Category Archives: RPG and Writing Tips

Writing: Comfort Food (okay, and some real food)

Most writers have things they are super comfortable writing. Whether its because that’s what they preferred reading before the writing bug hit, or it’s just where their interests lie, it’s a comfort food for the brain that makes you feel better, or can help you get unstuck. Especially if you’ve otherwise been stepping out of your comfort zone with your current works.

Now, what exactly this means for different writers…varies considerably. For example, high fantasy is always going to be my comfort food. If I’m feeling exhausted, I always reach for the Valdemar series to reread in hopes that reading other people’s work will tire me out enough to sleep (or keep me awake!). If my brain is too tired to work on my current original works, I turn to random fanfic ideas that will never see the light of day, but let me dive back into medieval/high fantasy ideas for just a little while. (My current projects are all urban fantasy, or not fantasy at all, which you can guess is a real challenge for me.)

For some writers, comfort isn’t even necessarily found in fiction at all. For example, Ginny has been fashion designing to give herself breaks from the monotony of typing. I have another friend who finds comfort food in the form of doing cellphone games whenever she gets stuck. Maybe you marathon Barbie movies, or play some Pokemon. Either way, comfort food-type writing, reading, and tasking gives your brain a little bit of relaxation, especially from the hard work of learning new tasks or trying new things. I always encourage writers to improve and to try new things and genres, but you can bring those things back to your old favorites too, and it’s important to take breaks or you’ll burn yourself out.

And sometimes, it even unsticks you! We all have moments where we need to walk away from a project for a while. Having several projects going at the same time can be an utter headache, speaking from experience here. But as long as you stay very casual about it, working on something that qualifies as “comfort food for the brain,” can give you a chance to stew about what is blocking you. (Sometimes you won’t like the answer to your stewing, but it’s there.) Of course, if you’re comfort zone is starting new things, then you might end up in a different sort of problem.

Okay, I promised food in here too. So here’s something that is apparently either a Horner family thing, or a very eccentric Southwest thing. I’ve made it to where it’s a little better quality than what I grew up with, and proportions are a bit to taste.

Ingredients:
Rotisserie Chicken, bite sized pieces (I buy one at the store and debone it, I’m lazy)
Spaghetti Noodles (1 box)
Mushrooms, rough chop (I just buy a carton of pre-sliced ones and break the pieces down with my fingers)
Bell peppers, diced (1 or 2 peppers is enough)
Garlic, 2 cloves diced
Butter, 1/2 tablespoon
Can of Cream of Chicken
Can of Cream of Mushrooms x2
Shredded Mild Cheddar (this is an eyeball it till it looks right situation)
Salt and Cracked Black Pepper (to taste)

Get your noodles going in salted boiling water. You want them just under al dente, meaning undercooked (it will finish cooking later, you just want to avoid the pasta turning to mush). While the pasta is going, get a hot pan and melt the butter, then add the garlic, mushrooms, and bell peppers, with a pinch of salt and pepper. Give the ‘shrooms a chance to get toasty on the outside, but don’t get too concerned if they don’t finish completely, they will also get a chance to finish cooking later.

In a REALLY BIG pot (I use the biggest stew pot I got), mix all three cans of soup to heat it up. Once it’s bubbling, start whisking in handfuls of cheese until it’s a pale yellow in color and tastes alright to you. Add the chicken meat first to warm it back up, then the mushrooms/pepper mixture. Taste your seasoning now, it may need a little more pepper (I doubt it will need more salt, but you never know). Then turn off the heat and add your pasta. It should be a little too heavy on the sauce, a lot of that is going to dry up. If you want, you can stop here, just add more pasta and chicken to soak up the extra sauce.

Alternatively, you can pour everything into casserole pans, top with a layer of leftover cheddar cheese, and pop it into the oven at 350 to melt the cheese and finish everything off.

Advertisements

Character Study: Selenay

Selenay is what happens when I get bored and go looking for a different group of RP partners. The original idea was a retelling of Night Circus, supposedly not following the books…and yet I felt like the two people who started it had a clear railroad they wanted to go on and the rest of us were sort of…sunk. That or Night Circus has severe world building problems. (I hadn’t read it, perhaps that was my mistake.)

Selenay, however, is a wonderful little souvenir to have from it. I was given a very broad template to work off of. The Fortuneteller was manipulative, with the passive power of being able to see the future and react accordingly to shape it, and in league with the Ringmaster. Well, I loved the idea of the two of them having previous history, and that being a relationship that she ran away from. Why? Because she didn’t like what she saw in their future. I made her petite and with a friendly, out-going personality that hid her self-centered and manipulative personality, and bam, Selenay was born.

