My Writing Process

Last week, one of my CPs, Liz Parker, tagged me to post about my writing process. Here we go!

What Are You Currently Writing?

Right now I’m working on the second draft of FIRE, a YA apocalyptic epic fantasy about an eighteen-year-old girl named Aimee who has to take her mother’s seat on her city-state’s oligarchic ruling Council after Aimee turns her mother in for practicing illegal witchcraft. I first got the idea for it when I was writing a paper about medieval inquisitions, and while it was originally supposed to be a dystopian, I realized pretty quickly that I sort of suck at writing things set in our world so I ended up repurposing it for a high fantasy. I’ll end up retitling it at some point since there’s already a pretty well-known book named FIRE, but for right now I’m not even worrying about it.

I’m also continuing to query SHARDS. Which mostly consists of sending emails and sitting around, so it would be a pretty boring thing to blog about.

What Makes Your Work Different?

I put a really big focus on setting in my stories. Setting is usually the first thing that comes to me when I’ve got a new idea; everything else that comes after is just a product of whatever my setting is.

Also, even though my fantasy worlds are strongly grounded in history, I usually blend a few different periods together. For example, the politics and religion in SHARDS are rooted in medieval history, while the social aspect is based on Victorian England. In FIRE, the city-state idea is based on Ancient Greece; the mage trials are inspired by the Spanish Inquisition; and the technology, fashion, and so on will be based on the Old West (although I need to do a lot more research so I can flesh that aspect out).

Why Do You Write What You Do?

I write fantasy because those have always been the books I’ve gravitated toward. I love being able to explore different worlds with their own sets of rules. And studying history game me a lot of ideas because I can take different things that interest me and go “what if?” with them. I guess I could easily do this by writing historical fiction, but I have too hard of a time sticking to one time period and not including some fantastical elements.

I write YA because of how interesting that age is. There are so many things you’re just starting to figure out, and often you feel so alone. I write YA so teenagers can hopefully see themselves in these characters and feel less alone.

And finally, I write about women because there are so many conflicting messages for young women from all directions. I would hope that if I’m lucky enough to have teenage girls following my characters’ adventures someday, they will realize it’s okay to think for themselves, trust their instincts, and that there are all kinds of ways to be strong.

What Is Your Writing Process?

Like I said, I usually start with the setting. I actually have a Word document for future ideas that is made up of ideas for future settings. Then, I build up my main characters and the conflict around that. My plot then follows, built around questions such as what my character wants and what her main conflict is.

When I write the first draft, I only know the beginning, the end, and maybe a few key plot points in between. I don’t outline until after I’m finished, and my first draft is usually only a glorified outline that I use to get inside my MC’s head and explore her world. I outline on index cards so in the next draft, I can get the plot sorted out. I use revisions to flesh everything else out – subplots, characters, setting, etc. And then once I’m feeling pretty good about those and I’ve got a thumbs up from CPs and beta readers, I go through one more time and focus on the little things like sentence structure and grammar and word choice.

Rewriting is my least favorite part, so I’m progressing really slowly on FIRE because of that. I usually send out a few chapters at a time to CPs because I know they’ll keep bugging me for me. My favorite part is revisions, because now I’ve got the hard part done and now I can flesh things out! I tend to write very short drafts, and then flesh things out a lot in revisions. (SHARDS, for example, went from 49k to 70k. I’m aiming for 50k with this draft of FIRE, but I could see it easily being 80k when I’m done with it.)

Thank you for tagging me, Liz! Next Monday, two more of my CPs will share, C.E. Darrell and Ifeoma Dennis!

That time I accidentally finished writing a book.

Before I start a first draft, I sketch out a rough outline with a beginning, an end, and a couple major plot points in between so I at least have some vague idea of where I’m going. I got to a certain point in FIRE and realized it just wasn’t going to work as one book – I had way too much story for that. If I want to tell the story I envisioned, I’m going to need to split it in half.

At that point, that left me with only a chapter or two to finish out this part of the story. Which is how I accidentally finished the first draft of FIRE.*

FIRE is the third book I’ve completed (hooray!). And, like the others, I’ve learned a lot from it.

  • My first book, AN UNFORGIVING LAND, I finished during NaNo in 2007. It taught me how to finish something. (And it will never see the light of day, at least not in the form it’s in.)
  • My second book, SHARDS, taught me how to stay committed to something. It was the first time I bothered getting feedback/rewriting/revising/editing etc.
  • FIRE is teaching me that this whole writing thing doesn’t get any easier, and that each book has its own set of challenges. I struggled with Calanthe’s voice in SHARDS, but Aimee’s voice came to me really easily. World building came to me ridiculously easily with SHARDS, but I’ve got a whole lot to figure out here with FIRE.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t take me as long to get FIRE in a not-crappy state as it did with SHARDS!

*I have a tendency to do things on accident. Like graduating from college. I did that on accident. It’s just a gift, I guess.

There must be consequences.

Occasionally (or more than occasionally), characters are going to make questionable decisions. This is fine, since characters are only human.

