Why Writers Should Appreciate Long Shopping Lines

The past few months, my schedule has gotten busy and filled with lots of activities—important things, like school, chores, social interactions, meals—and less important, fun things.  As a result, it’s more difficult to find time to do everything I need or even want to do.  Even my writing has happened less often than I would like.

Sometimes, I get kind of impatient when things take longer than I want, because it’s wasting my time—time I could spend doing other things.  So when the shopping lines are long, for example, the usual thought to cross my mind is, “Ugh, I could be writing/[insert other task here] right now.”

Shopping

You know what, I really could be writing right then.

Think of it like a word war/sprint.

The point of a word war is to try to write as much as you possibly can in a set period of time.  No worries about spelling, grammar—just get as many words down as possible.  Usually, you do word wars with other people, and when the set time is over, you compare word-counts.  My favorite word war lengths are fifteen minutes.  It’s enough time for me to get in the “writing groove”, and really get writing.  In fact, for NaNo 2014, I discovered I could write about ~800 words in that fifteen minutes.

While you’re standing in line, you might not have fifteen minutes.  (I really hope the line isn’t that long.)  Maybe you only have two or three.  Maybe you have five.  And sure, there’s nobody to compete against.

But if I write ~800 words in fifteen minutes, and we pretend that I can keep that speed in five minutes, then I should be able to write 267 words in five minutes.  That’s…a lot of words for five minutes.

Okay, I really can’t write that fast.  Eight hundred words is only for those really good word wars where I’m really trying, and it takes me about five minutes to even get “warmed up”.  So in five minutes by themselves?

I get maybe a paragraph.  Or sometimes just a sentence.

That’s a paragraph or a sentence more than I had before.

Let’s say I can write 50 words in five minutes.  I’m on a long shopping trip with my…say, sister, just because.  Three separate stores.  The first one is pretty quick, no time to really do anything else.  But at the second store, my sister sees an old friend and she starts chatting.  Five minutes.  Fifty words.  The last store, there’s a long line.  Five minutes.  Fifty words.

By the time I get home, I’ve not only done a lot of shopping, but I’ve also written a hundred words!  My personal goal is usually to write about ~500+ words every day, so if I’ve already gotten a hundred, then I’m a fifth of the way to my goal already.

Even in other situations, sometimes just using those five wasted minutes, standing in line, waiting for someone, standing in the elevator.  Who says you can’t make use of it?  Five minutes start to add up after a while—maybe you’ll get your whole quota for the day done in five minute segments.

Of course, I would like to say that setting aside time to write solely is important.  Sometimes, you have to be totally immersed in your world.  If nothing else than just for your sanity.  (Break from reality, anyone?)  There are plenty of times where I can’t actually make use of those few extra minutes, but in order to go any further, I need to be in my world.  And five minutes in my world is…both not enough, and actually kind of frustrating.

So this does not work all the time.  I’d say, it probably doesn’t even work for everyone.

But five minutes.  A single sentence, even.  That’s more than you had before, and all you’re doing is standing in line, anyway.

More Resolutions-y Stuff!

I’m too lazy to write a real blog post, so I’m going to do the latest Beautiful People post, which is about resolutions and stuff! Yay!  I did technically already do a resolutions post, but I like some of the questions in this.

These questions are from Beautiful People.

What were your writing achievements last year?

I made it through draft two of Oracular.  That was about it.  But that was a lot, so hey.

Tell us about your top priority writing project for this year?

Finish Sleeping in Cyberspace.  Make it through draft three of Oracular and hope that the story when I’m done with that pass-through will actually be coherent.  And…write some novellas.  Okay, that’s actually three, so if you want a one-project answer, then I’d say finish draft three of Oracular.

List 5 areas you’d like to work the hardest to improve this year.