Before the RP fell apart, the Ringmaster’s player and I started working on backstory, and eventually went down an original idea. It didn’t end up working out due to different ways of RPing and the site we used dying, but it did end up fleshing this character out a lot to the point that I love her so much in all her flawed glory, I’d love to do something else with her, whether that’s taking another try at an RP or trying original or what.

So, yes. This character is selfish, self-centered, and manipulative. It’s part of who she probably would have been anyway, and then it got ramped up to eleven because her father abandoned her at a rather awful orphanage after her mother died with cancer. That leaves scars, and it shows. But what was fun was when something wiggled in enough to actually make her feel guilt about her actions. Enter her relationship with the Ringmaster. We ended up making it start as friendship, and an uneasy one at that, which eventually turned romantic until Selenay ran away out of fear of being left first (she has issues trusting men).

I did find something that this character valued more than herself, enough to give up her own comforts and secrecy–her daughter. Yep, she ran away and found out she was pregnant later. Leorna was Selenay’s biggest weakness, because she’d do anything to keep her safe. It was interesting to transition from the selfish brat into the mother that Selenay was. She was very doting, very affectionate, and yet kept secrets from Leorna in the name of protecting her, to the point of contracting a type of magical contamination that was killing her as surely as cancer. Even worked with another magician to try and protect them, which is saying something.

The only thing that I really couldn’t get consistent was her powers. Part of that was because of the way I was trying to give her some level of agency in the RP, which made things a royal tangle. I tried to fix it belatedly, but, well, issues. If I ever do anything again with her, I am definitely going to work out a consistent magic system. Her magic was always passive, though, as she wasn’t able to directly change anything. She saw it, she was compelled to tell it, but she couldn’t change it with magic. She could only change it by forcing different actions a la the diverging time lines effect. It was how the powers affected her physically, and how she used them, that I was horribly inconsistent. The Tarot cards were roughly what I used, but since I don’t know much about fortune telling, there was a lot of fudging going on.

Selenay is possibly the second-most flawed character I ever wrote. (I wrote a sociopathic serial killer once, it was short lived and that makes me sad, I was having fun.) It was part of what made her fun. I didn’t have to make the right decision or the hero’s decision. I go to make the selfish, what benefits this character, decision. It was almost like playing the villain, only without some grand master plan in mind. Normally I play on the sides of the angels, but this time… Well, the best comparison I have is the Lady of the Lake. Neutral, focused on her own goals, and screw anyone who got in the way.


Writing: Music as Inspiration

Okay, so when it comes to music and writing, there are a lot of different “camps” as it were. Some people listen to music as they write because it helps them focus, while others find it to be a distraction. Some writers make playlists for their stories, either before they start writing or after. Some only touch music if they have a dancer or singer or whatever as part of the story and need music for that reason.

I’m sort of in an odd camp. I can’t listen to music as I write most of the time, because it inevitably distracts me. I do have to have some sort of noise, which is why I have YouTube or the TV on with some sort of background nonsense, be it a series that I have seen almost all of the episodes of multiple times (Criminal Minds or Law and Order: SVU), or a movie I’ve also watched several times (with exceptions, Marvel movies don’t work), or video game let’s plays. But I do use music for writing.

See, sometimes when I listen to a song, I will peg it as a background song or an inspiration song for a scene, and listening to it always reminds me of how the song will go. This was particularly prominent in writing Ten, because several of the scenes (some of which got cut) came to exist because of listening to particular songs. I even ended up using songs as chapter titles as a result. When I got stuck writing something because it was giving me issues for whatever reason, I’d go listen to the song I’d assigned to that chapter to help my brain get in the mood and emotions of that particular scene. In my case, I built my play list both before and as I was writing, because I plotted an arc, wrote it, and then plotted the next arc. It helped the story shape itself organically, and the music helped me set the tone for each chapter and the book as a whole.

The trick with using music as inspiration is to not to be extremely literal with it. Problem one with that is because if you are literally including lyrics as dialogue in the text, you are going to run into copyright issues. Problem two, most music has the same topic, they just have different phrases and tones. For me, I listen to what the rhythm and words are telling me. Songs of defiance or even upset at an ex turn into fight music for me, because of the speed and the anger that they emote. Break up songs can sometimes be about families or friends rather than loved ones. Love songs can apply to someone that the main character is interacting with that doesn’t necessarily mean romance between them, just wanting a relationship, platonic or otherwise.

