Category Archives: Writing

Writing: How Many Drafts Is Enough?

The most recent controversy I’ve been seeing in my twitter feed is a lot of people complaining that other writers don’t go through enough drafts. It makes me ask questions, though, because I’m not sure I understand the problem. Is there a numerical requirement on the number of drafts you should have? Is there a limit? There’s a danger of applying a uniform writing process to everybody because it doesn’t always fit everybody. It’s like saying you have to outline, or outlining is a waste of time, or you have to write everyday. It also creates a false us vs. them paradigm that as aspiring writers or indie writers, we really don’t need to have to each other.

(Several traditionally published writers I’ve talked to like this war and already feel that way with them versus indie, on top of being a wee bit pretentious, so I have washed my hands of them. But the rest of us should make an effort!)

When it comes to the minimum of drafts, I always say at least two drafts are needed. Your first draft, you are just getting everything laid out that’s been up in your head. The second time, you need to look at it like a reader who doesn’t have the knowledge you do up in your brain. Do you explain everything, do you have a glaring hole in logic? Also, are you characters consistent, is your world explained enough? Your second draft can let you fill all that in, plus start on copy-edits. (No, I don’t count the various integrations of copy-editing as drafts.)

I do at least two drafts, though Sun’s Guard: Ten went through a handful as first I struggled with opening in the right place, then I cut out a subplot to save it for a later book than crowd the first book with characters who weren’t entirely needed yet. First draft I’m not worried about structure, I’m not worried overly much about descriptions for old characters or places, I’m not paying attention to my logic. I’m following the character and her goals, I’m following my villain and their goals, and the resulting conflict. That’s what I want written down. Then on my next read-through, I check for those things–descriptions, tags, logic–this one mostly summed up in making sure the reader is aware of Caley’s goals and also on Caley’s emotional positions in key scenes, which sometimes require some elaboration–that all the places are described in ways that invoke more than the visual senses if I can.

One person even asked a question (that I answered, though I suspect it was rhetorical) about why people do detailed outlines. Well, this is a form of drafting! I can use it as a sort of preliminary draft, to block out my character’s actions and know who goes where, or notice if we haven’t seen a side character in a while and I need to fix that. Remember, I’m holding two opposite goals in mind that I have to dovetail together–that requires planning, whether you do it in the moment or before you get started. By doing some very rough outlining, and then filling in more details with each “act” as I go, I can keep pace of myself as well as spot good places for emotional gut-punches. It also lets me treat my first draft as getting the story out, and then the second draft as adjusting the fit of the story over the outline. This keeps me from, to paraphrase another writer I heard speak in grad school, from having to change all the bones and organs under the same skin.

I don’t expect everyone to outline though. For some people, they can’t do it–I had grad school fellows who just couldn’t do it and that’s why they didn’t go with the advisor I did. Some have to outline more deeply than I do. I’m sort of a joint pantser-plotter (referred to as a plantser) at this stage in my writing career. I start with a paragraph of rambling that I know happens in the book, roughly. And then I plot each “act,” from Act I to Act II Part 1 to Act II Part 2 (which are divided by the midpoint where my protagonist’s goal has to change or their path to it alter) to Act III, one at a time, write it out, then plot the next while consulting my rambling paragraph and how the structure of the plot is working out. But that’s my approach. I’m not going to force it on someone else.

Much like I’m not going to tell someone they have to have at least four or five drafts of their book. They may not need it. I say at least two so you can at least objectively review what you have and see what needs changed (something always needs changed, whether that’s more description added or a plot hole that needs filled or a conversation that has to be restructured), but otherwise… It’s going to depend on you and your story. Ten took easily six or seven drafts by the time it was all said and done with all the restarting I did and an experiment to add length that ended up failing. Sun’s Guard: Page…doesn’t look like it’s going to have that problem, so I’ll probably just have my outline-draft and then the two normal ones. Some of my other stories I also don’t think will have that many drafts.

You know what my biggest piece of evidence for only two drafts being required is? None of my professors ever expected more than that in grad school. You’d submit the original story, get feedback, edit/adjust, and submit the second draft for your grade. Oh sure, you may still get notes back, and that’s not to say you didn’t do six or seven or twelve drafts on the side (…my horror short story and I were not friends…), but all you had to do was two, because my professors knew what I know now–you miss things in the first draft, so you got to do a second to fix them. Even the English professor I hate to this day only made two drafts a requirement…and then screwed your grade over so you had to do the third draft, but my point is made.

So how about we lay off of each other? So I only do two drafts and an outline, and someone else does eleven. This doesn’t mean there book is necessarily better than mine, or mine would be better if I worked at it more, or anything like that. All it says is we had a different experience writing our books, neither positive or negative unless we chose to view it that way.


On Writing Dumb Characters Who Aren’t Actually Dumb

(The title is weird, work with me here.)

So one of the “flaws” I’ve given my main character is that she’s a C student. She’s not in any honors classes, so I knew right away that half of the problem is effort since I didn’t give her a learning disability. Considering her defensively prickly personality, I knew it was a matter of whether she cared about who she was with or not. Most of the time, she doesn’t, so her grades are just enough to keep her out of trouble and then the rest of her time she can do what she wants. But I also knew even if she did try… That would get her to B with the occasional A territory, not Honors or AP courses. Just because she likes Shakespeare doesn’t mean she likes analyzing it or higher sciences/mathematics.

As a writer, I like this. Things like having your protagonist be a Dumb Jock (TM) so their Smart Friend (TM) can do their homework and you don’t have to think about it DRIVES ME NUTS. It also means you have to keep the action moving because those aren’t characters that sit and think about what to do, usually. Ginny loves action movies and their plots. I find them good brain relaxers, but they aren’t what I want to write. I want to write about characters who are balanced and like real people we see in reality, which means while some tropes are welcome, some aren’t. So even though I have a core trio (or two, depending on how how you count Moonshine), they all have to pull their thinking weight in different ways.

