Negatively-Charged Backwardsness

Have you ever tried to write things backwards?

.tib ynit a tsuJ  .truh niarb ym sekam fo dnik sdrawkcab gnitirw ,tuo snruT

Right.  If you haven’t already, this is the part where you roll your eyes at me.  Because that isn’t what I meant by writing backwards.

Earlier today, I was trying to figure out a character’s personality.  I wasn’t really sure who she was.  But I more or less knew who I wanted her to be by the end of the story.  So I figured that out exactly, and then I worked backwards, and figured out who she’d have to be first, so that she’d become what I wanted by the end.

Working backwards works with a lot of things, in a lot of different ways.  Retracing your steps to find where you stuffed your keys could be considered working backwards.  Knowing where your ending is, you can figure out where the characters need to be (both physically and emotionally/regarding their character arc), and then you can figure out how they got there, and then you can figure out the beginning.

Working with the ending makes sense, though.  If you know where you need to end up, you can work backwards to where you started, and voilá, we know our route.  Or at least several possibilities.  (And then you’ll know how you ended up at Point β instead of Point B, even though those don’t even belong to the same alphabet.)

But working backwards can also help in other ways, too.  Why?  Because it changes your perspective.

I’ll show you.

In drawing, we have this technique called “drawing negative space”.  When you draw negative space, you will end up with the exact same object as if you…didn’t draw negative space.  So why do it?


This chair.  It’s very simple.  There’s the black part of the chair, the white part of the dead space, and the purple square that I drew on it.  The black part is the positive space.  (Actually, I don’t know if that’s what it’s called, but for simplicity’s sake, that’s what it is.)  The white part is the negative space.  Probably pretty easy to figure that out.

If someone were to try to redraw this chair, they’d start drawing the edge of the black, yes?  Or they’d print it out and trace it because let’s face it, tracing is way easier.  Usually.  Or, you could draw the edge of the white instead.

Basically, look at my purple square.  Instead of drawing the edge of the seat, the two sides of the legs, and the top of the bar, you’d draw the square.  You end up with the same thing.  But it’s a different perspective.  Once done with that square, you could draw the other squares between all the legs. (And…I’m now realizing they’re actually rectangles, and none of them are squares.  I really did pass geometry, I swear.)

The point in drawing all of the white rectangles instead of the chair itself is that you don’t have to worry about depth.  All of the things around us are three-dimensional, and sometimes it’s hard for our brains to look at those objects and turn them into 2D objects so that we can get them onto paper.  Drawing that front leg, and then making sure the back leg is in the right place is sometimes harder because that back leg is, guess what, behind the front one.  But if you draw the space between it…


Once you have these nice simple little squares in, its easy to see how to draw the rest of the chair, yes?  Add it in, and we have a purple chair.  Not only that, but it’ll actually be more proportionally correct (usually) than if you’d gone about drawing it a different way.  (Although, drawing it upside down would work too.)

So in the end, we have a chair.  And we went about it…well, not really backwards, but more like negatively.

To wrap this back around to writing.  Sometimes, when you’re stuck or you need to figure something out, you look at the negative space.  What’s already there?  What is inherently caused by the things already there, and how does that affect everything else?  What isn’t there?

I use this to figure out plot points, develop characters, even for my world-building.  And, of course, for drawing chairs.  It really does help to look at things differently.

Look, I found my keys!


The Right Perspective, Part One: Vanishing Points and PoV

Picking the right character to do something or show something is important, more important than I think we realize.  How do you know who’s the right person to narrate?  Should it be the protagonist?  Should it be written in first person or third person?  Should it be limited or omniscient?  How many narrators should there be?

Is there a right way to narrate?

I don’t think there’s “one” right way.  But there are wrong ways—and what those are depend on the story.

In the art world, there’s this fancy-sounding term that called “the vanishing point”. The vanishing point is where the lines of perspective meet up.  It looks like, as things get further away, they grow smaller and smaller until they become a single point.  I’m not sure how often vanishing points are actually visible, but in theory, they’re all over the place.   For example, if you stand in the middle of the street and look down at one end or another, the houses and the street seem to get smaller and smaller.  Now, unless that street is really long, and there are absolutely no bumps/hills, the vanishing point isn’t actually visible—but in theory, it should be there.