  1. Less procrastination.  I think this basically explains itself.  I spend a lot of time doing things like “oooh, Pinterest” and stuff, but there are also countless hours I spend doing basically nothing because I just don’t want to write (or anything else).  If I just cut some of those down, I think it would be so much more.
  2. World-building.  I did already post about this a little, but I really want to work on my world-building and…really figure out how in the world people world-build all the way to the end without getting sick of the world.
  3. I want to write something funny for once in my life.  My writing style tends to be very serious, and while I normally don’t have a problem with it, for once I’d like to write something humorous.
  4. Read more…I don’t feel that I really read enough last year.  Eheh, guilty.  I’d like to change that this year—and keeping track of what I read would be great, too.
  5. Find more confidence in myself (and get better so that confidence is well-founded). Confidence is probably one of the biggest things holding me back, so I would like to change that.  But, of course, I would like to actually be good and be confident in it—not just think I’m good when in reality I’m terrible or something.

Are you participating in any writing challenges?

I don’t know yet?  I may or may not do NaNoWriMo this year.  It’s too early to tell, really.  It’s possible I will try again to write the sequel (all the way through, this time, instead of just pieces) for Oracular for NaNo this year, although maybe I’ll have another project  by that point.  (You can always count on the plot bunnies to find you, that’s for sure.)  Maybe Sleeping in Cyberspace will have a sequel.  (I think it has potential for a sequel because of the way I’m setting up the world.  I just don’t know if my characters will allow me to write a sequel.)

What’s your critique partner/beta reader situation like and do you have plans to expand this year?

As of about a week ago, I found two possible CPs for Oracular and we traded the beginnings of our novels.  We’re still in the “trial run” stage, so I don’t know if it’ll actually turn out, but I’m hoping!

Do you have plans to read any writer-related books this year? Or are there specific books you want to read for research?

Yup.  I got three writing-related books for Christmas, actually.  I can’t remember their titles off the top of my head, but I would like to read them.  (One is basically a “here’s info about guns for writers” (this is for my sci-fi WIP), and the other two are on character traits.)

Pick one character you want to get to know better, and how are you going to achieve this?

One?  Just one?  Um.

Um.  After going back and forth a little, I decided on Iaelie Crestal.  She was one of the first characters I “got to know” while planning Oracular, but while writing the second draft, I started to realize that I didn’t actually know her as well as I thought I did, and I think I might be misrepresenting her somewhat.  (Weird, I know.  I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen with a character.)  So before I start truly editing draft 3, I want to get to really get to know her, and do her character justice.

Do you plan to edit or query, and what’s your plan of attack?

That may or may not be how I’m approaching editing.

Actually, that’s not totally true.  I don’t have a fully-formed plan, but I have some vague ideas, and I’ll be fleshing it out better once I’m closer to editing.  Right now, I shan’t worry about it.  (I’ve always wanted to use the word “shan’t” in a sentence.  I think I just fulfilled something on my bucket list, teehee.)

 

As for querying?  No.  I don’t think I will be at a stage to even think about querying until next year at the earliest (and probably not even quite then, depending on how well draft three fixes up the plot).

Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”  What are the books that you want to see more of, and what “holes” do you think need filling in the literary world?

I’m actually writing about the relationships between teen/young adult siblings at the moment, and I can’t say I see a whole lot of that in fiction.  Or at least YA.  Not that there aren’t siblings, I just don’t see a lot of stories where the relationship between siblings is all that relevant to the story.  Seeing more of that would be nice.  Especially good relationships.  Of all of the sibling-relationships I can think of, most of them seem to be “my brother turned evil and now we’re mortal enemies” or something.

Good, strong, healthy relationships between siblings.  Or just familial relationships as a whole.  (Turns out, it’s hard to have a character have a good relationship with their parents when the parents are dead.  And…a lot of parents end up dead in YA fantasy.)

(I think it would be nice to see more ordinary, platonic friendships, as well, but I like the idea of familial relationships right now.)

What do you hope to have achieved by the end of 2016?

…a lot.  ‘Nuff said.

Mostly, I want Oracular to be readably coherent and have a world to stand on.  I also would like Cyberspace to have a finished first draft, and plans for edits, and I also would like to have some more short stories written (see bar on the right), but the main project is Oracular.

World-building! Yay!

And so we start the world-building again!

