So It Begins….Beta Round 2

Last night, I sent the Paradisa Beta Round 2 draft to most of my betas. The others will be later today, when I snag their email addresses. I spent most of yesterday doing my final typo fixes, although there are probably plenty of typos I missed. I was at the point where I needed to get it out the door.

I thought I would be very nervous hitting “send” and shipping it off to some web friends, acquaintances, and outright strangers. In the first Beta Round, I was about ready to puke sending it to my parents and my best friends! But honestly, I was not nervous this time. Excited, maybe a little hesitant, but ultimately I realize that this process is a beneficial one. And even when I got negative feedback last time, I was never hurt or offended by it. I almost always agreed with it, because I did recognize the problems in my book. I perhaps needed these problems confirmed by other people, or I welcomed their suggestions on how to make them better.

Funny enough, I find the story elements somewhat solid in this draft, except for some gripes about exposition/world-building and the antagonist arc. I think there are a lot of things I still need to clarify. But the thing I’m most nervous about is exposing people to my writing style. I go some days thinking “hey, I’m not that bad.” And other days thinking “this is the most clunky, dismal, unpublishable thing I’ve ever written.” I guess that’s subjective anyway.

On my own, I don’t mind the way I write. But it’s hard to stay confident when I see everyone side-eye my style, declaring it “wrong”, from the present tense to the over-the-shoulder POV (rather than the deep stream of consciousness soap opera style that is apparently en vogue. You know, where everything sounds like a hypothetical question at the end of an Adam West Batman episode, or a line from an overacted telenova. You can’t just say “she gasped as the terror rose.” You have to say “her heart exploded in her chest! Who were these men? What did they want? Why did they torture her this waaaaaaay!”)

I’m not trying to trick the readers into thinking they aren’t reading a book. I want readers who like to nestle in with a book and enjoy having a story told to them.  Who want to make new friends out of the characters instead of experiencing a cheap self-insert fantasy. I want to establish trust between the reader and I so much that they don’t even doubt the novel. Like, “Hey you. Yeah, you. I got this. Everything has a reason. It’s all gonna come together. You just be patient, now.”

Who knows if I’ll achieve that? I have 11 betas and a broken clock is right twice a day. Odds are, someone will really like it. And odds are, someone will really hate it. Most will probably fall on a bell curve of 2-4 star ratings. That’s just life. The important thing is figuring out what this group comes to a consensus on, because those are the areas where my story probably needs work. Or maybe they’ll come to a consensus on something good, and that will be an element I’ll know to leave alone. As stressful as the beta process is, I could not be a successful writer without it.

Camp NaNo, Here I Come?

Several of my writer friends are participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month. Camp NaNo is a laid back, set-your-own-pace version of November’s 50,000 word sprint. Unlike the regular competition, Camp NaNo encourages short story writers, and people revising a previously written novel, to participate along with those writing a novel from scratch.

I didn’t concern myself much with the news, as I’ve never participated before. To me, NaNoWriMo is a November thing. I participate mostly out of tradition, and to beat my previous goal every year. I also use it to kick off new projects, which isn’t of much interest to me at the moment. I’m still fully devoted to Paradisa.

But Camp NaNo actually showed up at a good time for me. After some serious thinking, I’ve decided to rewrite the first 40 pages of my book, which I estimate to be about 25,000 words. I don’t want this rewrite to take 7 months like the previous one did (although, luckily, this rewrite is not as extensive as that!). I know that if I put my mind to it, I can probably knock out 25,000 words in just a couple of weeks.

So I signed up. I set my goal at 25,000 words. That means for less than 1000 words a day, I can have my major revision complete by May 1! Of course, I was planning on writing these 25,000 words anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to have an extra fire under my butt. I’m all outlined-up and ready to go!

Some writers are pro enough to set such goals unofficially and carry them out. I was like that about a year and a half ago, despite having a full-time job, but I think my writing productivity tanked around the time I started cohabitating with my boyfriend. We’re now on the same sleep schedule  which leaves me less productive time to write (going to bed far too early, at 10 PM) and I’m naturally drawn to more collaborative activities rather than solo ones now. When I lived alone, I could plop myself in a chair for four hours and forget the rest of the world. When there’s someone else’s feelings to consider,  that’s basically impossible now. Hopefully when we move into a bigger place in the next couple months, we’ll have more elbow room to do our own things in our own time. He’ll be getting his own office in the new house, which he doesn’t have now.

