Monday, February 28, 2011

Birthday!!

Today I turn thirty! *bounce* Tonight the fiance's taking me out to my favorite restaurant and next weekend we're going caving. I love caves. They're such amazing environments and they appear fairly often in my stories.

I like writing caves because they're something of a foreign world. We're pretty much made to get around on the surface of things and once we go underground we're forced to adapt--much like going underwater. Still, they exist in our world; we're familiar with them and some of what we'd find there. I think they create a sense of the alien without needing reams of description.

Are there types of terrain and landforms you find popping up in your stories? What makes you keep writing that place or setting?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Titling Stories and Novels

A couple of different things have set me thinking about titles lately. I love titling stories, but there are times when trying to come up with a title can make you want to bang your head into something metal. Especially when you're trying so hard to get the exact right title. Something that is beautiful (or purposely not beautiful) and absolutely suited to the story. Something that will capture people's imaginations and make them want to know more.

Writers put a lot of responsibility on their titles. I've heard that if your book is accepted by a publisher there's a pretty good chance the title will be changed before publication, but that doesn't stop us from obsessing. (Does anything? :D ) I know that I'm not really comfortable with a book until I have something to call it.

But it can be a real challenge to figure that out. I usually have a working title until I'm done with the first draft. The working title is just there to let me know what story it is and to keep all its various files in the same place. It could be the name of an MC or a brief descriptive phrase that tells me about the setting. It usually depends on whether the MC or the setting is, in my mind, more essential to the book.

However, when it comes time to settle on an actual title, I open the story's file and try to come up with the concepts that are at the heart of the story. If, as with A Sign in Blood, the story is mostly about a specific character I concentrate on that character and their conflicts. The things that drive the story forward.

From those concepts and conflicts, I brainstorm a few key words. For A Sign in Blood the words were "blood, symbol, sign, death, murder, deity, family, home." Those are the book's basics. Very simplified, of course. I try to reduce things to their most basic form, so that I come up with words that have multiple connections to and meanings in the story. Then I put them together in different orders and phrases until I come up with something that I think represents the story, sounds good and will interest people.

And when that fails I borrow from poetry. Poets rock. :D

So what about you? What's your process for deciding on a title? How much stock do you put in your title and how much time do you spend on it?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Writing Update

It's been a crazy week over here, so I didn't manage a lot of any kind of writing. But, I did finish a short story I've been trying to get right for a while. It's a first draft, but it is the bones of the story and that's something. I did some critting (not as much as I'd planned) and some plotting, but the actual writing has been slow.

How about y'all? How do you judge your writing progress? Do you keep track of word counts? Do you have a daily goal?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Greek Gods and Transgender Oracles

Hello, everyone! Today we have a guest post from Chrystalla Thoma, author of the soon to be released novella Dioscuri.

Marion: Hi Chrystalla. Welcome. Why don’t you tell us about yourself?

Chrys: Hi dear Marion, thanks for having me over! I come from Cyprus, a biggish island in the Mediterranean. I’m Greek Cypriot, in fact, and speak Greek (most of the time!), but I’m a pure mixture of Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek, Turkish, and Italian with a dash of French and English for good measure. Since all these people and more passed from Cyprus over the centuries, I figure I must carry a little of the blood of them all!

Marion: So you’re a fellow writer. Can you tell us about your writing?

Chrys: I write mainly fantasy and science fiction. I love all that pushes the boundaries of what is real. Myths, fairytales, space ships traveling at the speed of light… I like writing about siblings and their clashes, reinventing mythical elements and creatures, and pitting mortals against gods and nature. Then again, that’s normal for authors, isn’t it? This innate cruelty to their protagonists. :D

Marion: Do you have any upcoming releases?

Chrys: Yes, my Urban Fantasy, Young Adult novella Dioscuri is due for release in March! Needless to say I’m very excited about this. I have published several short stories in journals and anthologies over the past two years, but this is my first longer piece to be released.

Marion: What’s Dioscuri about?

Chrys: Dioscuri is a retelling of the original Greek myth about the twin sons of Zeus, Kastor and Polydeukes. According to the myth, Polydeukes was immortal, whereas Kastor was mortal. When the moment came for Kastor to die, Polydeukes refused to accept his brother’s death and asked from Zeus to allow them to live on alternating days, or else to live together in Heaven. Zeus, seeing the brothers’ love for each other, made them into a constellation – known today as Gemini, the Twins – so that they can be together in Heaven forever.

