Monday, November 30, 2015

This Last Weeks Blog Prompt - Thanksgiving

I'm a little late on this one. I pulled a prompt, then decided to make Thanksgiving the prompt, and had no idea what I wanted to write, so now I'm at the end of the week, and this part of the holiday season is over.

I've always thought Thanksgiving and Christmas were special days, because for some of us, it's the only time our families get together. My son and his family are separated from me by more than a thousand miles, and working out the time and funds for travel is always debatable. I think that's true for a lot of people these days, so this thought is truer than ever.

My husband and I stayed home this year and spent the holiday with friends. We talked about the last year, friends we lost, some recently, and others that moved away. There was also a lot of conversation about the past, what we're doing for the rest of the season, and what we hope for next year. All good things to talk about. It was a lot of fun, but I still missed seeing the rest of my family.

We will be travelling to see my in-laws for Christmas, and that's something to look forward to.

The other thing I like about Thanksgiving is that it gives us a moment to reflect. Whatever we believe, most of us have something to be thankful for, and I think it's good to remember the things that are special to us.

I know it's a tough time for families who have lost loved ones, and if that's the case with you, I hope you'll be able to latch on to some great memories. Both my parents are gone, and I miss the old Christmas' when the entire family came together.

Whatever your plans for the rest of the season, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, and will be able to spend some quality time with your families. Have a happy holiday season, however you keep it.

Friday, November 20, 2015

This Weeks Blog Prompt - My Favorite Character Ever and Why?

Spoiler Alert!

I never did work on last week's blog prompt. I love this weeks topic because I have so many favorite characters. Here are a few of them:  Merlin, from Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy, Merlin from Mists of Avalon, Ichigo from the Anime, Bleach, and Rurouni Kenshin, from another anime named after him. But my favorite character is Lucivar Yaslana, from Anne Bishop's Black Jewels series.

I'm big on studying characters. I love to see how the writers brought them to life, and what makes them great.The one thing all of these characters have in common is that they are forced into situations they don't want, and their construction is outside the normal box we place 'types' of characters in.

Anne bishop takes characters that are ultra powerful, and gives them a thorn that makes them weak. Her story is the only 18+ on the list, but her storyline and characterization is awesome. She took a Christian theme and applied it to a world of darkness where the men are being oppressed. They are waiting for the prophesied Priestess, 'Witch', to come and save them from the tyranny of the women who control them. Witch is a awesome character too. Lucivar is Satan's son and he's been enslaved and in prison for hundreds of years. He pushes himself to the limit in everything and holds himself, and those around him, to a high standard. He's also a part of race that receives a lot of racist reaction from people.

All of Anne Bishop's characters are well defined. Lucivar's brother is much different than him. Let's look at the other characters listed.

Mary Stewart's Merlin is a bastard born into a royal family. His mother refuses to say who his father is, and since they live in a time of fear and superstition, people begin to see him as devil's spawn. He can see things that are going to happen, and it totally freaks out the people around him. His uncle tries to kill him, another uncle hates him. He learns about his spiritual gift from a hermit who lives on a hill, and also how to use fear as a weapon at a very young age. He spends his almost his entire life learning about who and what his is, escaping those who are afraid or jealous of him, and protecting Arthur, who is hidden for his own safety, until he's old enough to take the crown. Even so, Merlin understands relationship, and learns to love deeply, whether the recipient is family, servant, friend, or lover. Mary Stewart created a man, gifted by the gods, but when the gift and the gods focus a different direction, he's left alone, and vulnerable.

Merlin from The Mists of Avalon is a pagan Priest, who is subject to the goddess and priestess' of Avalon. He is crippled and unattractive and many are repulsed by him. He is the only one that compromises what he believes, but he sees the pain the new religion is causing, and the way of the future It's been so long since I read this book that I don't remember the specific act that costs him his life, but he dies for the betrayal of what he believes in as his values change.

Ichigo Kurosaki in Bleach seems like a normal boy, but a Shinagami (Soul Reaper) comes into his life, everything changes. He learns to fight when all the odds are against him, and doesn't give up even in the worst of circumstances, growing in power as the story moves forward. He constantly teaches about taking care of family and friends, and no matter what the cost is, he does.

Rurouni Kenshin is the greatest samurai of his time. He fought for what he believed was right, against his master's wishes and it creates a heartache he lives with all his life, because he isn't a killer. After the war is over, he fights only with a reverse blade sword, which requires a lot of skill to win the battle and not be harmed himself. When someone he trained goes rogue, he is forced into action to stop him, while refusing to be controlled by the government like he was in the war.

All of these characters have their values challenged every step of the way, but they struggle forward, fighting for what they believe in, and they are fiercely loyal. Everyone loves a strong, but compassionate hero that knows when and what to compromise, and when not to.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hurdles in Writing - Timelines

Time lines. I guess I should clarify. I'm not talking about the date your manuscript is due, but the time line in your story. I know not everyone is affected by them, but they have been one of the biggest hurdles in my writing career.

This hurdle can arise when you are dealing with characters who age throughout the story; time passages, time travel, and in historical fiction, as well as other situations.

The first time I dealt with this problem was my very first story. I've mentioned Pretentious, before. I'm publishing it now as a serial, but it's been on the back-burner for years since I've been focused on my fantasy stories. Last time I mentioned it, I had to go on a quest to learn how to infuse emotion into the story. This time, my characters meet in high school, and grow up together. Events and friends ages all needed to match. Ironically, One of the issues was my main character and his sister being the right ages to support where each of them were in the story-line. Then there were graduations and other events that threw it out of sync. I had to sit and break down the entire story to see the bigger picture, and correct the problems.

