Writing Resolutions – 2020

It’s the new year, and not only that, but the start of a new decade.  It’s sinking in that I’ve had my book floating around in my mind now for nearly 20 years, it’s current iteration for the last 2 years, and it’s predecessor for 8.  Wow!  Time really does fly by, especially for procrastinating writers such as myself.

The previous draft of my book I set a deadline for of May 2012, and I made that deadline, I completed the draft.  It was not a polished version by ANY means, but it was a finished draft, and I met my goal.

How?

I took it seriously.  May 2012 I joined the Air Force, and leading up to this I was sure that once I embarked on my new career I wouldn’t have any time to finish it, so I buckled up, strapped in, and put in the hard hours to finish it by deadline, and I DID!

Now I’m staring down the barrel of a new decade.  I’m done having kids (not raising them though but I can write around that 🙂 ), I’ve completed my education, relocated for the last time, and I have a great career.  I have no more additional excuses than anyone else who writes, so it’s time to buckle up, strap in, and put in the hard hours again to finish the final iteration of book 1 in my series THIS YEAR!

I’ve done it before, I can do it again.  I’m 28,000 words in and my goal is at least 100,000.  Hopefully around this number I will be where I want to end, but I have a feeling it might go a little over this, and that’s okay.  One hundred thousand is my ball park, my “I have to have at least this many for an agent to take me seriously” number.  The previous draft which I finished in 2012 was 110,000, and this go through I’ve cut out so much exposition and boring scenes, but also added in, reworked, and expanded many also so I’m about even.

Why has it taken me almost 20 years?  Initially, my book was going to be one huge saga, but I realized that with every new life event, writing took a backseat, and when I found the time to begin again, my whole outlook and writing style had changed so much that I had to start over.  After the 3rd time of this, I decided I was trying to do too much at once, and decided to break it down into a trilogy.  May 2012 I finished the draft of book 1.

So with this being 2020, a new year, a new decade, new motivation has taken hold.  No more excuses, it’s time to take my writing aspirations seriously and finish book 1, polish it up, shuffle it off to a few beta readers, make some last minute touches, and start querying agents.

Once again, my writing style has changed so much that to be honest, I can’t even bring myself to reread the 2012 version, or v12 as I’ll call it from now on.  I know what happens in all the scenes though by heart, and in July 2018 I undertook the new and improved version that I am confident enough in to submit for publishing, from this point forward I will call it v18.

I’m currently reworking chapter 6 and so much has changed for the better.  Some scenes have been cut, my exorbitant character list is now manageable for the reader, I’ve expanded several scenes which I’d rushed through before, taken time to develop the key characters, and have shifted some scenes to a later place in the book.

All in all, I’m thrilled with v18, and I’m confident that this will be the last iteration, but I have to stick with it.  I started this writing project in 2002, and I’ll be damned if I’m not done with the first of three installments by the 20th year and at least have obtained an agent.

Each week I will be blogging on my progress, sort of like Nanowrimo, but for the whole year, until I’ve completed the whole book.  Word count, any inspirations or hang ups I’ve had, and decisions to cut, add, or move scenes will be explored–all will be revealed week by week.  Please feel free to share your own progress with me on your book in the comments.

So far…

Since 1 January 2020, I have started reworking scene 2 in chapter 6, allowed the muses to add in a dog with a pretty important role, and written 738 words so far.  This scene is still not complete, not edited or polished, and it’s been moved up from its place in v12, where it was previously in chapter 9.  I made the decision to move it up because quite frankly, there are a lot of exposition scenes in v12 that I’ve completely cut out.  The information revealed in those scenes will be told in a more interesting way later on.

That’s it!  Until next week!  Happy writing and good luck with your 2020 resolutions!

Meaningful Writing – How to Not Quit

I’ve been struggling to make progress with my book for some months now. It’s not that I don’t know what happens next, but everytime I sit down to write I find myself easily distracted.

I began to think back to my unstoppable days, where churning out two or three thousand words daily was a default occurrence. How was I able to do it?

Honest answer? I didn’t have much of a life. I wasn’t married, didn’t have kids, didn’t have a job or a house to clean. Instead, I was a loner with no friends. By creating a new world through writing it was an escape from the mundane. The characters I wrote were my friends, I aided their struggles, shared their grief and success. Writing back then was so easy because it was more meaningful!

So what is writing now? Does it hold a similar meaning?

