This goes out to the Gunjin

Back in the days of old, I hung out with a lot of text-based role players. Amidst this group were a particular crowd who role played as magic users and warriors, demons and beasts of ill-imagining. Their purpose was to write the most epic battles you could imagine.

I dipped my feet in and wrote in a couple of battles. Would you believe, some people shy away from fictional text-hitting a girl? In a setting where this attack is meant to happen? Well, I experienced that, at least once, much to my character’s dismay. She was ready to bring it, but her opposition barely came to the party. I also role played as quite a few insane characters, which made text-battling very, very fun. In fact, characters of dubious mental stability have become a recurring theme. They are just too deliciously entertaining to write!

I also spent a lot of time as a designated panel judge for major battles and writing “tournaments” for this group. In this role, I learnt a lot about another side of writing. Because part of my job was to explain exactly why one person’s efforts in the ring had been superior to another’s, I had to understand what I was reading and why it worked or didn’t. I broke down a lot of work in that position, and analysed the description, movement, ferocity; the creativity, environmental use, and especially, the give and take of a battle. It taught me a lot about writing fight scenes.

One of the most important factors to me was always how untouchable a character was or wasn’t. There’s nothing great about a character who is never hurt, never at risk. If a writer remembers to let their character take a good beating in the middle of their turn and still overcome while considering the disadvantaged they’ve just written in, it’s going to be a thrilling battle. Nothing else works on the same level as seeing a character trampled, then still manage to fight back. Observe any successful action film and you’ll probably see this, well, in action.

The Damning Moths is no stranger to battles, and a lot of the essential elements for a good fight can harken back to my days of role playing. I know, those dudes won’t ever see this: but thank you. You can’t imagine how fondly I remember you, and miss you, and think of those who taught me the most when I’m in the middle of having my characters tear each other apart. Thank you.

~A

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The results are in!

On this fantastic December first, I will take the time to reflect back on the month of editing I (sort of) accomplished! I have technically been editing for five weeks, but during that period, I missed enough days to constitute an entire week. November has never been the best month for me to work…

I haven’t made it all the way through the story. Indeed, these past ten days have been editing the same chapter, over and over. It’s kind of an important part of the story, you know? I think I found my rhythm, hit my stride, and whatever other clichéd expressions you’d like. The only problem there, is, my style is repetitive and mildly obsessive. Read, edit, pick at each word, add detail, cut everything remotely superfluous, keep only the sharp and essential and the very carefully written. Do it all again tomorrow. Stories, I’m finding, are a very special kind of compulsion.

Every pass I take, it gets better. I can assure you of that much. But I’ve also discovered editing this closely means I often need to go further back, re-read, make sure the connections are all there, the references all make sense. So it takes a very, very long time to make even minor progress. Naturally, every time I do go back, I find something small to change. A little edit to make. Something which might not make quite enough impact gets altered.

Right now, I am still three chapters from the end of the book. My word count total has gone up by almost five thousand words, on top of everything I’ve cut and re-written into concise, clear sentences. I suspect, with the amount of changes I’ve made, the full amount of words I’ve actually written is well over double that number.

I can’t tell how much longer this will take to finish. I like to imagine the last three chapters will zoom by, but instinct tells me they are the ones I will be prying at the most. I can get a lot done with a good chunk of free time at my hands. I will be setting aside some extra writing time, specifically so I can guarantee this edit is finished before Christmas. Things get way too crazy in this household for the holidays, and I’ve honestly started to feel really inspired about working on book two of the series.

And that means, in a few months, I’ll be doing this all over again. Oh lord. Writing really is glorious, delirious madness.

~A

Whipping Your Words, a guest post from Katy-Rose Hötker

Today’s guest post comes from my lifelong friend, Katy-Rose. We have been on parallel life-paths since the time we met; both five years old and instant friends. Katy-Rose is building her writing dream and running Faery Allure, a small jewellery business, in between the exciting experience of first-time motherhood, and starting The Hidden Grove organic produce farm with her husband. Thank you for the guest post, and all these shared years, Katy-Rose!
~A

I could never write short fiction, at least, I always found it difficult. I’ve more often than not been guilty of letting my words run away with me. They can be so beautiful and meaningful, how do you let go? Why would anyone want to reign in their language? The answer to that question is, to achieve better potency! Our words are more memorable and our stories more succinct when we whip them into shape.

