Iron &Glass, the author’s journey (part 9)

Find Time to Write

So I’m back in college again this week (sad face). I have my third 16 credit hour semester (sullen face), and most of my free time just ran away from me,  crying laughing hysterically.

Well, most of the time, people are busy, too busy to pursue their hobbies for long periods of time. What does that mean for those whose hobbies take a long time? Say, mountain climbing? Traveling? Or—you guessed it—writing?

Writing takes a long time. Even if you type fast–which I do–it still can take 30+hours to write the book let alone research, plan, and edit it. Ugh. Right?  I have a new internship, a job, and 16 credit hours; I’m swamped, barely keeping my head above water in week one! So how do I/you find time to write?

Not an easy question to answer

First, you have to evaluate your free time. How much of it do you have? How much of that do you want to dedicate to writing? If you’re serious about writing, your answer is: A lot.

I don’t work on weekends, and I don’t have class on weekends. So, just guess what I do on weekends? Yep. I spend most of my time writing. Remember that “writing” doesn’t just mean “writing,” but plotting a story, developing characters, editing, drafting a query letter, researching agents, and so on and so on.

Anyways.

If you want time to write, organization is a must. You might be surprised about how more free time you have if you plan things out. This even goes for people with full-time jobs. Set up some time to write, a hour, maybe two, after work/school and stick to it. Once your sitting in front of you computer, get to it. Don’t stare at a blank page or check out your social media accounts (I turn my internet off unless I’m name searching or doing various other kinds of research). If you find yourself watching a screen and unable to do what you planned, try to do something else writing related. If you can’t write, then edit; if you can’t edit, then plot; if you can’t plot, then write a query letter, or whatever. But don’t waste that time!

Now, you might want to set different times for different things. Like, if you’re actually writing, try to write later at night. A lot of people say when their tired they feel more free to write instead of question every sentence . If you’re editing, try to do it when you get home. If you edit with dropping eyes, you’ll might actually make a mistake instead of fixing one. You get the picture.

Still, dedication to your work and organization of your time will help you write no matter how busy you are.

I managed to write a 180,000 words story during a 17 credit hour semester (+ job, + internship)! Everyone can find time to write, you just have to set time aside and do it.

 

Sorry, this has nothing related to my upcoming novel, Iron & GlassBut . . . what the heck. I thought it might help.

Iron & Glass, the author’s journey (part 8)

Constructive Criticism 

Every author should have beta readers for their story. No one is perfect. You will make mistakes. Others can point those out for you. Some people may even offer suggestions that are better than your original idea. So, after someone kindly spends their valuable time to read your story, you have to decide what advice to keep and what advice to toss.

You (probably) don’t want to accept everything, but not listening at all is a bad idea. I don’t think there is a black and white way to go about deciding. But, there are some ways I use when looking over a beta readers suggestions.

Remember that not every comment is a critique. Iron & Glass (my self-published novel soon to be released) just had its 4th beta reader (hence this post). The beta reader–let’s call her “Pam” because I don’t know if she wants her name on here or not– asked several questions throughout the story. Thing is, she asked the exact questions I wanted the readers to asking at that point in the story.  Seeing them there felt like a pat on the back. I did a good job.

That being sad, Pam had some questions I didn’t want or anticipate as well. For those, I went back through the story to answer or clarify them.

Rejecting or accepting Pam’s other feedback wasn’t so easy. I had to decide one suggestion at a time.

Some were easy. Pam wanted me to change the name the USA International Ballet Competition (IBC) because it didn’t sound real. Well, it is real. So I’m not going to change the name of a real competition into a fake one to make the it sound more real (sorry, I think that sounds confusing . . . ). There was another case where she wanted me to change the name of a mythological monster because it didn’t sound scary enough. Sadly, that is the creatures name, so I don’t (and didn’t) want to change it.

Not too bad. Rejecting those suggestions was easy.