So for me this is a lot of balancing with my writing. If I make something pretty darn obvious, like it might be with one of my plot points for Page, I have to show that Caley is distracted is all to hell by something else because she has enough intelligence to add two and two and get four. She’s aware of human nature–she knows when someone feels wrong, and she’s good at figuring out what sort of awful things people will do to meet their goals because she’s seen a lot (she calls it having a doctorate in life). So sometimes, she’s more than smart enough to figure something out…she’s just distracted by someone being up to something that threatens her own choices in some way.

When I was building my trio (because YA series having a trio is a staple that I can respect and I’m not tossing out), I decided each character was going to have a different type of intelligence. All three have a heavy dose of common sense, though each can be distracted from it. One character is more emotionally intelligence, one is more book smart, and the other has social smarts. That isn’t to say the others don’t have the other types of intelligence, it just isn’t as strong with them or it’s in specific areas. Quiz Caley on types of dance and famous ballets, you’ll get a wildly different set of answers than you would out of the other two.

What I’m saying I guess is that I don’t like writing a character who is a smarty pants who has all the answers, because then it makes it hard to surprise them, but I don’t want to write the dumb jock who just punches his way through the plot. I think there should be balance, and sometimes that gets tricky to write. It’s hard, but I find it rewarding because I’m not just sticking to tropes or continuing to produce the same story that someone else has already done. (No shade meant.)

This probably comes from my own teen years. While I was in Honors classes, I didn’t always feel like I should be outside of the English or History classes. And while I have writer brain and know how a lot of things are going to end when I watch them, that only applies to genres I’ve analyzed. So when I’d go to a movie with friends and I’d get “caught,” by the ending…I’d feel really dumb when they’d tell me it was super obvious so they didn’t like the whole movie. Because they were used to consuming those types of movies, and they wanted the tropes they were highly familiar with to be subverted or changed. As someone who didn’t, the tropes played straight got me.

All of us were smart, my intelligence and consumption of media just shaped me differently. I shouldn’t have been made to feel stupid because I didn’t always follow the math or science that was math pretending to not be math, or because I didn’t track a twist to the story because it wasn’t my type of media. And I didn’t see this being portrayed in many YA books. So many just lump all the intelligence types together, so either your character is a genius and you’re beating emotional sense into them (which gets old fast), or while some characters do try and deal with the fact they aren’t considered bright, they don’t address a character who is smart in some ways and isn’t in others.

So even though it makes writing an absolute chore because I know I can only distract/drag out mysteries so long before getting Caley wise to them but I also have to give the right kind of clues or she won’t figure it out…I think it’s important to remember no character is truly dumb. Even the Dumb Jock (TM) knows things and skills that the Smart Friend (TM) doesn’t, and should be given the chance to show that instead of being spoon fed the answers.


Writing: On Historical Fighting with a Pole Arm… (Part 2–Staff Tactics)

I had to scratch my head over the holiday to figure out the best way to write about fighting with/against someone wielding a pole arm, and I finally went with blocking it out. And then it went long so ha, more posts about me babbling about this. So there’s three parts, two blocks to each part and then an example paragraph. Hopefully it’ll make sense why I did it that way.

Part One: Plain staffs/balanced pole arm
Block 1: Fighting with
Otherwise known as fighting tactics, I know, but here we go. As previously discussed in the previous post, a plain staff, or even one with metal caps, is a primarily defensive weapon. So when you are swinging it around, you are trying to a) not tangle yourself up in it and b) tangle your opponent up in it instead so you can disarm them, smack them around, and then run away.

So about not tangling yourself in your own staff. Staff work relies a lot on aligning the weapon with your body. As an example, if you are striking at someone’s right shoulder with your left, the staff should be across your body to keep them from stabbing you in the meantime, your left hand and therefore the left part of the staff extended up and forward, and the right end of the staff and your corresponding limb, in this case your right leg, back and down. With a balanced weapon, it’s important to keep it in between your body and your opponent for defense because typically it’s the only thing you got–I’ve never seen one wielded with even a buckler shield. Separating from your body is also the fastest way for a disarm (see Part 2 below).

While occasionally you may see a pole arm with both ends capped with bladed heads, they aren’t common like at all and come with a new rush of difficulties. There’s no natural “resting” point because neither tip is blunt, so the only way to set it down is to lay the whole thing down, which means it takes more effort to pick up and move into a fight. You also lose some of your reach–you can’t swing these sorts of weapons into your own space like you do a blunt end because there’s a chance you’ll hurt yourself more than you’ll hurt your opponent. As a rule, I advice against trying to pull a medieval Darth Maul unless magic is involved as a result, and even then, it’s just more hassle than it is use. (This does not apply to two-bladed swords…but that’s a later post.)

Block 2: Fighting against
This time, the scenario is fighting against someone with a balanced staff or pole arm. There are two tactics to this fight that are simplest and don’t turn into a game of chess. They aren’t the only way, but they are the way to be quick and brutal about this and move on to the next. One is the rusher and the other is the leverage.

The rusher works best if you yourself are shorter than the person wielding the staff. The key to this one is that you are wielding a weapon that is proportionate to your own size and not a reach weapon, such as a sword, daggers, axe, etc. Shields help, but aren’t required. The rusher tactic uses the reach of the pole arm against their opponent, getting in close as fast and as often as possible so they have little room to maneuver. It also means that as fast as the pole arm wielder is, there’s chances to get a blow in because you are in their way of moving to the defense in time.

As you probably expect, the leverage is the exact opposite of the rusher. This works better if you are the same height or taller than the person wielding the staff, but bonus that it can work if you are wielding almost any type of weapon. Basically, by using the leverage of binding the staff with your own weapon, because of your height (or angle if you are having to do some extra manipulating), you’ll be able to “pop” the staff free and out of your opponent’s grip. I’ve even done a fancy pop that slide the opponent’s staff down mine so I could catch it and there was no chance of recovery. By applying either upward, downward, or diagonal pressure, you compromise your opponent’s grip. But you have to be fast and you have to be sneaky about it, or else they’ll realize what you are doing and get the heck out of the way.

