Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sheer and Utter Terror of Failure

This happens to me quite a bit. I'll be writing, revising, whatever. Then I'll look at other people's work, read agents blogs - everything I should be doing to improve myself in my craft.

Then, out of the blue, I'll get this intense fear that I'll never be good enough. That no matter how hard I write, how hard I try to get something right, no one but me will ever like my work.

I reason with myself. I tell myself that I have a career planned out, a career I look forward to, wish to do, plan to revel in. Medicine is going to be my passion, writing my life. I can't live without stories - they visit me throughout the day, play themselves out in my head when I'm trying to sleep. If I write them down, they leave me alone. But I have more than one goal in life. If I'm not published, I can be a good surgeon (That isn't the least bit subjective. You can either do it, or you can't.)

The only problem is that after you've written something down, you have this intense need to show someone else. And it's then that you realise you first draft might not be as good as you first thought.

So you revise. You re-write. You edit. You pass your work onto good beta's, and they help you make it better. You find the right beginning for your story, the right middle, the right end.

And then you worry that it won't be the right beginning for anyone else. That they'll put it down thinking - this character is just reacting with grief at the moment - this is YA, there should be something exciting on the front page. Never mind if that something exciting confuses, it should be there.

Now, I know people don't think like this (Well, some people do, but I don't really want to know them when it comes to this book. Others - maybe. But they're not going to be the right person for this one.)

I consul myself. I tell myself that even if it never is published, it will be the best that I could make it at that time. That I will have achieved something extraordinary in my life.

It doesn't work. So often the bruising of the ego is so bad that I have to talk myself back into writing again, and then only so I don't go mad with lack of sleep.

So how to fix this? You can't. I can't, anyway. Maybe if I had the validation of being published, it would help, but I doubt it. The practical part of my mind talks of trying as hard as I can, failing, and then moving on to the next project, which may do better. This is why I set deadlines for myself, so I won't keep trying.

There is only one thing that ever helps. Creating something new.

So that's all the advice I can offer. If someone doesn't like what you've written, move on, create something else. Practise.

But above all, write.

A fitting start to Nanowrimo, I think :)


Friday, October 29, 2010


Firstly, when I say worldbuiling, I do not mean it just in the creating worlds/societies/magic systems/technology way that it is often taken to mean. Work set in contemporary societies also requires world building - often via the characters. If you're writing a modern day romance, then the world and time is already a given, but you characters, their pasts, and how they deal with the world isn't.

But that fits more into the character building side of things. I, personally as a alternative fiction writer (which is what I'm turning out to be) want to talk about the more traditional forms of world building.

Depending on what you plan to write, you are going to approach worldbuilding in a different way. But regardless of whether you are writing urban fantasy or hard science fiction, there are a few points that I personally think should always be considered when building a world:

  • Rules
  • Consequences
When I say rules, I don't mean that you should limit yourself. If you wish to get rid of the laws of physics, fine. If you wish to have faster than light travel and not explain how, then that too is okay. But in my honest opinion having a world without rules means there is no story to be had in that world. Your main character can come up against any challenge and defeat it way too easily. They could wipe out the antagonist with their mind, if they wished. The antagonist could wipe them out with his mind. Actually, in all likely hood, such a world never would have developed sentient society. Any life would have wiped each other out before they evolved past the caveman stage.

I also think that you must have rules and limitations in your world in order to promote conflict. Without some sort of conflict, there is no story. How many rules you have, and how easy it is for you MCs to get what they want and need is up to you and the genre you're writing in.

Which leads me to another point about developing rules in your world. consistancy. Make what can and can't be done consistant. Please. Otherwise things will start to feel incredible Deus ex Machina-ish.

Consequences must (IMHO anyway) also exist in order for the story to be interesting. If you have a character that can stop time, give them a consequence for using that power. Or they're going to use it all the time and things will be way to easy for them. Have it wear them down. Have evil spirits show up and attack them whenever they use it.

Life is not supposed to be easy for your characters. Make it hard by building consistant rules into your world, and giving your world consequences. whether it be a world of magic, science fiction or contemporary.

Enjoy creating,


Monday, October 25, 2010

Characters - Nothing Without Decisions

Okay. You have an idea. You've either done a plan, or you haven't. Each to their own.

What next?

Now, this depends on what type of writer you are. In my limited experience, those that prefer discovery writing will pick up a pen, and start. Maybe not on their book. Maybe they will. Planners won't start yet. Or if they do, it will be character profiles.

