Sunday, March 29, 2015

Know Thy Antagonist

Been working on my third writing assignment for the Science Fiction/Fantasy workshop I'm doing at Writer's Digest University. This time I get to describe my protagonist and antagonist and then put them in a scene together. I've already learned one thing from this assignment - I didn't know my antagonist quite as well as I thought I did.

Since my antagonist doesn't actually appear in any scenes until the last half of the book, I guess I didn't see the need to get to know him very well. But as I worked on my assignment, I realized I needed to give him more motivation than just the desire for power. I mean, that's kind of a cliche now, isn't it? I wanted a better reason. I wanted to go deeper. Why is he obsessed with power and control? What happened in his past to bring him to this point? What drives him?

"Fleshing out" is just as important for your antagonist as it is for your protagonist. Especially if the two are in direct opposition to each other. Here's what I've learned.

My antagonist is actually the protagonist of his own story with my protagonist in the role of my antagonist's antagonist. Kind of hard to get my mind around but not impossible. I can exercise this concept by writing parts of my story from my antagonist's point of view. These scenes most likely will not be in the final draft, but these scenes let me watch my antagonist in action and help me to learn more about him in the process.

Not all antagonists are the villain, either. Especially not in their own minds. To them, their actions are necessary in order to reach their goal, whatever that may be. They may even see their goal as altruistic despite the fact that it causes problems for the people they claim the goal will benefit.

In order to do that research, I entered "antagonist motivations" into my favorite search engine, Google. This brought up pages of links to informative websites that helped me understand the importance of getting to know my antagonist as well as I know my protagonist. I got most of my research done at Fiction University. It's a site for authors run by Janice Hardy, author of the Healing Wars series. I've just started reading this series and am pretty much sucked in. If you're looking for another source of helpful articles about the craft of writing, I highly recommend Fiction University.

After much research, I have finally come to know my antagonist and even understand what drives him. He has a flaw just as potentially fatal as my protagonist. Unfortunately for my antagonist, however, his fatal flaw will be just that - fatal. I'm surprised to find myself actually feeling sorry for him now because I know what he'll ultimately be facing, even though his end has been brought about by his own actions.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Writer's Garden or Good Excuses To Goof Off

Taking a break today from the frenetic existence that has become my life lately. As if I needed more to do during the day, I have now established a small houseplant garden in my writing room. 

You don't often get pictures on this blog - ok, never up to this point, so here's to first times for everything.

And the TV tray is now full. A good mixture of foliage, flowers, and succulents. Some interesting, some traditional. The word eclectic comes to mind. 

The jewel of the collection is that purple African Violet. There are two different colors of flower on this same plant.

That same flower stalk with the bi-colored flowers also has solid colored flowers. As far as I can tell, there is only one plant in that pot. There's offshoot, naturally, but none old enough to flower, I don't believe. I'm going to have to post a picture on an African Violet site to see if anyone's ever seen this before. 

Why do I bring this up now? Well, aside from the conscious decision to be a complete goof off today, I began to consider how manual tasks, like gardening, are a good way to reset the mind and sometimes even come up with a good story idea or two. Or not. 

For instance, this morning I finished potting all of my new friends. While doing so, my foremost thoughts were on the task at hand while echoes and dust bunnies occupied the further recesses. This time, that part of my mind went on vacation for a while, but it could have just as easily been mulling over this third draft I'm about to begin or sparking a new story idea.

For me, gardening (both indoor and outdoor) is one of those manual type tasks that lets my mind take a little vacation to wander wherever it will. Maybe a story idea will develop or maybe it won't. Got a problem with the current work in progress? Might come up with a solution, might not. Even if no breakthrough happens, my mind gets a restful vacation and I get a pleasing display to gaze at whenever I feel the urge. 

I believe that mental vacations are crucial to creativity. I know it's difficult for me to write if I'm mentally exhausted. That's one reason why I've also arranged my writing area so that I can easily see out one of the two windows in the room without having to move. I can watch the traffic go by, watch it rain when it's raining (not going to mention snow because it's Spring!) or just stare into space. 

