Guest Post from Sonya Clark

September 7, 2010 at 5:55 am (fantasy, September Blog Tour) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

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

mercy?”

“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.

**

Learn more about Sonya Clark at her blog. Bring On The Night is available for purchase from Lyrical Press and the Amazon Kindle store, as well as other ebook retailers.

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Prep For the Tour

August 29, 2010 at 10:04 am (September Blog Tour) (, , , , , , )

Hey all,

Turns out planning a blog tour is exciting, exhilarating, and a lot of hard work. The tour kicks off on Wednesday the 1st of September over on Eric’s blog, working my muse, and Eric is going to be visiting the realm so I am definitely looking forward to it.

I’ve been busy, writing guest posts, double checking links, making sure everything is going to plan and knowing that something is probably going to come up anyway. I’ve also been helping out with the 40 hour famine. As always, so much to do and so little time. Writing has definitely been taking a back seat but I’m getting back on top of everything so hopefully I’ll have a few really good writing sessions in the near future.

First week of the blog tour begins with Eric and then on the 2nd I am visiting Geoffrey, followed by Lua on the 4th. Hope to see you all there and please pass the word on.

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Why Writing a Novel Is Like Baking A Cake

August 13, 2010 at 5:37 am (Planning, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Okay – before you jump on the attack I am going to counter this soonish by explaining why writing a novel is not like baking a cake.

There are many reasons why writing a novel is in fact like baking a cake:

1.  There are certain ingredients that must be present or it will not work. You can argue that there are eggless/flourless and everything-else-less cakes out there and some of these are very, very good. However, for the most part, leaving out critical ingredients in a cake or a novel will just get you into trouble and have your taster (reader) wondering what went wrong.

2.  The better you plan it out before beginning, the better the process goes. This is true for me, I know.When baking a cake I do a lot of pre-organisation and pull all the ingredients out and line them up on the bench. I even measure most of it out into various cups and bowls and have it all just sitting and waiting to be added. Far too many times I’ve entered the cooking process and go to the cupboard to get out the… Forgot to buy it. Now I have to go to the shop and get some more, meanwhile the oven is heating, and I forgot the shop is already shut. Plus, I know what sort of cake I’m making if I plan it out. I don’t get mid-way through and think I’d like to add some apple but then I’ll have to add more flour because the apple will make it too moist and I’ll probably add too much flour and then I’ll have to add a dash more milk. This all relates to novel writing in that I can plan out my characters, their motivations and goals out before the story so I won’t get too many surprises during the writing. I can make sure I’ve researched any vital plot points and have that research at the ready. I also know what sort of story I want it to be. So I’m not getting midway through and thinking, wouldn’t this be better if I just went back and rewrote the whole thing (though sometimes the plan fails and despite all the careful thought we do have to go back, and back again).

3.  It takes time. Okay, cake time to novel time are really not comparable but they both take time and rushing the process makes for a bad cake/novel. It takes as much time as it takes.

4.  The right tools help get the job done faster and better. In cakes this means whisks, pans, bowls and ovens that actually heat evenly and consistently. With writing this means at least a basic understanding of language and probably a word processing program of some sort that includes some basic editing assistance (such as spell check). The writer’s tool kit also includes their knowledge of the genre and plot conventions and all the other things you need to write the story.

5.  The proof is in the pudding. The taster of the cake can tell you if the cake is good. The reader of the story will tell you if the novel is good. Yes, you can pre-taste (read and evaluate yourself) but you are probably not the best judge. Like with cooking you will either be too harsh (I’m a terrible cook) or far too generous in your evaluation (its awesome and only burnt on two sides…).

There you have it. Five reasons why writing a novel is like baking a cake.

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Politics in Fantasy

July 25, 2010 at 6:04 am (Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have this story outline I’ve been kicking around forever and I have always wanted to write it. Yet every time I’m between projects or looking for something new I have chosen not to begin this particular project.

There may be a very good reason.

Essentially the story is a political thriller but set between two governments that don’t actually exist in a world that also doesn’t exist. See, I’ve always been interested in politics and diplomacy and this story kind of evolved out of that. It really is a guide on how not to be diplomatic and yet still not cause a war. The focus is on two characters that represent opposing governments but each have their own agenda independent of their respective governments.

The reason I don’t think I’m ever going to write this story is because I can’t think of anyone who would want to read it. The sheer number of people that don’t like real politics kind of convinces me that finding out about fictional politics wouldn’t really work for most people. And while other authors have used fictional governments as the scene to make social commentary, that isn’t what I would be intending. The story would simply be about the characters and there would be no social statement.

I have to wonder how many ideas are out there floating around that won’t ever see fruition because their owner decides they just don’t fit their current needs.

Do you have an idea you’ve sent to limbo?

