Process: Using Setting to Generate Story

People have different ways of coming up with stories. Some people have an idea for the plot first, and they fill in with characters and setting later. Some people have characters first, and just need to come up with a story for these characters.

And then there are people like me, who have a setting in mind first, and everything else comes later. Although, I haven’t really heard much of anything from this camp…surely I’m not alone?

When the first kernels of a story idea are coming to me, usually the first thing that comes to mind is the setting. For example, for SHARDS, it was the whole Victorian Era meets Wars of the Roses thing. For FIRE, it was a dystopian city-state with witch trials. Another idea I have percolating right now involves ethnic conflict and potential genocide. Basically…settings with room for lots of conflict.

After I have that in place, I start filling in, usually with characters. What sort of characters would I be likely to find in that sort of setting? For SHARDS, knowing that my Victorian-inspired setting isn’t likely to allow women much freedom, I can fill in the picture with Calanthe, a teenage girl who’s being married off against her will, and who feels trapped because of her perceived lack of choices. From the Wars of the Roses element of it, I thought about what if her family belonged to one of the houses fighting for power? How might that impact her?

Knowing my setting helped me generate a lot of questions about my characters, which I then used to help me generate my plot. (For more on how this works [for me], see this post.*) What does this character want? What choices does this character have to make? What conflict(s) do(es) this character face? Once I’ve got all that in place, I’m ready to write.

What comes to you first when you’re getting ready to write a new idea? Any other setting-first people out there?

*Ignore that post when it says I always have characters first. Obviously, it’s full of lies. However, the rest of the post still stands.

Review: Whispers In Autumn

Whispers in Autumn (The Last Year, #1)Whispers in Autumn by Trisha Leigh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Actual Rating: 4.5/5.

Normally I’m not into aliens. At all.

While I’m probably still not going to be seeking recs for books with aliens, I did end up loving Whispers in Autumn, primarily for two reasons: the characters and the world building.

I felt like this book started really slow, but what I didn’t realize until later was that this really helped us get inside Thea’s head, and ultimately feel sorry for her. Thea has the typical teenage worries about fitting in, and she feels like she’s different and that’s Not A Good Thing. I feel like my teenage self would’ve really been able to relate to her. My not teenage self mostly wanted to give her a hug and tell her everything will be okay, eventually.

Except, you know, I can’t really guarantee that to poor Thea, because in her world, she really is different, and that’s definitely Not A Good Thing. The reason I’m willing to forgive the whole aliens thing is the dystopian element there is to this world. The world reminded me of The Giver, in that everyone is brainwashed into believing their happy, with the result that they blissfully accept everything the Others hand to them. Except, of course, there’s way more to it than the whole Giver-ish brainwashing thing, which I can’t get into because spoilers.

There was one Big Twist at the end that I called, because that’s sort of my thing. But there were some others related to it that I had suspicions about that I was ultimately wrong about, and I think the whole slow beginning thing I mentioned earlier helped to build the tension before we learned Important Information. This in no way diminished my love for this book, which I’m sure you’ve already started reading by now.

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Review: For the King

For the King
For the King by Catherine Delors

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Short Version: Started off a little slow, but the suspense kept building as the book went on, and the numerous plot twists ultimately made the book worth a read.

Longer Version: For the King started off a little slow, but the setting – Napoleonic France – was so interesting, I wanted to keep reading anyway – and I ended up being glad that I did.

This book is, basically, a mystery. The main character, Roch Miquel, is a young police inspector who has to race against the clock to figure out who is behind an assassination plot on Napoleon…because Miquel’s father is a suspect, and might be shipped overseas to do hard labor if his name isn’t cleared. I don’t read mysteries too often, but the stakes were just so high, I was invested in Miquel’s search for the would-be assassins, because I completely believed his motivation and desperation.

Not only are the stakes high in this book, but there are twists and turns galore, which made things that much more suspenseful. Normally I’m pretty good at picking up on twists, but I didn’t see a single one of them coming in For the King. And these twists seemed completely natural, too, not just plot twists for the sake of plot twists. I actually might have to reread this book so that I can try to pick up on some of the clues.

If you like high stakes, suspense, and mysteries, all in a historical setting rich with detail, I think this is your book.

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So…I finished my draft.

So…this happened:

(I think it should get bigger if you click on it. If it doesn’t, though, this is the last page of SHARDS OF MEMORY. Hooray!)

This is me right now:

…and then I remembered that now I get to revise the thing:

…but I’m going to go ignore that for the moment. Because right now, I mostly just feel like watching The Daily Show, or maybe taking a nap, which would probably be a terrible idea because I’m getting up at 5:30 tomorrow morning.