I was raised on epic high traditional fantasy. I devoured it in my teenage years. Hungry for its rich detail and lush world building! It’s a genre that affords a fair amount of verbosity and flowery description. However, as the years have passed, my taste in fiction has expanded. I’ve started reading Young Adult fantasy. And YA fiction is a different creature entirely!

The wording of a novel aimed at a vastly teenage readership is a lot snappier I’ve found, in comparison. You must immediately engaged your audience. You must grab them by the shirt collar and pull them through the worm hole! There’s no time for long-winded explanatory prologues, epilogues and appendices. Your intended reader must be sucked in and not want to put that book down. It must be like a quick fix, full of excitement. The stakes must be high. Your audience wants to feel involved.

From my journey through these genres and my current life circumstances, (think newborn and a fledgling business) I decided to put my novels on the shelf, bad pun intended, and began seeking out fiction that would sate my love of an epic snappy story, with body and heart, without the 60-300k word count. It was at this time I found a new respect and love of short stories, and the new kid on the block, flash fiction. These formats allowed my imagination to run wild, but on the clock. I could continue to fit reading and writing into my day.

I began to try my hand at flash fiction myself and found, much to my genuine surprise, that it was easy. It flowed without obstruction from my mind to the page! I couldn’t believe it, I still can’t. For the longest time, shorter fiction, let alone a form of micro fiction, was a ‘no go’ zone for me. It was all or nothing. I was going to write and read epic traditional high fantasy my whole life. Needless to say, I’m glad my taste in fiction has widened. Variety is the spice of life!

So the key to writing shorter stories in my experience, is to write a tale that you would enjoy immersing yourself in, on a limited time budget. Instead of that fifteen minute bus ride to work being a great sullen bore, why not forget reality for that time and enjoy a quick story? Write that story and others will want to read it. We are all escapists at our core. We all dream great dreams and imagine the seemingly implausible. But sometimes big dreams and lengthy tales have to be put on hold, and this is where our smaller, every day dreams step into the limelight and it’s when short fiction shines. It fills an otherwise unoccupied niche in the reader market.

Whip your words into shape and not only will you have an engaged and entertained audience, but also a very satisfied one. One that will possibly commit your name to memory and look out for longer works of fiction by you in the future when you eventually get the time!

You can find some of Katy-Rose’s flash fiction in these upcoming publications!
“Lunar Cry” in Daily Frights 2012: 366 Days of Frightening Flash Fiction (Leap Year Edition) from Pill Hill Press.
“Midnight Allure” in Daily Flash 2012: 366 Days of Flash Fiction (Leap Year Edition) from Pill Hill Press.
“Sweet Delirium” in Short Sips: Coffee House Flash Fiction Collection (Volume 2) from Wicked East Press

A step into the past

Revealing character insights is a very complicated business.

I come to a “flashback”-style moment in my book, I don’t know if I want it. Is there a better way to integrate that information? Can I make it more seamless? Or is it fine to just have the main character narrate their reminiscing? I don’t know, because I’m too close to it, I don’t have an objective opinion when I’m so deep into editing. No one else will know the answer without reading the story, but I don’t want to give it to my betas yet. It’s not ready for that read-through.

I already know that a very clever author will provide insights like the one I am debating, in a way that doesn’t disrupt the momentum of the scene. Does this flashback take too long? Does it disrupt the flow? I can’t figure it out. It seems to sit well enough, and it’s not totally unique in its delivery.

The degree and speed of which I wish to divulge information is one of those tricky things. I don’t want to dump all the character’s knowledge and feelings at the beginning of the book; there are more natural, poignant moments to reveal certain elements. But I also don’t want to take too long to establish the early motives of these characters. I don’t want it to be one of those books that someone else reads, wondering, “Why would these people do this?”. I’ve experienced that with other people’s stories, and I know I want to avoid it in mine.

I can try re-writing, or I can carry on. This won’t be the only edit the story sees, so it isn’t completely essential to figure it out right now. But it gets me all tangled.

~A

The colour for writing

Books. Books need those classic creamy white pages, with dark text and maybe embellishments of colour here and there. I have plenty of plans for my page layouts, including the delightful little swirls and highlights I would love to see. The reading experience will not be infringed upon, but the page itself should be considered through the eyes of an artist. Some of my favourite books contain unique designs, often around the page number, or across the chapter name.

I’ve been hunting down some new blogs to read*, and it occurred to me with shocking suddenness: I hadn’t been paying any attention to the colours most people are using. I only realised this when one of the blogs had a header with the same colour scheme as my own blog, and I consciously acknowledged that it caught my eye and made me loiter at the page longer than usual. I admit, I sometimes have a very short attention span.

