Category Archives: Writing & Publishing

On reverse world-building

(photo copyright: me; illustration copyright: sister)

I’ve been working on Charlie & Cub lately. Partly because this damn novel needs to be done. Partly because I can’t leave it alone–I can’t leave Charlie’s world alone. But mostly because I gave it to my first readers, and my husband is probably the best reader I’ve ever had. But he also pointed out some major flaws.

I have a character (Sam) who is introduced in Book 3, and is actually pretty important in Book 5, but he isn’t super consistent. He rebels against Charlie in Book 3, and yet falls over himself trying to help her in Book 5. He’s supposed to work as Charlie’s same-age frenemy. But I don’t really know who Sam is. I know what I want him to be, but who he’s turned out to be — a bit of mystery.

I have the Parents. And they are currently a much larger issue than Sam’s faulty character. As an orphan, Charlie has been moved from home to home all her life. Then she arrives at the convent-turned-orphanage run by these awful people. However, these awful people (The Parents) turn out to be more than just awful. They’ve been searching for Charlie. They’re a large part of Book 1 and Book 4 and a small part of Book 5, and all their parts need to be rewritten.

Why?

Because when I wrote my backstory, the Parents turned into something else. They turned into the Parents of Book 4, and those aren’t the Parents of Book 1, who are slightly different again from the Parents of Book 5.

I wrote my backstory after I finished the series.

I wonder if I wrote my backstory before, if I wrote the rules of my universe before, would I be in this trouble? If I had a consistent universe before I started writing, would I be struggling now to make all the elements to line up? Would my strings be all tied together?

I pride myself on being a planner. I don’t write anything without a dot-point plan, with a dot-point for every 500 words. But I also like my plots. I let my plots carry my story. I don’t tend to write character profiles. I don’t world-build — a little because I set all my stories somewhere I know very well. Charlie & Cub is set where I grew up.

Maybe being a planner with a plot-driven story isn’t enough. Reverse world-building is hard, but it’s not impossible.

The impossible bit is rewriting it back into a story that I’m in love with. Because my story is perfect (to me). I get lost every time I start reading this story. I worry about editing it any further without any help because what if I ruin it? It might not be the best story in the world right now, but gosh I’m proud of it.

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Reminder: You are a Writer! (Lessons from Markus Zusak)

I met Markus Zusak last week. And while he will probably not remember me, I felt I found a kindred spirit. Writing can be a very lonely and often alienating job. Most commonly, I hear that you’re not a writer if you’re not doing A, B and C.

I don’t do A, B and C.

I don’t work on more than one piece of writing at a time. I don’t spend time writing short stories, poetry or creative non-fiction. I don’t submit to journals. Nor do I win competitions. I don’t read widely. I repeat books often, sometimes more than twice a month, but I don’t read widely.

All of these things are the opposite of what writers “should” do, according to almost every writer, university lecturer and blogger I’ve ever read/talked to on the subject of ‘being a writer’.

But you know what? Markus Zusak doesn’t do these things either.

Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that you’re a writer if you believe you’re a writer.

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On my non-existent blogging

(photo credit: torremountain via photopin cc)

I miss blogging. I won’t lie.

Blogging allows me to be creative when all other energy is put into the actual work part of writing: editing. But when I’m not writing a novel, I just STOP. It’s not that I don’t want to be writing, but all my energy is into this other task. Editing and writing (for me) do not mesh well.

Of course, writing and editing are two very different things. A writer is not an editor and an editor is not a writer. I can not wear both hats on the same project. But as with all first works yet-to-be-published, I must.

I’m an editor at the moment, so all writing has gone out the window. This includes blogging, because writing and blogging ARE the same thing.

I miss blogging–I have so many words I need to get down. I want to talk about my little sister (who’s actually a real grown-up and travelling BY HERSELF in Europe), I want to talk about gay main characters (because it began as a twitter comment and became something so much more), I want to talk about Charlie & Cub (the children’s series I’m currently editing), I want share interesting links and create lists of five things just because I can.

It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself that I’m not writing because I’m editing. The editing is critically important so I don’t need to be writing.

But, I am a writer. This is what I do. So what is it really?

Answer: The season is changing. And with winter brings doonas and TV series marathons and hibernating in my living room nest. These do not create words. Words are created by sitting in the study, with the heater on high, listening to music and making it feel like summer.

I am sitting in my study, with the heater on, listening to music, and making words appear on the page. One winter day at a time.

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On the ending of the Otori

(copyright: Lian Hearn’s website; font: Beth’s handwriting.)

The Harsh Cry of the Heron is the final book in the Tales of the Otori series. The series wasn’t written exactly linearly. The original trilogy was written first, then Harsh Cry (a sequel, set sixteen years after the trilogy finishes) and finally Heaven’s Net (a prequel, beginning sixteen years prior to the opening of the trilogy, but ends at the very same moment that the trilogy opens).

Note: this post can be said to contain spoilers for the Tales of the Otori series.

