Sunday, October 23, 2011

The muse & plot bunny vs reality


I'm going to write a little story so that my friends and family (who are not writers) will have a much better idea what it means when a writer says 'The muse is calling my name!', or 'I'm inspired', or 'I NEED TO SIT DOWN AND WRITE, NOW!'

Your child/younger sibling/best friend (muse) has been very good with keeping themselves occupied while you deal with the daily tasks of work/school/whatever it is that is consuming your time (aka. life). You're always aware that they're waiting on you to spend time with them, until you finally get to a point where you start to feel guilty that they're so quietly patient. You get this great idea (plot bunny) on how to repay them/reward them for their good behaviour and you say 'you know what, I will put everything else on hold and we will go have some quality one-on-one time, if not today then definitely in 8 days' time'.

Sounds good, right?

Your child/sibling/friend is SO excited that you haven't forgotten they exist and that you're going to be doing something fun together, like the good old times, that their excitement becomes infectious and before you know it, you are swept up by it and geared and ready to go. So you grab them by the hand, practically skip to the door as you drag them behind you, and with great joy you fling the door open.

But instead of feeling the warm sunshine on your face, you get pelted with hail stones; instead of meeting up with all your other friends, they're unavailable and don't answer when you call them; instead of stepping into an exciting, bold world ready for you to come play in, you step into the real world where chores and work require your immediate attention. You turn to your child/sibling/friend and you want to explain to them, but their excitement has morphed into stubborn determination (which can be a very bad thing when the timing is not right) and you just know that if you bail out on them now, it will take a lot of grovelling and coaxing and promising and, did I mention grovelling?, for them to do anything with you willingly thereafter.

This is what it's like when you introduce Plot Bunny to Muse (and vice versa), and reality becomes an obstacle in your path. The muse will always be there somewhere in the depths of your subconscious, but when you neglect it for too long, it starts chipping tunnels to the deeper and more unreachable part of your mind. Sometimes it will take a long time before you venture down the right tunnel and find them sulking in a little corner. Sometimes it's a really tough battle to drag them kicking and screaming from their sulky-corner and it might take a while for them to warm up to you again. The muse, I've found, can be stubborn to the point of being unhealthly. They can be your worst enemy or your best friend, depending on how you scrabble your words.

Personally, I've had to fight my muse out of hiding, and then poke him with a hot iron until he submitted to my demands, at least twice in the past five years. Reality has a way of scaring the muse away.

This time, however, I've got my muse chained to me. If he was to break through the chains, I've got his shoes superglued to the ground. If he was to struggle out of his shoes, I have a minefield of sinkholes that will suck him straight back to me. If he was to fly, I'll shoot him down and clip his wings. If he was to teleport...well, let's just say that I have another no-nonsense muse lying in wait to chase my carefree muse back to where he belongs.

So, I'm going to be dotting down some stuff on a plot bunny that's been pestering me for a while now. I might write it for Nano, but as it stands, I'm still going to be writing the first part of my completed manuscript.

8 DAYS TO NANO!!!

*Please refrain from pointing out the fact that a muse is female. I know this. So does my muse. I also have imagination and don't let cliches box me in. My muse is quite content being male.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Of Genres and Nanowrimo

Listening to: The Devil's Trill by Vanessa Mae
Reading/revising: Shadow Legacy (w/t)

I had a scout around to familiarise myself (again) with the different genres and sub-genres out there. I've never slotted my work into a genre before. I've labelled myself a horror writer, because that's what I tend to read, watch, and breathe, but the horror in my mind translated onto paper oddly enough doesn't fit in the literary horror genre. Funny that.

The reason I struggle to define what my novels are, in essence, is because some genres bleed into others. For example, my Chronicles of Derenvere series starts the first book off where my MC is abducted, tortured (mentally, physically and emotionally) and mutilated to a degree. On top of that, he's being starved to death very slowly. There are some nasty, gory scenes, but they become less and less the further away my MC escapes his nemesis. Now those elements should, by all means, shift the story into the Horror genre.

But here's the thing: my MC is an aspiring powerful sorcerer, coincidentally also the heir to the magical kingdom Derenvere, and they have things like unicorns and dragons and elves running around the show. There's runes, and levitation, and the setting isn't in the real world - it's all a manifestation of my imagination. This would make the story a fantasy - anything with dragons and princes and magic class as Fantasy.

And to put the cherry on the cake, it is also a very spiritual journey my MC goes on. Going from being a blind believer to a non-believer to having doubts, he's spiritually tormented for a long time. I don't write about God and Satan and angels, per say, but there are beings in the series that are derived from them. So, what does it make my novel? Is it Literary fiction, because it focusses mostly on my MC's inner and outer journey, or is it Inspirational, because it involves spiritual growth?

You see why it's hard for me to decide on a genre. I could just slot it into the General genre, but I'm reluctant to do that. So far I've claimed this to be a Dark Fantasy, whatnot with all the fantasy and the horror. But maybe the final decision on which genre is more befitting will be at my agent's discretion.