Until then, I think I can set aside a half hour every evening and get 1000 words out. Little goals seem more obtainable than big ones, no? And having a sophisticated word count system (I could rave about NaNo’s statistics system all day, ya’ll. It’s probably the #1 reason I keep doing this) helps motivate me as well.

Feel free to become my writer buddy on the Camp NaNo website. I am under the moniker “musemorgan.”


The “Everyman” Is Not Dead

It’s been awhile! I did manage to complete Draft 5, or as it is known now, Draft 5.5 :P Unfortunately, I have decided to rewrite the first 40 pages of my book before passing it on to Beta Round 2. That sure did escalate! But why?

Although I am happy with the plot changes, I am still annoyed by the first third of my book. Both Austin and I agree that the opening of Paradisa is too awkward, oddly paced, and unbelievably random. (To her credit, H.K. Rowe called me out on this too!) I basically drag two normal people into a strange world because of a life-or-death situation, but that life-or-death situation gets fixed in Chapter Four. And, you know, they’re already there, so they decide to join with some deities and save the world.

I’ve tried to build in doorways of no return and urgency and moral pressure that forces the characters to abandon their normal lives. None of it works. None of it seems any more believable than the supernatural characters asking them point blank, “So, do you want to be the main characters of a fantasy novel?” How can one write an everyman into fantasy in a believable way?

Well, here are the methods previous authors have used. And as you can tell, they’re all complete clichés now.

  • “You’re the Chosen One, or you’re Special in some random way that attracts important, more powerful characters to you.” (Jupiter Ascending, The Matrix, Harry Potter, Divergent, True Blood, Twilight)
  • “You have secret powers you don’t know about yet!” (Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, The Mortal Instruments, Eragon)
  • “Your parent/cousin/uncle/someone you know got themselves involved in some crap that’s now fallen on you, or they were secretly powerful in some way. Or you are secretly a royal and a throne is waiting for you.” (Percy Jackson, The Mortal Instruments, Star Wars, Pendragon, Wanted, The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones)
  • “You accidentally fell into some nuclear waste and now you have powers!” (Every comic book ever.)

To subvert these situations, modern fantasy writers often give us protagonists who start the story as a supernatural entity, fully aware of their abilities, and their books are about disturbances in what passes as their ordinary world.  Unfortunately, urban fantasy has beaten this method into a trope as well. If I see one more half-human/half-vampire protagonist struggling with their human side vs. their monster side, I’ll throw a book.

Some writers manage to overcome all these tropes. Artemis Fowl hunts down the mystical world himself, in order to sell its secrets and fund his father’s rescue. Katniss Everdeen brings herself into the larger story by saving her sister’s life. The protagonists of Narnia are curious children who discover a beautiful new world – an escape from their country torn apart by war – and are compelled to help save it because of a kind-hearted Jesus Lion.

I still don’t want Connor and Clara to be ‘special.’ I still hold that the everyman can be a good protagonist. One of the things I love about Doctor Who is that his everyman companions are the true heroes. They’re the ordinary human beings who take a chance on a crazy, mystical, eccentric man. And despite their meager human existence in the shadow of the Doctor’s technology and powers, their depth of humanity is always what saves the day and endears the Doctor to them.

Likewise, one of the major themes of my story is the duality and codependence between deities and humans. I need my heroes to be human.

It’s been a struggle to write this story in a way that brings Connor and Clara into the fold as ordinary people, but also makes the reader believe that they’d stick around with some angels and gods. So, I asked myself “Why did the other memorable, legendary characters of epic stories become involved in their stories? What were their motivations?”

It became clear to me that Harry Potter, nor Tris Prior, nor Katniss Everdeen began with the goal of saving the world. Harry Potter was simply asked if he’d like to go to a school for wizards. Tris was asked to pick a Faction. Katniss was metaphorically asked if she wanted to save her sister. These characters made choices that only affected themselves. Only later, when some antagonist emerges and the characters are forced into unusual circumstances, does saving the world or defeating a villain even become their macrocosmic goal.

