Note from Cassandra: It brings me great pleasure to introduce Sonya Clark today. Her debut fantasy novel ‘Bring on the Night’ is available from Lyrical Press. Thanks Sonya for hosting me on your blog today and thanks for sharing your thoughts today on your writing process. Hope you all enjoy this fantastic post and then jump on over to Sonya’s blog to check out my interview.
My writing process tends to be inconsistent and chaotic. Sometimes I outline, frequently I fly by the seat of my pants. Sometimes I start with a character, other times a plot or situation. Sometimes the words come quickly and I’m riding the rapids without a kayak. Sometimes I’m dragging a story, heavy and manacled to my body in rusty chains, across the desert Ray Bradbury called Dry Spell, Arizona. Hopefully one day I’ll figure out a sure-fire method to consistent writing.
One thing I have learned is how to start the actual narrative. I write urban fantasy, an action-heavy genre to be sure, but I think this could work for just about any genre. When I first started writing I made the newbie mistake of starting with set-up and background. I thought I needed that to set the stage, so to speak. I didn’t realize what I was doing was the dreaded info dump. I had a manuscript I was unhappy with. Well, I was happy with the manuscript but the beginning was seriously lacking. It was way too low-key and did a poor job of introducing my main character, a vampire named Jessie. One thing I tend to do when I’m having trouble with a manuscript is take a detour, write a short story or flash fiction about a character or two. It helps me learn about the characters and I’ve found it’s a good way to get past a block in the main work. So I did this with Jessie, and liked what I came up with so much I used it as the beginning of Bring On The Night. Rather than tell what she was all about, this showed it. From that experience I learned to always start with action. Find a way to introduce your main character that shows what they’re all about, and fill in the background details later.
Here’s an excerpt from that opening scene:
“Or are you one of those guys who want to take what you want, but you don’t want to put
the hurt on? Huh? You too tender-hearted to listen to some poor girl scream and cry and beg for
“But that’s not how I roll.” She laced the fingers of one hand in his hair and pulled his head
back sharply, black eyes boring into his. “I like to put the hurt on, and I want you to remember
every second of it when you wake up.” She leaned closer, close enough he should have been able
to feel her breath on his face. “If you wake up and you go looking for more girls to drug, you might want to think of tonight as a cautionary tale.”
She opened her mouth. He watched in horror as two teeth began to elongate into sharp,
curved fangs. He began to scream as she lowered her mouth to his neck, struggling in vain to free himself. Her fangs sank into his flesh like hot knives, ripping and tearing as she jerked her head. The blood began to flow, followed by the echo of his screams.
I’m currently faced with a decision. To keep agent hunting with my MS in its current form, or to overhaul the MS and see what happens. Technically I’ve only been rejected from four agents, which isn’t bad and two of them were not form rejections, which is better than when I first started trying to get Death’s Daughter published but still, I’m tossing up in my mind whether I need to go back and refine the work or whether to give a few more agents a try.
I guess what it is going to come down to is whether or not I actually think I can make the MS better than it is. One of the comments I received was that the beginning felt a little generic and so there is the question of whether I can change the beginning and make it better. If the answer is yes, then I should. However, I started sending the MS out because at the time I thought I had reached the limit of what I could do without further guidance and I was happy with how the story worked.
Before I send out another submission I will definitely be re-reading the MS, particularly focusing on the opening. I will probably make minor changes (just because I never read anything I’ve written without changing something), though I may be facing another round of rewrites.
At the end of the day, I can only do what I can do. As long as I’m happy I’ve put my best effort out into the world, things will be alright.
How do you know when you need to revise more? How do you decide your MS is ready?
In other news, if you missed the start of the tour:
Join me on the 7th on Sonya Clark’s blog.
Note from Cassandra: I’m over at Lua’s blog today but she has left a great post here for us all to read and enjoy. Thanks Lua for sharing these thoughts with us, and wishing you all the best on your writing journey.
‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’
By Lua Fowles … says Virginia Woolf and I think she has a point. It’s not just women who need a room of their own but I think it goes for all writers; we need solitude, we need quiet and we need a door to shot out the world. The Muse is a strange creature, it wants to be alone with the artist, it requires our full attention to help us put that story on to paper. So basically, yes Virginia, we need a room to develop that idea we have into a novel.