In my version of the story, Kastor and Polydeukes live in a Modern Athens where the ancient gods have woken, and along with them terrible monsters. The two brothers are with the Resistance, fighting to protect the other mortals. When Kastor falls in battle, Polydeukes makes a deal with the Underworld to keep his brother alive. According to this deal, the brothers must alternate days in the land of the living, and Kastor cannot be told, or the deal is off. On top of that, If Hades were to find out, all hell would break loose. Literally.

But Kastor begins to put two and two together, and keeping the secret becomes difficult for Polydeukes. Will Kastor break his brother’s deal and save Polydeukes from an eternity of punishment in Tartarus, or will Polydeukes find a way to save them both?

Marion: You just posted on your blog six sentences from Dioscuri, in which Kast (Kastor) goes to speak to an oracle about the strange dreams he’s been having. But Kastor is in for a surprise:

“Darling, you made it.”

Kast whirled about, hands going to his knives. The man wore long earrings with pearls, and a long, double row of pearls around his neck. And he wore a…dress? More like a long robe. And makeup. Kast forced his gaping mouth shut.


What made you decide to make the oracle a cross-dresser?

Chrys: A couple of things. First of all, I have read quite a lot about shamans and oracles in the past. In many cultures, being a sacred person, a contact point for the gods, a mage, means to be on the threshold - the threshold of the world of the dead and living, the poor and the wealthy, the acceptable and unacceptable, and very often the masculine and the female. The shaman will take on tasks a woman would normally undertake, will dress like a woman or use a woman’s ornaments, and will be treated in fact as neither man nor woman – but as neutral or bisexual, a perfect vessel for the gods, a being that acts as intermediary because he/she really stands on the boundary.

Second, quite frankly, there aren’t enough gay/asexual/bisexual/transgender characters in the fiction I read (this could be my failing, of course, in not reading the right books!) but I wanted the oracle to be transgender. Sibyl is a character I love, honest about himself and his gifts of prophesy. I hope in the future to write stories with a protagonist like Sibyl.

Marion: Where can one find Dioscuri and read more about your stories?

Chrys: Here is the link to Dioscuri (the story will become available for purchase in March). And here is the link to my blog.

Marion: Thanks for coming over! Good luck with your stories.

Chrys: Thank you, Marion, the same to you! :D

Check out the Dioscuri book trailer here!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Body Language in Writing

Body language is a powerful means of communication because most human communication is nonverbal. We meet another person's eyes, or we look away. When we're nervous we tap our fingers, bounce our legs, or fidget with nearby objects. Our tone of voice supports what we're saying or contradicts it.

Weaving the details of nonverbal communication into dialogue adds texture to the conversation and provides fodder for action bumps, helping to weed out attribution tags. Such details also help to establish the mood, which cuts down on the dialogue tricks you need to communicate with the reader.

Nonverbal cues can deepen the characterization, as well. Refusing to shake someone's hand or return a gesture of friendship when one is expected, puts the other person off balance. They'll react according to their own nature, but the reader will get hints at each of their personalities and their relationship. It makes a good tell.

But how well do these cues come through in the reading? We're used to seeing or hearing them, so how do they translate to the written, or read, word? After all, no matter how many nonverbal cues we work into a story, they're just extra words if what we're trying to communicate doesn't come through to the reader.

Some nonverbal cues come through just fine. For instance, someone slamming their first down on a table. It's something we've seen often, possibly done ourselves. It's emphatic and there's no doubt as to its meaning, even if it may require further dialogue or cues to communicate the exact emotions.

The subtler cues can get overlooked, but I don't think that matters. Even if they don't stay in the mind, I think they contribute to the reader's impression of the mood, the level of tension, etc. They have a similar impact to the words that we choose. Using verbs that work with the context of the action they're describing helps to build an image for the reader. I think that subtle nonverbal cues do the same.

But because they are subtle, they're more likely to be dismissed, or to fail to communicate their point. Knowing when to use larger cues and when the subtle will be more useful sometimes requires tinkering and critique or reader feedback, but switching between the subtle and the not so subtle keeps things from becoming stiff or overwrought.

