There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

Book Recommendations: Writing Craft April 19, 2014

Filed under: Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 9:34 am
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Hi everyone!

Today we decided to share with you our favorite books on the writing craft!

Kate recommends: ON WRITING by Stephen King

on-writing

” It’s part autobiography and part advice on the craft. My copy is dog-eared, highlighted, and full of notes in the margins. It’s encouraging, especially during my bouts of massive self doubt, honest, and at times laugh-out-loud hilarious. I’d recommend it to any writer regardless of where they are in their writing journey.”

Rachel recommends: NO PLOT? NO PROBLEM! by NaNoWriMo’s founder Chris Baty

no-plot-no-problem

“I have lots of books on writing craft, and while they all contain helpful techniques, tips, and rules of thumb, my biggest issue is being able to set aside all of the perfectionist noise of my brain and simply write words. Baty’s NaNo-ing guide gives me a pep talk every time I pick it up, and that’s been invaluable since I started taking my writing seriously.”

She also recommends: SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Browne and Dave King

self-editing

“Since I self-publish, I need as many checks and balances as I can manage on each manuscript, and this book is an excellent tool for revisions before actual edits.”

Raewyn recommends: THE FIRST FIVE PAGES: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO STAYING OUT OF THE REJECTION PILE by Noah Lukeman

First Five Pages

“It’s a practical little book, with some good end of chapter exercises to measure your writing against.”

Jessica recommends: THE ART OF WAR FOR WRITERS by James Scott Bell

ArtOfWarforwriters

“It’s very easy to get into and his writing is engaging and encouraging.”

She also recommends: WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KID LIT by Mary Kole

writing irresistible kid lit

“It really breaks down how the YA and MG market and what types of writing really sings for that market. It has great examples over lots of different YA and MG genres. I loved it. “

Finally, my recommendation is: HOW NOT TO WRITE A NOVEL by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark

Hownottowriteanovel It is a hilarious book that is also an invaluable source of information about what NOT to do when you are trying to write a publishable novel.

What are YOUR favorite books on writing? Make sure to leave us a comment below!

EM Castellan

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Feasts and Traditions December 25, 2013

Filed under: Inspiration,Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 5:10 pm
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I’m going to be the same old history nut here and draw on tradition in the real world to influence fantasy. I know, I’m like a broken record. But honestly, this is somewhere I don’t see quite as much depth and development in the fantasy genre. There are celebrations and feasts aplenty — usually to celebrate a name/birth day or a great military victory — but it seems like many of us (myself included) gloss over the whole who/where/why/what/how of tradition by stating plainly: “This is what happened and this is how we celebrate it. End of story.” But tradition isn’t usually like that. Not really.

Since it is Christmas Day in much of the world, and countless millions are clustered around trees opening presents, it’s got me thinking about Biblical tradition, and the fact that there actually was no documented celebration of Cristes-messe until long after Christ, and no mention of celebrating his birth anywhere in scripture. Hmm…so this tradition commonly associated with those who follow Christ (since it IS literally titled Christ’s Mass) sprung up from nowhere? I mean, where do we decide it actually began, if it isn’t anywhere in the four books about the Messiah we’re supposedly celebrating?

(Not to mention Jesus was Jewish, and he celebrated Jewish feasts.)

Have you read the Wikipedia history of Christmas? It’s like…whoa. Many people believe Christ’s Mass started with…well, Christ. But it probably started way earlier, as pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice, Sun God, and Epiphany wound their way into new traditions of reveling and drinking that turned into old traditions and then came new traditions of gift giving and tree-worshipping and all vaguely at the same time or before or after it was adopted by the Catholic church as a celebration of the Messiah’s birth and is now a huge consumerism event and ohmigosh my brain is tired. It’s shrouded in complexity, with many influences from Greek and Roman history and worship, and even random Santa Claus/Father Christmas/St. Nicholas connections from worship of Molech in the Middle East waaaaayy back when, all with sometimes very loose or nonexistent ties to Christianity. So maybe it wasn’t even a Christian holiday to begin with? It’s almost impossible to untangle who brought what to the table, because it’s all linked and related because people groups and stories and traditions are often linked and related.

