or editing right away? And do you have “right” places to stop when you write?

In the zone and a blogiversary

November 11, 2011

Last year, in the middle of NaNoWriMo, I thought, “Hey, I’ll make a blog. That’s a good idea. I’ll write about NaNoWriMo, about writing, maybe a bit about reading, and if I begin submitting stories to various places, I can write about that too. ” Today, on the peculiar date 11.11.11, that is exactly one year ago.

I’m doing my third NaNoWriMo this month. And so far I’m pleased with how it’s going. Wordcount-wise, I expect to reach 25K tonight. But more importantly to me, I am on a creative high. At this point, I am not writing to hit or surpass the 50K. I am writing because I can’t wait to see what happens next.
I’m writing in a way that I haven’t for years and it feels good. Really good. I’ve been sticking very much to one point of view (or narrator) for each long story for a while, I haven’t written anything science fiction/postapocalyptic/otherworldly, and I haven’t been as unplanned as I am now, either. I don’t expect to produce the One First Draft to Rule Them All here, but that’s fine with me. I’m having a great time.
Part of it I owe to my little band of protagonists. Remember how I was going to import two guys from earlier stories? I did that. And they have chemistry. They have two other people with them on the journey, and this concerned me a bit at first because I wasn’t certain that I would be able to really get into these other two. It turned out not to be a problem after all. In fact, they have become an essential part of the whole thing, and I absolutely adore having them and their points of view around.

I haven’t been very regular in my blogging, but I am more or less doing what I set out to do. I find that I enjoy blogging and am thrilled and excited to hear from people who visit my little space. – And I have gotten to know a lot of interesting blogs and had the opportunity to talk to a number of really nice and talented people over the last year!

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, I hope you’re doing well! And regardless of whether or not you are; thank you for visiting my blog and reading this! I would offer you bisquits and tea, but unfortunately it will have to be of the imaginary kind.

Plot, character, chicken, egg …

October 30, 2011

Every story has people in it. It has settings, a series of events, and a name. A lot of factors have to come together for a piece of prose to be complete. While the question of the order in which we tackle them isn’t exactly like the chicken and the egg, it is often hard to tell in which order they come.

Let’s have a look at the following things:

  • Characters
    The people in a story – protagonists, antagonists and minor characters.
  • Narrative style
    Present or past tense? 1st or 3rd person point of view? Omniscient narrator or one character’s view?
  • Plot
    The major events and where they lead.
  • Genre
    Science fiction? Literary fiction? Young adult? Satire? Historical novel? Etc.
  • Settings
    Where the story is taking place.
  • Theme
    The essence of the story. It can be a message, a philosophy or examination of a certain thing.
  • Title
    The name of the story.

Planning this year's NaNoWriMo.

Defined loosely, I can’t think of any piece of fiction (perhaps except Twitter fiction that doesn’t have all of these to a certain degree. Even “Untitled” is a title, and even in non-plotdriven stories or stories that take place inside a protagonist’s head, there is a series of events going on.

Normally, for me, protagonists shows up. They wander into my head. Usually they are more or less fully formed – they have  personality, name, existence and surroundings. It takes a while to figure out exactly what to do with them. They tend to have a story with them, but very often it’s a personal history and not one that can be written down and become a novel or a short story right away. Sometimes they get a few scenes or short stories or become characters in the stories of others and nothing more, but once in a while they will turn out to be the base for my next long story.
Often the narrative style will emerge on its own for every story. The theme is something I am generally able to see after I have written the story (at least unless we count something as general as “the human condition”). I don’t write to deliver a certain message. Genre is something I don’t worry about. I tend to land between genres, and it doesn’t usually bother me. As for titles … Well, I tend to struggle with them and come up with ten horrible ones before I manage something acceptable.

Did I miss anything? What comes first for you? Do you have a certain genre in mind and then work out a story from there? Or do characters and plot go hand in hand?
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