Both of these tactics can also work if you aren’t the best case scenario, btw, but I’m just writing about what works best when because it takes less monkeying around.

Examples
The best example I have of the rusher is my scripted fight with one of my friends from medfair. (Or fights, plural.) She is much shorter than me, though of course I’m pushing the tall thing to freakish levels, so there is a marked difference in our statures from the get-go. She is very much a rusher in general–her primary fight tactic is to get in close, fast, and hard, since her opponent isn’t going to expect it. Most of our fights she was supposed to win, but it was easy to block those fights because her natural fighting style was an answer to my own.

She would get in close and tight, switching from one side to the other very quickly and not really going for over the head strikes much because they left her in a position of vulnerability more than they did me. She did however aim closer to the core and ground, because there was a lot more harm that she could do there. My defense was limited to trying to force distance between us by binding weapons over her head and then pushing her back with my own attacks, or trying to get her weapon tangled with mine to disarm here–harder to do because again, the weapon is proportionate to her size and not something I can get a grip on easily.

The other side of the coin was when I applied leverage to some of my staff fights. I’m almost always taller, so this is really my go-to strategy (when I’m not taking advantage of a ridiculous level of reach). I tend to aim high, going for the head or even above the head because I know they are going to have to bring their weapon or extend it up and further away from them. This gives you the opportunity to get either your body or your weapon in between your opponent’s weapon and body so you can pull it away from them. (Like that pop I mentioned above.)

If you want something visual to reference for your fighting scenes, I recommend either looking up martial artists (because a staff is a staff is a staff) or flag work with a color or winter guard if you want something with flourishes.


Writing: On Historical Fighting with a Pole Arm… (Part 1-Basics)

So, I’ve decided to do more posts like my equestrianism post because apparently you all liked it, it’s easier on me, and I have this wealth of knowledge that you won’t find outside of SCA groups and a couple of other small things you can find in your community, with some being more open to writer interviews than others. (Basically, your mileage may vary.)

A quick note on these types of posts: I am speaking from my personal experience, the words of others in my own medieval group, and my own readings. Again, your mileage may vary. (Maybe this will keep the Cranky [Old] Guys off this post griping about what’s wrong if I repeat it.) But if you are writing a character who fights only with a flag pole as a flash of brilliance, and then find yourself needing to actually write out the fight with no idea what to do, this is meant to give you something to think about.

(I’ll probably do a more advanced post on pole arms in the future going over the different heads/blade styles and their uses, because the French alone have like fifteen of them, and they all serve different functions better than others. This is just your basics.)

So by definition, what is a pole arm? Basically, a really long stick, not necessarily thick because you have to be able to wrap your hand around it. Optional are pieces of metal at one or either end of the stick, and the metal can or can not be sharp depending on preferences. How long a pole arm was depended a lot on function, such as if you are wielding it from the ground or on horse back or on ground against someone on horseback, but general rule of thumb is your average one was about as tall as you are, plus or minus a hand or two counting the metal bits, if you are on the ground, and the length of your horse plus half again to double your horse’s length if you were mounted or facing off against mounted fighters.

Why were the mounted ones so long? Because horses were expensive. If you could kill the rider or at least get him down to the ground and the horse could run off to survive, that was a lot of money on four hooves for the winning side to be able to collect later. Very rarely did tactics involve killing the horses, and usually only as a last resort. Your aim was for the rider. (Unless your character is particularly blood thirsty and sadistic, but you know, bloody ground is wet, slippery ground which sucks to fight on, and horses bleed a lot, so do with that what you will.)

What were the benefits to using a pole arm instead of a sword? The big one was reach, which means that rather than only being able to attack the person directly next to/in front of you, you could actually stop him from getting close enough to you to potentially injure you. This is not only a massive benefit to a taller person (who already has a lot of reach, so more reach makes things even better), but especially for a shorter person who normally wouldn’t have as much of a shot at defending themselves–though there are ways, more on this at a later post, I will talk about tactics at some point.

They are also a highly defensible weapon. I can’t tell you how many of my fights got to the disarm bit, but because I was using a staff, it was like, “Whelp. Hmmm. How?” You have more length available to block the strike, plus usually you are using one end to block the strike, giving you the other end to pivot and whack at your opponent with while their own weapon is engaged elsewhere. (Please note: if you take the route of a pole arm with metal bits, this is more difficult because of the weight, more on that later.) With more length, it can also be tricky for someone using a sword to even get close enough to get the proper leverage to disarm you. On horseback, it’s a bit easier because you are trying not to hit yourself or your horse, but your pole arm is more of a throw away weapon for you in that position anyway because…tactics.

The cons for a pole arm are both expected and not expected. First off, breakage. While at your local medfair, you have probably seen your fair share of shattered lances. Well, I promise you that in real battle, your pole arms aren’t that fragile. Those lances are usually made with woods inclined to splinter under force, and some companies even make marks in the lance so they will break on impact. Most of the wood for a real weapon would be treated and and of specific types of wood so it can take a sword blade to it a few times. (Mine has, even in stage choreography.) However, they will break eventually, unlike metal. Speak of metal, depending on the head, your staff could not only be top heavy (and it would be), but heavy period. Thus why the whole thing isn’t made of metal–you wouldn’t be able to use it effectively. With the balance thrown off by the head, your ability to manipulate the length of your weapon is slower than it would be with a staff or a normal sword. (But note without the metal bits, it’s harder to do more than give your opponent some bruises and broken bones, especially if they are in armor.)