Music appeals to people on different levels, and you really have to figure out which camp you belong to on your own. I can’t tell you to turn off the music if it helps you put words to a page, and really if someone tries to tell you how to handle music with your writing and acts like they know it all, well, they are lying. To paraphrase Mercedes Lackey books, there is no one true way. I will say, don’t get stuck in a rut with it. If you are struggling, the first thing I would suggest changing up is your sound environment. If you listen to music, stop for a while and see if it helps, or do what I do and change to a non-music sort of background noise. As you age, your preference will probably change, so just keep an open mind to trying different things to see if they help you when you get stuck.


Character Study: Bevan

Ahhh, the first Dungeons and Dragons character. Always fills you with nostalgia. Especially with how broken she ended up being, it was really funny, since I didn’t build her that way, it sorted of just happened.

Like most beginning players, I was an idiot and gave the DM too much to play with. I have a stated preferences of elven characters, and Bevan was no different as a half-elf…whose human side ended up being nobility as we found out later. Further, we crack shipped her with the Lawful Good character in the party, who had issues with non-human races, and she was Chaotic Good, so you can imagine how they got along. In addition, he thought she was a he, because Bevan started as very androgynous in appearance (we eventually time skipped and she grew up a little more so that ended). So I got bored and made a giant genetics chart like you learn in biology class, and yeah… See, I’ve learned!

Bevan was a lot of fun though partly because of how much info I gave my DM to hang me with. She had lots of family problems, serving as an indirect bridge between a hidden village of elves and the nearest human local. While some of her village didn’t view her any differently, some saw her as nothing but a half-human. Similarly, her human family just saw her as an elf getting in their way. Add in the fact her mother was killed on purpose when she was a child, rather than it being an accident, and you’ve got a whole mess of a character arc to deal with. And as awkward as it was to RP a relationship later on with her and my friend’s character, we had some fun too. (Okay, I remain firm that it was hysterical that when he had to “kill” her, he took forever, and in a similar situation, she was like, “NOPE, not my real husband, BYE!”)

A lot of the fun with this character was how broken she ended up being. Some of that came from us modifying a prestige class from version 2.0 into 3.5, because deep wood sniper was the class that made the most sense for how Bevan was set up, but oh lord did it do broken things to this character. Add to that a couple of items we found–a sentient ring designed to protect those of elven descent and turned her invisible at will and a quiver of everful so she never ran out of ammo–and the stockpile of poisons we ended up with and she was the sniper from Hell that no one wanted to be up against. Due to feats and class skills, she had insane range, could fire a lot of arrows per round, and you wouldn’t even see her while she was doing it. I had all the giggles.

If all of that wasn’t enough, we had a wild mage in the party. Wild mages do…interesting things…to the characters who are around them. I’ve had to come to terms with it, despite my hatred of people screwing with my characters. (My control issues are legendary.) Bevan had one of these funny examples. At one point, she got hit with a surge (pre timeskip, I remember that much). And she got a random racial template assigned to her. The problem is, the half-elf race is set up assuming that you are half-human. That part didn’t change. When the dice landed on half-Raptorian on the table, DM ruling was that I got the wings and would be able to be targeted by Raptorian-centric stuff. I wouldn’t lose my human or elf statistics either. The only way that’s possible in DnD is if you are half of each race. So Bevan became, effectively, half human, half elf, half Raptorian.

…All I can say is, “A wizard did it.”

So now the sniper can fly, doesn’t that just fill your hearts with glee? Not really, I know, but it was a lot of fun to play her. And you know, Bevan’s story was so complete, I actually don’t have any drive to write it as something else. We really covered a lot of ground with her, and she had an ending she deserved. Okay, plus I’m not sure if I’m capable of writing her story as a book. So many of the wild craziness was dependent on other people for humor and was so off the cuff, I couldn’t remember it all if I tried. Add in the fact that she was, for the first few sessions, a quiet member of the party, and she isn’t set up to be a major protagonists.

Bevan was my first character, and honestly if she hadn’t been as much fun as she was, I probably wouldn’t have kept playing. But she was, and she will always be special to me as a result. Probably why I’m so fond of the name still!


Writing: Stimulus/Response

Okay, I am going to be frank here. I suck at this aspect of writing. Fanfiction ruined me. So poor Chester had to try and fix the mess I’d made of my own writing style. I’ve gotten to where I catch it as I’m writing half the time, and the other time I catch it during edits. I figure I had better explain a bit about what it is so it helps other people who might have the same problem.