But whatever type of writer you are, eventually you're going to come across your characters. You can't have a story without them. It's impossible. Maybe they're not human. Maybe their inanimate dining chairs that want to do ballet. But you will need something.

Of course, if you wish to experiment, be my guest. But generally speaking, a story needs characters.

Some writers will just start. I would recommend that if you're going to do this, start with a character doing something that forces him to react and make a choice. It will tell you, as a writer, about your character. It will give that character a distinct voice from others, as those others make different decisions.

In the end, your characters will be the decisions they make. That's it in a nutshell. If the chair decides to slide along to a ballet class and watch from a corner, this leads to questions. Why isn't he trying it outright? Why did he sneak out of the house? Why hasn't he told his family? If his family disapproves, then why is he still doing it? What inspired his decision?

Every decision has to have a reason behind it, a cause. And every decision will have consequences, will influence the development of your character, change/challange/affirm his moral values. Decision are every thing when it comes to thinking about characters.

After that, everything else is window dressing. What movies they like, what they read, what sports they play - if it matters to the decisions they make, then it is important information. Otherwise, it goes back to being window dressing. Sometimes window dressing becomes important information. The chair likes soccer, he makes a decision to go watch a soccer match, and finds another chair there who wants to do ballet.

Window dressing also differentiates the characters for the reader before the characters start making decisions. While decisions differentiate characters, you can't have major, life changing decisions that show your characters moral compass, religious and cultural identity ever five pages. They will do other things. These other things become important in forging a connection between character and reader.

If you don't start by diving in, you can start with character profiles. You can do a mock interview with your characters. You can chart their entire life history up to this point if that makes you comfortable. If you do plan out who they are before you write, make sure the character fits the type of story you wish to tell. Characters must have motivation for what they're doing - otherwise they become cardboard cutouts. And not many people wish to read about cardboard cutouts.

If you don't plan, my advice would be to start with conflict. It doesn't have to be explosions on the page, it just has to be something that shows us about your character. This start might not nessercarily be part of your book by the time you're finished. some writers start their books and discover their characters as the plot unfolds. There's nothing wrong with that (just be aware there will be editing later). Some writers have to know what their characters will have for breakfast before they can even start page one.

But above all, make your characters memorable. Don't make them perfect (more on this later). Don't make them evil without making them interesting. But make them memorable. I personally will put up with a plot full of holes, as long as I like the characters.

Enjoy creating,


Friday, October 22, 2010

Character Profile : Dylan Amser

This is the protagonist of my new Nanowrimo novel: Dylan Amser. This was free-written, with no thought as to plot or anything else, just so I can get his voice in my head. Bits of it may make their way into the book, or they may not.

Here it is:

It starts with the watch. Always, the watch. Dylan has long come to realise that the watch means change, means doom, spells wonder and amazement.

The watch makes his father the most powerful man in the world. But once a year, it also makes him the most vulnerable. Dylan cannot understand why he does this to himself – each year, back to the same place. A little church in Wales. A trip back to the time that my mother lover the best – the end of the Norman period, the start of the Tudors. Dylan remembers his mother standing, half torn between revulsion and wonders, on the edge of the battlefield. He remembers clutching her skirt, peering around at the blood and misery. He remembers the three of them travelling to the small church, his father and mother disappearing into one of the side rooms. This happened only ever after they thought Dylan asleep, but still, he heard them, whispering to each other, snuggled together in the choir seats, talking about the events that were taking place, the societies that were being made.

Dylan never had any interest in societies, or how they were made. He didn’t see the point, didn’t recognise the significance. Now, he recognises it, but he’s not in awe of it. He’s seen Significant Points so many times that he now recognises them for what they are – a mere blip in what he assumes is a giant plan. There are no reversals, no harkening back – history and future is just a giant circle, with humans either trying to cling to the animals they originally were, or trying to find the spark that god made them to make them human.

It is the in-between bits that Dylan finds the most interesting – the relationships and events that are achingly important to those that have them, but have no effect on the world around. It’s why he likes soccer – a game filled with what feels to be significant moments, but is really just colour and flavour to the great scheme and no more.

When he told his father this, his father offered to take him back to the soccer games that spiked revolt in Ireland. Dylan remembers shouting no. It was the only time he ever really wished he had a door. Soon after that, he learnt how to deal without one.

Dylan has never had a proper home. He goes to school, and when that is finished he goes travelling with his father for half the night. He spends time in the great cities, on the outskirts of great laboratories, on the edge of the aftermath of great battles. Then he falls to sleep on his father’s lap.