Other suggestions were easy to accept (sorry my tenses are all over the place. I’m so this is a rough draft blog post). Iron & Glass has a scene that takes place at a restaurant (everyone look shocked and surprised). Pam pointed out how I never tell the reader where these two people are sitting, next to each other, across from each other, on top of each other, or what? Hey, awesome, I can go fix that. I was really happy she pointed it out.

Then we have the “inbetweeners”. Should I delete that sentence? Is this scene necessary to the plot? I want to know more about how this character is feeling. What is the significance to this object? Clarify it. Introduce this character sooner. And on and on it goes.

I, usually, accept about 85% of the changes beta readers suggests. They offer good advice. But, for every suggestion, I have to ask myself: Does changing this better my story or take away from my original intent?

Then it really becomes a judgment call. Just remember to accept the criticism and be willing to make changes, but don’t let your story lose its purpose.

Sorry there not some neat formula, but I’d be happy to answer any questions.

And thank you Pam (you know who are), and my other beta readers! Especially my sister, who read Iron & Glass twice for me.

The Road is Not Easy (and Nor Should It Be) / A Meditation on Pain.

Originally posted on JamesRadcliffe.com:

To be human, and to live a human life is to be, (at least in part) almost continually beset by: pain, hardship, and obstacles.

Strangely, far from being the despicable and discouraging news that this, on the surface, appears to be; I believe that this is not necessarily a bad thing….

In fact, I believe: pain and obstacles can be a great impetus to our continuing growth and evolution.  And furthermore: that a life lived without them would be largely useless and benign; bereft of much of the merit gleaned and accrued from the full gamut of human experience.

But (and here is the kicker), without the correct approach to these things, without the correct guiding idea, we can all too easily spiral down into a dark pit of: victimhood, learned helplessness, and general malaise.

How can I possibly prove all this?  Why am I even…

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Iron & Glass, the author’s journey (part 7)

Staying Focused 

I personally struggle with staying focused on a single story. I’ve got a bad habit of getting amped for a new idea right when I’m about 75% way through the first draft of another story. Writing the last quarter of it becomes a torture as a new, shiny idea fills my head.

So how do you maintain interest in your current project? Running off to chase the newest idea will never help you finish a book—or get published.

Inspiring authors need discipline, discipline to finish a story, to edit it (several times), to query it, and to market it. Basically, you need to stay passionate and committed to your work. If you can’t drag your attention away from the shiny, new idea, then ask yourself: Is my current idea worth pursuing? If the author’s bored, odds are the reader will be too. Or do you lack the discipline to follow the story through?

I’ve dropped a few stories after deciding they bored me because they were boring. Most of the time, I buckle down and finish, knowingI’m just over excited about a new idea.

So how do you tell which ones to drop and which ones to fight for?

Well, there really are no tricks. Either the story is or isn’t worth reading. You’ll have to sit down and think about that on a story-by-story basis. Think about the characters; will it bother you if their story is left untold? Will you feel bad for abandoning them? Do you think others would enjoy this story? How could it benefit people?

Ask questions like that and make a choice depending on your answers.

Now, if, like me, you have ants in your pants and want to jump on new story ideas, then here are the few methods I try when the “new story bug” bites me.

When I first stated writing (which was, what? eleven years ago?), I wrote down the basic idea of the new story and try to leave it alone until I finished the other. However, the  ideas never really sat quietly. New characters and plot points would pop into my head no matter how I concentrated. .

Now, you can force the idea from your mind, if you want, and focus on your current story. From time to time, I visualize new ideas like some sort of ball that I mentally bat away. But, usually, I don’t want to slam new ideas away. I want to let them flower and flourish, even if I can’t expand on them right then.

If you believe in your current story but don’t want to lose the new idea, I suggest two options, depending on the person.

First, try working on multiple projects at once. I do not recommend this, though. Unless you’ve been writing for a while and are extremely organized and focused, this could (will probably) end in disaster.

So why did I put the suggestion on my blog? Because you can make this work. Don’t write two stories at once. Instead, break your stories into stages. Write story A, edit story B, query story C, and develop story D. Or something like that.