Stimulus response is making sure that for every action, there is a reaction from the characters impacted by it. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, just a sign to show that the other character heard. Eye rolls, nods, shakes of the head, all count as a reaction, as does a character saying something in response (which in turn requires another response). It’s a giant game of tag, in a way.

There are a few cues that can tell you if you have a stimulus and response problem. For example, if you’ve got two characters present and you haven’t written any sort of action or dialogue from the second in two or three paragraphs, you’ve got an issue. Too much time has passed, they had to have had some sort of reaction to whatever the main character just did or said. Huge swatches of dialogue can also show you an issue. Think about how long you can stand to listen to one person yammer at you before you interrupt, and then time how long it takes you to say whatever the huge bit of dialogue is. If it goes beyond that time limit, guess what? You’ve missed a reaction.

There are also a set of keywords to keep in mind. If you use once, before, after, and some uses of as, then you’ve got an issue with your order. A reader wants to read things in the order that they happened. (Or so I’m told.) Sometimes those words are fine. But I recommend running a search for those words, so you can look at those paragraphs and making sure that things are going in the right order. Even though I think that I’ve caught myself using them, I know I’ve had times when either I’m tired, just trying to force the scene out, or putting words to the page to get unstuck where I slip back into the habit of mixing things around in an attempt to keep from sounding repetitive. There are better ways of doing it than just restructuring the sentence so you’re going backwards.

Another part of stimulus/response is the order of the reaction. The way I was taught was it goes emotion, thought, action, dialogue. You’re going to feel something from a stimulus, first and foremost. Sometimes a character will completely skip the thought step because the emotional response is so strong, and that’s fine. There are exceptions to this order, but if you think of it all in terms of a response, it helps make more sense. When a characters cuts their own dialogue off with an action such as throwing their  hands up in the air or huffing their breath, it’s their response to their own words which is frustrating them. (I know this seems like nonsense, but it does help your scenes flow better.)

Most writers don’t pay attention to their structure, and there’s two reasons behind it. One is writers are under the assumption that their agent and their editor at the publishing house is going to fix everything for them. This is a lie. It used to be yes, they were there to help you out. But at this point in the business, most agents are retired editors who left the publishing houses to make better money, and while they’ll put in some work for you, they aren’t going to help you out that much. And when they lost those editors, the publishing houses didn’t replace them. So what editors they do have are overworked and overwhelmed. They are going to do a pure spelling and grammar check on your work, and that’s it. The second reason why people don’t worry about their structure is they don’t believe it’s important anymore. Stories and how to tell them are always evolving, and for many writers, stimulus/response and reaction order are old-school tools that aren’t needed anymore.

I’m sort of an inbetween on the second one. On one hand, I am not going to kill myself to structure a story in a particular way, and I am certainly not going to follow old pulp-fiction tropes about how my stories are supposed to go. On the other hand, I respect that keeping these old-fashioned structure rules in mind does two things for your story. The first, it helps cut down on your word count. You would not believe the number of words it takes you to mess the order up. While you do add words with missed responses, if you need to keep that scene below a certain order, you can eliminate some fluff wording elsewhere to make room for five words. The second, it helps the flow of the story and the scene. While you know what order actions take, your reader only has the words on the page to go off of. It can be a nightmare to keep track of what happened when with the stimulus response order all out of whack.

It’s helpful sometimes to think of things like a movie, in my experience. Trying to play a scene out like a film in your head can help keep the order straight, and keep track of the various responses. Focus on one-on-one situations first, since group settings can be a b-word in my experience, and build on them with more characters to practice. And if you flub it up, don’t sweat it too much. It takes work and practice to write, and we’re all works-in-progress.


Character Study: Birdie

God, I love this character. I built her as a Fast Hero, which for those who aren’t aware of d20 Future’s interesting class choices, means that she was primarily Dex(terity) based in terms of skills, saves, etc. She was supposed to be fast and speedy. Except I decided to have fun with it, and made her best skill Int(elligence) instead (Dex was a very close second so I didn’t exactly suffer for this decision). Picking my allegiances, aaaand…

What I ended up with was a child prodigy in mech design and computer programming who had good reflexes and an instinct for piloting…who was also a pacifist. Due to circumstances, she had to hide who she was for quite some time, that being the child of two other highly intelligent people who are now both deceased. Except I left some deliberate holes with her family, and the DM had a whole lot of fun with them. I got to be the hero in a Gundam story, and it was a blast.