What isn’t okay is when characters make questionable decisions that had no consequences attached to them.

If a character is going to do something like, say, unintentionally inciting a rebellion against an authoritarian government, she needs to face the consequences of this. It would’ve been unrealistic if Katniss had just skipped back to District 12 and lived the rest of her life in complete and utter bliss after pulling that stunt with the berries. Things like this just don’t happen in real life, and if you want a surefire way to make sure people don’t like your characters, this is it.

If your character is going to make the government look dumb on live national television, and the government is one that doesn’t take kindly to looking dumb, there need to be consequences. If your character is going to make enemies by playing people against each other, eventually this is probably going to come back and bite your character in the butt.

And if you want me to like your character, your character can’t be surprised if she finds herself facing consequences. She doesn’t get to pull shenanigans like trying to restructure a country’s social system on live television and then be surprised when the king isn’t very impressed with this idea and tries to get rid of her.

In real life, there are consequences for our actions. Our characters should face consequences for their actions, as well.

What I’ve learned about romantic tension from television.

Note: this post will contain spoilers for Beauty and the Beast and Grey’s Anatomy.

I really like TV. If a show catches my eye, I’ll give it a chance, although it doesn’t take much to make me stop watching, either. (Exhibit A: Revolution – annoying main character. Exhibit B: Arrow – too much emphasis on abs, not enough focus on other things. Yes, I know. I’m surprised I turned down abs, too.)

One show I was super into until around mid-season was the CW’s Beauty and the Beast. My favorite part was watching the tension between Vincent and Cat, especially because I’m a huge fan of forbidden love. And since Vincent was supposed to be dead…well, it doesn’t get more forbidden than that, does it?

Then they got together. And suddenly I was bored.

beauty-and-the-beast-the-cw-kristin-kreukPart of it was the cutesy soundtrack that played every time they made out, which was basically every scene they were in together. But mostly it was that the tension that was there was gone. They got together, and suddenly all of their problems (except for Vincent still being “dead,” I guess) went away. Maybe this changed after a few episodes, but it wasn’t like I was going to wait around and find out – I’m less forgiving with TV shows than books in this sense.

Since I don’t want to dwell on the negatives, I’m going to talk about a show that does romantic tension right: Grey’s Anatomy.

Remember when these two happened? Alex has to find love someday, right?

Remember when these two happened? Alex has to find love someday, right?

I’ve occasionally said I hate when 90% of TV couples get together, and the other 10% are Grey’s Anatomy. This is because I don’t get bored. For example, I totally cheered when April and Avery got together, because it was totally obvious they were Meant To Be. But that lasted, like, two seconds, because then they spent this season trying to define what they were, not to mention how April was freaking out because of the clash between her religious convictions and what she wanted, and this had a huge impact on their relationship. It wasn’t all mushy soundtracks and sunsets and sweet nothings – these characters had a lot of stuff to figure out in the wake of their happening.

My point is this: These characters had to work through a lot of things to get together. Now they have to work through a lot of things to stay that way.

On maturing as a writer.

Sunday morning I got notes on SHARDS back from one of my CPs. When it popped up in my inbox I looked a lot like this:

Except I didn’t look nearly as attractive as James Van Der Beek.

Basically, the gist of this particular set of notes is that my male characters are dreamy I just need to tweak some things and this thing should be ready.* Obviously, I’m still waiting on feedback from my other CPs, BUT STILL.

If you had told me that four years ago, I would have looked like this:

I promise I don’t spit take this much in real life.

I was barely 20 when I started the first draft of SHARDS. I didn’t even bother finishing it; I got about 35k words in before I realized I wasn’t feeling it and restarted it from scratch. I did complete that draft. It took me three years, but I finally sat myself down and forced myself to finish it.

One thing I noticed when I was reading through it last year was how much my writing changed over the course of the book. It…was not good. Word choice has never been a problem for me, but sentence structure? As I was reading, I could tell at what point in time I took my English classes because that gradually improved. I still love passive voice and dialogue tags pretty hard, but my sentences grew less convoluted – mostly because I finally figured out where I should be putting modifiers. (Side note: I didn’t even know what a modifier was until that post-bac quarter after I graduated. True story.)

But it’s not just the writing; it’s the story, too. There’s more depth to it. At first the whole story was just the reincarnation thing. Which was fine, I guess, but I realized things would fizzle out pretty fast unless I added some layers. So I added the politics. Then I added religious tension. Then I piled in some social and gender conflict, too.

I think that no matter what happens, I’ll always have a special bond with SHARDS. It isn’t the first novel I’ve completed, but it is the first one I’ve bothered to put in the work on, and it’s grown up along with me.

The past four years have been a lot of this:

But it’s been worth it, no matter what, because of all of the things I’ve learned.

*My male characters are really dreamy, though. Not that I’m biased.

I’m writing something new and it’s terrifying.