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Writer’s Fatigue

July 9, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Suffering from writer’s fatigue?

You know the sensation. Your fingers are sore, your eyes are stinging, and your shoulders feel like they’ve been locked in place. You have just spent the last three hours sitting and typing, desperately trying to convert the ideas in your head into something coherent, and you know, given another hour or two, you might actually have something brilliant in front of you, but you can’t make it. This is writer’s fatigue. (It applies even if you hand write, only it is your neck that is going to be killing you.)

I used to hit this wall, a lot. It isn’t that I don’t have ideas, it is just that the physical act of trying to write is going to cause me pain. When I stand up, if I stand up, I will probably fall right into bed and have a terrible nights sleep and wake with a neck cramp. It wasn’t until I set myself a strict deadline of a month to write the first draft of a novel that I really worked on getting through writer’s fatigue.

Some simple solutions to increase your staying power with writing:

1. Stand up.

Obvious really. Every half and hour, or scene, or page, or whatever unit of time you set, stand up and pace around the room. I use the time to look out the window, refill my water, or chase the cat away from whatever she is tearing up. Doing this I can spend nearly all day writing and I determine when I take my breaks.

2. Before you write do some sort of gentle exercise.

I like yoga, because it stretches out all the cramps from the previous day and gets my circulation moving, while not causing me to sweat too much. Also I can do it at home. However any relaxing, physical activity, will get your body ready for the day, and work out any of the stress from the previous day.

3. Change what you are writing.

This is odd, but sometimes it isn’t that you are writing, it is that you are writing the same thing that is the problem. When my brain starts feeling stressed and the tension in my shoulders increases, I send a message to a friend, or write a quick short story, or something else, and I can feel myself relaxing as I move away from something my brain is urging me to finish. After you feel relaxed again, return to what you were working on with fresh eyes.

4. Eat.

This is probably bad, but have food with you when you are writing. A lot of the time, the problem is you are burning through fuel because your brain is working really hard, but because there is limited physical movement you don’t get the right signals to tell you to eat. Obviously healthy fruit or nuts are best, or a sandwich. Personally, I go for straight sugar, but eating is essential for getting away from writer’s fatigue.

5. Have a friend drop in.

Usually we like to be left alone while writing, and it is essential that we can focus. Have someone who will drop in on you in a few hours, just to make sure you have taken a short break. They can talk with you, even if the talking is about the writing, and you can recap what you have done, all the while you are rejuvenating and getting ready to write some more.

6. When all else fails, set an alarm.

Set yourself a limit. Know that at this time you are going to… do whatever it is you do. Set an alarm and stick to only hitting the extend on that alarm once. That gives you a ten minute grace period to finish that all important sentence, save your work and leave.

From my own personal experience, I know that when writer’s fatigue is coming on, everything I write needs to be rewritten the next day when I am feeling fresh. Dealing with writer’s fatigue, taking breaks and eating, ensure that there are less errors, and the writing feels more energised.
Leave your own comments on how you deal with writer’s fatigue.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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Nouns as Verbs

July 8, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

This is a post for the language nut hiding deep inside all of us.

Recently (and not so recently) it seems that every noun is up for grabs. You no longer hit people with a glass, you “glass” them. You don’t search on the Internet using Google, you “Google” something. On and on the list goes of nouns that have been shoved (somewhat forcefully at times) into the position of a verb. You could wonder where this will end up. Will we be telling our kids to “tie their laces” in the future, or will we say “hurry up and lace”. This might sound ridiculous but let’s explore the idea of telling someone to “shoe” themselves. We already “shoe” horses, so why not.

This argument highlights the dynamic nature of the English language and its marvellous ability to be reinterpreted and re-imagined. The only problem is, it is being re-imagined inconsistently, and frequently by people who didn’t understand the original rules to begin with.

I find my biggest problem with this, is that people insist on using ‘hybrid’ forms of ‘new’ English in formal documents and it doesn’t belong. A formal report or essay has to be written in whatever the current standard is in order for it to meet the requirements for that genre, and to be understood by whomever the intended reader may be. Admittedly, many of these terms have already become a standard, in many ways, but the speed at which new language is introduced is at times overwhelming.

I opened the discussion on Twitter for those who had an opinion and admittedly responses were few and far between. The one’s I did receive were as follows:

I guess, as with all language choices, writers need to consider the following:

  1. Who is your intended audience and what will the accept?
  2. What is your intended purpose and what language will help you achieve it?

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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The What If Factor

July 6, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

This is actually a combination of “what if” followed by “what then”.

When trying to help people write creatively, handing them a piece of paper is about as helpful as handing an illiterate person a dictionary and expecting that they can suddenly put everything together. Mostly, all you get from the exercise is a whole lot of book fodder on how to describe a blank expression.