Once a year, on the day his mother died, they go to the place where they scattered her ashes – that one church where his parents stayed up late murmuring to each other. Every time, Dylan’s father leaves him at that place in the present, and travels by himself, with the watch, to the age where they scattered her ashes. He comes back on the strike of six, drunk and reaching for his son. Dylan sleeps with him on those nights, his twelve year old body curled up beside his father’s; his heart-beat loud in his ears.

His father has never been violent, or done anything else when he is drunk. But he clutches that book to his chest. That book is unmovable – if you write something in it, the words will never change. Ever. If you change the timeline, you can still read about the previous timeline in that book, no matter how many times you change history. Dylan has never been able to read the book. He knows only that on the first page, written many times is one sentence.

I have a son. This must never change.

Some part of Dylan knows that his father does not stop his mother’s death, because doing so results in Dylan not existing. He does not know why. But he knows that every year, on that day, his father sits staring at the first page. And every year, he makes the decision not to wipe Dylan from existence.

On Heroines

I've been thinking about his quite a bit lately. What makes a good character? The reason I've been thinking on has to do with my own leading lady, Kira Hilta. Kira is withdrawn, she's lived most of her seventeen years out with only three people to deal with, (her mother, her grandfather, and her mother's fiancée.) She doesn't like outside interference. She's kind once you stop being an "outsider" to her. She's observant, smart, but she makes silly decisions sometimes and she is sometimes naive despite what her life's been like. At the same time, she's manipulative - once she decides on something, she will go to extraordinary lengths to do that thing. If you anger her enough, break the wall that she puts up around herself with violence, you will find that she has no moral line in her response.

I've had different responses to Kira. Some have liked her. I love her (for me, anyone who combines naivety with retribution is interesting.) Some haven't warmed to her at all.

I finally figured out the reason why. I don't show any of her good attributes until about a third of the way through the book. It's still all there, but she never gets a chance to show any of it.

But regardless, all this got me to thinking about what I like in a heroine. I'm a fan of complicated and morally ambiguous heroines, sure. Katniss, Lireal (garth Nix if you're wondering), Elspeth (Obwernyton by Isobelle Carmody). These characters have their complications, and their faults.

But the characters I love the most are those I wish I could be. Anything written by Tamora Pierce has these sort of characters. Powerful, smart, loved women who will flatten anything that comes in their path.

The thing that makes these books interesting is not the "will they/won't they" succeed, it's in watching how they do it. There is never any doubt in my mind on whether they have the competence to overcome their obstacles. Whether they can do it with everything they hold and love intact in another matter.

As always, unless you're trying to make a point, balance is key. But it makes me wonder if the rounded character does require big faults. Or just small ones.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Slightly better on the Manda

This is going to be a rambling update. You Have Been Warned :p

Things are going slightly better with the "When the Mute Speak", my current WIP (YA Fantasy). For one, I figured out how to fix my start off without rewriting the entire thing. Always handy - because the beginning of the book supports the rest of it, and it has to be right. Getting it right is incredibly hard, and I may have managed to get halfway there. Good news is that I think I can get past "halfway there" without rewriting the entire thing.

Chapter two is a problem. Info dumps galore, and it doesn't feel... real. But I can do chapter two better. I figured it out. We're getting there.

My Beta's are awesome, as usual, and the second one is crazy fast. So things are going well.

A lesson I have learned when it comes to Beta's: always give out the same version. Get more than one perspective. Then re-write.

There is still the problem of my second act. My beta is getting confused at the climax, which is never good, so I need to set that up better. I also need to show the process that Kira goes through in coming to her conclusions. I never noticed before, but she often tends to make them on the spot, and with no evidence to back them up. I can see how she came up with it, but then I wrote the plot, so it's probably me taking shortcuts.

In other news, I'm going to start a new project for Nanowrimo. Hopefully it'll give me the break I need from Kira and her world, and get me into editing mode. Personally, I'm excited about the community aspect of Nanowrimo. I've never actually met proper (I mean people who are writing for publication) writers. I wonder what it'll be like?

The desicion on the which of the next two ideas to follow through on is a tricky one. Both require research, one requires damn good writing. (The other requires good writing, but only as a vechial of plot. The writing in NKFH has to be brilliant.)

The other one (no working title yet) requires research on the police. NHFH requires more life lived - I don't have the experience to do it justice. So it's probably going to be the other one first.

How do I find out about the police and their internal structure? A question for a rainy day.

Update completed. I wish you all a good weekend.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Plotting and Discovery Writing

Okay. So you've got an idea. You may/may not have characters or setting. But you've got an idea, and it's something that you're excited about.