Currently Listening To: Ke$ha – “Take It Off”
Currently Reading: Splendor by Anna Godbersen

Teaser: Shards of Memory, #5

I’m sitting at 36k right now, just 14k short of my 50k goal. As I wrote on Twitter earlier, things are starting to get REAL, so I have a feeling that things are going to pretty much write themselves for this last bit. (Fingers crossed. I’ve probably just jinxed myself.)

I haven’t posted a teaser in awhile, so I’ve decided to post one. It’s completely unedited, so brace yourselves:

When I reached the library later that afternoon, he was already there. I found him in the history section, staring at the shelves of books that lined the back wall. His hands were locked behind his erect back, and he didn’t move at my approach; and yet, as soon as I drew closer he said, “How much do you know about our country’s history?”

“It depends on what part of our country’s history we’re talking about,” I replied. “Some of it interests me more than others.”

“How much of our early history do you know? Specifically, the part surrounding the fate of our country’s last Queen?”

“Queen Freya? I just finished reading her journal. It sort of just…ends. She disappeared, didn’t she?”

“Yes. Paving the way for the Calypsones to take the throne, almost four hundred years ago. And ever since, the throne has passed from father to son, or brother to brother, in an unbroken line. Until now, I suppose.”

“Why is there so much of an issue with Ethan inheriting?” I asked. “He’s the King’s brother’s son, right? According to the order of succession, that’s how it should go.”

“Because the supporters of Sir Edgar – my uncle chief among them – have reason to believe that Francis Calypsone – the Count’s father – wasn’t actually the son of Henry Calypsone – which means that Francis had no place in the succession, and therefore Ethan Calypsone doesn’t, either.”

My mouth literally opened and then shut again with no sound coming out.

“I haven’t heard that at all!” I said.

“Well, of course you wouldn’t,” Mr. Orion said. “Just look at who you’ve been surrounded by your whole life – everyone has an agenda, Milady, your father especially.”

“Don’t call me that,” I snapped.

“Don’t call you what?” Mr. Orion asked.

“Milady,” I replied. “My name is Calanthe.”

Mr. Orion shrugged. “Well fine, then, Calanthe. Don’t you think any of the rumors would’ve been shielded from your precious, virgin ears?”

I glared at him. I didn’t want to believe him – it seemed too ludicrous to be true – but he’d been honest with me so far – at least to my knowledge.

“What, exactly, do the rumors say?” I asked.

“His Majesty’s mother, Queen Isabella, took a lover sometime after he was born,” Mr. Orion said. “King Henry recognized the second son as his own, but there were whispers that he was actually a bastard child.”

I’d heard about Queen Isabella in finishing school, mostly as an example of how not to behave. But I’d never heard the rumors that Ethan’s father wasn’t actually King Henry’s son.

“But King Henry recognized him,” I protested. “Why would he recognize a child who wasn’t his?”

“Who knows?” Mr. Orion replied. “But Queen Isabella was also a mage, and would have been fully capable of casting spells on her husband. What if he didn’t recognize the boy of his own free will?”

“But – it’s against the law to use magic to influence someone’s will, especially in affairs of international significance,” I hissed.

Mr. Orion chuckled. “You’re not really that naïve, are you, Calanthe?”

He was right. Just because things were illegal didn’t mean people didn’t still do them.

“Why does Freya’s disappearance interest you?” I asked.

Mr. Orion – or Vantandal, I supposed, since we were on first name terms now – took a book from the shelf and took a seat on the floor. I stared down at him and he raised his eyebrows, as though waiting for me to join him. With a sigh, I plopped down on the ground.

“Right around the time she disappeared, she married a soldier – a clandestine marriage, obviously, since there was no way she’d gain the approval of the Council to do it properly. But still, it was legally binding. And the Council wasn’t pleased when they found out.”

I remembered my dream from last night, the scene in the garden…

“They had to hurry, because he was leaving for the war again,” I mused.

Vantandal looked tired. “I had that dream last night, too. Except, I don’t think it was a dream.”

“Of course it was,” I said, although I only half-believed the words. “What else could it possibly be?”

The whole bit with Ethan’s lineage was something I was unaware of until this point, which is probably unsurprising, given how much I hate outlining. That’s definitely something I’ll be developing more when I rip this sucker to pieces.

Okay…now, back to watching everything hit the fan in my WIP. Heh.

Currently Watching: NCIS
Currently Reading: XVI by Julia Karr

Teaser Tuesday: FIRE Prologue

I haven’t posted a teaser in awhile, so this week I’m posting the prologue to my NaNo, FIRE. It’s completely unedited, so there are some interesting things going on…heh. Enjoy!

The smell of smoke filled my nostrils; the gray cloud burned my eyes. My eyes were filled with tears as I watched the scene unfold before me, the orangey flames licking at my father as he cried out in agony, being burned for a crime he didn’t commit.