The more unexpected problems includes the awkwardness. Not only do you have the weight to worry about and it slowing down your strikes, the footwork for a pole arm is slightly different from a sword, so depending on which way your natural instinct goes, you may have to be constantly thinking about it or risk losing your foot. Unlike a sword that has a built in grip, a pole arm usually doesn’t so you have to drill into your body where your hands go or risk getting your fingers broken or cut off. And if its a hot or rainy day? Be prepared for slipping around. Because it is so long, they can be hard to carry for long distances (unless you strap them to your back, then it takes a hot minute to get off and by then, you’re dead). They also can get too bound up if you are fighting in narrow quarters, since the reach does also require appropriate amount of space to move in.

Speaking of being bound up, many like to think a staff/glaive/pole arm as a woman’s weapon in addition to a mounted knight’s. While I know this is true in Japanese history, and feel free to research and run with it, I don’t think it was as common in European women, at least among nobility. Not to say they couldn’t, my natural fighting instinct leans towards pole arms. So why is that my opinion? Because unlike the traditional Japanese kimono, which binds the fabric to the form tightly but can be loosened and long sleeves tied back, European women’s attire involved long skirts that usually floated away from the body. Let me tell you, I have gotten my skirt tangled up in my staff more times than I can count, unless I put aggressive riding slits into it and wear trousers underneath. It can be kilted up, but the fabric is still there and the higher the class level of the woman involved, the more layers and other bits of fabric there are. While your average lower classes would use whatever they had on hand from farm tools, including pitch forks and others that could be considered pole arms, your merchants and nobility had other options that were better suited to their attire, but that’s another post.

Hopefully these bare basics and thoughts on fighting with a pole arm help someone. I’ll do another post next weekish on tactics of fighting with and against someone wielding a pole arm, as well as some basic blocking. Let me know if you want me to continue these types of posts too. 🙂


When Your Characters Rebel…

(I’m not saying this is Season 3 Miraculous Ladybug salt… But I am saying it is probably flavored liberally with it. I will avoid spoilers to the best of my abilities in terms of naming characters, but you know, you might get the gists of it anyway.)

So you have been working on this long running series–whether it’s for TV or a book series, comic run or insert other media here–and you have always had a couple in mind for your endgame. This is the pairing everyone needs to love, this is one that they need to get behind and want to be together. You have distractions and miscommunications in mind, whether you have an outline or just a vague concept in your head, but you also have key moments where they are meant to come together and prove that they can work.

So what do you do when they don’t do it organically, and worse yet, your audience soundly rejects it?

I’m not talking about the background characters that everyone is shipping together, cracky or not, or if the fans have decided your platonic best friends who are your main duo are meant to be, and I’m not talking about if you are dealing with a story that has no or only a very small romance plot and you can change the love interest without it changing the story one gram. This is a love-centric relationship that you, the writer, has built into the very premise, and the fans know this from day one. You may have even made the poor decision to use social media to assure everyone that yes, you know what you are doing, and yes, no matter what, the pairing will be endgame.

But remember those distractions I mentioned before? This is where things as a writer can get really gnarly. If I’ve spent time breaking my main pairing apart for the sake of time management, so they can get together in the final one or two chapters/episodes/issues/what-have-you and I have too much time to fill in between them, well… This pokes holes in why my audience is going to believe that this couple is going to work together in the end. (I am not touching my salty examples treatment and twisting of characters to make this possible.) If they fall out of love with this relationship as the characters question their feelings for each other, then when I provide a distraction in the form of new, alternative pairings… I’ve just split my fanbase.

Now, for some marketing people, they think this is a brilliant idea. Ever since Team Edward/Team Jacob, they have been gung-ho about love triangles, since marketing took what was previously a well known if slightly tired trope and fanned it into a fandom war that sold a ton of merchandise and kept people talking about a franchise that honestly didn’t deserve the level of hype and devotion it ended up spawning. See, once a fandom war starts, if you feed the fires right, fans will entrench themselves in their camp and will go out of their way to not prove the other side wrong, but spend a ton of money to show their support of their camp.

But notice my not so nice dig at the franchise? That’s because love triangles have to be written very carefully. In order to actually make sense as a plot device, there needs to be a very obvious reason why one side is better than the other, and writers usually get lazy with this, making it a matter of the nice guy being secretly violent or just saying that the jerkass was the one who really understood the girls promise (and in my opinion encourages abuse way too much). And that’s when they start at the same time! Many franchises spend whole books or seasons establishing a love interest, and then try to throw in a rival in the new season/sequel book. That only works if it’s quite clear to your fanbase that this isn’t meant to be a new romantic angle, and that the new rival is actually really unsuitable for the character he/she is pursuing. While some fans will hop on to the new camp with this rival (it’s inevitable), the majority will stay where you want it–with the mains.

This is where things can get hairy though. If you don’t make the new character unappealing, you can completely split your fanbase. My salty example here did this in two different ways and both failed. For one, they didn’t portray her personality consistently across her episodes, so despite having more screen time than the rival for the other side of the main pairing, it was so inconsistent that fans were irritable over it. That should have been enough by itself for fans to be split on her and to keep attention on their main couple. Except the boy is an oblivious idiot, no matter what the writers say on Twitter, and he has repeatedly stated that he can’t see the female lead as anything other than a friend, but he can see this new girl as a potential love interest to move on from his celebrity crush. For fans, that was digging a grave and a lot of them jumped ship.

But that left the other half of the pairing in the wind, right? Nope, insert our second rival. He didn’t get nearly the level of screen time, but what there is, it is consistent. Now, it’s also too perfect and two-dimensional, so some fans hate him for just that reason. Again, this should have kept everything split up and the focus on the main pairing. But our female lead is not only in the wind as far as her crush and trying to move past it, she has had so many responsibilities heaped on to her that it’s a miracle she’s still standing. And this boy has said that he loves her for who she is, just her, not her superhero self blinding him so badly he can’t see her, but her. And she doesn’t even have to explain everything to her (as our male lead has thrown a tantrum over in the past).

My friends, they not only dug the grave, they put in the final nails themselves. (Supposedly there are two episodes left that will revive it like a zombie, but I doubt it.)