Well, no. I have a great job, a wonderful husband, and three beautiful kids that I love spending time with. There’s no going back to the way it was, and I don’t want to!

But I’ve been hanging onto this same story for 17 years, wanting to finish it and not being able to. Now I realize why–it’s no longer an escape, but I still love my characters dearly, and I’ve invested too many years to just give up on them.

So it’s sentiment. Sentiment has helped my writing survive, but it hasn’t propelled it forward. It’s a feeble reason to keep writing. Which is why I haven’t been very successful doing it.

That’s why other things distract me, that’s why I can’t write more than 300 words in a sit down even when I do carve out the time. I need to find real meaning for my writing again.

Obviously, my previous purpose is no longer feasible, I’m no longer a miserable teenager, I’m a content adult. I don’t want to escape reality anymore. So what substantial meaning can I attribute to writing now?

My answer: Drawing support from others who share the same struggles is a time proven method for success in almost every aspect of life from religion, to disease, to exercise, to entertainment, etc. So I’ve decided to begin meeting with other local writers at least once per month just to write together and support each other in the writing process.

I met with my group last weekend to test it out, wrote 400 words, and worked out several kinks in my storyline–a definite win!

If writing is a struggle for you and it wasn’t before, even though you’ve carved out the time and gathered your notes, then maybe the reason for your writers block goes deeper.

I suggest doing some soul searching to determine what remedy will work for you to get back on track. It may be trial and error for a bit, but once you figure it out I bet you find that writing comes to you much easier.

Perhaps joining a writing community is the answer for you too. If there isn’t a local group where you are, try searching for an online group, and don’t be shy about shopping around for the right fit.

Good luck and happy writing!

 

Soul Searching for Character Development

One thing I’ve learned over the past several weeks is that life is full of surprises, excitements, and disappointments.  Sometimes life seems dull, but others it’s like an emotional roller coaster.  Those moments, the tough ones, the emotional ones, are an invaluable source of inspiration for your novel, in particular: character development.

I’m now several drafts into my novel, and looking back over my previous drafts I can see the stages my thought process went through, beginning with action scenes and quick dialogue to get to the next action sequence and move the story along.  Stage 2 added a little more thought provoking dialogue, a little more backstory to help the reader understand why these action scenes were taking place and to give a little more substance to the wider story arc.  Stage 3 was about tying up loose ends, embellishing certain scenes, smoothing out some rough edges and cutting out some redundancy.  In these 3 stages though, the most fundamental aspect of a reader’s experience was missing or sorely lacking: character development.  Sure, my characters did and said things and the reader usually knew why, but the feelings described were hollow or non-existent.  They didn’t feel real.  The human bond of emotional connection was missing between the reader and the character.

Character development truly makes or breaks a novel, and it can be tricky trying to figure out how to do it successfully.  Loss, grief, fear, anxiety, love, desire, hatred, thrill:  Real emotions which derive from real experiences and real relationships are paramount to character development.  But MJ Pankey, you say, my character did experience loss, his best friend was just badly wounded in front of him!  But as you read that scene, do you feel like your best friend was just badly wounded in front of you?  Tap into your inner psychologist, and tell me what that really feels like.

The emotional struggles make us who we are as individuals.  How we process those emotions, work through them, and overcome them is how we can connect with one another as human beings, and it’s also how we can connect and invest in fictional characters, even if their experiences aren’t real.

Every character who is important to a novel needs this internal struggle.  While my heroine can’t necessarily experience being offered an amazing job and then it falling through a week later in exactly the same way (being a fantasy novel kind of messes that up), I can still incorporate the familiar feelings of excitement and hope for the future, and then the following disappointment when it does not go according to plan.  I know what that feels like, and I can give that to my character.

Describing the internal conflict as actions happen and as scenes unfold is what character development means.  How does this character become better by these experiences, by these scenes, how does this event impact them now to have such a marked influence on a future thought or action?  And the best way to figure that out and get it on paper is to dig deep into your own experiences and describe how you feel/felt/would feel in a similar circumstance, and how did it change your expectations/circumstances/behaviors/beliefs moving forward?

To recap, a story is more than just events, places, things, and actions, it’s about people; real experiences, real emotions, and the kindred connection that a reader has with the character.  To create character development in your novel, you need to do some serious soul searching from your own life experiences.  When was a time you felt embarrassed?  Describe it, give it to your character.  When was a time you felt betrayed by someone?  Describe it, give it to your character.  You get the idea.