The purple lines follow the lines of perspective, and all meet down at the vanishing point. Not the neatest image, but it gets the point across. (Haha, get it? Point?)

Are the houses and stuff actually getting smaller?  Of course not.  If you walked down the street, those other houses on the end would actually be house-sized once you stood in front of them.  They only seem to be smaller.  That’s perspective.

This is the exact same image as before, but with no vanishing point and no perspective. See how different the two are?

Vanishing points aren’t strictly necessary, technically, but they add depth and a different perspective to the same image.  In fact, in the image that has no vanishing point, you can see a lot less things, and it all seems way more flat.  Of course, there can be more than just one vanishing point, and that changes it up even more.

This is a little bit sloppy, but if you follow the purple lines, they eventually lead to not one, but three vanishing points—one to the left, to the right, and up above.

Now, all of this was mostly to illustrate how perspective can drastically change the same thing.  (Let’s excuse the fact that the third image was of different buildings than the first two, because I think the idea is clear enough anyway.)  How does this apply to writing?

In writing, perspective usually refers to point of view—the PoV character, or the narrator.  And PoV is very important to perspective.  First person narration, someone described to me once, is being inside the character’s head.  We see what they see, hear what they hear and what they think, feel what they feel.  In a way, we almost become them, at least so long as we’re in their story.  Third person, meanwhile, is more like becoming friends with the character (unless, of course, the author wanted us to dislike them, but that’s irrelevant).  The difference between first person and third person is like the difference between being the character and being friends with the character.

You see how that affects perspective?

Now let’s talk about first-impressions for a moment.  First impressions are important with people.  How likely is it that that person will talk to you again, when the first-impression you made is that you’re a total dork?  Well, unless they like dorks, your chances are probably pretty slim of making friends with them.  In writing, first impressions are not much different.  It’ll shape the reader’s view of a character.   Of course, there’s a lot more to it than just that, and first impressions can be completely and utterly wrong.

But they still affect it, do they not?

So let’s say, you have a first person narrator.  She’s had a rough life, and as a result, she tends to not trust people.  When she meets this random new character, what is she probably going to think of him?  She probably will automatically not trust him.  He may do something to further that mistrust, or maybe it’s all in the narrator’s head.

What’s the first impression?  Assuming the first-person is written well enough that the reader is actually invested in the story, and that the reader thinks the narrator is reliable (I’ll get to that topic in another post), the reader’s first impression of this character is that he’s going to be untrustworthy.  Why?  Because that’s what the narrator thinks.

What does this mean?  Well, let’s take a look at who this new character is.  Let’s say… let’s say he isn’t trustworthy, and later on in the story, he’s going to betray the main character.  But let’s also say you want this betrayal to be a plot twist—and therefore to not be totally predictable.

If, from the very start, the reader suspects him, how predictable do you think this plot twist will be?

Now, what if we had a different narrator?  It’s the other character’s friend, who’s much more trusting.  When she meets this new character, she’s not immediately put off by him.  She doesn’t have to like him, necessarily, but she doesn’t distrust him.  So that means, when the reader sees the new character from her eyes, their first impression isn’t going to be as bad.

Are we going to distrust this new character as much?  Probably not, unless he does something really suspicious.

So if we want his betrayal to be more of a surprise, which narrator is probably going to help us out more?  The trusting one.  Because, to a point, the reader is going to feel what the protagonist feels, especially in first person.  Remember, first person is becoming the protagonist.  Third person is befriending the protagonist.

So if we’re being narrated by the distrustful character, her first impression, and therefore the reader’s, will be that the new character isn’t trustworthy.  The narrator’s friend might tell her that she’s being silly and he doesn’t seem untrustworthy, but that isn’t going to be enough to overpower that first impression.

If the trusting one is narrating, then that’s our first impression.  Her friend might tell her that she’s too trusting and that the new character is suspicious, but that might also not be enough to overpower the first impression.

It’s all the same information.  But how it’s portrayed—what perspective it’s shown in—will determine how the reader processes that information.  So who is picked as the narrator can be pretty important.

(Disclaimer: This is completely theoretical.  There are other factors to this whole thing, and it only really works if the reader is wholly invested in the protagonist.  If the reader just isn’t quite clicking with the character, for whatever reason, they might end up with a totally different view.  But even that you can manipulate.)

