January 29, 2010

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Posted in Tools of the Trade at 11:21 am by jajohnson7

These steps apply, of course, to helping the environment, but they can also apply to your writing. A Recycle Bin is a very useful tool for writers.

Have you ever had a lame story with a lame main character and a lame antagonist, but an awesome secondary character? Instead of trying to save the whole of the story just so your secondary character can shine, recycle him! Put him in a better story.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with your story, you just lose interest. Same thing applies. Recycle the good stuff, forget the bad.

For example, my current project stole from a project I was having trouble with. I took the religious system and the “strange” magic of the main character. I’m not sure whether or not to keep the original story (one small adjustment and it could be another installment in this saga), so I’m not sure yet whether or not to recycle the characters I created. But if I ditch it, you can bet I’m moving my favorite characters over.

January 27, 2010

Where’s the Action?

Posted in Age-Old Debates at 11:18 am by jajohnson7

One of the most difficult things about writing a story is figuring out where it starts. Saying “right before the action” isn’t exactly helpful. In my story, the action pretty much starts two months before my main character starts at her new (awesome) school.

I thought I couldn’t go wrong starting my story when my main character arrives at her this school. Turns out, I could.

I found myself getting sucked into touring a school I hadn’t completely thought up yet, introducing my main character seven times over to dozens of characters that needed to be made up on the spot, and – long story short, I wasn’t comfortable creating a world by going from zero to sixty in negative five seconds flat.

It was also soporific to write. Pop Quiz: how many ways can you have people say, “Oh, you’re the new student?”

So I need to find a new starting point a little “further” into the story, after all these introductions are over. I can always cover important introductions in flashbacks, I suppose. When I don’t have a plan, I like to learn about my characters as my readers do. (That’s probably why I would be terrible at writing mysteries.) It might be weird, but that’s how I work.

January 25, 2010

The Dream Sequence Nightmare

Posted in Tales from the Author's Desk at 12:03 pm by jajohnson7

For some reason unknown to me, dream sequences are all the rave. Want to increase your word count in NaNoWriMo? Write a dream sequence! Want to foreshadow a major event or character? Write a dream sequence! Want to inject some humor into your otherwise gripping drama? Write a dream sequence!

…God I hate them.

I’m sorry, but when did someone decide that the best way to move the plot forward was with a dream sequence? To make matters worse, they’re usually really long, and sometimes very random.

The best dream sequence I ever saw was a short paragraph in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It said that Quirrel’s turban was trying to make Harry switch into Slytherin. Now the first time around, you think it’s just his nerves at being Sorted. You quickly forget about it. It’s not till the second reading that you realize Voldemort seems to be meddling. Genius.

If only all dream sequences could be like that. It’s usually chase scenes, mysterious vibes, or fears of losing someone. Not exactly the most exciting scene ever.

And let’s not forget the absolute worst way to use the dream device:

“And then he woke up.

The End.”

January 23, 2010

Plan A 2.0

Posted in Updates at 11:14 am by jajohnson7

Confession: the Regency thing isn’t working out like I’d hoped. It’s harder than I had thought to re-arrange characters and [sub-]plots I’ve had in my mind for almost three years.

My solution? Go back to Plan A, and make it less epic. It was the epic part that was catching me up, so I’m ditching it. Epics aren’t my kind of story anyway. Now all that’s left to do is update and see where the story takes me. Some ideas I had for ditching the epic part:

1. No cultural fights of doom. Originally, I’d had the main character as part of a conquered people, and she was going to rise up and lead her people to freedom. Yeah, definitely epic. It’s getting tossed.

2. Put her in a school. Sad to say, but schools are not epic. That should ratchet down the stakes quite a lot.

3. Make her younger. It’s like the younger you get, the less likely you are to do epic things (mostly because it’s expected you have to build up to it). Think about it: Dumbledore = EPIC; Aragorn = epic; Little Red Riding Hood = not epic.

If you are as equally frustrated at my lack of decisiveness as I am, all I can say is: I warned you! In my first official post, I warned you that I have too many ideas in my head to function normally. This is the result. Pathetic, but true.

January 22, 2010

Dancing Across the World

Posted in Inspiring at 7:09 pm by jajohnson7

You can dance anywhere, even if only in your heart.

~Author Unknown

A few years ago I was introduced to Matt’s dancing adventures. I re-visited it this week and found some more videos, including one where he dances with masses of people (re-posted below). Enjoy!

January 20, 2010

A Villainous Balance

Posted in Tales from the Author's Desk at 9:58 am by jajohnson7

In my planning, I’m having trouble coming up with a proper antagonist. Since I know this is a common complaint, I’ve decided to open the floor to debate.

I can’t just have a villain. I need a proper villain. Someone who is going to spend every iota of strength they have to screw over my protagonists. They can’t be too strong, or my book will never end; but by the same token, they can’t be too weak, or there’s no point in having the book at all. What, then, is the perfect villainous balance?

A bona fide villain isn’t required, really. Man vs. Nature/Technology/God/terrifying-mix-of-all-three can totally fit the bill. Heck, Jane Austen just uses selfish scoundrels and daunting relatives for her antagonists. And why not use them in a book centered on relationships?

But where does that leave my novel? It’s Regency, so I can have the usual slimy scallawags and horrid in-laws. But it’s also Fantasy, which usually requires a villain. I think all of my previous stories have had a legit bad guy. For this novel, I’m going to avoid the “take over the world” types, of course, but what will fit my needs? A person? An artifact? A dark force of some sort, such as spirits?