But that makes me wonder- what about before we discover (because lets face it, ideas are discovered not created) the idea of our story? It is necessary to get into our room and close the door once we have the story idea but what are we supposed to do with all that peace, quiet and an empty room when we have no story to tell?
I love the word “frustration”. The dictionary says it means, “a feeling of dissatisfaction, often accompanied by anxiety or depression, resulting from unfulfilled needs or unresolved problems.” That feeling of dissatisfaction, that impulse to solve the unresolved problems and fulfill our needs is what drives us to tell stories. For me, telling stories is the only way to make sense of this world, to understand myself and others, to stay in balance in this chaotic world. It is the only way that I experience satisfaction and solve my problems. In that case, I suppose, it’s safe to say that I need frustration before I need a bunch of money and a room of my own.
Ideas need to develop “outside the room”. They don’t develop because we’re perfectly satisfied with ourselves and with the world around us, they don’t emerge because we don’t have any issues with the world. They emerge from dissatisfactions and frustrations. Having a room is great, once you have your story idea. Then you can go inside your room and work on it, develop it, make it a masterpiece without any distractions or interference. But before that, to find your idea- you need to go outside and get frustrated a little. No- make that “a lot”. You need to get frustrated, a lot…
Lua Fowles is an aspiring writer from Istanbul Turkey, currently working on her first novel, ‘Closed Eyes, Change of Heart’… On her blog, Bowl of Oranges, she’s talking about the difficult but joyous journey of becoming a writer. She’ll be on her way to the University of Kent to get an MA degree on Creative Writing this September.
Visit Lua’s blog here: http://likeabowloforanges.wordpress.com/
Shiny, glittering, distractions.
It is how magicians get away with their tricks and it is frequently how movies manage to make even the weakest of stories seem somewhat plausible.
It would seem that in writing, distractions can’t save a poorly written story because you don’t have all the shine and glitter – you certainly don’t have an amazing soundtrack and special effects.
Still, many writers seem to use a bit of shine.
Colourful humour and language to throw the reader off the scent of poorly executed scene.
Flowery language and description to gloss over the massive plot hole.
Throw another dead body into a scene that was feeling like it was going nowhere.
Introduce a new character to hide the fact that one of your other characters has suddenly had a personality transplant.
And the thing is, as an audience member, you frequently allow yourself to be distracted by the shiny because it is fun. Because even though you know that you are being had, that something is missing, what you are being given is still enjoyable and there isn’t really any fun in pulling it to pieces. You know what is going on and you let it happen. At least when it is still enjoyable.
You start to really question the shiny when that is all you are being given. There is nothing else underneath and it isn’t really going anywhere. All you’ve been given is the glossy overcoat and there is no substance. As a reader, a lack of overall substance just can’t be tolerated.
So what shiny distractions do you enjoy reading? Which ones have you used? When won’t you accept a shiny distraction?
Alice recently tried to do six impossible things before breakfast and no one accused her of being too pessimistic in labelling them impossible.
Impossible seems to be a big no-no at the moment. It seems by pointing out that something is impossible you are being overly negative.
It may not seem like a nice thing to do but sometimes pointing out the highly improbably nature of certain outcomes can be a kindness. Of course it can also be tactless, mean, cruel and spiteful. I guess it all comes down to motivation behind the statement and the delivery.
But whether or not you like the word impossible, do your characters? Are they the negative type who likes to think that doors are closing everywhere around them when in point of fact they have millions of unrealised opportunities? Or are they optimistic to the point of insanity? Somewhere inbetween perhaps?
When people discuss character they talk about motivation and they talk about appearance and goals and all of these other sorts of things but the idea of them being an optomist or pessimist doesn’t seem to come up. The basic underlying personality that should motivate most of what they do.
I’ve actually been trying to figure this out for a character from one of my WIP’s that I’ve been playing with lately. The character is inconsistent at the best of times but I’m starting to see an underlying logic in her actions. She’s ridiculously optimistic. Her erratic actions and seemingly illogical behaviour actually come down to the fact that she genuinely believes that things will work out okay so you might as well jump. Now that I know where she’s coming from I can probably clear up some of her more bewildering actions and make it all kind of work out okay.
How about your characters? Optimists or pessimists?