I think what was fun was how she was this snarky pacifist in a war situation, and how the upper ranks just tolerated it? I mean, she ends up being this ridiculously powerful psychic who could do all sorts of stupid things, and after two or three times of being right…they pretty much believed her no matter what she said. And despite the fact that she was no hero in her own mind, everyone was looking to her, relying on her. The pressure was so heavy on her. And then it was fun to have her rely on other characters…and then the DM kills them because war is like that and it’s heartbreaking.

Birdie’s biggest characteristic, aside from being the strongest psychic of her generation, was her do-no-harm mindset. If she could avoid conflict, she’d do it. If she could resolve an issue with words, she’d do it. And if things had to go to the physical, she would do everything she could to make sure all parties made it out alive. Every death was personal to her, not only because she felt them die if she was close enough for her psychic ness to pick it up, but because she hates violence and war that much. This is  what really drew others to her, making her a bit of a rallying figure for the resistance she got dragged to. Of course, this is also what made her enemies really hate her, whether its the ones who enjoy the fighting or the ones who suffered when she had no choice but to kill someone for her own survival.

Okay, her other big character trait ended up being her hair, because the doll I made for her gave her knee-length pink hair… And I basically got to play with it. She started as my pink psychic princess, and she ended as my pink psychic princess. But in between it turned navy blue and super short, except the crew is struggling to remember this as I play the second half of the campaign as a different character. I’m just endlessly amused by this.

But shortly after we started, I had a thought and realized it would have been sooo awesome if I had thought to make her a clone of her “mother.” Imagining her reaction to finding out her father is actually her uncle, and the confusion that results from it. Questioning how she’d be treated, if she would even be acknowledged as a person or if as a clone she wouldn’t. And then we meet this space royal family, and the fact my character has NO idea who her grandparents are also started twigging in my brain. So through a large portion of the campaign, I’ve been musing about a storyline where those two lines are true. It’d be radically different than the RP, but at the same time, it promises so much amusement.

You all know me. Scifi is not my jam. But I love Gundam Seed (not so much the sequels, but I like the original), and really Birdie was my attempt to honor it. I’d love to keep playing with her character concept, and making it work for a book. I have a loose idea for it, but I’m not sure how much of the war I’d want to take from the RP and how much I’d want to change for the sake of making it original and my own versus my DM’s. There’s the added issue that I am ignorant as heck about space since it has been years since my one college course in the subject, and I am the first to admit I know nothing about machinery.

I might write this in snipets and just kinda see what comes out of it. We’ll see.


Writing: Genres Part 3

Coming back from being lost in illnesses/fair induced stress and then injuries/wrapping up the print version of Ten with an update to my genre writing series. Now, this one is considered the easiest genre to write and break into as a new writer…I could argue about it being easy to write, but it is easier to get into but for different reasons than people think: Romance.

Romance books have their cliche images: the bodice ripper, sex scene heavy books with half-naked characters on the cover that is sold for about six bucks at the grocery store. However, if you go into the actual romance section at a book store, you’ll find a little more variance on the price, but the bodice rippers will be accompanied by some less provocative look books that still center around a romance, just with another genre as a side dish. Usually fantasy or action/thriller, some are also mysteries or something in that vein.

Here’s the reason why these books are the easiest to get published…if you do your homework. These publishing houses have contracts and lists where they send out so many new titles a month–more than any other genre. They make their money through quantity, not quality, and by appealing to a very specific formula. By keeping things within a certain parameter, they are able to produce the books cheaply, keeping actual costs down so they can sneak into as many sellers as possible. They don’t pay as well as other genres, but you also have a higher chance of paying back your advance and getting royalties. And if you can pick up the rhythm, there are writers who make their living just by turning out a new book every month or so.

These books have to be within a certain range of word count/print pages (varying a bit by publisher, so be prepared to add fluff or cut it away if you have to bounce between them), they have to have a certain number of beats to them, and obviously need to focus on the romance and have a happy ending for the couple involved. Most create a common enemy to bring these two people together, others just put two people into a situation where they have to work together to achieve a goal–whether or not its a common goal is up to the writer, but either way they have to work together to achieve it. There is a heavy focus on the characters being in their twenties to thirties–rarely do they cross over any older than that, despite the main readership for these books being in their forties and fifties, but I digress.

The really tricky part when it comes to writing romances is what you have to keep in mind–no matter what, your primary antagonists…are your protagonists. I know this is weird, so hear me out. The formulas mean that publishers are looking for the main conflict to be between the hero and the heroine. Whether its because they are constantly fighting with each other, one side of the equation is trying to fight the urge to be together, or there are circumstances keeping them apart a la Romeo and Juliet, the central conflict needs to be what is keeping your couple apart.