Start small. Start with what a character wants. Then, what they want will lead them to the bigger story. Don’t drag the character into the big story and then ask them to stick around.

So, I’m rewriting the first third of my book, and I think I have a good idea for what draws Connor and Clara into the fold. They know their father has been murdered by a creature they can’t explain, and they want answers to what it was. When answers come knocking, it’ll only be natural that they’ll follow.

Think it sounds promising? Do you struggle with realistic character motivations? Do you struggle to avoid cliché?

What Happens After This Draft? – My Revision Process

As I approach the end of my next Paradisa draft, I’m already thinking about the steps that will follow. “Spell check it and send it off to beta readers!” says the village fool. Actually, completing a draft is just the first step – a few other “semi-drafts” will follow, plus a heck of a lot of re-reading.

There are a few types of drafts that I operate in at separate times. That seems like it takes too long, but trying to accomplish all of these tasks at once is just too much to me – I would get stuck on the same page for weeks, picking it apart, when I should be writing the rest of the book. So, splitting it into multiple steps is a much more refined process.

1. The Rewrite. A rewrite is a draft that is formed from a new outline. This is absolutely the roughest draft to slug through, because it basically requires me to write a new book (or a third of one, at least.) Unlike many authors, I do not start with a completely new document, riffing from a completely new outline, utterly ignoring all words used in the previous draft. I do pull massive amounts of content – all I can pull, really – from my last attempt. But when you want Plot Point A to occur three chapters before it did in the last draft, and when you want to separate your characters into two all-new locations for the big mid-book fight scene, and when you want to totally restructure your ending…there’s a lot of new content to be whipped up. This is honestly why Draft Five has taken me 4+ months. I am not only rearranging and cannibalizing so much of the existing text, but I’m adding over 30,000 words of new scenes.

2. The Big Picture Revision. Once a rewrite is done (assuming it was needed in the first place – hopefully 5 will be the last real ‘rewrite’ I do, and that all future edits will be minor), I reread my draft on my tablet. Reading as an ebook gets me into the mental state of a reader. Contrarily, reading it as an editable computer document makes me too much of an editor. I do keep a notebook beside me though, documenting all character, plot, pacing, continuity, setting, and structural issues with the novel. Does each scene have a purpose? Does each scene end on a cliffhanger? Does each scene begin in a way that sets the reader into the scene? Does the novel have a good hook?

Now that I’m past my first beta round, I will also revisit my previous critiques during this stage. I will make sure that all valid concerns from my betas have been addressed in the rewrite. When I’m happy with my re-read, I will annotate my Word doc with comments pertaining to all these concerns.

3. The Seasoning. This is where I trudge through and address all the comments. Sometimes it means changing some dialogue in a scene. Sometimes it means deleting or swapping a scene. The most “writing” I’ll do at this stage is to add paragraphs clarifying intent and setting, or to build pacing.

After this, another reread. Steps 2 and 3 may need to be repeated, depending on how much I like the new version of the book.

4. The Style Revision. I have yet to do a style revision for any previous draft. Now, I feel that the book is ready for a line-by-line analysis, in which I make sure every word is used to its full potential and all lines are my own. Ditch the clichés, ditch the redundancy, ditch the awkward phrasing. My style is very functional and inelegant right now – I have yet to regain the naturally beautiful way I wrote as a teenager (which I swear is due to my lack of reading in recent years, but hey, I’m working on that part!) Until I can turn on good style at a whim, this is the gritty alternative.

5. The Copyedit. Just for grammatical and typographical errors. This is my final read through before other humans see the book.

So basically, five ‘drafts’ in one! I will probably start considering this Draft Six around step 3 though.

And while some may warn me of over editing, fear not – as I said, this is my very first time editing style at all, and that is where over editing rears its ugly potential. I don’t think one can go wrong by making the story a more enjoyable one. I’m kicking myself a bit for taking five drafts to get where the plot needs to be, but part of me knows those previous four trials were all necessary. It’s like a scavenger hunt – you can’t jump to the end until you’ve found all the clues.