I’ve referenced it only briefly on the blog, but I finished revising SHARDS a week ago. While I’ve been playing around with the sequel, OPAQUE, I’ve also redoubled my efforts to finish a draft of FIRE because I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket.

As it turns out, working on something that’s not SHARDS is terrifying.

I’ve been in the same world with the same characters for the past five years. Nilea is home and Calanthe, Vantandal, Ethan, and the rest are all my friends by now. I know these characters. I know how Nilea works. And now I’m starting something completely different with completely different characters I don’t know anything about, in an entirely different world I’m discovering alongside the characters. I guess the best way to describe it is it’s like my first day at a new school and everyone’s staring at me like I’m the new girl.

But all of the things that are terrifying about writing something completely new? Those are also the things that make it exciting.

Kicking Around Story Ideas

Recently, Katy Upperman blogged about where she gets her story ideas, so I figured now it was my turn.

And so I present to you a post in two parts.

Part One: The Snatching of SNIs

People get ideas from many things: songs, people they know, things that have happened, things overheard, etc. I have my history degree to thank for my wealth of ideas, since pretty much every single idea I’m currently writing or will write in the future has been inspired by something I learned in a history class. Calanthe, the MC of SHARDS (my YA fantasy WIP), was inspired by Isabella of France, the wife of Edward II of England. The dualist religion that plays a huge part in the story is loosely based on the medieval sect of Catharism; the political conflict is based on the Wars of the Roses. My NA dystopian fantasy, FIRE, was inspired by the Spanish Inquisition, which I took an entire class about in college (and it was totally AWESOME). I have a whole host of other ideas in the queue, too, inspired by everything from the Byzantine Empire to the (Second) Defenestration of Prague.

Which brings me to…

Part Two: The Captivity of SNIs

I have TOO MANY IDEAS to write them as soon as I get them, so I have a document that’s basically a word vomit of any thoughts I have in relation to these ideas, filed under such descriptive titles as “prostitute assassin Byzantium plague story.” I find it actually helps to let my ideas sit for awhile, anyway, because while they’re sitting, they have a tendency to develop a little more so that when I DO finally get around to writing them, I already have a basic idea of what I’m going to write – even though actual outlining is a pretty new thing for me.

Where do your SNIs come from? Do you write them as you get them, or do you file some away for later?

Friendship

Specifically, male/female friendship in YA.

Specifically, how rarely I see it.

I mean, yeah, okay, fine, girls and guys are friends, like, ALL THE TIME in YA books. But by the end of the book they’re usually realizing their feelings for each other and whatever. Bonus points if they’ve been BFFs since they were born!

What about all the other friendships? The ones where they are…well…just friends?

I love romantic storylines as much as the next person, but I wish there were more of these platonic friendships, because it’s not like every single friendship you have with someone of the opposite sex has to end up with you two getting together, right? I feel like we need more books that reflect that.

Examples Of Platonic Male/Female Friendships In YA:

  • Aria and Roar from Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi
  • Harry and Hermione from the Harry Potter Series
  • Cinder and Thorne from Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
  • Ruby and Chubs from The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

…and I’m blanking on other examples.

[Click for source.]

[Click for source.]

My point is, though, these relationships were just as satisfying as all of the romantic relationships that populate YA books. And I’d say in some cases – for example, Aria and Roar – I actually liked the friendship more than the romantic relationship (which is saying something, because I love Aria and Perry together).

Also, there’s that part of me that worries what sort of messages we’re sending. Just because he’s a dude and he’s nice to you means he’s looking for something? You can’t be just friends with someone? I feel like this might be part of that whole bigger thing in YA where romantic relationships > friendship.

Speaking of which…don’t even get me started on girl/girl friendships. That’s a subject for another post.

Any other examples of platonic girl/boy friendships in YA?

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.

Draft 3: It’s a wrap!

I finally finished my third draft of SHARDS! Huzzah!

It took way longer than I’d been planning, because I went on vacation, then there was that whole trying to find a job thing, and then there was that slump when I failed to find a job, and LIFE. Which isn’t to say that there’s really an excuse, because there will come a day at some point in the future where I won’t have the luxury of Not Writing for weeks and weeks, but whatever. It is what it is. (Let’s not talk about how I’d planned to have this done at the end of July, and it is now the end of October. Oops.)

My previous draft was 49k. This one was 54k. Which is still really, really short for a fantasy novel, but I sort of already started Draft 4 during WriteOnCon, and given all the things I’ve already added, this next draft will be…much longer than 54k. Draft 3 was a complete rewrite of Draft 2, to the point where I didn’t even look at Draft 2. Draft 4 is going to be a revision of Draft 3, where I add things and change things and delete things, but will still bear a resemblance to Draft 3. I’ve never actually revised a novel before (I’ve barely revised a history paper, let’s be honest), sooooo more on how that whole thing goes after it’s actually done. I’m not going to set a deadline for that yet because NaNo is a week away, and I’m going to be putting SHARDS aside for the month so I can focus on rewriting FIRE. But my best guess is I’ll have Draft 4 done around the end of January. For realsies, guys.