Now what?

There are many, many different type of writer out there. How they deal with an idea is going to be different. But, generally speaking, there is this line:

Discovery Writer <-------------------------------------------------------------->Plotter.

Most writers will fit somewhere along that line. It's an important line to be aware of, because in my mind, everyone should try both ends of the scale at least once.

A discovery writer (or pantser - I prefer the term discovery writer) will get an idea in their head, sit down, and just write. They won't plan out character backgrounds, or plot points, or worldbuild. They'll come up with all that as they go along. They will almost definitely have to do re-writes, because many things will pop up in the first draft that they haven't considered before.

The first time I wrote anything it was discovery written. I came up with major world building information 3/4 of the way through the book. I put that in, and kept going. I came back to it in the next draft, and wrote it into the story.

The problem with discovery writing is that (in my mind at least) you eventually have to take stock of your story. You've got to sit back, look at the pages, and decide what version you want to keep to. And then you've got to revise what you have to fit that version. Which is where both the fun, and the frustration begins.

Plotters - extensive plotters anyway, seem to come up with less drafts. I say seem because I've never been an extensive plotter. I've never had to come up with the characters, the turning points, the tension and so on before I start. These days I sit more to the middle of the line. I like to know who my characters are, what motivates them, and the world that I'm writing in. I also like to know the end, and work towards that.

Extensive plotters have use for mine maps, for post it notes, for index cards. The ways that a person can plan out a book is about as varied as there are people. I can't tell you what they do, or really offer advice to plotters, because I don't write extensive outlines. The closest I get is thinking extensively about the characters in my mind.

But I can talk about discovery writing. It is a lot of fun to discovery write, to be surprised by your characters. But eventually, one of two things will happen. You'll reach a point where you just don't know what comes next, or you finish the book, and realise that while you understand all of your draft, no-one else does.

To fix the first problem, I recommend identifying the promises you've made so far. For example, there is an idea "checkov's gun". The idea being that if you have a gun in your first scene, you better use it later on. Discovery writers can often figure out where their next peice is going by identifying the "guns" or promises that they've made in their writing. When you write, every description and character sets something up. If you get stuck, it's sometimes because you're not sure of what you've set up and where it's going to leave. If so, go and figure that out.

The second problem is solved through good beta readers and revision. It will be painful. There will be a lot of swearing and "how the hell don't they understand this?!" going on. Some people leave their draft alone for a while, then come back to it with fresh eyes. That's fine for prose, but when it comes to story and characters, my eyes are never fresh. My mind just fills in the blanks, whether it be 6 weeks between reads, or two years. It just doesn't happen.

I have tried plotting. It murders a story for me. But pure discovery writing is too hard - I enjoy it, but there are way too many drafts involved. So these days I generally hover somewhere in the middle of that line. I would recommend trying both at least once, if only for a chapter or so. Just to check what works.


Friday, October 15, 2010

It was a Dark and Stormy Morning.

And I can't think of anything better to call this post. Because it is a dark and stormy morning. And this post is basically answering a bunch of questions that got passed onto me by a fellow writer at an AW messages board. (Btw, if you are interested, AW would have to be one of the most useful places for finding and discussing stuff about writing on the internet. I can't understand why I didn't find it earlier.) Anyway, this bloke was very mysterious about getting volunteers for this, so I stuck my hand up.

So, on a dark and stormy morning, in an empty house in the middle of spring (why is it a dark and stormy morning anyway? What happened to spring weather?) I give you eight slightly interesting questions:

1. If you could have any superpower, what would you have, and why?

I can't decide between the ability to read minds, purely because I would be able to tell what everyone was thinking and understand their motivations/worries/angst better, and immortality. Ever since I saw Groundhog Day, I thought it would be quite cool to have all the time in the world to learn everything that you ever wanted to learn.

2. Who is your style icon?

I wasn't even aware that style had an impact on your quality of life until about six months ago. That realisation was brought upon me by a Courtney Lovegrove, so I would have to say that she is about as close as it comes, style wise, to being an icon.

In writing and stories - it depends. If your talking stories and characters, then I would say Tamora Pierce. I devoured her books like nothing on earth when I was a kid. Also, as I started writing, and became aware of the mechanics of writing, I became aware that her earlier books weren't all that well written. (Comparatively speaking, when you hold them up to the rest of literature) Then I got to her later books, which were better written, and I felt as if she was evolving along with me as a writer. (Even though she wasn't - she'd written these books about three years ago - still, it felt nice.)