And therein lies my fascination with traditions passed down through centuries of a changing humanity. How do we untangle it? In the pages of a fantasy epic, we probably don’t, and that adds to the realism. To be genuine, it’s got to be deep, confusing, complicated — and even you, the writer, may not know exactly how all of this started thousands of years in the past of your fantasy world. In order to give tradition many facets, consider this:

–Each character has his/her reasons for celebrating.
–Each character has his/her version of how the original feast was celebrated.
–Each character has his/her personal past connected with this feast, since it’s a recurring event.

If you go at it from your key characters’ perspectives alone, you’ll have several different interpretations. And that’s so cool. It’s beautiful, deep, diverse. It can be unsettling (for the character) if they don’t know what they’re celebrating and why. It can be warm and fuzzy because they have good memories connected with tradition. It can be creepy because bloodshed was once involved. Dude, tradition can be your wild card! What happened?

Hmm….

Rachel O’Laughlin

 

Revising for Publication October 3, 2013

Filed under: Publishing — thereanddraftagain @ 8:42 pm
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Right on trend, I’m following Mara and posting a day late because I was apparently so engrossed in critiquing my CP’s manuscript that I couldn’t read my calendar. #headdesk

This post, and the next few posts of mine, will be allllll about revising and editing, so…grab some coffee. I know this will make you sleepy.

I am the world’s worst outliner. There, I said it. Phew. No matter how hard I try to outline, I always abandon it somewhere in the middle and just wing it. Of course, this makes for a crazy amount of revision. My CPs [and my editor] have waded through an awful lot of my crap and given me straight-up amazing advice, and I love them to pieces for it. Anyhoo, I don’t figure I’m the one to give you advice on how to outline, or how to write a draft. As much as I love drafting, I’m crazy spontaneous about it and don’t really have a rule besides “let your hair down and have a good time…oh, and freak out while you’re at it!”

When you first look at that beast you created and it’s time to revise, you’re probably going to be all “bleh…bleh…blarrrrrggg…” and want to drown yourself in still more caffeine. But you power through and whip that thing into shape, no problem. Send it to CPs. Revise according to their notes. Get it in the hands of some betas. They say it’s looking pretty good. You decide you can do better. You do a rewrite or another overhaul. Send to more betas. Let it sit for awhile. Implement more little tweaks. Read through it and, scared as you are, it just might be ready.

I’m fairly certain those who have an agent can just idly peruse this post with a bemused expression, because I’m pretty sure you’d have already sent in that third draft or what-not to your agent. This is that last, crazy madhouse revision that you absolutely MUST do if you are self-publishing. And of course, this can fall anywhere in your process, however it works for you. It just needs to happen after you’ve gotten a considerable amount of notes and implemented them. After your story is rock solid. After your character arcs are all in place and any unnecessary scenes have been trimmed. This is your last swoosh before line edits. (And yes! I’m doing a post on line edits next week.)

First, make sure your mood is right for this. You need to be confident in your story and know where it’s going. You’re almost done! This is exciting. If you’re depressed or having an off day, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT hack up your manuscript. Stay the heck away. You need to be in your best zone to do this. Maybe even knock it out in one lovely day with no other responsibilities so that you can feel empowered with it. I like to print off my whole manuscript and do this last revision with a pen, because after I’ve done it all on paper, then I have a moment to check myself as I do it in the document. And always, always save an old version before you get ruthless.

All right. Time for the nitty gritty. What you’re looking for:

Scenes that end too soon. Do they end strong? Do they give enough information? Is there mystery? Do they keep us reading forward? Check every single scene. Double check. If there’s even the slightest feeling that it’s weak, fix it. This might mean you need to move endings to the beginning of next scenes or move beginnings of scenes backward into the one before it. That’s okay. If it needs to happen, do it.

Scenes that are too long. This is something I do too much. I keep my characters rambling forward just a paragraph too long, because I think the reader needs to know something–but they would probably be much more interested if I just let them discover it. Cut, cut, cut those endings. Save them all in a file in case your line editor sees something missing and you need to recover some nuggets, but for the most part, those things need to be gone. Don’t cry. It’s okay.