So if your novel is lacking some depth, look deep.  Dig up the emotional moments and give your characters a small piece of yourself.  Show your readers the raw humanity we all share between us as a species, and bring your characters to life.

Happy writing!

 

Treading the line between Inspiration and Plagiarism

Every writer is inspired by another’s creativity, it’s just inevitable, yet everyone wants to have an original thought or idea, and no one wants to plagiarize, unless they are specifically writing fanfiction, but even that, as E.L. James has proven with her Fifty Shades series, originally a Twilight fanfiction, can be considered original enough with the proper tweaks.

For the record, the formal definition of plagiarism according to google dictionary is as follows:

“the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own”

That’s pretty vague and the line separating inspiration and plagiarism is fuzzy at best.  Obviously everyone has their own ideas and concerns about the line, and I can’t tell you how many times I have read a book and thought that it reminded me of another book, or that certain descriptions or names sounded really familiar to others in similar genres, as I’m sure you have too.  Is that plagiarism?

Well, I’m going to go through a few tips I use when I draw inspiration from other authors, and how I ensure that I don’t cross that line into plagiarism or some other muddled sibling.  And I’ll do it with an example.

One of the main sources of frustration I’ve personally encountered with my novel Isle of Elandia is writing battle scenes.  So, I decided to listen to an audiobook of the Iliad since it is one entire battle and one of the greatest books ever.

The Iliad is written so that the characters have unique personalities, the battle is expertly choreographed and visual, and it’s very heavy on the gore and details, I can fully immerse myself in the battle for Troy and that’s what I want in my own book!  So how can I do that without plagiarizing?

Firstly, it’s important to recognize the differences between my novel and the Iliad, and every author needs to understand the same when they are drawing inspiration from another author.  For my own part, I don’t really want to drag out the battle scene, especially after several authors in my critique group say they skip battles that drag on and on, even when reading their favorite authors or series.  Obviously this point alone will make it a challenge to plagiarize, since a book length battle such as the Iliad is already far different than a mere chapter.

That’s honestly the biggest tip, recognize the differences between your novel and your favorite author’s.

Rather than copy battle verbiage or incorporate similar specifics, which would be very out of place in my novel in addition to plagiarism, zeroing in on methods the author used to draw in the reader and further the plot is an effective way to draw inspiration.  For example, at one point in the Iliad, the Trojans focus their attack on one part of the wall guarding the Greeks’ ships, which not only added strategy into the battle but also furthered the plot, since once the wall came down it introduced a whole new plethora of emotions, battles, and hero clashes, and it focused the heroes on an attainable goal for a short period.

The inspiration that can be drawn here in my own battle scene is to focus my heroes on a goal within the overall battle, such as sinking a particular warship, destroying a battering ram before it breaks down the gate, or some other strategic sabotage that will introduce areas where I can expand character development, further along my unique plot, and keep my readers’ interest.  My one battle scene is a scene, not a book, and because of this fact, adding extra details, gore, and lengthy descriptions of individual fights –while that drew me into the Iliad and made me feel like I was on the battlefield– it just will not work for my story because the purpose of my book is not to glorify war, and neither is my battle scene.  My battle scene’s goal is just to destroy this warship.

Sidebar:  I think too often authors try to describe too much in scenes, and some of it is more fluff than plot thickening and is due in part to trying to replicate another author’s ideas to accomplish the same affect and achieve the same success.  However, due to the fundamental differences between the two novels, it doesn’t have the same affect on your novel, and it’s borderline plagiarism and will lose your reader.  So again, recognize the differences, capitalize on them, and expand them in your novel.

So to summarize, plagiarism and inspiration can sometimes seem like a fine line.  But the first step to defining that line is to recognize the differences between your novel and the one you are drawing inspiration from.  Once you do, capitalize on those differences throughout your book.  Analyze the methods your favorite author used to keep your interest rather than replicating exactly how they did it.  Avoid sharing specifics in common, and avoid adding in extra details that don’t further along your plot.  Just because it worked for them, doesn’t mean it will work for you, and most likely it won’t.

If you find that there aren’t that many differences to capitalize on or that they are so minor (like only names or colors) that they can be overlooked, then it may be time to re-evaluate your novel.

Best of luck writing!

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