However, for a person who I am in awe of due to the sheer style of writing alone - you cannot beat Markus Zurak. He's Australian, he writes literary novels which are amazing, and his style is so hauntingly beautiful that it was almost like a character in itself. The Book Thief is something everyone must read.

3. What is your favourite quote?

Curiosity hurt the cat, and satisfaction brought it back. Pretty much a justification for my life, really.

4. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

This is a strange one. Living where I do, and working the job I do, I get to meet almost the whole town. So a lot of people only see the "nice polished" side of me (I work at a supermarket - I like to be nice to people in my job, it makes time go quicker.) So probably the best compliment I ever got was from a lady who I had served a couple of times, and the last time through she asked me if this was full-time work for me (i.e was I going to be doing it for the rest of my life). I told her that no, I was going off to study medicine next year. She sighed in relief and said : "I knew such a nice person couldn't be destined to work here their whole life."

It was quite odd. Because as friends and family will attest, I'm not always nice. And this lady was a complete stranger, that I'd only seen three or four times, and she genuinely cared. Made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

5.What playlist/CD is in your CD Player/iPod right now?

Celtic music, I'm not sure by who. I've resorted to listening to music in languages I don't understand when I'm writing, because otherwise the music detracts me. Even if I only know three words in the entire song (say if it's in Chinese) my brain will try and switch over to understand the rest of it.

6.Are you a night owl or a morning person?

I used to think I was a morning person, because I used to get up at 5am and write before school. Now that I don't have any school, and I never go to work (unless I'm called in) before 1pm, I tend to stay up late and write. It'll probably switch back when I head off to Uni.

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?

I like dogs if I have the time. At the moment, I do, so I can't wait until our new puppy arrives. Cat's are good if you want companionship that can deal with your absence. When I was at school, and busy, I loved our dog, but I never had the time to do that love justice. Cats don't care - as long as you feed them, they'll put up with your hugs and leave you alone when you're busy.

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?

I work better under antagonistic pressure. If someone says I can't do something, I will go out of my way to prove that I can at least try. So I was hoping that the title would remind me that not many people thought I would ever be published, so that was my antagonistic pressure, and I should go out and prove them wrong.


That was interesting. I think the common courtesy is to pass this on, but I don't have anyone to pass it on to, so I'll leave that up to others that have come across it *sniff, sniff* all alone in the blogverse.

Nah. I'm pretty sure I'll survive. And I really should be writing. Bye,


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Brainstorming and Ideas

I have decided to take part in NaNoWriMo. For those who don't know what it is, it's a... competition of sorts. You sign up to it on the website, and the challenge is to write 50,000 words in a month. If you manage to do that, you "win". You also get to see the word counts of your friends and your region, so it adds a competitive edge to writing a novel. For me, competitive edge = motivation.

This is also useful, as it has recently dawned on me that I will be very busy next year. We're talking a lot of study, to the extent where I'm dreaming about chemistry and anatomy in my sleep. But I still wish to have a balanced life, so I came to the conclusion that I want to do several things around my course: earn money in order to live, study languages ( at least Japanese) and some form of exercise and writing.

That's a lot of stuff to fit around a long week. But it has recently come to my awareness that I revise better than I write. It's easier for me, it doesn't take as much time up, and you can work on it in spurts and drabs. Writing, on the other hand, I have to do in blocks.

So if I can pull off a book in a month, I will resolve myself to write a book every summer holidays (December/January) and spend the rest of the year revising.

So I thought as I wrote this novel over November, I would go through my process of doing things. (Everyone is different, this is just how I do it)

Anyway. Back on topic. Brainstorming.

This, for me, is the process of coming up with ideas, and figuring out all the cool stuff you can do with that idea. The first time I ever wrote something, I didn't brainstorm - I got an idea, and sat down and wrote. It turned out nicely original, but I had to put it through five drafts to get it close to something readable.

That first/second draft was in essence my brainstorm. I would not recommend it if you have a lack of time.

These are the methods which I use for both getting an idea, and brainstorming it into something resembling a story. There will be others, but this is what have used so far.
  • What if : Basically, you ask what if? What if the sun exploded? What if the world stopped turning? What if dogs could talk? What if someone discovered they had superhuman powers? What if my dad turned into an angel/demon/fairy?
After you have your "what if", the main ways to turn it into something memorable are to think about the implications of the "what if", and the reasons behind the "what if". Something also important is the "but". If the sun exploded, the world would be incinerated. But... But someone survives. How? Why did the sun explode? Was there someone that made it explode? What are the effects on the survivors? What if among the survivors were scientist and a priest. How would they all react? Would their reactions be in conflict with each other?