Another tactic I use to combat a full mind is to play a game on my computer. I have several in which I can get lost and forget everything including the time spent playing. Others are good for a few minutes of distraction before they annoy me and I decide I'd rather get back to work. 

Once my mind has been reset, I can return to whatever it is I'm working at and I'm good for another hour or two. To the world, it may look like I'm goofing off again when really, it's battle strategy I've learned through the years I've spent at this writing thing. 

So give yourself permission to goof off once in a while. Who knows? You might come up with the next blockbuster novel that way.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Early Update

Whew! My writer's life has gotten kind of busy lately. Let's many writing classes am I going to be in during April? 


Well, one I can finish this month if I work at it. Another class will come to an end during the first part April, but there will be a final project for that one that will be due a month later. 

And that's not even counting Camp NANOWRIMO starting April 1st. OY!

Yep. Life is going to get even busier. I do believe I'm busier now than I ever was when I was working out of the home. But I'm enjoying the daylights out of my life right now so that's the important thing.

Then there's the novel to keep working on and I am making some progress on that front. 

Just got back from writer's group. It was a short one today but productive. I now have a finalized outline for each of the three acts in my novel and I'm almost ready to commence the writing part of the third draft. This third draft will include scenes from both the first and second drafts and probably some new scenes. I'll be spending some time stitching scenes together to start with then filling in the gaps with new writing. I find I'm actually looking forward to getting started. 

So far this week I have spent about five hours on the novel doing the preliminary work. Possibly six, I'll have to go back and check. I'm planning to spend the rest of today pulling scenes from the first and second drafts and plugging them into the new folders I made on Scrivener for each of the three acts. I thought that would help me locate some key plot points that I'm learning about in the novel writing class: the trigger - which is the moment when the protagonist's flaw gets the better of him; and the epiphany - the moment when the protagonist overcomes said flaw in order to reach his goal.

Though all of this, I am beginning to see the benefits of doing outlines. I had already done a synopsis of the entire third draft and when I did the outline for each act (from scratch, I might add), I was surprised to find that the outline matched the synopsis, for the most part. Must mean I now have a good grasp of  the entire plot and story arcs. I do want to go back through the outlines again and make notes of anything additional that pops into my head.

I sill need work on a few more backstories as well as complete a setting sketch for one of the places that will be featured. 

So, still lots more preliminary work to be done but I'm closer now to having that third draft completed than I was. 

I'm surprised to realize just how much work actually goes into writing a novel. I can remember the time when I thought all I needed to do was sit down and write until the novel was finished. While that is still the best way to get a first draft completed. in order to end up with a polished novel ready for public consumption, there really is a lot more to it than that. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

About Viewpoint

The learning continues.

In addition to the novel writing course, which I'm more than halfway through, I just started a sci-fi/fantasy writing course. Turned in the first assignment and received some encouraging comments from the instructor. We get into world building next, which is the main reason I took this course. What I'm writing would never be considered hard science fiction. It's more of a romance set in a futuristic world with some science fiction and fantasy elements.

But that's not what I wanted to discuss today. Today's topic is viewpoint. Should there be only one main character from whose viewpoint the reader will experience my story or can there be more than one viewpoint?

For a romance, that's a very hard question. Generally, the heroine is the main character. The theory goes that since it's mostly women who read romances, women can better identify themselves with the heroine instead of the hero. On the other hand, I have read novels that focused mainly on the hero's emotional journey. I've had no trouble myself being in his shoes for most of the book and that's what I've been writing lately. My heroines do have a role to play, but it's mainly the heroes that go through the deepest changes. As is the case with my current project.

After the lesson on viewpoint in the novel writing course, I toyed with the idea of writing this particular story in first person from the hero's point of view and even rewrote a part of a scene in first person. That's when I realized I don't know how to write exclusively in first person. I generally write from third person limited - one viewpoint per scene or if there are multiple viewpoints necessary, I start in one and end in another with an obvious break in the writing to indicate a change of perspective. Or I'll write the entire scene in each viewpoint then decide which serves the story best.