Unnecessary dialogue. I’m a huge fan of using dialogue to tell the reader things instead of putting it in the narrative. Of course, you’ll already have eliminated places where the dialogue feels unnatural or wrong, but keep an eye out where it’s still lurking. (This stuff lurks and lurks.) Dialogue needs to feel real, and that could mean they talk about soap monsters once in awhile, but make sure it’s all necessary to character development and every bit of it is driving us forward.

Unnecessary description. Likewise, I find myself with whole paragraphs that don’t have much to do with the story, I just…I just…couldn’t part with them. You have to be cruel to these lovelies. No one is going to do it for you. If it hasn’t made one of your CPs dance with happiness, if it bugs you on bad days, if you catch yourself skimming over it because it’s boring…it needs to go. Get it out of there.

Anything that interrupts the flow. Anything, anything, anything at all. Characters introduced in a weird way. Info-dumps that may have been missed because they’re actually only a sentence long but gosh-darn-it, they’re still an info-dump. Imagine your book in it’s final, formatted state. Do you have a segway for everything? Do the chapter titles make sense? If the book is in parts, do the parts work together? Scratch things out. Move paragraphs. You’re invincible. Go go go!

As the publisher, you don’t have loads of professionals sifting through this. If you have a line editor and a copyeditor (and you better have a copyeditor), assume they don’t exist, because there will still be plenty for them to catch. At this juncture, it’s just you, baby. You and your utter, cold-hearted ruthless pen. Slice, dice, toss, reword, rethink, rearrange until that thing looks like a freaking bestseller. And you know what that means?

Wheeee! You’re ready for the scary land of line edits! YOU DID THIS THING!!!

–Rachel O’Laughlin

 

In Need of An Oracle? June 29, 2013

One of the things reading epic fantasy has taught me is that oracles are not to be trusted. They tend to be elusive, philosophical individuals that are more about fudging the truth and being mysterious, than being a font of good advice. (Except maybe for the Oracle in the Matrix, she was kind of cool…).

But where do we go when we’re writing epic fantasy and in need of specialist help?

In our stories our heroes either go in search of Jedi masters (or the equivalent), or more often than not (especially in the case of Jedi masters) one just happens along at the perfect moment. Or they go to some amazingly well-known, usually exclusive, but endowed-with-the-knowledge-of-the-ages learning institution (that inevitably doesn’t have all the answers after all). Or they bypass the whole she-bang and learn through the school of hard-knocks (I get knocked down, but I get up again…).

So does the same hold true for us?

The Master Writer: It seems that there are many of us working on the great epic fantasy, but only so many masters of the craft to go around. Sadly we all can’t be the chosen one (son of Darth Vader / Anakin Skywalker), able to discuss the finer points of our writing with the Gaiman’s and Rothfuss’s of our time. But unlike (most of) our characters, we at least have the internet.

Many of our favourite authors are available, if not for a cup of coffee and a chat, at least to give us some great advice based on their own experiences. Websites and the ‘frequently asked questions tabs’ are great places to glean advice. Search interviews with your favourite authors, and check out inspirational speaking engagements on youtube (one of my favourites was Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech to the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts (Philadelphia) – check out the link here).

Higher Education: Maybe not Jedi-school, but a great creative writing course could be the way to go. I was particularly fond of the University in Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear. Like a grown up Hogwarts it contained magical classes and opportunity for invention and advancement; not to mention fees that caused Kovthe no end of grief.

If you happen to live near a good school that understands and can nurture your talent for fantasy writing – and are able to attend – you are a fortunate person indeed (and I’m very jealous). However if not, you can always check out on-line courses (I can’t recommend any personally, but feel free to comment on your own experience in this area).

If you don’t want to pay to enrol (and gain the benefit of personal feedback) there are some helpful classes recorded on youtube. I stumbled across this Creative Writing Course for science fiction and fantasy authors taught by Brandon Sanderson at Brigham Young University, which contained all sorts of interesting genre-related information (such as some good general tips for map-making / world building – like making sure your rivers run down toward the sea).