Editing and All of the Things Stopping Me from Doing It

First off.  Notice the red bar on the right side of the page.  It’s full.  It’s also not even at 30k.

That’s basically how my writing is going.  I had expected that project to be a novel, but it just wasn’t going to do that.  Not enough story or something, I’m not even sure, but it decided to be novella instead.  When I edit it later on this year, perhaps I’ll figure out how to make it novel-sized…but then again, maybe this story needs to be a smaller size.  I’m not sure yet, but it really doesn’t matter so much, actually.  I’m not disappointed.

Maybe that’s just because I’m excited that I finished another project.  After almost two years of not finishing a single thing, I’ve now finished two decent-sized projects in a little over three months.

Speaking of other finished projects.  I’ve gotten a little bit overwhelmed with all of my world building in my other novel, and I decided…that should probably be enough.  There is one thing I still need to figure out, since it’s somewhat relevant to the story, but I can work it out later.  So for now, I’m going to actually start editing.

Gosh.  At first, staring my 100k novel, I wasn’t even sure how to begin the editing process.  I mean, what should you do first?  I know from reading other writers’ experiences in editing—and from a little common sense—that I need to edit the big stuff before I worry about the little stuff.  How much sense would it make to start correcting my grammar in a scene that might not even stay in the novel?

Yeah.  So.  I figured, I’ll start with my characters.  I have five viewpoints in this novel, and I noticed they were very much out of balance.  One character was the narrator for…twenty-something chapters, while another character had only six chapters in her PoV.  That didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, especially since six chapters, in this case anyway, really isn’t much room to work with for her character arc.

So, I decided to start with character arcs.  I started writing outlines for each character, but started struggling with how they weaved together.  The five characters don’t always spend the whole novel all group together, but group up and split apart several times throughout the book.  So each character’s individual story depends a lot on how the other four go, so trying to write an outline for each is…not exactly easy.

Here’s the best part, though.  I realized that I actually can’t really figure out what their character arcs are because not all of them even have goals in the first place.  Hmm.  That’s problematic.

So I guess, I get to work on character development a little bit.  Some day, I’ll actually start editing this thing.  Some day soon, I hope.

Preparation for Camp NaNo—July!

After my attempt at writing a novel for Camp NaNo in April failed miserably, I decided to try again for July—through a different route. I pantsed my way through April, so I decided to outline for July. I started mostly from scratch for April, so I decided to work on a WIP where I already had an idea where the story was going.


Then I realized I wasn’t excited. I mean, I’m excited for Camp, but I wasn’t excited for my novel. I like the characters and the plot and everything, but more in an off-hand way. I realized I don’t want to write that book right now. Later, yes. Now, no.

A bit later, I found the coolest idea ever*, from a fellow NaNoer, on how to come up with an amusing plot, almost on the spot. I followed his/her steps out of boredom and came up with a fairly interesting idea.

Even as I tried to force myself to prepare for Camp, this new idea started to develop itself in my mind. Already it had a fun main character and an interesting plot. Very underdeveloped still, but full of potential.

Long story short, I gave in. I’ve switched NaNo projects less than a week before July. But I am sooo glad I did. I’m using a different style of outlining, which isn’t as tedious as my original method, and the characters are already coming alive in my head. THe plot will still take a lot of work, but hey! I have a week before July starts, and who says the outline has to be entirely finished before Camp starts?

I am really excited and happy about it now. I can’t wait for camp to start! Really, I almost want to start writing right now. In fact, the biggest thing that’s keeping me back from starting now is that I’m not yet sure if I’ll write the story in first person or third person. I’ve done both and both are equally fun to write. I think it depends on what kind of emotion I want the story as a whole to convey, which I haven’t entirely figured out yet.

Anyway, I already have a title and a rough-draft pitch, which is…. Magic’s Artist: Cy, a ten year old art prodigy, has a secret—his art is not his own. Really, he can’t even draw a stick figure, let alone an award-winning painting of a girl, without the help of his magic.

How’s that sound?

Awesome, right? Actually, I have no clue if it sounds awesome or not. It does to me, and that’s all that really matters right now, yes?

I know I’m not the greatest at writing pitches, and that doesn’t even really get into the conflict of the story, but for now, it serves my purposes. After I’ve really discovered the conflict myself, I’ll probably write a new one.

Now. Back to writing that outline.

* original link here