At this point, if I was in that writing room, I would be looking over fan responses and questions, look at my team, and go, “Ya’ll, we have to either spend an entire season fixing this, which by our premise we can’t do… Or we may have to let go of the love square being endgame.” But of course, these are a bunch of men (and one woman) and I can’t see them doing that. What I can do though is take this as an object lesson myself. If you have a couple, it’s fine for there to be complications towards them ending up together–that’s life. There’s also a line in the sand where if you cross it, you won’t get your fanbase back. This is going to apply to me for Sun’s Guard, so I’m going to take this lesson and run.


Writing: Finding the Time

We’ve all heard the sayings: write everyday, even if it’s just three words. Set aside an hour to write everyday. Do what feels natural, even if it’s cramming everything out in three days (yikes! been there, but yikes!)… There’s a lot of them, and they sometimes seems to conflict with each other. If it just matters to put words to a page, why does it matter when we do it? If the words themselves do matter, then how do you feel productive?

I would love to say there’s a definitive answer on this one, but there really isn’t. You have to figure out your own rhythms, what makes you tick and what gives you the best response for your effort. I will break down some of these common sayings, and their equally common answers, and how I have interpreted these to help me. Some of this may work for you, some of it you may have to do the exact opposite. Do as you will.

The first myth: writing every day. There’s been some people who talk about jotting down a few sentences each days, some talk about waking up early to write first thing in the morning before the rest of the household is up and before work… I had a professor who subscribed that belief too, even had us keep a journal. In theory, I think it’s a great idea. In practice… Ugh. I don’t know about you all, but I’m a single female with two cats and a house to take care of, plus a day job and other responsibilities plus wanting to you know, have fun occasionally. Writing every single day just doesn’t happen.

That doesn’t mean I don’t work at writing every day. Here’s what I mean, take right now for an example. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, I have rehearsal from 7 to 9. That means my prime writing hours are taken up doing other things, and by the time I’m home, my brain has died and writing just isn’t going to happen, at least in a way that I won’t have to completely do over during the weekend. But you know what I do have enough brain for? Piecing together characters. Fleshing out world-building. Poking at my plots to make sure that no new sub plots have grown when I wasn’t looking. All of this goes into the work of writing, so that when the weekend comes along or I have a day off or–miracle of miracles–my brain hasn’t died after rehearsal yet, I can sit down and push out a couple of pages.

Any words are good words/progress. This one, I get where it’s coming from. Staring at a blank page is not going to help you get unstuck any faster, nor is it getting your book written. Some scenes are just emotionally difficult as a writer, whether it’s because you have something else you want to be working on or the characters are being difficult or you are just plain tired. Getting a few sentences deeper can (and should) feel like a major accomplishment, and each time you do that, you get a little bit further along, a little bit closer to getting to the finish line and the wonderful world of editing.

But where I disagree is the “any” part. This is how hokey scenes happen that somehow make it past your editor/beta reader and the rest of your audience is like, “WTF was that?!” Every time I’ve had to force a scene out, I write once more to get the pain over with and enjoy it again…and then go back and read that struggle-bug scene. What was making it so difficult? Was it because someone was acting out of character? Was it because it was a shoe-horned in subplot that really needs cut out? Is the scene just boring and needs to go away? Sometimes it’s because something REALLY IMPORTANT to the plot was happening there, but I was too vague about it and I really needed to work at fleshing it out in my head during my “working on writing” days and to figure out what it is better so I can fix the awkward scene.

Don’t edit, just write. This was the next logical one to cover, lol. I get the thought behind this one too. Going over the same three scenes to get them perfect isn’t going to help you. You need to keep progressing, keep the story moving. And to be honest, those three scenes are never going to be perfect. You have to keep pushing or else you’ll never get done, you’ll just have thirty odd unfinished drafts (no, I’m not calling out certain best friends, fanfiction doesn’t count and if it did I’d be a hypocrite)! So as bad as your sentence structures are, as many typos as you may see, just ignore them and keep going with the next scene, you can fix those later (hopefully…typos are sneaky).

I actually somewhat agree with this one, aside from what I stated just prior. Short of something being unnecessarily difficult and figuring out why, I am a big proponent of just go, go, go, write till you hit…the mid point. Once you hit the mid-point, of your plot, I advice a pause. Reread. Is your plot doing what you want it to do? THREE TIMES, I looked back at Sun’s Guard: Ten and went, “Nope. This ain’t doing it. Try again.” And each time, it got better, before I finished the book and suddenly had a huge amount of editing to do. It lets me catch big mistakes like wrong subplots or a character not getting enough “screen time” early so I can fix it sooner and then continue what I’m doing. I fix typos if I find them, but I don’t worry about structure or things like that, I’ll do a huge print out later for that.

It takes as long as it takes. This is someone wanting to take the pressure off of how long it can take to write a book, to free up pressure. And there is a point there, because if you rush, the writing isn’t as good and you’ll make more errors. But this one I really want to advice people to throw out. The publishing industry runs on deadlines. Even if you self-publish, you need to build some sort of momentum and can’t be dead silent for five years and only release a book that often. You will struggle with building an audience. So I have created a publishing schedule for Sun’s Guard and Truth in Justice. Sun’s Guard has it by the month, Truth in Justice just has a general year of when I expect to put each of those out and could obviously move around a bit. I now have internal deadlines that I need to meet. I know exactly how long it takes me to edit and to format, and how much space I need to take between edits to insure fresh eyes. This gives me a timeline that I need to adhere too, so I can build my audience at a consistent rate.

These are the most common bits of advice I’ve seen floating around. Anyone else have others you want my two cents on? Want me to collect them and do another post? Let me know!


Canon vs Fanon, Who Cares?

(I may have harped on this before. It’s still relevant, lol.)