Recently, I have been reading so many new books and authors, that returning to the Otori was like having a dream about someone that had passed away. The Otori tales really had finished for me after the trilogy. I didn’t particularly like the first book when I originally read it–I couldn’t see what my parents and sister saw it in. Then I studied it in school two years later; I finally got it. I saw what the pull and the attraction was.

I didn’t put the books down until I finished the entire trilogy. (I even wrote a beautiful essay about it. I particularly like the metaphor used.) But that was that and the story was done.

Coming back to it six, almost seven, years later was a different experience. I knew these characters so well. The events of the trilogy slowly came back to me, but I didn’t really need to remember any of them. It was a new book, but felt like an old one. I felt like I was reading a Melina Marchetta novel*.

* Melina Marchetta makes you feel like her characters are actually your friends. I read her book and I feel like these people are actually a part of my life. I know her books and her characters so well, they could be my own family.

I really didn’t know how the book was going to end. I kept changing my mind. I think when reading the trilogy, I knew there was more story. Everything was going to be okay because it had to be–there was a sequel!

But like all people, characters can not live forever.

There really was no other way to end the series. Loose ends would have remained untied if Takeo lived. It didn’t matter he secluded himself, and had resigned himself to painting the birds surrounding the temple forever. His family tore itself apart for him–his magical girls were lost to each other, one killing their newborn brother, the other saving her twin before death; his eldest girl marrying as was required politically for the country he built; his wife hating him for his secret life as part of the magical tribe. Within a few days, his family crumbled about him and he could not save them.

The ending happened so quickly. But then again, isn’t that how all endings happen?

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On voices and narrators in #charliecub

(photo copyright: me; illustration copyright: sister)

But fate – or was it us? – had other plans for her.

This week, I’ve been editing Charlie & Cub. I’ve put myself on a tight schedule that I am already failing to live up to–but despite this failure, I feel the editing is going quite well. Each day, I put a chapter in my bag and head to a a cafe (usually a different cafe every day, just to spice things up) and edit that chapter. It’s currently taking me an hour per chapter, but this will change as the chapters start to become longer.

I have feared, sort-of but not exactly, starting my serious editing on the series. The main reason was that I knew what the first question I needed to tackle was. I needed to answer the question of voice.

In C&C, the story starts as a pseudo-prologue. A prologue that sits at the beginning of and part of Chapter 1. The prologue uses a very different voice* to the rest of the story.

The prologue is insanely important to the rest of the story. It needs to be in there. But it is told by a point of view that isn’t used again anywhere in the series. When I started writing, I think I was trying to be clever. I wanted to have a completely different voice. (Think of Markus Zusak‘s The Book Thief–a narrator kind of like that.)

But for the story, that kind of voice doesn’t work. The voice is not fast enough, it is not young enough, and is mainly a narrator that watches the story but very rarely participates.

When this prologue narrator does participate, it gets into a bit of trouble, but it uses a collective pronoun, and that makes it hard to handle. I am not a good enough writer with that kind of technical skill. (Yet.)

So I have left the prologue with its narrator as it is. I feel that it is important the prologue is told in that way. But I am trying to remove the remnants of this narrator from the rest of the story. The transition between the prologue and the real part of Chapter 1 is clumsy. I still have this ethereal quality of the writing and the text that I can’t seem to get rid of. The narrator still talks directly to you. But the narrator for the rest of the story is an omniscient third-person narrator. It’s not a real person, just a way to tell the story. The narrator is Charlie, but not Charlie too, because it observes things that Charlie doesn’t necessarily see. It’s a common voice and one that I feel very comfortable writing with.

It’s cathartic to write a blog post like this because as I’m writing it, I’m finding solutions to my problem. I can mash up Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 to become a single chapter (it solves my length issue, which is why they were split in the first place) and pull out the prologue so it becomes a real prologue. This would mean I don’t have to deal with the transition of the pseudo-prologue into the rest of Chapter 1, because the chapter break deals with it.

On the other hand, I can keep going with my editing as it is. I could also edit/write a parallel story but told from the point of view of my prologue narrator. Most of the story (especially the final three books) are told in the omniscient third-person narrator, so editing it into omniscient third-person is lessened as it was written with that narrator–unlike if I wanted to change it/edit it into the prologue narrator. My concern is that I will get to the end of editing the series and realise that I need to try it out in my prologue narrator’s voice and I’ll have to do the entire thing again.

But, I guess I won’t know until I’m at the end.

* Voice, in this context, means the tone of writing. It incorporates style and turn-of-phrase and beliefs and point of view. Essentially, it defines who is the narrator. Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City had a very distinct voice. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books have a very distinct voice. It is how something is told and by who–if Holly Black wrote the Harry Potter books, they would be very different books because Holly Black’s voice is very different. This being said, there are two voices at play–the author’s voice and the character’s voice, but that is a whole different discussion.

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On writing while travelling

I had such grand plans. I committed to other blogs. I even had topics and themes to cover.

But the reality is that when travelling, writing is difficult. THe dream is nice enough: be a tourist in the morning, sit in a cafe and write during the afternoon. Admittedly, my dream is very French-themed.

I have been travelling in Japan and the US. These countries are not like the African ones I have visited at all — power is consistent, wi-fi is consistant, my time management (however) was non-existant. I fought the fires that needed to be fought — so I worked before 7am and after 9pm.