The best idea might be to just write and see where the story takes me. Perhaps my scoundrels and in-laws will develop magical tendencies all on their own. But I’ve gotten into the habit lately of planning at least major events. To be honest, I used to write off the cuff, but doing so now terrifies me. As far as this post is concerned, what if it turns out that my villains aren’t up to scratch? Or are so powerful they leave nothing of my main characters but a scratch?

In my last novel (the yet to be revised one), I think my antagonist was too powerful. So I limited him. Turned out, I had limited him too much, but I found a way to get around it, thankfully. Still not sure if that’s worked out to my satisfaction yet. That will come about in the future editing process, hopefully.

So. How do you deal with your villains and that evil balancing act?

January 18, 2010

You Are Here

Posted in Tools of the Trade at 10:48 am by jajohnson7

A fantasy writer’s best friend, ignoring glossaries, will inevitably be the map of their world. Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult to get it right.

Is the novel set in the mountains? Desert? An archipelago? The clouds? A city? A farm? A combination?

If you have no idea where the action is taking place relative to where the action has already and will be taking place, then how on earth are your readers going to manage?

As for me, I am terrible at designing maps. I would much rather be given a random map (that has the elements I’m looking for, obviously) with landmarks already marked out (a city here, a mountain pass there). Ta da! Now I can write my story.

The problem I am finding for my current project is that I cannot for the life of me find a random map to use. I don’t trust the internet far enough to download anything. I’m not a Dungeon Master who needs to work in hexagons. My options automatically narrow down to nil.

Fancying that I might have an ingenious streak, I started up an Age of Empires game. I pretended I wanted to generate a campaign, and started fiddling with the random maps. I soon learned that these maps would be perfect for a small setting, but do not cover nearly enough terrain to create an entire country. My hopes, and ego, were crushed.

I suppose all that’s left is to take a blank sheet of paper, close my eyes, and hope the perfect map just…magically appears. At this point, I would gladly take a half-perfect map, or even just a mediocre-run-of-the-mill-looks-vaguely-reminiscent-of-Middle-Earth map. Yeah. We’ll go with that.

January 15, 2010

The Rise of the Kingdom of Fan

Posted in Tales from the Author's Desk at 10:10 am by jajohnson7

Fanfiction has taken an interesting turn over the years. I’ve watched the genre go from a fun creative exercise to a way to practice and develop the craft to its own publishing realm. Case in point? Jane Austen spin-offs.

My dad likes to joke that if my mom and I started a Jane Austen book club, we could read for years and never come close to running out of material. There are so many novels on Mr. Darcy’s point of view in Pride & Prejudice alone. Add in sequels, prequels, supernatural versions, mysteries, modern adaptations, you name it, it’s written.

But why? Why can’t we just leave well enough alone? Why are we compelled to saturate ourselves with fanfiction?

Because people love Pride & Prejudice. They love it. They can’t get enough of it. They need to know what happens after the last page. They need to know what happens before the first page. They need the deleted scenes, the alternate realities, the modern versions, and they’ll never get sick of it.

How did we come to this? When did fanfiction become legitimate? Are people really that lazy that they can’t come up with something completely original? Are you telling me that I can take all those stories I posted on fanfiction.net and actually put them in print? That’s probably not true. I don’t think Harry Potter’s ready to be fanfic’ed into oblivion.

I like to joke (yeah, lots of jokes in this one) that all I have to do to break into the realm of publishing is write a Pride & Prejudice spin-off. I mean, why wouldn’t I want a piece of the fanfiction pie? I don’t have to worry about creating characters, the basic plot’s already in place, and given the plethora of material out there it’s bound to be published.

Why haven’t I done so, you ask? Don’t worry, I’ve got a plot up my sleeve. Just needs some more outlining.

January 13, 2010

At 1 pm Last Wednesday…

Posted in Tools of the Trade at 9:27 am by jajohnson7

Maybe it’s because I was a History major, but I love timelines. Most people prefer outlines to organize their stories, but I’m definitely a timeline girl.

They are so useful, especially if you’re doing flashbacks, or the party is divided up. What do you bet Tolkien used a timeline? It must have been difficult to keep track of how everyone’s adventures matched up by Return of the King.

And there are so many ways you can use them, too. You can have one for every main character. You can have one for major events. For example, this is when the invasion starts, or this is when the king is crowned. The timeline can be precise (at noon on the Winter Solstice…) or relative (John and Jane have to have a fight before James shows up).

Of course, depending on how detailed you are, it might just be a complete nightmare. If you’re using the timeline to plot out entire conversations, you’ve obviously misunderstood the purpose of the timeline. At some point you’re going to have to write the actual story, you know.

January 11, 2010

First Impressions

Posted in Tales from the Author's Desk at 8:19 am by jajohnson7

You know the old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover?”

I totally do that.

And let’s face it, who doesn’t? Fantasy covers are smeared with big-breasted, scantily-clad women; buff, usually shirtless, men with huge swords that are obviously a compensation; or Merlin wanna-be’s who are clearly too powerful to make an interesting story. Who wants to read books like that? I sure don’t.

Okay, maybe the artist fails. Maybe s/he didn’t even read the book, they just drew what they liked or were good at. But chances are they know enough to be able to translate the main characters or points of the plot into an enticing image to draw in the readers, and if they can manage to fit them into the molds I mentioned above, I’m not sure the book could hold my interest.

Then again, it’s just a cover.

Still. I prefer that other adage: “less is more.”

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