Fanfiction is pretty much older than dirt–I would argue Homer was writing fanfic of the Trojan War since it was a) way before his time, b) he made a Turkish city Greek, and c) he brought in legendary heroes from a bunch of time periods together. But the point is, a lot of people accepted Homer’s stories as fact, without even questioning it.

They had accepted Homer’s story as their new canon, making it now what is commonly referred to as fanon.

For those who have no idea what I am talking about, canon means the information that comes directly from the source material. Now, what counts as source material can vary. Some people narrow their view to one specific source, such as the film series but not the comics or cartoon spin-offs. Others cherry pick, accepting all sources but not all episodes or facts. A lot of people you just have to ask or read their notes to figure out what they are treating as canon for any particular discussion.

Fanon has two separate meanings, depending on context, and I’m going to look to my Homer example again. The first definition is Homer’s work itself. Homer’s particular combination of characters, setting, and events is its own fanon. In his playground, you have both Ajax’s and yet more contemporary heroes, and the Trojans are a traditionally Greek society. Now, when a group of people argue that they are going to adopt Homer’s fanon as their own, that’s another–and the second meaning–of fanon.

Fanon can be over something small, such as one character having a particular hobby. Another fanon can be a lot bigger, such as how one character feels about another or even about themselves. Sometimes a consensus about names for background characters happens, and the rest of us are left confused. (Looking at you, Miraculous Ladybug with the concept-art Quadatic Kids or whatever they are.)

The trouble that fanon seems to run into is when the fans who create it forget to leave their fanon at the door when new material becomes available. Whether that’s the next movie in the franchise, new books set in the same world, or just a new season of the show, it’s hard on the fandom to make their own fanon and the new bits of canon to mesh sometimes. Long hiatuses make this worse, fyi. It’s why whenever I write fanfic for an unfinished series or I’m reading something in a fandom that is always evolving, I try to keep that in mind. It prevents me from being completely disappointed. It also gives me a refuge if the writing jumps a shark or two. (I refuse to acknowledge Season 8 of Game of Thrones unless it is to call out the mess and bad behavior and how nothing has changed. I literally only watched the series for Dany.)

So what can we interpret this all for as writers? Well, for one thing, it’s gonna happen. You just have to accept it, be amused by it when people ask you questions about it, but otherwise avoid participating in it. The other? Know where to have an answer and where to back away, which comes back to my Law of Writing: never lie to your fanbase. If you haven’t thought of a particular aspect of a character, admit to that if asked, and say it hasn’t come up yet and you wouldn’t want to make a decision without all your notes in front of you. Admit if something is a spoiler for later if it comes up. Some fans hate spoilers with a passion and want to see things in context. And too many spoilers, not only does it raise expectations to unrealistic level, but the fanon can work against you and come up with stuff waaaaay better than your own. (Again, looking at you Miraculous Ladybug and Zag.)

Or if it’s a fun detail that hasn’t come up yet in the books and is just extra, or you happen to know it…tell them. Yes, it’ll feed the fanon or maybe contradict it, but like I said, it’s going to be there regardless. The little facts can create whole spin-offs of ideas and thoughts, especially if your series is finished but you are writing in the same world. But J.K. Rowling has made a name for herself as being the worst example of this. Know when to back away and go, “You know, this is inappropriate for the age demo of these books,” or in her case, I swear she’s just making random stuff up as she thinks it up, which is hell on the rest of us since very bit takes away from the magic that we grew up with and makes it…more like the dirty reality we live in.

Anywho, that’s a whole bag of salt to unpack on another day. I just wanted to take a chance to talk about something I’ve been seeing on tumblr in a couple different fandoms. I’ll be back next week with…something, not sure what yet. Maybe review the new Fast and Furious spin off? It has Hobbs, I’m bound to be amused…


Writing: On Historical Horsemanship…

Odd little mini-rant time. (It came up somewhere else, and honestly I don’t see this compiled anywhere? Writers need resources!) So you have things set in a pre-autonomous vehicle time period, or at least the only one that exists is the train and it don’t go everywhere. Your hero has two options: his own two feet, or buy a horse. What does this mean for your timeline and what sort of details do you need to know?

First things first: please do not go by Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. They don’t know how horses actually work, I swear, and it’s not worth the fight to try and make their mechanics apply to your story. (Seriously had to have a convo with a DM about why a harness isn’t helpful in a riding situation. It wasn’t his fault, the entry was just written very poorly and I was like, “My inner equestrian is offended.”) They also tend to box horses into neat categories, which allow me to laugh uproariously over that. If only it were that simple.

So what do you need to know? Okay, so let’s go into some pretty broad categories and we’ll go from there. You have a general, all purpose horse. A riding horse, something bred specifically for good paces and pretty looks. Your war horses, these are trained for combat situations and usually are some ugly buggers, so be prepared. And then your cart horses, which again come in two sorts depending on how heavy your load is. Yes, there are ponies, no, unless your character is under the age of 13 or so (or has never ridden before, period), they won’t be riding them. Being mounted on an actual horse was a really big thing for the nobility, the younger the better.

(There are multiple official terms I could be floating around here, but I’ll be honest. Most are French thanks to the Norman invasion of England. If you are writing before that invasion or in almost any other country, those terms would just sound weird.)

Your general all-purpose horse is just that. It can be trained to pull a cart or buggy, it can be trained to carry a person on saddle or serve as a pack horse.  Usually a combination of all three. This is what most merchants and lower owned, if they owned one at all. This horse would come up to about the chin of a grown-man, so around 15 hands or 5 feet tall. Unlike our current breed books, medieval horse breeders literally did not give a fig about colors, so they came in everything.

Now for your stupid expensive horses. A rich merchant might have nice riding horses, the nobility definitely would, but the war horses are going to be limited to those who serve in your military, whether that’s nobility or a combination of classes. Riding horses are leggy with good proportions, high spirits, and can turn on a dime. They can be the same height as a general horse, but they can also be taller, up to 18 hands, because of their legs. Warhorses, on the other hand, were stout, with lots of muscle and tended to look short in the waist and kinda awkward to watch outside of specific maneuvers. They were also remarkably calm animals, unless you threatened their rider and then all hell broke loose. Please note, these horses usually topped out at 16 hands. They weren’t tall, just strong.