I do hope to start Beta Round Two in the spring, but you can see I have a lot of work ahead ;) I feel like it’ll all be downhill once I finish the rewrite though. Ugh. Rewrites really are the hardest part.

What is your editing process like? Do you revise your novel in multiple ways at once or break it down into steps?

Who Do I Want To Be In 2015?

I am almost halfway through my “12 Days of Christmas”, aka the amount of days I took off work. I was hoping to use this time to finish Draft Five of Paradisa, but haven’t written much yet. Austin and I have had five Christmases since Tuesday and we’re gearing up for a sixth at the end of this week.

So today was my first semi-reasonable day for writing, but I was stuck with a headache for most of the day. ALAS! So the rest of tonight, Monday, and Tuesday will hopefully be my writing marathon days. I have about 24 scenes left to complete, 6 of which have to be written from scratch. I’m shooting for Beta Round 2 beginning February 1st. We shall see!

But this leads me to other stuff I’ve mulled about during my extended break. The new year is coming. Even if you are against “New Year’s Resolutions,” I think we all have high hopes for what the next cycle around the sun will bring. What we can accomplish. What can make us happy. I am shocked to say that in 2014, I went from a half-finished first draft to a nearly finished fifth draft of my maiden novel. I feel like it’s been longer but…I guess it has only been a year! Now, I also wished that I was querying by now, but I think I can say that goal looks promising for 2015.

Probably autumn of 2015, but 2015 nonetheless.

I think that it’s best to approach each new year with prospects of who we will be rather than what we will do. I would like to be an author of a finished novel by the end of 2015. I would like to be an agented author by the end of 2015. I would like to be a published short story author. I would like to be a successful cosplayer. I want to be a drummer. I want to be a business owner. I want to be a home owner. I want to love how I look and feel. I want to be an avid reader.

If I get any closer to any of those states of being, I consider it a successful year. It’s not about pass/fail accomplishments on a bucket list. It’s about making one New Year’s resolution, the same resolution, every single year – never grow complacent.

Best of luck to us all in 2015, as we continue to grow and develop our crafts. I hope to be blogging more frequently soon, once I get past the editing stage and have more interesting things to talk about again ;)

I’m alivvvvvve!

I have a confession – I write my posts at work a lot, if not all the time. And work has been busy. Hence, why I have not kept this WordPress going in recent weeks. I’ve been a bad net-friend, not even keeping up with my reader much.

But hopefully that will calm down soon! Or at least, eventually! Work is just hectic as we’re trying to tie up some loose ends before the new year. When the next quarter begins in January, I hope to start some new projects and have steadier days.

Congrats to everyone who won NaNoWriMo yesterday! I hope your goodies are super nice this year. As you know, I ditched it around the 7000 word mark and went back to work on Paradisa. I’m proud to say that I’ve put quite a bit of work into Paradisa over the past couple days, and I feel like my momentum is building back. Just in time for life to get really hectic, eh? :P Listening to music has helped inspire me a lot this time around. Battle sequences are the hardest thing to write, and I’m currently doing a full rewrite of my Act II battle/seige….but the new stuff is pretty sick and has a very obvious “flow” to it. It’s not just action/fighting, it’s characters navigating their plotlines through a battle, so I have a lot more to say about it. The words come more easily. Figuring out fifteen inventive ways to say “she swung a sword” is hard, but this particular part hasn’t been….that.

Anyway, link me to any of your posts I may have missed! Like I said, I’ve been crappy at commenting this past week in addition to neglecting my own blog. And hopefully, I’ll be around more this month! I have a few “favs of 2014” list I plan on throwing together, if nothing else.

A Passion Project Is Hard To Find

It’s official: NaNoWriMo 2014? Just not working for me.

And I’m okay with that. I sort of knew going into this that I was fooling around. Experimenting with a story that had a very minimal amount of cook time in my head, that was completely out of my comfort zone as far as genre and construction goes. I’m a plotter. I like having a plot with the appropriate beats. I’m not usually into character driven “200 pages of me telling you about my life” kind of stuff. That’s a lot harder than it looks.

