Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Writing A Novel With Kathy Ann: (1) The Dream Pool

With NaNoWriMo fast approaching, and my first novel on the cusp of being ready (so close, yet so far away!) I thought it might be fun to start a weekly feature where I would talk about how I write my novels. I'm actually in the planning stages for two books: Sealer's Quest, which is the sequel to my upcoming debut Sealer's Promise, and Entwined, which is the first in a fantasy fairy tale series I've been dreaming up for over a year.

If you are a reader, I hope you will find it fun and interesting to see how the magic of story works. If you are a writer and would like to share your process or opinion(s), I would love to have you along! Just drop me an e-mail or post your thoughts in the comments. :) I do want to make one thing very clear, though: there is no right or wrong way to write. Every writer has their own process, and honing and developing this takes time. If my way doesn't work for you, that's absolutely 100% fine. 

Week #1: The Dream Pool: Getting Started *and* Where Do Ideas Come From? 

Getting Started:

You've decided you want to write a novel. (Or novella, short story, serial, memoir or anything else under the sun. Everyone is welcome!) Go you!

Writing can be one of the most joyous, freeing and wonderful things. It can also be as frustrating as trying to carry four bags of groceries and wishing a hand would grow from your stomach so you can catch the one with the eggs when it zooms toward the ground. Rewarding? Yes. Fun? Yes. Easy? Not so much.

But it can be done.

You are about to embark on a great and perilous journey. But first, you need to prepare. Even a journey where you will be going deep within--which is how I feel when I'm lost in one of *my* stories--requires outward preparation.

Tip 1: Don't go it alone! Sign up for an account at the absolutely fabulous Absolute Write. This is a great writing community that has writers of all different skill levels, persuing all different paths of writing and publishing. I can tell you this: I write when I'm hanging out here regularly. I *talk* about what I want to write when I don't. Absolute Write has made a night and day difference in my experience as a writer and it's a site that I love dearly.

Tip 2: Treat yourself to a totally fun, inspiring and kooky journal and pen. I don't care if you're going to be doing 99% of your writing on the PC. This thing can be an absolute life saver. What is it for? Use it to jot down the crazy plot idea you were struck with at 3 a.m., or on the train, or in a coffee shop. Use it to ask your characters silly questions and scribble their answers when they come back later. Draw a map of your fantasy novel's kingdom. Write down the name of a song that's a perfect representation of your romance novel's hero. The sky is the limit.

Why? Because you need to get it in your mind that your writing matters, and the best way to do that is to invest in yourself. Your notebook and pen are physical representations of the journey you are undertaking and they are something that will stick with you during the writing of your book from start to finish. Plus, who doesn't love having a totally awesome / cute / spooky / whatever you like new notebook? :D

Tip 3: Write what you love to read, or read what you love to write. While we're out on the town getting you equipped for your journey, hit up a bookstore, library or make sure you have some funds to use at an eBook store like when you get home. Writers need to be readers. We'll be taking about the making and breaking of genre rules next week, but for now what you need to know is that you can't tell a story properly if you don't know how the type of story you want to tell is constructed.

 Romance readers, for example, are going to expect either a happily ever after or at least a happy for now ending. Young adult novels tend to deal with the growth of a character from a situation or set of situations. Fantasy novelists need to watch out for world builder disease, but at the same time they must find a way to ground their fantastical creations in a way that will allow readers to understand them. You need to know what the rules of the type of book you want to write are before you can consider breaking them.

Tip 4: Write what you love! This somewhat ties into tip 3, but it's so important that I wanted to give it its own space. Being on the cutting edge of a huge trend could be awesome, but when push comes to shove the best way to do anything worth reading as a writer is to be passionate about it yourself first. Write a book that YOU want to read, because depending on your goals, how your project goes and how much time you spend with it, you *may* be the only audience, and you're definitely going to be the one sticking with this for the next month or three (or more). I'm not trying to bring you down here, but this is quite possibly the most important thing you need to latch onto as you begin your journey, so turn it onto a sticky and put it by your computer if you need to. Just don't forget it. Writing something you love will up your chances of completing your story!