So I cycled through my most-read blogs. White, white, white, white. Some of them have a coloured background, which displays as a tidy little border around the large, white text table. Most have a coloured header, or a nice, full header image, but the main content is black and white.

There’s nothing wrong with that! Goodness knows, it made no difference until I was intentionally looking for it. There are the small selection of blogs I read which have other colour themes. Black, red, purple and grey feature predominantly, though that just shows the kinds of people I hang out with – we’re a grim, brooding and dark kind of bunch, often enough. Horror and dark fantasy, eh?

When I decided I was going to actually write a blog, and be serious about it, I spent a very long time finding a layout I was happy with. This was to become my online “home”, one which reflected upon me personally. The green tones, and the gear-like, yet nature-inspired designs on my current layout are kind of perfect. A melding of ideas, something graceful without being overly feminine, compact, subtly textured, with a left-oriented side bar (which I have always preferred), plus the Theme is named “Thirteen”, and I kind of like that.

*If you have a favourite read, please recommend the blog to me!

~A

Changes over time

The more you practice, the better you get, right? I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, not in such simple terms. Certainly, you get more practiced the longer you are doing something, but does it really result in improvements?

Even with the knowledge that personal taste is a huge part of any judgement, I know of artists who have a career that spans many years and shows some kind of decline the longer they work in their field. With some graphic artists, the changes often show they have fallen into a simple, easy-to-repeat style. They simplify so they can keep producing their work. This is a kind of improvement; they are now more streamlined and capable of fulfilling their obligation to draw frequently. But it doesn’t make it better, artistically.

In that vein, some authors are so prevalent with their writing, you can see when they fall into a rhythm, a method to continue putting forth their creations with such astounding frequency. They work for years and keep writing, and even if you’re still entertained by their work, they have found ways to simplify and streamline, perhaps sacrificing something important along the way.

Maybe it’s the compulsive, habitual nature of humans that makes even artists fall back on something that’s almost uncreative in its repetition. Or perhaps some people just fixate on a specific style and consciously aim to recreate that, as their “tried and true” method. Or, heaven forbid, maybe we’re all only capable of producing our work in a limited number of ways, and it’s just when you’re able to see a large collection that it becomes evident.

These people are all very well practiced, and I’m sure they are very happy with the progression of their skill, but it doesn’t always work out better, as far as I can see. I have even noted in my own writing, new things might be put together with better skill, yet lack in some kind of special soul that an older work captured. At least I can put that down to most of it being unfinished, still in the process of becoming something better, becoming the attractive finished product.

I don’t like the idea of stagnation. I see patterns in my work, certainly, but I can only hope that there’s no decline in the quality just because I find ways to “improve” over time.

~A

Dinner, and the weather

I guess some people have a problem with writers including observations of the weather in their stories? I don’t understand that. I love weather, and it’s always something I’m aware of. My favourite weather is the cold and rainy days that dim the sun and make me just want to curl up beside a fire, favourite book in hand and a tidy selection of Royal Gala apples available to eat throughout the day.

For me, including a small note about the weather or the season in my writing is just a natural thing. I don’t do it constantly, and I definitely don’t have any preconceptions about “dark and stormy nights”, because all my dark and stormy nights have been perfectly normal, or simply thrilling in the way lightning has filled the sky with wild blue and white bolts. Sure, it’s not essential, but there’s that degree of normalcy for me, and it can go a long way towards explaining character behaviours or putting additional conflicts in their path (the need for shelter from the elements, for a start).

On a vaguely unrelated note, I notice that fantasy works often discuss foods. Not only that, but the foods are frequently all of the “hunted a boar, roasting it now” variety, complete with mead, ale, or some wine or other. There might even be trenchers of bread! Dark bread, and rich gravy, and hard cheese. If you’ve read any more than a handful of fantasy novels, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I am personally a big fan of eating. Food is awesome, sharing meals with loved ones is a special thing, and it’s just damn tasty. So I have a similar preoccupation with food as I do with the weather, but I’m not as driven to write about banquets, feasts and other such typical meals. I lean toward just include foods as a part of another scene; maybe the characters are preparing a meal as they talk, or they are interrupted eating to attend to other matters.

I think my take on weather and food is part of my “style”, as it is intrinsic to me. Without those little additions, I don’t think my stories would have the same sense of life to them.

~A