So what should your horse be wearing? Believe it or not, you’re going to want to check out Western gear, it’s the closest analog we’ve got. A simple bit with headstall (no chin strap) is in line with what they wore as basics (unless you want to get fancy), and a Western saddle without a horn or quite as wide stirrup leg is more in line with what a medieval saddle tree would look like. Note, a jousting saddle would actually have an even higher front and back. They had breast collars, which I think is a very important tool because horses have slick backs. You wouldn’t see much of the fancy barding or cloth coverings outside of a joust, they just did nothing but make the horse hot.

So who is riding these horses and how fast? Having a horse at all was an expensive enterprise, but most families owned at least one because you had to get the produce to market somehow, and horses were faster than oxen (and oxen or mules weren’t always available). Please note, women would ride astride just like men. That’s why you’ll see skirts with riding slits–gaps in the fabric in the front and the back. This would let the fabric part enough to let the women sit comfortably in the saddle. The only type of side saddle that existed was basically a chair on a horse who would be led, as seen here in the Russell Crow version of Robin Hood, being used by an elderly Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Side Saddle

As for speed, well, you have options. The fastest two are the ones you’ll use in a chase scene, because they are literally only good for short bursts. A canter or lope will run you 12-15 miles per hour, and a full-out run will get you anywhere from 20 to 30 miles an hour, it just depends on the horse. But remember, short bursts. I’m talking half a minute at a run, you’d get about two minutes max at a lope, and that’s being probably overly generous. Your best bet is to alternate the slower of the two gates, trotting and walking. A trot runs about 8-12 miles per hour, and a walk is around 4 miles per hour. Some horses have what are called ambling gaits, but they slot in with canter and trot pretty seamlessly in terms of speed, they are mostly about comfort of the rider. Assume you are going to travel about 30 to 40 miles a day.

(As a note, that’s about how often you need a small roadside inn or tavern on a road. Despite what most DnD campaigns tell you, people didn’t camp out on the road very much. Even if it’s a farm that opens its barn up to travelers, there is a place to sleep for a bit of coin somewhere without camping.)

…Hopefully my horse nerd-knowledge is helpful, I just like having it all in one blog post instead of digging through seven different Wiki articles and tumblr.


Writing: What Your Writing Teacher Never Told You About Querying

Alright, buckle in folks, time to pour some tea and make a salt circle that is probably going to get me in loads of trouble later. But there’s some things that current professors don’t know about the querying process, because most of them have had agents for at least the last five to ten years, and thus aren’t aware of some of the new quirks. Let me tell you the myth as I heard it. Be prepared for lots of rejections, insert Stephen King story about the railroad spike here. Feel lucky to get even one agent’s attention, and then you can shop later once you have proven your books sell. Your relationship with your agent should be like finding a spouse, so feel free to be a little choosey and patience.

Let’s tackle this bit by bit. Let’s start with the rejections. I am going to say 60 to 75% of the time, you aren’t going to get a response at all. The silence is meant to be a rejection, but for those with outrageously long wait times, that can be painful as all get out. Sometimes, you’ll at least get an auto-response saying that your query was received and here’s how long you’ll have to wait, but don’t bet on it being accurate. The only part that is accurate is expect lots of either returned or ignored type rejections. There’s even more agents now than ever, so you’ll have a huge field to go through. You definitely need to verify every agent that you run across–there are a lot of predators out there taking advantage of the high numbers of agents.

As for lucky getting an agent… Okay, here’s a weird trend I noticed. Very rarely did anyone I hear squealing on Twitter or QueryTracker say they got one agent. Because the next step after one positive reaction…is tell everyone else that you got an offer. It became clear to me that agents rushed to anything anyone smelled at being decent. All it took was one offer, and you could end up with nine or ten offers because one person took the time to decide your book was worth something. It’s a lot like the pitch events on Twitter, with all the agents flocking to whatever someone else liked. It seems like a lot less investment in one person and a lot more following the pack. But because of this, and publishers only putting out a few new books a year and trusting too much in their best sellers and putting all their money in one basket, it’s a lot harder for good books to get read at all.

As for being choosey and patient, well, I agree with the patient part. I was perhaps overly patient. But choosey? That depends. As part of getting your query letter, synopsis, and first fifty pages prepped, you definitely also need to really boil down what you need from an agent. In my case, I had to have someone who enjoyed some element of fantasy. Everything else, I was a lot more flexible on, but I was aware of the “tags” in case it was on someone’s no list: LGBTA+ friendly, romance could go either way, female protagonist, young adult. Know what an agent absolutely has to have an interest in, and then be aware of the other aspects of your book in case it will turn an agent off. I would also look at other writers’ critique of querying an agent on Twitter or QueryTracker. Writers will usually post warnings, such as people never getting back to you even after you give them a full, or warnings of stuff going on in agent’s personal life so have extra patience. But after that? Keep the field as broad as you can. Once you are out of agents, you are out.

Back to me being too patient. I figured out in my process where my line in the sand was, and that was communication. I would wait and wait and wait, as long as the agent kept in touch with me and told me that they weren’t going to meet the deadline they gave me, but here was the updated one. I would wait for months if not a year if you kept in contact with me. Why? Because I understand that life happens. I’ve had the flu twice this year already, and I lost every pet but one last year. I know it dearly. As long as you are talking to me, I will give you the time you need. But ignoring me when I ask for updates after you’ve missed the deadline is now my newest pet peeve ever. I highly recommend that you figure out where your line is, so you can approach queries without it being a frustrating process. As soon as your line is crossed, withdraw your submission and move on.