Tip 5: Write now, worry about markets and publishing later. Paranormal is dead. Urban fantasy is paranormal's ugly stepsister. Dystopia is on a downward spiral. What's next? Thrillers? Science Fiction? Contemporary? *has nervous breakdown*


I probably sound a bit snarky and irreverent here, and that is hugely on purpose. I spent ten years chasing the golden carrot, trying to find an imprint or opportunity that was right for me. What I did not realize is that you need to have the book(s) written first. Then you can worry about that when the right thing comes for one of your books. (Or you can always choose to self publish. I'll talk about that another day, though. We're lightyears from that point right now.)  If you have something in mind--for instance you want to write for, say, Harlequin Noctourne, that's totally fine. Make sure you pick up some releases for that line and get familiar with it. But make sure that it lines up with writing the kind of book you want to write first, because that is what matters most.

Tip 6: Find a word processing software that you actually like. No, you are not stuck with wordpad or Microsoft Word--unless you like them. There are tons of great writing software options available and finding one that works for you is absolutely key. Me? I love Scrivener. When I work on a story, it behaves kind of like a bunch of balls of yarn that have gotten tangled together and I need to take that tangled mess, untangle it so it makes sense, and then knit it into a sweater. The reason Scrivener works for me is that it lets me break my book down into little pieces and I get a virtual notecard for each one so I can keep trace of what the heck is happening to my characters.

This is my dad.
No, this is not how I got him to listen to me
talk about Sealer's Promise. :P
Tip 7: Put butt in chair and have fun! You've got to want to be here, because there's no one on this earth who is going to make you be here. I strongly suggest telling people who will be supportive--really, truly supportive--of what you are doing that you want to write a novel. If you can get them to cheer you on or find ways to help you focus, all the better. But when its down to just you and the computer or you and the notebook, you need to be ready and willing to step up to the plate and take a swing. There are times when the words won't want to come and you need to write them anyway--even if they look like totally gobbledegoop at the time. You can fix them later. If you don't write it, you can't read it. If you can't read it, you won't fix it.

Where Do Ideas Come From? 

Artists use paint, or clay or beads (or any number of other things.) Musicians use their voices, or a variety of different instruments. A dancer's body, and their ability to control it, is the center of their art. So, what the heck do we use to create our books? Beyond a notebook or computer?

The one tool all artists, regardless of their medium, must use: Imagination.

Imagination is the ink of your soul. Learn it, love it, cultivate it. Dare to dream, for dreams are simply what we have yet to turn into reality. Now that I've expressed how deeply I care about this, let me share some of the techniques I've developed for getting the muse to work with me rather than against me. If you have things you'd like to share, I'd love to hear them!

1. Music: This is where it often starts for me. Music is where I get my scenes, where I get snippets of my characters and what I use to change my own mood on a dime to get myself thinking the way I need to be thinking to write whatever I need to write. I have happy music, angry music, sad music, romantic music, sexy music, songs that make me cry, songs that remind me of characters, pieces in other languages that just sound otherworldly or magical to me... The list goes on and on. Some writers cannot write and have music on at the same time, and that's totally okay, too. Go for a walk! Put on stuff that makes you think when you are exercising or while you're stuck on a bus or train. Take breaks to keep your mind focused by playing a few songs when you pause to check your twitter or e-mail. (I know some people turn their internet off when they write. I don't. I write a sequence or scene and then reward myself with some random net time.)

