Starting (over) from scratch

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Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels.

 

If I learned anything from the agonizing months spent editing Courting the Moon, it’s that by the end of it you’ll have tossed out pretty much everything from the original draft (or two…) and have essentially started over from scratch. And it seems that I have to do the same thing with my YA fantasy novel Faylinn… only much earlier in the process.

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Generating Ideas

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I don’t really generate a lot of ideas anymore. I don’t usually create stories from the ground up, working entirely from scratch. Even characters, which always seem to abound, don’t spring forth on their own anymore. (I don’t count characters created for fan fiction because they already have a ready-made world to plop into, and world does a great deal to inform the character.) I don’t think I’ve generated a “new” idea for a long, long time.

This might sound terrible, but it actually isn’t. Most of my story and idea generation came when I was a kid, before I’d absorbed over two decades of media. I made a lot of crazy, weird stuff up, and fortunately I wrote some of it down. The novels that I work on now really aren’t “new” in the usual sense. They’re refinements on something that had already been generated. It may seem like I’m coming up with new ideas, like with The Arcenciel Romances or Faylinn, but even those started out as pieces of fan fiction that evolved into their own thing. Everything else is moving stuff around, changing the trappings, figuring out structures and mores that make sense, and discovering the inner lives of the characters. I’m shaping the clay, not digging it out of the ground.

I think this process is actually a good one, at least for longer works. Youth generates ideas without regard for logical or logistical sense. The images and feelings are what get wrapped up in the idea and stick with it. Then, as one grows and gains experience, you can go back and pick through that motley crew of story ideas and characters and choose the ones that work. Sometimes you even combine parts of different ideas into something else, like I did with four short stories that became the basis for Rinamathair. Others can be refined, or discarded if they would take far too much time to shape into something coherent. The only time the lack of new idea generation gets me is with short stories. Novels are a slow burn, but short stories you’re supposed to just drop out and go. Obviously they require some refinement as well, but the shape of a short story is different and more difficult for me to tackle. I have trouble making characters feel fleshed out when I don’t have a lot of time to spend with them.

The only time I can say that new ideas are generated now is when I dream. I keep a dream journal by my bed, and if I remember something from a dream, be it a sequence, a snippet of dialog, an image, a character, or a feeling, I’ll write it down. (That’s how The Mariner Sequence got started actually.) There are dozens of story seeds and story parts littered among the barely-legible scribbles of that journal. It’s a little sad to think that I probably won’t have a long enough lifespan to turn all of them into stories, to use all of that material. But I keep it in mind, and when I get stuck on a current project, I check out those seeds to see if there’s anything I can use or incorporate. (Hint: Never throw any ideas away. Keep them in a folder; they may come in handy later.)

Let’s face it: it’s all a giant tossed fruit salad and mixing bowl of inspiration and experience, so it’s best not to get too hung up on the idea of “making something new.” Chances are you already have the ingredients to make something pretty spectacular. It’s just a matter of blending and seasoning to taste.

The Deep Impact of Fictional Deaths

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My family is kind of weird when it comes to death.

So far most of the deaths in my family have not come as a surprise. It grieves us, but we keep moving forward. We cry, but not much and not in public if we can help it. We don’t go in for dramatic displays of grief. We tend to not even discuss it. (In fact, aside from a few short conversations with my brothers, all of these statements come from my own observations and perspective, so I could be completely wrong about all of this.) But, on the surface at least, my family and I tend to be very pragmatic about the whole thing.

And yet I will break down into gut-wrenching sobs and go through all five stages of grief when a fictional character I love dies.

On the surface, this seems strange, even sociopathic. I don’t cry for my dead relatives but will bawl my eyes out for someone who never even existed? It seems backwards, almost wrong somehow, and has bothered me for quite a while. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening. But I think I may have solved the mystery.
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Fluff and Fairies

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I’ve been feeling cold and unmotivated for quite a while, so today you folks get more of a fluff piece than anything really deep or serious.

For National Novel Editing Month in March and for the April edition of Camp NaNoWriMo, I’ve been working on a Young Adult (abbreviated as “YA”) fantasy novel that I’m currently calling “Faylinn,” which is the name of the world in which the story is set. (Like with Rinamathair, the name of the world is the title of the work-in-progress until I find something better.) This is… a different experience from my other writing projects because it’s a hybrid. It isn’t being written completely from scratch like Mariner Sequence, but it also isn’t a fan fiction outline that got revamped and then written from scratch. Faylinn is based on an already-complete piece of fan fiction, but I’m swapping out character names and adjusting the plot and world to be its own thing. I am also generating new content, but at the same time, I’m rereading the preexisting piece of work and doing major cuts and rewrites to it. Maybe that isn’t the best project to choose for Camp NaNoWriMo… but I just can’t do Mariner Sequence justice right now. I don’t want to spend all of my writing time on stories that aren’t as near and dear to my heart, but I also know when I’m not in a fit state for a particular story. So, fluff it is.
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The Power of Headcanon

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I recently went to see Black Panther with some friends, and if you haven’t gone yet, you need to reevaluate your priorities because it’s fantastic. *ahem* Anyway… as we were leaving the theater, one friend noted that during the very emotional scenes between T’Challa and his father T’Chaka on the Ancestral Plane, they noticed that T’Chaka had an old (but still very obvious) facial injury.** Since the characters were interacting in a spiritual realm, my friend wondered why this injury was still present since spirits don’t have physical bodies and therefore wouldn’t have those imperfections. Almost immediately, I commented that a person probably couldn’t spend years as King of Wakanda and as the Black Panther without suffering some kind of accumulated spiritual damage, which then manifested on the Ancestral Plane. My friends just kind of stared at me and said that I had “the strongest headcanon of anyone they’d met.”