A simple exercise that can be done as a group or individually to get everything started is a round of “what if”. Keep in mind if you are doing this individually, it helps if you have a split personality, or at the very least, you need to not be adverse to talking to yourself.

Essentially, it starts with one person saying “What if…”. Their “what if” could be anything, but should start relatively non-specifically. “What if there was a guy wearing jeans, waiting for a bus?” “What if there was an asteroid heading for Earth?” “What if there was a cat sitting on the porch?” Doesn’t matter where you start.

The next person agrees and then expands. “Yeah, there was a guy. Only he was wearing cargo’s, not jeans, and he had baseball cap on backwards. Oh, and the bus was going to take him to…” You get the point.

You keep going until you have the whole scene. The guy, what he is wearing, where he is going, what he is doing while he is waiting, etc. Then comes the “what then” part.

What happens next?

Eventually, what you have is an outline for a possible story, complete with characters, settings and plot points (how detailed these are depend on who you do it with). Using the discussion as the stimulus, each person can then sit down and write their own version of the story (changing whatever elements they feel are critical). What is important, is that everybody has a starting point, and can follow along with the general pattern until they are ready to move off and onto their own route. It gives them something to begin with and a bit of confidence to write.

Trying to inspire creative writing; play a game of “what if” and see what happens.

Let me know how you have inspired people to write creatively.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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Why Writing An MS Is Like Being In A Relationship

July 3, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Originally this was an offhand comment I made on twitter. Just a random thought generated by my sleep deprived mind at seven in the morning. Then I started thinking (always a bad idea) and I started to realise how true it was.

My reasons why writing an MS are like being in a relationship are many and varied. And like any good relationship, there is a definite cycle to it all. In the beginning:

  • You get to know your characters, plot and settings. It is all fun and fresh and it feels like everything is possible. There is so much new territory to explore.
  • You start to spend hours alone together, just one-on-one. You and your manuscript notes. You pore over every bit of it, until you think you know every nuance.
  • You become addicted. When you aren’t with your MS, you’re thinking about it. You visualise it in your mind, it dominates your conversations, it is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning.

As the relationship progresses:

  • You start to realise that there is a hidden underside to your MS. The characters hadn’t revealed themselves fully. A plot twist deceived you by making you think it would work. Suddenly the setting that seemed so right is just wrong.
  • You begin to argue with your MS. Things don’t just naturally flow into place. Suddenly every decisions leads to three other decisions unravelling.
  • You still spend every moment you can thinking about your MS, but now the thoughts are frequently harried as you wonder how to make it work.

If the relationship is working:

  • Finally, you come to an agreement with your MS, it may not be your perfect vision that you began with, but you see the light at the end and you move forward.
  • All the hours and tears and tantrums start to feel worth it. You eagerly spend more time smoothing over the rough edges and healing the wounds that opened up.
  • You go through a period of rediscovery where you begin to understand what the MS actually is, not what you thought it should be.

If the relationship has failed:

  • You start finding yourself working on other projects – only an hour or two at first, and then you make excuses to spend more and more time away.
  • You want it to change – make it change – and then find the changes unsatisfying. The MS begins to feel resentful and you begin to tire of its tantrums and difficulties.
  • You find yourself rehearsing the ‘it’s not me, it’s you speech’, and give yourself reasons to dump the entire project because it is looking more and more like it is over.
  • Ultimately, you will either begin the whole thing over, or tear it apart and save what characters and lines you can. The rest will end up on a shelf or in a folder, waiting for you to realise how good it could have been.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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Continuity Errors

June 28, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Have you ever watched a movie where something is happening on a Monday and then the next day is Saturday and everyone is on their weekend? Not because time has passed that you haven’t been shown, but because they have literally jumped to Saturday without any events occurring in between, on or off screen.

Have you ever seen a character wearing one thing and then the next minute they are wearing something different? Or more importantly, they are eating something and it magically reappears, whole and untouched upon their plate in the next minute.

Continuity errors really jump out at me in films because you have to wonder with the number of screenings they do why nobody picked up on it. Of course, now that I’m writing regularly and finishing my own work, the answer has become quite apparent.

Too many details.

My brain is racing around trying to keep up with the main plot and sometimes small details slip by me without a second thought. Even on the third or fourth reading I don’t notice. Sometimes even friends read the story and don’t notice the error. Yet there it is in black and white, just waiting to be discovered and mocked.

I’m a lot nicer in my critique of stories since I’ve been writing.

The biggest problem I have had recently is in weather and the time of day. I particularly had this problem in my second MS (though I had numerous other problems with this MS, including a psychotic protagonist who refused to work as per the plan). The story takes place over six days and is divided into six parts with approximately seven chapters per part.