Before I learned about viewpoint, I did a lot of head hopping. After all, that's how it worked in the novels I was reading at the time. In reality, while the pros might get away with it, it's definitely not a good way for a beginner to start. From what I've read, head hopping is a strong indication that the writer is a beginner and can be the reason the manuscript ends up in a slush pile, never to be looked at again.

I have never seriously considered first person viewpoint in the past because I do find it limiting. Since first person means we are in only one head, we only get that particular head's thoughts, opinions, and action. There are times when I want to know what another character thinks about the situation. The only way to accomplish that with first person is for that other character to verbalize those thoughts with the main character present. I don't always want the main character to have all this knowledge. Sometimes, it's better that the main character is kept ignorant until time for this information to be flung at him.

Of course, there are well-known examples of stories written entirely from a single perspective that worked quite well. The Harry Potter series is a prime example. While the movies may have had changes in viewpoint, the books were almost entirely written from Harry's perspective. Something I never noticed as I read them but what I'll definitely be paying attention to when I read them again.

That's not to say that numerous viewpoints in a single story is that much better. In fact, my writer's group has been challenging me to write with fewer viewpoints than I have been. Not an easy thing when I've already written scenes from a secondary character's viewpoint that I feel needs to be there. Still, I have risen to that challenge, and I think I have succeeded in accomplishing the task. I speak of the previous project that I set aside in favor of the one I'm currently working on. This current project only had two viewpoints to begin with, and I see no need to make a change there. I just don't see how I can tell this story in a single viewpoint so I probably won't.

Now, to update you on the progress of my 10 hour a week commitment, I didn't keep very good track of my time last week so I can't say whether or not I met the 10 hours. If I count the time I spent on both writing courses, I probably exceeded the time limit. I'll keep better track this week.

Plans for this week: do back story for both worlds involved as well as the top five or six characters; build at least one of the worlds - I have to have a 500-word description of my world for the second writing assignment; start a preliminary outline of the changes that will be taking place for the third draft. That's a lot, but it's necessary. When you read a book where it's clear the author knows their fictional world inside and out, it's because the author has done all this preliminary work long before they began writing scenes.

To get a taste of what all is involved in getting to know the worlds and peoples you're going to be living with for the duration of writing your novel, I recommend a book written by Orson Scott Card, "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy". It's the textbook for my sci-fi/fantasy writing course. He details all of the preliminary planning that went into two of his novels, "Ender's Game" and "Hart's Hope". He literally worked years on the preliminaries before he began writing the stories.

I have also watched several interviews with J.K. Rowling as well as the movie that was made based on her experience with writing the first Harry Potter book and what she went through to get it published, "Magic Beyond Words: The JK Rowling Story". In one interview, she showed the piles of loose paper, notebooks, folders, boxes and boxes of material written all for that first book. Background stories, histories, even the names and some details of many of the other students at Hogwarts, what houses they were in, the level of magical power they had, that kind of thing. The reason the books read so well is because Ms. Rowling knew every minute detail about the world of which she wrote.

I'm not saying every writer should follow her example but it occurs to me that the times I get stuck in a story might actually be evidence that I don't know my fictional world as well as I should. Something to think about.

There's your update for this week. I'm off to do a little world building.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A New Commitment

So, here's the deal. I have a 50,000 some odd word novel in the revision stage, and I know me, if I don't make a firm commitment to working on it, I'll find some reason to let it slide. I've already made this firm commitment to my writer's group for local accountability, but it's finally dawned on me that I can make that same commitment to you all and have even more accountability. Oy!

Therefore, I officially (and publically) commit to a completed, readable 75,000-word second draft by June 1 - of this year. Really needed to add that otherwise it could be June 1 of any year, right?

I am currently taking an online novel writing course through UDEMY, which I have found to be an excellent learning experience. I've taken writing courses before, read tons of books on the craft, but this course has already taught me more in the first two sections than I ever learned elsewhere.