That said, your characters still have to be likeable. Ever wonder why the characters are so simple, cardboard cut out like? It’s because this way, the writer can easily flip them from being a jerk to being the nicest guy ever without seeming to contradict themselves. The girl can go from a whiny crybaby to the bravest woman in the world, and its waved away as character growth. There are some writers who are good at making this work for them, for creating a strong character and showing real growth. But those who are milking the system for money only, well, they use the formula and go with it.

There are a few beats that are particularly important for a story. You’re going to have to write a sex scene, unless you are in a subset aimed for younger readers or ultra-conservatives. Sometimes you’ll end up writing more than one, if your plot goes that way. There’s going to be a big-bad-break-up fight at least once. Sometimes there are multiples, but if so each one is bigger and worse than the one before it. (I never said this genre showed healthy relationships, did I? Cause it really doesn’t.) And then the last one is going to depend on what sort of story you are dealing with. If you are writing something with outside forces, this is where they seem to get the upper hand and the two have to come together to finally overcome it/solve the problem/whatever. If you are focused purely on internal conflicts between the couple, whoever was the biggest butt is going to “see the light” and save the other character from their misery without their other half.

If you want to write just for making money, don’t turn your nose up at romance novels. They are the easiest to make money and live off of, and they do pay well in the long run if that’s what you are after. However, if this happens to be the genre that you just want to write it, stay away from the ones who are famous for publishing in romance because you aren’t likely to fit their patterns. Really work on fleshing out your characters, and if you play with what the audience wants from the tropes and give them a good story besides, you’ll appeal to both the long-standing members and those like me who just browse the section of the book store occasionally.

Recommended romance novels (because I actually read these things): The Goddess Rising series by PC Cast, The Accidental Werewolf by Dakota Cassidy


Writing: My Process

(Also, some vacation pics next week!)

So, as my news announcement a while back said, I finished the first draft of my book, Sun’s Guard: Ten. Now, every writer has a different process for their editing, for how they get the book read to go out to query, and even how they go about getting a query list started. Here is a look into mine as an example. Do you have to follow it? Hell no. But it can be a beginning guide if you are looking at your finished draft going, “Now what do I do?”

Step 1: Walk Away

I know, this sounds insane. But it really does help. Take some time away from your first draft, celebrate the fact you finished it! I somewhat deliberately lined mine up with some major holidays and a big vacation that has been planned for months. And honestly, I didn’t even write much (as my absence on this blog can testify), whether it’s blogging, fanfic, or even RP. Around the holidays, I managed to write some RP/Fanfic for presents (because I’m poor like that), but I firmly kept my mind off my book as much as possible.

I read books, I watched movies, I played video games, I sewed, I panicked when I couldn’t find fabric for my medfair costume… It’s a way of recharging your mental batteries for the work that’s coming up, and reconnecting with the life that you admittedly put on the shelf to finish that last bit of your draft.

Step 2: Rewrite/Additions

This is where you do a reread of your draft and go, “What doesn’t make sense? What scene doesn’t go anywhere or just reveals repetitive information? Where does the dialogue sound completely stilted?” Depending on how clunky things feel, you have to add sections or move them around. You might find huge plot holes and have to do some moving around or slashing huge sections and rewriting. Don’t fuss about grammar, typos, or paragraph structure too much at this point. You are looking at your story and making sure it is as tight as possible. Why? Well…

Step 3: Get a beta (or two)

Now you are about to let your work leave your own, dragon-like hoarding hands, and pass it off to someone else, or two someone else’s, depending on your paranoia level. This isn’t your mom or whoever, a person who will tell you it’s great no matter who it is. This is your best friend, this is the person who is going to call you to the carpet if you do something stupid or don’t have a good reason for something obvious not happening. Ideally, this is a person who reads a lot or watches a lot of movies, either works. These people know how to spot the flaws in story and world building, with or without a fancy degree. But this is also someone you trust not to steal your work, so don’t give it to some stranger off the street either unless they have a spotless reputation.

They aren’t as close to your characters, so they will call someone out as a jerk who isn’t likable, which could be a good or a bad thing depending on who the character is in the long run. They will ask questions, important questions, that you need to either answer or at least figure out for yourself. If they can’t remember your character’s physical appearance, you need to make sure they are more memorable. If they can’t tell you the character’s main goal, you’re plot has gotten muddled. This is your litmus test.