This is blackboard tape on my bedroom wall.  It was a Christmas present and I love it so much.  I can’t decide which is better anymore—my whiteboard, my sticky-notes, or my blackboard!

After deciding that I won’t start any major plot changes/revisions until after I’ve had at least one beta-reader go through my novel and give me feedback, I figured starting the world building now would be acceptable.  I tried it last night, actually, and ended up instead extremely frustrated.

Today, though, proved to be much more fruitful!  That blackboard was actually mostly empty this morning, and the strip underneath wasn’t there at all.

I decided that I was going to start my world building with the history.  And the history, I’d start at the beginning.  Yay for figuring out creation!  I actually considered an idea for it, but then it developed into something else, and now I have a really, really awesome idea for my religion, and no clue how the world actually came into existence.  (I’ll probably say “science” and be done with it.  Because, really.)

Tomorrow I’m going to work more on fleshing out my timeline (that’s what that bottom strip is), and then next week, I’ll probably be working on research.  I suck at research and my first and second draft were both written with a “I’ll pretend I know what I’m talking about and hope nobody notices” kind of attitude.

I’m pretty sure that won’t actually slide.  (It actually already hasn’t, considering the culture and whatnot of my world feels very blank.)  And I would like to know what I’m talking about in a few cases.  So now begins the research!  Yay!

That’s basically how it’s going so far.

I also happen to be procrastinating from my WIP, but hopefully that won’t last long, because I would like to finish the first draft of that.

How goes the writing for everyone else?  Where do you usually start when you tackle the huge chaotic mess that is world-building?

Showing versus Telling & Subtlety

Sometimes being subtle is more descriptive, I’ve found.  Saying “they were brothers” is specific, but not really descriptive. What kind of relationship do they have? Are they estranged or close?

Showing

I realized that while writing about the siblings in my story. I did say outright that they were two brothers and a sister—but the important part is actually the way they treat each other.  For example, they argue a lot. Especially the older two. And yet they also have pet nicknames for each other. These two things together show both how close they are and yet also how imperfect their relationship is.

Yet it’s also totally subtle. I never pointed out either of these two things (or any of the other ways they treat each other that help suggest their relationship), but it still helps the reader figure out what the dynamics are between the characters, way better than me saying “they’re siblings” does.  Or even “the siblings were close, but they had some issues”.

Actually, this is exactly what showing instead of telling is. I am showing their relationships.

I think there actually is a place for telling, somewhat. In this particular situation, who’s to say that my “showing” won’t leave the reader just assuming they’re really good friends, rather than siblings?  I think I show their being family well enough, but that’s certainly something to consider, hence why I actually do say they are siblings.

I hesitate to let this turn into another “showing versus telling” post, because there’s already so many of them out there.  But it really clicked with me, this time, exactly what showing is.

In all the examples of showing versus telling I’ve seen in the past, it always seems to be smaller things.  Say, emotion.  Show the emotion, don’t just tell me she’s angry.  Right?  We know that.   (On the subject of showing emotions, the Emotion Thesaurus is awesome for helping with that.)

But showing is so much deeper than that.  In fact, it occurred to me, you can show while telling.  Take, for example, a description of a room.  If you describe the room, you’re probably telling.  But while you’re telling me what the room looks like, you can pick your words so that at the same time, you’re showing what the narrator thinks/feels about the room.

Another thing is character arcs.  Or character personalities.  Do we tell our readers upfront that this character is saucy?  Well, maybe, but then what do we do?  Show their sauciness.  And then as the story progresses, again, we show the character development.  What good would development be if it was all told?

Once upon a time, Selena was a spoiled child who had no idea what privileges she had.  Then her father declared bankruptcy and she lost everything.  She got a taste for what life is like at the poverty level, and she found humility.

THE END.

That really isn’t how we develop characters.  Or introduce characters.  Or introduce events.  Or…really any of that.  I’m pretty sure even the “the end” is telling.  (You know, usually we show readers they reached the end by having a back cover after the last page.)