The moment you start putting characters into a "what if" situation, things get interesting, because characters will react to the "what if". How they react, and what they do next will drive your story forwards.

  • Character Idea
Sometimes, a character will walk into your head with a specific voice, and annonce things about themselves. If that stuff is interesting enough, it's entirely possible a story will come out of it. Recently, for me it was: A boy is trapped in the library. He can't get out, and is forced to write other peoples stories down.

And then you start with the questions: Why? Who put him there? How does he react? Are his parents looking for him? What sort of person is he? Does he believe in something? Does he even want to leave? (Maybe he came from a abusive family?)

Another good example is Harry Potter. Apparently (and this is just from my remembering) J.K Rowling was sitting in a train at King Cross station when Harry Potter wandered into her head. Not the whole book - just one character. A boy wizard, without parents, who lived with terrible relatives. She built an entire world around the implications of a boy wizard (would he go to school? Where? Would wizards be hidden, or part of society ect.) and a story around the implications of him being an orphan (why is he an orphan?)

  • Setting. Sometimes this comes first. It could be anywhere: past, present of future.
If you start with setting, the first thing you have to think about is who would live there, and how they are effected by their surrounds. The easiest way to get a story from this is to find a character that doesn't quite fit.

We're in China. We've got a young Chinese boy, everything about him is Chinese - culture, language, ect. What's different? His mother is/was Japanese. Japan and China have a huge century long feud going on between them. Depending on what time this is set, it would have implications for this character, and how others react to him. You put him in conflict (maybe he's proud of his heritage and argues against someone who says something ill about Japan?) and you have a story.

My intrinsic belief is that story comes from character. You can have as much plot as you want. Some people think up a plot first, and then think up a character to fit the plot. That is fine. But you cannot have a story without a motivated character in conflict with something. Even if it's his inner conscience. Even if it's with the door, and struggling to get it open. Even if a huge dragon's just landed on the lawn. Story comes from how the character reacts.

Whether plot comes first and you make a character to fit that, or character comes first and you put them in an interesting situation to see what happens is up to who you are personally as a writer.

If anyone needs anything clarified/wants to debate/ect. - post a comment. This is only my opinion/experience, and I am more than willing to be called out on it.



Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Asian Languages, and Why People Find Them Hard

Now, I think I'm actually going to do what this blog promises, and write about languages.
Me, I'm an Asian language person. The two languages I know with any familiarity (apart from my mother tongue) and Japanese and Chinese. But a lot of people I know would rather kill themselves than learn an Asian language. These same people the go off to Spanish, or French, or something else European.

I, for the life of me, can't get my head around other European languages. It just does not compute. So this got me to thinking - what is the difference? If you learn Italian, it's easier to learn Spanish after that. But if you learn Italian, and then try you hand at Chinese, then you'll have just as much trouble as when you first learned Italian.

So what makes them different, and rather incompatible?

Well, to me the most marked difference is cultural. Obviously, Asian languages are not from the same culture, but they are from a group of cultures that have influenced each other over the time through war and trade and other national pursuits. Same in Europe. You can hardly say French culture is like English or German culture, but they have influenced each other.

Has Asia influenced Europe, or vice versa? Over the past 100 year - yes. Over the past 1000? Minutely. This was of course due to the sheer distance between the two cultural blocks. And while these days planes and other means of transportation can get you from one place to the other quickly, these things didn't exist, or were too expensive in the days gone past.

Now, some may say that culture doesn't really relate to language all that much. I mean, things can be translated, can't they? We can watch Japanese, Chinese and Korean movies with subtitles, and you understand what's being said.

Well, that's because translators are brilliantly smart people. They don't translate things word for word - if they did, you would have all sorts of strange words and phrases running about. They translate from culture to culture as well. This is the only reason, in my view, that computers can not be relied on to do the translating for us. Culture has a huge effect on language. On its grammar, its word choice, the way words are put together in phrases - the influence of culture can not be denied.

Therefore, in my mind at least, Asian languages are hard for European based foreigners to compute because culture almost has to be learnt hand in hand with the language. For example, in Japanese, there and heaps of words and phrases that begin with 気 (ki). Ki, loosely translated, means "spirit, mind, heart." But Japanese words such as care, pay attention, like, weird, calm down... all these words are basically descriptions of "ki". You won't find them in a dictionary, because they're sentences rather than words. So anyone trying to learn Japanese by reading Manga, say, is going to have an awful lot of trouble figuring out what "drop you heart" actually means (it means calm down). There are all these things that either have to be either explained, or understood culturally.