The crowd surrounding the pit was dead silent, silent enough to hear a pin drop. Everyone knew my father; most of them had either been taught by him, or had children or grandchildren who had been taught by him. The very idea that he might be a warlock was absolutely ludicrous, at least to those who knew him best. On what grounds the government had to accuse, try, and execute him, none of us knew. But we also all knew better than to question this judgment, for to question the government was to forfeit your life.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about this. On the one hand, my fate was going to be tied to the government for the rest of my life – it would be my livelihood, and it would benefit both myself and my family as it was a very high-status position that I’d attained.

On the other hand – this was my father who was being burned, right before my very eyes, while I was being forced to watch. And there was absolutely nothing our precious government could do to take that away from me.

My mother stood next to me, head held high, her stiffness the only sign that she was trying to hold back tears. My eyes scanned the crowd, locking on the official who stood in the crisp uniform associated with the administration, watching my family for signs of weakness to report back to the Council later.

I imagined the Council as a bunch of stuffy old men who took pleasure in the pain of others, a bunch of sadists whose only pleasure in life was making their people – the people they claimed to protect – suffer. After all, why else would they tear families apart? I knew they were probably sitting around in whatever fancy room in the Administration Building they convened in, watching the smoke and waiting for it to recede, waiting for it to signal that the latest threat had been eliminated and that they could breathe easily again.

My family would never breathe easily again. We’d have to live our lives in our small farming community with whispers following us, rumors being spread behind our backs, black marks on our reputations while people believed terrible things about a good man without cause. They may have been shocked, yes. They may not have wanted to believe what they were being told. But believe it they would.

They always did in the end, if the government willed it to be so.

It seemed like an eternity, but my father’s screams finally died away, replaced by silence, save for the crackling of the flames, the whistling of the wind through the trees, the harsh in and out of my carefully modulated breaths.

I was numb. There was no other word to describe what I was feeling, because what I was feeling was nothing. Absolutely nothing.

What I needed to do was run. Run as fast and as far as I could, to the mountains, over the mountains, beyond the mountains. I needed to run, as fast and as far as I could, and never, ever look back.

I needed to escape.

Currently Watching: The Colbert Report

Currently Reading: The Golden Prince by Rebecca Dean

Things I Research: Evening Wear

Occasionally I research some pretty random things while writing my novel. I think it might be fun to highlight some of them every once in awhile.
I haven’t really done any extensive research into this yet (that will come when I eventually start revising), but I did look at some images of Victorian evening wear – specifically, the 1890s, since that is roughly the time period that Nilean women’s clothing is based on. There are several scenes in this draft in which evening wear is present, so I just wanted to get a quick idea of what it might look like. Some of the pictures I found:

I can’t wait to research it more! I don’t pay any attention to fashion nowadays, but fashion history fascinates me.

Road Trip Wednesday: Why I Write

This week’s topic is…
What’s your numero-uno reason for writing?
I think my Number One reason for writing is rooted in when I started writing during middle school. I was constantly moving around because my dad was in the military, so I was also the new kid, and I was also really shy, so I had a hard time making friends. And throw into the mix the fact that I was bullied in 8th grade (right around the time I started writing my first longer story)…well, basically, the whole reason I started writing in the first place is that even if there weren’t very many people who were there for me in real life, my imagination never abandoned me. My characters were my friends even when I had none.
I’m not that shy, awkward 13-year-old anymore. But my main reason for writing hasn’t really changed all that much. Even when life gets really, really crappy (which it has, on occasion, the past few years), the story and my characters and their world is still there. When school and work and the whole learning how to be a grownup thing all get to be too much, it’s all there. If things are confusing or whatever…well, there’s a whole folder of poetry on my computer that is a testament to me trying to work through things in the only way I know how. I have boxes and boxes of journals in my closet that are the same thing. There are scenes in Shards of Memory that I can point to and tell you they are pulled directly from my adolescence.
Basically…I write because I have to.
Currently Listening To: Florence + The Machine – “You’ve Got The Love” 

This is probably the closest thing to a plot I will have.

I came up with a summary for my (still untitled) NaNovel. I wrote it at like 7 in the morning pre-coffee, so it’s pretty less than spectacular awesome. And may or may not be coherent. Here is is:

Several centuries after World War III destroys modern civilization, humankind has finally managed to rebuild society on the principal that difference caused all of human history’s problems and therefore is not allowed to exist. In this society, people are tested to see which path would best suit their abilities; 18-year-old Haylee has tested into the bureaucracy. However, when her father is put on trial and executed for witchcraft, she starts questioning the people she’s spent her whole life preparing to work for. And when she is invited to a meeting by Arthur, one of her coworkers, she finds herself sucked into a plot to take down their government from the inside. It’s a dangerous game she’s playing…will she make it out with her life intact?

Nothing like a little life or death action to make things more exciting, right?

Currently Listening To: Britney Spears – “If U Seek Amy”