I work on many projects at once, however, when I’m writing a story, I only work on that one. If I’m not currently writing, I’ll go ahead and edit one story while querying another and plot pointing a third.

Still, it’s difficult. Dividing my time like that isn’t easy. I want to work on all the stories and end up feeling like nothing gets done on any of them. To avoid that problem, I prioritize and order which stories I consider more important to work on right now. The order is usually based off how much time I have, what I’m trying to do, and whats hot on the market right now.

The second option: Write your current story, but go ahead and write down the ideas that come to you, just don’t develop them. That lets you finish the story without smashing your own ideas. It can also help with writers block. If you just can’t think of what to write for your current story, go and play the idea for the new one. It might help free your mind up a bit.

I’m sure there are other ways, but I’ve personally tried and used those two.

Iron & Glass–the novel I’m self-publishing–was a rarity for me. While I finished up another story when I got the idea for it, no other ideas came to me while I was writing it. I stayed focused on Iron & Glass without any distractions. Yea me!

Anyways, how what ideas have you tried to deal with this little problem?

If you have any questions . . .

The Message Of Saint Paul ! / Infinite Hope & Love.

Originally posted on mysuccessisyoursuccess:

“” What will separate us from the Love of Christ ? Will Anguish ,or Distress ,or Famine ,Or Nakedness ,or Peril ,or Sword “”?

No,in all these things we Conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For neither Death nor Life, nor Angels nor Principalities ,nor Present things ,nor Future things ,nor Power, nor Heights ,nor Depth ,nor any other Creature will be able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

J.M.Sabbagh-http://mysuccessisyoursuccess.wordpress.com

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Iron & Glass, the author’s journey (part 6)

I wanted to discuses one of the touchier topics of writing: when does inspiration become plagiarism? Yikes. Plagiarism is such a scary word and has some heavy consequences. In some ways the word has been defined; in most ways it’s pretty vague, especially in the “stealing ideas” department.

 

In creative writing, plagiarism becomes a nightmare. Other stories inspire writers all the time. They’ll borrow ideas and “make it their own.” Sometimes, the inspiration is so clear readers can point it out; other times the story takes off on its own. Often authors get accused of being “inspired by” a story that didn’t inspire them at all. This tends to happen with popular series, and readers will accuse authors of borrowing/stealing ideas that aren’t really that unique.

 

Three of the worst offenders (remember this has nothing to do with the authors of these series) are Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight. Anybody notice how many books get accused of copy one of these? If a book has a magic school, the authors must be ripping off of Harry Potter (note: the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, founded in 1888, was the first magic school I’ve heard of). If the book has a situation where kids must kill each other to escape something, the author must be copying The Hunger Games (note: Battle Royal did something similar before Suzanne Collins and before both came the Theseus myth, which is thousands of years old). And any sort of paranormal romance is obviously a Twilight knock off. Right?

 

As an author, such accusations can get annoying. Someone may have gotten an idea before ever hearing/reading it somewhere. Authors can also feel boxed in because of this, and they can fear adding certain elements to their story because others might accuse them of copying someone else.

 

Before I ever heard of Star Wars, I wanted to have a protagonist who ended up being the kid of the story’s “big bad”. After I finally watched Star Wars, I decided against doing that for years. I didn’t want to “steal” the idea, though I had a similar one years before seeing it there. Now I realize that idea isn’t particularly unique. Start Wars is just one of the most popular franchises to have utilized it.

 

Because I talk about what authors can do about this mess, it is important to remember the other side of this: people actually borrowing/stealing ideas from others. This happens all the time. Some believe every story is part of one great story that never really ends. Ideas are borrowed and re-shaped all the time. Usually, authors are pretty up-front about their inspiration, telling people what stories launched their own. But, a few times, you get people who basically re-write the book, which does feel like stealing or a fanfiction.

 

So, how do you navigate these tricky waters?