I got about 7000 words into Figments before I realized that I’m not ready for it. I’ve mentioned previously that stories have to stay with me for a while. They have to linger in my mind for at least a year before I grow comfortable with them. Sort of how you wouldn’t bring a stranger home to your mother, or go on a long vacation with them – you want to know them a bit better before you spend a long stretch of time with them. You want to know that you’re compatible.

Most writers have a notebook of ideas to pull from. I have over a hundred. But very few of those ideas are good enough, or familiar enough to me, to last me through the novel-writing process. If you’re going to finish a book, you have to be in love with an idea. You have to be willing to marry it, to work things out through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer. Otherwise, you’ll run out of steam. You’ll look at your characters like random acquaintances that you’re not sure how you ended up with. You’ll just…stop caring.

That’s not to say the passion projects are easy. We all hate our voice sometimes. It’s not turning out “right.” It’s not true to our vision. There are plotholes. But the great thing is that we say “we’ll fix that in the next draft.” Because we know there will be a next draft, and we know we’ll want to write that draft. Even when we get frustrated, it’s still a good thing. We know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel because what we want more than anything is for this project to be complete.

With that, I’m refocusing my energy on Paradisa. I miss the characters. I miss the world. I want to put the next beta draft in my readers’ hands. So while I’ve shelved the NaNo novel that just isn’t working out (yet), I’ve still got a real passion project to occupy my time. Even after a straight year of working on Paradisa, the story still excites me. Those sorts of stories are the ones truly worth writing. I’m not sure anything less could get me through this process.

And speaking of passion, my mother’s passion project manifested this past weekend in the form of AtomaCon. It was even more successful than last year! I was delighted to see how full all the panel rooms were. It reflected very well on us for the sake of our panelists and guests. I also received several compliments on my “2014 in Anniversaries” video that we showcased at Opening Ceremonies. :)

Thank you Leona Wisoker, for capturing what is probably the only pic of me during the entire convention.

Thank you Leona Wisoker, for capturing what is probably the only pic of me during the entire convention.

Mom and I are already cooking up some cool things for 2015, so maybe some of you will make it to Charleston next year. And to all of you NaNo participants – hope all is well! Good luck with writing your NaNo novel, or the novel you’d rather be writing instead ;) Follow the project your subconscious is telling you to follow, because that’s the one you will stick with.

Ask Me Anything! (….About Writing)

As I mentioned last week, there’s a direct correlation between my motivation to write and talking about writing. If I’m not writing, I don’t really feel like talking about it. And if I’m not talking about it, I feel less enthused to write.

Some writers can create perfect novels in total secret, without ever needing to tell a soul, and good on them. Other writers like to tell everyone about that novel they’ve been working on for 15 years, yet they talk more than they actually write! But I’m not the type who talks about writing much in “real life.” Most of my recently made friends probably have no idea I’m a writer at all. I might have thrown into conversation, “I’m working on a novel” once, but that’s about it. And when asked about what I’m writing, I usually just wave my hand and say that it’s some fantasy thing about mythology.

Really, the only support system I have are my friends Alyssa and Greg, my immediate family members, and you guys. Alyssa and Greg are both college students – one of them is even a grad student – so I try not to bother them about my writing too much during their semesters. I seldom talk to my family, and my mom’s side are mostly just cheerleaders who will be excited about anything I do. I can see their eyes glaze when I start to get into the meta stuff.

As much as Dad is weird and I disagree with him a lot, he’s one of the more interesting people to chat about my stories with. If nothing else, he does offer a….different view of things. But Dad is a jettsetter business type who’s always in some different time zone, so he’s not an easy person to get in touch with. I called him last week for his birthday and we talked a bit about Paradisa, and just that one conversation got me jazzed enough to finish a chapter.

I don’t think it’s necessarily the pressure or influence of other people that “encourages” me to get my butt in a chair, but rather the joy I have in revisiting my ideas aloud. I was born from fandom, so I love meta and essays on character and talking about chemistry and shipping and weird details and all that stuff that means LOVE went into a fictional work. Conversing with other people forces me to explain my thought processes, and appreciate what I’ve got brewing. Otherwise, it just sits in the back of my head and…I sometimes forget why I care. Or I could have conversations with myself, which….I do anyway, sometimes, but the mirror doesn’t offer great feedback :P

So, fellow writers, readers, followers – I implore you to ask me anything about writing. It can be about my works in progress, previous work, future work, or just writing in general. Hopefully this will force me to dig up all those ideas and all that potential and all that excitement I have for my stuff, and it’ll offer me a permanent place I can revisit anytime the wheels get stuck ;)

You could also ask me anything about anything on top of that, ha, but I can’t promise you’ll like the answer!