It all seems wonderfully structured and organised until you realise that chapter three of part one has a character watching a sunset and then in chapter five there is another sunset. Not the same sunset in a different location. Hours have passed and the sun is definitely setting again.

Part three is equally inept with a storm brewing, that never approaches. Not disappears or goes around. There is a storm brewing, everyone is worried about it and then it literally never gets mentioned again. Gone. Unimportant. Except for the reader who flicks back wondering if they missed something.

I also had a problem with directions. If you walk north from this building you end up at that one. Except when you don’t. Except when they head off north and exit the city from the same location, not passing the building they used to arrive at when heading in the same direction.

How to solve all these problems? I would say how to avoid them in the first place, except I know that is not going to happen, so now I’m just going to work on how to identify these problems and fix them.

1. Sometimes stories jump around or are not told in a linear fashion. After you’ve written the first draft, create a timeline of events and make sure that if something hasn’t happened yet, it isn’t mentioned.

2. Around the outside of your timeline, you might want to list any external phenomenon that are mentioned. Storms, tides, wars, grazing animals, etc. Anything that might give the reader a moment of confusion if it changes or disappears illogically.

3. Draw maps. I hate maps, I won’t look at them in books. If I can’t get a feel for the place from the writing, I certainly don’t want to try and decipher someone’s artistic rendering of it. However, for the sake of organising a place in my head, some sort of visual representation of the main areas (main city, main residences, main rooms) will help you sort out your location and spacing problems. Even in rooms, if the chair is against one wall, it can’t suddenly be under the window, etc.

4. As to fixing these problems, don’t do what I frequently do and change the story at one point without following the correction through. That just creates more problems in the long run.

Continuity errors – don’t think no one will notice.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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The Dirty Dozen

June 21, 2010 at 6:02 am (Other) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m participating in a blog hop set up by Alex J. Canauagh today. The question being – if I could only round up 12 films which 12 would I choose.

Tricky question and I had to really think about this and in the end I decided to go with the idea that I was going to be stuck in isolation for the rest of forever. Which movies did I have to take and what combination?

I decided to start with the child-hood classics.

1.  The Dark Crystal – Jim Henson at his finest. An epic fantasy tale told with muppets with some of the most interesting characters I ever met as a child. I love Kira and her matter-of-fact nature as well as her ability to talk to pretty much any animal with a reasonable expectation of being answered.

2.  Willow – Again, epic fantasy. This time it is a combination of Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer who are the defnitely draw though the shield bob-sled over snow we probably could have done without. Fairies, trolls, witches, prophesise, what more could a movie want?

3.  The Princess Bride – Because it is awesome. Fantasy and romance and action and adventure all rolled into one very entertaining story.

Moving on some old favourites.

4. Indiana Jones (If I’m not allowed the entire trilogy I choose Temple of Doom – though many fans think that this is the weak link) – With the exception of the Crystal Skull (which I still maintain is not Indiana Jones) these movies are incredibly fun, action packed and scenic.

5.  Clash of the Titans – The original. Clunky stop-go animation but that vulture is hilarious and this was my gate-way to Greek mythology. Can’t be without this one.

6.  The Trouble with Harry – Hitchcock at his most amusing. I just like the twisted sense of humour.

The B-Grade Collection – I have this thing for really bad horror movies.

7.  Tremors – If I can have all four of the movies I will, but otherwise I would have to choose the second one. Underground monsters that get smarter by the minute and eat anything that moves. A great laugh with one or two jumps thrown in (just so you remember it was sort of supposed to be a horror).

8.  Ginger Snaps – Possibly the best werewolf movie I have ever watched and yet you end up laughing more than being scared by this coming of age movie mixed with horror. I will say that the scariest thing in this movie is Ginger’s mother (creepy).

9.  Scream – This one was a toss up between The Faculty and Scream but Scream came out on top for two reasons. One – it gave us one of the best quotes from a bad villain ever: “My mum and dad are going to be so mad at me”. The second reason is that they made sure the last hurrah wasn’t dragged out. Short and sweet and done.

Finally, the feel good movies.

10.  Elizabeth Town – Most people will hate this choice. Yes, it is Orlando Bloom. Yes, it does start with him trying to commit suicide. Yes, it mostly deals with a funeral. It is light and amusing and by the road trip at the end you are genuinely feeling good about yourself. This is what I want in a movie when I need cheering up.

11. 10 Things I Hate About You – An updated take on the Taming of the Shrew and my introduction to Heath Ledger, I love this movie. It is well done and uplifting.

12.  Just Like Heaven – I needed at least one genuine, sickly sweet movie on this list. This is my choice.

You should head over to Alex’s blog and check out the rest of the blog hop.

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