 

Well, for one, I wouldn’t let another story prevent you from adding something to your own. If you thought of the idea, that’s great. Don’t sweat it too much. You could always tell people if they asked. You could even blog about where that particular idea came to you. If you’re pulling an idea from a book you love, give the book credit. Let everyone know your book was, in fact, inspired by different book. Just make sure your story is your own. Don’t write a fanfiction with altered names. There are no black and white rules when it comes to this, so use your best judgment.

 

Lastly, don’t worry about getting accused too much. More than likely, it will happen. If you write a paranormal romance, people will say Twilight inspired you; write a dystopian and sudden The Hunger Games inspired you. On and on it goes.

 

For the record, a no specific books inspired Iron & Glass. A scene in a movie? Yes. A CD? The sound of it, yes. And sitting under a tree. That’s what started Iron & Glass. I already wrote about that, but forgot the CD parts. Opps.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Like I said, it’s a tricky one.

Brandon Sanderson

“Fantasy has had some problems with being too repetitive, in my opinion. I try to read what other people are doing – and say, ‘How can I add to this rather than just recycle it? How can I stand on Tolkien’s shoulders rather than stand tied to his kneecaps?'”

This man is a genius. Of course, so was Tolkien.

Iron & Glass, the author’s journey (part 5)

The Importance of Appearances

I’m on vacation right now (go me!), so this blog will be a little shorter.

I want to mention the importance of character names and appearances. Most authors I’ve read about/know spend a long time picking the perfect name. Usually, an author picks a name for how it sounds or for its meaning. A name needs should “fit” the character, match the story’s tone, and, usually, have a significant or relevant meaning.

 

Lets take the name Savannah. It sounds beautiful, but it means “barren wastelands”. Now this meaning could work in a number of situations. Say the story’s about the fading human race, so there’s a high need and value placed on fertility. So I write about a barren female, which brands her as a Savannah (I like this idea! I may use it with another story idea I have). Sure, that works, but you probably don’t want to name the female lead in a romantic comedy Savannah

Names can go beyond an interesting meaning or sounding cool. When you’re picking out names, decide what purpose you want your names to serve.

Names can become clues. In Iron & Glass (the e-book comes out August 18th!)the main character’s name, Calissa Delano Lavalle, is a piece of the story’s puzzle.

Names can add to culture. Brandon Sanderson does this in The Stormlight Archive. The noble names try to sound symmetrical. So Shallan (alla) Davar (ava) belongs to a noble where as Torfin is a common man.

Names can add to culture through sound too. Take A Song of Ice and Fire for example. The Targaryens (Rhaenys, Viserys, Daenerys) sound extremely different from the Starks (Jon, Sansa, Eddard).

Okay, now onto character appearances.

Appearances can say as much as names. Usually my character’s appearances reflect their personality (or culture). An obvious would be a redhead having an impulsive personality.

It’s all in the eyes though. Really, they can be extremely important. Think about how often authors use eyes to indicate something is different. Jace from The Mortal Instruments and Edward from Twilight have golden eyes (not just to look pretty). Why? One has too much angel blood, the other won’t drink human blood. Eyes can indicate something supernatural or really easily, and create an interesting character appearance at the same time.

Of course, just like names, appearance can build culture. If you’re writing about anything supernatural, do these creatures look different from humans? How so?

Are you writing about a make-believe place in a destopia or fantasy? Okay, then are they races or species that look different? Do some countries tend to have darker hair and skin but lighter eyes (wouldn’t that be pretty!)? Does a hunted or hated/ loved and desired race have physical characteristics that set them apart?

Calissa, protagonist of Iron & Glass has green eyes and blond hair. Why? Not just because it looks pretty, I’ll tell you that much. There’s a purpose behind it, but you’d have to read the book to figure it out.

Again, Iron & Glass comes out on August 18th!

And let me know if you have any questions!

Iron & Glass, the author’s journey (part 4)

How to Start a Story

What’s worse, starting a story or ending one? One pulls the reader into the story; the other lets the reader go. While a writer needs to make a good first impression, but, for me, that’s easier than ending a story. Ending a story means wrapping up the entire novel with the perfect paragraph or line. Also, as an author, you have to let the characters go–unless you plan on writing more about them. Endings are–excuse me here–final.  But you start a novel, you’ve got thousands of possibilities and opportunities.

