Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Writing Wednesdays (Special NaNoWriMo Edition!): AMA Thread Highlights

First up, I'm DELIGHTED to announce that One Good Dragon Deserves Another was an Romantic Times Magazine Top Pick for November!! HOORAY!

Yep, that is a print page from a legit paper magazine! You can read the review online here if you don't feel like squinting, or you can pick up your own copy of RT Magazine and read it in glorious, glossy color! Whichever floats your boat. 

On to the post!

So, as you've probably already noticed if you're anywhere near my social media, I'm doing my yearly NaNoWriMo AMA thread on the NaNo Fantasy forum.

This thread is one of my favorite things I do all year. I always get a ton of amazing questions, and I love talking to NaNo peeps. They're just so excited about writing, and that makes ME excited about writing my own stuff. It's a lovely, happy feedback cycle, and I really can't recommend it enough.

That said, the thread does take a huge amount of time out of my schedule, which is already packed since we're also closing on a house this week! (FINALLY! My own sequestered writing office! SQUEEEEEE!!). So, since I'm already making giant posts about writing answering questions, I thought for today's Writing Wednesday I'd share some of my favorites so far.

If you're already following the thread, I'm sorry for the cop out! I promise to be back next week with an actual new article. If you're not on the NaNo forums, I hope you'll find this highlights reel interesting.


Writing Wednesdays (Special NaNoWriMo Edition!): AMA Thread Highlights

First up, we have a great question from BLynchBooks about building characters.
"I know you'd mentioned the "Knife Test" on your blog in terms of testing motivations (which has been a huge help for the book I'm writing now, thank you!); do you have any similar methods for figuring strengths and flaws out?"
My reply:

Thank you so much for reading!! I'm glad you like my characters so much! In addition to my Knife Test for characters (inspired by ONE PIECE cause I'm a giant nerd), I actually wrote a blog post about this very topic recently called "Three Ways to Ensure Awesome Characters."

Obviously, the posts have all the details, but the short and dirty version is that interesting characters need to be interesting people. This doesn't mean heroic or strong or horrifically flawed (though good characters can be all of those things), it just means that the people in your book need first and foremost to have their own lives, needs, wants, problems, and agendas that make sense within the context of their history and world. The context is truly key, because your characters' lives are a huge part of how you show readers your world and your history. We learn about your story by seeing your characters struggle and thrive inside it.

So if you're getting down to writing, and you've got a cast of people you're still not sure about, my advice is to focus on placing them firmly in their world, and then letting them go. Really focus on how that character with that backstory and that personality would react to situations rather than what would work best for the plot. It might not lead to the situation you want, and you don't have to keep the scene if you don't like how it turns out, but just giving the characters the freedom to be themselves is golden for character development. And if you don't like the way your characters are turning out, change or replace them. Just because you imagined someone once doesn't mean you have to keep them forever. Remember: you are god inside your novel. Characters who push back and make their own choices are fantastic, but it's still your responsibility as the writer to turn out a good and interesting story. In other words, character driven narratives are awesome, but don't let them drive you off a cliff.

Going back to your initial question, my people generally come to me more or less formed. Other than the usual backstory and physical details, I usually start by asking my character three questions; what do you want, what do you love, and what do you hate? Those are usually enough to get me a very good look at what kind of person I'm dealing with and how they fit into the larger picture. That said, no character I write finishes the way they started. Going through a book is a crucible for a character, and all of mine change dramatically along the way. So don't worry too much if people feel a little half baked at the beginning. Trust me, once you've dragged that character for a story while keeping your focus on making sure their choices make sense in the context of their history and the larger story, you will end up with a very strong person by the time you reach the end. Once you've got that, you can easily go back and adjust their earlier scenes. (Writing is not a performance art. Don't feel like you ever have to get it right the first time. Edits are where the real magic happens!)

I hope that helps!! Thank you again so so much for being my fan, and I hope to have another Heartstriker book out for you soon!

Next, a question from CounterAttack about making the leap from world building to actual plot.
"I have a question about the planning stages of a novel. Which do you prefer to design and detail before any others: setting, plot, central characters, or something else? Does having one aspect nailed down help you to develop the others? I ask because I've finished the worldbuilding for the newest version of my novel, but I have absolutely no ideas when it comes to a story and cast of characters. (I'm not trying for the goal of fifty thousand; I'm just doing what I can while NaNo is bringing writers together.)"
My reply:

I usually start with whatever idea has me most excited. Sometimes I come up with the characters first and then build the world around them, sometimes it's vice versa. You could say I'm kind of an "OH SHINY!" writer, I grab on to the new ideas and run! :)

In your specific situation, where you have a world but no plot or characters, I would start by looking at what are the major conflicts this world faces--racism, war, magical apocalypse, invasion from another dimension, environmental destruction, corruption, etc. Once you've got a good idea for what's going wrong in your world (and if nothing's going wrong, fix that. Not only is there no such thing as a perfect world, but if there was, it would be boring as hell to read about), then you want to start considering what conflict interests you most as a person. Is there a theme you feel passionate about? Maybe a theme you really liked in another story? Personally, I'm a giant sucker for the whole "the moral path is never easy", so most of my novels tend to come back to that question over and over.