So I think maybe not coming from the same cultural background hampers people in learning languages. Although, I am most definitely of Anglo-Saxan background, and I can't for the life of me figure out European grammar (the feminine and masculine words ect... nope.) But I can think with my words all twisted around in Japanese. Maybe that's just me - I'm found to be fairly weird :p

Friday, October 08, 2010

Random Revelation

Just out of nowhere:

Keeping a person interested is a balancing act between giving someone enough information to care, and enough mystery that they want to know.

May seem rather obvious, but still. I like to write stuff down (almost seems counter-productive to say that really). It makes it seem solid.

If someone does care, they won't read. But if you tell them too much, they will get bored. So you've go to know where to go to, and where to stop.

Something I have yet to learn, I think :)

Beta's and Stories Not Dying

I love my Beta readers. I truly do. They spot things I would never spot, and if their tastes are different from mine, then they're a little harder on my prose, and it makes me work harder.

But sometimes....

I have a world. It was built rather organically, over the time of about six years, and five drafts. So was my story. There was no planning aspect to it to start off with. So it more than definitely has it's problems. But when I've fixed one, another shows up.

Tonight was one such night. Nobody understood the world that Kira lived in, so I had to show them it. Because it's first person, and I was adverse to changing the story, I did that mainly through her thinking. It worked for one Beta. Another said it sort of worked. The third basically said (paraphrasing here): why the heck are you info dumping and why am I forgetting who your character is.



I spent the end of what has been a wonderful day mightily depressed. Because I believe that I have a good story here. I believe it has a reason for being. I love my characters.

But what is the point of all that if someone can barely get past the first chapter because of confusion issues? And how to get over the confusion issues if I can not feed out the information (in small chunks, but still, not absolutely huge amounts). there is way too much info that HAS to be understood in order to get on with the plot as it. Believe me, when I started this, I had none of that info in there. It confused the hell out of those that read it.

But the thing is, the point of this story has never been the plot. The plot is better than it was at the start, and it may continue to get better. What I have realised is that a number of things have stayed continuous over all those drafts. They are the major turning points and inciting incident.

And as long as they, and the characters, stay the same, it's still the same story. It may be different in its execution, but it is forever the same. Because the message I want to get across is still the same. That message being: There is no right or wrong side. Everyone believes they are right. And so when my main character if thrown into this world, as long as she meets the same opposition, the story is intact.

How she gets through those points is up for debate. I like what I've got, but I could make it better. I may try to. In fact, I think I will. There are two chapters that will remain largely similar. The rest of the first six chapters are important for the introduction. But they can be done differently.

My character needs to meet the Manda, my world has to be introduced, and someone else has to die and deliver and object into her hands by the end of it. I can still do all that, with the same sort of tension, by writing the start differently.

The thing that amazes me is that there have been several of these moments thus far. These moments run along the lines of : "oh god, why don't I give up and go to the next one (project, book, whatever)."

Then I get over myself, my story pops back up and say: Hey, I'm still the same in essence.

I find it ironically amusing, myself.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Fixing Things

Beta's are wonderful people. They truely are. But sometimes, they say something and you feel like hitting your head against a wall.
Often, you feel that way because they're right. For example, Beta A had trouble believing that my characters would be as perceptive as they are. Point taken. They probably wouldn't. I can fix that.
With beta B, I think we may differ in writing styles. But that is good. It's still headbanging, but I look at what she points out, weigh it up, and go in again.
Beta C doesn't really like my main character (something I've tried to fix). But she likes my writing. So does Beta A.
However, being me, I won't be happy unless I get some type of perfection :D

So yes. This is basically a post saying I will do it. And how I will do it.

Beta A reads everything first. I will fix that plot thing by this weekend.

I'm hoping to have fixed the characters thing with changes to my first chapter, and some of the others. I've also removed characters.

I will fix chapter 1 by next Wednesday. What beta B suggested changing was largely editorial stuff - not that much to do with the plot. Which is good.

I will finish reading through Beta A and B's work by tomorrow, and send them off their chapters. On Thursday afternoon, I will do that plot fixing. On Friday after noon, I will plan my other story out more, and attempt to write something else. Maybe see if I can do a short story (surely I can at least finish one without turning it into the start of a book.)
Saturday - probably more plot fixing
Sunday - More of the same. If I'm finished by then, then I will go over my Beta's chapters.
Monday - fix that first chapter.

After that, it depends on the feedback I get. *sigh* will probably have to find one last person to look through this all. After I've looked through it.