2. Movies, Television and Games. These are all great in their own unique ways. TV can teach you how to make sure to strive for continuity if you watch the right shows. (Stuff like Farscape, Buffy, or NCIS are all great examples off the top of my head.) Movies can teach you to construct a plot and they are usually only a couple hours long, rather then the 8-10 it takes me to read a book. They are Not a replacement for reading, but they can make a great complimentary tool. Lastly, games draw from lots of mythology, action and adventure. I've seen lots of stuff from the gaming industry that I haven't seen people touch with books, and as a gamer, the games I have played have influenced my work. FFII, pictured to the right, is actually what made me want to be a writer back when I was 12.

3. Read, Read, Read! Yes, I'm going at this again. It's vital. If imagination if the ink of our souls, then words are the lifeblood that flows through a writer's veins. Creativity and imagination are a well and what you draw out you need to put back in. Understanding the flow of words and the multitude of ways in which they can be used is the heart and soul of our craft and the best way to learn, without having to drill it in through directly learning, is to read.

4. Create a character / story "bible" (journal). Get all of it down that you can this way. What does the deli where your murder victim was killed look like? Is there a vital clue you want to leave there? What needs to happen for that to work? Does your sluth's appartment say something about him or her? What does his or her office look like? Is there a bar, bookstore, opera house, (Whatever?!) he or she goes to that will play a prominent roll? If you know something is going to be in your story, build it now so it doesn't become fodder for writer's block later.

5. We carry the weight of the world we grow: Look within. You and those around you are filled to the brim with stories. While I wouldn't suggest taking someone and turning them into a character and going, "Look, aunt Mildred! You're in my book!" there are ways that you can put your world to good use. Who were or are you? Who do you wish you were or had been? I was a bit of a loner during high school because I found that a lot of people at the school I went to were rather mean spirited or had ideals and goals different then mine. Anyone who's visited my blog can likely attest to the fact that I am actually a very social person. So when I was designing Sarena, Cait, and Isabelle there were many ways that I could have had them go. I chose to make them popular, and while I did give them each quirks, they are the heroines of my novels. Not "mean girls".

Turning Inspiration Into Ideas:

You need to start making two lists:

  • Stuff you love in books
  • Stuff you hate in books.

These things will keep you sane. As you consider the things you love (and hate) you will likely begin to see patterns. Jot those down. This is a great way to start looking at what you like as a reader, which is an important evaluation if you want to save yourself a lot of grief as a writer. 

As you look at your list, certain things might jump out at you and start piecing together. If it doesn't happen right away, go about life and give it time. Eventually you will begin to (hopefully!) get things that come together in a way that makes sense.

With Sealer's Promise, for example:

I Like:
  • A guy who can take people's souls (Mortal Kombat.) What if he was the hero?
  • What if the God of Plagues didn't like his job? (Judas, Lady Gaga)
  • What if the most bitchy girl in school was that way for a really good reason? (Flipping a personal experience.)
  • What if the guy who eats people to stay alive fell in love? (The Stone Prince, by Gena Showalter. <--redeemable villain.) 

I Hate:
  • Passive heroines. (Twilight.) So: What if the heroine had to protect the hero for a change? (Sarena becomes Kesyl's protector.) 
  • Cardboard villains. (Too many sources to name.) So: I try to have good and bad traits in all my characters, and the majority of my villains can be decent people too under the right circumstances and I go to great pains to show this. (Much love, Avish and Cait.) 
  • Cliffhanger Endings: There are a couple lose threads so I can write a sequel, but on the whole Sealer's Promise is 99% able to be a standalone book. 

You don't need to know every detail of your book right this minute. But if you have at least a general idea what you want to write, it will help with choosing things like the books you should read and what journal you want. :)

Your Mission, If You Choose To Accept It:
  • 1. Brainstorm Ideas. Find at least three that you like. Narrow it down to one if you can.
  • 2. Go and get your fun and fabulous notebook and pen.
  • 3. Pick up at least two new books (or choose two from your shelves) that are the genre of your book and read them.
  • 4. Build a ten song playlist of songs that help you think of characters or scenes from your new project.

Be sure to come back next week when I will be talking about choosing your genre and checking the originality of your idea. 

Thanks for reading!

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