It's totally okay if you have no idea what themes you want to do yet, btw. Themes are just one hook to start building your plot, as is conflict. Either of these entry points can spin off entire novel series if you just keep asking "why did this situation come about?" "what consequences will these actions have?" and "what happens next?" These questions should be especially awesome for you since you already have your setting done. And once you've got your situation, you can start asking "what kind of people would be along for this adventure?"

This is an example of starting from the setting and working up to the plot and characters. You can also do it the other way and start with the characters themselves. Just like before, look at the world you've built and ask yourself what kind of people live there? What are their societies like? How do they interact? Keep working the questions until you come up with a person that really interests you, and then start asking them "who are you?" "what was your past?" "what do you want most in the world?"

At the planning stage, novel building is really just an exercise in guided creativity. You want to set up problems--giant conflicts, looming wars, unbeatable odds--and then set yourself to coming up with heroes and situations that would solve them. The vast majority of my plots start with me setting up a seeming impossible world-level problem like "the goddess has gone insane and decided to destroy creation" and then trying to come up with the situations and people who could solve it. This, too, is guided creativity, and it is SUPER FUN, so don't be afraid to get crazy. You're not writing anything at this stage, after all. You just want to play in your sandbox and see what amazing stuff you can come up with. As in all experimentation, there will be winners and stinkers. Just keep the really good stuff and find a way to make it all work together, and you should have one hell of a plot.

I hope that helps! Good Luck!

Finally, we've got Kal9988 with a very savvy follow up question about finding a good editor:
"Do you use an editor for your [self published] books? I've seen a few freelance editors out there, but how do you know which ones are really good?"
My reply:

I've worked with a couple of freelance editors with varying degrees of success. Honestly, this is one of the areas where selfpub falls down for me. I've been very spoiled by the amazing editors in NY!!

When I say editor here, I'm talking about a substantive editor (who reads your book and finds story/character problems), not a copy editor (who spots your grammar errors and typos and such). Since I want my indie books to be indistinguishable from my NY titles, I hire both, which is expensive but totally worth the money. Readers deserve a high quality finished product, and if you're self publishing, it's your job to provide them with one or be rightfully called out.

Many indie authors already employ copy editors, but I highly recommend every author work with a substantive editor as well, especially if this is your first published book. Unfortunately, finding a good substantive editor is tricky. It's hard enough just to find someone who's actually good at story construction and spotting plot problems, but then you also have to find an editor whose personal style and sense for story matches your own. Ignore this last part, and you might end up with someone who is qualified, but who thinks your story needs to be something it's not to meet their idea of "good," which is a miserable experience all around. Personal taste and style are a huge part of the author/editor relationship.

So when you're ready to start your editor hunt, my advice would be to find a high quality self published book similar to yours and look up who did their editing (often listed in the back of the book). A good, professional freelance editor will have a website listing their rates and the books they've worked on, often with testimonials from happy clients. Many will also offer a small sample edit for a reasonable fee to see if you two are compatible. This is always worth the money! It's much better to pay $50 and find out ahead of time that you and this editor don't match than to buy a whole book edit only to discover at the end that you and your editor have entirely different visions of what your book should be.

I hope this helps you with your editor hunt! Good luck, and happy writing!

Here endeth the highlights!

If you enjoyed these, you're going to love the main thread! And if you have questions about writing or publishing, come over and ask! I'll be here all November (just like I am every year) answering any and all questions you might have about writing. I'm basically your own private pro author to quiz at will :)

Thank you as always for reading, and I'll be back next week with a real post. Until then, if you aren't already, come follow me on social media (TwitterFacebookTumblrGoogle+). I post writing stuff and fandom for my books all the time. Join in the fun!

Thanks for reading, and happy writing!


Kessie said...

Thanks for posting these! I wouldn't mind seeing a few more highlights blog posts, honestly. I keep meaning to read through that thread, but by the time I finish my words for the day, it's late at night and I'm too tired to stay online. :-)

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