You see, while that explanation for T’Chaka’s appearance in the Ancestral Plane seemed perfectly reasonable to me, there was nothing in the movie itself to suggest that was the case. My internal headcanon had pulled from all my fictional sources and compiled them into an explanation. Actually, I’d come up with two possible explanations on the spot, one being the accumulated damage from a life of service and suffering. The other was that it was simply T’Challa’s perception of the spirit, giving it a familiar face. Kind of like how Anakin Skywalker’s Force-ghost appeared at the end of Return of the Jedi as a forty-something man rather than as his twenty-year-old self, who would have been completely unfamiliar to Luke. (No, I do not accept the insertion of Hayden Christensen into the remastered editions of Star Wars. There’s some headcanon for you!) Both of these plausible explanations occurred to me within seconds of my friend’s question, and I hadn’t even noticed until they pointed it out.
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Holding Pattern

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Well, I finished my book.

Actually, I finished it about a month ago.

Yup.

Yeah, I know, I’m not exactly jumping up and down with joy. If anything, I’ve been rather subdued about it. Not sure why. I mean, Courting the Moon is the culmination of two years of work. That’s nothing to sneeze at. But while I feel a certain amount of satisfaction, I’m not experiencing anything close to “joy.”  Maybe it’s because the worry about not finishing was gone by the time April rolled around, and without that tension, it was a forgone conclusion. Maybe it’s because I know I still have plenty of other projects waiting in the wings, namely Ravens and Roses. Or maybe I’m mentally burnt out and just don’t want to think about it anymore.

I haven’t written anything for weeks.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I reread my draft of Ravens and Roses, which pleased me because what I had still held up after being neglected for so long, but it also made me sigh because now I can see just how far I have to go for it to be finished. And I suppose I have been writing a little bit. I’ve started writing down scenes for the Star Wars fanfic that’s been circulating in my head literally since I was thirteen. But that’s about it.

Some random news pieces:

–  I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and liked it.
–  I got to go to Free Comic Book Day for the first time, albeit in the evening so most of the events were over, but that was fine with me; I don’t care much for crowds.
–  But these days, most of my brain has been consumed with watching The Clone Wars in chronological order in the hopes of actually finishing the series this time. (When I started watching it a year or two ago, I stopped midway through Season 3, and for some inexplicable reason never went back to it until now.)

While part of me feels a little guilty for not working on the synopsis for Courting the Moon, or researching agents, or continuing work on Ravens and Roses… another part of me says, “To hell with it; I’m going to veg.” (Being stricken with allergies doesn’t help with the brain-fog either.) Of course, a writer’s mind is never truly still. Even when we seem to be passively engaged with something like television or a movie, we are absorbing more story ideas and elements, adding them to the primordial ooze that is our brains.

So I think for now I will go ahead and gorge myself on Star Wars until I feel ready to tackle writing again.

Inferior Origins

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Kira at the Gelfling Wall of Destiny (screenshot from The Dark Crystal)
Kira at the Wall of Destiny

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Who doesn’t love a good origin story?

Whenever I get into a fictional universe, be it books, movies, TV shows, or video games, I dig deep.  Those characters with shady or mysterious pasts are the most intriguing; we want to know how they became the person we know now.  If you’ve read (and enjoyed) The Symphony of Ages series by Elizabeth Haydon, you probably want to know Achmed’s full backstory more than anything else.  We get tantalizing hints, but no more.  Tolkien’s book The Silmarillion explores the history of the elves and Middle-Earth in almost excruciating detail.  People clamored so much for more stories about Drizzt Do’Urden that R.A. Salvatore gave them the drow ranger’s backstory in the form of The Dark Elf Trilogy.  Amazing RPGs like Mass Effect and Dragon Age cover the history of their worlds, the aspects of the places explored there, and the characters you encounter.  And isn’t that what a lot of modern RPGs are all about?  Exploration?  How was this world created?  What happened before the story that we see?  A good origin story is a fascinating and rewarding journey.

Of course, the key word here is “good.”  Not knowing parts of a universe’s history or the origins of a character leads to all kinds of juicy speculation, head canon, and fan fiction.  Sometimes the creators even deign to answer those burning questions for us.  That’s fine and dandy, but there is a dark side to it.  No matter how much I may want to know, “What happened?!” a part of me is always a bit wary when official works drop in to fill the gaps.

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2015: The Year in Review

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Okay, seriously, who keeps making off with all this time?  Feels like the year just got started and we’re already on the cusp of 2016!  (And from what I’ve heard, this sense of time distortion only gets worse… ugh.)

I am definitely in a better place at the end of 2015 than I was last year.  Many of my 2014 goals have been reached, and it feels like I’ve got a better handle on life in general, which is a massive relief!  I want to give a huge thank-you to all of my friends, readers, subscribers, and followers.  You make this all worth-while.

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Long time, no see

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Um… hi?

*waves*

Wow.  I… haven’t written an entry in a while.  In fact, I haven’t really posted anything online for at least a month.  No blog entries, no Audio Editions, no #ThrowbackThursdays, no new fanfic chapters… I regret that last one, especially since I’d made a point to say I wouldn’t make my readers wait years for the completion of a fanfic.

But, obviously, I haven’t kept up with much of anything online.  Because reasons:

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