Why involve a second reader? Well, this is if you aren’t sure the story is suiting for whoever your target audience is. For example, I write young adult fantasy. Ginny is not a YA person. She can tell me if the story is good, if it works, if it sounds like a teenager. But she can’t tell me if it’s going to click with YA readers because she doesn’t know what they read for. So your options are giving it to someone who does read it, or someone in your target audience and confirming if it works like you are hoping it does.

Step 4: Be thinking on your next project.

I don’t mean the sequel to your current book (pro tip from my professors: never get too far ahead of your book counts in a series before you have an agent, they won’t pick you up). I mean take a break from this world/characters, and be thinking on what you want to do next. In my case, I am going to work on something very strange for me, an unrealistic realistic fiction type thing. I’m fleshing out characters in my head, getting a very rough idea of the story. But beyond making notes while waiting on Ginny, I haven’t started plotting yet or writing.

Why? Because getting to work on this story is my reward for finishing Sun’s Guard: Ten. To earn that reward, I have to finish the rest of the steps, at least until the last one. It’s fuel to keep you going, since this is all the hard work part where you just want to be done already.

Step 5: Rewrite/Additions (Part 2)

Now that you have beta feedback, you need to apply it to your draft. This hopefully won’t include as much hacking and adding as the first time around, but it very well could depending on what your beta found. You could also be adjusting elements to make it suite your target audience better, if it was found that you were too mature or too young for what you were aiming for, or completely alienating. If you haven’t already, also look at your first page. That’s the first thing a reader sees after the summary, so make sure there is something there to catch their attention.

(In my case of beta found things, it’s trying to figure out how to apply character tags without offending anybody by comparing skin or eye color to a particular food, which is the first thing that crossed my mind when I think of this color, but I want to be respectful, and just…sigh… And then making sure there is enough emotional impact at the end.)

Step 6: The Nitty-Gritty

This is the part where I have to print out a copy of the draft. My eye skims over spelling errors online. Yep, that dreaded time. Line-editing.

Not only are you looking at your spelling and general grammar, you are also watching your stimulus/response reactions to make sure that everything is included there. There is also a specific order to how a character is supposed to react. These last two are the ones that fanfiction has ruined me for, and I have no inner sense of how things are supposed to go anymore. So I have to sit there and manually review the whole thing for these itty bitty details.

Step 7: QUERY!

This step is sort of its own huge process that I will do a sequel post about, but at this point, you’ve hit the end of what you can do on your own. You now need someone in the industry to tell you what parts of your story need fleshing out, if this plot line doesn’t work, and if something is inappropriate or plain clunky. This person is going to be your agent–publishers do not accept blind requests, and editors are becoming a thing of the past except for very basic line editing.

Most agents, however, are retired editors from the days where you actually had an editor to work on your story after you sold it. Finding an agent is like finding a spouse: time consuming, ridiculous in the processes needed, and things still might not work out. Many agents aren’t even accepting new works right now, making things especially difficult.

I am currently at Step 5, technically (I just got my stuff back). Ginny found most of my issues, now I need to poke at them this week before I start my line-editing process. I got delayed several times due to personal drama and illness, but I haven’t given up yet. Soon I’ll be looking for an agent, and if that doesn’t work… Well, I’ll self publish this one too and you’ll having something to look forward to!


AN EPILOGUE AND TEN IS DONE!

…or rather, the first complete draft of the book is done, I have I think three or four partials where I realized my plot was wrong for whatever reason and had to restart. Now I’m putting it away for a month, focusing on other projects that need my attention in some manner or other and take my mind off of it.

Then begins the wonderous process of going back and doing ANOTHER draft to fix problems I find in scenes (my plot feels solid?). Then I submit myself to Ginny for punishment and hope she doesn’t find any giant logic gaps/plot holes/ boring spots, because sometimes you can’t see the forest through the trees and there are a lot of details, a.k.a. trees, for me to keep in my head. (Yes, she’s reading mostly for entertainment value check, but she’s the kind of reader that if you have massive plot problems, it kills her enjoyment. She’s HANDY like that.) Then I fix any problems she DOES find, so there’s another draft.

Then I print the WHOLE THING out, go through and check the stimulus/response order, the reaction-order (it should go feeling, thought, action, dialogue. And if it can’t and still make sense, your stimulus/response order is wrong), fix all of THAT…. then print it off AGAIN and do a grammar/typo check.

I don’t expect my s/r or r-o to be perfect, I just want it to be at a level that Deborah Chester, my grad school committee head, won’t read it and bow her head in shame.

And with all that work… Still should be writing query letters by the end of January. (I hope.)