One novel I'm not confused about is my current manuscript titled Shadow Legacy. It's definitely a YA Paranormal novel. It does start off with my MC being trapped in an alternate world (which would make it a Fantasy) but she eventually finds her way back to the 'real' world where she has to deal with the paranormal that has followed her there.

I'm not fussing over this one. It's Paranormal.

I'm also going to be rewriting/revising this novel for Nanowrimo. Yes it's 30k words or something at this stage, but it's not like I'm cheating. I'm still  going to be working just as hard at this as everyone else who will be starting a new project from scratch. I'm still going to be putting in the hours, same as everyone else. This is one manuscript I need to get done, chop-chop, so I can start searching for representation by the New Year. Or should I say, the Last Year? It is 2012, after all.

I'm looking forward to meetups with writers in my region, if I can make it. I want to say that I will go to every meetup and be one of the last people still sitting there writing my little heart out. I want to say that I will get to go chill out with a few cups of coffee and with like-minded people. I want to say that I will be a regular visitor to my library every day and get at least an hour of writing done. 'Tis but a dream!

But look, I doubt  the library staff are going to be very tolerant of my little monkey messing up their computers or unpacking all their DVDs and books in the kids section, and let's not forget how he absolutely loves to run around screaming like a monkey going to war. Maybe for the first day or two they'll look past it. After that they're likely to ban me from setting foot in the library unless my monkey is gagged and tied down, y'know?

Anyway.

18 days to Nano!!!

Monday, October 03, 2011

Beta Reader vs Alpha Reader

Listening to: Unbreakable - Fireflight
Revising: Shadow Legacy (w/t)


Back in the day, when I had the luxury of morning and afternoon two-hour-duration naps to do my writing in, I was very much addicted to writing fanfiction(FF). The first writers I ever encountered and befriended were reviewers and authors on fanfiction.net. That was the allure of it - the reason why I opted to spend more time writing something I couldn't make a dollar off of rather than working on my originals - it was the people. The sense of community and belonging.

And let's not forget the reviews. They are evil.

I knew my writing needed some serious work, but no one seemed willing or able to point out my flaws and help me through it. They had other obligations, other responsibilities, like focussing on their own FF's lest they incur the wrath of their fanbase for taking too long to update. Then I heard about this mythical creature - a beta reader.

I found a few and queried with them if they'd be interested in helping me with my work. Only one of them ever got back to me. I was nervous but elated - I've found someone who was going to genuinely critique my writing! So I happily sent my first draft of my first chapter to this beta-reader and... nothing.

Not a peep. Not a whisper. It's like they dropped off the face of the world. I ended up plaguing them with emails, first because I was worried my writing was so terrible that it was taking them weeks to go through it, then later because I just wanted to annoy the hell out of them until I got some kind of response from them. I got nothing.

There's nothing more discouraging or infuriating than sending your baby to someone and never hearing from them again. I'm just glad it wasn't any of my original work that I sent to them, else I really might have lost my mind. This is also the reason why I have issues sharing my work with anybody other than my close family and friends.

So I went and thought about what had happened to me, and noticed that quite a few writers leaving reviews for others stating that they ought to find themselves a beta-reader. One in particular referred a young writer to one of the very beta-readers who had never bothered to reply to me. I contacted the writer personally and warned them about what had happened to me, just to give them a heads-up. The writer got back to me a week later and asked if I would mind critiquing her work because the same thing that happened to me had happened to her. Somewhere along the lines of my email to her, we had gotten lost in translation, and she assumed that I was another beta-reader.

I wasn't then, but I told her I'd help her out as best I could, and a few months later I got a heartwarming thank you from her, a dedication and referral to me as a beta-reader on her profile - and the rest is history. If there is one thing I love more than writing and reading, it's helping other writers.

I'm no guru at writing, don't get me wrong. You can never know everything there is to know about the craft since it's a on-the-job-learning kind of experience. I've always shamelessly declared this, but a couple of young writers have taken this statement the wrong way before. False accusations and observations were made, it became a personal matter - it was pretty ugly. I followed up on it with this writer and we made our peace, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't knock down the little confidence I had in my writing skills.

That was only one unhappy writer I ever had to deal with. For the most part, all the other writers I've beta'd for have either given me genuine thanks for my input, or we've become friends and keep in touch ever so often via MSN chats or Facebook.

Different writers are at different stages of developing their talents. Some need more work than others, like the ones who have English as a second language (like me); others just need someone to help them fight a two-man battle with things like characterisation; some have just started out and need to be guided and made aware of the rules.

Some have been writing for years and, very similar to someone who has been driving for years, have picked up naughty little habits that they don't even notice until you point it out to them (overuse of the comma or fragmented sentences, as a couple of examples).


The thing is, every writer has talent, whether their talent is in their vast knowledge of their subject matter, or their particular voice, or their imagination. And like every writer has talent, every writer has one single thing in common - we all need to hone our craft.