Follow Friday – Kate Turville!

Happy almost-weekend! Today, please join me in following the lovely Kate Turville. I like Kate because, like me, she’s a scientist and a writer! Although, she’s an Australian environmental scientist, which makes her about 10x more epic. Her posts are really funny sometimes, but they’ll just as often make you ponder life.

This has been mostly a “recover from being sick and do some book research” week. It’s also Charleston Restaurant Week, so Austin and I have been busy going out. I think Tuesday was the one night we were able to stay in. And tomorrow, we’re going to see a Boston Pops tribute orchestra, so no rest for the wicked again! I’ve got a headache, so I mostly just want a nap -_-

But yes, book research – one of my favorite parts of the creative process for this particular project. I’m structuring a story bible for the Paradisa series, so I’m leafing through my mythology books and trying to clarify the world. I often feel like I should be working on my draft instead of researching, but hey, the research has to be done sometime. At least it’s something productive. And it can be quite inspiring too. I’ve stumbled across many East Asian or Celtic gods and said “oh snap, that guy is awesome. I’ve got to work him into the story somehow.”

I did manage to write a few pages, and I feel like inspiration has returned in full. It’s just a matter of finding the time and tearing myself away from Austin for a few hours. It sounds easy, but it’s hard to say “I’m going upstairs now, don’t talk to me until 8:00.” Alas. There’s always Sunday, which I have to myself, and I’m determined to let the chores lie and write instead this time.

Have a good weekend!

Blasphemy or Mythological Fantasy?

For those who don’t know, my novel Paradisa entertains the concept that all gods are real – all religions of the world have truth, and lesser gods/angels are not actually sure who is the true Creator. They simply know that THEY exist and their purpose is to serve humanity.

Religion is a touchy subject. I have to be careful about how I personify these gods. I have to be careful to keep continuities straight and cultures accurate. Sure, compensating for the existence of ALL these dieties requires some acrobatic logic, as well as slanted interpretation, but I aim to stay faithful to the holy scriptures of billions of people.

That being said…this is fantasy. Stargate did this. American Gods and Supernatural do this. Mythological fantasy is a subgenre all its own, and never have I heard anyone get offended by the fictionalization of Pagan gods, or even Christian angels. I think most people accept that, so long as the gods and faiths are not portrayed in a negative light, speculation of their origins via fantasy is a non-issue.

All six of my betas come from different faiths, including Catholicism,  Methodist, Pagan, and perhaps even agnosticism. Only 1/5 Christian betas attends church (my boyfriend Austin,  for reference), so this was not the most fundamentalist group of people. Still, if anyone was to take offense to my portrayal of angels and saints, it should have been Austin. He did not.

Rather, it was my lapsed Catholic beta who worried “if someone as pious as Austin” would find it sacrilegious,  and who insisted that no creative license may be taken with religious figures…and that because world mythology is so vast, my inability to know every bit of it means I should limit myself to only one or two mythological characters total. He already thought that the slight twists of personality I offered my characters was far too deviant.

I disagree, of course. Mythology is only as vast as the parts I care to include, and those parts are well-researched. This is a crowded market, and no agent will buy yet another Persephone book, or a vindictive Aphrodite, or a mustache-twirling Lucifer. Something new has to be brought to the table to keep the gods true to type, yet fresh.

As for those who would still call this book blasphemous…let them. J.K. Rowling paid no attention to whackos who burned her “evil” books. Just from my own beta pool, I think most readers are smart enough to distinguish between a speculative work of fantasy (which paints religion in a nice light, might I add), and a holy scripture.

I am careful with these borrowed sandboxes, handling the characters as of they’re another kid’s toys I have to give back. That’s all anyone who writes in this genre can do.