I should have realised that this wouldn’t be a writing holiday. We weren’t in one place long enough to develop a routine that allowed me to spend time writing.

That’s the key — going in with not only the desire to write, but a plan on how to write while away.

Of course, after travelling, is the after-effect of travelling, the residue of being on holidays. Now it’s time to re-find the writing routine that I had before holidays now that I’m back at home.

I’m still working on that one.

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On The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

This week, I’ve discovered the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Considering it’s Pride & Prejudice’s 200th birthday this year, it’s quite apt that I found it. Quite honestly, it is amazing.

While I would not recommend watching them all in one go like I did, I do believe that you should watch them all. The actresses get on my nerves. I’m a little sick of them. But then, if you watch anything for long enough, the people will always begin to bug you. Like the book characters, they are over-the-top and soemtimes irritating and insufferable.

Despite this, the adaptation is quite good. It is definitely set in modern times (being a video blog, it would have to be), and the characters have been updated to suit. (Collins is a business man, Pemberley is a digital content company, Lydia parties and drinks in clubs–while still being quite silly.)

This is not my favourite part of the production though. I am particularly interested in how the related media interacts with the original story. Each of the characters have their own twitter accounts–which they use to interact with each other and fans of the show. Some have facebook, others have Pinterest and most have a tumblr. Some characters start their own video blogs, and we get to see the story that Lizzie isn’t apart of through their eyes.

It feels like a true transmedia event. (It feels very similar to how I want Shattered to be told.)

I think what works for the Lizzie Bennet Diaries is that their main networks at YouTube and Twitter. They have picked the ones that work for them and the story. LBD doesn’t try to do everything. And it makes LBD a better story for it.

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On reading your work out loud (aka my evening with Neil Gaiman)

(image found via Neil Gaiman, modified by me.)

Last week, I saw the delightful Neil Gaiman. In person. Reading his new work.

I’ll just wait a moment while you all shriek.

What I particularly liked was Gaiman reading his work. Not that he read a complete story or anything (likely as part of an evil plan to make me pre-order both The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Fortunately, the Milk), but listening to him read was amazing.

For the longest time, I believed that writers were writers, and readers were readers. Partly because I didn’t want to read my own work out loud, partly because the only audiobook I had ever heard was Stephen Fry’s rendition of Harry Potter. Writers were writers; readers were readers.

And then I listened to Gaiman last Friday night.

All writers need to be readers. People want to see the writers of their favourite works and they especially want to see them read their work. As fans, we want to hear how the story is meant to be told, read and said. We want to see the people we adore saying the words we adore.

I am immensely impressed that Gaiman is the voice on his audio books too. And you know what? Seeing Gaiman in real life, reading his stories, has made all the difference to how I read his work now. I’ve gone back and picked up American Gods again–the infernal book that I just could not get through. Now I hear Gaiman’s voice; now I understand how it should be read.

Writers need to read their work to their fans. New work, old work, unfinished work–it doesn’t matter. The point is that we want to hear our favourite authors speaking their stories out loud because we feel we have a closer connection to the book, the story and the author.

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On beginning an edit and plotting a new novel

So, what have I done this week? Well, I’ve put my first, completed manuscript THE CHRONICLES OF CHARLIE & CUB in a lovely blue binder.

I have to admit, I’m a little scared to read it. There is only this moment in time that the draft will be ‘perfect’. It’s the perfect incarnation of story and words on the page. As a writer, I know it’s not perfect, but right now, until I read that first page, it is. It’s like Schrodinger’s Cat, right? Right now, you have no idea whether it’s a masterpiece or a complete epic failure, but until I read that first page, or even the first word, I will never know for sure. I like it being a dead-and-alive cat right now.

It will probably sit there until I finish this blog post. I’ll then have run out of things that I “need to do” and so I will have start reading it.

The other story that I’ve started working on is currently called “The Incomplete Guide to the Museum” which was in part inspired by “A Partial Map to Your Tardis” and in part inspired by the fact that I wanted to write a TV series as a book.

How does one write a TV series as a book? Well, I have three main characters, and they are the main characters in the entire book. However, there are ten short stories (about 10,000 words each) which have their own plots and bits and pieces, and across all the stories is an overarcing story. It’s a little difficult to plot out. It also means I need to come up with eleven plots, and link them together by something else besides having the same characters in each story.

The plan is to publish a short story a month online. A little blurb: Ayla is your average university student. She has friends, she goes to class (sometimes), she exercises with her new neighbour. But when her neighbour dares her to go into the ever-empty, always-mysterious Museum–that’s what it’s called, just the Museum–Ayla doesn’t want to explain about the missing people. From here, Ayla is thrown forward in time, back in time, living right in the moment and finds that the museum isn’t exactly what it seems. Can she find the Housekeeper again and get her answers? Will she ever see her own life again?

It was a very successful plotting week, with some help from writing friends.

Do you get scared or anxious about re-reading your work?

[This post was also posted at The Great Noveling Adventure (with some additional paragraphs)!]

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