I've done beta work for some of my favourite writers on FF.net. My nerves were dancing with excitement and terror, though. My beta abilities have also extended from FF to rough original manuscripts of others. I feel I'm qualified enough, after three years of being a beta-reader, to offer my input to 'real' writers.

This has become extremely handy for me because I now have experience with what to look out for in my own manuscript. Not that I'll ever stop wanting a critique partner. My hubby offered to crit my work for me, so once I'm done with chapter one, I'll be getting that feedback I crave so much.

Oh. I also recently learned that I'm actually not a beta-reader. I'm an alpha-reader: that other person who sits patiently waiting for you to finish writing the next chapter so they can read it and critique it for you. A beta-reader, according to definition, is someone who critiques your work when you have finished writing the whole manuscript.

Like I said, you can never know everything.
Though I always used the term 'writing buddy', I never knew it was called an alpha-reader. So I did know what everyone else was talking about on that forum after all!



Saturday, October 01, 2011

Revision: And so it begins.


Listening to: Hero - Skillet
Mood: Can't-think-straight-tired
Reading: Demon in my View by... can't remember author name.
Writing: Shadow Legacy

I have, at long last, taken the actual plunge into revision.
I'm on page 7 of my 112 page novel. My previous attempt at 'revising' it was a complete bugger because I had started to rewrite it from scratch.
Without a solid plot outline drafted up to guide me along a rewrite, a rewrite is not going to happen. I'm supposed to be revising it, anyway, not rewriting the whole manuscript.

So! Let me tell you a little bit about Shadow Legacy.
I first wrote it back in 2005-2006. I'm not entirely sure which year I wrote it, but I did write it within a week. I think I might have blogged about it before. If you're a writer, you can imagine what I've got on my hands here. Revising a first draft of 38, 500 words is not an easy feat.

It's a young adult supernatural romance, starring a set of eighteen year old twins, Haley and Amber. Haley was lured into a different realm where she fell prey to creatures of the dark. She was first going to lose a few toes, an ear, and some other body parts after a witch snatched her up, but she caught the eye of a vampire (yes, I'm aware that I stated before that I will never write vampires, but there is also a first time for everything) who 'rescued' her from the witch. Why she caught the eye of the vampire, I'm not too sure yet. Another creature of the dark in one of my scenes laughs at her when she demands to know why specifically she was targetted, and tells her 'Such arrogance. You don't really think there's any special reason why we chose you, do you? Any other human would have been good enough. You just happened to be in the right place at the right time.'

But I'm not sure whether this creature was bluffing and purposely trying to play with her head, or whether it was speaking the truth, since I haven't elaborated on the scene or know when or where exactly it will fit into the story.

The only reason why Haley survives in their world is because of her guardian. I'm not putting a label to it other than guardian, so it can be a familiar or a shade or an angel, whatever the reader choses to believe. Her guardian has the ability to shift from human form into wolf form. No, he's not a werewolf; he's invisible in her world, but in the dark realm he can manifest in these forms. I chose a wolf for his other form because I'm a dog person, dog is man's best friend, they're loyal to their owners, they're guardians of sorts (guard dogs, get it?) and wolves are territorial by nature. All these qualities factor into his character. I might have thought a name up for him before, I'm not sure because I haven't actually written him yet.

This is all backstory, though. Whether I'll incorporate it into the actual book remains to be seen. As it is, the story starts off with Haley wanting to go to sleep as soon as the sun is up. It introduces her and Amber, their relationship with one another, and the initial conflict that exists between them.

I will need to make a note to get that conflict resolved by the end of the story.

Nothing much has really happened in the first 7 pages. Aside from a phonecall for Amber, an argument between the sisters, and Haley reflecting vaguely on her past for the purpose of informing the reader, there's not much else going on. I've already revised certain details, like turning the sixteen year olds into eighteen year olds, giving them more dialogue, and changing the matter of Haley lounging in her backyard for the day to her sleeping instead. The part where she reflects on past events might get cut, if I decide to start the story off where she's lured to this dark realm, because then there would be no point in mentioning it.

There is a lot of work ahead of me. The story is written in third person narrative from Haley's point of view, yet later on, if I recall, the point of view jumps to Jeremy (the male lead) when Haley gets sucked back into the dark realm, to Amber, and back and forth like that until Haley comes back onto the scene. I haven't actually written the parts where Haley is in this dark realm. It's a concept I still need to explore and flesh out a bit. I wrote the story, believe it or not, without my female lead. Amber is more of a secondary character than a lead, so I'll be putting her in her place and following Haley all over the show.

I prefer to stick to one character's point of view. Sure, as a writer, it's really easy to jump from character to character, and I can make it work. But as a reader, I've always preferred to stick to a single character throughout a story. Consistency is key to prevent confusion.

Besides, I've always said that I want to write that book that I haven't found yet.

My first task of revision is to pick places where my writing can be clearer, more interesting, more informative and more convincing. Yep. I'm leaving the descriptive part of my writing for the final draft.

Note: some of what I've said in this blog might actually turn out to be nul in void since I'm simply revising the novel from page 1 without having read through the entire manuscript again.