Or world-building!  Isn’t that all showing, as well?  (Of course, there is the occasional world-building info-dump because I think it’s impossible to avoid info-dumps 100%, but still, that isn’t how all of it’s shown.  Or even most.)

Showing goes way deeper than just a simple “her cheeks turned pink and she looked at the ground” instead of “she was ashamed”.  And I think the best showing is so subtle, you don’t necessarily know you’re being shown.

The Character I Wish Existed in More Fiction

There’s this huge push for diversity lately, especially in characters.  More this, more that!  I like some of the changes that I’m seeing, but there’s one character I don’t see often and I wish I did.

The introvert.

Introvert

The biggest problem with introverted characters is that there are attempts to write them.  I’ve read about plenty of characters who are shy or antisocial/asocial or socially-awkward.  There are definitely wallflowers in fiction.

But being a wallflower isn’t what being an introvert is.

Part of the problem, I think, is that a lot of people don’t actually understand what introverts are.  I’ve heard people describe introverts as being those shy or wallflower people.  Someone else I knew thought that it had to do with how well someone could communicate.  Someone else I know thinks of introvertedness as a character flaw that needs to be overcome.

The thing is, being a wallflower or being shy are sometimes effects of being an introvert.  But it isn’t the root of it.

I’m an introvert, and for me, being an introvert isn’t just how I communicate or how I make friends.  It’s true—I hate crowds.  If I enter a room with a lot of people, I tend to stay near the edge of the room.  Usually by a wall.  I’m shy when I meet new people, and sometimes, I have a hard time initiating a conversation with somebody I’m not real familiar with.

But that isn’t what being an introvert is about.

I like being alone, sometimes.  But I hate being lonely.  I have friends, and I need my friends.  Without them, I’d go crazy.  I might have more fictional characters in my head than real friends, but what friends I do have that are real are really close friends.

Sometimes, being an introvert means I will pick one really close friend over a group of people qualifying as “I…think we might be friends?  Maybe?”.  I prefer deep conversations over light and fluffy useless ones.  (That’s not to say I can’t talk about the weather.  In fact, I like to compare the weather from where I live to the weather where some of my non-local friends live.)

Sometimes, being an introvert means breaks from routine are tiring.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to have something a little different happen.  I can go stir-crazy as easy as anybody else.  But if something goes differently one day, then it needs to be normal the next day so I can recover.  I think this goes for most people, actually, but as an introvert, my “downtime” is really important.  I went to a birthday party this afternoon?  Okay, I’ll probably spend the evening holed up in my room with my headphones.  I went on vacation for two weeks?  Great, it was awesome, and now the next week is probably going to be spent mostly at home.  Without the downtime, I get more easily overwhelmed and my stress level rises.

I gravitate towards the walls in a room, but sometimes it’s just so I can see everything going on.  I’m shy at first, but if I warm up to somebody, I can talk until they’re sick of me.  I don’t have a lot of friends, but the ones I do have are important.  I need my routines, and I love breaks from them, but then I need the routines again.

To bring this back around to characters, I think the thing is, there are introverted characters.  But they only just scratch the surface.  They only have a few of the stereotypical “features” of an introvert.  Or, even worse, they’re viewed as having a character flaw and it has to be overcome.

“Oh, don’t worry, by the end of this story, you’re going to be the biggest social butterfly in existence.

Being an introvert isn’t just being shy.  It isn’t a character flaw.  There’s nothing wrong with me.  It’s the way I think.  It’s the way I interact.  Being an introvert can introduce flaws or be coupled with them—like being too shy to make friends—but it isn’t the flaw itself.

I wish there were more truly introverted characters, instead of just shy or asocial ones.

Resolutions and Stuff

First off, yes, I redid the theme and stuff for the blog.  We’ll call it preparing and freshening up for 2016.  There’re still kinks and stuff I have to sort through, so I apologize for that.

Anyhow!  Today is New Years Eve.

New Years Eve is special for me because today, five years ago, is when I decided to take writing seriously.  Kind of funny it happened on a day I’d easily remember.