Imagine my frustration when my third novel, Reflections, had the same problem, but for different reasons. Reflections is a YA - fairytale/fantasy. My main character was cursed to live in a world behind a mirror where she watches the natural world, family and friends, move on without her. The story began in the Victorian Era, and ended in the modern day world.

I should add here that with the exception of my novel, The Carriage, I write in third because a number of my characters have their own subplots that intermingle with the main plot. All of the love and drama these characters experience has to be accurate on the timeline for the main story. I don't have issues with them tying into the main plot because that's thought out in advance.

I will also add that while my stories are planned, I allow myself to free-write when my muse is moving. Sometimes that means corrections and changes have to be made.

In Reflections, I had subplots with children being born and growing up, characters dying, people travelling, and it all needed to fit perfectly with the Victorian Era, and The California Gold Rush. I realized the timeline was off before I finished writing the story. I wrote the problem areas down as I went, and later found the only way to fix those issues was to move the story back to the Regency Era. That meant making the corrections I needed, and cultural corrections created by the changing eras. It took a lot of time, but when it comes to accuracy in my stories, I do my best to make everything line up properly, and I don't publish anything until the issues are solved.

The only ways I know to deal with these problems are by planning, and sticking to the plan. That's never going to work for me. Something always expands or changes as I go, but if I see my timeline going off the grid, I make a note of it, and address it as fast as I can. It's much easier than having to re-write the story due to numerous changes later. There is also a program online for time lines, but when I'm in the middle of a story, stopping to deal with a learning curve doesn't really work for me.

My third novel didn't have the timeline issues, but it was written in first, with minimal subplots. I wrote a short companion story for the antagonist, and made it available on my website because readers wanted to know more about him. Maybe you think it should have been added, but it wouldn't have moved the story forward, so it would have stagnated the main plot. It was fun writing something separate that was always meant to be free anyway.

For myself, he best way I've found to fix an incorrect timeline is to go over the story from beginning to end. I do a quick rewrite before handing my manuscript to critiquers anyway, so this is less of an inconvenience than it would be otherwise. It also allows me to be certain I didn't miss anything. As the cliche goes; better safe than sorry.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hurdles in Writing: Who Can I Trust?

I think this topic is an important series, so I want to add to it, and I had a list of topics, but managed to accidentally delete it while not paying close attention. That habit in itself is a hurdle, but I went looking for writer's tips just to find a new topic for today, and it only took me seconds to find it.

When you have a question or problem with your writing, who do you ask?

This is a tough question. There is so much information out there. Some is good, and some is not. What works for one may not work for someone else. So what can you do? I can't give you a solid answer, but will give you my opinions, and explain what worked for me.

My first hurdle was a scene in my first manuscript. It was a sad break-up between my main character and his girlfriend. It should have been heart-wrenching, but it had the emotion of a rock. It didn't occur to me to turn to the internet, so I kept rewriting.

When I first started writing I took a creative , and screenwriting class at the same time. I'm not a fast writer so it kept me busy. I also signed up for a screenwriting magazine, and Writer's Digest. While I fought with that scene, the screenwriting magazine arrived, advertising a conference in Los Angeles. They had seminars on all kinds of issues. One of them was emotion. I signed up and went to every workshop on emotion they offered.

The end result wasn't great. I ended up re-writing the entire manuscript in a different point of view, and there were changes that had to occur leading up to the fight that broke my characters up.

Why was the conference so special? Because I could see who was teaching before I signed up. I knew the featured speakers were successful in their field. what movies they had sold and worked on, and could see what they specialized in. Some worked for production companies, others had sold and seen their movies produced. Now they worked in a university writer's program, and they all believed in learning craft.

I probably creeped one of the teachers out. I told him my problem, and sat in every seminar he did, because he specialized in emotion. He seemed fine with that, and told me that what I needed to learn was the same for a novel, as it was for a screenplay.

I left that conference with the information I needed. Could I have looked for the answer online? Of course, but I wouldn't trade what I learned from those conferences. We attended every year for the next five summers. It wasn't the conference itself that made the difference, but the quality of the teachers. It just makes sense to learn from people who have been successful.

I eventually took some classes at the UCLA Writer's Extension's online program. I wouldn't trade those classes either, but I know time and money can make such programs impossible. There are free classes online too, but I didn't know that at the time.

My next hurdle was learning how to write a fight scene. I'm a girly girl, and I was spooked. I did a search online at that point. Not knowing the credentials of my teachers, I went from website to website until the logistics began to click. I was able to read some of the credentials, but not all of them.

Since then I've met, and heard of numerous people who had no real qualifications, but were hosting workshops for a good chunk of money. Am I saying they need a degree? No. But they should have some kind of success in their background. At least the respect of the writing community. A friend of mine used to insist Terry Pratchett had never learned craft, but he was a reader, and journalist. Journalist's write.

Don't have the money for classes or conferences? There are so many books that teach writing on the shelves, from ten-dollars and up. Look at the back or the inside flap and see what their credentials are, but remember these are the areas used to sell their book. Have they self-published fifty books? Anyone can do that given enough time. How many books did they sell? I was fortunate to learn from bestselling authors, who taught from a book that cost me ten-dollars. Word of mouth helps too. Just sitting and studying how your favorite author writes can teach you about writing. And let's not forget the free online courses.

I have three self-published novels now. They aren't best sellers, but I'm not done yet, and I believe they have the quality they need to become one. Marketing was a huge hurdle for me, but that's another post, and the blog-prompt for this week so that will most likely be my next article.