Character Study: Yun/Psyche/Mageris

…This character went by a lot of names, okay? This was the warmage character…that eventually got turned into a favored soul/warmage gestalt and had a lot going on, both in front of and behind the scenes.

Short story on why her classes changed: we had one campaign going with her as the warmage, and the DM realized the story was going in a direction he felt was in his comfort zone and he wanted to stretch himself. We all agreed to a restart, most of the players changed their characters entirely…but I am the sort of person who wants some conclusion for characters, so I just modified her (only I didn’t, we’ll get there). The campaign, through no one in the current group’s fault, ended up dragging and then getting wrapped up quickly, but the conclusion was definitely there and so I am quite content with this character.

First off, I got to play with the amnesia trope, which is one of my favorites. This character was raised as Graceella (childhood name, elves are weird) and took on Mageris as her adult name. She was a lower born noble, but was lifebonded with the heir to the empire. But considering how being lifebonded can make life complicated, the adults in the situation decided to separate them in hopes of weakening it a little. Unfortunately, one adult (who Mageris thought was her mother, actually her aunt and this was a lot of fun later) took it too far and wiped all of her memories. All that there was for this poor girl to figure out who she was was her scrawl of her signature at an inn, which she thought said “Yun.”

Now, while I was pretty careful about fleshing out the mother’s side of the family…I hadn’t paid attention to the father’s side. So the DM got to have some leeway with them, and boy did he take it. It also led to us having to keep two different histories straight. Yep, we had parallel world hopping going on, and while most of the party was from the same world, I was from the original RP’s world, which was two different situations. At several points, we ended up killing that world’s version of Psyche, as several different possible outcomes to her situation played out. This is also how I ended up with the sword I used, which was pretty epic and I loved. The DM really worked hard to make sure everyone in the party stayed balanced, which is great when you contrast people who understand how the classes are in strength compared to others…and then people like me, who just create a character and find the appropriate class and run with it, regardless of how strong of a class it is.

And what’s really fun is the change that happened to this character without her memories. She had been raised the gentle, retiring lady who happened to have warmage capabilities, someone who was frequently overwhelmed by the lifebond who was used to getting his way as they got older. But without those memories, away from friends and family, she had to learn to stand on her and found her own voice and authority. When her memories returned, she had to try and mesh those two different personalities together. Thus, when she started going by Psyche. This was also when she started having real trust issues with the adults in her life, because she was very upset over how they had treated her, and God can elves hold grudges. And it was fun when she met her paternal uncles, and she was full of stubborn authority instead of being demure. (One really didn’t like it, it was funny.)

The favored soul aspect was fun too, because Psyche was Neutral Good, the Good is Not Nice trope at times, definitely not the gentle maiden anymore. But she was chosen by a draconic deity who was true Neutral, and his focus was on maintaining balance and stability…even if that stability couldn’t be considered “good” by an objective eye. There were a couple of instances where Psyche had to convince her deity to do something that was going to destabilize the world they were in at that time, where the “good” argument wasn’t going to work. Usually she managed to pull it off by arguing that they were about to throw the balance off anyway…it didn’t always work.

Something fun I did with her (just because I could) was do an elemental thing with her spell choices. While warmage’s known spells are set, with lots of fire and lightning, I got to pick her favored soul list. I ended up going with ice and holy light offensive spells aside from the request healer spells, creating what I consider this interesting contrast in the two sides to her nature, and what ended up being the two conflicting personalities in her head: headstrong and authoritative Yun and the more retiring and quiet Mageris. Funnily enough, it was the favored soul stuff (which matches Mageris better) that flared up with the loss of memory.

As for the lifebond, there was a lot of shenanigans, but things ended up working out there well…sorta. We didn’t get to RP much with him, or rather the real him (which is probably for the better for everyone’s comfort level), but I imagine the epilogue was pretty entertaining. Both end up being chosen favored souls of draconic deities, but he doesn’t get as much of a chance to interact with her after she has her memories back and both of them are aware of it until it has ended and they are now being the clean-up crew. I have mental stories and musings about how he would handle the change in personality in his lifebond, and the different path their lives have taken. Though really, he is probably happy about the difference–he has magic now, when previously he didn’t, so yay equalizer.

I honestly think I might return to Psyche at some point, though not as a DnD character. Rather, I’d like to play with her as an original fiction character. I think it could be a lot of fun, and let me explore some things with her that I couldn’t in a DnD setting, since there’s either no mechanic for it, no point to it without possibly taking up time that isn’t fair to the other players, or just be something I’m more comfortable writing rather than RPing in a tabletop setting.