So for my 5th writing anniversary and the last day of 2015, it seems kinda fitting to sit and look back over everything I’ve accomplished.

I edited and finished a second draft.  NaNoWriMo 2014 emded with a 100k of broken plot, non-existent world-building, and flat characters and I was so in love with it, I spent the majority of 2015 editing.  I finished draft two on Halloween, and it’s now 110k of semi-cohesive plot, non-existent world-building, and characters I adore (who seem more developed and less flat in the second half of the story).

I learned more about my writing style.  I am not a true discovery writer, as I once though, but a little of both.  I plan the stories and then discovery write the emotions.

I improved a lot.  I don’t know that I can recount all of this.  I improved at describing things.  I have a better grasp of suspense.  And lots of other things.  I am so much better than I was in 2014 (and I have so much more to learn).

I competed in NaNoWriMo 2015, and even though I lost at a total of 26k, I consider this an accomplishment because I also was doing so much else at the time, and I still wrote.

I started a new novel, full of things I’ve never tried.  My WIP, Sleeping in Cyberspace, is sci-fi, which I’ve never really written, it’s a heist, which I’ve never written, it’s faster-paced than any of my previous works, and I am dealing with the theme of sibling drama, which I’ve only dealt with in smaller amounts before.

Overall, I’d consider the year pretty productive.  But next year!  What are the plans for 2016?

I want to finish my WIP, Sleeping in Cyberspace.  At my current pace, I think I will have the first draft done by February or so.  I’ll be blogging about my progress, I think.

I want to start draft three of Oracular.  The first step for draft three is to do more world-building, so I plan to start that in February as well.  After that, I get to sort out my plot, add a little more to my characters, and a bunch of other stuff.  I’ll blog about all of that, as well.

I want to write some novellas.  I’m not the greatest at writing short stories, but I enjoy writing novellas.  I want to write a bunch more, to explore new concepts and ideas, and for practice, and also maybe for use as world-building.

I’m going to keep my “resolutions” to as simple as that because 2016 is promising to be busy and chaotic and I am a little unsure that adding more plans this early in the game is wise.

Anybody else have any resolutions to share? How was your 2015 as a whole?

A Few of My Favorite Things Tag

I got…some kind of blog thingy, I’m not really even sure what it is.  Tag?  I don’t know, but I’m doing it!  Thanks, Katie!

Rules:
Answer prompts with the wintery/Christmassy theme in mind.
Tag at least 5 of your blogger-buddies to take part.
Use the title picture.
Spread the love around!
Favorite “snuggle-weather” books

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure that such things existed.  Um.  I don’t know?

Favorite wintery/Christmassy snacks

Hmm.  Fudge.  Although, it’s so rich, I’d probably only be able to eat like one bite.

Or the “chocolate crinkle” cookies my brother makes.  They taste kind of like brownies, only they’re cookies?  I don’t have the recipe, though, but maybe I’ll get it from him.

Favorite hot drinks

Hot cocoa, hands down.  I don’t care for coffee… and I have little exposure to tea, so if a flavor exists that I like, I haven’t found it yet.

Favorite Christmas movies

I…really have no idea.

Favorite holiday songs

God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman, specifically the Jars of Clay version.

And Christmas: Sarajevo 12/24 by Transiberian Orchestra.  (And most of the other songs on that same album.  Haven’t heard any of the other albums, though.)

Oh, and Winter Song by Sara Bereilles and Ingrid Michaelson.  I don’t know if it’s a holiday song, but…  It’s so pretty.  Especially the voices at the end—oh gosh I love that part so much.

Favorite “snow-day” crafts

PAPER SNOWFLAKES.

I made some pretty cool ones this year.  They killed my hand (figuratively, of course), but it was awesome.

image image image image

image
I like this one best, I think.

I might make some more.

Do you wanna build a snowman?

Snow?  What is this snow you speak of?

Yes.


 

And now, I have to nominate five people!  Um.  Lana who has a shiny new blog that everybody needs to go follow and Ace who has a less shiny and new blog but should also be followed.  As for the other three… um, anybody want a tag that has Christmas questions a few days after Christmas?