Deciding at what point in time the story should start can be difficult. Some fantasy novels, like David Gemmell’s The Sword in the Storm, start before the main character’s birth. Other books span generations, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude. Some novels start with an action or emotional scene, a flashback, or some mundane task. Basically, a novel can start anywhere.

So how do you round it down? You have to know your genre. Most YA novels don’t span generations. Odds are you don’t want to start the novel before the protagonist is born. And so on and so on. Understand what your readers expect and play off that.

But doesn’t mean you should open your novel with a gener’s cliché. Fantasy tends to start with a battle/action sequence, a prologue, or a mundane task (like gathering wheat). While popular in the genre, there are problems with those beginnings.First, who cares? The reader isn’t invested in the battle sequence. They don’t understand who’s fighting who, and they don’t care. The scene looses potency because the reader isn’t invested in the world, characters, or plot yet. Prologues generally scream, “Nothing really interesting will happen in the next hundred pages so I’m throwing you a bone for now.” In fantasy, setting up a world, plot, and characters can take hundreds of pages, so prologues seem like a good idea. However, authors should be able to move the story while building the world. The mundane tasks open? Right. I’m guessing everyone can see how that’s a problem. No one really wants to read about someone else gathering wheat or whatever. Still, mundane tasks can let the reader know who this character is before something really traumatizing happens to them.

I just contradicted myself. And that’s going to happen a lot with writing advice because there is no “right” or “wrong” way. Every story is unique, which means no advice applies universally.

 

Here’s what I do.

 

First, identify the genre. Remember, when you start a story, you’re starting the story. Anything past what happens in the first page becomes a flashback. Normally, you don’t  write about every day of a character’s life, so pick out the important parts to highlight. If you read Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, you’ll follow the story of a young boy. Hobb doesn’t just write about any random day in his life, but the important ones, the days where something significant happened.

Okay, so pick out a moment in time significant to the character. Keep the genre in mind. If it’s YA, don’t go too far into the past. Pick something that will launch you in you into your main plot line. If it’s Fantasy, well, you can start at the character’s birth if that moment is important to the character’s life.

I started Iron & Glass with an event that sends a rift through Calissa’s normal life, forcing her to change her daily activities. These changes allow the plot to move forward.

 

So what happens?

 

Well, let’s read the “back of the book” first:

 

Lights glare in her eyes; she tries blinking them away. Her foot swings in front of her—screech! Her world spins. A warm liquid touches her skin. The moan of a siren, the smell of wood, the beat of a heart, a cold body beneath soft fingertips—cold; bodies are supposed to be warm . . .

Ballerina Calissa Delano Lavalle lost her mother in a car accident, and now she struggles to dance. Her coach recommends Calissa take a break, but, without dancing, nothing can distract Calissa from her mother’s absence and the distance her father’s placed between them. Calissa tries pulling the unraveling threads of her life together, but even her friends slip away.

Weighted with the past, she cannot move forward, until something new invades. Animals have started following Calissa. Her life takes a dangerous turn where the supernatural becomes real. Two beautiful and undoubtedly lethal boys will change Calissa’s life, tangling her past and future, endangering her friends and family, and forcing Calissa to search inside herself and discover what it means to be human.

 

So in the first scene Calissa struggles with her dancing lessons,  thinks about the accident that killed her mom, and gets asked to take a break from dancing until she’s healed. Right off the bat I establish two conflicts she’ll have to work through: her mom’s death and dancing. I establish she’s a dancer  and that her mother’s dead. I also remove her from dancing lessons. Dancers practice for hours daily, so Calissa could never move forward in her story if she got stuck in the studio. So I pull the reader into the action, into her life and story while disrupting Calissa’s life to move the story forward.

Cool, right?

Anyways, as I said, it’s different for every story. I’d love to answer any questions about where to start a story, or any story questions at all really.

Remember, Iron & Glass comes out on August 18th  and will be available on Smashwords.