Of course, too many action tags and too much body language can lead to the characters hopping around in their seats trying to convey things to the reader. As with everything, it's about striking that balance. Critique really helps with that, too!

So how do you deal with body language when you're writing? How much do you describe and how much do you leave to the imagination?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Of Word Counts and Guest Posts

I write by hand a lot, as well as typing. I also bounce from one project to another, adding a few hundred words here and then a few thousand there. It's not efficient, and sometimes I have to force myself to concentrate on a particular piece, but it's the way I write. It makes it hard to know how much I've written in a week, though, so once a week I type everything up and add up all the bits and pieces. Currently, in a normal week I write about 7,000-8,000 words, not all of which is fiction (the majority of it is nonfiction, at the moment). This week, I did 12,207! And about half of it was fiction! I love weeks like that. Granted, I haven't seen much sun, my back is beginning to ache, and my eyes want to fall out, but I has word count! :D

Also, this Friday, there'll be a guest post here. The lovely and talented Chrystalla Thoma will be dropping by! So, stop in to give her a warm welcome!

ETA: Oops! Make that this Monday for Chrystalla's guest post! It'll just be little old me on Friday! :D

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Major vs Minor Characters

I've been thinking about the difference between major characters and minor characters. How do you define who is a major character and who isn't? Is it solely on the basis of who has a POV? That doesn't seem inclusive enough to me for Born of this Soil. While I have four POV characters, there are others who are important to the plot, and some of them don't even appear "on camera" all that often.

Serrace barely appears at all until the end and has no POV of her own, but she is pivotal to the plot. Without her and the actions she is taking/wants to take, the story could not take place at all. Does this make her a major character? Another character plays an important role, and needs to be there for the story to continue, but he's mentioned in no more than three scenes in the entire book. What he does is important, but he could be anybody at all and the story wouldn't care.

I think, for me, that's what makes someone a major character: when the content of their character is, itself, what makes them important. No one else could be slotted into Serrace's position. It is her life events and her goals which make her important. She's a major character, despite the low number of her appearances. She is mentioned often, the other characters refer to what she's doing and what she's trying to accomplish. Some, in fact, revolve around her and her goals.

However, I try to fit characters into realistic situations, with realistic motives. Which means that who they are always plays a role to some degree. Rando, who I said could be anyone, still has ties to what he's doing that extend from his life. He does what he does because he has a reason, but I would never call him a major character. Readers probably won't even remember his name.

Lucel does what he does because of his life, his beliefs and youthful arrogance, and he pays for it hard. But does that make him a major character? While some of his actions matter to the story, the consequences are only relevant in how they affect the emotional outlooks of other characters.

The plot does not care who gets put in his situation, but the other characters do. I think of him as a minor character. So, I think that minor characters are those who affect the story, but not the plot and major characters are those who impact both the plot and the story. If that makes any sense.

What makes you consider someone a main character? Do they have to have a POV?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Writing Update

Not much fiction this week. I've been considering how to work out the kinks in Sings the Distant Heart, but I haven't gotten to the actual writing part yet. I've come to the conclusion that I'll just have to push through with it. Get to the end and slap it up for crit. I've been thinking about it for too long and it's starting to become procrastinating.

I typed in the pages I wrote on Fated, but I've only written a little more. Maybe a paragraph or two. I still don't know if it really works, so it's best to just finish it and slap it up for crit, too. :D At least then I'll know if it can be fixed.

I did start to get my chapters for critique organized and to get some critting done. Which is good, even if it isn't writing!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Writing Update

Due to rolling power outages, I was basically computer-less all morning and much of the day. (The horror!) But, I did manage to hand write ten pages for Fated. It's a short story I've been trying to get right for a while. I really like the idea, and I think I've finally come up with something that will work and be fun and entertaining as well. I'll have to wait and see how it comes out.

I'm mulling over some plot and structure problems with Sings the Distant Heart. I just need to transition from where I am to where I'm going. Aren't those always the tricky spots? I started working on Fated because it was a clean slate--I deleted the last attempt--but I already knew where I wanted it to go, so all I have to do was write it.

I need to concentrate on short story writing for a while, which is fine as I still need to edit two novels. It takes a while, to get from that first draft to the final product. At least it does for me.

How about you guys? About how long does it take you to get from a finished first draft to a finished short story?