The point of this post: I will do these things. I will fix things. Each time a beta comes up with a problem, an answer comes fairly naturally to me. Things have not fallen apart yet. I must breathe.

Off to read my beta's chapters. Wish me luck for the week ahead.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Mystery and Suspense

Someone (I can't remember who) once said that you don't need a bomb to go off on your first page. But you had to at least hint at it. The thing that starts my book off is at the end of my second chapter. But my world is complicated, and I needed readers to understand both what is normal for this world, and my characters mental state. So I started four pages before major inciting incident.
So I've had major hints towards an impending bomb. (This bomb thing is not literal, mind you. Just a metaphor). Overhead conversations, weird people showing up - all very good and fine.

There is just one problem. My MC. Given a chance, she will ignore what is going on around her. She doesn't want to know. Her mother has just died, she has a hard time relating to people normally, and she just wants the world to leave her alone.

After the end of the second chapter, she becomes less passive. She has a very definite reason to start paying attention - she is literally dragged into the plot.

I think I should be doing this earlier.

The whole idea was that the mystery of what the heck was going on would make readers interested. Fine. good. But that still leaves me with a passive main character for most of the first chapter. She has her reasons, but I need to make her care.

But if I make her care, than the mystery will be lost. My inciting event at the end of chapter two won't have the "slam" that it had before.
But then I realised that there is more than one way to keep a reader interested. Not only mystery, but suspense.

The difference between the two is simple: where is the reveal? In suspense, you know there's a bomb in the room, and you're watching to see how the characters deal with it. In mystery, there are hints that there's a bomb in the room, but you're watching to see if the characters figure out that there's a bomb even there. You, as a reader, don't even know that there's a bomb there. You just get hints or clues.

The only problem is that my MC is in the mood to plain out ignore any such hints or clues. So I have to show her there's a bomb there earlier, so she does something. Anything - even if that's just agreeing to go to a place she hates. At the moment, her grandfather makes that decision. She should make it.

And so the first chapter gets a makeover. Again.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

New Query for The Manda

It has a new name! A better one. But I'll keep tagging it under it's working name, so everything is all in the same place. But here's my query:

Dear Agent,
Having lived in the remote Australian bush town for most of her life, seventeen-year-old Kira Hilta has avoided the outside world and the problems that go with it: the powerful factions, the rebels, and the Manda – a race of dangerous, silent shapeshifters. When Kira finally comes into contact with the Manda, they are not what she expects. They talk to her when they’re supposed to be incapable of speech. They're intelligent, but bound to the will of the humans that control them.

The Manda resent being used as mindless tools by humanity, and they pour their hate of mankind into Kira’s head, until Kira is ready to jump into the nearest river to escape. But it isn’t Kira the Manda are interested in: Kira’s grandfather has something that is precious to the Manda and those that use them and he is killed for it. Kira sets out to hunt down his murderer. The world she enters is complex, political, and on the edge of collapse.

As she attempts to survive in this new world, Kira is drawn into it, developing an influence and connections of her own. When she discovers the identity of the killer, she must decide what to do. She can either seek closure through revenge, abandoning those reliant on her, or yield to the killer. Pressed for time, Kira decides to take the unexpected road, and conspiring with the Manda is looking like the unexpected best option.

“When the Mute Speak” is a completed young adult fantasy, of a approximately 58000 words. It’s themes and ideas follow in the tradition of Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy, and Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn.

Thank you for your time,

Sian Chapman

Terrified of the Hunger Games

Now, I finally did get around to reading the hunger games - about a month ago. I was a very late uptaker (as I was with Harry Potter - what is it with me and popular books?). I enjoyed the book immensely. When I have time, I will read the other two.

But here's the thing. I started writing The Manda when I was about 13. It's been through five drafts since then, and is finally approaching something marketable.

Every Beta reader I have has told me that Kira (my MC) reminds them of Katniss. After reading the hunger games, I can see why. They're not the same person, but they definitely share similar characteristics.

Plot wise, the books couldn't be any more different. My MC end up creating a neutral hospital, not starting a rebellion. Plots have nothing similar (except a oppressive government, but even that isn't that marked. Definitely not as marked as it is in the Hunger Games series. Mine is also slightly more balanced - there's a repressive rebellion too. I mean, you've gotta keep it interesting :D )

I have this innate fear that I will be passed over for representation or publications because someone (agent/publisher/editor) believes I'm trying to rip off the hunger games. I feel as if some shred of my story has been ripped away from my ownership.

I just hope it doesn't come over as too pronounced.

Just random thoughts and worrying :)