A Band of Like-minded Peers: That really didn’t work out for the Jedi (bad bad Anakin), but when it comes to writing groups – there’s something to be said for getting together with other creative types and encouraging each other to push those  writing limits. I’ve often imagined being part of a group like The Inklings, the writing group that both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien belonged to.

In my own experience talking to someone else who gets the appeal of epic fantasy tends to help me spark new ideas, or challenge the ways I’m trying to tell a story. It’s not every day that the Tolkiens and Lewises of the world find each other, but at least on-line – through blogs such as this one – we can find other people to chat with, bounce ideas off and occasionally have a true creative meeting of the minds. Visit the blogs of other fantasy writers and get chatting in the comments, you never know who you might meet!

Trial and Error: For many of us this is how we find our way. We write 150,000 word first drafts (especially if we’re epic fantasy writers) that require epic editing more than anything else. We look at the fantasy novelist’s exam and realise we’ve ticked 80% (or more!) of the boxes. We discover that our clichés are very loosely veiled and aren’t fooling anyone (except perhaps ourselves). And sometimes our writing just sucks on its way to getting better.

But take heart, most of the pioneers of fantasy writing wrote without a road map. They believed in themselves, followed their vision and wrestled with words the same way we do, while they were writing their ground-breaking stories.

I don’t believe in oracles outside of fantasy, but I do believe we have plenty of resources available to help us realise our own fantastic stories. If you have any favourite places to go when you’re in need of expert advice (for epic or fantasy writing) we’d love to hear from you in the comments!

– by Raewyn Hewitt

 

Avoiding Fantasy Pitfalls April 6, 2013

One of the advantages of writing fantasy is the big backdrop to the story – spanning time, space and the furthermost reaches of the imagination. Yet sometimes a story can get lost on a big canvas. So before creating a bold new world, it’s worth bearing in mind some of the pitfalls of writing in the fantasy genre.

1. Description Overload. Beware of overwhelming the reader with too much detail. Although it takes a lot of time to create a new world, remember you’re telling a story – not putting together a documentary. World building is about providing a framework and highlighting the unique qualities of your setting. As the author it’s important you know the intricacies of your creation; but ask yourself, does the reader really need to know?

2. Too Many Characters. Great epic fantasy, such as The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, is able to weave together multiple storylines that both draw the reader in and convey a sense of scope. For lovers of this kind of fantasy, the advantage of seeing so many points of view provides depth and perspective. However, as good as Tolkien and Martin undoubtedly are, many people won’t read their stories because they are complicated and it’s hard to invest in so many characters.

3. The Never-ending Story? Does your book have an ending? Or are you stringing it out over 10 instalments?  Sure it’s great to have a captive audience. I’ll usually follow a good author through a series, a saga or a decent set of chronicles (there is something comforting about a familiar world and characters). But there comes a time when as a reader you want a resolution. Padding the plot, creating impossible obstacles, or manufacturing new and even more evil enemies, can end up frustrating a reader. Keep the end in sight. Give your reader a bit of a breather at the end of each book. And know when enough is enough.

4. Point of Difference? With all the scope in the world at our disposal, there are still common fantasy elements that tend to be revisited time and time again: Vampires, elves, faeries, dragons, objects of power and prophecy are well recognised within the genre. But as Alec Austin so aptly noted;

A dragon must learn to make a good first impression if it is to do well in this life.

In essence if a reader has encountered hundreds of dragon stories, your dragon will be subject to comparison. So you’d better make it good. Agents are always asking what makes a story unique. If you’re working with fantasy tropes, at least make sure your story has a point of difference.

5. Poor Craftsmanship. I’ve been at ‘literary’ writing courses, where fantasy writing has been considered the poor relative to literature. Don’t believe it. Storytelling is an art form that sells. But it doesn’t matter how imaginative your story is if you can’t tell it well. So ignore the detractors, hone your writing skills and bring the reader along for the ride.

The great thing about a pitfall is – once you’re aware of it, it’s much easier to avoid.

– by Raewyn Hewitt