A Scribbled Draft: Character Creation

I started a new project, Sleeping in Cyberspace, and this is the only first draft I’ve attempted to really write in about a year.  I’ve learned so much about my writing style since then, this draft is both trying new things and exploring old things.  Since it’s guaranteed to be a whole new learning experience, I’m going to blog through every step of it.


My general rule with characters is that when they start talking back at me and taking things in their own direction, they’re developed pretty well.  Of course, getting them to that point is a different adventure for each individual character.

About a year or so ago, I wrote up what I thought was a pretty spiffy and cool character sheet.  Was it?  Eh.  Not really.  It had some things in there I liked, and some things I didn’t.

Most importantly, though?

I never once filled it out fully for a single character.  Not even once. Sometimes I got kind of close, but only when I was trying to find ways to procrastinate from doing actual productive writing.  What’s the point in having a character sheet specifically for me, if I never actually used it?

Kind of like with my writing, I think I’ve realized I like to know enough to know where I’m going and what I’m dealing with, and then I’ll discover the nitty gritty details as I’m writing it.  So eventually, I came up with this.

NAME:

NICKNAME:

APPEARANCE:

~ basics (gender, age, ethnicity, identifying features, color, approximate height, weight, and build)

~ lifestyle (and how it affects appearance)

~ faults

~ clothes

~ body language

PERSONALITY:

~ fear

~ secret

~ flaw

~ quirk

ARC:

~ trigger

~ false belief

BACKSTORY:

OTHER:

(The personality part references another post that I don’t have the link to at the moment, about how the four foundations of a character are fear(s), secret(s), flaw(s), and quirk(s).  I think it’s kind of self-explanatory.  Everybody’s afraid of something, everybody has a secret (even if it’s a minor one), everybody has a flaw (basic rule in creating cool characters?  Flaws.  Always.), and…quirks.  Well, I think everybody has quirks, too, considering I haven’t met anybody without one.  Quirks are usually just little odd things about a person that make them interesting.  It can be a physical thing, a perspective thing, a personality thing, whatever you want.
The ARC portion of this is in reference to the Character Evolution Files, which I linked to in this post, so I won’t link to it again.)

Name, appearance, basic personality traits.  This is far from in-depth.  It’s pretty simple, I’d think, actually.  But what it does is, it helps you find the “essence” of a character.

For me, the essence is the important part.  Not the details.   I can have all the details I want, but if I don’t have the essence figured out, the character falls so, so flat.  Not only that, but it’s hard to figure out the details without that.

It’s hard to explain what exactly the essence is, because it’s not specific details.  I find the essence of my characters in different ways.  In my current WIP, one of my protagonists, Ceveth, showed me his essence when I realized how his older siblings treated him and how he felt about it.  In another project, I found a character’s essence when she told me, very determinedly, that her name was Sidney and she didn’t care if I liked the name or not because that was very definitely her name.

I think what it is is the general feel of the character.  It’s not specifics, it’s not details, it’s not even necessarily vivid.  It’s vague, and I have to really search for it, and sometimes, I don’t even understand it.  A few times, I don’t even know that I have it.  But once I do, I hold on tightly to it, and then I start to learn the other things about them that I don’t know yet, and I cement it into place, until I have a character who fully comes to life.

Each character reveals his or her essence at different times for me.  So sometimes, it takes a while to find it, so I fill out the parts of the character sheet above, until I strike on something.  Sometimes, they give it to me instantly, and then I use it to fill in the information above.  (It sounds like this weird balance, doesn’t it?  I use the sheet to get to know them, but I know them to fill out the sheet.  And yet it works.)

It sort of becomes this equation.

essence of the character

+

basic details to begin to cement who they are

+

a little exploration of them through actual writing

+

that moment when they start taking the story a slightly different path than I wanted/expected and I realize that they’re in control

= a developed character

Thankfully, I’m not half-bad at math.

How about the rest of you?  How do you develop your characters?  How do you tell when you’ve done enough developing?