The course is taught by Steve Alcorn, author of the book How to Fix Your Novel. He uses his book as the basis for the lessons. This course has gotten me to think about things that I've never considered before. I really recommend his course. You can find UDEMY here. It's free to sign up then you can browse all of the courses they have to offer. I also highly recommend Mr. Alcorn's book. It's written in an easily readable way, and he does a good job of explaining the concepts.

I'm using this first draft as the work in progress for this course. I've also signed up for Camp NANOWRIMO for April. I'm planning to have that 75,000-word second draft done by the end of it or if not done, very close to being done. There will be some accountability there, too.

Basically, I'm really putting myself out there to get this thing done by June 1.

Oh, another author I recommend highly for writing advice and instruction is James Scott Bell. I've read two of his books so far:  Write Your Novel From The Middle and How To Make A Living As A Writer. Both good books for learning about the craft, as well as what happens behind the scenes of getting published. In How To Make A Living As A Writer, Mr. Bell goes into detail about the choice every writer must make between traditional publishing and self-publishing, as well as finding an agent.

I'm using his Knockout Novel program on Hiveword as another way of reviewing this first draft for plot holes, scenes that need work, etc. This program has also gotten me thinking in different directions from what I'm used to.

That's it. My commitment to you, my readers, to have that second draft completed by June 1, 2015. I will try to remember to do weekly update posts. I won't be following a daily word count for this one since I'm doing revisions and not much in the way of additional scene writing. Instead, I'm making a weekly time commitment of 10 hours beginning on Monday. I have other courses I'm taking for copywriting and those need equal time, if not more time since copywriting will be my bread and butter until, you know, I make it big.


I'll be copywriting for a while.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sometimes, You Just Gotta Let It Go...For Now

Been having difficulty with the current project. It's the same thing that always happens. When you've lived with characters as long I have with these, they literally begin to throw out ideas all their own. Ideas that really don't fit into the grand scheme of the novel you're writing.

I have so many versions of their story at this point that even I'm getting confused as to what should and should not be included. Then there's the scenes that I would like to get in there but can't find. It's become a lesson in frustration and mental confusion. So, my writing group had a suggestion - let it go, for now, and work on something else that is complete and just needs some editing.

I can do that.

Trouble is, I really do want these characters to see daylight. I do. It's just hard for me to decide which bits of their lives I want to share. These two live such fascinating lives and yes, their story is going to be an entire series because it is so huge and involves so many other characters who have their stories to tell. I think I've overwhelmed even myself with all of it. I really don't know how Ms. Rowling did it and still has hair on her head. Or how she stays away now that Harry's story has come to a conclusion. It has been said that if a story moves the writer, it will move the reader. As a reader, I know I want more. I can only imagine how hard it was for her to move on.

But I can imagine how I'm going to move on.

If I'm honest - and I was when they said it - hearing that I could drop the current project and move on to something else was a tremendous relief. It pains me to say this but if my beloved first characters don't make it into the world, I think I'll be ok with that. And maybe I just answered the question of why this has been so hard.

They say you never forget your first love and that's true but I can also say that you never forget your first characters. He will always be the hero that any other hero I come up with will be measured against. She is the template for any future heroine. Not that the other heroes and heroines I've dreamed up (some of them literally) are duplicates. They are all very different and I find that I do love them all. I guess this is what it's like to have more than one kid.

So, while I'm not abandoning my first loves, I am going to shelve them for the moment. I've already compiled the next project so that I can read it on my Kindle and find the big hole that I remember leaving when NANOWRIMO came around. Speaking of that, I will also need to break out that project and do the revisions on it. Well, I should probably finish writing it first. I did write the majority of the story before doing the rest in synopsis form.

There's a a few other completed but not edited projects that can easily follow. Then, once the smaller projects are done and earning their keep (thinking positively here), I can go back to my first loves and work with them some more.

That's the plan, anyway. I just hope I can stick to it. Sometimes all the voices in my head can lead me into places that are better left alone - or at least, kept on the back burner while something gets done and out to the masses - finally.