I’m not really bitter about the querying process. Do I think it’s antiquated? Yes. Do I think it could be a lot better managed? Yes. Will I do it again for White Dragon, Black Lark? …Eh. It’s going to depend on if it is long enough to actually be considered by agents as a book, since most don’t represent novellas. It stands a better chance than Ten, which is the stepping stone of a series and it appears that agents aren’t playing with series anymore. But I will definitely be approaching querying from a different stand point, now that I know how things have changed. I’ll probably do the pitch events first for an initial interest, and then start combing Query Tracker.

Look, getting published is hard. It’s a constantly evolving game. I’m not mad at my professors for not preparing me–they are out of that game, and have been for a while. They all have agents, and can even play against them if they need to because they have the experience and contacts to do so. But someone starting out in this business doesn’t have that, and everywhere you go digging, you’ll find people looking to charge you hundreds of dollars to prep your book for agents, and that’s just crap. Unless your grammar or plot structure is just awful, it isn’t going to do anything except slap a coat of paint over a barn that your agent (if you do get one) will ask you to rebuild anyway.

So just go in with open eyes, and try to see what is trending or starting to trend for agents. I’m not saying write to trend, that’s near impossible. But it will at least let you know if you need to sit on a manuscript until series are big again (or give up and go self-published with that bit), or if fantasy has gone down a weird path you can’t follow and you need to wait for it to swing around your way again…or maybe the weird path is your way and you need to hurry and finish! Keeping your thumb on how the query game is changing is the biggest piece of advice I can give you. Otherwise, you are going to come in confused from the start like I did.


Writing: Teenage Characters and Aesthetics

Sponsored by last night’s DnD session and poor Jadzia, who gained two items. Now, for beginning reference, Jadzia is a juvenile silver dragon whose favorite form when she’s shape changed is a late-adolescent human with silver dragon bloodline traits. An elegant goth late-adolescent human. She actually hoards gem stones of a very specific series of colors (no yellows, oranges, bright or true greens although super dark or milky and pale greens are fine, or reds, unless they are the deepest, darkest shades of red like her lipstick), and rejects anything with gold metal work. Her primary hoard items feature star sapphires (her favorite) and are a belt of magical gem stones that fit these rules. She dresses in a flowy pretty dress with vest and corset work to add structure all in black and charcoal grey.

Her first newly gained item last night I tweeted about, a lesser ironward diamond. It basically is a different type of magical gem stone, and being a smokey grey diamond, it fits just fine. The problem is that second item, which as a player, I wanted. I wanted badly. It was a rod of Piercing Cold. This lets me ignore or at least help combat with benefits Jadzia herself has so if we’re ever in a fight against her brothers or other family who we haven’t met yet, I’m not screwed with her being specialized in cold/ice themed spells to a high extent.

The staff part was fine–it was ice blue. The topper, though… The topper was deliberately made to rub her the wrong way. It’s an angry snowman with a knife.

Jadzia was balking so bad, ya’ll. I wanted it, but she was going, “SNOWMAN! NO!” and ugh. It was a long few minutes and we had to poke at dragon greed to get her to take it. Thankfully, her trying to change it to match her aesthetic is actually planned into the DM’s goal for the thing, so no hurt feelings. But there was some confusion when I mentioned the twelve year old was THAT attached to her aesthetic. Some of it was fellow players forgetting, which considering how she normally looks and her usual maturity, it’s hard to remember that she’s only 48 and that’s barely entering puberty by dragon standards. But I think a little bit of it is that for male writers, even the best ones, they don’t quite understand it.

I’m not saying aesthetic isn’t important to pre-teens and teenagers in general. I know for some boys, it’s just as important as breathing. But then I also know that there are people like my brother, who can and will wear warm colors with cool in such a way that if he was doing it with super nice clothes, I’d cringe. Even I can get pretty lax when I’m in casual mode. But for some people, it is life, and the truth is, many of those people are preteen and teenage girls.

Some of that is cultural. We have most of our societal pressure about our appearance pushed onto us as girls between the ages of 11 and 19…which is cruel and unusual, because that is when your hormones and body are doing weird things and you have very little control over anything, yet have to start planning for the rest of your life. Fretting over how you dress and what colors you can’t stand anymore is an easy way to re-establish that control. Some of it is personality. I am naturally an extremely fussy person about color because I can tell dye lots apart even with the smallest of differences, and that’s about the age that people really start taking an interest in fashion, and apply themselves to a very specific look.

As a juvenile dragon, Jadzia is not only in that mindset, she is stuck in it for the next several decades…if not centuries, I’ve not looked at the higher dragon age categories. So for me, I really have to keep it in mind that she is very concerned with appearances and how she is perceived. Particularly with her high level of responsibility, since she’s the most powerful of her clutch and the only female on top of it. She has decided for whatever reason that the gothic look is how she wants to be seen–possibly because she wants to be seen as serious and grown-up, overcompensating for her real place in development. To her, this is just as important as any moral or ethical question she could be put in, because at her age, it is just as important.

In case people still don’t get it, let me explain it in terms of an appropriate holiday metaphor. Intellectually, I can acknowledge that a green, gold, and red Christmas tree is pretty and festive. I will compliment it and may even investigate for reference for a character who might like it. I still want it no where in my home. My Christmas colors are silver and blue and I decorate more with snowflakes and plain deer than Santa Claus or snowmen. (An occasional penguin might sneak by, but shhhh.) Am I so set in my ways that I won’t accept a pretty gift? No. But will that gift actually get hung up in the house? I’ll wait and see if I change my mind, but it’s a no promises situation. I’m also double the maturity level of a teenager.

A lot of male writers do a good job of understanding that this is a thing for young girls, including the guys that I play DnD with. Even some girls don’t experience it and can be confused, depending on how they grew up and their personalities, and then have to try and write it correctly. But sometimes I don’t think writers completely understand it, and that’s what I hoped to try and explain better.

Happy holidays, everyone, and I’ll see you on the cusps of the New Year.